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First Night

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Summary: When Rogue and Cordelia are abducted, the XMen and AtS must work together.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Marvel Universe > X-Men > GeneralMelissaFloresFR18176,878162,91330 May 0330 May 03Yes
Title: First Night
Author: Melissa Flores
Disclaimer: Um… these characters are not mine. I just played with them. So … yeah.
Author's Notes: Remember the whole "not too distant" future thing? Let's disregard that for now. We'll just say that the not too distant future is now, at least a year from now, in Angel's time.

~*~*~

~ CHAPTER ONE ~

It always happened at night.

The darkness of the Third Street Promenade, littered with napkins and empty cups, remnants of the crowd that had loitered and lingered in the over priced shops on their way to the beach, came with a stillness all it's own.

The place was halfway peaceful, and somewhat soothing to Jared Jenkins, the night security watchman, while maintaining that peculiar ability to be utterly terrifying. As a child, he had always been afraid of the dark, as most children likely were. As a night watchman, he had long since outgrown it, baton clipped to his waist alongside a gun that thankfully hadn't been put to use in his three months of service to do anything more than chase homeless pedestrians from the promenade's surrounding areas. Mostly he left them alone. They had no place to go, they were hurting no one, and here, at least they had a decent place to sleep.

A safe place to sleep.

He whistled lightly, flipping out the baton and twirling it in distraction, rolling it in his fingers thoughtfully. It looked like a quiet night, and he was more than fine with that.

When the sounds of footsteps running toward him broke him out of his peaceful state, he was more annoyed than frightened.

When he heard the shouts that came with it, terrified and loud, he was slightly more uneasy than scared.

But when he turned the corner and found what he did, he became utterly terrified.

His hand grappled feebly for his gun, the shaking of his fingers making it awkward and almost impossible.

"CORDY!"

The figures moved quickly, the growls and groans that accompanied the fighting barely visible in the pale moonlight.

Two men, both tall and dark, one in what appeared to be black leather, the other dressed in denim, fighting off other... things... while they simultaneously seemed to be having conversations with two women who were fighting other.... things and each other.

"OW! That hurt, BITCH!"

"Rogue! Are you going to take that from her?"

"LOGAN, shut the hell up until you finish your guys, THEN talk to me."

One of the woman, taller and more slender, was struck in the face by the... thing... and she fell back, causing one of the fighting men to pause.

"CORDY!"

Jared swallowed, easing toward them slowly, gun finally out and in ready position. With fumbling fingers, he managed to cock it.

It took him several hoarse tries before he managed to say anything anyone could hear.

"Ss...stt... STOP! POLICE! PUT YOUR HANDS UP!"

He didn't know if he expected immediate compliance, but he certainly didn't expect the ...things... to come after him. Panicking he shot, bringing two down, before the others were on him.

He was disarmed, and the gun was leveled on him, a blast and suddenly his leg was on fire. His head slammed against the pavement, and he cried out in pain, an aching splinter in his head as his eyes opened groggily to watch as the two men were both shot at, bringing them down momentarily, just enough time for the both women to be grabbed. The one with the shorter hair, still unconscious, was slung over a shoulder, tossed into a truck, the one with the white streak putting up her share of a fight before she had the gun leveled in her face.

She gave no more fight after that.

The one in leather was up in almost a second, screaming after them, running as fast as he could after the car that they streaked away in. The other man was up a few seconds later.

He wasn't sure, he could have imagined it, but it appeared the claws seemed to shoot out of his knuckles before he followed the taller man, running as fast as he could.

Jared swallowed, feeling his heart pounding, reaching for his radio, managing to rasp into it that he needed back up, before letting it fall with a clatter next to him, and letting the darkness take him.

~*~

Angel, the vampire with the soul, sprinted as far as he could, but as fast as he was, he couldn't keep up.

With a frustrated growl, his steps faltered, and he could only watch helplessly as the van with Cordelia in it got farther and farther away.

His throat was dry and he was gasping despite the fact he needed no air and he largely suspected it had something to do with the incredible lump in his throat.

Cordy was gone. They took Cordelia. Cordelia was in trouble.

WHY was Cordelia in trouble?

He swallowed, pacing in the night as he looked into the distance, trying to put away the blind panic, clenching his fists to keep from looking for anything to kill as the demon in him grumbled, growled at him in anger for letting his best friend get taken.

It was his fault. He had left her to fend for herself, and although she could usually DO that, HE was the fighter, he was the champion, and now she was in trouble and he had to find her and if anything happened to her-

Okay... okay... calm down... calm down.

He closed his eyes, trying to concentrate on something soothing.

Didn't quite work. Cordelia nursing his wounds was immediately what came to mind but of course she was the reason for his rage and-

Okay, not working.

He continued to pace.

Think... think...

Wesley. Call Wesley... call Gunn...

He never realized how badly his fingers were shaking until he almost dropped the cellphone Cordelia had given him twice, trying desperately to punch in the numbers.

He almost had the phone number dialed in when he was immediately plowed into from behind.

Angel grunted, taken completely by surprise, on his back to find the same guy he had been fighting in the alley straddling him, metal claws protruding from his knuckles and held directly at his throat.

Angel was too stunned to do anything but blink for two seconds.

"Where the hell is she?" the dark man growled.

Immediately Angel bucked his hips upwards, sending the guy sprawling over him, getting to his feet, wincing at the wound in his chest.

Angel rolled to his feet, balance spread evenly, tensely waiting as his mind reeled.

This was virgin territory. Looked human... smelled human... but something was... off. Could have been the claws.

"Weren't you just SHOT a few seconds ago?" he voiced.

The dark man with the whiskers glowered at him, and the thought came to Angel that he probably was not one for pretension.

The girl had called him Logan.

"Where'd they take her?"

"That is the universal question right now, buddy."

"I'm not your buddy," Logan growled.

Oh geez. Angel felt a surge of annoyance in his chest as his eyes glanced down the road where Cordelia disappeared.

"You want a claw in your stomach? No? Then tell me where they took her."

Angel snorted. "You think if I knew I'd be standing here talking to you? I've got a missing friend to find so if you don't MIND-" He attempted to push past him, but the guy held him, the claws now pricking menacingly at his chest.

Angel felt a growl shudder through him, one that he knew sounded quite dangerous, but the man didn't seem to care.

"I'm warning you," he snarled. "Back off."

The guy sniffed at the air, both hands now at his chest, the claws poised to rip though him. "You're not human," he glowered with realization. "Not a mutant. What the hell?"

"Hey! Who knew! Good job smart ass, now get the hell away from me."

Logan growled, and a damn good growl it was too, and Angel's eyes widened when the hands lunged. Lunging to the side, it was barely enough, as one of the claws skimmed his side.

Immediately, the anger ripped right through him, and Angel lost patience.

"You know," he growled, popping his neck as he glared, the demon face sliding over his features. "I HATE when people stab me."

Tall, dark and rude hardly had time to blink before Angel lunged.

The fight was pretty much even. The guy was pompous, but he knew how to fight, thought before he jumped in, and he smelled human...

Could Angel kill a human?

Aww hell, why not?

He snapped a hand across his face and received a kick in his stomach in return, making him reel back, landing with a thud against the warehouse door.

"I don't have time for this," he growled, shaking off the confusion.

"Where the hell is she?" Rude Claw Guy said, shaking the clawed hands at him. "You working for the Brotherhood bub? Didn't your buddy Sabretooth tell you what happens when you mess with Wolverine?"

"Sabretooth?" Angel repeated. "Wolverine? What the hell are you from, like a zoo?" Claw guy lunged and Angel grit his teeth, blocking the blow before landing one of his own. His fist smashed against the ribcage

OW. Did that metal go around his insides too?

He jumped forward, landing a swinging back kick that got the guy on the face before ending in an inevitable face-off.

He really didn't have time for this.

"All right," he managed through the fanged teeth. "How about you put those things away and I'll put the teeth away and we discuss this like the civilized beasts I know we are, huh?"

"Where the hell is she?" the guy growled right back, words so full of anger and emotion he ended up spitting in his eyes. "HUH?! Where the hell is she?"

"I just told you I DON'T know!" Angel's yellow eyes glowed as he snapped, indicating his loss of patience. "But obviously you're missing a girl here and I'm down a seer. Seems to me this is a situation here that would bear a bit further scrutiny before we -can you NOT try to swipe at me?" he snapped in exasperation, ducking away from the swinging claws. "What part of the whole truce thing did you not get?!"

"I don't care about a fucking truce, I care about finding Rogue!"

"And I care about finding Cordelia, okay? So give those things a rest before they rust because we could do this all night and that's not going to do us ANY good."

Logan seethed, but apparently Angel's words seemed to make sense, because the hand with claws wavered slightly before finally coming down, the metal blades slipping back in with a sheathing sound.

Angel sighed, the hands coming down. Thick-headed broody jerk.

"Who the hell are you?" the guy whispered in barely controlled rage, the wild eyes telling of the panic of losing the girl they had found him with. .

Angel went over to pick up the cell phone that was lying on the ground, flipping it open, letting the demon face slide off to take the form of his human one. "I'm Angel."

~*~

The first realization was a simple one: she was freezing.

Her body, previously seemingly disconnected from her mind and its hazy state, suddenly plummeted down with reality, and she felt the dead weight of it come to her with a groan.

She was lying on solid cement, and Cordelia Chase, no matter how many times she said she was USED to poverty, really would never get used to that. The Princess and the Pea had nothing on her.

"Hey," a low, husky drawl cut through the silence, but all Cordelia could concentrate on, hand rising to her temples to feel the small bump on the top of her forehead was the aching pain she should have been used to by now. "You okay?"

Cordelia opened her eyes slightly, letting what dimness there was around her seep into her vision. There was a dull, resounding ache in her body, in her head, and she barely understood the words that were being said to her until a strong, hand - abnormally strong, she noted, Conan the Barbarian strong - took her by the shoulder and shook herr once more.

"Hey. Wake up there, sugar. Last thing we need is you getting a concussion."

She grimaced, blinking once, twice, three times before she was finally able to rise on her elbows, finally able to look at her cellmate in the eyes.

"Well concussions are one thing I'm used to. It's never a party unless you wanna die from head trauma," she remarked tiredly, voice dripping with sarcasm as she finally inspected her surroundings, propping herself up on one elbow. She blinked, shaking her head in an attempt to orientate herself, pulling the high lighted blonde bangs away from her face as she squinted through the darkness. "Where the hell are we?" Her head turned as she leaned toward her cellmate. "And who are you?"

The young woman cocked a perfectly arched eyebrow, the dark smudge of dirt on her face accenting the movement, before she said in a voice tinged with a Southern accent that was faded from time, "Doncha remember?"

"Uh... not really no." Cordelia narrowed her eyes slightly, grimacing as she fought the throb that was beating like a hammer in her head, finally able to give the stranger as good a look as one could get in the less than suitable lighting. It was impossible to tell what age she was. Her features couldn't have possible made her more than twenty-one, but her eyes... They were dark, vivid with intensity and very, very expressive.

Cordelia remembered once when Kate, in a fit of spell induced sensitivity, remarked that Angel had eyes of an Old Soul. That would have pegged this girl perfectly. She had an old soul, adding years to a face that couldn't have been any older than she was. Funnily enough, that wasn't the most striking part of her. Her hair was luminous and dark, with the exception of one white streak that ran from her bangs, framing her face with some sort of silver halo-ish effect. Interesting fashion choice.

All in all, not a face Cordelia Chase would be likely too to forget. Not for long anyway, and when the object of her scrutiny turned her head to inspect the walls, the profile triggered the memory.

"Oh, God. The vision! You're the girl in the-"

"I'm Rogue, yeah. Remember?"

Oh boy did she. The vision came so fast she had lost her footing, her head almost slamming against the ground before the hands of the vampire slid around her and jerked her up, pulling her against his hard body, holding her close as she dimly heard him crying out for help. She stumbled, fell, her eyes unseeing as she saw this particular girl crying softly, felt the absolute pain, the horror, and the aching wound in her stomach, the blood seeping from her. She felt the horror at the man with the claws, his features convulsed in a frightening snarl as he came forward, launching himself at her, heard her crying out in a frightened voice no-

"The chick you almost got killed?" Rogue continued in a dry, bitter drawl.

Oh, yeah. That. Not their greatest shining moment, true enough. Once again Cordelia made a point to try and find a way to kick the PTB's asses for their incredibly stupid vagueness.

"Well how the hell were we supposed to know he was a good guy! Do you have any idea how SCARY he is?"

That, surprisingly, earned her a smile, one that spoke of mischievous wit and humor. Oh great. She got stuck with one of THOSE.

"Like that guy of yours is any less freaky?" The drawl at the end of her voice softened the comment some, but Cordelia, ever the champion of her mostly undeserving and broody undead boss, was still quite ready to defend him, mouth opening to issue one of her trademark retorts when she suddenly winced, falling back to the floor, causing the Rogue chick's face to morph into one of worry, catching her with that amazing strength that seemed so unnatural and settling her head on her thighs.

"'Kay you gotta watch yourself. They shook you up pretty bad."

Cordelia took a ragged breath, biting down on her lips, eyes roving around the dark cell where they were confined, breathing hard until she was able to take control of herself.

"What happened?" she finally demanded, and Rogue sighed, sliding a hand through those white bangs of hers.

Looking around the cell room one more time, helping Cordelia sit up, she shrugged. "Ah have no idea. But I know who's behind it, saw him as we were brought in."

"Who?"

"Magneto."

"Magneto? Who the hell is Magneto?"

Rogue managed a smirk before venturing into a worried frown. "He tried to kill me once when he tried to make everyone on the earth a mutant."

"Oh." She hadn't heard anything about that.

"Yeah. It was pretty bad."

"I bet." Cordelia cocked her head, her voice almost small as she asked uncertainly. "Is that what you are? A mutant?"

Rogue's eyes flipped to hers as her face became cautiously guarded. "Yes. Got a problem with that?"

"Are you kidding? My boss is a vampire with a soul," she said, as if that explained everything. "And it also explains the hair."

Rogue cocked another eyebrow, and finally just shrugged, leaning back against the wall. "Well I guess we wait until Logan gets the team to come get us."

Cordelia didn't even bother to ask who Logan or 'the team' was. Her mind was still splintered in pain, and she took a good gulp, attempting to clear her head.

More than likely she was bait to bring Angel here.

God she HATED being bait.

Her breath was a bit unsteady and her head still throbbed as she whispered, "Angel, when this is over, you SO owe me."

~*~

Dr. Jean Grey studied the lap top screen with growing unease, her mouth pursed and eyes narrowed in concentration.

This was definitely new. With a confused shake of her head, she straightened, poising her palms on the keys and typing, tapping the mouse and letting the search engine continue her work.

"Jean, it is two o'clock in the morning," A voice interrupted the stillness, and Jean jumped slightly, startled by the sudden intrusion as Storm flipped on the light, striding into the room to put down a pile of books, sorting through them flippantly. "Shouldn't you be resting? You have a long day tomorrow."

Jean shrugged, resting her chin on her palm as she offered her dark-skinned friend a tired smile. "I could tell you the same thing."

Ororo Munroe conceded with a slight grin. "I am not giving the presentation."

"True." Jean sighed, massaging at the back of her neck as she stretched out her back, leaning against the chair. "It's just... this research is... amazing."

"Oh?" Ororo seemed distracted, palms sliding over a leather bound volume that was shedding dust. "Hmmm."

Jean looked over. "What?"

"This book came in mixed up with the others. It is not something we ordered."

"Let me see?" Ororo nodded, holding up the book. Jean focused her concentration, and the book floated easily into her hands, followed quickly by Ororo, who pulled up a chair and sat down next to her.

Jean studied the etching on the cover. It was tattered and torn, obviously old.

"Hmmm."

Ororo smiled, patting her on the shoulder before she stood. "I should have known it would interest you."

Jean shrugged, conceding with a smile as she put the book to the side.

"I am going to bed."

"Kay, night. I'll go to bed soon. The flight back to the school tomorrow will take all night and I don't want to get back to the school jet lagged. Have Logan and Rogue come back yet?"

"I have not looked," Ororo said, a frown emerging on her face. "Would you like me to check?"

"No, no, that's all right. I'll check in on them later. The last time some one startled Logan in his sleep she got impaled. I'd rather that not happen to you."

Storm grinned. "That was over three years ago, Jean."

"Yes well, what was that about you can't teach old Wolverine's new tricks?"

Storm chuckled, striding to the door.

Jean frowned, looking back to the screen. "Do you believe in demons, Storm?" she asked suddenly.

The wind goddess paused in the doorway, hand poised to close the door behind her. Her features were curious as she responded, "Pardon?"

"You know," Jean continued. "Demons. Vampires. Creatures of the night?"

Storm's eyes darkened in mirth. "May I ask what brought on this question?"

Jean flushed slightly, shrugging as waving a perfectly manicured hand to her computer. "It's just... I was doing some last minute research, statistics and facts for the conference tomorrow and I stumbled on this-" She turned the laptop screen so that Ororo could look closer.

It was a demonology search engine. Jean had typed in vampires and hit a slew of information.

"The meticulous research dedicated to this is amazing,'" she continued, as Ororo leaned forward, pushing the scroll button down to wade through the entries. "Scholarly and... the MYTHS, the urban legends! Like this one, here!" She clicked on one entry. "Talks about a vampire with a soul, who helps people."

"Interesting," Ororo said, scrolling down. "A seer?" she said after a minute.

"You caught that too?" Jean shook her head. "It's just... fascinating... and kind of scary that people would dedicated so much time on ... this."

Ororo smiled, once again moving toward the door. "Like you've been doing all night?"

That earned her another sheepish grin from Jean. "Good night, Jean."

"Night, Storm."

She crossed her arms, looking over the entries, reaching over to click on another link when the phone rang.

Her eyes were still on the words as she reached over and picked up the hotel phone, holding it to her ear.

"This is Jean Grey."

Upon hearing the voice, her eyes immediately jerked away from the monitor. "Logan?! What's- No- ... Okay. Are you- Okay." She slammed down the receiver, darting toward the door. "STORM!"

Immediately Ororo was back in the doorway, sliding on a robe over her nightgown. "What is it?"

"We have to call the mansion," Jean said, already dialing. "Something's happened to Rogue."

~ CHAPTER TWO ~

Wolverine clipped the phone closed, giving it a hard look before tossing it to Angel's side of the black car, not saying anything as they continued to drive down the darkened highway.

Angel felt the pulse under his jaw beat slightly, his throat once again tight and his chest quickly following as the never-ending pang in his heart and itchiness in his mouth drove him to distraction as he thought of the one person that always managed to nearly drive him insane.

Why was it always CORDELIA getting kidnapped? Cordelia being sucked into another dimension? Cordelia receiving the mindnumbing visions that were getting so bad nowadays she had to be hospitalized last time? God what did she ever do wrong in the last five years but love him?

He gulped down the curse that had arisen to his throat at the thought of the forbidden "L" word that they swore never to use.

Dammit.

He put away the anger, his fists clenching harder around the steering wheel, hearing Claw Guy shift in the seat for the twentieth time and finally looked over to him for some distraction against the blind panic.

"So you're a mutant, huh?"

Wolverine didn't say anything, didn't even bother to look at him as he let Angel drive.

"I just...never met a mutant before. Kinda cool." Angel shrugged, letting the sentence die.

There was silence, and Angel sighed. Was this what Cordy meant about being all silent and broody? He wasn't that bad, was he?

"So what are you, some sort of vampire?" The question was tossed indifferently, as if the man who phrased it wasn't the least interested in the answer.

"Pretty much."

Another beat.

"I thought vampires were evil."

"They are. I have a soul."

Another long beat.

"Huh."

"It's a long curse story."

Wolverine didn't answer, and when it was safe to look, Angel glanced curiously to his fellow fighter, who at the moment was rubbing his knuckles.

"So ... how long have you had... those?" he asked, motioning to the hands.

Wolverine glanced at him, cast him a wary, uncaring look before looking away. "Long as I can remember."

Oh-kay. And Cordelia said HE had social issues. Angel felt his heart squeeze tightly within him at the thought of his best friend, seer, and ... well...

"So what exactly caused you and your girlfriend to attack me and Rogue?" Wolverine asked, his voice hard and angry.

"I uh...Well my girl-... Cordy gets these visions... of people in trouble. You guys were in it, but ... we ... well you looked like you were attacking her and she...we... misinterpreted... she's not my girlfriend."

Logan raised one eyebrow, slowly as he looked at him. "Uh-huh."

"We're friends."

"Right."

Angel's knuckles turned white over the strain he was giving the poor steering wheel. "Hey, you weren't exactly being brotherly with that Rogue girl, either!"

Logan just snorted, arms crossed, body leaned back against the seat in a way that seemed way too casual to be anything but intentional.

Angel felt a short growl come from him in exasperation and finally just told himself to shut up and drive.

The sooner he found Cordy, the sooner this would be over.

And the sooner he could kill something, the better for his sanity.

His hands tightened around the wheel and his foot pushed the pedal forward, the car lurching faster towards the exit.

~*~

"Are you sure this is it?" Charles Gunn cast Wesley an annoyed glare, reaching behind him and pushing him back into the cramped backseat of the truck.

"Angel did say the Bonaventure Hotel," Winifred responded, her glasses glinting as she peered forward, eyeing the street signs in the downtown district. "It's quiet out here."

"Happens at three in the morning, Fred," Gunn said, eyes narrowing as he pulled into the parking structure for the magnificent hotel. "Nothin' but homeless dudes, creatures of the night, and us. Now why Cordy always gotta get herself kidnapped at night?"

Fred looked away.

Gunn received a thump on the back of the head from Wesley. "This is hardly the time for that type of humor, Gunn."

Gunn shrugged, swallowing down. "Ever heard of sarcasm as a defense mechanism, Wes?"

"Yes but now is hardly the time for it."

Gunn shook his head, pulling the tricked out truck in front of the one lone valet guy in the red waistcoat.

"Uh..."

Gunn rolled his eyes, tossing the keys in the guy's hands and patting the truck with his free hand.

"This thing's my baby. Treat it right."

The valet managed to stop staring at the spikes protruding from the top long enough to nod hesitantly.

Fred let Wesley out, and then reached into the car quickly, pulling out the white ticket. "Validated," she remarked, waving it to Gunn. "The cost for parking here is... ridiculous."

Gunn had to smile. She grew on you, crazy Fred.

The smile quickly faltered as he remembered the reason they were there, when they walked into the lobby of the expensive hotel, to find Angel waiting, his face drawn, pensive and disturbed.

Gunn felt the hitch in his chest as he slowed, watching as another guy who looked just as mean and dangerous as Angel stood, eyes bloodshot and angry.

He found himself letting Wesley take the lead, come forward and clasp hands with Angel.

"Wesley. Thanks for getting here so fast."

"My," Gunn heard Fred whisper, clasping the books she had brought with her to her chest. "This is... extravagant."

His eyes roved around the hotel. Yeah it was. One of the richest hotels in Los Angeles.

"Guys, this is Logan. The girl Cordy saw in the vision was also taken. Logan thinks he knows by who. Logan, these are my associates. Wesley, Gunn, and Fred."

"Ah." The guy named Logan gave everyone a short, brusque nod, not taking the hand Wesley accepted in greeting.

Gunn cocked an eyebrow as Wesley flushed pulling back, meeting Angel's eyes as he shrugged, not wanting to comment.

"We're waitin' for Jean and Storm," Logan said, raising the cigar to his mouth and taking a puff.

Fred straightened next to him, "You know... that will kill you eventually. Studies have shown it and while tobacco companies have vehemently denied it-"

"It won't kill me," Logan practically snapped.

Oh yeah. Not a nice guy. He could practically see Fred shrink before she retreated behind his back.

"As much fun as this tense moment is, ya'll, can we figure out where the hell Cordy is?"

Angel closed his eyes once, slowly, opened them, and was about to answer when the glass elevator doors opened and Gunn's jaw immediately dropped as two of the most beautiful women he had ever seen stepped out of them.

Oh... shit.

Fred's fingers clenched into the back of his shirt, but he could hear Wesley gasp audibly. The red head was tall, slender, classy but sexy as hell. And the other one... Man. Halle Berry with long white hair and leather pants. Could it get any better?

The red head came forward, meeting Logan with a hand on her arm, squeezing slightly, eyes full of questions while the darker skinned one waited tensely with crossed arms.

He watched curiously as the red head stared at Logan, eyes closing and suddenly she jerked back, her face convulsing slightly before turning and regarding the other woman.

Wesley coughed and suddenly she blinked. "Oh, I'm sorry, forgive me. My name is Jean Grey, this is Ororo Munroe, Logan's associates."

Hmmm. More associates.

"I'm Angel," Angel said, shaking her hand. "And the two drooling guys over there are Wesley and Gunn, and Fred is hiding behind Gunn's back."

Gunn snapped his mouth shut, seeing Wesley blush, and out of the corner of his eye, saw Fred wave her arm in an almost timid greeting.

Logan turned toward Jean, his voice hoarse, whispering slightly. She nodded, squeezing his arm again before turning to them. "I understand you lost some one as well."

"Yeah, we lost Cordy, our girl."

"She was the office manager for our detective agency."

"Yes well... " Jean paused, rubbing at her eyes slightly before looking around. "Would you mind if we continued this conversation upstairs?"

~*~

Storm had told Logan to sit.

He wouldn't. He already felt like a caged animal and sitting down just would not help things.

Hell might freeze over before he admitted it, but he liked the group he had spent the last two years with. He had settled into a rather unsettling level of domesticity, flings and occasional road trips alleviated the caged animal instinct, and over the years, he had left less and less and come back more and more.

Of course things were never easy, because being a damn mutant was never easy, and it was never harder for anyone than it was for Rogue.

Damn, now there was a complicated kid. He had managed to come back through her "transformation" period, the time when all the baby fat shed away and Rogue became a woman, right about when everyone started seeing her as something more than a kid.

It wasn't until she sucked some mutant psycho bitch into her head that had tried to gain control of her mind and body that Logan really had issues with the age thing. He had been inside of the room as Rogue battled for her mind, his head had been aching with worry, and he came close to killing her when the chick inside of Rogue tried to seduce him by telling him some very erotic things that should have never come out of Rogue's mouth.

It had done things to him, changed things, and for the longest time he had avoided her, for fear that that bitch still inside her would come out, remind him of the way his body had reacted, a way it shouldn't have reacted with a nineteen year old girl.

But it changed when Rogue had come to him, pleaded with him to be her friend, because that was what she needed more than anything. He had never been afraid of her before, and she couldn't stand it if he was afraid of her now.

It had been the breaking point. He had held her and let her sob in his arms and promised her he would never be afraid of her, he would always be her friend, he would always take care of her.

It had been more than a year ago, and Logan, who had never put much stock in anything, put everything into his friendship with Marie - only to have it thrown for a damn loop again when he had lost control and practically ravaged his best friend in the dark alley - before the damn vampire and his little girlfriend came in trying to kill him.

He ground on his cigar, biting off the tip and smashing it into the ashtray before glaring at the broody dark fang boy.

Shit. And now they were here, and Rogue was gone and they were playing 'pleased to meet you?'.

Well, fuck that.

"So I know, he's a mutant," Angel began, a hand massaging as his temples tiredly. "Does that mean that the two of you..."

"Mutants?" Wesley breathed, startled, leaning forward.

Jean flushed a bright red at the immediate interest, but Ororo merely gave a small smirk.

"Mutant Mutants?" Gunn queried, eyes flicking between the two women. "Like... mutants with special powers mutants?"

Storm and Jean exchanged looks before Jean hesitantly answered, "Yes."

"So what can you do?"

"I... I can read minds and control things with my mind."

"Telekinesis," Wesley remarked. "We've met one before."

Jean gave him a surprised look, and smiled in spite of herself. "And Storm here... can manipulate weather."

Gunn blinked, and shifted feet. "Coool."

"The genetics must be astounding," Fred offered from her side of the couch.

That did it. Logan actually snorted. Loud, causing Fred to jump yet again as he launched from the wall.

"Yes. We're mutants, okay? Jean there is telepathic, Storm can make the wind fly, I got claws. Rogue's skin sucks the life outta you." He turned to Jean. "HE's a vampire, a good one. These guys work with him to kill demons and crap. Are we done? Can we move on the part where we talk about saving Rogue?"

There was silence that followed that statement, broken when Wesley stood, clearing his throat carefully.

"Mr. Logan is quite correct. Perhaps we could discuss the nature of our work a bit later, and concentrate on the problem at hand?"

"What he said," Angel said sharply.

Jean nodded, but her voice still was slightly astounded as she couldn't help but ask, "A vampire with a soul?"

Angel narrowed his eyes, but nodded.

"We do need some information," Storm said, her voice mellow, soft, almost tranquil. "Such as... was there any reason that Cordelia could have been kidnapped alongside our Rogue?"

"Pick a reason. Most of the times it's cause of her being a seer-"

Fred pressed a hand to his shoulder, and Gunn found himself shutting up immediately when Wesley whirled.

"A seer?"

Angel gave an audible sigh. "She gets visions. We don't like to tell too many people because... "

"A prophetess?" Ororo asked, clearly intrigued. "Has she always had this gift?"

"No. It's a long story, but she does tend to... get sucked into a lot of things because of it."

"You'll have to explain the particulars later," Jean said, arms crossed. "It might provide some insight. For now, we just have to hope that Charles has used Cerebro and has located Rogue, which will also lead us to your friend."

"What about the others?" Logan asked, hand twitching.

"Scott is on his way now, he's bringing Remy and Charles as soon as they find out where she is."

"What's Cerebro?" Wesley asked.

~*~

She was definitely seeing stars.

Rogue silently groaned, leaning her head back against the stone wall as she watched her new cellmate moan slightly, gathering her knees to her chest and hugging them to her.

She was in SERIOUS pain, and it wasn't the first time Rogue cursed herself for not paying better attention in first aid.

Cordelia Chase had mumbled something about vision hangovers, but Rogue hadn't understood what she meant because the chick had moaned and then whimpered and never said another word.

It scared the hell outta her.

Rogue had almost bruised her trying to wake her up, and from the barely worded whisper, she gathered that Cordelia here was some sort of vision girl.

And the pains were a part of the process.

In a way she was glad for the distraction. Being a living sponge Rogue had managed to get a one-way ticket into Eric Lensshur's head and it was NOT a nice place to be. Death camps and conflictions and true fear, dreams that woke her up nights and had her babbling in German - Logan's hellish labfests were almost a welcome change.

Almost.

Rogue gave a small shudder, wrapping her arms closer to her body, hugging herself, closing her eyes and trying to keep the fear from overwhelming her. Being held captive by a guy like Magneto, who had had no qualms about killing an innocent child, no qualms about anything but his deluded and blinding schemes, was never a good thing, and being the child in question who had not only gotten a good dose of death camp in her head but had really, actually, literally DIED, only to come back and find she had not only almost killed the only man who ever really gave up anything of value to her, but had inherited most of his bad traits-

It was enough to scar someone for life.

But she was older, stronger, had fought and had more experience and she could handle Magneto. Oh, God, she hoped she could. At least until Charles could get into the big Circle and send Logan and Jean and Scott with the team to bring her and Vision Girl back.

"You look incredibly freaked."

Rogue opened her eyes to find Cordelia Chase sitting up, rubbing at her head, grimacing slightly.

"Feeling better?"

"Not really, no. It won't get better until we save you," Cordelia said matter-of-factly, "From whatever the hell is going to happen to you that's going to end up with you on the floor in a bloody mess."

How comforting.

Cordelia paused, wincing slightly. "God. I'm sorry. I didn't mean... it's just when these pains-"

"It's alright," she responded, looking away, managing to look almost indifferent. "I've been through worse."

Cordelia looked lost in thought, gave a slight grimace and shook her head. "I'm not sure. It was... pretty bad." Rogue looked away, and felt almost no comfort when Cordelia added, "We'll help you. That's what we do."

"Who's we?"

"Angel... the gang and I. We help people. Save the world and stuff."

Rogue managed a smile. "Same here."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah."

Cordelia gave a weak grin, muttering a falsely cheery, "Cool", before wincing and putting her hand to her head, lying back down on the cement.

Rogue groaned, crawling over to her, hand on her forehead. "Kay, this is more than a normal concussion."

"No, no it's... " Cordelia closed her eyes, whimpering slightly. "It's... the visions... I'm fully human... I'm not supposed to-" she winced, closing her eyes, hugging her own body, "Nevermind. It's complicated."

Rogue swallowed, gloved hand on her shoulder. God, she felt so helpless. Her eyes flickered to the bars that held them and with a mental curse she wondered what the hell was taking the guys so long.

She gave the suffering girl a comforting squeeze on the shoulder.

"Anythin' I can do?"

"Yeah," came the whisper. "Get yourself out of the damn visions so it can stop."

Ouch. THAT wasn't comforting.

Damn. And she thought SHE had it bad with all the psychos running around in her head.

She licked her lips, trying to find any type of comforting words that would help when the sound of metal bending caused her head to jerk toward the door.

Rogue scrambled to her feet, immediately placing herself between Cordelia and her older facet of the past.

Her heart hammered, every vivid emotion brought back in Technicolor as she stared into his face.

"Rogue. Life certainly has treated you well."

She didn't say anything, afraid even to breathe.

Magneto's face was tired, aged, and he looked older, much older. The years in jail must have been tiring. Rogue felt her heart tremor slightly, and once again, she battled the fear inside of her that this man invoked so easily.

"Move aside, Rogue," he demanded, the command said in his soft, firm tone that scared her so much more than if he had just shouted it.

"What the hell do you want with us?"

And he smiled. The damn man actually smiled at her, like he was looking at his grand kid or something.

"My intentions are clearly honorable, Rogue."

"Oh, lahk they were so damn honorable before?" she spit, hands clenched into fists.

"I believe they were. My methods, were not. You confuse yourself, child."

"I'm not a child," she whispered, voice edged in hardness, tremoring with emotion. "I'm not the scared little kid that's gonna let you push me around, Eric."

Eric paused, and a flash of sorrow flickered over his face as he cocked his head studying her. "You most certainly are not, young Rogue. You've seen more through my eyes, through the eyes of others than any youngster should have to face. For that I apologize, you were to die then, only experience it a short while."

The memories. Her body shuddered and her eyes closed, the tears coming to her eyes so easily as she saw through the eyes of the young boy, felt the panic and the horror-

She swallowed, stranding straight and tall. "I won't let you hurt her."

Eric finally just sighed, and before could quite react she was pinned to the wall with a chair, held only by Magneto's awesome strength. She struggled, calling on her above average strength, but it wasn't enough, because Sabretooth growled, held up a claw at her throat, and then she had no choice but to stay still, eyes focusing on his animal eyes as the claw traced down her neck, reaching into her cleavage and pulling out the metal tag she still wore, mostly out of habit, she told herself, all these years.

"Wolverine," she heard him breathe, and she sucked in her breath, wincing slightly as he broke the chain off from her neck.

"Leave that the HELL alone!" she nearly screamed, earning her a glance from Magneto, who was now crouching over Cordelia.

"Sabretooth don't upset her, she has become quite dangerous, you know."

But the beast only smiled. "I like danger."

Rogue only rolled her eyes, struggling against the chair and glaring into his eyes, before turning and keeping her eyes on Magneto and Cordelia.

~*~

Her body was weak, and her mind was tired from fighting the pain. Cordelia had issues with even opening her eyes, but when the soft, aged hands cradled her face, curiosity, mixed with fear at the gentle touch, forced her to do so.

She was staring into the eyes of an old man. Not too old, but old enough to be considered his age, with white hair and wrinkles. The hands were strong, and the eyes were filled with a depth and maturity she had long come to associate with hardened pasts. His mouth was pursed into a slight frown as he studied her, looking almost disappointed.

"It's taking its toll," he remarked, to no one in particular. "Not exactly what I was hoping for but it's a start."

Cordelia could only breathe, try to will away the pain one more time as she pulled herself away, rubbing at her head and looking at him. "What the hell are you doing? Haven't you ever heard of personal space?!"

He sighed, clucking his tongue. "Another one with spirit. Why can't they ever be docile?" His hand stroked his chin. "Cordelia Chase, one of the few human seers. You have not always had this gift, have you?"

Cordelia looked at him uncertainly, then turned to Rogue, and found her held in her place by a chair and a REAL furry guy who was playing with some metal chain. Her eyes met her new cellmate's, and when Rogue shook her head slightly, Cordelia took a deep breath, summoning her strength, and turning back to the old guy.

"Magneto, right?"

He smiled, nodded, waited patiently.

"My friends are SO gonna kick your ass for taking me."

That earned her a smirk, and he leaned forward, chucked her chin lightly. "Those visions will eventually drive you crazy, Miss Chase. Perhaps we can find a way to figure out how to make you live-"

"For how long?" Rogue bit out from her position from across the cell.

"As long as I need, of course," Magneto tossed flippantly over his shoulder. "Don't feel left out, young Rogue. You, as always, are needed." He turned back to Cordelia and gave her a small smile. "Welcome to the fold, sister."

Rogue sucked in her breath, but Cordelia only raised an eyebrow, watching as he stood, walked toward the door. Her eyes widened and she jumped with a start when she saw him flippantly bend the bars away, walking through them. Sabretooth waited on a second longer, dangling the metal tags in front of Rogue, who all but spit at him, before following.

The bars realigned and the chair fell, but Rogue just stood there, staring after him with a haunted look in her eyes.

Cordelia gave her a curious look, pushing back the fear at the uncertainty and concentrating fully on her.

"What the hell was that?"

Rogue's palms hit the wall of the cell. "Cordelia… these visions of yours… have you always had them?"

Cordelia blinked, but answered the question, "No. I inherited them from a friend."

"And before that?"

"I was normal. Lucky me. Normal me. Why?"

"SHIT." Rogue closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then pushed it out. "I know why he wants you now."

"Why?"

"Because you were a human who became a mutant." Her eyes opened. "And you're not dead yet."

~ Chapter Three ~

Jean Grey took a short breath as she zipped the suit up, taking a moment to study herself in the large mirror of the bedroom that had been her temporary home for only a day.

One day ago Rogue, Logan, she and Storm had all been safely home in Westchester, sitting around one of the cafeteria tables with Charles and Scott, discussing the trip that would ensue.

She had known that the conference would be important, but the growing hate factions against mutants had garnered more trouble than Charles and Scott thought it might have been worth. Jean had argued the point, stating they needed to be here, at least to make their presence known.

Storm, in a true bout of friendship, had offered to accompany her, and Logan, surprisingly, had agreed to come as well. Rogue asked to come, and Jean didn't mind the younger team member tagging along: in a fight, Rogue was well on her way to becoming lethal with more than just a touch.

Despite the precaution, she really hadn't expected anymore than the usual hate threats and interviews. Rogue had dragged Logan site-seeing (a very funny sight on its own. Only Rogue could convince Bad Ass Logan to take a leisurely stroll down Hollywood Blvd) and she and Ororo had stayed in to prepare for the speech.

Good Lord, how many things could go wrong in just a few hours?

Life never ceased to be so amused at its little twists and turns. In less than an hour, Jean's eyes had been opened to a world she had never before known existed.

Had she had time to process it, perhaps she would have been a little more skeptical, would have wanted to run tests and think and perceive and make theories before accepting the fact that a Vampire with a Soul and his band of do-gooders were at this moment camping out in her room in search for not only her lost ex-student and current fellow team member, but a seer.

Now, it seemed there was no other choice but to come face to face with Angelus. The intimate details she still didn't know, but the readings had made her well enough aware of why the vampire garnered such fear and paranoia before he had been cursed with a soul.

Oh, Lord, Scott, if I could just see your face now.

She took in another shuddering breath, and quickly wrapped her hair into a pony tail, heading toward the door.

Jean Grey was well aware of the stares as she left her bedroom, pulling on the gloves, barely stopping as she walked toward the desk where Wesley was looking at her with mild shock and a bit of admiration.

"That's quite an ensemble," he said, eyes roving down her body before Fred reached over and thumped him on the back of his head, hard, obviously not impressed with his regression into `guy'.

Jean, despite the tightness in her chest that never quite went away when one of her teammates was missing, managed only a disinterested nod. "Have you found anything?"

After casting a glare at Fred, who merely cocked an eyebrow and returned to her studying, Wesley slowly shook his head no. "Unfortunately, no. I'm not quite sure what I'm looking for. Demons, vampires, ancient prophecies, that's one thing. But mutants? I must confess I'm not fully versed on the subject."

Jean ventured a smirk. "Yes, well up until one hour ago I had a hard time believing in vampires. So count us in the same boat."

Fred looked up from her books, as Logan also emerged from his room with the trademark black leather uniform, although he looked more than a little uncomfortable in it. "He is quite sure Magneto is behind this. Perhaps if we started in the news headlines."

"Hmm... Good idea."

"You'll find nothing we do not already know," Storm remarked, adjusting the cape as she, now properly dressed, walked up to them.

"Man I gotta get me one of those," Gunn remarked, riveted on her.

Storm gave him a long stare until he blushed and turned away, before continuing her conversation with Wesley. "We have tracked him ever since his break from jail. There has been nothing. He has kept quiet."

Wesley pursed. "No, nothing more than the usual mutant/human tension in these headlines. The paranoia is astounding."

"Right cause right now that's what we care about," Angel dripped sarcastically from his position against the wall. "Human/mutant politics." His eyes were riveted on Logan, who merely ground on his cigar in silence, as he groaned slightly, closing his eyes and then opening them to come forward.

"Ororo," Angel's eyes were intense, dark and deep and almost hypnotizing, as Jean watched his worried expression. He was a vampire, that was what everyone was saying, but he acted human, looked human... there was nothing- Her eyebrow furrowed and she shook her head, blinking, forcing herself to concentrate on what he was saying to her friend. "This Magneto guy, would he hurt Cordelia? I mean, really hurt her?"

Storm shot her a quick glance and Jean felt her chest tighten in response. God. Once more, she looked to see how Logan was fairing, but true to his nature, the gruff mutant only kept silent, acting as if he wasn't listening, when she knew he was taking in every word.

Oh, God, Rogue. Please be okay, if not for us, for you, be okay for HIM.

She had no idea what would happen to Logan if anything happened to her. Lately it seemed Rogue was the one fixture of stability he had. Friends, more than friends, of the nature of their relationship she wasn't sure. But she did know that Logan considered it his most precious possession: his bond with Rogue. No friendship he had with the other X-Men could compare to the bond, not their lusty friendship that had dwindled into mutual affection, not his admiration of Xavier, and she knew Rogue cherished it just as much. Logan had always trusted her, never been afraid of her powers or her skin, and Jean knew that for the troubled, insecure soul that still harbored in Rogue's much more confident exterior, it meant the very world.

"Magneto believes that a war is brewing between mutants and humans," she finally said simply, opting for the quick and bitter truth. "About four years ago he took Rogue and sucked himself into her. She would have died, if we had not saved her."

"So Cordelia's in serious trouble."

Beside her, Storm nodded mutely with a carefully closed expression, and it didn't take a telepath to see how deeply the nod affected him. She saw the vampire's face immediately wince, a low growl escaping as he continued to pace, hands in fists, banging at his sides.

Wesley also saw the reaction, and exchanged a wary look with Gunn before saying, loudly. "Angel, we're not sure he's who took her."

It was meant to be comforting she supposed, but it didn't do much. "For all we know Wesley she could be back in Pylea. That doesn't help."

The young woman who was called Fred gave a squeak, making Jean look at her curiously, but she was back to being buried in her books.

A solid knock at the door brought an end to the stillness as she felt the invasion of her mind in the form of a very familiar presence.

Jean felt a flood of welcome relief as she turned to Storm, "It's Charles."

She strode to the door, moving past Gunn to open it.

~*~

Logan took the cigar out of his mouth, his leg falling to rest on the carpeted floor as he stood upright, watching the procession fill the room.

About. Fucking. Time.

He stifled the urge to grab Charles outta that wheelchair and shake him and demand to find out where Rogue was, `cause hell, that guy had more power and demanded more respect than anyone he had ever met. Charles had more patience and understanding than Logan could ever hope to attain, if he in fact, ever wanted to attain that. Which he didn't, but that didn't mean he didn't respect the hell outta Charles X for his own control over his mind, and his good intentions in a world where everyone hated and feared him.

Still, the goodness and patience was not something Logan appreciated when he was in a desperate hurry. Charles and his "pleasantries" was a team thing everyone but he accepted. He had finally learned to keep his mouth shut and clamped on his cigar to keep from snapping at them to shut the hell up and hurry up with the plan.

It was no different now. Charles wheeled in, and on his face was this smile that hid the anxiety, one that Logan knew was on his face for a purpose, to put everyone at ease. If Charles had control, then it was gonna be cool.

Fuck that.

Cyclops followed right after, with the no nonsense face that Logan had come to appreciate: cause Scott Summers liked to get things done, followed by the irritating red-eyed Cajun Remy Lebeau.

Storm had once kidded Logan that he didn't like Gambit because he might have reminded him a little of himself, with how the guy didn't like being told what to do, or what to say. That wasn't true. Logan didn't like Gambit because he fucking hit on every chick in the school: Marie included.

Scott had been vastly amused by the whole thing, Jean too, in her own quiet way, and it didn't help that Rogue had no problem flirting back, with that little `sugar' thing she had been using ever since Carol Danvers had been absorbed. It wasn't until the pissing contests (that's what she and Storm called it) between him and Gambit came to a head in the courtyard that it finally stopped. Rogue had dragged him away, and Storm, actually being the Cajun's friend, had pulled him, her face dark and angry as she taken him into the shelter of the trees.

When Rogue was done chewing him out, Logan felt like a damned dog with his tail between his legs.

Even then, Logan didn't envy Gambit. No one pissed Storm off and managed to get through it unscathed.

Needless to say, Gambit and he had found a way to work together.

Logan took in another breath, venturing closer as Charles turned immediately to Tall, Dark and Broody.

"You must be Angel," he said warmly, voice pleasant despite the circumstances. "I am Charles Xavier."

Angel looked down at the man in the wheelchair, whose blue eyes seemed so wise, and whose frail body was barely noticeable under the power of his stare. "They said you'd help us find Cordy, is that true?"

Cordy? Who the hell cared about `Cordy'? What the hell about Rogue?

"She's already found." Charles turned to Jean, who had until this moment been lost in conversation with Scott. "It is as we feared. She is in the hands of Magneto."

Logan swore, jumping to his feet and striding toward the door. That was all he needed.

When no one followed him, he turned back slightly. "Well? You coming or what?"

Angel immediately followed, but the rest of them kept staring at him like he was a freak.

Ororo cleared her throat, looking around the room before moving from Remy's side. "Logan, we need a plan. Remember?"

Crap. They had to go and come up with a PLAN again.

"Screw the plan. Let's get Cordy back."

The bookish English guy rolled his eyes. "Angel. Turn, sit. Brood."

A low growl rumbed out of Angel's throat, and Logan actually felt for the guy as he slunk back in the room, hearing Wesley murmur to Jean, "he's always doing this when she's in trouble."

"We're used to it."

Logan glared at her, but turned, following the exact path Angel took, and plopping down next to him with more than a little anger.

He hated waiting. He hated a lot of things. A lot of things pissed him off. But waiting was sure as hell in the top five.

He sucked in his breath, and reached for his cigar again. When he heard the shuffle next to him, he paused, and then held it under Angel's nose.

Angel sniffed, and when he looked at him curiously, Logan shrugged.

"Grind your teeth on it. Makes the frustration a little easier to stand before you have to kill someone."

It seemed to make perfect sense. Angel immediately took it, clamping it in his mouth while Logan reached for another.

When the little mousy brunette opened her mouth, they both snapped, "It won't kill me."

But when everyone gave each other sympathetic glances, Logan seriously thought about killing them.

Or scaring them.

Just a little.

He let out a low angered breath, and he immediately heard Angel mutter, "I know the feeling."

~*~

Cordelia Chase was severely pissed off.

She HATED being kidnapped. She HATED being pawed by aging degenerates.

But the kicker, was being called a -

"MUTANT?! I am NOT a mutant!" When Rogue cocked her eyebrow, she amended quickly, "Okay, not that there's anything WRONG with being a mutant and all that, because you pull it off nicely. But I'm not one! I mean, freaky, okay I will admit, a little weird, maybe, but I draw the line at mutant!"

Rogue looked a little taken aback by the outburst, quite possibly because it was the most animated she had seen her, but immediately she just shook her head, rolled her eyes, and moved toward the bars. "Accept it, don't accept it, I'm not even saying it's true. But it's a damn good reason."

"Why?"

Rogue pulled at the bars, testing the weight as she answered, "Remember that time he almost killed me I told you about?"

"I remember the nutshell version."

"Well the man is scarred for life. He's a Holocaust survivor, and I have a play by play account in my head that tells me the guy, he's not all there when it comes to this stuff." Rogue looked through the bars. "It's a clear drop from here. How did he get us over here?"

Cordelia felt a familiar pang in her head and rose to her feet unsteadily, hoping to get the rest of the `Cordy may be a mutant' story out before she passed out. Again. "Okay, skitzo girl, back to the original tale."

"Huh? Oh." Rogue blinked, and nodded, her face of concentration clouding for a bit as she paused, her voice softer. "He uh... wants to make everyone a mutant. The last time he built a machine and it didn't work. The one person he tried it on died. They couldn't handle the mutation."

Oh, God. This was starting to sound way too familiar.

"They died?"

"Uh huh."

Crap.

Immediately memories began to flood Cordelia Chase. Her long years as the most popular girl at Sunnydale High, not withstanding, Cordelia Chase was a fairly resilient girl, and when she had come across the gift of the visions by Doyle, after she got past being outraged, horrified, and the feeling of being betrayed from a last kiss, she had come to regard them with a sense of honor.

Never, in her life, had Cordelia been given something as important and special to carry as these visions. Even in Sunnydale, she was treated as shallow, vain, conceited. She might have been, but now, these visions seemed a testament to who she truly was, to what she stood for.

To who she had become.

In Los Angeles, Cordelia was poor, but never alone. Not when she had Gunn and Wesley, and even nutty Fred, who had become a friend despite her annoying habit of stating EVERYTHING with that nervous half giggle she never quite shook. And she was never alone, because of Angel.

The visions hurt, God they hurt so bad, but she never told Angel that she had had the chance to get rid of them a year and a half ago, and have some damn good sex with a hunky half demon while she was at it, because she had known exactly what he would have said.

He would have been furious. Sure, he probably would have killed Groo on sight after the developments in their relationship, but eventually, after the growling and snarling and vampire mad rage, he would have told her to do it. Because he loved her. He would have told her she should have done it because deep down they all knew the truth: the visions were killing her.

But she couldn't do it. She couldn't do it because it meant leaving them. It meant leaving him. And God she had promised to be by his side. She had promised to never leave him and he had promised he would never leave her.

What the hell did she have if she didn't have this? Didn't have them? Or him?

Nothing. There was nothing without the pains that were slowly going to drive her insane, that were getting so much worse they had almost come to dread each and every one.

And now she seemed to finally get why. Because she was a human, who couldn't take-

A mutant?

Rogue must have seen the look of pure horror on Cordelia's face, because she grimaced, turning and looking at the wall, and then marching to the bars facing the cliff. "You know what? Fuck this. I'm fucking tired of waiting for the damn team. We're gettin' outta here."

Wow. Chick had a potty mouth.

"Uh-huh. And what do you expect us to do, She-Ra of the Skunky hair?" Cordelia asked, her words dripping with sarcasm. "Break down the door and plummet to our deaths?"

Rogue shrugged. "Sounds like a plan."

Before Cordelia could move, Rogue had gathered her strength and rammed into the bars, splintering them and flying through.

"HOLY CRAP! ROGUE!" Cordelia Chase ran toward the wall, which now had a huge gaping hole in it, and gingerly looked over the ledge, down to the water crashing on the rocks some fifty feet below. "GREAT- That's just GREAT. GO Kamakazi on me." Her heart beat wildly, and Cordelia looked near tears as she screamed again, "ROGUE!"

"What?"

Cordelia looked up to find herself face to face with a floating Rogue.

She immediately shrieked and scrambled back, falling flat on her back.

"SHIT! ROGUE YOU BITCH!" Cordelia heaved in a huge gasp, trying to get her whirling senses as she looked at Rogue, who continued to hover in the air. "YOU SCARED THE HELL OUTTA ME! Are you like on a string or something?!"

Rogue looked down, rubbing at her shoulder slightly. "That kinda hurt."

"KINDA! You put a HOLE in a BRICK WALL. And you're FLYING!"

Rogue looked at her, and finally seemed to take pity, because she landed in the hole and came forward, leaning by her. "You okay?"

Cordelia just groaned, falling back so that she was strewn back on the floor spread eagle in the cell. "I'm SO gonna need therapy for the next fifty years."

The snapping of metal at the outskirts of the cell made Rogue suddenly stiffen, and quickly, she gathered the vision girl in her arms, hefting her weight as if she were holding a feather, immediately heading to the hole.

"Okay, rule number one to flying with Rogue. Never touch her skin."

Cordelia opened her eyes, looked down, and shrieked, wrapping her arms around Rogue's shoulders and holding on for dear life. "Why?"

"Another mutation. Mah skin... I suck in anyone's life force who I touch and really don't want those visions of yours in my head."

"Thanks so much for your concern."

Rogue shrugged, when a low feline growl came from the opening, she felt her heart jump, biting back the retort and flying into the night, streaking away as fast as she could, Cordelia shrieking all the way.

~*~

Victor Creed walked quickly, his nose wrinkling, his animal instinct taking over the human as he beat on the bars, not having the patience to wait until Magneto let them bend away.

The cell was empty, and where the little barred window used to be was a pile of debris littering a suddenly much clearer view of the ocean.

Sabretooth roared, his eyes narrowed on the two figures that were very quickly fading away in the moonlight.

He swallowed, afraid to look back at Magneto's expression as his two very key components of the new plan disappeared into the sky.

Shit. He lost them. He lost them and Magneto would be angry. He would be so very angry.

He would be so angry he would send him away. He would keep him locked up and then he would send him away for losing them.

'I'll get the helicopter," he said immediately, moving toward the door.

"No, let them go," Eric said, holding back the seething man with an outstretched hand. Sabretooth gulped down that anger, turning to see his mentor smiling, his eyes twinkling. "They have played right into our hands. Let them go back to the mansion. Do what they will to the seer. When we take them again, that will make all the difference."

Sabretooth stared hard at Magneto, but it still didn't make sense.

Magneto gave him another look and just shrugged. "Don't think, man. You weren't made for it. Allow me to do the thinking and just blindly follow."

Sabretooth just nodded.

The beast man had trusted Eric his whole life. He was what made them safe, and he would continue to trust Eric for the remainder.

His eyes narrowed at the departing women, hands rising to his chest and palming the tags that rested there.

The X-Men would pay their price soon enough. Magneto had told him they would.

A soft purr slid through him, and he smiled.

~*~

When Cordelia shrieked yet AGAIN, Rogue finally lost patience.

"CORDELIA. SHUT UP."

"Listen, Little Miss Streaked, you're not exactly American Airlines first class, okay? You almost dropped me!"

"Ah won't drop you. Keep talkin' and I just might fumble ya, though."

Cordelia swallowed and glared, but kept her mouth shut. Quite a feat, Rogue guessed, as she looked down at the ocean below them.

"So umm. Where we going?"

"To the mansion."

"What mansion?"

"Home. Most likely the team's still there trying to come up with a plan." Rogue rolled her eyes as a smirk floated on her face. "Logan's prolly chewed through all his cigars by now."

The excitement seemed to wear at Cordelia, because she suddenly winced, her head falling on Rogue's shoulder. She gave a low moan, and when Rogue dipped in a sudden drop, Cordelia's face jerked in very discernable pain.

Oh crap. The vision pains were back.

Her body convulsed, and it took all Rogue had to keep her grasp on the jerking Seer, holding on tight and still managing to keep contact out of her face. "Cordelia!"

Cordelia's eyes shakily opened, and the hazel orbs were moist, filled with tears. "Oh, God, Rogue," she whispered, voice wracked with pain. "We are in serious trouble."

~ Chapter Four ~

For Ororo Munroe, finding the morbid humor in situations had never been difficult. It was a consequence that came from having a rather wry sense of humor, and although few could claim to know her, and very few could claim to know her well, those who did have the privilege remarked that when the usually quiet Storm had a smirk on her mouth and a glint in her eyes, something witty, morose, and often unexpected would come drifting out in an understated tone.

It was a gift, and a blessing, and true to her nature, Ororo used it with control, much like everything else in her life. So despite the perceptive remark that threatened to come from her lips to alleviate the tension in her taught stomach at the thought of Rogue being in that man's clutches AGAIN, her statement about the amount of chewed cigars littering the floor of the cabin plane remained right where she thought it should be: in her closed mouth.

Of course the crowded plane did nothing to help her jitters about the assignment, her uneasiness working with a vampire and his colleagues, no matter how `good' he might be, and her ever increasing worry that Rogue was in very much trouble.

Damn her claustrophobia.

She shivered, felt Remy's hands tighten on her elbow once and when she shot him a grateful smile, he squeezed once again in support.

True, Remy was the mansion sex fiend, but he could be a damn good friend to those who wanted to keep it platonic.

Unfortunately, that line was beginning to be blurred more and more lately, with Logan and Rogue's increasing intimacy.

The closeness had resulted in Remy's consulting her, getting closer to her, and considering the fact that she had never been immune to his blatant sexuality, just appeared to be, gave rise to even more insecurity.

Damn. She hated not feeling in control.

Her eyes roved around the plane, pausing once to study the identical faces of worry and repression in Logan and the vampire's faces, flickering over Jean and Scott's, lost on concentration, to the two young men who seemed extreme opposites, but extremely close, as they, in turn, studied her.

Aware that she had caught them staring, the English one blushed, something that looked rather cute, and Storm found herself smiling in return, missing the frown that passed momentarily on Remy's face.

His mouth opened to speak as his grip became tighter on her arm, but a ringing that came from the console in front of her kept him from saying anything else.

Immediately her hands flew over the buttons, quickly answering it. "Storm here."

The fuzzy screen quickly gave way to clarity, and when the figure grew clear, Storm gave an audible gasp.

"Hey, `Ro.'"

She swallowed, her hand gripped the Cajun's as she barely managed, "Scott, stop the plane."

His head jerked in her direction, and his mouth parted in a frown. "What?'

"STOP THE PLANE!"

The plane jerked and all eyes were on her, but Storm paid no attention as she leaned forward.

"Rogue?!"

Rogue gave a nod, looking amused as she shrugged slightly.

"ROGUE?!" People scrambled out of their seats, ran to the monitor, but no one did it more forcefully than Logan. Someone literally went sprawling as he clawed his way to the front of the pack.

"ROGUE! Where the -"

"Logan! I'm okay. Relax. Deep breath, sugar."

Storm, in spite of the incredible relief that flooded her own body, managed a smile at the obvious relief on Logan's face.

"You're home?"

"I'm home. You think I wouldn't get tired of waiting for the all mighty plan?"

"Now why does everyone gotta go knocking the plan?" Gunn asked from behind him.

"Shit," Scott said, looking none to happy. When all eyes turned to him, he blushed. "Nothing," he said quickly, blushing slightly. "but it was a good plan."

Logan just glared and turned back to the screen, almost pushing Storm away from the seat, a task that was completed when the big hulking vampire moved in next to him.

"Where's Cordelia?" he immediately demanded, earning a glare from Logan as he cut him off before he could question Rogue's health further.

Rogue's eyes narrowed, but she began haltingly, "Angel, right?"

He nodded breathlessly, and she paused, an expression flitting across her face that made Storm's stomach sink slightly.

"She's here, but... she's in trouble."

~*~

"You're not just leaving us here while she's in trouble. Angel, blindly jumping into situations doesn't help! Did PYLEA teach you anything?"

"Wesley I think you're being-"

"I'm not being-"

"SHE'S SICK!"

"I KNOW! Which is why more than one of us needs to be there!"

"Gentlemen we have to take into consideration-"

"Butt out Fred!"

"HEY! Don't take out your `Cordy's in trauma so we gotta lash out' issues on our girl here just because you haven't killed anything yet!"

Scott gave an audible sigh, his forehead resting gently against Jean's shoulder as his warm palm tightened against her, pulling her more firmly against him as they waited.

"Can we get the group therapy meeting overwith?" he muttered.

Jean shushed him, raising a hand to gently press against his neck before letting the argument continue.

She could understand their worry. It was better to let them work it out here.

"Thank you, Gunn."

"Welcome. Now Angel. Ain't no way in hell you're leaving us behind and going with a bunch of mutants-"

"Ahem. Just what is the matter with mutants?"

At the soft, yet firm entry into their little argument, the three men turned, sheepish expressions flitting over them as Jean raised an eyebrow.

"Nothing. It's just, no offence, Jean. You're cool and all that. But it's not like we know you."

"Likewise," Storm added. "But your friend is in our mansion, and she is hurt, so perhaps this argument could be settled a trifle bit more quickly."

"Yeah? Like now?" Logan added, a snarl attached to the end of his voice.

Angel gave an audible sigh, glancing over to the group of leather clad mutants who were all sprawled on the sofa's and chairs with barely contained expressions of impatience.

Even that Charles X guy was looking ready to clean their clocks.

"Alright," he said finally, trying to get past the blinding worry. "I ... Storm's right. We can't spend anymore time arguing. Wes, come with me. Gunn and Fred, I NEED you to stay here. Talk to Lorne, talk to anyone, keep LA safe until we come back. Maybe you'll find something here that we can't find over there."

"I can research," Fred began softly, her eyes sad and gentle. "Maybe I can find something. We haven't really had time to look before, but I can find things."

Angel gave her a soft, affectionate nod, squeezing her shoulder and pulling her close for a quick hug before letting her go.

"I know you will, Fred."

Gunn gave a short nod, finally relenting. "Sorry, ya'll," he said to the group waiting on them. "Things get a little nuts when one of us-"

"It's quite all right, Mr. Gunn," Charles said, wheeling forward. "We understand."

Gunn nodded, and shook hands with Wes, clasping it tightly. "Do what you can. Keep in touch."

"We will."

To Angel, who wore eyes of pain and incredible insecurity, he gave nothing more than a nod, knowing that he didn't need to give him anything else. Angel understood. "Take care of business."

"You too."

He waited a minute, locking eyes with Wesley once more, and turned, taking Fred by the elbow, steering her past the Mutant Models and making his way toward the door.

"Gunn?"

Storm pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek as she paused by him. "It was very nice meeting you."

He would have blushed had he not felt like there was a blender in his stomach.

"You too."

It was good he wasn't going. He needed to take care of his guys. He needed to stay in LA and not be in Winchester holed up in some mansion.

It was good he wasn't going. It didn't mean he was being left behind, but he was needed here.

That was all it meant. He had to take care of Fred and his crew. He had responsiblities to his family.

"Gunn?"

"Yeah Fred."

Fred's voice was tired, she looked weary from lack of sleep and her pretty face was worried for Cordelia, but when she held up the white slip something in his heart gave and he had to smile.

"Validation."

~*~

She had never been a good patient, and Rogue, as she waited outside of the medical ward that she had become very familiar with during the battles for her mind and the world, was never one to debate it.

The truth was she hated the medical ward, because it dredged up memories. Memories of the past, the present... of watching with eyes that were hers as her body lost control to another, and in the process, she lost the trust of the many friends she had worked so hard to make.

The fear was still there, in their eyes, and she couldn't blame them. In her mind manifested killers, leaking out.

One day, Rogue would snap, that's what they feared.

That's what they believed.

In her heart she knew she was death incarnate. The fear inside of her, at her gift, was something she had long ago come to terms with, but it made it no easier to settle down now, as her dark eyes flickered toward the door, supressing the shudder and the sigh that so easily came to her.

She was too old for this.

She was too old and too young. Her gloved hands drifted to her eyes and she rubbed at them, wincing at the pain in the left shoulder, already beginning to heal thanks to the inherited traits of Logan that had somehow still managed to worm their way into her system.

Rogue gave a sigh, leaning against the wall of the medical bay that held the Seer, her eyes bloodshot and red and all she could think of, alone with the lonely stark white was that...

It should have been over.

It should have been over. Rogue was taken, Rogue rescued herself, Magneto was averted again and that was it, it should have been over.

God she so desperately wanted this to be over. She could deal with her fear, but she could not deal with HIM, with Magneto... he brought back the child... and her hold over her mind, her control was so precarious and being the child was so dangerous...

Mission completed. Finito. Danger gone - disaster averted - happy X-Men abounded.

That was how it was supposed to end.

But the seer had told her she would end up with a wound in her stomach, dying, that Logan would try to sacrifice himself to save her, and she wouldn't allow it-

And the world would end in the process.

There was a woman her age in that room almost in a coma and in very serious pain from a head trauma that Hank had no idea how to fix and it was damn scary.

It was ridiculous. Ridiculous and full of shit and who the hell were The Powers That Be anyway? The seer was half baked and fried and half crazy and that kinda put a fork in anything she might have said.

Didn't it?

They couldn't have spent more than fifteen hours together, but it had felt like days, and although Rogue, Marie- whatever the hell people felt like calling her that day- was never one to make acquaintances fast, thanks to her inheritance of Logan's love of solitude and blunt insecurity of people, she almost considered this Cordelia Chase a friend.

Despite the fact she had called her bitch twice and the fact that she kept muttering about her impending doom.

This was scary. Scary and freaky and something she did NOT need right now.

If she kept thinking about she was going to freak out. Rogue knew that freaking out was not a good thing for her, and once again thanking Ororo the control freak for her little lessons, Rogue closed her eyes, took a deep breath, muttered a curse about the others taking so damn long and then her mind locked onto another thought to distract her.

Unfortunately the thought was a memory, and memories were dangerous. She was against a wall, he was pressed against her, hands kneading one breast almost reverantly as his breath was hot and moist against her neck and -

SHIT.

Rogue's eyes shot open and she shifted, gritting her teeth, feeling her stomach plummet at her own carelessness.

She was an X-Men. She should have thought of Magneto, of his plan, of mutations, ANYTHING but what had transpired between she and Logan minutes before they were attacked.

But she bit her lip and again the thoughts flitted inside of her head, long supressed by the kidnapping and well... the blinding fear.

It was... unexpected. Logan was a friend, her very best friend... a brother type...

At least that was what she had told herself since she was seventeen years old.

And God that was the last thing she needed from him at this moment. She trusted him. She loved him-

But the aching in her heart, the splinter in her mind and the sadness that would come from admitting that she was IN love with him would only worsen if he EVER decided to `go for it' with her.

She knew it was impossible. Physical intimacy with death incarnate was impossible. A relationship with someone who could kill with a touch...

She loved Logan too much... loved anyone too much to allow that.

In her heart, in her mind she knew that she would never go on if she accidently lost her very best friend in a night of passion.

She could live without passion.

She could not live without Logan.

Rogue swallowed, wrapping her arms around her body and holding on tight.

As soon as Cordelia was taken care of, as soon as Magneto was taken care of and the world was safe and Rogue was reasonably sure she would not come out of this with a gaping wound in her chest, then she would explain that to Logan.

It wasn't a conversation she was looking forward to.

Her breath blew out and her body sagged against the wall.

She had a sinking feeling it would lead to the breaking of her very own heart.

~*~

The plane landed over a basketball court that quickly gave way to an underground warehouse of sorts.

It was dark, night had long ago fallen, his hands gripped the side of the chair, and he felt tired.

Angel closed his eyes as he felt the thud of the plane, not speaking, not looking, just thinking.

Cordelia was in trouble.

The thought resonated through him and there was nothing he could do.

The helpless feeling coursed through him and it was followed with anger, as his chest rumbled with a growl that made Jean jump and Storm gaze at him, but Logan merely stared, and then turned away, forgetting him whent he doors opened and everyone stood.

Jean made a point of staying by his side as they walked down the stairs of the jet, Angel seeing the chrome, the high tech suits and the weapons and motorcycles, heard Wesley gasp in awe, and yet never letting it sink in.

He walked quickly, following Logan, Jean and Charles, letting Wesley follow with Storm and the others as they walked with assurance through the maze of brightly lit rooms, with the flourescent lights and 'X's that were placed on everything.

There was a lump in his throat that made it hard to breathe and when he turned the corner, his steps faltering as he recognized the girl from the alley.

Her eyes were red and bloodshot, she looked tired as she moved away from the wall. Her jeans were torn and dirty, her face smudged with blood and caked with dirt, and her hair pulled back into a pony tale, the white streaks mingling with the dark.

But her eyes were the part that made him suck in an unneeded breath of air, quicken his step and then stop uncertainly.

Jean approached her, but it was Logan who reached her first, rushing toward her and then stopping a foot away.

Rogue stared at him, and small smile flitted on her face and she only nodded, her eyes leaving his immediately and turning toward Jean's.

Angel didn't wait to see what Logan would do, but pushed past him, standing next to Jean as he looked down at the young girl.

"Where's Cordelia?"

This was so different from the blinding panic he usually felt.

He had no idea where she was but his movements were slow, almost as if he was drugged, in a daze.

So this was what true fear really was.

"Angel," Rogue whispered, and her head cocked toward the doorway, and no one tried to stop him as he pushed through them, not giving them a chance to slide before he burst into the room to encounter a huge blue furred beast standing over an incredibly frail body lying on a medical bed.

Oh, God.

"Wesley."

He didn't wait for the British man to follow, didn't even let himself think about walking but he was suddenly by her side, hand clasping hers, fingers tracing down her face, and oh GOD she was-

Her body was trembling, dried tears were on her face and there was so much pain in her face... there was so much pain-

"Cordy," he rasped.

Across from him he saw her other hand taken as Wesley sunk down, glasses glinting, his own face somber and sad.

Wesley was trembling.

"It's as we've feared," Wesley whispered. "This time... it was too much."

"She'll get through it. She has to," Angel snapped back, reaching forward to press his fingers against her face, leaning forward, feeling his vision blur with unshed tears.

DAMMIT. He would NOT CRY. There was no reason to cry because NOTHING was going to happen to Cordelia.

"Cordy, look at me, Cordy."

Her mouth opened and she whimpered, and his body jolted when her eyes fluttered open and her eyes locked with his.

"Angel?" she whispered. His hand tightened and he found he had no voice, and at best could only nod furiously. Her eyes lingered on him and her body shuddered again and when she looked at Wesley, he could only smile that crooked English smile of his that was so full of fear.

She saw it.

She saw the fear and it affected her. Her eyes closed and her body curled into a fetal position, pressing her cheek against Angel's cold hands, and Cordelia Chase held onto his arm desperately and she cried.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "It hurts too much. Angel, it hurts so much."

The tears, despite his damndest to keep them in, slid over and he wiped them away furiously, kneeling down against the bed and pulling her into his body. Wesley gave a choked sound that sounded like an attempt at a word and Angel didn't pay attention to it.

She needed him to hold her.

And dammit, that was what he was going to do.

His body shuddered and she continued to sob, heartwrenching sobs that were so painful as they wracked her tired body.

And FUCK.

All he could do was hold her.

~*~

"She's dying." Jean took the glasses from her face, put them down and rubbed at her tired orbs, body tight and shoulders aching from the hours without sleep. "She's dying and I don't know how to stop it."

It was the sentence that hung in the air, lingering over the heads of the X-Men that had gathered to hear the verdict.

Jean Grey was a leader in her field, she was a GOOD doctor, and Hank was a good doctor, a GREAT doctor and this wasn't suposed to happen to a twenty-two year old girl.

"Jean." Charles wore a haggard frown. "Have you considered using the mind to-"

"No," she said immediately. "Absolutely not. I have considered it, asking you, or myself going into her mind to try and deal with them but... it's much too dangerous."

"The amount of pain she is going through... would be too shocking," Hank explained, his blue fur glinting somewhat in the flourescent light. "I'm afraid even your mind, Professor, would have a very hard time taking control."

"The problem isn't her mind," Jean added. "These visions... it's from a vessel. They are outside forces. A channel inside of her has triggered them, but the channel isn't strong enough to..." she cut herself off, sinking down into the chair. "The vampire said she inherited these visions from a half-demon. Now, granted, that is taking a lot on faith, but it makes sense. As a human, she isn't strong enough to-"

"I know why Magneto wanted her," Rogue interrupted. Jean looked up. Until now Rogue had been quiet, sullen almost, eyes haunted with a pain that Jean knew she or Charles would have tried to touch on had they not been so involved with saving the Seer's life.

Scott turned, glasses glinted as he leaned forward. "Why, Rogue?"

The faded Southern drawl was thick, a sure sign that Rogue was troubled. The accent was always thicker when Rogue was nervous.

"He thinks she's a mutant. A human who became a mutant. And with what happened to Senator Kelly-"

"Could be happening to her," Jean breathed, hand jerking away from her face and sitting up. "Cordelia could be a mutant."

"That might be a longshot."

But her mind was already whirling. Her eyes connected with Hank's and immediately he stood, walking over the floor plan.

"It's the only lead with have, Scott," she said, moving past him, eyes already on the charts she had taken of the seer. "and we don't have much time."

There was shuffling behind her, she dimly heard Scott telling Storm and Remy to work with Rogue and research Magneto and what he could possibly want, but it barely registered.

Her glasses were back on and her energy was renewed, and although tired lines marred the pretty face and bags were forming under her eyes, Jean never felt more alive.

It was the fervor with which she tackled every mission, and she very much hoped it would be key in saving the life of the young seer who lay nearly comatose in the next room.

~*~

Winnifred waited as Gunn opened the doors to the hotel, and her steps faltered as she stood in the doorway.

She had never realized how empty it was... how alone it was when it wasn't occupied by a vampire, a seer, a watcher and a renegade.

Fred had been alone for as long as she could remember, and in her mind her own personal hell consisted of nothing more than being alone.

The hotel had never seemed so big, so lonely... and so incredibly unlivable.

She closed her eyes and shuddered, clutching her books to her chest and moving back. "Perhaps it would be better if I stayed at Cordelia's," she said quickly. "I'm sure Dennis wouldn't mind the company."

"Fred you have to stay here," Gunn said, catching her as she pushed back and moving her forward, hands on her waist, gently leading her in. "One of us needs to be here in case Angel calls."

"Why can't we both be here?" She whirled in his arms, and when he looked down he saw eyes wide and frightened, and SHIT he had forgotten how afraid she was of being alone.

Fred was a damned strong woman; it took a strong person to have lived as a slave for years and still have a vestige of sanity, but in so many ways, she was a child.

A really smart, really pretty child, with a hell of a mouth on her... but a child. A woman-child.

He licked his lips, keeping her in place with large hands wrapped around a small waist and looked around the lobby.

Shadows flitted about, seemed to move in strange places and it was dark and cold and empty and Cordelia was in trouble and-

"You want me to stay with you?"

Her eyes lit up and she nodded, the books still clutched in her chest, pushing into his, keeping them neatly seperated.

He reached in between them, prying the book out and tossing it on the counter. "Fred, you don't gotta be scared, okay?"

"I can't help it," she whispered, "Cordelia's my friend. She's my family and if she dies-"

"She won't die."

She swallowed, and her eyes closed and when she whimpered his hands went around her. She leaned into his embrace instinctively, face burying into his chest and Gunn was almost glad she had broken down.

That meant he didn't have to... and damn it he would have...

He was this close.

A small whimper slid from her still body and he sighed, pressing his lips against the top of her hair, smoothing down the silky brown strands as they stood in the cold, empty hotel lobby.

"We're gonna get 'em back, Fred," he said soothingly, eyes wide open as he stared at their home, his home.

He wasn't homeless anymore.

"We're gonna get Cordy back, and we're gonna get our family back and we're gonna be okay," he said, voice rough with conviction. "Until then, you and me, we're gonna stick together, okay?"

There was a sniffle, and an uncomfortable wetness down the front of his shirt but when her eyes met his and she gave a short, strong nod, he didn't mind.

It was going to be easier being with her.

"We can help them here," she said, pulling out of his embrace and picking up the book he tossed. "With research and books and... I can do that. And you can do the street thing and we can -"

"Fred." His fingers closed over hers and he pried the book once again from her fingers and led her to the stairs. "We will. In the morning. Right now, girl, you gotta sleep. You aren't gonna be any use to Angel and Cor and Wes if you're all baggy-eyed."

Her shoulders were tense, but he kneaded into them, and she didn't argue as they walked together to their bedrooms.

He knew it would be one of the longest nights in his life.

~ Chapter Five ~

Wesley put the pen down.

His eyes were stinging and watery, his mind was reeling with unfiltered emotions and he knew that finding the discipline he needed to concentrate was impossible.

How the hell was he supposed to concentrate on a threat they knew absolutely nothing about when Cordelia was in such immense pain?

"Something wrong?"

The velvety voice of Storm broke into his thoughts, and he pulled his hands from his face to find her gazing curiously at him, face placid and calm.

"Well my friend is bloody dying on the table, so yes I believe something is wrong," he snapped. Immediately he winced, closing his eyes when he saw her look away, pursing her lips.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, closing the book and removing his glasses, letting out an agonized groan. "You've been nothing but kind-"

She didn't say a word, merely stared at him from across the small table, head cocked and resting against one slender hand.

Her gaze never left his face, and after a moment, he found it unnerving, running his hands through his frazzled hair before looking at her.

"What are you staring at?"

She shrugged slightly. "You have a hidden strength. I find that intriguing." When he blinked, she smiled, the expression a tad sheepish. "Forgive me. I like to observe. That young lady in there, she is your heart."

"Pardon?"

"Your group's heart. Angel, he is the soul. The others I'm afraid I do not know enough about to find what part they play. But, you are the strength, the wisdom."

Her voice had a soft, tuneful quality, tone lilting and changing almost as if in song, and even as his heart shuddered at the sheer beauty of Storm, he still felt the pang inside of him at her words.

He shook his head, biting his lower lip and reopening the book. "You are mistaken, Ororo. Wisdom and strength are two of my weaknesses."

"I think you don't give yourself enough credit." She had an accent. African, maybe? Slender fingers slid through the long white locks and she moved gracefully, stretching back in the chair in the dark library, craning her neck slightly as she looked at him, brilliant eyes boring into him. "Strength and wisdom is not won by brute force, nor is it something anyone can attain. It lies dormant, in the quietness of one's movements, in someone's eyes or in their faces. In their actions. When Cordelia looked into your eyes she saw your fear and it affected her. She turns to you for strength."

He wasn't aware his hand was trembling until he looked down at the pencil shuddering against the table. He took a breath, stilled it, and then looked up at Ororo Munroe.

"Why exactly are you creating the aura of psychobabble?" he asked. The tone wasn't angry, but frustrated, and she didn't seem offended.

"I'm just letting you know that the strength you seek, the discipline, is inside of you. The others need you because of it." She leaned forward, and her darker toned hand covered his palm. "Perhaps you don't feel it now but it will come when you need it. And the wisdom for the choices, they are a part of it." He only stared at her, and a small sliver of a smile emerged. "I just felt you needed someone to point that out."

His throat was quite dry, and when he took a second to swallow to get the moisture back so he could reply, the door opened, and the moment was lost when Storm's brilliant orbs left his to land on the red-eyed French mutant.

"Goddess," he greeted, his eyes riveted on the contact of her hand on Wesley's. Her hand drifted away as she pushed away from the table, a questioning look in her eyes.

"What is it, Remy?"

He came forward, casting Wesley a glare that wasn't exactly hospitable as he lay a hand on Ororo's shoulder. "Jean. She wants us all in the room."

Storm immediately nodded, gathering her things. "I'll be just a minute."

"Him, too."

"I have a name," Wesley bristled, rolling his eyes as he got up, walking with him out of the door.

~*~

When Erik was a child, he found himself without a home, and without a family, nursing a broken heart and a splintered mind.

When he was older, he had walked, barefoot, in the mud, his body beaten and broken as he stepped out of the iron gates and looked up into the dark gray sky to find the officers who freed him staring at him with barely masked sympathy.

As a teenager, he had found nowhere to go and nothing to do but live with the haunted memories of his past, forever fearing, forever hating-

At nights the dreams still came.

He never forgot.

That was the promise he had made to himself long ago, hidden in his cell, almost naked and shivering with pain, lips ice-blue and mind reeling, and his hand reached for the metal chair and it bent and his eyes had glazed over with hate and he had made the promise to himself.

He would never forget.

He was still, fingers locked into a fist, leaning on the cold, gleaming metal, his body weary with age and heavy with heart. The tick, tick, tick of the metal balls that swung back and forth on his table served as a welcome facilitation to his thoughts.

Perhaps it was better when he didn't know. When he didn't know them and only knew Charles, and had blocked away the memories of friendship, and had only the purpose, the future of mankind to contend with.

Perhaps if he hadn't seen the dark eyes, the white streak, the complete and utter fear he had instilled in the child who should have been sacrificed, the woman who had once cried and screamed. Perhaps if he hadn't seen the other woman, barely out of her teens, in splintering pain, perhaps if he wasn't struck with the memories of a boy in a camp who had never known true hell until the moment the butt of the rifle struck him and he fell, close to death, in the mud, the dirt and the water sticking in his throat and making him choke.

The memories slid through him and the place in his chest ached, and he swallowed, and suddenly everything was all right again, and the belief was fermented in his heart and he knew that the choices he made were the right ones.

Because he would never forget.

~*~

Rogue knew he could smell her before she came into the conference room. She heard the hitch of his breath, could see him shuffle as she stepped into the doorway.

But his eyes revealed nothing when he focused on her. They were the same deep, dark color. The intensity was always there, even when he smiled the feral grin that made him Wolverine.

She also knew he could hear the way her heart raced, could smell the sweat on her palms and could mostly like see the way her breathing changed when suddenly she was struck with memories of a hard body rubbing against hers-

She swallowed as she gripped the doorway.

Shit. It was all different. He had made it all different.

He had made her want him.

DAMN.

The anger rose in her, and it gave her the strength to meet his gaze with a cocked eyebrow, a slight smirk before she walked casually into the room, sitting in her spot beside him, saying hello to Storm as the weather Goddess settled in on the other side, but not paying attention to anything but her awareness of him.

She closed her eyes, steeling herself for a bit before turning to him, letting the temper that was just a little bit his rally to her defenses as she opened her mouth to speak-

"Are you okay?"

She blinked at the concerned voice, and the anger faded away meekly and she almost growled in frustration as she let her eyes focus on his. Dark. Deep. Intense.

She had to clear her voice before a real answer came out. "I'm okay. Not good. Worried."

"You and that girl."

"Cordelia."

"Yeah. Got close?"

She shrugged, pushing one white bang out of her face and tucking it behind her ear. "Nothing says friendship like being through a life or death situation." Her eyes flickered to his, catching his gaze. "I guess you'd know."

The implication was clear, and it had come out of her mouth before she had a chance to stop it and she almost cursed out loud for the way he blinked and looked away, looking so damn unsure and so unlike Logan.

She leaned forward, about to speak when Jean entered the room, the dark vampire that had scared the shit outta Rogue following closely behind.

Rogue took in a breath, remembering why they had all gathered and the shaking started all over again and her hand gripped the desk, guilt seeping through her.

Just like her. Southern brat thinking of her own damn problems when a Seer was dying a few doors down.

She blocked out Logan, knowing any other time she would have reached for his hand, to feel the warmth of the skin through the thin leather gloves, would have gripped it hard and not have to have worried about breaking it like she had before with other people, because Logan had metal in his hands and he let her grip as hard as she wanted.

But she didn't.

Because she couldn't.

Because it was different.

So her hand gripped the table as she watched Jean sit down, her face weary and tired and still beautiful.

~*~

Jean took a breath, hands shifting over the papers reading quietly to herself until she heard the murmuring among the group stop and could feel the eyes on her.

If she wanted to, she guessed she could have reached out, let her mind open up to the feelings around the room, but she didn't need that. All it took was one look at Angel's darkly handsome face, at Rogue's confliction, and Logan's careful mask of indifference, to know exactly what was going on.

A tight smile caressed her features as she gave Charles a glance, and when he nodded, she took a breath, her voice purposely steady and even.

"I realize it has been a while. I'm sorry. Hank and I have been running tests all night and thanks to Rogue. We may have something."

A spark of hope flitted on Rogue's face, but Angel wasn't as convinced yet.

"Cordelia is a mutant?" Wesley breathed, and again Angel didn't say a word.

"Not exactly," Jean hedged. She lolled her tongue around her mouth, almost as if she was physically searching for the words before she glanced at the much bigger Beast and then took a breath, starting. "It's very hard to explain but, Cordelia is somehow, through this connection with, Doyle was it?" Angel nodded, his eyes completely focused on her. "she started mutating. But apparently because of her being fully human, whatever action was triggered... stopped. The connection would have worked fine for Doyle, because he was half human and half demon and the demon side could more than make up for the pain that came from the PTB not allowing this mutation to take place correctly."

"You just completely lost me," Rogue said, raising her hand.

Jean sighed, shrugging. "I don't know how to explain it any other way."

"I'm listening," Angel said, leaning forward.

"What Jean is trying to say is that Cordelia is only half a mutant. The reasons these pains are so debilitating is that however this connection started was done with a half demon in mind, not a human. It's ... genes," Hank finished.

"Okay, that's all very informative. But how will this help her?"

Jean gave Wesley an anxious glance. "We don't know. I... I have an idea. But it's never been tried before and I'm worried... I don't know what it would do to her."

The silence was not encouraging. She could see Angel processing the information, so the way Rogue's hands clenched the table, the way Storm glanced at the Englishman, who matched his vampire friend's expression to a letter.

Yes. This was definitely not encouraging her in anyway.

~*~

"Cordelia."

The voice was barely a rasp, but she heard it.

Her eyes were shut tight, and her body trembled. The flood in her head was overwhelming and she gave a short whimper, eyes unseeing.

She couldn't think, could barely move, but the voice called to her, familiar but strange.

Something was off.

In the haze of the pain, there was a squeeze, and it was then she realized that hands were pressing into her.

She sucked in her breath, and braced herself, letting a small moan escape as she opened her eyes to find the gentle brown orbs staring down at her.

She blinked, focused, and when the caring face didn't disappear, she felt her lower lip tremble, moving onto her side, pushing the side of her head against the pillow, trying to keep the tears from blurring her vision.

"Angel." A small smile forced it's way onto her lips as his fingers entwined themselves in hers. She fought against the ache, the pain, once again pushed through it to do anything to remove the hurt look in his face.

He had always been so beautiful. His eyes, dark and brilliant, shining with untold stories of heartache and vengeance, and beneath all that, a hope that seeped from within him, a love that gave life to a dead vampire that for four long years had embodied every reason for living.

It was for this man she was fighting, he was the reason she blinked back the tears and bit back the pain.

Her free hand reached, unsteadily, to his face, tracing the strong jawbone as she closed her eyes.

"Cordelia, look at me," he tried again.

Her eyes opened, and she hitched in her breath, feeling his hold tighten on her, jerking her slightly.

The ringing got louder in her head, and her eyes splintered against the images and god they were back-

"Cordelia you have to-"

He was crying. He was close to it, the cracking, the cloudiness in his voice-

Her eyes shot open and suddenly she was back, staring at the beautiful face of her best friend.

"Angel. I'm sorry. It hurts... it won't stop... hurting."

His palm wrapped around hers and she felt his soft lips pressing against them, gentle and sweet and trembling.

He was scared.

"Angel," she could barely manage anything more than a whisper, but her heart thudded and she forced her dry mouth to have just a little bit of moisture by swallowing. "What's wrong? Did something happen to... where's Wesley?"

"I'm right here, Cordelia."

Her body shuddered with visible relief when she heard the Englishman's voice, and when he came up from behind Angel, she managed a smile at him too, knowing he was trying hard to be strong for her, knowing she needed that.

Angel was still holding her hands, keeping them close to him, almost as if it were some sort of lifeline, almost as if he could find some sort of truth that he was desperately seeking in the silken touch.

Her heart thudded at the somberness of it all, and with a sigh, she let her breath out, not daring to close her eyes for fear the pain would overwhelm her yet again.

"What?"

~*~

She looked so damn helpless. So much in pain and so tiny and frail and -

Dammit. He couldn't ask this... he didn't-

"Cordelia," Angel struggled with his words, keeping her hands in his, gripping them tightly as he forced himself to look into the pained, beautiful face. "We can make the pain stop, Cordelia."

Her eyes widened, and suddenly they were on him again, flickering between him and Wesley as her whole body went still.

And the pain came again and he saw her body jerk and her eyes close for a millisecond before she forced them open yet again.

"What are you talking about?" she managed. "Tell me now."

"Jean."

"Who the hell is Jean?"

"She's a doctor here. She... she thinks she might be able to... do one of two things."

Cordelia sucked in her breath, long and hard, before letting it out in a short burst.

"Is it a mutant thing?"

"Yes." His voice was soft, gentle, barely above a whisper, too afraid to raise the volume any higher. "Cordelia, you're half a mutant."

Her eyes opened again, but she just stared at him, the hollowed pain apparently all she could really process.

"So?" she asked bluntly. When he opened his mouth to speak again, she added, "Just get it out. Please. It hurts. I can't... it hurts. I need to... the vision."

The stammering words gave him all he needed to know. Get it out quick and fast because she had no idea how much longer she'd be able to hold it and SHIT he had forgotten all about the vision of Rogue-

His eyes flickered to Rogue's still form at the doorway, where she leaned, watching with the others, and he immediately focused back on Cordelia.

"Cordelia, Jean wants to either revert it or go through with it."

"Revert what?"

"Cordelia," Wesley kneeled down, his hand on Angel's shoulder as he spoke gently. "Jean thinks she can make you fully human again, or fully a mutant. It's a lot of genetic mumbo jumbo I'm not quite sure I understand but, from what I can tell, she can take away the visions if you turn fully human. As a mutant, you can stand them, but, she doesn't know if she can make the pain go away."

Her voice was hesitant, eyes just a bit wider as she repeated, "Take them away? My visions?"

Angel nodded, hold on her fingers tightening. "No more pains."

"No more visions?"

"That's right."

The tears came, as expected, but the answer was completely surprising.

"No."

"What?"

"You're not taking them away." Her head shook slightly as she looked directly into his dark orbs. "They're mine."

"Cordelia-"

"I can't not have them. They help us. They help you."

The sharpness of her voice broke with the last syllable, and again he felt the stinging at the back of his eyes that he blinked back, shaking his head furiously, "Cordelia, the pain."

"I can handle the pain."

"No you CAN'T." His voice was louder, angry, his form shaking as the vision became blurry again and he growled, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve and focusing again on her. "Cordelia you can't. I don't want the visions and not have you." His hand released her fingers and suddenly he was cradling her face. "I need YOU. Forget the visions."

"Then make me a mutant. I can stand it then, can't I?"

"Cordelia," Wesley joined the argument, forcing her eyes away from Angel's as he bent forward. "If we can take these away-"

"We can't." She took in an unsteady breath, and when her eyes opened they were brilliant, shining and full of need. "You don't get it. I see what's out there. I KNOW what's out there. I can't not be a part of it. These visions are mine and they were given to me for a reason. I've lived with the pain for almost five years. I can handle it. Make me a mutant and I can live, right?"

"Cordelia."

"Angel," Her hand groped for his face and suddenly her eyes locked with his and she was close to crying again as she pleaded, almost begged, and God she never did that. "Please. Just do it. I need to help people."

His hand tightened on hers and the lump at the back of his throat was almost painful as he turned to look at Wesley's glistening eyes.

A short nod.

Angel took in an unneeded breath and then leaned forward, pressing his lips against his hurting friend's temple, feeling the soft skin beneath it.

That was it then.

His hand tightened on hers as he stood, faced the group of X-Men that were waiting, carefully closed expressions on their faces.

"Do it."

~ Chapter Six ~

"Our first stop doesn't always have to be world of the weird, you know? Sometimes actual human people can be just - awful."
~ Cordelia, Angel: The Series

~*~

It was getting cold.

Fred shuddered, wrapping her hands around her shoulders and rubbing slightly, looking up and around the cold hotel lobby, stopping to absentmindedly peel off the glasses.

Her head ached.

She took a breath, reaching over to the lamp and turning it up another notch, flooding more light into the room, chasing away more shadows.

She was tired, that was obvious. Her whole body felt heavy, and despite the years of manual labor she had had to endure in Pylea -funny how everything ended up reverting back to Pylea for her - she knew that true exhaustion came from the mind.

And God, her mind was so tired.

Her heart was thumping, and the place was so quiet she could hear the beat rumbling through her ribcage.

The last two years had been... interesting, to say the least. Life was always going to BE interesting, she supposed, when you kept the company she had kept - but it had been different.

They had had their share of trials, that was true, in the years following Buffy's death and ressurection and then the whole hell of an ordeal they had to endure when Angel and Cordelia finally admitted their mutual very big like and then proceeded to ignore it and the rest of them had to pretend they had no idea it was even going on -world had almost ended, at least twice. Demons rising in Receda and other things and it had all been interesting.

It had also been fun. Fun to look up to Cordelia Chase, and to be dressed by her. Fun to go out on shopping trips and come home to three men who smiled and clapped and watched patiently - or rather, watched with feigned patience, not wanting to risk the wrath of their princess - as Cordelia made her model her clothes. Fun to watch the look in Gunn's eyes when she had tried on the most revealing and un-her thing, looking so shocked and wierded out and then just walking out.

Okay, actually that was a little disconcerting, until Angel said Gunn thought it was nice and Fred, more shaken by Gunn's rough man show than she wanted to admit, had chosen to believe it.

It had taken two years for things to get... nice. Before the pains in Cordelia's head started to get unbearable and before that look in Angel's eyes was back and Cordelia had to be put in the hospital AGAIN, and before Wesley started looking tired and Gunn started spending less and less time at the office and more and more time in that rundown apartment where she KNEW that housing regulations were not being kept.

It was all tiring.

She was tired. And sad. And alone.

The hand on her shoulder startled her, and Fred let out a squeak, hand lashing out, that was just as quickly caught by a chocolate brown one.

Gunn gave a sad smirk, looking at the little palm in his before looking down at her and letting go. "You okay?"

"Ahhh," she closed her eyes, taking in a breath and biting her lip, fumbling for her glasses. "I am just... jumpy."

"Yeah, no shit, Sherlock."

She gave him a glare, but he merely yawned, stretching out and leaning his forearms on the side of the counter.

"How'd you sleep?"

The tone was concerned, careful, and once again the guy's penchant to treat her like a china doll made her snap, "I wish you would stop that."

"Stop what?"

"Treating me like I'm a fragile. You don't treat Cordelia that way."

He let out a breath, looking down at the countertop before looking up at her. "Maybe because Cordelia don't need it."

"She needs it, trust me."

He shrugged slightly, the somber expression on his face a tad distracted. Once again she closed her eyes, pulling the glasses off and rubbing at her temples.

"Angel doesn't-"

"Yeah well you know what Fred? I'm not Angel." He bit out the words and when she looked up at him in surprise, he swallowed, eyes suddenly focusing on her.

Sometimes she could have sworn there was something behind those eyes-

The phone ringing off the hook startled her yet again, but she immediately recovered, thankful for another place to focus as she reached over, answering with a breathless hello.

"Fred."

"Angel." Her body trembled with relief and anticipation, her eyes closing. "Thank God. How's Cordelia?"

He was quiet, and it was then that Fred realized that something was... off. Her heart began to pound and dammit she hated when hearts pounded because that led to insecurity and she hated insecurity because that led to-

"She's... it's complicated."

Gunn was up and at her side, and when he reached for the phone she smacked his palm, moving away from the counter, ignoring his questing hands as she listened to Angel's quick and hurried explanation.

"Uh-huh... Oh. I see.... Well... Yes... And- Okay... But what if-... Okay."

Gunn continued to try and weave around her, and Fred finally glared at him, pushing him back and ducking under the ever questing hand.

"Okay," she finally said, leaning against the wall, sighing. "Good luck."

She heard the click and her eyes closed, hugging the phone to her chest.

"FRED."

Her eyes shot open to find Gunn glaring at her. "What the hell did he say?!"

She swallowed and then moved around him, putting the phone back and grabbing her coat.

"We have to go see Lorne."

When he threw his hands up in the air, she turned around, shrugging slightly. "I'll explain on the way, Gunn."

~*~

Angel placed the phone in the cradle, hearing it find its place with a click.

Five hours into the surgery. Cordelia was behind closed doors, with the beautiful telepathic doctor and the blue furred beast man who had a surprisingly gentle soul.

He had no idea what the hell was going on.

Angel sighed, letting the unneeded breath course through his dead body, biting on his bottom lip and trying to still the demon within who urged on the panic, the desperation, the need to kill anything and everything that came close to killing his mat-

His best friend.

He swallowed, his hands clenched into two hard fists as he pushed himself away from the desk, meeting the eyes of the young mutant woman with the really old eyes.

Rogue crossed her arms, nodding to the phone. "They going to be okay?"

Angel nodded shortly, feeling his body ache under the strain of trying to remain civil. "They're going to be fine. I wish I could say the same for Cordelia."

The pretty girl's jaw hardened, and her chin came up, body straightening ever so slightly as she clipped back in what he suspected was a deliberately sugar coated drawl, "Jean is the best doctor I've ever known. You're lucky you got her."

"I don't feel very lucky."

She pursed her lips, sighing as she looked away.

There was a beat, and finally he just shrugged. "Okay, look. I don't want to take things out on you. I appreciate what you've done, I do. But right now-"

"You're fucked, I know." At the use of the coarse word, Angel felt a bit surprised, taking a closer look at the younger team member. The body was small, but there was a hidden strength behind it, and her face was interesting, almost as if she was lost in thought every second of the day, as if there was so much going on behind those doe eyes that every word that was edged out had a double meaning.

It was interesting... eyes of an old soul trapped in the body of a young woman.

Angelus would have loved her.

Already he felt the demon within pricking with interest.

And there was a reason Cordelia's vision had pinpointed her so earnestly.

Shit. The vision.

Cordelia would kick his ass if he came out of this and hadn't done anything about her vision.

That was the reason for all this, wasn't it?

That Magneto guy... and Rogue... dying.

Angel just mutely nodded, looking away. "Would I be able to speak to the professor?"

Rogue just nodded, heading toward the door with the graceful ease he had marveled at before.

"Come on. He's in his study."

~*~

It was easier to walk with the drop dead gorgeous vampire, because then she wasn't alone.

Then Rogue could concentrate on Cordelia, because it was obvious that he thought of little else and such focused concentration aided her in thinking about nothing but her too -

Because dammit with all the shit goin' down that was really the only safe place TO think.

Her eyes flickered to the man clad in black beside her, with the haunted face and hidden strength, and once again her mind was filled with questions.

Fifteen hours with Cordelia Chase and Rogue had learned next to nothing, except for the fact that Angel was a vampire, Cordelia was most likely very close to him, a lover maybe, and that he and their little band of renegades 'helped' people.

And of course, that she was next on the list.

The thought was almost amusing if it hadn't been so damn scary.

Her palms were sweating under the gloves and Rogue licked her lips, ignoring it, like she had learned to ignore it all these years.

Gloves, no matter how soft or fine... were damn hot.

And the inventor of the gloves rested happily in his grave.

She smelled Logan before they turned the corner, and dammit - her fucking heart did that flip-flop thing and she didn't need it right now-

Angel must have sensed or smelled something because he looked at her, slowing his walk, gazing at her curiously.

She ignored him, eyes focused only on the Wolverine as he turned the corner, body tense and hands clenched and that only meant one thing.

She knew that look, she had seen it on him on many missions.

He was a hunter looking for his prey.

Oh this was good. Just fine. Good old fashioned face-off with her best friend.

Just... fucking.... peachy.

"Rogue?" Rogue was immediately torn from the feral eyes to look into the dark abyss that was the vampire's orbs.

Angel.

Oh thank God. Distraction. Distraction was good.

"Uh... in here." She grabbed him by the elbow, and ignoring the look of surprise at the amount of strength she used, she flung open the door and pushed him inside.

She was about to follow him in when she felt an equally strong hold on her own elbow yank her back, before another hand slammed the door shut, keeping her away from the sancity of Charles' room.

"Rogue."

She closed her eyes, the warmth of the palm permeating through her whole body as the voice rasped with need and hurt and suddenly she was there again - with him - and they were-

"Logan... can't it wait?"

"No."

No. Of course it couldn't.

She didn't want to look. She didn't want to feel the twist in her heart when she turned her gaze on him, she didn't want to feel the pain that she had been fighting all day to repress, to put away.

God, if this was being in love...

It fucking sucked.

Her hand fisted into a ball and a grim smile slid over her features, as Rogue, ever the tactile, clever mutant with the killing touch and the invisible strength, let a fake smile plaster over her face that wreaked of old memories that were not hers, before turning and facing her would-be lover.

"What's up, sugar?"

~*~

Charles Xavier was an odd man, that Angel had figured out immediately. There was wisdom in those older features, a hidden peace and belief in the world that Angel still marveled at. The man permeated power - he seemed to have all the answers and Angel knew he was just as lost as they were. That kind of leadership drained.

Giles would have liked to know him.

He knew that Charles sensed him, but the bald, handsome professor did nothing that signaled he knew Angel had just been shoved into his room by a little woman with a hell of a grip.

His eyes were closed, palms cupped together as he leaned forward, breathing in and out, almost as if in deep meditation.

Angel paused, unsure of what to do or say, moving about awkwardly before finally settling on standing next to a dark leather chair.

Charles let out a breath, and his eyes opened. They were curiously bright.

"Forgive me, Angel. Perhaps you'd like a cup of water?"

Angel mutely shook his head, shifting uncomfortably. He was hungry, but not for water.

Charles looked at him for a second, and then nodded, reaching over the desk and punching a button. "Kitty, would you please see if we could rustle up some blood for our vampire friend?" Angel blinked when Charles looked up and politely asked, "I assume any blood will do?"

"Uh... Pig's blood is fine."

"Pig's blood preferably."

The link was silent, before he heard a young woman respond with an utterly confused, "Okay. We might have some human in the med bay. Is that cool?"

Human blood.

Angel swallowed, feeling the urge in him rise, the salivation dripping from the fangs as the low growl slid from his body without encouragement.

"I think that will be fine." His hand left the button and Charles smiled pleasantly. "We don't normally stock blood, with the exceptions for transfusions, you'll have to forgive us."

Human blood. Shit.

Angel sank into the chair. "I... I was hoping to talk to you about-" The voice was almost a rasp, but to his credit, Charles only listened without nary an expression. "You were busy. Did I disturb you?"

"No. I was merely... brooding. Perhaps it was a blessing that you pulled me out of it. Solitary confinement is not good for humanity. We need the companionship to survive." His blue eyes bore into Angel's and again Angel felt the shudder that went through him as the man seemed to look past his eyes, deeper, into his very soul.

"Do you always have this effect on people?"

"You'd be surprised." Charles managed a smile before wheeling around the desk to meet him. "You're concerned about many things."

"Yes. But I'm here to talk about Rogue."

"Your friend had a vision of her in trouble."

"Yes."

Charles brought his fingertips together, lost in thought. "Perhaps when your friend awakens, she will allow me to see it for myself."

When. He liked that. When Cordelia awakened. Not if. When.

There was no option... there was no if.

Cordelia was going to be just fine.

His muscles clenched and his grip tightened on the seat.

"She better be okay, Mr. Xavier."

"Call me Charles, and I know you're worried, Angel. I trust Jean wholeheartedly. You should too."

"I don't trust a lot of people."

"Based on experience, neither do we. Trust is a fickle thing, so I've learned." A shadow flickered over Charles' face, before he leaned back. "Right now we must use that trust and bring it together, to save Rogue and Cordelia from a very real threat."

"Magneto," Angel rasped.

"Yes. Magneto."

~*~

Shit. She was doing it again. She was pulling that shit with HIM.

Logan felt the jolt inside of him, the stab of pain that told him he knew Rogue too well, way too well... because he knew exactly what she was doing, she did it with every guy she had ever blown off.

"Don't start that shit with me, Rogue."

The fake 'sass' smile faltered at the grim voice, and once more, the unsure, insecure face that was so reminiscent of the child that had long been left behind floated back in it's place.

The voice had lost the deliberate 'Rogue' drawl and she almost shrank from his touch as she whispered, pleaded, "Logan please. We can't do this now."

"I think we should."

"I know we shouldn't."

His eyes bore into hers, and he knew she could push him away if she wanted to, her and that damned invincible strength of hers. She was well on her way to being able to kick his ass, but she stayed, in between his hands that were plastered to each side of the wall beside her.

It was almost as if her mind wasn't quite connecting with her body.

Her body... He closed his eyes and inhaled, feeling the rumble start in his chest and then up to his throat as he leaned forward, nuzzling the crook of her neck, taking in the scent of desire, of want and need and something deeper -

Only to be replaced with fear.

His eyes shot open when she planted her hands on his chest and pushed him back. "NO," she answered with a heated whisper. "Please, Logan. NOT. NOW."

"If not now then when?" he answered, the feral tinge that accompanied it making his voice hoarse, and so damn angry.

"Never." Her little gloved hands had tangled in the flannel of his shirt, her eyes were wide and soft and bright and then they turned hard and angry when his heart lurched at the one word.

"What the hell do you mean?"

"That night doesn't exist. Not now, not ever." She swallowed and suddenly the softness was back, and she was the little girl again, as the palms slid up to his cheek and the soft leather gently caressed the whiskers. "Logan please. This can't change. So many things fucking change but YOU... you never change and I love you that way. I NEED you that way. Please... you're the only thing I can count on and if-"

The voice broke and his heart melted and suddenly the anger was gone, as his arms slipped about her, and he held her close, feeling her heart thumping against him as she whimpered, wrapping her arms around him, burying her face in his neck and just holding on for dear life.

Fuck. This was how she wanted him. This was how she needed him.

He closed his eyes and pressed his cheek against the silky curtain of her hair, as her body trembled and her strength made him catch his breath and again appreciate the metal in his ribs.

"It's all right, Rogue," he whispered, feeling the warmth in his arms, every tremble and shudder wracked against his body. "It's okay. You got me that way."

Her voice was wracked with sobs and muffled as she whimpered, "I'm sorry-"

"Hey- don't. It's okay." His fingers gently pulled the bangs from his face, always carefully avoiding any skin as he looked into her face, watching as the tear-streaked face looked at him imploringly. Shit. He was the only one who saw her this way... he was the only one that she came to... the only one she trusted enough to-

And he almost threw it away for sex.

FUCK. He was a bastard.

"I was scared," he finally managed, voice gruff with emotion. "I was scared that I almost lost my best friend and I over reacted. I'm sorry."

Her eyes closed and he watched as the tear trickled over her chin.

Carefully he used the sleeve of his shirt to wipe it off.

"It's okay, Marie," he said, forcing a smile as he gave her another embrace, letting her forehead fall against his shoulder, keeping her close. "Nothing's gonna change now."

The words were muffled, but he heard them. They damn near broke his heart.

"You promise."

A grim smile floated on his face and the Wolverine bit back the retort that it had already changed... it had changed a long time ago.

"Yeah. Yeah I promise."

~*~

"This thing with Magneto. Wesley and Storm have been all over it and they can't find anything. We don't know what he wants or what he's doing."

Angel leaned forward, watching as Charles tapped his fingers absently against the desktop.

"It's not the what. It's the how, the why... and the where and when. Magneto is not exactly vocal about his plans. He's amazingly narrow-minded when it comes to them. He plans to use the same plan that almost killed Rogue and myself before..." Angel could hear the hitch in the voice, would not have caught it had he not had the sensitive hearing that he had been blessed... or cursed... with, as a vampire.

It was as if Charles was sad.

"I know what he plans to do. Erik is a very motivated when it comes to his plans. He sees them through. For a long time his dedication inspired me."

Angel paused, looking up. "You know him."

Charles would only allow a slight shrug. "We were great friends once. He gave me the idea for the school we are in now."

Angel furrowed his eyebrows, leaning forward. "You know what he's capable of?"

"Magneto is a complicated fellow," Xavier said after a beat. "When I met him... there was a fervor inside of him... I thought I understood him completely." There was a grim smile. "Little did I know that even if you can read a person's thoughts you never know their soul. Perhaps if I had gotten to him earlier... been able to reach him."

Angel cocked an eyebrow, swallowing as a flicker of grief passed over the old man's face.

"Erik and I spent quite a bit of time together," he began finally, a small smile on his face as he shrugged slightly. "Eventually our lives took us in different directions. I was never prepared to understand how different, until the incident with Rogue and Logan."

Angel swallowed, eyes flashing of Darla, Drusilla, Spike, Penn, before resting back on Charles. "You feel responsible."

Charles smiled slightly and shook his head. "In the end we are all responsible for our paths, Angel. It is our choice, after all. Sometimes the lines get blurred and the choices are difficult... that is where the pain lies."

Angel knew the answer only too well.

"Nothing matters but what we do."

Charles nodded and smiled. "Yes."

~*~ Caritas was, by far, one of the weirdest damn places he had ever been in, and shit, he had been through some crazy ass stuff.

Gunn sighed, pausing in the doorway as he led Fred in, keeping his grip on her hand firm as they weaved through the crowd, watching as the demons, humans, and something in the corner that he so didn't want to identify as they made their way to the green skinned Pylean who was bobbing his head to the beat of a song as a particularly ugly pasty faced thing warbled to the tune of "Careless Whispers."

Gunn kept his hand clamped on Fred's shoulder, despite her glare and the knowledge that she was going to get him for it later.

Hell, he knew he pulled the white knight on her a little too much, but someone had to. No matter what Fred said, she was fragile, and he had seen enough of fragile souls getting their hearts beaten and battered to let it happen to her.

Lorne, also known as the Host, acknowledged his friend with a drink tipped in their direction and a smile that was half pain and half duty.

"Sometimes this gig is bordering on painful," he said, eyes locked on the demon singing his heart out. "Give me a minute to sort this guy out and I'll get to you. Life hasn't exactly been a dream for you, has it?"

Gunn just took a breath and then reached for Fred's hand again, weaving her toward the ball, where he made sure she was firmly settled before leaning beside her.

She was quiet, and that was odd. Fred liked to talk, mostly because she hated silence, because silence equated being alone and being alone equated with Pylea.

Girl had issues, that he had to admit.

But damn if she hadn't dealt with them better than anyone he had seen.

Her slender hands were still gripped in his palm, and when she squeezed, he found his focus directed at her yet again.

"Hey. You okay?"

"No," she answered, eyes flitting closed and opening a moist brown. "What if she's not alright, Gunn? What if Cordelia comes back and she's not all right?"

"Hey." Crap. She was scared. She was really scared. He hated Fred scared. The lump in his throat got bigger and gently he leaned forward, taking the glasses from her eyes so he could look at her, make her focus on him completely. "It's gonna be all right. It's always all right, isn't it?"

"I couldn't lose any of you, Gunn," she admitted finally, breathing out, keeping her gaze locked on him. "Not Wesley, not Cordelia, not Angel... not you."

Amazing what dangerous situations did... bringing people closer and all that. It had taken Angel dumping them on their ass those years back for Gunn to really appreciate Cor and Wes, and it took Cordelia on her deathbed for him to appreciate Fred.

"Hey. Check this out, Fred," he said, sliding his arm around her and gently fitting her into his side. "You're not gonna lose any of us. We're here for you. We need you too."

There it was again, that muffled half giggle that Cordelia had a hard time standing and that he just thought was cute.

"I highly doubt that possibility."

"Oh, he's right, sugar lips," came in a cheery voice from behind them.

Gunn looked up to find Lorne smiling a half grin from over the top of his drink. "If you guys are gonna defeat the big bad, you're going to need all the help you can get. Oh, and please don't misunderstand," Lorne added, reaching over to pluck a peanut from the bowl behind them. "I know you've dealt with end of the world shindigs before but this really takes the cake."

Gunn's brow furrowed and he sucked in his breath when Lorne finally ended with, "When those bad mutants and demons get together - this world is in for a killing."

~*~

He had no idea why the Storm Goddess had made it her personal goal to befriend him, but Wesley Wyndham Price was not complaining.

Storm, or rather, Ororo as they also called her, was someone he had found he liked very much. Her perception was rather disconcerting, but the softness of her nature was refreshing. Life was full of abrasive characters, and those who chose to approach it with a subtle shift were those to be admired.

Now, she sat beside him on the great stone wall that surrounded the school, quiet, not speaking, just being, and Wesley was thankful for that.

His mind was full of many things, and the waiting was the hardest part. Waiting for them to come out and tell them that Cordelia was all right... that she had survived the mutation intact... that she was still... Cordelia.

"You're scared." He blinked, surprised, before turning and regarding her, shrugging as he adjusted his glasses, clearing his throat.

"I am, yes."

"Me too."

"Oh?"

She took a breath, looking over the night sky, eyes focusing on some unseen constellation as she replied, "I do not like not knowing."

"Something we both have in common."

She seemed distracted, giving him a flitting smile before looking back up at the stars. "How did you come to know Angel?"

"I was assigned to ... mutual friends," he finally said. "I was fired from a job and was looking for a place to belong to. Angel and Cordelia gave me that friendship, that acceptance."

A long rush of air fled from her body, and she nodded, her smile indicating she understood. "I can appreciate that. Acceptance is something we strive for."

"You mean as mutants."

"I mean as people, but mutants especially, yes."

He nodded, eyes flicking toward the stairs of the large mansion she inhabited before wondering out loud, "And your red-eyed Cajun, shouldn't he be looking for you by now?"

She froze ever so slightly, he could feel her shift a bit closer and there was a beautiful, lilting laugh that came from her as her shoulders shook in slight mirth.

"He has gotten rather protective lately, hasn't he?"

"I believe he thinks he has every right."

She smiled, nodding slightly before turning, looking into his eyes. "He may think he does, but he does not. Not yet."

There was a curious thump in Wesley's heart as he swallowed suddenly, leaning forward. "Exactly why does he not?"

"Perhaps because he spent so long making up his mind about me that I got tired of waiting. A women does not like to wait for love."

"I wouldn't say that," Wesley countered. "Cordelia seems content enough with it."

"You mean her and Angel?"

"Their friendship, yes."

"Is that what they are?" There was genuine curiosity in the voice as she tipped her head at him, eyes focused on his face, waiting for his answer.

"As friendly as Logan and Rogue are."

She chuckled. "You noticed that."

"I notice a lot of things," He answered with a smile, thankful for the joking tone. "A watcher sees all."

"A Watcher?" she raised an eyebrow. "You're a seer too then?"

"Oh, no." Wesley shook his head. "A Watcher. Well... a former watcher... actually."

"What's the difference between a watcher and a seer?"

Crap. He shouldn't have brought it up. How on earth did one explain the phenomenon and paranoia and the supernatural demons that came with Slayers and Watchers and what they did without completely throwing someone off? Storm was relatively open minded but they had been liberal enough.

Unfortunately one look into those dark eyes and he didn't seem to mind trying to put those thoughts into words. This was dangerous. Very dangerous.

No good falling for a woman who belonged to another man, even if she seemed not to notice or believe it.

"A seer gets visions and the watcher..."

"Watches while I writhe in pain," a voice supplied helpfully.

Wesley gasped, turning and almost stumbling off the wall had it not been for Storm's strong hold.

"Good Lord, Cordelia!"

Standing directly behind him, legs encased in black leather pants, black boots, and dressed in a black tight top that had an 'X' emblazoned on the shoulder, was Cordelia Chase.

~ Chapter Seven ~

"I've got visions coming out my ears - and maybe a little blood too - but that doesn't make me a princess. That makes me... kinda weird."
~ Cordelia, There's No Place like Plz Grb. Angel: The Series

~*~

"You're quiet."

"I'm always quiet."

"Quieter."

Gunn just shrugged, acknowledging the strange behavior with a nod before turning his focus back on the road.

Thoughts, mixed emotions and a hammering heart were distraction enough, the last thing he needed was the worry in Fred's glistening eyes to seep through his own soul. He had lived a lifetime without rest, without regard for himself and it seemed it would always be that way - if Lorne had told the truth.

And damn if the bastard didn't always tell the truth.

He took in a breath, thankful that Fred had elected to stay silent as he silently processed all that he had been told.

"I still can't believe you made me sing."

The grumble was muttered with an almost childish pout, and it brought an involuntary smile to his lips.

"Better you than me, Fred."

"You could have at least let me pick the song."

He had had to drag Fred up to the stage, and didn't tell her that Lorne had let him know it was HER that had to sing, because whatever the hell was going down was going to involve her a bit more explicitly than it involved him.

"Support and muscle," Lorne said, winking. "Like Rambo, in a Denzel sorta way."

And the little sparrow had a surprisingly sweet song, once she got passed the aching fear and complete trembling.

Better than any of their group, anyway. People didn't noticeably cringe, and when her voice lilted in that soft movement, it had gone right through him, sending some heat and ache that had before only had been summoned by the lovely princess Cordelia, who was a strictly 'look but don't touch unless you wanna get gutted by a vampire' sorta girl.

Winnifred also fell under the protective 'Angel' umbrella, but in a little sister 'protect at all costs' sorta way, and Gunn could deal with that.

Course all these thoughts were damn confusing, and thrown completely out the window with Lorne's words of doom and despair.

"Chaos on the First Night, sugar lips. Get your little Fang Gang back over here, cause it's not happening over on the east side snow border. And bring the little X's while you're at it. They've got an old friend who's waiting to follow through on a promise."

And he thought Cordelia's visions were vague and foreboding.

"What? You had a problem with Janet Jackson?"

"I had a problem with the lyrics. They were highly suggestive."

He stifled another grin. Yeah, he guessed the lyrical rendition of 'If' was a little suggestive, but damn did she look cute all flustered doing it.

"Don't think I can't see you smiling."

"What, you're pissed at me now?"

Fred shifted, crossing her legs and looking toward him, the glasses glinting as they passed another streetlight. "Perhaps if you told me what Lorne told you-"

"For my ears only, Fred," he cut in shortly, the smile immediately sliding off. "You heard all that you needed to hear."

"I sung, I should have heard it."

"Fred, drop it."

The words were clipped, but the glare she gave him told him she wasn't going to give up anytime soon. Plucky little girl.

He shook his head, clamping his jaw as he processed what Lorne had told him while Fred was singing.

"Protector, Pretty Boy. You guard her. It's not that hard a concept."

Gunn had only narrowed his eyes. "She already has me taking care of her."

"No. Just her. In a bodyguard kinda way. I think we could do with another Whitney Houston soundtrack, don't you?"

Again, Gunn jerked his gaze back to the singing girl on the stage.

"So I'm supposed to spend the rest of my life protecting her?"

"And the light blinks on. Glad it got through that little bald head of yours, my friend. Cordelia has her champions. That Fred there? She's got a destiny that is beyond what we can even comprehend. She needs a champion - tag. You're it."

"You're all quiet again."

He huffed, turned to glare at her when the car jerked and the body came out of nowhere and flew against the windshield with a resounding crack.

Fred had jumped and he had swerved, feeling the truck slam into the side, his body lurched and immediately he unclipped the seatbelt, blinding reaching for Fred in the near total darkness.

"Fred are you-"

Vampires. Large and big and a gang of them. One on the truck, two on either side.

He sucked in his breath, and the anger slid through him, the hate that came so easily as he reached into the back seat and grabbed the stakes and an ax.

"Stay here," he breathed.

"I'm not letting you- "

"STAY HERE, FRED."

She looked angry, but her forehead was bleeding slightly and the glasses looked more than a little broken and he wasted a precious second to wipe at the blood, run his fingers along the wire frame of the dangling eyewear, pulling it off gently, before biting his lower lip and moving to the side.

"I don't need a protector, Gunn."

He had paused again, and suddenly he turned and his body pressed against hers and his lips were on hers, plundering her mouth in a hot, desperate kiss.

Her body was trembling and she was gasping for breath when he moved his lips away. His eyes searched hers and the intensity behind them made him smile as he traced a gentle finger down her face.

"Tough."

With that, he let her go, and kicked at the door, sending one of the vampires flying backwards.

~*~

If everything wasn't so chaotic and they weren't on such a crucial time table, Cordelia would have actually enjoyed the look of utter panic and then approval on Wesley's face.

As it was, she didn't even had time to thank Storm for the clothes before the Englishman launched over the wall and pulled her into a furious hug.

God, he had been really scared. He had really thought – oh God had bad DID she look before?

He was trembling, and Cordelia felt her eyes water at the sheer emotion in Wesley's form, and to hide the beating of her own heart, she shrugged helplessly at Storm, who was nodding and looking a bit misty eyed herself – though that could have explained the sudden thunder they were having.

"Wesley – Uh… can't breathe – " she patted his back awkwardly, swallowing as she continued to be suffocated by an armful of shaking and blubbering Wesley. "Uh… Wesley? I love you but – personal bubble! PERSONAL BUBBLE!" She pushed him back, running her hands through her hair in an attempt to regain her appearance, only to be plowed into by him again. "AUGH! HEY! What's with the touchy gropey!"

He pulled back, hands cradling her face with genuine warmth in his eyes. "You're alive!"

"Yeah. So? Here I am in all my mutant glory. Storm, right?" she said, nodding over her head to the Weather Goddess who was watching with an incredibly amused expression on her face.

"It's very nice to meet you."

"Likewise," Cordelia said. "And thanks for the clothes. Perfect fit."

"They look good on you."

Wesley pulled her to him YET AGAIN, and patient as Cordelia liked to think she was, that was quite enough. "Wesley, I appreciate the sentiment but if you get tears on my brand new X-y clothes I'm gonna kick your ass."

Immediately he leaned back, but he was still smiling widely. "How are you- Are you – Has Angel-"

"Fine, I'm fine, and No. I saw you on my way to the study and wanted to say hi. And I really WISH I could revel in the whole `Cordy is alive and let's worship her' emotional bonding, but … vision. Couldn't tell you before what with all the mind numbing pain."

Wesley took a breath, squeezing his friend's elbow. "Vision. Right. Good."

Cordelia smiled, and leaned forward, planting a kiss on his cheek. "I'm glad I'm alive, too."

~*~

Logan had to admit something, no matter how much he claimed to hate Scott or think he was a tight ass son of a bitch, the bastard got things done.

Logan saw stereotypes, and when he first encountered Scott, he had to admit he saw nothing but a stick up the ass leader with as much common sense as a barmaid.

Now, a few years later, Logan owed the guy his life, on more than one occasion, and had come to depend on him as a teammate, and occasionally, when they weren't playing the roles they were supposed to play as beastie and team leader, as friends. He felt he understood Scott Summers – and the guy needed to learn how to relax.

The guy never took a rest, and Logan wondered if he even knew what the term `recreation' meant, because whenever he saw him, he was always thinking of all the different things that needed to be done and never about the present – about now.

Logan shook his head, looking down at the beer he had just emptied and reached for another one out of the cooler.

"Scooter."

Scott looked up from his books, the glare easily discernible despite the lenses covering his eyes.

"Logan, can you not call me that?"

Logan smirked, and tossed the bottle across the room, nodding when Scott caught it immediately.

"Relax."

Scott fingered the bottle, taking in a deep breath. "I shouldn't," he said, more to convince himself than Logan.

Wolverine just rolled his eyes, shifting as he grabbed himself another bottle. "Shit, Scott, I'm not telling you get piss ass drunk, but relax. Jean isn't gonna be too happy when she comes out of that surgery seeing you all haggard and crap."

"Shit, Logan, since when did you start making sense?" Rogue smiled from the doorway, and Logan froze and there it was again


The hitched in breath, the tensing of his muscles and the twist in the ever-hardening knot of his stomach that told him this wasn't going to work.

Just friends his ass.

Rogue just gave him a smile, acting just like she would act any other day, before leaning over and plucking off the bottle cap of Scott's beer. "Fuzzy's right, sugar."

In the pause that followed, Logan narrowed his eyes, watching with fingers clenched exactly how the hell they were supposed to handle this whole `last night never happened' when they both know it fucking did.

If Rogue had meant what she said about wanting things to be just like they were, she would have made a bee-line to his sofa and curled herself up under the crook of his arm.

Instead, he heard the uneven breath of hesitation, before she smiled back at Scott, and then turned, curling up in one of the bigger armchairs in the lounge, never once looking into his eyes.

He fought against the growl, knew it would give him away, and instead he swallowed, clenched the bottle harder, and tried to drown himself in it.

So he promised.

She lied.

He blew out his breath, launched out of the chair, aware her eyes were on him, and thankful when Jean Grey stepped into the room.

Rogue immediately stood, Scott slammed the bottle down on the chair and all eyes were on Jean.

"Well?"

She looked tired, her eyes were tired and there were bags under her beautiful eyes. When she came into the room, immediately she sought out her fiancée and with a sigh, sank down on the couch beside him, curling his arm around her and leaning on his shoulder.

She looked exhausted.

But her eyes were shining brilliantly and Logan knew that Jeannie was walking on freaking air.

"Hey guys," she said with a sigh, hand reaching up to massage at her temples.

"Take it it went well?"

"Oh, God, it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," she said, her voice soft, barely a rasp. "But she's alive."

"She's alive?" Rogue seemed above relieved, slumping back into the seat and catching his eyes and smiling.

"Completely mutated, and alive." Jean leaned forward, her shoulders shuddered slightly and she looked up, her eyes bright and so very radiant. "We did it. Hank and I did it." Scott smiled, leaning forward, sliding a warm hand down her back and back up, massaging lightly.

"Can we see her?" Rogue asked, crossing her legs and leaning forward.

"Sure. She's…. " Jean sat up, and immediately looked toward the door. "Coming right now."

Huh. So it was time to meet the all famed Seer.

Logan wasn't sure what to expect when the woman walked through the door, but he sure as hell wasn't expecting what he got in the black leather.

Before, he had only seen glimpses of the girl, first in the night that had restricted his view and then lying in the medical ward, in pain and definitely not at her best.

Now, he understood why the vampire and the English librarian looking guy had been so hung up on her.

Cordelia Chase was fucking hot.

The body was long and slender, voluptuous curves accentuated by the black clothes given to her by Jean. The hair was short, accented with blonde highlights that did something to her eyes, made them sparkle, set off by a bronze colored skin that was even, making her the oxymoron of a California girl with just that little bit of class that gave her that something extra. Jean had it in spades. Rogue had a different sort, and Storm's was it's own godly type. But Jean and Cordelia had the exact same move, grace, walk.

Royalty.

What was he overheard that Wes guy telling Storm? Cordelia was a princess or some shit like that?

He pursed his lips, looking over to Rogue who greeted Cordelia with a hint of a smile on her face, all the affection she usually allowed.

Cordelia Chase gave Rogue a smile, but there was something in her eyes that, upon sniffing, matched fear. Cordelia was scared. Scared shitless.

"Hey guys." She remained standing, but took the beer that Scott had taken but never drunk, and took a sip herself. "Jean, shouldn't you be napping or something?"

"Later."

"Yeah. Later."

Logan cocked an eyebrow, narrowing his eyes, and almost as if she had felt him, she turned, regarding him.

He had come to notice that most women who first laid eyes on him had two different reactions: blatant fear or immediate curiosity.

Cordelia Chase regarded him, and it was clear she was experiencing the later. Her eyes bore into his and she paused, and she continued to silently process everything she was seeing.

"Who's Lumber Jack Dan over here?"

Rogue raised an eyebrow and Storm came forward, moving past Wesley. "You do remember Logan, don't you?"

Cordelia's eyes never left his and he only smirked, looking right back, knowing Rogue was watching and so angry he didn't care. Let her check him out. He was just as good at checking right back.

But the girl didn't back down. Her eyes were on his and they were damn pretty eyes, and in the end it was Rogue who stepped up and broke their line of sight by turning her back on him and talking to Cordelia that ended the staring contest.

"How are you feeling?"

Cordelia looked over her shoulder to him again, but she just shook her head slightly and then turned to Rogue. "We have to talk. Now. The vision. Was Freaky."

~*~

Rogue's eyes were dark, troubled, more troubled than before, and Cordelia felt her mind flash yet again. Her eyes fluttered and the pain was back and she closed her eyes, taking a breath, and letting it ride through her.

"Are you okay? Cordelia?"

"I'm fine," she whispered. "The pain... it's... just a flash." Not nearly as painful and God... she could almost stand it.

Mutation was a scary thing, when she allowed herself to think about it. The Truth was, Cordelia Chase wasn't sure exactly what the mutation had done to her. All she knew, was waking up to find a pretty, tired, young doctor looking over her shoulder along with a huge beast with fur who spoke with better grammar than Wesley.

And she didn't care. She was alive, she was sane, visions still there.

Mission accomplished. She'd worry about being a freak later.

She swallowed down the nausea and then turned to Rogue, hand on the smaller girl's covered shoulder before beginning. "You remember that vision I had?"

"The one you had while we flew?"

"Yeah."

"What did you see, Cordelia?" Wesley asked, immediately at her side.

"Where's Angel?" She asked, looking around.

"In the study with Charles."

"Wheels?"

Logan snorted, amused despite himself. "Yeah. Wheels."

Cordelia's eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms. He crossed his right back, daring her to comment.

She didn't. She'd worry about hairy freak later.

The last thing she needed was to tell Rogue that her boyfriend would be the one responsible for her death.

And that he would kill himself when he realized what he did.

And that she would lead the parade to the apocalypse.

Or that the demon Angelus would take over her best friend.

All that information was on a need-to-know basis.

And Angel needed to know. NOW.

"Let's go get him."

~*~

The phone rang, interrupting Angel's contemplation, and Charles just smiled, moving about the chess pieces, while Angel reached for his cup of mug, pausing to savor the scent before letting what little there was left slide over his tongue, down his throat, the bitter, tangy liquid filling him as nothing else did.

God. Some things never felt better than human blood... life blood... the soul of something... seeping through him.

He closed his eyes, feeling an unconscious sigh as it seeped through him, jerking his body as the demon growled in appreciation.

Human blood.

"Angel?" Angel opened his eyes, felt his fingers jump to his face and immediately looked away in embarrassment.

"I'm sorry," He managed to growl through the fanged lips, hiding the demonic face from the professor.

"It's quite all right, Angel. The phone. It's for you. Some one named Charles Gunn."

There was a dizziness, a buzz and he blinked, shaking it away, trying to remember how to contain the sensation that came only with the consumption of human blood.

Human Blood.

He reached blindly for the phone, shoving it against his ear, not wanting to see the Professor's face as his mind reached to control the demon that had managed to slip out.

"Gunn."

"Angel, man. There's shit going down here. You gotta come back. NOW."

Crap. Angel bit into his lip, holding it down as he managed to eek out, "What happened?"

"Vampires. And other stuff. I mean it's WIERD. I talked to some of my boys and - Angel - Lorne said you had to get your ass back here NOW. And to bring those X's out too. It's the end of the world."

"Again?"

"The end of the world as we know it," came a voice from the doorway.

His entire body stilled at the familiar tone. Angel almost dropped the phone when his face jerked toward the doorway.

"Cordelia?"

She leaned against the door, offering him a sad, grim smile. "And I feel fine."

He could only stare in shock, not standing, not moving, his entire body and mind just focused on the woman in the doorway.

"Angel?"

Oh God. She was okay. She was safe. She was okay and safe and standing here and she was okay and oh God she almost died and-

"Angel!"

She came forward, and his gaze burned into her, as she kneeled in front of him and plucked the phone from his lifeless fingers, taking them in hers and massaging them lightly as she picked up the conversation.

"Angel's a little cryptic now," she said, ignoring him as the vampire slid fingers through her hair, his face one of utter amazement. "Uh... hold on Gunn... Angel what are you ON?"

"You're alive."

"Uh... Can I call you back?" She listened, her eyes focused on Angel and then flipping back to some people behind him.

He didn't care. She was here and alive and not dead and there was ringing in his eyes and God his heart was ready to burst and he could have SWORN it was going to beat any second now because SHE WAS ALIVE.

"We're on our way." She gave the phone to Charles, and again Angel's hands began to roam over her, on her. "Uh..." her hand picked up the empty mug. "Is this human blood?"

"Yes."

"Great."

"Don't vampires drink human blood?" asked Rogue from the back.

"Uh... bad ones do. Angel hasn't had any in a while and it's made him a little... vampirey." Cordelia's hand cradled his face and his eyes glowed as he gazed at her, covering her hands with his own and squeezing.

"You're alive."

Her eyes met his and for a moment she just stared, and her eyes closed and her heart skipped a beat - he heard it- before she stood, and his hands were burning on her waist and she said something to everyone about leaving and getting ready to pack and all he saw was her until the blood rushing through him and in him and around him died down and suddenly it was just him and her.

"Cordy?"

She took a breath, fingers running over the features of his face as she smiled, a little shakily. "Hey. You with me now?"

He swallowed. She was here. She was alive. She wasn't crazy, and the only thing different about her was her ensemble.

With a strangled moan he pulled her to him and held her close, eyes stinging with tears as she let him hold her, just for a second, before pulling away, taking a step back.

Oh, God, Cordy, don't do that... don't pull away when I need to feel you.

"Angel. You need to listen. The vision - the one I had yesterday."

"Not the vision. Not right now," he spat immediately, rising, looking at her as if she was some sort of prey he had been tracking forever.

Her eyes widened, and immediately narrowed. She knew him too well, his Cordelia. She knew what he wanted.

"Angel -"

His dead heart felt as if it would burst as her eyes met with his, the smile coming from her lips quickly faltering when she saw the intensity in her eyes.

"I almost lost you, again," he whispered, voice hampered by emotion, lust, desire... love. "I could never..."

He could smell her - the increased awareness of him, could hear the blood racing through her heart, could see the way her feet stepped back nervously.

His hands clenched at his side, and he felt caged: knowing what he wanted, helpless to get it and not giving a damn.

She was still Miss Commonsense, he could practically hear her mind whirling as she fought this, fought him, fought it for so long.

But perhaps it was the moisture that tinted his dark brown eyes that made her hesitation disappear, and every reason that they had discussed those years ago on why they could never be more than friends unless the impossible happened was thrown out the window when her eyes watered, and her mouth trembled and she whispered, "Oh, God Angel. I thought I had lost you too."

He lunged forward, meeting her halfway as he pulled her close, pulled her head back and met her lips in a desperate, searing kiss.

God - how had he forgotten the sensation of her hot, moist lips against his colder ones? How the burning, raging desire inside of him exploded with every movement of her body against his? Every touch of her hands on his body, the way she felt so obvious, wanting him, needing him-

How had he forgotten how good it felt to kiss her?

~*~

Okay... sex with Angel equaled badness. That was her mantra, she had come to accept it - but GOD.

The second his lips left her own she tried to speak, tried to reason this out. "Angel," she managed, mind reeling as she tried to do anything but concentrate on the feel of him against her, the way his hands spread out on her waist, fingers grabbing and pulling her closer against a hardness that body melt and soften against his, the aching heat that was spreading from her groan to her chest to her heart until she wanted to explode -

The way the only thing that seemed to soothe her was the aching coolness of his lips, his body, his hands-

And his lips came down and there it was again - the beautiful kiss that only felt right, only felt REAL, when he gave it to her.

When he loved her.

His lips clung to hers, a low rumbling vibrating from his throat that seeped into her body, as he jerked her toward him, crushing her against him, her back slamming against the wall as he slid his hands over her waist and lifted her up, fitting her hips neatly against his.

Oh, God. OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD.

She swallowed, almost suffocating as his chest was rock hard against her, the wall not giving any- but who cared about breathing when Angel was with her, when Angel was kissing her.

He mumbled something intelligible and her lips parted with a sigh, taking in a breath as one hand gently slid up under her shirt and skimmed the side of one breast, face buried in her neck, and there was sucking and tiny nips with teeth, and suckles.

Her cheek scraped against the rougher stubble of his cheek, and he hadn't cared about shaving so it burned a little, but it was a good kind of burning as her mouth pressed against the dark fabric covering his shoulder, opening and biting down lightly.

He groaned, jerking his hands down and now they spread against her backside, palming them carefully, pulling in, until her hip was rocking against his and oh God-

"Angel," it was barely a word, and even her arms and hands rebelled against her as they buried themselves in the nape of his neck, fanning out, then closing back in to grope at the silky stands, pushing them closer, and then, in an admirable sense of control, pulling away.

Her back was pressed flat against the wall, he was inches away, but she managed to make her grasp hold, her voice weak, but surprisingly firm, despite her gasping breaths that seemed incredibly contradictory. "We have to stop," she rasped, eyes locked with his.

"We have to," she said again. His chest was shuddering underneath her hands, but her forehead gently rested against his and she was putting so much trust in him, and the humanity that she was linked to - his humanizing influence - gave him the control. He gulped, nodding, growling and groaning and shutting his eyes as he felt his body betraying him, showing her how much he still wanted her.

But he moved away, let her slide to the ground, held her steady as she reeled slightly from wobbly knees. She swallowed, chest heaving, closing her eyes and keeping her forehead resting against his as she stroked him comfortingly, swiftly, down his chest, up his neck, struggling to keep even a bit of contact as she desperately tried to get her body, her mind, her feelings, under control.

He groaned, closing his eyes, fingertips gently skimming her elbows, head rolling up as he growled at the ceiling. "I hate this," she heard him whisper. "I hate not being able to touch you."

She swallowed down the lump of emotion, letting his arms go around her, holding him close as she pressed a kiss to her best friend's throat. "I know," she replied gently. "I hate it too."

But there was no other choice, as they held each other in a quiet moment of solitude, best friends, who could never be lovers...

Cordelia felt the tears brim beneath her eyelids, but she wiped them quickly away. At least she still had him in her life.

That was okay for now, wasn't it?

She sighed, keeping her eyes closed as she breathed him in, knowing when they left this room, it would all be the same as it was before.

It had to be.

~ CHAPTER EIGHT ~

"I have my heroes, but no one knows their names They never ask for recognition, they never wanted fame..."
~ Sons of the Desert - What I did Right ~*~

They were taking a hell of a lot on faith.

Faith was a tricky thing, and Rogue knew, deep in her heart, that she had come to terms with losing it a long time ago. She didn't remember the exact date, or time, or even the exact moment when her faith had shriveled up and dried away, but she did remember the moment she had come to realize that there was no faith inside of her.

There was darkness and there was pain. There had been fear, when she had broken a hand from squeezing too hard, when she had woken up with her face plastered against the ceiling and had no idea how to get down. When she had looked into Logan's eyes and seen actual fear.

It hadn't been a big change, but it was there, in her heart, eating away.

She had borne it admirably, she supposed. She had allowed Scott to talk to her about what these new mutations did and how they could help her and how it would help her be a better X-Men as a result. She allowed Storm to take her up into the sky and teach her about the need for control, and she had worked until she discovered gravity again and no longer fell asleep with ropes tied to her hands for fear she would float up and smack against the wall again.

She had even managed to retain her friendship with Logan. It had been the hardest, and oddly, the easiest thing to do. He had promised to never be scared of her, and he held her and whispered he was sorry but she never forgot the look of fear.

Even now, she saw it.

With the look came doubt for her own future. If Logan feared... then perhaps it really was over.

Hope, and faith, had died then.

Even now, as she watched Cordelia enter the room on shaky legs, could smell her flustered and cooling body thanks to Logan's inherited traits, she had to wonder exactly when it had started to come back.

Because, she knew, there were taking a hell of a lot on faith.

And if that was true... then perhaps it hadn't been so dead after all.

Cordelia caught her eyes, and she only shrugged, walking to a locker and opening it.

"This is for you."

Cordelia Chase looked, and blinked, and looked again, rubbing at her eyes, and running tired hands through her hair before shaking her head emphatically.

"You've got to be kidding."

Rogue only shook her head slightly, reaching to the side and pulling out a duffel bag.

"Keep it in here until we need it. We won't change for the trip but just in case it's a good idea to carry it around."

"I'm not one of you."

"You are now."

Cordelia looked tired, but Rogue felt just as exhausted, and when Cordelia's hazel eyes met her brown ones, Rogue knew she was through arguing.

There was simply no time. They had loitered, talked, bonded enough.

"Fine," she finally said, crossing her arms, and shaking her head, taking the leather suit that had been set aside for her and folding it into the bag.

Rogue nodded and grabbed her own bag, slinging it over her shoulder and heading to the doorway, when she suddenly paused. "Is he okay?"

Cordelia's shoulder slumped slightly, but Rogue got a nod out of her. "For now."

Rogue pursed her lips, and studied the woman, before finally letting the curiosity get the better of her.

"So what the hell are you two? Friends or Lovers?"

Cordelia stiffened, and the sucking in of the breath, was followed by a very audible sigh as she grabbed the bag and turned, eyeing Rogue with such a tired expression.

"Friends," she clipped finally. "Nothing more."

"It didn't look like it."

"I don't give a rat's ass what it looked like," Cordelia snapped, and then launched forward, moving away from Rogue and past her.

Rogue's eyes narrowed and her hand lurched out, grabbing Cordelia and making her pause.

"So why does it matter so much?"

Cordelia was trembling, and her body was hot under Rogue's leather touch. Rogue was silent, watching, waiting, ever the predator, ever the hunter, inherited by the mastermind, by the beastman, by the woman with the incredibly strength, all of whom still resided in vestiges of her brain.

They were all silent, watching, and waiting with her.

"Because to love him means death," Cordelia finally said, eyes flashing as she tossed her short hair and glared into Rogue's eyes. "Happy now? I sleep with him, he gets a happy, he loses the soul and the world meets Angelus. Death Incarnate. I'm in love with a demon. So we're friends. Discussion closed. I had a vision, the world is ending. Let's save it."

Cordelia shrugged her off and continued on her way to the jet, and Rogue didn't stop her. Instead she found her hands stealing around her own body, hugging herself with the immense strength that had taken her weeks to try and control and get used to.

In the silence that followed, it was Rogue's own form that was trembling, and the tears that slipped, came from her own eyes.

~*~

Cordelia took a breath and walked into the jet, making sure to keep away from the vampire who sat by himself in the corner.

Her throat ached from emotion, and her body was still not quite recovered from the trauma and the pain. Her mind felt... open some how, and feelings that were flitting over her seemed alien and too tumultuous not to disorientate her slightly.

She shook herself, and finally opted to sink down into the nearest chair, closing her eyes and holding a hand to her head and taking a deep breath in.

"Vision Girl. You don't look so good."

Cordelia opened her eyes and the oddest sense of fury and anger and bitterness and ... love... slid over her and she blinked, turning and found exactly who she had seated herself next to.

Shit.

Logan just crossed his arms, and Cordelia took a breath, trying to control whatever the hell it was that was slipping over her.

"I'm going to ignore you," she muttered under her breath. "Don't take it personally. I would ignore anyone right now."

That earned her a smile, but she didn't see it.

The vision. She needed to concentrate on talking about the vision.

But the damn emotions-

There was too many.

~*~

"- Officials refuse to comment on the extent of the damage done by looters to the downtown district, but Mayor Hahn has said that if the rioting continues, the City of Los Angeles will be put under a state of emergency. Police is urging residents to please, stay in your homes."

The television image grew fuzzy for a moment and Gunn frowned, turning up the volume as the reporter lost contact, and then she was back, amidst the site of blazing fires and shouts of anger and shots.

The image cut to a shot of the Police Press Agent, looking concerned and annoyed and calm at the same time. Cameras flashed off the dome of his bald forehead as he leaned forward. "The riots over the mutant rights convention are unneeded. We are all citizens. Again, we ask, please stay in your homes. Mutants or humans, it doesn't matter. Any civil unrest WILL be prosecuted."

"Sir! What about the eclipse!"

"Is it true mutants are biting people?"

"Are humans fighting back?"

Gunn closed his eyes and groaned, finally fed up. He switched off the television, and the monitor winked out, leaving him and his companion in complete silence, sitting side by side on the couch.

Fred reached over, turning on the lamp, sliding her book in her lap and casually turning a page - a little too casual, in Gunn's opinion.

"So?"

"I don't know."

Fred rubbed at her neck, grimacing as she brought her feet up under her thighs to settle herself more comfortably, wincing again at the crook of her neck.

"If we're going to stop this we need to figure out what Lorne meant by First Night. But... I'm not... I wish Wesley was here."

Gunn, who at the moment had been watching the line of her shoulder to her jawbone, quite graceful, that was, let a swell of irrational irritation slide over him. "Wesley. Angel. Cordelia. Damn girl, it's almost as if you'd rather be with anyone here but me."

Her eyes widened slightly and her head jerked to him. "No. It's not that, Gunn. Wesley is better at the research. Angel - he's my friend. And Cordelia is my friend and you-"

"I what?"

"Disconcert me." She gave a small shrug and then looked back down at her pages, her hair tumbling forward with the action. Absently she pulled the bang back behind her ear. "I'm never sure where to place you."

A morose smile slid over him and he nodded, answering dryly, "You're not exactly placeable yourself, girl."

"Fred."

"What?"

"My name is Fred."

He just sighed, picking up another book and looking through it absently. There was quiet from Fred's side of the couch, and he took it as a cue not to talk, letting the awkwardness between them that had been in residence ever since he had impulsively kissed her die into companionable silence.

Gunn used the time to think, to try to understand exactly what had happened. Whatever Lorne meant about First Night, it was starting. Outside the confines of the hotel was chaos. An eclipse that no one had seen coming was indeed coming, and it would cover the sun and Gunn had the sneaking suspicion it would stay there, making this crazy night seem even longer.

Riots between mutants and humans had started and gotten violent and bloody, and demons had taken complete advantage, roaming the streets, masquerading as mutants, and adding to whatever evil they could.

Damn.

He should have been out there. He should have been at Anne's protecting his crew and instead he was here, hiding, waiting, with a girl who barely tolerated him, even if he did 'disconcert' her.

Protector his ass.

"Gunn."

He took a breath, and looked again at the crazy Fred, who had taken off her glasses and was again rubbing at the crook in her neck.

"What?"

"I need you."

He blinked, and replayed the words, and again they didn't seem to make sense, the matter-of-fact way she said it, with no breathy romantic sigh or hands clutched over her heart making him simply stare stupidly. "Huh?"

"I need you," she repeated. "You make me feel safe. You said before - about me preferring the others... I don't. You make me feel safe. No one else does that but you. So... there you go." And she gave a half smile and blushed slightly and pulled on the glasses and turned back to her books and Fred was herself again.

Gunn could only stare, an odd stirring in his heart making him smile and the knowledge that the world was ending dimming to slight drum as he cocked his head and stared at her.

Okay... so maybe there was some merit in this whole protector gig. He could get used to it, if it got more smiles and blushes like that outta her.

He paused, considering and finally he scooted over, gently moving her, ignoring her surprised sound of protest and kneading gently into her shoulders.

"We're gonna be up all night most likely, waiting for them and trying to get this thing researched. We need to get that crick out of your neck." He said it matter-of-factly, with no room for argument. When she looked into his eyes and he smiled, he knew she understood, because she smiled back. Her gaze held his and her eyes closed as her head leaned back against his shoulder.

And he held her, and he liked it.

Because he made her feel safe. Outside, the cries and panic of a city in chaos continued to come closer, but Gunn felt strangely able - not fearing, for the first time in a while.

~*~

Trouble in paradise.

Wesley watched with dimly concealed curiosity as Storm and Remy argued heatedly in the corner. The emotion that came off the Goddess in waves was more than he had ever seen in her, and he found himself oddly fascinated by it, as Remy grabbed her shoulders and she shrugged him off.

"She likes you. He hates that. He's not going and pissed." Cordelia sank into the chair next to him, offering her friend a tired smile before leaning her head on his shoulder.

"How exactly do you know that?"

"I can... feel it. It's... weird."

His eyes narrowed and he grew concerned at the uneasiness in her voice, was about to ask her about it when she moved her head from his shoulder and stared at him.

"The Vision."

"Yes,'" he said immediately.

"It's bad, Wesley," she said finally, her voice a hoarse whisper.

~*~

He was fighting within himself for the words to answer her, she knew. Storm felt her insides tremor and she swallowed and flickered a glance back to the Englishman who was talking in heated whispers with Cordelia Chase.

"Goddess.."

"Save it, Remy," she spit, moving past him only to be held in place with a hand on her elbow. Her dark eyes met the fiery red ones with a defiant shrug of her shoulders and a shake of her head, and the movement seemed to undo him, because he swallowed and let her go, licking his lips.

"I handled things badly, mon ami. It was not like ... it was different with you."

"No Remy it wasn't." Storm hitched in her breath. "You said it meant nothing and I believed you. I told you that if you valued our friendship we would keep it what it was... one night. I believed you. I made myself believe you even when I-"

His hands were back on hers and she swallowed, stepping back, accidentally knocking her head on the low overhead in the process. "You told me you loved me, Cherie."

Her cheeks turned into a blush and she swallowed, licking her lips. "I know what I said, Remy."

"Then why..."

"Because you don't love me, Remy," she snapped finally. "You had one night of sex and now because you think Wesley is getting a little too close you want to save your investment." Her eyes blinked and they grew milky and he saw it, and she cursed herself for the loss of control. "I thought we were friends."

"We are."

"Then it shouldn't matter."

He gazed at her, and finally the broad shoulders slunk down and he took a breath, and he stepped back, away from her, watching her the entire time. "It shouldn't, mon ami. Remy does not want to care. But he does. There is fear."

Dammit.

~*~

"I see Angelus... and I see Rogue with a wound... I see Logan dying... and I see me... but it doesn't... it doesn't feel like me... and I'm... spurring him on... like... " Cordelia's hands shook , and Wesley moved his eyes to Angel, who was watching. He shook his head slightly and Angel got the message.

He stayed put.

"It's us, Wesley. Us four. Something WE do triggers it. We bring back Angelus... GOD Wesley. After all this time - all the damn precautions and all the damn sacrifices if we let him go-"

"Hey," he immediately slid an arm around her, drawing her close. "Cordelia, look at me. We have quite the impressive track record, don't we? We'll figure this out and we'll stop it. Just like we always do. I promise."

Cordelia let her breath out and she swallowed, processing the pep talk. "Then why is there fear in you?"

He froze, his heart hammered as Cordelia looked deep into his eyes.

How the bloody-

"Wesley you're the only one I've told because I don't want Angel to panic. When the time comes I will tell him. Until then keep your mouth shut and all that panic and paranoia bottled up. Research something for me, when we get there... Something... I keep... it's in my head - First Night. I don't know what that means. But it should mean something."

Scott slid into the chair and he shouted some orders and suddenly the plane jerked and Storm settled in beside him.

She was quiet, but he noticed Remy was not on the plane, and neither was Charles Xavier when the jet took off.

~*~

Charles Xavier had no idea why he was attempting what for seven years had never worked. He had no idea why he even felt the inclination to try, but he could not simply stand by and wait while the younger members of the team he founded stepped into the virtual unknown.

He knew that someone had to stay with the school, and he knew that as powerful as he was, controlling minds and telepathy could only take him so far in battle. Oh yes, he was strong, powerful, and thankful that it had not corrupted him as it had corrupted others, but what had kept him sane was the reality check.

It gave him the ability to trust his students. It did not give him the ability to stop worrying.

He waited, studying the chamber that had always been little to no help, and was once almost fatal, in his dealings with his old friend, and he clenched his jaw, giving the Cajun next to him a side long glance.

Remy LeBeau looked angry, and Charles did not blame him. Remy was a man of action, who did not like to be left behind, and that was exactly what had happened, at least in Remy's eyes. Charles did not bother to explain that in a situation where quick thinking and a one man army was needed, Remy was the best candidate, being lean and strong and a leader that the younger team members looked up to and saw as their own, unorthodox and smart.

All Remy saw was Storm very likely involved with someone else, disrupting his own revelations concerning the wind goddess.

Charles Xavier dismissed it. There were far more important matters at hand.

"Wait out here," he said finally.

The Cajun nodded.

Charles wheeled forward, letting the security system that housed Cerebro go through its procedure, granting him access once it ascertained that he indeed, was Charles Xavier.

The door opened and he took a breath, about to go forward when steps running toward them distracted him, making his head turn to regard Kitty, who seemed a trifle out of breath, holding out the phone.

"It's for you, Professor."

Charles gave a small frown. "I'm busy Kitty, perhaps you could take a message?"

"I don't think I should, Professor."

"Kitty, Leave 'em be!" Remy said, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. "Take a message."

"It's Magneto."

Charles paused, and then looked up to finally see the face of the very agitated Kitty. Taking a long breath, he waited until the heartbeat that had swung out of control had calmed somewhat, before leaning forward and plucking the phone from her waiting fingers.

"This is Charles."

"Old Friend."

The delicate rasp was familiar enough, and Professor X closed his eyes, meditating on it before opening and answering calmly, "Hello, Erik. Perfect timing. I was just going to try and pay you a visit."

"I was waiting, Old Friend. I never felt the pull, so I thought I might speed things up."

Remy was standing upright and Kitty was right next to him, both watching the conversation intently.

"Why do you persist in trying, Charles? Slowing what is inevitable? You are hindering your fate, all of your children's fate. Getting them stuck on a side that will be overcome."

"What makes you say that, Erik?" he asked, his voice almost conversational. "Because you believe it to be so?"

"It is written in the stars, Charles. In the future. It is unavoidable."

"You never struck me as a superstitious man, Erik."

"And you were never the type to put your children in needless harm. Pull them back, Charles. You cannot stop the inevitable, and you are killing them. Give me one to sacrifice many."

It took two deep, long breaths, both in and out, before Charles was able to give his long lost friend a coherent answer, "Erik if you hurt any of my students I will dispense with the civilities."

"And do what? Kill me? Then you would be no better."

Charles swallowed, his hands clenching his chair.

There was silence, and Erik decided to fill it, his voice now matter-of-fact. "The time for pleasantries is over, Charles. We are dealing with the end, and with forces you had no idea ever existed. I thank you kindly for your help, Charles, in bringing three crucial elements to this plan. The inevitable has started Charles, but I'm afraid your part is ended. I have no need for you, nor your students. As an old friend, for the memories, I leave you with one warning, keep them out of my way. The First Night has begun, Charles, as your students shall soon find out, as they meet their hosts here in wonderful Los Angeles. Regards, Charles. Have a pleasant evening."

The speech ended with a click, and Charles held the phone to his ear, hoping he had misheard. "Erik! ERIK!"

He cursed silently, and slammed the phone down, immediately looking up to Kitty. "Call the jet. Call them back, now. Tell them now to touch down until we know what we're dealing with."

"But they're almost there-"

"DO IT," he snapped and turned, wheeling into Cerebro, letting the doors close behind him, shutting his students out of his mind, and out of the room.

~*~

"Are we there yet?"

"Shut up, Logan," Scott snapped from the front.

Logan smirked and leaned his chin on his palm, once again turning eyes on the young seer that sat beside him. She was very, very still, and his smirk faded, as his eyes narrowed slightly.

Chick was in bad shape, and no one really seemed to notice but him.

"Hey, Vision Girl. You okay?"

"Why the hell does everyone keep asking me that? Do I look okay?" she snapped immediately, keeping her eyes closed.

"Fine. You look like shit. Feel better?"

"Tons," she said dryly. One eye opened precariously, and she regarded him. "You're not as hairy up close. What's with the 'do anyway? Stuck in the seventies much?"

The smirk faded away completely. One hand almost drifted insecurely to his hair, but he stilled the urge with a growl, as he gave her one long once over that had managed to squelch a few bitches before.

She didn't even blink, so he added, "Right. And those streaks are as natural as the breasts."

"The boobs are real, bub."

She thumped him once in a chest with a finger and then went back to closing her eyes. "Now shut up. I'm trying to be as still as possible."

Something told him it wasn't something she was very good at. Immediately she shifted and groaned.

He ignored it, instead looking across the plane where Rogue was seated next to tall dark and broody, who had his eyes fixed on the chick seated next to him.

Logan licked his lips slightly, his eyes continuing to watch as his former best friend, leaned back against her seat, fingers pulling at the gloves, a sure sign of insecurity, nervous agitation. He continued to stare, watching as her mouth trembled, and her fingers absently twirled a white strand of hair.

"What's the ETA?" Jean asked from the front, and Logan harumphed slightly when Scott answered her patiently, when all she had really asked was a different version of his question.

"About ten minutes."

The console in front of Storm beeped slightly, and Storm leaned forward, answering it immediately.

"Storm here."

"'Ro, tell Scott to turn back."

There was panic in the voice that he immediately recognized as Kitty's and again there was scrambling, as he moved over the barely moving Cordelia, letting his hand slip on her knee in the process, before moving behind Ororo to watch Kitty's face.

"What?"

"Professor Charles said-"

"SHIT."

Logan looked up, immediately focusing on Scott, because Scott rarely, if ever, cursed, at least not in front of the crew.

"What the hell?"

"Back in the seats! NOW!" Scott cried hoarsely, and somewhere behind him, he heard Cordelia whimper and the jet shook and he very nearly lost his footing when the damn thing jerked completely.

"SCOTT!" he growled.

"LOGAN SIDDOWN!" Scott yelled. "We got company."

~*~

Panic and fear and desperation slid over her and the feelings were so alien and consuming that Cordelia groaned in protest, covering her ears with her hands in an effort to keep it away from her.

But it continued to seep through her as the shaking continued and the aching started and when the vision came she was strapped tightly to her seat.

The myriad of images floated over her, and it was so confusing as she felt the blood, the haze, watching as Angelus bit into Rogue's neck, watching as Logan dangled helplessly in the air, watching as Fred writhed and Wesley cried out in pain and Gunn grew horns-

And in the present, about her, there was shouting and shaking and the visions stopped and her eyes snapped open and she found herself in yet another nightmare.

The jet was smoking and the feelings rushed over her as there was a crash and her body lurched and strong arms encased in denim slipped about her and hands touched and DAMMIT THERE WAS THE FEELINGS AGAIN-

They consumed her, and she struggled against it, whimpering against the onslaught.

"HOLD ON!"

"WHAT THE HELL IS SHOOTING AT US?"

"ROGUE!"

She was pushed back and her eyes opened dimly to find the cargo bay door open. The wind was frigid, but through the murkiness of the panic and fury and fear that paralyzed her body she was able to watch as Rogue held her own against the winds, as Storm immediately moved to her side. Rogue grabbed the top of the open doors and swung through, strong legs connecting with something outside before the wind sucked her out, taking Storm with her.

"STORM!"

"LEAVE THEM THEY'RE FINE."

Logan growled, a deep rumbling that slid through her and the feelings intensified and she closed her eyes, unable to do anything but feel.

"Hang ON!"

She heard Scott yell in concentration and the plane landed with a jerk and a bump before she was almost jerked out of her seat yet again by a jarring crash that splintered in her ears.

"Out now!"

~*~

Angel grappled for his seatbelt, shaking out of it, as the plane slid to a stop in the concrete parking lot.

He lurched forward, immediately moving toward Cordelia, pushing Logan away from her, who was already scrambling to the open cargo bay where Rogue and Storm had disappeared seconds before.

He had never heard of being attacked in mid air before, and the emergency landing had taken it's toll on the smoking plane, he could see that clearly, as Scott cursed, moving away from the sparking console, bringing Jean with him.

"Out! Now!" he ordered.

Angel crushed Cordelia to him and obeyed, moving toward the opening with the others, jumping out and landing on the hard cement, only to have his still heart heave within him at the sight that was waiting for him.

Logan unsheathed his claws, and Scott immediately raised his hand to the visor, as the rest of the team stumbled out, all pausing when they saw what Angel had deemed as a not good site.

At least two dozen mutants and... vampires were waiting for them, surrounding the plane, the darkened parking lot suddenly the perfect place for an ambush.

Angel pulled Cordelia closer to him, and she was still numb with shock, because she did nothing, merely held her hands to her ears and burrowed deeper into his clothing.

Above them, Rogue and Storm fought, the mid air collisions loud enough to make Angel look up.

"Shit. Demons and mutants."

"Demons?" Jean immediately breathed, her hands clenched. "I'm not dressed for this."

"Okay, one question, can we KILL the demons?" Logan rasped.

Angel nodded mutely.

"Oh-kay, Great. Only one quibble. Which ones are mutants and which ones are demons?"

Wesley didn't have a chance to answer, before a blast that came from one of the men advancing cut off any words he could have spoken.

"Cordelia," he breathed, moving back, putting her against the plane, shaking her roughly. "Open your eyes, come on!"

She swallowed, and shuddered, but her eyes obediently opened, looking slightly glazed over. "I need you to concentrate," he continued, and the shouting started, and there was fighting around him. "Come on."

"I'm... fine..." she began. "Angel... there's feelings..." her eyes widened. "ANGEL!"

He sniffed, and turned, barely catching the clawed hand the came down on him. He growled, the vampire face in full swing as he kicked up, smashing into the face of the mutant the attacked him.

In the wake of the battle that ensued, he barely had time to even look at the seer behind him, but the words she spoke next were so incredibly clear.

"The First Night... There is chaos on the first night. It's begun."

~ Chapter Nine ~

I lose what I love most
did you know I was lost until you found me

a stroke of luck or a gift from god
the hand of fate or devil's claws
from below or saints above
you came to me
here comes the cold again
I feel it closing in
it's falling down and all around me falling
Garbage – Stroke of Luck

~*~

It was utter chaos, and Magneto was vaguely annoyed, arms crossed in an expression of placid arrogance and utter disapproval. From the tower where he stood, the view was unobstructed, and he watched, the master of the destruction that was being caused, with an unflinching eye.

Hands rhythmically rolled the metallic balls around and around his palm, massaging ever so slightly, fingers unconsciously fidgeting as he let his eyes rove over the destruction.

"It's like a poem," came the singsong voice from behind him, as there was a breathless whisper and a giggle. "A living poem. Daddy's come home to play."

"For goodness sakes, will you shut her up?" he snapped, his eyes not moving from the battle taking place, watching as the X-Men fought alongside the vampire and his colleagues. "This isn't what we discussed."

A low, sensual laugh emerged from behind him, as fingers gently slid across his forearm. He gave the woman next to him a scathing look, turning back to the scene.

"This is exactly what we discussed."

"Ambushing is a cowards way."

There was silence, and the tone that the answer was returned in was harder, clipped, "It's the only way, if you want to get things done. You want to disorientate them, you bring them down."

He narrowed his eyes. "Do not think I've forgotten what you are."

"Good, I'm glad. Because then you'll remember exactly what I'm capable of. You and I want the same things, Erik, but don't let the appearance fool you. You may think you are wise, old Man, but I've got a couple centuries on you." Her eyes narrowed, and there was a shift, and the normally angelic face shifted into one of demonic ugliness. "Watch and learn, child. You'll find that I get things done. And I've never been to jail."

The face slipped away, and suddenly she smiled, leaning forward to press her cold lips against the powerful mutant's cheek. He closed his eyes and shuddered as the laugh behind him grew almost hypnotic.

"Metal man smells fear. Fear and a heart. Metal man-"

"Dru, shut up," his companion snapped, letting her eyes flash with irritation as she turned back to her companion. "And keep watch. Prophecies require timing, precision and a little manipulation. Don't screw it up."

The vampire beside him growled, and the smile turned angelic as she cocked her head at him, absorbing his expression. "Don't think you're better than us, Magneto. Never underestimate the undead."

And he let a smile crawl over his face, cocking his head and shaking it, before reaching out and grabbing her with surprising strength, pulling her closer until he could look into the deceitful eyes. "One thing you must learn about me, Darla. I never forget."

She smiled. "That's my boy."

~*~

A figure launched at him, loomed out from the darkness and he let a growl escape him, reaching up and grabbing it from the fabric on the front of his shirt and pulling, letting the momentum take the mutant or demon or whatever the hell he was. He slammed him down, hard, on the pavement, and the creature, stunned, could do nothing when Angel brought his foot down, smashing his heel into the chest.

The yellow eyes glowed as he whipped around, feeling the rush of air as a tangle of brown and white rolled to a stop before him, immediately standing. Rogue was breathless, there was a cut on her cheek, and she wiped the blood away absently, never noticing the way he focused on it completely until someone else crashed into him.

Angel immediately pushed up, slamming a fist into the face and rolling over, nodding to Rogue who immediately nodded back. With a yell she grabbed the shirt, rolled into a duck and the mutant went flying.

The mutant had some pretty nice moves, for someone so young.

And the strength of a Slayer.

Angel swallowed once at the thought of his first love, but was thankfully distracted when Rogue glanced at him.

"Logan?" "There."

And the mutants kept coming, and the growls filled the air as Logan fought above them, over a bleacher that had been abandoned, claws extended as he punched, kicked and stabbed with all the grace of a bar fight. Next to him, Storm stood, arms extended, such a vision of power and grace, as the lightning came along with the wind, faithful to their master.

They had been cut off, from the rest of the team, and Angel used the borrowed time before another mutant targeted him to seek out his friends. Wesley he found easily enough, directly under Storm, playing an odd game of King of the Hill, as he kept any mutant that tried to reach Storm and her winds from getting to her by throwing them off.

Cordelia was nowhere to be found.

He didn't have time to concentrate on that fact before he was plunged into again, and this time the push was accompanied by a sickening squelch, as he groaned, the claw digging into his body, drawing blood.

"ANGEL!" Rogue was immediately beside him, throwing the beast off. He gave her a smile of thanks, but immediately his eyes widened and he shouted a warning. Rogue turned, but was not fast enough, and a stray bolt of a reddish laser skimmed her side, burning into the flesh. She gasped, reeled, and Angel's cry of warning caught in his throat, as he immediate plowed into her, wrapping his hands around her waist and rolling with her, quickly, until they were under the bleacher where they were safe from the mutant blasts.

She was breathing hard, face constricted slightly from the pain, eyes slightly dazed, and he immediately checked her face, wiping the blood off absently and licking it off his finger before feeling the wound on her shirt.

She gasped, and despite the injury, managed to fight off his questing fingers with an angry, "What the hell are ya doin'?"

The Southern accent was thick, and Angel swallowed, shaking his head, barely paying attention to it before again moving to the hem of the shirt. "Nothing personal, okay? We gotta check the injury." She had incredible strength, but she was clearly wounded, and Angel finally just growled in warning, pinning her hands down with his knees before lifting up the shirt and pressing his hand against the wounded flesh.

In his concentration he barely heard her quick intake of breath, the way she stiffened , forgot to breathe when his fingers touched her skin.

"Not too bad. When we get out of here, Cordy'll just wrap it up. Just… might leave a scar." She didn't respond, she wasn't even breathing, and finally he looked up, into her face. What he saw was so completely off: in the chaos of the night, the blasts and howls and cries of angers followed by shouts of pain, Rogue's face held an expression of absolute bewilderment. Her eyes were focused completely on one simple point, and his eyes quickly floated down to follow it.

His hand resting against her bare skin.

"You…" she looked confused, conflicted, and their eyes met, and suddenly Angel remembered what he should have never forgotten – Rogue's mutation was her skin.

And he was touching her and nothing was happening.

There was absolute quiet, and the urge to panic was rising in his soul, utterly terrified, mind grasping for answers, while she quickly tore off a glove with her fingers, exposing the milky white skin that rivaled his in paleness.

Her fingers floated to his face, her eyes wide and shocked, and when she touched the ridges on his face, sensitized folds of a demon, his eyes closed, a small groan working his way from his body.

He unconsciously leaned into the caress, feeling a small puff of warm air on his face as she breathed out. Questing digits slid over the skin, and everything was so still –

Until the shouts grew louder, and they were both shocked out of their daze, as Logan's voice cried out hoarsely for Rogue and Storm and Wesley cried out for him.

The reality of their situation became apparent once more, and immediately the two injured warriors scrambled up, moving as quickly as they could from out of the bleachers to find their friends had more than held their own without them.

Rogue pulled on her gloves immediately, nodding when Logan grabbed her by the elbows, demanded to know if she was all right.

"I'm fine," she said, her voice a little more shaky than usual, and her eyes were on Angel, but she said nothing, had no time for observation, as another blast came, and the second wave of mutants and vampires came at them again.

His mind was overtaken by the fighting, as a vampire came immediately for him, and he pulled out the stake hidden in his trenchcoat, ducking under the swinging arm and slamming up, impaling him on the short stick, watching him explode with a satisfying blast of dust.

But his eyes were on the fighting Rogue, and even as his mind wondered where the hell Cordelia was, he couldn't help but notice, that the girl had just had the shock of her life.

~*~

The years training her mind had left a woman of boldness, more than capable fight in a fight. On several occasions Logan had called her dangerous, and she knew that from the burly street fighter, that in itself was the highest compliment she could have earned.

Jean did not consider herself a warrior by nature. Unlike Storm, who fought well when she had to and enjoyed the tactile stealth of it all, and had no problems with taking out another if they threatened the lives of those she loved, and unlike Rogue, who had absorbed enough murderers and killers, and had retained enough of her own sassy nature to earn a reputation as a playful, sassy, deadly warrior, Jean had always been known as the healer. In a situation where someone needed protection from a fight, she was never chosen, because there were others, who were better, at this.

She should have felt fear, insecurity, because Jean, despite being called `perfect' for most of her adult life, or perhaps because of it, was blatantly, largely, insecure. Tall, gawky as a child and then blossoming in late teens, only to be struck with the life shattering eye opening experience when she kissed someone and suddenly all the thoughts he was thinking had flooded into her.

Life was terribly complicated when every fleeting thought of what every one thought of you was clear.

And now, fifteen years later, Jean Grey stood, body over a woman who had barely been a teenager, fighting for her very life.

Cordelia Chase had been almost rendered comatose. Jean suspected she had never been much of a fighter but she had more then held her own until the chaos of what was happening seemed to overwhelm her and she had sunk to the floor, covering her eyes.

Jean hadn't understood what was happening until she recalled one night, so long ago, when she had crawled to the floor in much the same way, hands over her ears in any attempt to stop the voices.

Clarity had come with a single glance, and immediately Jean had yelled to Scott to cover her, and her entire concentration was taken with keeping the vampires, the mutants and whatever beasts that had centered on them, away from the girl.

Scott was busy trying to protect her from much the same thing, and Jean had been soley absorbed in the fight, thankful for her mental abilities to keep everything at least ten feet away from the circle, distracted only when she realized they had been completely cut off from the other half of the group.

They stood, the trio, in the dark corner, where no light shone except for the one lamppost that was coming dangerously close to burning out.

And the assailants kept coming.

It took everything in Jean to keep vigil over the girl, wanting desperately to turn away from the fight and tell Cordelia to try to shut her mind down, avoid everything that was swimming over her because then, maybe she would stand a chance to stop drowning, but each time another blast would come or another hand would swing and it took her mind and her body completely focused to keep the little bubble of space around her and the girl clear, trying to help keep the flood of emotion that was trickling through even her tired body, from getting to Cordelia, from paralyzing her more.

The bubble was quickly losing ground, and in her weariness, Jean felt the emotions, the words, the hate slipping over her, infecting her body with the alien feelings.

Just her and Scott, it wasn't enough.

She bit her lip and took in a short breath, and immediately let it out in a cry of alarm when Scott was beaten, a sock in the jaw dislodging the ever precious eyepiece. It slid, dangling off his nose, and for a second her focus was on him, setting it right, love for her fiance outweighing the worry and fear that had consumed her before.

It was a deadly mistake.

In the second she had turned her focus, a blond woman, small and quite normal looking, had taken advantage. She flipped in towards her, cleared the space, and before Jean quite knew her folly, she had been kicked in the chest, flying back into the darkness, leaving the Seer unprotected.

Her body landed with a jarring impact, making her gasp for breath, her head slamming against the concrete, making her dizzy and leaving her mind, her most powerful weapon, splintering with pain.

She gasped, but had no time to look for Cordelia because they came again, this time for her, and she stumbled up, her mind groggy, her body in pain, but still workable as she fought defensively now.

She could not see Cordelia, but she could hear her, when the hoarse rasp of the seer came through the darkness.

"Buffy?"

~*~

Wesley Wyndham Price supposed he had more than done his share on behalf of the human contingent – namely him – of the fighting group. Though the fighting had been fierce, he sustained only a fading bruise on his left cheekbone.

The pavement was hard, he should know, he had just spent the last five minutes lying on it, and Storm only smiled, shaking her head before reaching her hand out to help him up.

"I am impressed."

Wesley gave her a smile, running his hands through his ruffled hair and taking in a deep breath, steadying his tired body. "That I was able to hold my own with no powers to help me?"

"No… that you were able to land that hard and not crack your head open."

He smiled sheepishly when she winked, and gave a soft laugh, shrugging, "It happens quite often."

"I would imagine it does."

Again he shared a smile with the Goddess, and now, seeing her in battle, he understood why she had earned the nickname. Storm was truly a sight to behold when her eyes were solid white, when the wind obeyed her every whim, and though the white hair was passive now, gliding over her shoulders, the strands would never be tame.

"Where's Cordelia?" The smile left his face as he turned to Angel.

"Oh, Lord."

"Jean `n Scott are missin' too," Rogue said, hand on her ribcage where the laser had taken it's toll. Immediately Logan took a look, his gloved fingers covering hers as he sniffed slightly.

But Rogue's eyes were on Angel, then sweeping the perimeter of the darkened cement parking lot.

There was complete darkness. Every lamppost had been broken, the glass shattered uselessly on the ground.

Ororo Munroe didn't seem to care. She walked a little ways apart from the group, and suddenly the winds came along with the thunder, and the lightning crashed, and the parking lot was illuminated with Storm's light.

Immediately the remnants of the group were located, and the scene made more than one mutant catch their breath, and Wesley gasp entirely.

Without another word, everyone broke into a run, Rogue not trusting herself to fly with her injury.

Storm flew, the fastest, outpacing them, but Wesley immediately stayed by Angel, struggling to keep up with Angel's faster gait.

"Angel it can't be her."

"It's not her," Angel said immediately, his eyes dark, words clipped. "She… God it can't be her."

Her.

Wesley swallowed down the confusion, breaking into a sprint, yelling as they reached the outskirts of the fight, the mutants and vampires trying to keep them the hell away from what was inside –

From Buffy Summers and Cordelia Chase.

Logan paused beside him, and sniffed once, and suddenly there was a low growl that emerged, like an dog with his fangs bared.

Rogue paused, asked hesitantly, "Logan?"

He sniffed again, and the claws slid out, as he whispered, "Mystique."

~*~

It was the pain that sliced through her arm that brought her back to reality.

Cordelia's eyes shot open, and immediately the source was clear.

Buffy Summers was cutting her arm with a long knife.

The chaos of emotion that had been struggling through her now filtered through into one simple emotion that she found impossible to block : hate completely, and utterly directed at her.

"Buffy…" she struggled, but the blonde just smiled, shaking her head and keeping her long, agile legs thrown across Cordelia's torso, keeping her pinned beneath her.

"Hold still, Cordy," Buffy said, catching the blood in a plastic bag. "Just trying to get a little sample here."

"What are you- Buffy!" The pain was sharp, but it was more the sight of the blade slitting open her skin, the blood pouring out, the hate that was so incredibly overwhelming, that kept her in place more than anything. She attempted to yank her hand back, but the grip on her hand was strong, and Buffy only shook her head in annoyance.

"Always about you, isn't it Cordelia? Am I hurting you, bitch?"

The words were edged in hate, and Cordelia's heart skipped a beat, the movement almost painful. "You're not… you can't be Buffy."

A low laugh came from Buffy's throat, as she shook her head and held the arm steady. "Why? You haven't seen me in years, Cordelia."

"You're not-"

"So I hear you've shacked up with Angel. Heard it from Wills. That true?"

Cordelia blinked, shaking her head slightly, disoriented. "What?"

"Oh you know. That you're doing the shagging thing."

Immediately Cordelia's eyes widened, and she yanked hard, bucking from under the Slayer, but immediately she was back under.

Damn. She had never known Buffy to be so flexible.

"Buffy – what the HELL are you doing?"

"You know he would never have left me, Cordelia, but he loved me too much to have a relationship with him." Buffy paused, taking the knife from Cordelia's dripping arm, and depositing it in her jacket pocket, appearing to be lost in thought. "He wanted me to have a normal life. He loved me so much, he couldn't stand for me to spend the rest of my life – loving what he was. A dark, evil, killer."

Cordelia sucked in her breath, her eyes immediately flashing. "You're wrong Buffy. He was never like that."

"He's exactly like that. And you let it happen. You're putting your life on hold for a vampire, who'll never age, never grow old – and is bound to darkness." Buffy's blue eyes bore into hers. Cordelia only swallowed, letting her hazel eyes glare right back. "It must kill you, doesn't it? The wondering? Does he love you too much or too little? Why on earth would he give up everything with Buffy, and not care about it with me? I bet he hasn't even brought it up. No kids. No life. You age and he stays the same."

"It's not like that."

"Oh? And what makes your case so different from mine?" Buffy shook her head, the wind sliding through her bangs. "Too much, or too little."

Cordelia trembled, anger sliding through her, replacing the hate that had been so rampantly directed at her, and she was glad for it, as she struggled again. "You can't do it, You can't make me doubt him."

Buffy only smiled, and clucked her tongue. "Already did, Cordelia. It's in your eyes."

"MYSTIQUE!"

Buffy looked up, and then back down, patting her cheek. "See ya soon, sister."

Cordelia closed her eyes, as the pain resurfaced, the aching gaping wound on her forearm dripping blood, the flood of emotions encompassing yet again as she struggled to stand, keep herself upright as the footsteps pounded on the pavement and the fighting was coming closer, and so were the emotions.

She closed her eyes, wished for all the pain, and horror to just go away, and suddenly she was drowning as it came full force – pain and love and anger and hate and doubt and fear and it was worse than the visions because it never stopped.

DAMMIT.

Cordelia Chase tried to concentrate, to focus before she lost her mind, but it was too late.

The world tipped sideways and the asphalt met her face and everything went black.

~*~

She had fallen asleep a half hour ago,

Gunn took a breath, gently shifting the sleeping woman in his arms, trying to settle more comfortably on the sofa as he clicked off the television.

It was doing him no good. All it was doing was making him worried and scared and that shit just wasn't cool when he had to protect Fred.

Weird. He knew Fred thought she was the last person in the world who needed a protector. She had spent five years as a slave, and that made her strong – half crazy, but strong, and resourceful. She had rescued him, when Angel had been torn between man and beast in Pylea and he guessed that now it was time to return the favor.

Gunn never took well to people close to him dying. For five long years his life had been about protection, making sure what happened to his little sister, who never had a bad bone in her body, never happened to anyone else.

And now, with Fred's tiny hands wrapped around him, with her chin settled on his chest and her body shifting slightly with each unconscious breath, he understood why he had let himself have only the vestige of a life in favor of hunting down every damn vampire he had seen and staking the hell outta it.

Funny how the very reason for him forgoing having a life was now making him wish for one.

This thing with Fred was getting damn mushy, and hell, he had only kissed her once.

Perfect timing too. Figured he'd be distracted by a woman when the apocalypse came; when there were demons and mutants and humans and demons masquerading as mutants running amok in Los Angeles, which had it's share of evil already – AND WHERE THE HELL WAS ANGEL?!

His job had just gotten a hell of a lot harder.

Thunder and lightning ransacked the place, and he jumped, causing Fred to stir above him, looking up and blinking and then shivering.

"I've always hated rain," she muttered with a drowsy twinge on her already faded southern accent. "It's wet."

"And loud," he responded, tightening his arms around her as the thunder blasted, and lightning made the darkened room light up with seconds of white hot illumination.

She shivered slightly, and he absently kissed her forehead, running fingers down her soft dark curls, looking around the hotel.

The distant far off screams and cries were getting curiously closer, and suddenly they were too close, because Gunn pushed Fred off of him and walked to the counter, reaching behind it and picking up the makeshift ax that had been given to him so long ago.

Fred was immediately up, grabbing a crossbow and arrows, aiming them easily toward the door.

When it burst open, they were ready for an attack, but when Angel paused, holding a bloody Cordelia across his chest, the bow and arrow was immediately lowered, and Fred darted forward, followed quickly by Gunn.

Angel only nodded, moving past them, as a crowd of others moved into the room, carrying duffel bags, some with scrapes, others holding injured limbs.

The mutants.

Wesley was one of the last in, closing the door behind him, and waiting, looking only once as Angel hurried up the stairs with the unconscious Cordelia, followed by Jean, Rogue and Fred.

Logan took a breath, and turned back, moving past Gunn towards the door.

"She can't hold them off forever."

"When Storm's through she'll come in through the roof," Wesley said, motioning with his head. "Hello Gunn, Good to see you," he added as an afterthought. The two immediately sprinted for the stairs.

Gunn was left alone in the middle of the floor, holding his shiny ax and feeling completely confused.

"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?"

~ Chapter Ten ~

Never thought I'd be in this place
It's someone else's life I'm living
Wish I were living a lie
The hardest part is when the bough breaks
Falling down and then forgiving
You didn't kiss me good-bye

I'm choking on the words
I didn't get to say
I'm praying I get the chance one day

I still run, I still swing open the door
I still think you'll be there like before
Doesn't everybody out there know
they never come 'round
Somethings a heart won't listen to
I'm still holdin' out for you.

-SheDaisy

~*~

Cordelia Chase had long battled with her sanity - but she knew the distinction between a vision and reality. Lately, the line had become increasingly blurred, and ever fearful, Cordelia always wondered when the time would come when she would wake up from a vision and find there was no difference, that she could no longer distinguish which feelings were hers and which belonged to others. When she came to with a start, a fleeting moment of panic washed over her when she came to one, very important decision: It wasn't better. It was almost tangible, the alien feelings - doubt, fear, worry, love, panic, and it wasn't hers and it wasn't better, and she feared that she had lost all comprehension as it slid over her.

Moistness hit her cheek where the tears slipped down, marking that place with cold, salty fluid.

She trembled, whimpering even as her body came back to her, and the weight of reality came with it, beyond the splintering pain of her arm, along with the emotions that never escaped her.

Touch alleviated it somewhat, she was able to discern the soft hands that slid up her forearms, gentle over something covering her right forearm, and she heard a soothing, firm voice that must have belonged to Jean, "Cordelia, breathe. I need you to breathe and just concentrate on the sound of my voice. Block everything else out."

She swallowed, her eyes shut tight, as her voice was hoarse with emotion, "I… can't-"

"Yes you can. You can make it stop, Cordelia. Breathe in and out for me. Concentrate only on the breathing, and only on me."

There was no room for argument, and Cordelia, who most likely would have argued her head off at the absurdity of the whole yoga wannabe ritual, was beyond desperate. She wanted it to stop, she wanted it to go away because it was worse than the pain - it was unfiltered raw...

Her eyes never opened, but the emotions were still there, and it wasn't getting better, even as she took the breath that caught in her throat.

"Everyone out – NOW. Get downstairs and stay downstairs until I say you can come up again."

She heard a growl, wasn't sure who it came from, but the door slammed, and suddenly everything was easier.

Cordelia took in a breath, harder this time, deeper, and all there was was Jean – and there was nervousness and fear but it was all coming from her own body. There was nothing alien – nothing at least that was overwhelming, and she felt a sigh of relief jolt through her.

She opened her eyes. Jean Grey was settled in beside her, on the bed, regarding her with eyes that were tinged with moisture behind the glasses, but her expression was unreadable, as she gently massaged at Cordelia's palms.

"Welcome back," she said gently. Cordelia felt a slip of a smile slide over her face in thankfulness, and Jean gave one back, moving down and completing her task of dressing the wound on her arm.

"That'll leave a scar, and you lost some blood - a lot of it. But I think you'll be fine with some rest."

Rest? What rest? There was no time for rest-

"NO, Cordelia. You're NOT Superwoman, okay?" Jean's grip was surprisingly firm, as she pushed her back, keeping the palms on her shoulders as she gave Cordelia a firm glare. "You need to rest. You lost blood - and whatever happened back there took a lot out of you."

Cordelia felt a sigh of frustration bubble up from within her, but she didn't have the strength to argue, as she closed her eyes again, breathing in, breathing out – boy that really seemed to work, and she swallowed, and opened her eyes and tried again.

She looked at Jean, who wasn't looking at her, instead inspecting the arm that ached, hands expertly cleaning around it.

Cordelia breathed yet again, and concentrated on the beautiful doctor. Jean Grey was stock still, and it was faint, but she felt it -

Immediately Cordelia flinched, moving away.

"What's happening to me?"

It was more than a question; it was a demand. Jean's hand stilled for a second, before she let her breath out and placed her hand back next to her body, straightening and looking directly into her hazel eyes.

"You've gained a new mutation, Cordelia. Empathy."

Empathy.

The word washed over her, and Cordelia licked her lips, processing it, taking another deep breath, and shaking her head, wiping the bangs out of her face.

"Empathy." She said it again, rolling the words on her tongue, as if just by saying it, it could become more real, because it sure seemed surreal as hell.

"Looks like it. You don't read thoughts – but the feelings… "

"The mutation made me empathic?"

Jean nodded. "Something about how we increased – the mutation… the visions are no longer the only things coming through the PTB pipeline."

"But I didn't feel it before-"

"Mutations manifest themselves usually during puberty. I know you're well past that, but – perhaps some sexual activity-"

Uh huh. Like being ravished against a wall, for instance? Geez.

Sex was just plain evil.

Cordelia was never one to beat around the bush, and she took no time in parlaying the question that really mattered.

"Okay, so how do I get rid of it?"

"You don't."

Cordelia tried to calm the panic that was so easily summoned within her. What the hell did she mean `you don't'? Why the hell not?!

"Why?"

"You made your choice, Cordelia. I told I didn't know what would happen if we went through with the operation." There was no sympathy in her voice, and Cordelia cocked her head slightly, eyes narrowing as she studied the older doctor. Jean Grey's features, however fine, were set in a grim, determined, frown. Her hand squeezed hers and she continued with, "You have a gift, Cordelia."

Oh yeah. This was a gift. Yay her.

"So I'm empathic? That's it?"

"'Fraid so."

She sighed, leaning against the backboard of the bed. "There's an odd sense of irony in that."

This time a smile graced Jean Grey's face. "There usually is." The long-haired brunette studied her before continuing, in a more serious tone, "You learn to control it, filter it. Eventually you can block things out and it almost becomes unconscious."

Cordelia looked away, down at the bandage on her forearm. "It happened to you didn't it?"

"Yes. I learned. You'll catch on eventually." There was so much acceptance in that, and Cordelia didn't want to take it. She never believed that things were unchangeable, she never did. That's part of what made her a damn Chase.

But there was no time.

"How can I keep it from overwhelming me now?"

Jean didn't say anything, and when the door clicked open, and the denim clad Logan slipped into the room, leaning against the door, she looked almost relieved. Immediately she leaned forward, speaking low and fiercely into Cordelia's ear.

"Take the new emotions, filter them. Put them aside, set them in their own special place and make sure yours are dominant."

Cordelia narrowed her eyes, studying Logan - the emotions came unfiltered from him, but as she watched him, the beast man with the intensely feral eyes, as they bore into hers, they were alien, different - Logan.

She breathed a sigh of relief.

"Angel?"

"He's coming," Logan said, and when Jean nodded, he tapped the door. Immediately it opened, and before Cordelia quite knew what was happening, she was pulled into a rock hard embrace - one that put her aching forearm in direct contact with Angel's body, and making her wince - hard.

"OWW."

"Angel, her arm."

"Oh, right." He pulled away, and Cordelia smiled, her eyes shining brightly at the look of complete relief on his face. Angel rarely let such a show emotion on his handsome face, and if it hadn't been for the pain and the serious trauma Cordelia had just gone through, she would have teased him about it.

"Hey."

"Hey."

He looked unsure, and Cordelia merely smiled, sliding her palm down his cheek before pulling away, sitting on the edge of the bed and gripping the sides.

Rogue slipped in, and Cordelia caught her own peculiar sense of emotions - Weird.

The woman with the streak in her hair was out of sorts, and what Cordelia was filtering was ... Cordelia's eyes flew to Angel, but he only squeezed her hand.

"How are you?"

She swallowed, blinked, and shook her head. There wasn't time for that. "What the hell happened down there?"

Rogue shifted, and Logan frowned, while Angel licked his lips slightly, but Jean simply answered,

"We were attacked by a group of mutants and demons - from what I can gather from Professor Xavier, Magneto sent them."

That didn't make sense.

"Why would Buffy work for that guy?"

Again the glances were passed around and Cordelia felt her own irritation overwhelm the other emotions. "Can we STOP with the let's be delicate around Cordelia looks? I need to know."

"That wasn't Buffy," Angel said, his voice slightly hoarse. "That was... someone else."

"A shapeshifter," Rogue said. "Mystique. Bad-Ass and dangerous as hell."

Great. Just... peachy.

~*~

Gunn wasn't by nature a neat man. But he liked things ordered, and uncomplicated. He wasn't a simple man, but he liked things to have their place. Being thrown out on his ass about certain situations wasn't something he appreciated, and if there was something that REALLY pissed him off it was end of the world situations. Especially when he had NO idea what the HELL WAS GOING ON.

He sat on the chair, watching as Fred and Wesley poured over the books at the counter, feeling helpless as hell and not knowing a damn thing to do about it.

"Maybe I should check outside," he suggested. "See if maybe those mutant guys have given up yet?"

"Storm created the winds," Wesley said without looking up. "That will keep them occupied for the time beings."

He sighed. "Check on Cordy?"

"She's fine," Jean said, coming down the stairs, running fingers through her bangs. "A little disoriented."

Okay - scratch that.

"Maybe I can help Angel-"

"I got it," Rogue said, following Angel down the stairs and to the weapons closet, both vampire and mutant disappearing as the door closed.

Damn.

Fred glanced up, gave him a half smile, and he sighed, leaning back against the chair as he waited.

Damn apocalypse was coming around and he was useless.

The ringing of the phone brought him out of his self pity, and he jumped to get it, answering it with a hurried hello before even remembering about the whole stupid slogan.

"Hello- Uh... I mean - Angel -"

"Gunn."

Immediately his tone changed, straightening and recognizing the voice immediately.

"Hey."

His old friend sounded worried, in the background was the sounds of crying, shouting... chaos.

"You busy?"

Fred looked up, and Gunn's eyes immediately met with hers. The concern in the brown orbs was evident, as she listened intently to his side of the conversation.

"I'm... what's going on?"

"Oh you know... END OF THE FUCKING WORLD! We could use some help here, dog!"

Shit. The lump in his throat quelched the automatic words, "I'll be right there," as once again his eyes caught Fred's. "I... dude I.."

Fred's eyes widened, and before he could say another word she plucked the phone from his hands and began speaking into it.

"Where are you?"

"FRED!" She was really damn good at keeping him away from the phone. Even with his flexibility, she still managed to keep away from his searching hands.

"He'll be there in five minutes." She hung up, and he found they had ended up in the darkened corner of Wesley's office, as she put the phone in its cradle, looking up at him as he kept her against the wall.

His hands had slipped to her waist involuntarily, but he swallowed, and smiled, and kept them there, letting the irritation only go so far as he pulled the phone out of her hands, bringing her closer to him in the process.

"I can't leave you, Fred," he whispered, his voice low, making sure the group on the other side of the room couldn't hear. "It ain't an option so just get used to it."

"Why not?" she answered back, her dark eyes searching his. "You've had no problem with it before."

"That was different."

"Why?"

"I don't know."

"They need you. They're on Wilshire and 6th."

They did need him. Gunn closed his eyes, sighing, and his body froze when a gentle hand caressed his cheek, a soft pad of a thumb lining his lips as a warm mouth pressed against his neck and he heard in a breathy whisper, "I'll be fine. They need you."

His eyes opened, hands keeping her close in an embrace as he studied her face.

"And what about you, Fred?"

She wasn't sure how to answer that, he could see it in her eyes, the way she hesitated, and he almost cursed the way his heart gave him away with it's loud, audible, skip of a beat.

"I know you'll be back."

Her answer wasn't nearly good enough, but there was a faith there that hadn't been there before, and he still smiled, still traced the line of her lips with a finger before nodding.

"I'm coming right back, Fred. I don't have a choice."

"Why?"

Leave it to crazy old Fred to want to know the reason behind it all. "Destiny and some other shit."

His answer wasn't nearly good enough, and Gunn felt they were oddly even. She just smiled and shrugged, not comprehending.

But her mouth tilted up, meeting his with a breathy sigh as he gently kissed her, pulling her closer to him in a seal of a promise.

When he released her, her eyes were shining, and he strongly suspected his own weren't exactly dull.

"I'll be back," he promised.

She pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, looking mousy and cute and so completely Fred.

"I know you will."

He stepped backwards, picked up the ax, and went to let Wesley know exactly where he was going.

He didn't look at Fred again.

He knew he didn't have to.

~*~

Research was often underrated, this Wesley knew well. Not many people quite understood the tedium, the strain on your eyes and your back, the paper cuts that hurt awfully, the long hours of sitting staring at texts that were barely even legible, and often in a language you barely understood.

It took a person of infinite patience to be able to unravel the clues, to think in a way that caused the `eureka' that he knew they all waited for.

But even he was stumped.

A prophecy that began with something called First Night was incredibly vague, and the only factors he had to go on : an eclipse, and chaos roaming free, weren't exactly particular to one thing.

Jean had long ago fallen asleep, curled onto the sofa that remained in the lobby.

Fred, who was agitated about Gunn's whereabouts, had called him yet again, from the other line where she felt she could have some privacy.

Wesley wondered about that. He knew that when cut off from their family, two people were bound to get a trifle closer, but Wesley was unsure exactly how close Fred and Gunn got.

It was something to consider, and at the thought, Wesley felt a slight pang in his chest. He and Cordelia had been friends, close friends, on the brink of something more when a very bad kiss and yet another coming apocalypse had put an end to that relationship.

When he had met up with again, this time in Los Angeles, she had already become great friends with Angel, bonded by the loss of their mutual friend, Doyle.

When Angel left them, Wesley had been the rock that Cordelia and Gunn had both clung to, and he had found a friendship with the renegade leader that had been both surprising and rewarding.

Gunn was his closest friend, his confidante, and although he knew he carried a special place in Cordelia's heart, it was Angel she turned to, Angel she loved.

The inclusion of Fred in their group had shaken, stirred the group slightly, but he hadn't minded. They were very good friends, like minded when it came to academic pursuits, and he knew that Cordelia had often expected something to pop up between the two of them.

On the subject, Gunn had always been remarkably quiet, and now, viewing Fred's obvious agitation for Gunn, something he felt as well, he wasn't quite sure why he felt the jealousy – or who it was directed toward.

Footsteps on the staircase made him look up, and he breathed a sigh of relief when Ororo Munroe descended the stairs, looking tired, and weary.

Immediately he stood, walking over to her and helping her, as she offered her thanks with a gracious smile, utterly exhausted as she leaned on him, wincing slightly from a wound on her shoulder.

"I take it wasn't exactly a picnic?"

"Oh it was marvelous fun," she quipped back, quiet when she saw Jean's still form. "Any luck on the research?"

"None whatsoever. And Scott?"

"With the plane." He nodded, sat beside her as she gently moved her wounded shoulder, looking down at it with a grimace. "That will hurt later."

He nodded, and immediately reached for her sweater, helping her shrug it off, before grabbing the first aid kit he kept handy behind the counter.

"Jean has been awake for some time," she remarked with a nod in the sleeping telepath's direction. "I doubt she has had a good night's sleep since last week."

Wesley nodded, taking in a breath at the bloody wound marring the graceful shoulder, before shaking his head, moving his fingers over it, frowning when she gave an indrawn hiss.

He cocked an eyebrow. "You hold off mutants and vampires for the better part of two hours and this is painful?"

Her eyes shot to his and they twinkled slightly in challenge when she responded evenly, "Perhaps you could do better?"

He conceded, holding his gaze until he realized his hand was still stroking her shoulder, long after it had been bandaged, and perhaps that was not altogether appropriate.

"Any luck on the research?" Fred asked, coming in, settling beside them as Wesley jerked his hand away and moved to his side of the desk.

"Unfortunately no. Blasted bloody chaos out there that we should be stopping and Angel is holed up in the weapons closet with Rogue, Cordelia is under empathic attack, and we haven't the first clue what is bloody going on!" He finished the emphatic exclamation with a thump on the counter, the dust rising and settling back down, coming close to their surprised faces.

"Perhaps this might help," Ororo said, holding up a book she had carried in with her.

"Wait… is that the…" Jean gently moved off the couch, coming forward, rubbing at her arms in a sleepy manner. She took the book thoughtfully, staring at the cover. "This is the book that got delivered by accident."

"I thought so too," Storm said, "But after the recent turn of events I took a second look." Gently, she took the book back and turned to the middle of the pages, opening them and finding a highlighted passage. "Look familiar?"

Words written in a scrawl that was neat and small – easily missed in the black pen on the faded yellow pages.

Wesley took it, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose as he stood.

"I've never seen this book before. It's rather… old." Carefully, he turned the pages over and skimmed. "Written in Sanskrit."

Jean gave Ororo a glance, as Fred stood with him, moving to behind his shoulder to gaze at the pages.

"Apparently your friend left you a present," she said, after glancing, "And a note written in German."

"Anyone here know German?"

"I do." Storm gave Wesley a smile as he began to read immediately, one that faded into her face as he continued to read, and translate. "Contrary to what you might think, I have always believed in fair play, and I do have a heart. I believe strongly in destiny, old friend, and I believe, consequently so do you, so with that mentality I give you your only chance to stop what is by now most likely completely in motion. It is not much to go on, that is true, but if you can stop it – then perhaps you were right all along.

"I trust to see you soon, Charles, and the children you have deluded into believing the world will completely accept them. There is far less danger in this world – than what is capable with hate. Perhaps, in their meandering to save a planet that will never be their's, they will learn that. Erik."

Jean looked away, Ororo showed no expression at all, but Wesley did not dare speak after reading the obviously personal notes.

Only Fred, who pried the book from him, deigned to break the silence, eyes squinted in concentration as she read over the passage next to what he had written.

"First Night, right here guys," she chirped, leaning over the text, making Ororo and Jean come over, almost grateful for her intrusion.

It took a second, and her words were halting as she struggled to make it out, her Sanskrit passable at best, but Wesley helped her, and they pieced it out.

Chaos Reigns on the First Night
As the demon engulfs
And the watchful become blind

Night will be as day
Day will last forever
Until the demon consumes many
And the animals are tamed
May the soul reign forever

And may the pain engulf all
As all becomes equal
And the demon reigns free

~*~

Cordelia stood next to the window, leaning against the frame, letting the lights of the fires that burned in Los Angeles sparkle their reflection in her eyes.

Behind her, Logan was processing what she had said, and she could feel his uneasiness, the utter denial, before the acceptance that almost bordered on panic.

But his voice, gruff and rough and every bit abrasive as she expected it to be, told nothing of the panic she knew he was enduring.

"Are you afraid?"

"Of what? Angel going killer again? Mystique knowing personal stuff she couldn't have possibly known? The end of the world?"

"Take your pick."

"I'm a lot of things," she said finally, never looking at him as she answered. "But being scared shitless is definitely in the top ten." She kept her eyes on the window, on the dark, black chaos, on the mass that was floating around, the evil so tangible, and it was seeping into her soul. It made her want to run, to fly outside and do whatever it took to stop the chaos, stop the fear, stop the panic before it drove her nuts.

But there was nothing she could do, because although the impending doom was written in her heart, there was no action, no plan. There was nothing because all they knew was the end result – not the map or how to get there.

Logan, the feral man with the claws, and the pain that never seemed to quite go away in his heart, was silent behind her.

She took the silence as an invitation to talk, and finally did, letting the emotions speak for her, guiding her words. "I've been living a life like a nun because I've been afraid of Angel's demon. I've seen Angelus, he's touched me, and it's nothing like Angel. It's dark and sinister and there's evil in the eyes , and he scares the hell out of me. My whole life it seems, I've been scared of a bastard that lives in the body of my best friend and I'm TIRED of being afraid, Logan. I'm tired of waiting and hoping and wanting, and sacrificing, because no matter WHAT THE FUCK I DO, it's never enough. He's gonna lose it anyway."

Her body was trembling as her words finished, and the tears slipped before she had a chance to reign them in, and once one started the multitude followed and Cordelia Chase sobbed, falling against the wall as her arms wrapped around herself, barring herself from the world.

Hands pulled her away from the window, and suddenly she was leaning against something warm, soft, and firm, and there was an embrace that was curiously human in the form of a mutant.

She closed her eyes, buried her face in his neck and clung to him, shuddering as she wept, keeping him close to her as he stroked her back, and the warmth she received, the very real comfort, extended to her in waves.

He didn't say anything, he didn't have to, it was in his touch and in his eyes, as she pulled back, and he, almost reluctantly, let her, as her heart beat slightly harder, and her breathing was a little raspy, and when his dark, intense eyes met hers, she forced herself to swallow.

Suddenly the hug wasn't safe anymore, and she pulled back, the blush tingeing her cheeks as she crossed her arms, stepping back, out of his embrace.

He didn't say anything, and the silence was beginning to unnerve her, before he adjusted the denim jacket and took her hand, pulling her toward the door.

"Let's go find Angel and Rogue."

Damn, she couldn't think of a better idea.

~*~

Rogue had been more than her share of trouble at the mansion. Even before she developed her first mutation, she had been known as sassy, witty, clever.

Her mother often called her trouble in the form of a Southern Belle, and for the longest time, little Marie had believed her.

Years later, the Southern Belle had taken on the role with gusto, but she wasn't quite sure if she believed that was who she was anymore.

Rogue knew that she possessed talents to weave men around her finger, she had done it often enough, for all the wrong reasons.

And now, thinking of life's bitter irony, all she could understand and think about was that there was a man in the room with her that she was achingly aware of, a man who had pressed fingers against her body and it wasn't Logan.

There was an odd sense of irony in it.

She was silent, mind processing his movements, the hauntingly handsome vampire methodically choosing the weapons, bringing them down, handing them to her to polish.

She held the rag in her hand, giving them a good wipe, but they hadn't said a word and she knew it would probably be better if she never said anything at all - there was too many complications surrounding this.

But he touched her.

"Why?" she finally asked, her drawl thicker, raspier when she saw him freeze, his back turned to her as she watched him with the dark eyes that were so focused on him.

He knew what question she was asking, she didn't have to elaborate.

"I'm... dead. Technically." He turned, and her heart caught in her throat when suddenly a demonic face that was hideously disfigured presented itself on Angel's previously angelic face. "I may look human. But I'm not."

She wasn't sure what exactly he was trying to do with that. Intimidate her, perhaps? Maybe he knew what she was thinking, maybe he was trying to second guess something that was incredibly tempting, even while their prospective lovers were on the next floor.

Contact... no strings attached.

She pushed away the traitorous thoughts, shuddering slightly before breaking the gaze and looking down at her weapons. "You may not act human, sugar," she drawled, finally regaining her composure, meeting his eyes again with sparkling brilliance in her own orbs. "But you act more like one than a lot of 'em Ah've met."

He paused, the demonic face faded away and he leaned forward, placing an ax in her hands, her face inches from his as he studied her.

"Humanizing influence can do that to you."

She grinned. "Touché."

He nodded, stepping away, and she continued to watch the tall, hulking form.

Different from Logan... Different from her...

But...

"You ache for that contact, don't you?" she whispered, and he froze again. "In your mind, your body, just an animal instinct that cries out inside of you... the need to touch, to be touched-"

He growled slightly and jerked his head, a warning sign.

"I'm not hitting on you, sugar," she said, but she wasn't sure if that was a lie and neither was he, as she slipped off the desk, letting the weapons fall to the grounds. "I know how you feel. When I touched you... You reacted-"

He growled again, louder, harder, on the edge of his patience, and he startled her when he gripped her elbows, pushing her back against the weapons with loud thud, making her wince slightly.

"Don't."

It was almost a plead. He was almost begging her, and her eyes closed and the moisture came. "Dammit, Angel. I wish I could stop. Ah wish I could stop..." but her hands still fumbled, the gloves still came off.

He wasn't Logan. She wasn't Cordelia.

But it was touch. It was the basest of instincts and she could have it with him.

And he wanted it, even as her bare hand floated to his face, even as the growling grew louder and more violent, he didn't stop her, just gripped her body tighter and closed his eyes.

Her breath was so constricted as she placed her fingers gently on the cold skin, and her body reacted with warmth when he let out a low moan.

He jerked, and his hand caught hers and held it away from the sensitized fleshed, and her attention was now on the digits, the rough fingers that felt so different without the gloves.

Her fingers tangled in his, and it was SKIN and it was TOUCH and God how had she lived for so long without feeling the satin smoothness of it, the warmth and life pulsing beneath and it wasn't Logan and GOD-

She swallowed, hard, looking up at him, and his face was agonized and there was no perfect happiness there-

But there was contact.

There was attraction.

There was need.

The fingers fell and her hand slipped about his neck, pulling his face forward, closer to hers.

She should have heard the door, he should have heard the door.

The blood pounding furiously in her ears must have been the reason, when the door opened and they didn't pull away fast enough -

And Cordelia and Logan walked into the room.

~*~

The punch came out of nowhere. Gunn winced, stumbling back, landing on his ass as immediately trying to backpedal from the cop and the baton and his swinging hand.

"Let's GO!"

He felt a pull on the collar of his jacket and it gave him the help he needed to get on his feet and turn, following his fellow fighters away from the blue uniformed officers, into the dark alley.

Joel was bleeding from a cut on his face. Little Tommy was holding his hand, and he was limping.

"Let's go," he ordered, and they continued to move.

They walked hastily, and Gunn was thankful the bulk of the rioters had kept the panicked officers from following them further into the alleys of downtown.

Of course that was leading them RIGHT into more mutants and demons and wasn't THAT a hell of a lot of fun?

He turned the corner, helping Tommy as they jogged to the place that they had all considered a refuge at one time or another.

He swallowed and faltered to a stop as soon as he saw it.

"ANNE!"

Anne, the blonde who ran the runaway shelter, looked close to tears. Immediately her head whipped around, away from the destruction that had once been her home.

"GUNN!"

The blonde young woman flew into his arms, sobbing into his chest as he tried to get out exactly WHAT his normally sane friend was trying to say.

"I... they just came in... they... it's all GONE, GUNN."

He pursed his lips, embracing her as he looked up at the shelter, the kids that were watching the flames with astounded expressions of sadness.

"All right Anne," he whispered. "It's gonna be all right."

"It's NOT, Gunn. Where will these kids go?"

Police sirens in the darkness. Cries and echoes of pain. Kids crying.

He thought, and took a breath, and prayed Angel would agree.

"With me. Come on." Anne looked surprised but he only moved with her, pushing her and Joel to the front. 'LET'S GO!" he yelled to the teenagers, waving toward them.

A few looked suspicious, but the majority followed, walking with him as he urged them on, looking up at the darkened night and Dammit this night was getting long.

He needed to get back to his friends.

He closed his eyes and took a breath and grabbed Anne by the shoulders. "You go to Angel's hotel, you got it? Go to the Hyperion and tell them that I sent you."

Anne looked ready to argue, but when Gunn shook his head, she finally nodded.

He knew she knew there was no other choice.

"The other kids-"

"I'll get them. Just go. Get outta the streets. Take the kids with you, and Joel," he turned, eyeing his friend. "Make sure they get there."

"Hey, man. We're not abandoning our crib like you did."

He whirled, and Joel was rightly surprised when a flying fist made him land sprawled back on the hard concrete.

"You get your ass over there, and protect these kids and the team, or there ain't gonna BE a crib to come back to."

It was what Joel needed. He didn't look happy, but he obeyed, taking Anne by the elbow and calling out to the other kids.

Gunn watched them go, and grabbed his ax, taking a breath and running the other direction, away from home, away from his family, away from Fred.

He'd go back soon enough.

~*~

The incessant singing was going to drive him mad.

Being in the damned plastic bowl was almost better than listening to the half mad vampiress who sung to herself and swung the blasted doll around and around.

Almost.

He waited, in his chair, feeling curiously out of control as he watched the blonde interact with Mystique, now in her token form.

Darla was not to be trusted. She was a means to an end.

Mystique apparently had not been there for the memo.

They spoke in low whispers, and he watched, with clenched fists, until finally the patience got the better of him, and a finger twitched and the metal snapped, making them turn their attention to him.

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble," he began through hissed tones. "Perhaps you might want to fill ME in?"

Mystique smiled, and he was only slightly appeased when she settled in his lap, fingers sliding idly through the white strands of his hair, tickling his scalp.

Darla grinned, but she looked more amused than anything as she leaned against the machine.

"Nothing you would know about, my darling mutant," she said, tilting her head with fluid grace. "Magic isn't exactly your department."

He stiffened underneath Mystique's body, but she held him down, her fingers continuing their constant stroking.

"It's a means to an end," she whispered, slow, almost a purr in his ear.

"I have my qualms," he announced.

Drusilla laughed, and came forward, leaning forward almost like a panther, pointing two fingers in his direction while Darla watched in amusement.

"Metal man has qualms," she whispered. "Mrrowrrr. Bad Metal Man. Doesn't like to play."

He glared at her, hands on Mystique's hips to get her off his lap, but she stayed, tongue flicking out to lick his earlobe as she watched Drusilla with a smile on her face.

"Amusing. Danger in the form of a kitten."

Danger in the form of a kitten? Erik turned, eyeing Mystique, but her eyes were on Darla, who finally turned away.

His eyes floated to the machine that was waiting. Dormant, glistening, waiting to be brought to life, to change the course of history.

"I do not take death lightly."

That earned him another chuckled from Drusilla, as Darla froze slightly, and whipped around a pleased smile on her face.

"Good. Neither do we. Death means life to us."

He pushed up, getting Mystique off his lap finally and walking toward the Blonde Shedevil. "You and I are not the same. We are doing this plan my way."

Darla's face froze, and the deadliness of her countenance was never more apparent than in the cold stare.

"My dear Eric. How deluded you are."

"Pretty seer's blood - like a poem..." Drusilla held a flask of blood, and she sniffed it, tilting it back.

Darla's eyes widened, and she strode forward. "Give me THAT!" She snatched it away, sloshing some of the red liquid onto her hand. With a roll of her eyes she proclaimed, "Can't take her anywhere these days."

Magneto crossed his arms, regarding her. "And this machine. You've made the modifications? It will not kill everyone?"

Darla's eyes widened slightly, and she paused. "Now I never said that." When he opened his mouth again she just sighed, slapping him on the arm. "Relax, Metal Boy. They no longer matter."

"Those who carry the gene-"

"Will be mutated. Those who don't... It doesn't matter, does it?"

They didn't. Erik knew that.

But mass murder still did not sit well.

The time in jail had not helped, because Charles and his stupid visits had managed to drill something in Erik's thick head.

Was he any better than the men who killed his family?

But he didn't a word as Mystique moved past him, watching in fascination as Darla licked the seer's blood off of her hand, saying a few words in a language he didn't quite understand, before dropping the remaining blood into the chute - their own modification - the magic he was so weary of.

And Mystique smiled, when Drusilla wrapped her arms around her blue body and danced around her, when Darla clasped her hand and kissed the scaly cheek.

He was losing control.

He knew it.

The loyalty was failing. He didn't care.

Darla and Drusilla would outlive their usefulness soon enough. Then he would have his control back.

It was a means to an end.

And he would see it through.

~ Chapter Eleven ~

I'm so scared that the way that I feel
is written all over my face
When you walk into the room
I wanna find a hiding place

We used to laugh, we used to hug
the way that old friends do
But now a smile, a touch of your hand
just makes me come unglued

It's such a contradiction
Do I lie or tell the truth?
Is it fact or fiction?
Oh, the way I feel for you

Is so complicated
I'm so frustrated
I wanna hold you close, I wanna push you away
I wanna make you go, I wanna make you stay

Should I say it? Should I tell you how I feel?
Oh, I want you to know, But then again I don't
It's so complicated

~*~

It took one second to process everything that was in front of him.

It took another second to come to the decisiont hat Angel was a dead vampire.

It took one more second to find a stake.

He heard the whisper next to him, a small "No," that he would have barely glanced at, had he not smelled the whiff of panic that accompanied the trembling voice.

Angel had moved immediately, but Logan was quicker, moving under and letting Cordelia's quaking body fall into his waiting arms, gathering her up as she thrashed, waiting and growling slightly as Rogue and Angel moved forward.

The smell of arousal, of physical desire was leaving Rogue, but it had done it's damage.

His mind was flashing with dark anger, with anger and blood and hate and it was all directed at the vampire.

Rogue knew it, as he gathered Cordelia to him, eyes narrowed at her, as her face constricted and there was the guilt and the pain before the Rogue in her stifled it out of her face, locking it away, hiding her true personality from even him.

Shit. He fucking hated that she did that. Barred herself from him and she never did that unless there was something really wrong, and it made the anger and hate that much harder.

"Cordelia."

"Leave her the fuck alone," Logan hissed, coming to his haunches as he kept her to him like a wounded animal fighting for a last bite.

He focused completely on her, fingers padding her cheeks. She took a breath as whatever hit her went away, and he was glad when her fingers tightened around his, when her forehead leaned against his chest.

It was something to focus on, something to distract him from what he had just seen.

"Oh, God," she whispered raggedly, fingers tightening on his lapels as her eyes opened and focused brilliantly on him.

In Logan's world, a desperate universe formed to help his anger, the helplessness that filtered through him, there was only him and her, and so he did not appreciate it very much when she whispered with that soft lilting voice, "Angel?"

"I'm right here, Cordy." In came the voice of the vampire, and the low growl nearly matched his own as Angel attempted to get to the Seer.

Her hazel eyes pinned him, and for some reason Angel faltered, his hands suddenly pausing in thin air before he swallowed, pulling back.

"Help me," she whispered to Logan, and he immediately nodded, not watching, but feeling Rogue's presence. He could almost see her form, the arms wrapped around her body like a little girl who knew she did something wrong but wasn't quite ready to take punishment for her actions.

She had developed the tendency to lash out from him, he suspected, but did not comment, did not say anything to the woman in all black who was watching him with the old eyes so full of pain.

He didn't concentrate on the raw and bitter pain at what he could not have - the way the vampire had touched Rogue - something he had been dreaming about for months.

He held Cordelia and kept a bare hand on her light blonde strands, stroking softly as she took in a breath, and he knew she felt it, and saw her wince slightly when she looked at him. He pushed it down, and she smiled gratefully after a minute, before turning to THEM.

She regarded them for one minute, saw Angel's hunched form, looking at her for any indication she was okay, then to Rogue, who was leaning against the wall, with that look on her face, the half smirk that made everyone who didn't know better think she was a heartless bitch and made her real friends ache inside. He blithely wondered which perception Cordelia would feel.

The two woman exchanged long glares.

But the hazel eyes softened, before they closed, and the woman in his arms took a long, haggard breath before she answered the unspoken question with, "You're not fooling anyone, Streaks."

Rogue's uncaring face faded. She blinked as Cordelia's grip tightened on Logan's arm, and she broke the silence with an even, civil, "Come on. We need to meet with the others."

With Logan supporting her, she turned, and the two left behind followed into the lobby.

~*~

Remy LeBeau was not by nature a patient man.

He was never the type to take orders, come to think of it, so it was not a secret that this particular mission, the 'sit on your ass and wait' mission, was not sitting particularly well with him.

He waited, however unwillingly, on the wall, the cigarette dangling from his fingers before he lifted them to his mouth and took a long drag, letting the nicotine work it's way through his system.

After a moment he studied the burning edge, before letting it fall into the snow, hearing the satisfying hiss as it burnt itself out. Storm hated smoking. The little nimble goddess was ever the advocate of anti smoking commercials, and Gambit had been the subject of more than one lecture on his penchant for it, despite the fact that Jean and Rogue both never minded taking an occasional smoking break with him, provided Storm wasn't looking.

Even Logan was known for snuffing out the damn smelly cigar of his when Storm walked into the room, and it had become a rather fun game Gambit had learned to play, teasing Logan about his fear of the anti-smoking Storm.

For some reason, it wasn't quite funny anymore.

Remy was a self professed bastard, he had learned not to take anything seriously, his life on the streets had branded him a different way than it had branded the delicate soul of the Wind Goddess. It had seemed natural to start a friendship with her, something not based on sex, but on past experience, because she knew what it was like, she had been there, where he had -they had shared secrets of thievery, tricks of the trade that would make the student's jaw drop if they knew.

It was precious, his friendship with his Goddess.

Sex was not something he should have done with her - because sex always changed things.

He had never seen her as perfect, there were small, insignificant things that made her human, things no one else saw because no one took the time to look.

Her intense claustrophobia. Her fear of humans. Her outrageous temper. The way she bit her nails.

How she cried at the end of the silly dog movie Jubilation made them watch.

The silver lining that he saw, appreciated, and never considered as a complete turn on until she turned up at his door, sad and alone and longing for a connection.

He had given it to her, and when her face, blissful and full of rapture, had leaned up and the fingers grazed his lips and the white eyes focused on him, she had whispered three words that had gone through him.

"I love you."

He could still hear it, could still feel the way it had gone through his body, making it shake, and it had been the best damn orgasm of his life.

It had been in the morning, when he had woken up and pulled her close that the fear had started.

She had seen the doubt, and he saw the way she had pushed the feelings away before they had settled on it being a mistake - one night of sex that was just that - words said in the moment.

But Gambit had never been haunted by a one night stand the way his night with the Goddess haunted him now, and he never felt so helplessly out of control as when the wimpy Englishman with the stupid accent that was even more annoying than everyone said his was strode in with his stupid sensitivity and book knowledge and wrapped his little Goddess around his little finger.

Gambit was never a coward. He was never a man to run away from things and for this he was pissed even more than usual.

Because he couldn't even tell her that he loved her.

Because his part of the plan was 'sit on his ass and wait' while Professor X came up with anything to help the team on this side.

He reached into his pocket for another cigarette, mind whirling as he knew that nine thousand miles away, Storm was smiling at another man, and there was nothing he could fucking do.

~*~

Charles Gunn was a man of action.

He was not a coward.

He was a leader, but it had been so damn long since he had so many people trusting on HIM, not Wesley or Angel, but HIM, and he was plagued with doubts.

His mind whirled as he longed for the concentration, for the complete faith that he had in himself before he had handed the reigns of leadership to the older and the not so wiser, before he gave his faith to a group of do-gooders that were sometimes worse off than he was.

The boys with him trusted him completely, and it cut him like a knife when he saw them scramble from the vampires, look to him for any inkling what to do.

And Fred whispered in his thoughts.

"I know you'll come back."

"GUNN!" He took in a breath and the ax swung and the vampire was beheaded, before he ducked, feeling the pain when another swung into his kidneys. He stumbled back, the wall blocking his fall quite painfully.

"Come ON!" he yelled, struggling with the minion, moving his head emphatically to the direction of his truck, and the remnants who weren't trying their damnedest not to get eaten began to help those who were. He kicked up and hard, pushing the vampire back and swinging with his now not-so-shiny ax onto the vampire's neck, blinding him slightly when the dust that followed flew into his face.

He brushed it away frantically, and brought up the rear, as the crew began to pile into the truck. He heard it start, and jumped onto the side, hanging on as the darkness seemed to overwhelm him, and more creatures came at him, pulling at his legs.

"GO!"

His eyes caught the tower to his right, and his eyes looked up and up and up.

What he saw made him gasp.

Before something jerked at his legs and he lost his grip, flailing back and landing on the cement with a hard thud.

The last thing he saw before his eyes closed was the building.

~*~

Storm's fingers gently rolled the white cigarette, her dark eyes watched as it gently came apart in her hands. The freed tobacco floated down to the ground, and the moment seemed to have special meaning only to her.

It made her heart ache, the way the cigarette crumbled away, so fragile in it's own sense but so powerful in it's complete domination over people in general.

In a way, she understood people's reliance on something so small, so seemingly trivial. The way it seeped into one's soul, the simple act of taking a white innocent stick and lighting it, watching it burn, the intoxicating scent, and the way the drug flowed through.

One almost always forgot how disgusting the first whiff really was, how the first drag made one choke and snort and cough.

She smiled lightly, dropping it on the ground. Remy loved them.

It had always been a point of contention between them, and for the most part, she had learned to ignore it.

Lately she had wondered why on earth she did. Los Angeles would have been a much needed vacation from the heartache that was Remy LeBeau.

Everyone had a choice, and love was blind - but if this truly was love, then why was she feeling...

"You look like you're having deep thoughts."

Storm smiled at the voice behind her, turning her head and looking to Jean, who looked tired and weary, but in her ever perceptive state, managed to see the cigarette destroyed on the ground.

"Damn. I would have asked for that."

Storm chuckled, turning back to find her laughter fading at the city before them. "Finding yourself as useless as me?"

Jean nodded, coming forward and sitting next to her. "Those two are pouring through those pages so quickly *I* feel like an idiot. And I'm worried about Scott."

"He's fine," she answered automatically. "I made sure before I came back here."

"I know you would have. Thank you."

"I should have gone with that Gunn fellow."

"I think there's not much you could have done out there."

There was silence, and then Jean, never one to beat around the bush, remarked casually, "I notice you're getting along quite well with the Englishman."

Storm shrugged. "He's human."

"So?"

Storm turned, eyeing her friend. "You must have noticed my lack of trust for that kind in general."

Jean returned her gaze with a frank look in the beautiful brown eyes. "Yes, I have. And I think that he might work wonders for restoring your ebbing faith in humanity. We can't fight for what we don't believe in, Ororo." She slid her hand in the crook of Ororo's elbow, leaning her head against her friend's shoulder before adding, "The indecision is coming off of you in waves, Storm."

"I know."

Jean didn't have to say anything else, and Ororo was glad. She moved, leaning her head against Jean's, thankful for the companionship, only to be interrupted with Rogue's raspy voice behind them.

"Guys."

Both ladies lifted their heads, looking back to regard their young teammate.

Rogue looked odd, not her usual confident self as she stepped forward hesitantly. "Ah think you should come down here."

Hmm. Another clue. Rogue's accent was unusually thick.

"It's about time we suited up," Jean agreed, getting up as Storm proceeded to do the same.

"Well... yeah that. And umm... Cordelia's saying something about us having to HELP Magneto."

~*~

Fred was never quite good at keeping her mouth shut. Call it a rehash from Pylea, where she had spent so much time alone that she had been left starved for a kind human voice, but she always felt the need to interject her own opinion, even if they directly conflicted with the norm.

Cordelia had often been driven crazy with this somewhat more innocence taste of her own medicine, but she had learned to take it.

The others just would keep their mouths shut and not comment.

At this point, Fred was feeling dreadfully out of her element.

And for once, she kept her mouth shut. Her chest was tightened, so taught that she forgot to breathe once or twice, as her eyes kept flickering toward the closed doors, almost as if by looking at them long enough she could will Gunn coming through them.

Her attention was divided, as she waited for Gunn and watched as her old friends and her new friends all banded together in doubting Cordelia, which aggravated her slightly. Cordelia was never fickle, and if it was one thing she took seriously, it was the visions of hers. There was simply no other way of looking at them. And if Cordelia said they had to help the big old psycho Magneto, then Fred was more than willing to back her up.

Just as soon as Gunn got back.

So she kept her mind trained on the conversation, and her eyes trained at the door, and she waited and listened.

"Look, I know you guys think I'm nuts - but the damn vision-"

"Cordelia, we're just saying that maybe you interpreted it wrong."

Fred turned her attention back to watch as Cordelia glared at Angel with such animosity, he shut up immediately.

The guy who kept smoking that stupid cigar - Logan - just stuck the big brown thing in his mouth and chewed on it, shooting as much venom in his glare at Angel as Cordelia, and Fred blatantly wondered if she had missed something.

"I know what I saw."

"What did you see, Cordelia?" The voice that broke through was Rogue, coming forward and sitting across from her as the others cast fitful glances at each other.

Again, Fred was a trifle bit confused, but Cordelia only stared at her evenly and said in an oddly even tone, "You want the truth? Fine."

Cordelia slammed her hand on the table, grabbing the book that they had all been pouring over and jerking it open, hands shaking slightly as she flipped through the pages.

"This damn First Night that we're all talking about? This First Night that's happening RIGHT NOW and we're doing SHIT to stop? We ARE causing it. We're gonna bring it down. Me, you, Angel and Logan. We're the cause. There's a reason you're in the damn vision Rogue, and frankly I'm starting to wonder if I didn't misinterpret the first time and maybe YOU'RE the one I had to stop."

Fred's jaw dropped slightly. OUCH. Rogue immediately launched up, but Jean and Wesley had gotten there first, coming between the two women.

"Woah, wait. Cordelia you didn't mean that."

Cordelia sighed, and her eyes locked with Fred, and when her friend gave her a black expression she only sighed, burying her fingers in her bangs. "I don't know what I mean anymore. Look. It doesn't even matter, because you guys don't believe me."

Rogue closed her eyes, clamping down at the table, looking just as tired and just as frustrated.

"That's not true, Cordelia." It was Logan that spoke up, from his side of the room, and Fred blithely wondered why Angel didn't do more to reassure Cordelia. He acted like he was almost afraid of her, and that wasn't what Cordy needed right now.

With a sigh, she came forward, sliding down next to Cordelia and pressing a hand on her back, squeezing her shoulder.

"I believe you," she whispered.

One hazel eye opened and studied her, and suddenly Cordelia smiled, and leaned forward, and rested her head on Fred's shoulder.

"That's cause you rock above all else, Fred," she answered, winking slightly. With that, she turned to the rest of the group, and was quiet for one minute, her eyes resting on Angel. Fred's eyes followed, and again Angel watched her with that beseeching look, but made no move to come forward.

Cordelia closed her eyes and trembled slightly and Fred caught her before she slipped into her seat, as the guy in denim came up on the other side of her and kept her elbow firmly in his side.

"Are you okay?" Jean asked.

"Fine... just... it's... too much... the people..." Cordelia looked toward the doors, where the crowd was growing more and more rambunctious and loud. "Look, believe me or don't believe me, I know what's coming, and it's not good." She took in a breath, and finally, looked toward the stairs. "I gotta get away from here. I'm going up. Wesley, tell them."

She pushed away Fred and pushed away the guy in denim and again Fred shot Angel a look that clearly meant to push him to go after Cordelia.

But he STILL didn't move.

What was he? Glued to the seat?

She stood with a frustrated sigh, moving away as Wesley told the fateful words of the prophecy she had already heard from Cordelia, turning toward the stairs when the pounding on the door distracted all of them.

Gunn.

Immediately, she rushed to the door, ignoring Wesley's shout of warning, and Dammit if Angel didn't have any trouble getting out of the seat then, and when she heard the familiar voice tinged with fear, her heart gave and she swung it open, watching as the flood of teenagers filled the room.

There was chaos for a moment, as the teenagers huddled together and Jean looked almost scared and then maternal as she started checking for injuries, asking Wesley and Storm to help her, while Angel and Logan swung the door closed.

Fred whirled, and her eyes spotted Anne and immediately she caught her, shaking her shoulders slightly, trying to get the girl to look at her.

"Anne," she demanded. "Where's Gunn?"

Anne swallowed and looked at her and her gaze gave her the answer before the words did.

"I don't know."

~*~

Well, apparently the chaos wasn't just outside anymore.

Rogue would never admit it to anyone, but she largely suspected that Ororo and Scott and Jean and especially Logan knew, that humans scared her to death. Mutants rarely, if ever forgot what would happen if she touched their skin. There had been too many away missions, too many deaths and if that hadn't been reminder enough, the incident that had left her with two new mutations was more than enough to keep everyone at arms length.

Human's never understood. There was always one in the bunch who thought they would be the exception, that one person who would think it was 'cool' and then they'd slip and Rogue would have new memories to sort out and new bad habits to pick up and there was NOTHING about some humans she wanted inside of her.

Her mind was too full of shit as it was.

So she stayed away, her mind still reeling with pain and guilt and fear - the words of Cordelia and the look in Logan's eyes, and Wesley's prophetic ramblings sticking into her head as the teenagers camped out in the lobby.

She felt caged, not only in the prison of her own skin, but in the room, with the humans who were lost and scared, knowing she had betrayed Logan and had betrayed Cordelia and in a way, had betrayed Angel and herself, for one lost moment of pleasure.

Perhaps the most damning of it all was the ache she still felt inside, from the exhilarating touch of skin - and DAMN if Cordelia hadn't gone all out of her element and been UNDERSTANDING about the whole damn thing.

And she KNEW she had no right to feel the pang inside of her at the way Logan looked at the Seer, she KNEW she had NO DAMN right to feel the way she did, but it didn't stop her from sliding off the bookcase, hopping down and walking to him, stopping his journey to the steps where Cordelia resided in an upstairs room, with a gloved hand on his elbow.

"Don't," she said immediately.

He paused, and the look in his eyes made her flinch, pull away, putting her hands back inside of her pockets where they belonged.

"Someone needs to be with her."

"Then let Angel go."

Logan chuckled, a low, angered chuckle that told Rogue he didn't think that was the least bit funny, but a rather stupid suggestion and made her feel damn stupid for suggesting it.

"In case you haven't noticed, ROGUE," he said, enunciating the words with enough edge to make her swallow. Dammit she hated when he said her name like that. Like he was throwing back in her face everything she was and everything she wanted to be and made it all seem to petty and trivial and stupid. "He hasn't been much help."

She regretted the question almost as soon as she asked it, "This isn't about what happened is it? Cause, Christ Logan we can talk about it and I can explain-"

"There's not anything to explain, Rogue." His words were a rough growl, and she felt her eyes tear and her heart splinter slightly. Shit. This wasn't what she wanted. She had promised nothing would change, HE had promised nothing would change and yet here they were, conversing like strangers, like enemies, with stupid wordplay.

She felt seventeen again, but at seventeen there was more confidence, even when she first jumped into his camper with frost bitten fingers and tattered clothes.

Her head cocked, and she knew he could see the emotion in her face, but he made no comment on it, as she began with the half whispered, "Logan."

"Don't." The word was edged in hurt, in painful anger, and it clamped her mouth shut automatically. He shook his head and backed away from her and immediately just said, "He can touch you, I can't. That's all you needed to know, right Rogue? Fuck relationships and fuck love."

"You don't understand."

"Yeah, I do. I'm not a fucking idiot, Rogue."

*God, Stop it. Stop saying my name like it's something vile. Please. I can't take it from you.*

But he didn't let up, and she knew she deserved it as he spit out her words right back at him.

"We're just friends, remember Rogue? Nothing changes."

Her chest heaved up and down as she looked around the room, found everyone involved in some task or another, no one experiencing the heartbreak she was feeling.

"Logan, that's not true. Everything's changed."

And her brown eyes looked up and locked with his and he stared at her. He was waiting for something, as her chest heaved, and she prayed that the look would be enough, that he wouldn't demand the words even though he deserved them.

"Yeah, it has," he answered, and her heart sunk deep within her as he moved away from her. "He can touch you, I can't. End of story."

And he jogged up the stairs and away from her, and her eyes watered and she turned away.

*Asshole. Fuck you Logan. You're the ONLY one who can touch me.*

~*~

Angel was severely starting to piss him off, and if Wesley had exactly one second to spare between assuring Fred ( and in the process assuring himself) that Gunn was all right despite the dead cell phone and no one actually knowing where he was, and researching the prophecy, and worrying about Cordelia and setting up Anne's groups in a wing of the hotel, then he might have actually TALKED about what he had just said.

He knew Angel should have been worried about the prophecy that would have worried him less.

What was pissing him off and, consequently, scaring the hell out of him, was that Angel didn't seem to care.

Even when the rioters tried to get too close and Jean and Storm had to fend them off with lightning and telekinetic prowess, once again on the rooftop, Angel didn't bat an eyelash.

And not once had he ventured anywhere toward Cordelia's room.

All in all, Wesley was quietly thinking that if they happened to live through all of this, he would give his friend a very complete pummeling.

Before Angel lost patience and beat him up, that was.

Rioters were openly attacking the hotel. The mutants, now dressed in the black standard that was their uniform, were instructing the teenagers that belonged to Anne to help them set up barriers.

Gunn was still nowhere to be found.

Fred, stoic as she was, would have been bordering on hysterics if he hadn't had her working on the deconstructing the prophecy.

And they were no closer to figuring out a means to stopping the ending that now seemed inevitable, like a ticking time bomb looming all over their heads.

Bloody Passions or Days of Our Lives or some other stupid American Soap Opera, that's what this was.

Hadn't these people see Monty Python?

And now, in Cordelia's vision of all visions, they were NOW being told they had to HELP the very man that had almost killed Rogue and all mankind in the process.

Wesley felt lost, angry, conflicted, and stretched far too thin.

A human who was suddenly leading mutants and vampires, and it was quickly becoming too much.

Because Wesley knew the end was coming, and coming fast.

~*~

Jean Grey could tell the news had startled Xavier. She could almost hear the sigh that she knew must have come out of his mouth as she held the phone to her ear, the way he was silent told her he was thinking it through.

Jean knew that no matter what Erik had done, he would always be that friend to Charles. Blithely she wondered how long it would take before Charles lost hope in the old friend. It was almost frightening to see her old mentor, father, friend, take so much hope in a man who was capable of so much destruction. Magneto had been the chink in Charles' armor, and she was secretly glad that Charles had opted not to make himself part of the mission.

Things were fragile enough as it was, and Jean did not want to see the anger, the sorrow in Charles' eyes the moment he let go. Charles still wanted to believe in Erik, and this news... as fragile as it was, could have been the key, another notch in Charles' hope that Magneto could be saved.

"Professor?" she asked, prompting him to speak, voice his thoughts. Charles could hold entire conversations with himself if he was allowed to. His mind was almost unfathomably strong and she knew that occasionally he needed to be gently brought back to their plane, reminded of where they stood.

"The Seer is sure?"

"She seems sure enough. But she's endured so much trauma and naturally everyone has their doubts."

He breathed a heavy sigh, and she closed her mouth, licking her lips as she waited.

"The seer has been right before this, Jean. Trust her instincts, to a point."

The statement did nothing to assuage her confliction, but she nodded dutifully. "Yes, Charles."

He waited, and finally he said something that made her heart skip a beat slightly. "Jean, the moment he hurts any one of you, take him out. You have the power to do it. Do not hesitate."

Her throat went dry and she coughed, almost dropping the phone in shock.

Did Charles just put a HIT out on Magneto?

"Jean do you understand?" His voice was harsh, insistent, almost angry.

"Yes."

"Good." There was a pause, and then, with the slightest hint of tired warmth, "God speed."

The line clicked, and the dial tone came on, indicating the connection had been severed.

Jean was left with nothing but a mind full of confused thoughts and a furiously beating heart.

~*~

It took all of her concentration and a hell of a lot of breathing to keep everything in it's place.

It was hard as hell, and Cordelia, who had pushed back so much, was tired. It would have been so easy to just let it all go, let it seep into her mind. But that was something she couldn't afford, not when she no longer saw everything in black and white.

She saw Logan and she saw Rogue. She felt the anxiety and the guilt and the doubt and she should have hated Rogue for what she had done-

Except she understood.

Didn't make her any less pissed off, but it didn't matter.

Nothing seemed to matter anymore.

When the door clicked open and Logan stepped into the room, eyes searching the room and finding her huddled on the bed, she wasn't surprised.

She wasn't sure why there was no surprise, but she just looked at him, taking in the darkly handsome features, the long hair and the beard, so Canadian and gruff, intense and feral.

He was dangerous and safe.

Her eyes closed and she waited until he closed the door behind her.

"Are we any closer?"

"Almost. Everyone's mostly suited up. Jean's getting the okay from the proff. We still don't know how to stop it."

She nodded, barely acknowledging his answer.

"I don't know if I can handle it," she finally whispered, breaking the silence that followed. "All the fear... all the emotions. It's seeping inside of me."

There was a pause, and the bed creaked with his weight as he sat down, a hand on her forehead.

"How come you haven't told anyone?"

She shrugged. "Why didn't Rogue tell anyone she could touch Angel? Fear. And there's enough going on that if anyone admits something else it'll be the straw that breaks it."

"What?"

"Me." He didn't say a word, when her eyes opened, and the moist hazel bore into his eyes. "Where's Angel?"

He didn't answer for a minute, but when he did, the tone was strained, tired. "I don't know."

Her eyes closed and she trembled, and then, in a voice that seemed so very small, she asked, "Logan. I know it's not all big bad and manly of you, but... can you do me a favor?"

"Yeah. What?"

"Just hold me, please."

The request could have shocked him, but he didn't seem surprised. He only took a breath, and moved around, sliding in beside her, fitting his body close to hers and pulling her in with a hand on her waist, burying his nose in her hair.

She closed her eyes, and took in the warmth, the comfort.

"I'm sorry," she said after a moment.

He stiffened, but she felt a nod and he pushed in closer and that was all they could do.

He knew what she meant.

~*~

Rogue didn't quite get why everyone was taking orders from Wesley, of all people. She had asked Storm, and she had answered that it seemed, that in the chaos that was happening everywhere, he was the only one holding it all together.

The answer was good enough for her.

Her task, to find Angel and bring him back down to get ready, for what she still didn't know, wasn't exactly her idea of a good job, but she followed it, following her intuition, and finding it right.

She found the vampire on the roof, eyes roving over the city of chaos that they still hadn't been able to save.

She swallowed, cursing her own damn selfish behavior as she moved next to him, looking over the city of hurt and suffering, his city, his haven.

"I'm not going to be a part of this," he said suddenly, never looking at her. "I'm not hurting her like that again. I'm not letting this demon out. All I've ever done is hurt her."

"That's not true, Angel."

"Everything I am is the reason why she's in pain. Why she is the way she is."

Rogue cocked her head, finally turning to regard him, and upon seeing the despair, felt a flash of anger.

"HEY, that's NOT true, Angel." She grabbed his hand, pulling him around, forcing him to face her. "Everyone has their own damn destiny, and she chose it. If it hadn't been for you she'd be dead. What kinda way to live is that?"

His eyes were hollow, so hollow, empty inside, and for a moment, they seemed a direct reflection into her own heart.

"I'm death incarnate," he whispered. "So maybe she's better off."

The feelings welled up inside of her, and the eyes teared, blurring her vision, but she knew it was her first that struck him in the jaw, sent him stumbling back. He looked surprised, the demonic face emerging as he growled at her.

"Fuck you," she responded, pushing him. "And fuck that. I'm damn tired of living in fear of what MIGHT happen, Angel. It's a hell of a way to live but if we're gonna get ANYTHING outta this life we gotta face it! If we can face death and come outta this alive then-"

"Then what?" he growled, grabbing her by the elbows, the fangs glistening as he cut her off. "I've BEEN to hell, Rogue. I know what's there. It's eternal suffering and I'll be DAMNED before I make her life anything like that."

"You already HAVE."

He let her go, and she closed her eyes, taking a breath and looking around at the city, and spreading her arms wide. "Where the HELL do you think we are right now, Angel? Paradise?"

"Oh you're one to fucking talk, Rogue," he snapped.

She almost flinched, but held her ground, jaw tightening and shoulders snapping back as she regarded him.

"I know I screwed up, Angel. I confused touch with something else and that was my problem. But it's yours too. And you felt it, and you ached for it, and that means something. That means you want something and you've got the damn hope. So STOP acting like a damned baby and fight for it. Cause there sure isn't any other way we're getting the hell outta here alive."

The night was pitch black around them, and the self professed death incarnate stared down the Angel of Death as the challenge was thrown.

A second later, there was a nod, and a growl, his lips crushed on hers for a split second before he pulled her into his arms and embraced her like an long lost friend.

And the challenge was accepted.

~ Chapter Twelve ~

The day is my enemy
The night is my friend
For I'm always so alone
Till the day draws to an end
But when the sun goes down
And the moon comes through,
To the monotone of the evening's drone
I'm all alone with you

All Through the Night – Cole Porter

~*~

The crashing of the streets was music to her ears.

Cliché, but true.

She smiled, closing her eyes and spreading her hands wide, as if embracing the world.

The wind slid through her blonde hair, and Darla smiled, feeling it coast under her neck, lifting the blonde strands up and away from it, cooling the already chilled skin as it caressed her, like an old friend coming to dinner.

She had often wondered what humans thought, why on earth they believed they knew so much when in fact all they knew whittled down to one, simple word : nothing.

Mutants and humans, all alike, all contingent on one, major folly : they assumed too much, and in reality, knew nothing.

The feelings that flooded through them, feelings that still haunted her at night, had been her curse, as rampant in her body as Angel's soul clung to his.

It was not normal for a vampire to feel, and there had been times she would have done anything to make the feelings stop.

It had crippled her, just as it had crippled Spike, just as it had crippled Angel, the remnants of the Scourge of Europe amounting to nothing.

But she fought it, she pushed it down, and envied Drusilla, in her happy world of insanity, free from the interaction with humans, free from the DAMN FEELINGS.

Blue skin that was surprisingly smooth despite the outward scaly appearance rested on hers, and Darla found herself turning to eye Mystique.

Another remnant of the human months. Genuine affection.

Darla wondered when she ever truly liked a human - but Mystique, had the potential for so much more. There had been more than one passing moment when she wondered exactly what kind of vampire the shapeshifter would make, but considering Mystique's lack of morals as it was, and not knowing exactly how being dead would affect the mutation, Darla had chosen to keep the woman alive.

It was a means to an end, but the affection had definitely clouded her thoughts.

And for once, she didn't quite mind.

The darkness of the night was so tangible, and again the feelings that had lingered twisted her chest slightly, at the loss.

Angelus should have been beside her.

Angelus should have led this.

She swallowed, clenching the railings, cursing herself for her sentimentality as she looked around the roof and down at the streets of chaos, where rioters and police were looking up in awe and panic.

Drusilla, dark and dangerous as midnight, her pale skin almost glowing like a dark fairy, continued to dance, never losing her energy for it as she smiled at Mystique.

"Little sister, our triumph shall soon be yours."

Darla smiled at that, saw the way Mystique's yellow eyes lit up and leaning forward, she placed a kiss on the shape shifter's cheek.

"Is this what you want, Mystique?" she whispered in her ear.

"It's more," she breathed, and her eyes turned, and she asked, almost demanded, "Show me more."

Darla smiled, content with her loyalty.

She turned, looked at her insane seer, and clasped her hand, bringing the vampiress close to her as the dark head rested against her breast.

"Shall we?"

"This is not what we discussed."

The swell of hatred and disgust came almost immediately, and she growled involuntarily, looking at the fool human who still seemed to think he had any say.

"Shut up, Magneto, and do your part." She straightened and walked to the machine, idle hands smoothing across the metal surface. "The First Night has begun, and it will be up to us to make sure tomorrow never comes." She turned, her eyes glittering at him, as Mystique, smiling nimbly from her precarious perch on the railing. "For the good of mutants. Of course."

He looked furious, the foolish old man, but he said nothing.

And Darla knew he finally understood who had the real power, when she saw the fear in his eyes, smelled it.

Worthless whore her ass.

~*~

It was subtle, the little differences as she held him.

Her face was buried in his neck, and unconsciously, she inhaled, and he smelled of dark danger, of cinnamon, oddly, and of Old Spice.

The only other man she really held in his close embrace had been Logan. Logan smelled of liquor and cigar smoke, of the woods. Of hairspray – the frilly kind that she had once bought on a dare and made him use – hairspray that he had liked so much he still used, however in secret.

Her hands, curious, roamed over the smooth skin, and again, there were differences. Angel was rock hard, almost chiseled, with a smoothness that seemed almost alien. Colder than human.

Logan's skin, when she felt it under her leather padded fingertips, had been warm, and soft… which was not surprising, considering his healing factor. Logan, for all his rough and hairy exterior, always had the smoothest, most beautiful hands.

The silk of this shirt was so different under her fingers, different from the flannel.

Angel was watching her, with haunting dark eyes, and Rogue just smiled sheepishly, and continued her exploration of his body, unsure of why she needed it, why her fingers were doing her thinking for her.

But he smiled slightly, and let her, fingers gently holding her at her elbows.

There was no rise and fall of his chest, no soft sigh that came when her palm spread against his pectorals.

It was so devastatingly easy, a spell and a realization that suddenly came, broken and done, and filling her with such incredible sadness, and clarity.

He wasn't Logan.

Death and Death were standing in each others arms and it was an oxymoron, as she waiting with him. Death couldn't have death, it craved life.

Life was vitality, life was laughter, and friendship.

Life was love and never constant.

She let out a shaky breath, her dark eyes looking up to meet Angels and she smiled, even as her eyes watered.

"Thank you."

He nodded, and she leaned up, floating gently to press her lips against his, once, chastely, before she smiled, and let her palms fall.

She stepped away from him, and the gloves went on, like they always were, and she turned, about to say something else when the building rattled and a big boom filled the air.

Angel looked alarmed, and she immediately followed him to the corner of the roof, looking down.

Her eyes widened, and they met his, and suddenly they both turned, charging down the stairs.

~*~

"We need to figure this thing out NOW."

Fred looked up, the weariness in her eyes apparent as she pulled off her glasses, and let them settle on the table.

"Doesn't it look like we're working as fast as we can?"

Jean didn't stop until she had sat down at the table, eyes crossing from Fred to Wesley to Storm.

"It's getting worse."

"We need more time."

"We no longer have it," Storm said, standing up, as the door began to pound.

Anne came forward, harried and tired, but with a stoic determinism that made Storm's steps falter, eyeing her with a peculiar smile.

"What do you want us to do?"

Storm looked to Wesley, but he only ventured a shrug, getting up and moving to where the discarded weapons lay on the table, choosing a broad ax.

"Tell your children to get up into the rooms. We'll handle this."

The long, broad wooden doors shook again, and the cries and shouts from outside grew more chaotic, angrier.

Storm moved around Anne, as Fred stood, immediately gathering together the books in her hand.

Things were very quickly getting out of control.

Jean immediately sprinted for the stairs, saying something about getting the others while the remaining trio looked at the door with impending dread.

"It's not going to hold much longer," Anne whispered, brushing her blond hair out of her face and immediately turning, ushering her kids up the stairs, Wesley helping, barking out orders for them to keep moving.

Fred stood still, her breath coming out in pants as she watched, the sacred book with their only clues clutched against her chest, while Storm stood guard in the center of the now empty room.

"Gunn, now would be a REAL good time to show up," she whispered.

~*~

In the small little room that Cordelia had claimed as hers in the hotel, there was a quiet haven of peace.

Logan was quiet, as he ran fingers through the silken tumble of strands, ranging in hue from light blond, to copper, to dark brown. His eyes roved over the room, and it surprised him in its plainness.

A nice bedspread, a nice dresser, but that was it. No ruffles, or fur… not anything that would announce that it's inhabitant was a queen.

But, he remembered one conversation that had taken place between Ororo and Jean, while he and Marie were watching television, her leg sprawled over his, a beer in her hands. It had been interesting, as they discussed if one was born with class, or if one could aquire it. All cerebral crap, and he normally tuned it out, but for some reason it was almost interesting, as he had exchanged glances with Rogue and cocked an eyebrow, making faces that made her smile.

But she had ended it, when she finally spoke up, saying it didn't matter someone was born with it or just aquired it, if one had to actually say it, then it was never true to begin with.

Her body shifted slightly, and he pulled back, hands still on her waist as she snuggled deeper into his embrace, so that his chin was now resting against her cheek, dangerously close to her mouth.

He could sense her awareness, as her fingers slid up, letting her breath out, the warmth of her body comforting, perfectly aligned with his.

Her hand brushed against his cheek, fingering the whiskers, and he closed his eyes, lowering his head so that his lips pressed against her shoulder, lost in a desperate embrace.

"Hairy."

He stilled, found his lips quirking into an involuntary smile as she angled her head back to catch his eyes.

"What?"

"You're hairy," she repeated, the tired hazel eyes shining brilliantly. "It's different. But in a nice way. I never dated hairy guys."

He was amused, propping his head up with his elbow and smiling down at her. "Darlin', you don't know what you were missing."

Her smile faded, as her eyes became pensive and she half whispered, "I'm not sure I thought I was missing anything until a few hours ago."

The words brought back a flash, a vision of a girl in the arms of a vampire, and he closed his eyes, shuddering against it.

"Hey." Her palm flattened against his chin, and his eyes opened to find her smiling, her eyes a sad reflection of his state. "I feel stuff, remember? I know who's in her heart. It's you."

He shrugged, disbelieving. "Rogue likes to think she's old. All grown up and really inside she's got this scared little girl in her core."

"Mm. She's not the only one who's afraid. But Logan… she's not afraid for herself."

He drifted away from the thoughts, no longer wanting to think about the mutant who held his heart, and had wrenched it from him more than once. Instead he shifted, sighing, burying his head into Cordelia's shoulder, settling into a comfortable embrace as her arms slid around him, pulling him closer, until he could hear her heart beating against his own, careful to be gentle with the tired Seer.

Lips brushed against his cheek, and he pulled back, not startled, but slightly surprised, as her eyes locked with his.

They were frank, open, honest.

For once, there were no lies in the gaze.

It was an invitation he appreciated.

And he smiled, brushing his lips against her mouth once, testing them for firmness, and then, when she responded favorably, settling into her lips, arm wrapped around her shoulders to pull her closer.

It was nice, and an altogether different kiss that Logan experienced. He had never before experience `nice'. Usually his kisses were masked with lust, or given with complete passion, and he had never once kissed Rogue, but he knew what that would have been like.

An explosion of mind and matter, primal taken with a heart bursting with emotion.

Nice was never the issue.

But this, was nice, with a tinge of passion, perhaps it would have been more had he not already, in mind at least, been mated to a Rogue, and her to an Angel.

They pulled apart, and she smiled, and he smiled back, pressing his lips against her forehead.

He smelled them before they opened the door, but didn't move, just shifted her so she could see, as Logan and Rogue faltered at the door.

"Ah, hell." The drawl was from Marie, as she slumped against the doorway. "Please don't tell me we're gonna be screwing around with this `Flirting with Disaster' bullshit."

Angel didn't say anything, but immediately he came forward, pulling Cordelia out of Logan's arms with a jerk and cradling her in his own, pressing her against him, almost as if he was trying to drown out Logan's scent on his property with his own.

"How are you?" he whispered, smoothing hands down Cordelia's face.

She regarded him, as Logan scooted off the bed, barely hearing her "Took you long enough to ask," as he watched Rogue.

She looked tired, sad, and almost completely in despair.

"What?" he asked, eyes narrowing as he came forward, gently pulling a white streaked bang from her face.

She swallowed, trying to find her words, he heard her beating heart rapidly pounding against her chest.

"GUYS." Jean skidded into the doorway, forcing them all to look up. "Downstairs. NOW."

~*~

The door was going to splinter any second, and Fred stood, waiting, her bow and arrow in her hand, and her heart hammering rapidly.

When it happened, her insides jolted, but she didn't move, instead raising the bow and arrow and methodically aiming for the mutant or demon or whatever it was that heading straight toward her.

She waited, like Angel taught her, until she was five feet away, and then, Angel, Logan, Cordelia and Rogue following Jean down the stairs in the corner of her eye, she let go.

And missed.

Fred's eyes widened, and she never realized how much she was truly shaking until the bow and arrow was wrenched out of her hand and the demon/mutant whatever it was raised it's hand high.

She screamed, kicking at it's abdomen, and she heard Angel cry out, and closed her eyes, covering her head, when suddenly the beast was yanked backwards, and a dirty ax came out of nowhere and embedded itself in his chest.

Fred paused, not quite able to believe she was still alive, until Angel came forward, shaking Gunn's hand.

"Gunn. Good to have you back."

Gunn, dirty, clothes torn, and wearing his trademark smirk, just smiled back, before turning and, and reaching out, taking Fred's hand in his own and pulling her up.

"Don't need a protector my ass."

Fred blinked, and when he smiled, barely turning as he backfisted another intruder in the face, bringing him down, she felt her heart suddenly flood with relief.

With a half mixed whimper and sob, she threw her arms around him, making him stumble back.

It took her a full five minutes to get herself to let him go, and poor Gunn, who was still trying to defend her from the various demons and mutants that were getting away from the other group, resorted to kicking and half hearted punching as her pliant body trembled in his arms.

"Fred, I'm enjoying this, but-"

"How are you still alive?!"

He cocked an eyebrow. "You don't think I could have survived with my manly man skills?"

She rolled her eyes, and when she shook her head no, he half glared, before nodding his head to Scott Summers, who had apparently come in with him.

"Dude gave me a ride on his plane. Pretty slick thing, Fred."

She was breathing heavily, panting even, and if it was from her furiously beating heart, or the pounding of the blood in her veins, or the pure exultation of having him back, safe and sound, she wasn't sure, but she was absolutely sure of one thing.

She was completely in love with Gunn.

Oh, crap.

And with a sigh, she finally just lifted herself onto her tiptoes and kissed him soundly, wrapping her arms around his neck and bringing him closer.

She wasn't even aware that they had managed to push out the rioters and fight off the rest until she heard, in the haze of her mind, Cordelia's placid, "When did THAT happen?"

"While we were gone, it seems."

Gunn pulled away, and she looked up, noticing with some embarrassment that all of Angel Investigations, the entire X-Men away team, and some of the kids of Anne's place, were all staring at their very public display of affection.

Fred caught Cordelia's smile, and just flushed with embarrassment. "Yes, I love him, okay?" she said defensively. "I'll have you know it is a very natural and beautiful thing!"

Gunn just blinked, and shook his head, but he kept his hand in hers as he moved toward Angel and Wesley.

"We're outta time guys."

Scott Summers nodded, crossing his arms, and taking a breath.

"Gunn and I saw it. In downtown. Magneto's machine."

~*~

There was an aura of apprehension in the air, filtering through her mind, despite the control she had fostered against the invasion of other beings, feelings, and thoughts.

She took in a deep breath, the headache getting worse, shuddering slightly. Almost without warning a hand slipped in hers, soft, but rough with calluses that came from working with visors and motorcycles, and she clamped it gratefully, leaning to the side, thankfully finding herself gathered closer against a strong, lean body that she knew every inch of.

People often wondered about her and Scott, she knew that. They wondered for years, when she first fell in love with some one who was barely more than a boy. Wondered why, she, a college student, could fall for a young man barely out of his teens, wondered if it was a fling, remnants of the wilder Jean everyone suspected resided under her skin.

They never understood how she needed him. Perhaps a bit more than he needed her. He had pursued her with every intention of bedding her, Scott, although he was a nice guy, had always known he was good looking. It was their friendship that suffered. They had been friends, close companions, since the moment he had been brought into the school, aching and dead inside from his trauma, voluntarily blind, eyes closed to keep the lasers that burned from coming out and searing everyone.

She had stayed with him, comforted him, talked to him, and she had never laughed so much as when he saw her yearbook pictures of high school, junior high, a gangly, tall, stick thin girl with limp brown hair and glasses and braces, the very picture of an ugly duckling.

Perhaps if people had known about the time she cried herself to sleep in his bed, the headaches hurting so badly that he, the ever platonic friend, held her and soothed her and shushed her, stayed with her, holding her until she finally fell asleep, then they might stop wondering. Or perhaps if they had known about the time, long before they fell into bed together, still platonic, she had come to him, scared to death because she had been careful and it didn't matter because she thought she just might be pregnant and had only been twenty – how he had held her and then gone with Ororo, also young and far more mature for her age, to go buy her a pregnancy test.

The way he and Storm had waited in her bedroom, quiet and full of wonder and fear as she took care of things in the bathroom, and when she came out almost crying from relief. The way he had held her and the way the tears slipped under the visor, staining his cheek.

She hadn't been aware he could cry until then.

Maybe then people would stop wondering why Jean fell in love with a man younger than herself, and why it was never a question.

There would never be anyone else.

She settled her head on his shoulder, and he pressed his lips on the top of her head. It made her smile slightly, dressed and suited and ready to go while she watched the others take action around the hall, gathering, preparing.

Storm sat beside Wesley, and she began to lend her hand, her gift for languages finally put to good use as she translated with them, and finally things seemed to be going somewhere.

"Okay…" Fred took a breath, and finally held up the paper with the ink scratches on it. "So… we have exactly 12 hours to stop the First Night. Counting the time we've wasted here, that's… two."

"I thought the First Night would last for as long as possible," Storm interjected, clearly confused.

"It will, if we don't stop it in two hours," Wesley answered, pulling off his glasses and wiping them, sighing audibly. "According to this, if we don't stop First Night before the end of the natural day cycle, in other words, the time dawn would normally approach, then we will be plunged into… `eternal darkness and chaos'. Lovely."

"Okay, now that we're on a time clock, how do we stop it?" Angel asked.

Fred let out a long breath, shoulders slumping as she exchanged looks with Wesley. "We're not sure."

"Well, I got the phone calls from Giles in London and Buffy in Sunnydale – they say `hi' by the way-" Cordelia said, coming into the room and sitting on the bench next to Fred. "Said the same thing's happening over there. Not as… harsh, but pure darkness. Looks like it's spreading."

"A `yay' vote from Charles too," Rogue added, coming in after her.

"So two hours and no idea how to stop it." Jean sighed. "Great."

"Guys," Cordelia's voice was almost a whisper. "We have to stop it. We have to. If not, half of us in this room are dead. And Magneto…" she trailed off, burying her head in her hands in a huff, knowing no one knew what to make of her vision.

"Well you know, this may be a long shot, but I have a feeling that damn MACHINE has something to do with it," Gunn put in dryly. "Maybe we should try taking that out first? Being as how we know where it is and all?"

"That's almost definite," Scott said nodding. "If they haven't changed the agenda, and knowing Magneto he is most likely not going to…"

"Then they might be using the machine very soon – and everyone becomes mutant or mush."

"Well it's a start," Logan said, his voice gruff, ready to snuff out his cigar on the countertop until Cordelia and Rogue both gave him a very similar glare. "We've been hiding in here long enough. Let's kick some ass."

"What he said."

Immediately the men and women got to their feet, and the muttering began, as they began to converse, some heading to the stairs to change, others going to the weapons closet.

Storm watched as Wesley stayed, looking pensive and dark. She got up, watching him, and finally sighed, settled back down across from him.

"What is it?"

He looked startled, but his face was dark. "Mystique knew quite a bit of personal information about Buffy Summers and Cordelia. And if these prophecies indicate, as well as Cordelia… we might just be doing what they want."

"Do you think we have a choice?" she asked gently. "We cannot let them use that machine. Especially now that they have a sample of Cordelia's blood."

"Because they might actually make it work, yes I know." He rubbed at his face, looking tired, snapping the book closed. "But I don't know if that's what they even want anymore. Whoever is behind this… whoever is helping Mystique… they aren't after just humans. They're after Angel's soul."

~*~

She was quiet. Too quiet.

Rogue was unsure, something that wasn't new for her, but for the first time in a long time, she had no idea what the hell to do about it.

What the hell was up with this whole bizarre love quadrangle, anyway?

She stole glances at Cordelia, who was not saying a word, and thought up about a hundred ways to start the conversation they had to have eventually.

Finally, taking in Cordelia's haggard face she settled for the most glaringly obvious.

"You sure you're up for this?"

Cordelia rolled her eyes, grabbing the duffel bag and pulling out the heavy uniform. "I'm empathic, Streaks, not incompetent."

"Rogue."

"What?"

"My name," she said, voice low, every word enunciated. "Is Rogue."

Cordelia paused, turning. "No. What's your REAL name?"

"That is my real name."

"I'm not talking to Rogue right now. I want to know YOUR real name."

Shit. There it was again, that damn insecurity that this girl with the hazel eyes was just seeping through her.

"Mah real name is Marie."

"Marie, huh?" Cordelia studied her, and finally shrugged. "Yeah. I can see it." She sat on the bed, pulling off her boots. "Well, Marie, what do you want to know? How he kissed? If we fucked like weasels?"

Rogue cocked an eyebrow, pulling at the short gloves she wore, grabbing the short brown leather jacket that had become her trademark and pulling it over the tight black leather.

"Look if you're gonna be pissed at me, that's cool. Ah just need to know, so I can keep the hell away from you."

Cordelia gave her a glance, before turning her back to her and stripping off her shirt, hands going to the belt of her pants.

"Why would I be mad Rogue?"

Rogue gave her an incredulous look, shaking her head slightly. "Forget it."

"No, I'd really like to know. Are you sorry you kissed him?"

Hazel eyes turned and bore into hers, and Rogue swallowed, felt curiously as if she was shot under the spotlight. Cordelia's eyes were frank, open, honest. She told things as she saw them, and Rogue suspected she saw a lot of horrible things.

She was without tact, and expected the same from Rogue.

"No," she finally answered. "It helped me figure things out."

Cordelia looked at her once, and finally nodded, stepping into uniform, shimmying it up her hips. "He's a good kisser."

Rogue almost smiled. "Yeah." She paused, waiting by the door while the Seer finished pulling on the uniform. "Uh… here." She grabbed a pair of her own gloves, tossing them to Cordelia. "The gloves help."

"Nice," Cordelia commented, voice placid and civil. She slipped them on, running a hand through her hair and regarding herself in the mirror.

"Black leather huh?"

"Yeah."

"I could get used to it."

Rogue felt laughter bubbling up in her throat, and when Cordelia turned and caught the mutant laughing, suddenly she began to smile, and the tension, the anger and betrayal was released when both mutants began to crack up.

"Okay. Here I am. Cordelia : X-Girl, ready to kick serious ass."

She did look good. The leather was a perfect fit, Cordelia being of the same build as Jean, if not a little curvier, and the empathic Seer looked as if she belonged in it.

Just like she had belonged in Logan's arms.

The smile faltered, and Rogue found the question slipping through. "Is Logan a good kisser?"

Cordelia froze, and once again, regarded Rogue. But there was no anger, no malice, and with a sadly resigned tone, she finally just responded with, "Damn good."

Rogue nodded, and knew she must have looked like a child, arms wrapped around her body, before the personalities inside her snapped their whip and Marie was pushed away and Rogue came to the surface, with a wicked smile and a hand on her hips and a perfect Southern drawl.

"Come on, Sugar. Let's go meet destiny."

~*~

In the darkness just before dawn, Mystique was invisible even in her own true form.

Dark midnight.

One day, a long time ago, she wondered idly what would have happened if she had been found by Charles, instead of Magneto. If she had been brought up as a comrade, if she had been at the mansion when Logan had come, been treated as herself, and not as the assassin who was there with no other purpose to kill.

Odd, how people treated her as a leader, when all she really was searching for was the right mentor.

Mystique was smart, she was cunning, she was clever.

She wasn't sure exactly when she had become evil – when it had festered her heart. When she had woken up from the scared little child who had to run home from school and morph into walls, too afraid to be seen, to become what she was. Proud. Cunning.

Evil.

Was there such a thing as good and evil? She hadn't thought so. Under Erik's tutelage there was no evil – she had been good, Fighting for what was right, fighting against the discrimination, hoping to make the world a better place, and it did not matter that she had to kill a few people to do it.

It was when she twisted the neck of an individual she did not know, had turned to see Erik's sad face, that she realized how different they were. Erik saw death as an unfortunate necessity, a means to an end.

She relished it.

It had been a curious revelation, and she remained by his side, ever watchful as her lover and father grew old, tired, and full of doubts.

She was young, strong, clever, and never knew how akin she was to the vampires she had only heard of in lore until she had been brought into the fold.

In her heart, she felt the beating, on her skin, the dryness that never seemed to go away, curiously didn't seem to itch, and every piece of her, from her loins to her chest, seemed so ALIVE.

Fingers gently slid along her dark, coarse hair, cold lips pressed against her naked shoulder blade, and she sighed, smiling.

"It's a wonderful feeling."

"It gets better," her protector promised.

The whir of the jet, quiet and still, broke the stillness, as they both turned, looked up to see the black jet that was barely visible.

"Finally."

Darla nodded, leaving Mystique and turning back into the building.

"Less then an hour and a half to go. They're cutting it awfully short, aren't they?"

~*~

There was a jolt as the plant bumped into the corner of the roof, settling down.

From the back, there was a muffled curse that belonged to Logan. From the front, there was what a muffled word that sounded like a `sorry' from Cyclops, and smirks exchanged between Storm and Jean.

Cordelia had her mind on an altogether different question, as the seat belts were unlocked, and they quickly headed out of the plane.

"I don't get it."

Rogue, walking down beside her, gave her a confused look. "Don't get what?"

"Flirting With Disaster."

"HUH?!"

"That Flirting with Disaster comment. I don't get it."

A loud shhhh came from behind them, Wesley probably.

"Oh." Rogue hopped down the stairs, walking backward to talk to Cordelia. "You know. The movie?"

"No."

"Ben Stiller and Tea Leoni. Really cute, but anyways, it's about this couple-"

"GUYS!" Jean clamped her hand down on Cordelia's shoulder, making her jump slightly. "Can we maybe talk about this a little later?"

"Oh." Cordelia gave Rogue a look, and she only shrugged, turning her palm from side to side. The two women gave each other a smile, one that quickly faltered when Scott took a breath, pausing.

"They know we're coming." His hand rose, meeting the tiny but deadly switch on his visor, and with his free hand, he gave two quick motions.

Immediately the X-Men complied, breaking off into pairs.

"Vision Girl, with me," Rogue whispered, grabbing her hand and pulling her around the plane, leading them in a different direction.

Cordelia shook off the hand holding, but complied, watching as Angel stood with Logan, the two man-beasts sniffing the air, at that moment, so alike, that it almost stunned her.

They reached the roof door, and Rogue leaned down, pulling the hatch open effortlessly.

As the darkness emerged, Cordelia felt a slight tremble in the back of her mind, and ever mindful of the warning, she grabbed the railing, shouting a warning to Rogue before the vision hit and she lost control, tumbling forward.

Rogue cried out, her hand whipping out to catch her, but it was too late, Cordelia slipped by her, crashing down the staircase, into the darkness.

"CORDELIA!"

The vision was jolting, the pain coming from the inside and out as she tried so hard to see past the vision, to orientate herself and still stop her fall down the concrete stairs.

She jolted down, a corner hitting her ribs, as the insides of her brains pounded, and the images came flashing, coming so quickly – a stomach seeping blood, a howling in the darkness, bright flash of light and Magneto crying – searing pain, and the coughing of blood, and laughing, devilish laughing as Gunn cried out, holding Fred to him as they sank to the ground – warped bodies and Jean crying out Rogue's name and a vampire sinking fangs into her throat, whispering in her ear, "Is it good for you baby?" – Angelus and Darla and Dru-

The vision slipped and her head pounded, and the insides of it splintered when she felt it slam against the concrete, landing in a bruised pile, surrounded by complete darkness.

And it came in waves, the pain and nausea and it was too much.

Rogue's crying out for her was farther than it ever was before, and Cordelia Chase could only hold her bruised body.

"Crap," she whispered.

~*~

"COR!"

Rogue kicked open the door, almost stumbling down the stairs in the darkness.

"What's wrong?!"

She turned, looking up at the two men in the doorway. "Cordelia! She fell down! I don't know… I can't see her-"

Angel came down the stairs, immediately followed by Logan.

"Can't see a damn thing…"

Rogue didn't care.

"Let me go first," Angel said, somewhere up ahead of her. "I can see… somewhat."

"How the hell can you see?"

"Night vision."

Dimly, in the darkness, there were blasts and fighting and muffled sounds of screaming.

Rogue blocked it out.

~*~

"Bloody Hell," Wesley whispered, stepping back, as the roof became flooded with people coming it seemed out of all corners surrounding the group still on the roof.

"Break it up, now!" Scott barked, and Wesley kept his grip tight on his ax, as the group split and he waited tensely to engage in the action.

"Inside," he clipped, grabbing Storm by the elbow, trying to move her when he saw an opening as the others fought.

"I can't."

"We need to get inside."

"I can't," she said again.

He paused, and finally looked at her. Ororo Munroe looked tense, nervous, scared.

Forget scared. She looked completely terrified.

A beast came at him and before he had a chance to blink, she immediately turned, pointing a finger and zapping him back.

She was breathless when she turned back to him. "It's dark and small inside."

"Dark and small… " Wesley sucked in his breath as he gasped in realization. "You're claustrophobic?"

"Immensely."

There was a story behind that, but he didn't have time to go into it. They needed to be inside. Already Scott and Jean had managed to get in, driving the mutants back, and Fred and Gunn were following closely behind.

The others were nowhere to be found.

With a swallow, he turned, gently taking her arms. "Ororo, you realize we have to go inside."

"I know." She took in a breath. "But-"

"Ororo." Gently he came forward, caressing her cheek lightly with his thumb. "Fear is a natural thing, but please, don't let it paralyze you."

She blinked once, and then turned, jetting her leg back and catching another approaching mutant in the stomach, bringing him to his knees. "Are you saying I am chicken?"

He smiled at the slight anger.

"I'm saying I don't think you back out from a challenge. And I'm saying I believe in you."

He quirked an eyebrow, and he knew there was something in the unsaid words that hit her because she took a breath, nodded and then leaned forward, pressing her lips to his in a quick, too short, kiss.

"Let's go, English," she remarked, keeping his hand in hers as they walked toward the roof access port.

~*~

Angel felt for the wall, keeping his walk calm, eyeing the corners, the eery darkness.

"Cordelia?"

There was nothing, and he continued to move.

~*~

"Logan?"

"Right here, Rogue." She reached blindly for his hand and he caught it, tangling their fingers together as they crept along.

"We lost Angel, didn't we?"

"Uh huh."

"Okay." She took in a breath. "So we do this the old fashioned way?"

He nodded shortly. "Sniff our way out."

A low growl right behind them made them both freeze, and Rogue widened, and Logan whirled, sniffing and the claws extending, but it was too late.

Suddenly he stiffened. "Rogue, get the hell out."

"What?"

"Get the hell OUT!"

"WHY?!"

"I can't fucking move!"

And he jolted, and suddenly the scene was all too familiar as light flooded the dark room , and she watched in utter horror as an unseen force threw Logan out, into the hallway, the metal door spping shut, closing her in.

Her heart was hammering, and she was quiet, closing her eyes, trying to still the rapid heartbeat, before turning.

"Child," Magneto said, smiling as he came forward, dressed in all black, landing softly a few feet away. "So nice to see you again."

Oh, God. Oh, God. OhGODOHGOD-

She couldn't be afraid. She wasn't the little girl any more. She wasn't afraid.

"Marie?" he smiled, and still she didn't move, as he touched her cheek, caressing it lightly. She shuddered as the old, soft fingers bit into her, making her come alive with memories that she had worked so hard to push away – reawakening the Magneto inside of her that she hated with ever fiber of her being.

"Don't," she whispered, the tears blurring her vision, as she jerked away, suddenly the scared child again.

He just smiled grimly. "I'm sorry. I have to."

~*~

"ROGUE!" Logan pounded against the metal, could hear her muffled words to Magneto on the other side, and was wholly absorbed at doing whatever he could to get in, that the smell caught him at the last minute.

Metal jingled in his ears, and he paused, growled unexpectedly and whirled, claws swinging out.

Sabretooth's eyes narrowed, and he sniffed, the growl matching Logans as he shook the tags in his fists again.

"I'm not done with you," Victor snarled.

Logan stood, the claws out and the eyes dark with rage. "Those. Are. Mine."

When Sabretooth launched forward and dug his claws into his flesh, drawing blood, Logan barely felt it.

His mind had already been given to the primitive nature inside of him, nostrils flaring at the prospect of the kill.

His eyes snapped back to the room that held Marie, but the tags jingled and another claw swiped at him and Logan had no choice.

The Wolverine fought to kill.

~*~

The arm was fractured. Maybe.

She staggered to her feet, stumbling down the stairs, catching herself at the last minute as she peered into the barely lit maze of rooms, thankful that the leather of the uniforms had kept her more of less protected from the burns that would have come with the fall.

Her mind was tired, and she was dangerously close to panicking, but she didn't. She was a Chase and she was better than that. So Cordelia sucked in her breath, and continued to walk, trying to find her way to the room where she knew it would all begin, and all end.

Something she still had no idea how to stop- but it all made so much damn sense now.

Heels clicked, breaking the silence, and Cordelia froze, back pressed against the wall, holding even her breath in an attempt to keep from being discovered.

"Pretty Seer wants to play," came the sing song voice.

SHIT. Great. Just Great. Peachy. She didn't just get a vampire – oh no. She had to get the PSYCHOTIC INSANE Vampire. Dammit. Where was cuddly, impotent Spike when she needed him?

Immediately, she began to move, trying to double back where she had come from.

"I can smell the blood. Pure as the driven snow. Pretty Sister, do come out and play. Daddy's precious, deserves to be met."

Cordelia closed her eyes, sunk down in the corner, fumbling around for anything that could be used as a weapon.

She wasn't strong enough to fight off a vampire. Not in her condition. Not with this empathic crap running through her, and her body bruised and weak as it was.

God. This SUCKED.

And her mind flashed back to the first time they had encountered Spike, when she had whispered to Willow, "What do we do?"

"Pray."

And Cordelia closed her eyes and did so. Fervently.

~*~

He smelled lust.

Blood. Fear. Hate. Anger.

They called to him, sifting through him, straight to the demon, who prickled in interest, lusting for those feelings, wanting them, needing them.

Angel had long ago learned to manipulate Angelus, because as dangerous as the demon was, he was still the lesser power.

The soul still had control, and that was what he counted on.

He once asked himself if that was wise, because Angelus wasn't stupid. He was deceptive and wily and he knew how to get a job done.

But there was no choice, Angel needed Angelus, and he used him now, taking a breath, letting the face of Angelus slide onto his own, and suddenly he was no longer a man.

He was a beast, and he smelled like one, sniffing the air, yellowed eyes glowing in the night, bright to him as day.

He moved quickly, silently, the growl coming from his throat, as the fingernails scraped across the wall, as he swung around, and the smell was so familiar -

His hand shot out and pinned Darla to the wall, seething as he kept her trapped, hand crushing at her windpipe, knowing she didn't need the air, also knowing it was damn painful.

"Where is she?"

"With a friend." Darla smiled, even as the grip tightened. She always did like it rough. "Angelus. Welcome back."

His eyes narrowed and he reached back, loosening his grip only to slam her against the wall again, making her groan. "Where. Is. She?" he responded again.

Her foot shot out, catching him just under his ribs, and he lost his grip, shaking slightly, the growl from his former lover matching his own as her hand shot out, snapping his head back.

"Angel. What an inconvenience. The pitiful, abomination. Welcome to my chaos."

And he shook his head, gained his bearings, and paused, looking into the eyes of the woman inside the demon he had tried so hard to save.

It had torn him from his friends, torn him from his redemption.

Torn him from everything he held dear - when it hadn't mattered.

Nothing had mattered.

And the beast in him smiled, as he cracked his neck, stretching, the chaos infesting his brain, Angelus perfectly in sync.

"Darla, I told you I would kill you."

And she smiled, gave a low, sexy laugh. "Just try it lover boy."

His hand twitched, and again the soul felt the guilt. This was Darla. This was his past.

But it wasn't his future.

And his hand shot out, backhanding her, making her sprawl back.

He came forward, but she had improved, because she moved at the last minute and it was something he hadn't anticipated, a finesse when there should have been brutality and it was barely a splinter, but he saw the needle as it came out, and he growled, roaring as he reached for her.

But the legs were sluggish and the mind was whirling and he tried to shook it away but the fog only became heavier.

He fell to his knees, and suddenly the balance was not so balanced anymore.

"Absolutely amazing what you find out when you have a shapeshifter who can do interview," he heard whispered into his ear. "A drug, Angel? That's all it took? One drug to bring my lover back?"

He groaned, itching in his chest, burning in his soul.

~ Chapter Thirteen ~

Chaos Reigns on the First Night
As the demon engulfs
And the watchful become blind

Night will be as day
Day will last forever
Until the demon consumes many
And the animals are tamed
May the soul reign forever

And may the pain engulf all
As all becomes equal
And the demon reigns free

~*~

There was a soft, gentle whir, a slight jolt, and then the elevator started. Fred kept silent, eyes crossing from taller Gunn to even taller Scott, both of whom stood side by side, watching as the numbers ticked down, slowly.

Odd. It was as if they were meeting to go to a business meeting, not caught up in trying to stop the end of the world.

Again.

Again and again and again.

Fred bit her lip, resting her body on the back wall of the moving cube, feeling her heart pound, knowing Gunn could see her very acute fear as he turned and offered her quick, meaningful smile.

Funny. Fred thought they should have been used to it by now. They should have been brought to a numb understanding that each time they embarked on this particular type of mission they had no idea if they could come out alive. They had played Russian Roulette with this too many times.

But even now, on another countless escapade to save the world, there was still fear, the will to live, the desire to come out of this alive. A feeling of vividness came with the victory, and Fred supposed, that if one day the numbness really did come, then there would be no point to fighting at all.

Because the feeling, the true blast of what it was inside of them that made them NEED this pathetic existence, this complete will to live, would be dead.

So she swallowed down the knot of fear, and stood her ground, her hand clenched tightly on her bow and arrow as the elevator jerked, as Scott cursed and Jean looked up, and Gunn reached for her free hand and held tightly.

When the doors slid open, almost of their own violation, and they were met with ten adversaries, she never blinked.

The fear was natural.

The fear was good.

The fear made all the difference.

~*~

It was dark. The fluorescent lights were flickering on and off, providing barely any fodder to see, and Storm crept carefully, as Wesley counted steps.

"Ten," he whispered finally. He paused, fumbled forward, along the wall, with his hand, until he found the knob, turning with a silent prayer.

His eyes met Storm's in silent relief, and after a short breath, they both peered into the darkened staircase, waiting as Ororo switched on the flashlight, the orb blinking on, one bright flash of light in utter darkness.

"Down, to the twentieth floor," she whispered back, and he nodded, taking the rear as they began to walk down the stairs hesitating.

Glancing at his watch, he pressed a button, illuminating it.

Less than an hour left.

~*~

"DAMMIT!"

Charles ignored the expletive that came from the Cajun, watching the television with the group of children, all tense and quiet.

"The governor of California has officially called a state of emergency, and ordered that all mutants be quarantined until further noticed. Similar announcements are expected to be made in New York, Nevada and Kansas. Spain has sent out it's troops and the Prime Minister of London has ordered all mutants out on the streets to be arrested at first notice."

He closed his eyes, breathing in, breathing out.

At first glance, he and the furious Remy LeBeau who was pacing behind him looked completely different, but Jubilation Lee knew they were both experiencing very similar feelings.

She swallowed down the nausea that came with the announcements, her mouth never moving, eyes guarded behind the dark glasses as she watched the reaction of the mutant children around them.

"They won't do that here, will they professor?" one of them asked, turning to Charles Xavier.

Charles waited a moment, turned and found the child looking at him with wide-eyed panicked innocence, and Jubilee held her breath as she watched the exchange, knowing that any word here would be critical to the peace of mind.

She also knew that Charles did not promise things he could not give.

"Damn you, Erik," she heard whispered under his breath, and he turned, wheeling out of the room, leaving the children.

Remy's hands folded into fists as she glanced at Kitty, before moving around the older team members, settling down and wrapping the child in her arms.

"How's about we watch something more fun" she suggested, her voice calm and chipper. "Somethin' like... George of the Jungle?"

Kitty immediately nodded, and grabbed the DVD off the shelf.

When no one was watching, the smile slid off of Jubilee's face and she took a shuddering breath.

She was scared shitless.

~*~

She had been scared when she had seen him.

She had no idea how much power he had over her until she saw the machine.

Tall, dark, foreboding, it filled the room, and it terrified her completely. The tears came to her eyes, and she was shaking so terribly, backing away, always backing away.

"Please," she whispered. "Please, no."

Magneto had no mercy in his face, but there was grim regret. He flicked a finger as a metal cuff flew through the air and attached itself to her hand, making her wince, jerking her forward, toward him.

"There is no other option, young Rogue," he answered. The finger flicked back, and she struggled against it, with all her strength. The metal force was too strong for her body, and coupled with the fear that close to paralyzed her, she had no choice but to move forward. "It is the future."

"It's not mine," she whispered, voice almost frantic. "Not mine."

"My child," he said, cocking his head as he waved his hand over the large room with the balcony overlooking the streets of downtown. "You have no future."

~*~

Okay, I know you're hurt. I know your head is ready to splinter. I know you're scared.

But Dammit Cordy, pull yourself together. Psycho vampire Bitch wants to kill you and eat you, and most likely not in that order - what do you do?"

A quirk of a smile slipped across her face.

What do you do?

Ohhhhhh Keanu what the hell I wouldn't give for you right now.

Crap - what a day to have a headache.

Fear surged through her, and it made her gasp for breath in an effort to retain her sanity. Loudly. She froze, holding it in, when she heard the vampire stop, giggle, and come closer.

It was a dead end, she had no idea where she was going, and she was stuck. Sitting duck. Crap.

Desperation turned to concentration, as Cordelia moved her palm along the stuccod walls, pausing when her fingers fumbled over something hard and knobby.

A switch.

A light switch?

"Cordelia? Pretty sister, come and play."

Okay...

She took a deep breath, sucking it in and closing her eyes, and finally she opened them again, bright aware and pissed off.

Okay, you can get out of this. Think, Dammit.

She was running out of time, less than an hour to go, and she had no idea what to do to stop it.

She was so tired of this. So tired of running and hiding and waiting and fearing. She was tired of every day of living in fear of what she couldn't control and it was so over her head that nothing she did mattered.

It didn't matter anymore.

Her bit her lip, gritted her teeth as she kept her injured arm close to her body, and finally took in a breath.

Fine. If I'm gonna die, I'm gonna do it on my damned feet.

She flicked on the light, bathing the room with it's illuminance.

"FINE, dammit. Come on, Dru! I'm here you psycho bitch."

The vampire was less than five feet away, and Cordelia watched with barely contained impatience as she paused, and then bounced, clapping her hands delightfully.

"You'll play?"

"Not for long, Drusilla." Gritting her teeth, she pushed with her legs, using her back to get herself to the feet, all the time keeping her eyes on the crazy vision wracked vampire.

"Mmmm... I smelled the blood. Seer's blood. Rare and yummy."

"Yeah. I'm a regular gourmet," she answered, watching every move carefully, heart pounding so loudly she wondered why she didn't just up and have a heart attack right then and there.

"First Night brings chaos. The Seer can feel it, the Seer can taste it - she is my sister. But there is fear? Why is there fear, sister?"

"Oh Gee, I don't know. The fact that you're a vampire and I'm food?"

"It's like a poem."

"You know listening to you ramble on is worse than watching Batman and Robin," Cordelia said, as Drusilla circled her slowly, almost relieved - and a BIG almost at that- when Drusillla grabbed her and pulled her in tight against her body. "And I'm guessing you haven't killed me yet for a reason?" she whispered breathless, as Drusilla sniffed her, purring.

"Like a cat."

"Oh ewwwww..." Cordelia shuddered, and struggled as Drusilla's tongue slid out, licking at her skin where a cut had left a few red drops.

A whisper, breathless in her ear, but still sending jolts of disgusted shivers through her body, "Seer's blood is precious. We must wait with the Seer, until it's over. We might need her."

"Who's we?"

A shriek came from Cordelia's muffled mouth, when another body pressed against her back, and a dark rasp came, in a tone that clearly belonged to Buffy, "Welcome back, bitch."

A splinter of pain in her head, and the world went dark.

~*~

Scott ducked, hand lifting to his visor and flicking.

The red shot was close, too close, and Fred jumped away, feeling the searing heat as it passed her.

There was no chance to thank him for taking out the mutant she was grappling with before a vampire distracted her by turning on Jean.

She lifted up her bow, shouting a warning to Jean and let if fly.

Immediately Jean turned, taking only a second to process the scene and the hand was out, manipulating the arrow to slice directly into the vampire's heart.

There was a second of disbelief on the creature's face, before it exploded, making Fred cough, wheezing. Covering her nose with her hand, she brushed it off with the other, thankful for the interlude.

Noise and crashes made her head swivel and she ran to the balcony, hands on the railings as she craned her head up.

Lights and bolts and cries from two floors up. The beams of light were sweeping out of the windows, over the city, like some sort of bat radar.

"We gotta go!" she shouted, ducking back in.

They were SERIOUSLY running out of time.

~*~

He crashed through the glass pain, landing outside of the building, feeling the slivers of glass embed themselves into his skin. It was painful. Damn painful.

He growled, claws flailing out to jam into the cracks of the building, jerking him like a gutted fish, as Sabretooth came closer.

FUCK.

He gritted his teeth against the pain, swinging, arching his feet, feeling the metal twist, all the way down to his spine in painful creaks. Using all the force he could, he took the momentum, slamming booted feet into Victor Creed's chest, making him reel back.

"Bastard," he growled, swinging back inside like a pendulum, landing on Victor's chest, the claws now at the beast man's throat. "Give me back those damn tags."

A low sound of pure evil existed in the laughter that followed, and Logan rolled his eyes, his own growl bubbling up in his throat.

This guy was pure animal, no morals or ethics - pure instinct.

Not that Logan didn't appreciate those traits - but there were factors that made him human.

It was what set him apart from Victor Creed.

It was what made him smarter.

It was what was gonna make him win.

That and the pure rage, the unfiltered anger, to put away this bastard once and for all.

He barely batted an eyelash when Creed bucked him off and got a claw in his side. He grunted in pain, knowing it would hurt like hell for about two seconds, but all Victor got in return was a growl and a swipe.

Logan rolled under and away from the swinging arm, crouching, watching and waiting, eyes narrowed, as Creed growled yet again and purred and damn near had an orgasm as he waited.

When Creed attacked, he was ready. He didn't charge or use his claws or growl or spit.

Logan stood, like a man, and when the beast attacked he sidestepped him, fingers brushing the large chest as he passed, grabbing the tags, and then a roll and a push and the momentum was used against the Big Cat Man, as he stumbled and went through the window.

Logan put his hands to his face, barring the shards from getting into his eyes.

Only when Victor Creed hit the ground some hundred feet down did he allow the animalistic snort to come out of him, before dismissing him and turning to the metal door.

Cocking his head, he regarded it, feeling his heart thump, the panic surging through him once more that pushed every ounce of reason from his body.

Marie was in there. Alone. With Magneto. And the Machine that had once branded her with those streaks that defined her even now.

He had to get in there.

And there was only one way to do it.

It was going to fucking hurt.

Steeling himself, he took a breath and then yelled, surging forward. The adamantium slid from his knuckles, into the metal of the door, and he wrenched his hand down.

It fucking hurt, making himself a human can opener, and he felt the flood of agony on his hands and a yell came from his lips, but he did it again, and again, and when it was enough he pushed forward, and the splintered door gave way, landing him into a heap on the ground.

There was no chance to move, to regain his sense of orientation, because he tried and was frozen solid, an unseen force keeping his bones pinned, the metal inching upwards.

"Logan. Welcome."

And he tried to move, but a hand flicked in his face and the metal in his ribs moved, and things in his body were giving way, bones bending and moving and SHIT.

He heard Rogue's gasp, and she cried out, but his eyes were wide open, as the torture continued and Magneto continued to smile.

Even as Logan began to pass out.

~*~

"Stop."

Ororo paused, and Wesley motioned quickly with his hand. "Come here, shine the light, here."

She obeyed, and he leaned forward, lips moving as he read the marks on the wall of the room they had entered.

"This is full of magic," he whispered.

Ororo swallowed, nodded. "I can feel it. Which is why I would prefer not to be here."

He didn't listen, coming closer. "Shine the light there, please."

She did so, and he began to read.

"Bloody hell," he said after a minute.

"What?" she leaned forward, squinting. "Oh."

"The Machine isn't just triggered to mutate humans... it's triggered -the spell here - Angelus will reign." His hands pressed against the wall with the writings, and his eyes widened, hitching his breath.

"What? What's wrong?"

A low, angered curse came out of the worn Englishman. "Angelus will reign free," he began heavily, tone almost sound as if he were being tortured. "It will release the demon and he will lead the chaos."

Storm was gentle, as she placed a tentative hand on his shoulder. "We will stop it."

"That's just it. The only way to stop it is to kill Angelus." Their eyes met as he continued. "We must kill Angel. That will end the First Night. It's the only way."

~*~

She had been treated as the bravest of the X-Men. Remy had once accused her of having a deathwish, the way she plunged into situations with no fear, no caution or regard.

She was never known for being a coward, and yet here she was, frozen in place, voices inside telling her MOVE, to do something about it, but Rogue, who was born on the day she had been strapped in that machine, had been filled with memories of hate and violence and fear -could NOT MOVE.

It was a nightmare, a living nightmare that had played in her thoughts ever since she was seventeen, watching as her strong, fearless protector was toyed with, tortured by an old man with old thoughts and an even older agenda.

And he was killing him. He was fucking killing him.

"STOP." It was barely a whisper, her hands clenched as she watched, tears making her vision blurry. She was shaking, badly.

Her would be lover was jerking on the floor. The face was strained with an agonized expression. She could see the bones moving underneath his skin, and she had to shut her eyes against the vision, only to open them a second later, unable to take not knowing.

Logan gave a choked cough, lurching forward, blood spitting from his lips, but he refused to say a word, as he glared at Magneto in open hate.

And then his eyes flickered to her, met and held for one long second and the world slid out from under her.

"Stop," she whispered again, barely giving the word breath, repeating it, "Stop."

Magneto stood, his back to her, and the machine was there, and she was scared, she was so scared and oddly enough, that was just enough to get Marie pissed.

The voices were clamoring inside of her head, shouting and moaning and Rogue just let them shout, but it was the whisper that slid into her veins from the original part of her mind - the part that made her love, the part that made her hope- that finally got control.

Not the Logan inside of her, or Carol or Magneto, or any of the other personalities that rested in her brain and memories. It wasn't Rogue who was pissed beyond all recognition - but the little Marie, the young girl who had cried in her protector's arm.

And she was pissed at Rogue.

Her body shook as her fingers clenched, the words exploding behind her eyes.

What the FUCK are you doing? You gonna let your lover die? Magneto is NOTHING. Show him what the hell you're made of! He's NOT YOU. YOU'RE NOT that scared little GIRL. USE HIM.

Use him.

Her eyes opened, her heart hammering, and with the words, the fear ebbed away, only to be replaced with blinding rage.

FUCK Magneto.

FUCK him.

Before him she had been Marie. Before him she had BELIEVED. Before him she had HOPED.

Rogue swallowed, trembling, and suddenly Marie slapped her, the whip snapping on the inside, and Rogue's eyes glinted, and with a burst she flew forward, swinging her hand back and knocking the metal man to the side.

It was so sudden, so unexpected, that he did nothing, landing with a jolt, taking by complete surprise, eyes moving and locking with hers. But it was Rogue who stood before him, battled toughened, and hard, always there to guard a soft heart. The brown eyes that sometimes went green on Carol's days were green now, as she borrowed Carol's rage, with Carol's open approval, and he saw it, heard it, when she whispered in an even deadly tone, "You wanna see mutants, brother? Then take a damn good look. I want ya to meet someone you helped create, Erik. Take a good fucking look at Rogue."

To his credit, he tried to fight back. The old man was smug in his powers, but the touch had reawakened something in her, long buried memories and powers that Magneto himself had planted, and the bracelet that had held her prisoner was swung off, tossed to the side. A flick of her finger as a chair came forward, knocking him in the back and sprawling him forward.

She skipped down from the railing, watching as his face filled with confusion and enough fear to make her smile.

"You came me a damn good brain fuck, Eric," she whispered. "Took me years to finally stop shocking people. I was a literal magnet for months. You think your penchant for metal left? Not when those fucking memories came right back?" And her hand moved and the chair shook, and Eric shook his head, tried to move it, but she overpowered him as she continued to advance, a young girl of twenty three keeping the much older mutant in his place by using his own power against him.

When she reached him, he was trembling, and Rogue relished it, reaching for his throat and hoisting him high in the air.

"Guess what Eric? You created a monster."

He struggled, gurgling slightly, and she would have squeezed, as the rage came to her in pure form, hate pouring from her, the killers nestled inside of her body rejoicing, whispering in her ears to snap it, to finish it-

But Marie wouldn't allow it.

And Marie was still in charge.

Rogue took a breath, reluctantly letting him go, watching him fall in a pile on the floor.

"You're not the only one who doesn't forget," she whispered, looking down at him as he coughed.

With a disgusted snort that must have come from Logan's contribution to her split personality, she backed away, left him to his own devices.

"Logan," she whispered, as the mutant groaned. The body was still twisted, and she could hear the snaps, the painful process of healing taking effect, but it wasn't fast enough to suit her.

She bit her lip, sliding a hand under him, helping him up, wincing as he hissed in, inhaling sharply.

"Remind me not to get you pissed at me," he muttered through gritted teeth.

"Come on, sugar. Let's get the hell outta here."

~*~

It was over before it had even begun.

Eric had never felt true fear, true regret, until the young child had looked on him with furiously old eyes.

His throat was sore, he knew there would be bruises. Spots were rampant in his vision, and blood was bitter on his tongue.

There was no reason to move, and he was exhausted, too stunned to move, alone in the room that should have been a culmination of his destiny.

A palm fisted up and he slammed it against the floor in frustration, the ache settling in his heart and his mind as he took the time to process what had just happened.

The fear, the rage, the anger at the deadly mutant that fought for GOOD - was aimed at him.

He had created her.

The agony and trauma borne into her - had been his.

And she hated him.

And knowing the remnants that lived within her, that led to only one inevitable conclusion.

He hated himself.

The door on the other side flung open, when Darla walked in and Drusilla came in after, and young Mystique carried a body that looked suspiciously like the Seer's.

Boots clipped on the floor, slowly, firmly, one after the other, until they were in his direct line of vision.

"Pathetic," he heard whispered. "Where the hell is she?" Darla's voice was angry, dark, full of venom, as the Seer was dumped on the ground and stepped over.

He inhaled, gathering his strength, pushing up and purposely putting a mask of indifference on his frail face. He stood, wiping the blood from his mouth, gathering his composure. "Where do you think? Gone."

"Gone." Darla's eyes bore into his, and to his credit, Magneto stood his ground.

"That's correct."

There was a tick in the blonde's jaw, as she said with a hiss attached to the deadly tone, "You realize that we have exactly forty minutes left in which they can actually DO something about this?"

He raised an eyebrow. "You are losing my patience, Darla."

"You lost mine a long time ago, old man." With reflexes so quick he could only jolt, her hand lurched forward, grabbing his in a tight, deadly grip. "Looks like you'll have to power this little contraption on your own."

Everything went deadly still, silent in Erik's head, and all the delusion and lies gave way to simple clarity.

He had been a fool.

"Come now, Metal Man," Drusilla said, grabbing him, dragging a long fingernail down his forearm, making him bleed.

"It's a means to an end, Erik," Mystique said, smiling, and his eyes widened at the look of calm assurance on his former lover's face.

"Mystique?"

"Your time is past, old man," Darla said flippantly, dragging him in his weakened step, closer and closer to the machine that would mean death.

"You gave us what we wanted. For that we are thankful."

"NO." He began to struggle, but so weakened he was reduced to flailing and Drusilla laughed, a tinny metallic sound.

"Never make a deal with a devil," she kissed his cheek, sliding her tongue up to his ear. "You always get burned."

His heart was pounding furiously, and he looked beseechingly to Mystique, his mentee, his lover, his child, as both vampires strapped him to the machine. "You will allow this?"

She was quiet, and she leaned forward, eyes on his. "A means to an end Erik. This will be for the good of mutants everywhere. Do not worry. I shall lead. You have taught me well."

The metal snapped and he tried to snap it off, knowing it would have been effortless if he hadn't been in pain, weakened by touching Rogue, by the fight, the pain.

By age.

He closed his eyes and this time the metal seemed to heed, but Mystique's foot snapping across his face ended any resistance at all, as he fell back, unconscious.

~*~

She held him steady as they walked at a quick pace, and when she deemed them far enough away from the dreaded room, she let him rest, sliding down the wall, legs sprawled out.

Immediately she nestled between them, flipping one white streak back as the tenderness that was almost alien took over, brown eyes moving over his body, making sure he was intact.

"Logan, Logan honey, come on. Let's heal up."

A deep breath that made the great chest heave was what she got in answer, as his body trembled and something else snapped into place, making him shudder.

She let him breath, fingers rubbing at his, until his eyes opened, and his mind was foggy, but alert, vivid in the dark brown feral eyes.

The look he gave her tugged at her heart, as an involuntary smile graced her features.

He closed his eyes as his hands gripped hers almost painfully, and she held on as he continued to breathe through the agonizing re-healing process of his mutation.

Pain was always a factor in his life, so much that he had come to disregard it as something common.

She had never taken his pain for granted, even when it seemed everyone else had. Every time the claws slid out she winced, the inner Logan jumping in time with Marie as her own fingers drifted to her knuckles, recalling the pain as the knives sliced through the skin - over and over and over. The same sharp agony that never diminished sliding through her in the form of alien memories.

An aching heart and a still dominant Marie made every emotion run rampant, and at that moment, there was none more apparent than the love she had always carried for this gruff, sensitive, haunting man.

He had no past, but he had still managed to give her a future.

Her palms slid across his cheeks desperately, touching him the only way she knew how.

"Rogue," he began thickly, shaking his head like a wet dog, trying to fling away the confusion and disorientation. "FUCK. That hurts."

"Well what the hell were ya doin' going in there all Rambo-ish and shit? You can't do a THING against that man! You're MADE OF METAL, Logan." It was an automatic snap that was pure Rogue, and it felt good to say it, as if this was the old Logan and the Old Rogue, who could talk without having that uncomfortable sense of pretense between them, of knowing that they both wanted more - and could never have it.

His eyes narrowed in response, as he lifted a hand, covering her palms with his own as he squeezed. "I wasn't exactly thinking, Marie. I rarely do when it comes to you." The last part was edged out in a grumble, and she smiled against her will.

"You and me both, sugar."

Pounding and shouts made their heads swivel in reaction, both immediately reacting to the cries of their teammates.

"LOGAN!"

"UP HERE!"

For one moment, just one, they were completely alone. She turned back to him, and his intense, focused gaze caught her, seared into her. She could hear him breathing, could feel its soft tufts on the open collar of her leather uniform, warming it, sending spirals of heat throughout her body, making her muscles clench. His hands continued to stroke hers. She was gasping openly for breath now, she knew he could see it, smell it, as his gaze drifted down to the obvious sight of her chest heaving up and down.

It was that exact look that got her into so much damn trouble before.

She swallowed, suddenly unsure, as his hands continued to stroke her gloves, and everything inside of her stopped completely, like a coiled spring, when his head turned, and so reverently her hands might have been made of china, his lips pressed into the gloves.

There was no skin contact, but the way he kept his lips on the leather, the way his tongue flicked out and traced the spot gently, sent such a jolt through her that she didn't care. For the first time in her life, she didn't care.

It was an interesting revelation, to say the least.

"Logan." The voice came out rough and desperate and different than she had ever said it, edged in need, and her heart really WAS beating so quickly, and she really was forgetting to breathe, and oh God, Logan -

"I love you."

The words were gentle, soft, gruff, and they came from his lips, almost muffled because her mouth was still buried in her glove, and it made her whimper, tremble and everything inside of her was alive as he looked at her, and their gazes held.

His stare burned her, deep down inside, filling her with warmth and emotion that shook her so much it scared her.

Rogue licked her lips again, her throat so dry, but as her mouth opened to respond she heard a familiar click, a whir, and her attention was jerked to the hallway that led to the room they had just come from.

The thoughts came a mile a minute, and she froze, processing them all.

The machine. Someone started the machine.

Someone started the machine and no one on earth could power that machine but her and Magneto - which meant-

Magneto was on the damn machine - powering the machine.

Her eyes closed as the flashback jolted through her, Cordelia's voice ringing clear through her head.

"We have to HELP Magneto."

Her eyes opened and everything clicked into place.

"Awww, shit."

She jerked out of Logan's grasp and ran back in the direction that she came, ignoring the calls of the X-Men who had made their way to Logan's side, sprinting back to the hallway, as she heard the Machine's whir, growing louder and faster.

~*~

He was drowning, and any grasp was impossible to get a hold of.

Two viable options, two ways to be set free.

With one came sanity, with the other came death.

The voices were searing into his head, and Angel groaned, as the battle waged inside of him became more rampant, less defined.

The edges were beginning to blur, and he swallowed, stumbling into the room, falling on the ground.

In the background, he heard a distinct whir, but he couldn't care, not when the claws of the demon shifted inside of him, clawing at the edges.

It was painful, it was so painful.

He wasn't going to let HIM win - he wasn't going to let him win-

Soft hands, hands that felt familiar but with a scent that was... off somehow... gently cradled him. Angel shuddered, reaching out blindly in relief, feeling his soul jolt, grabbing a hold of his Seer, pulling her in close, aching desperately for his humanizing influence. She would be his buoy, she was always his anchor.

"Cordy."

"Shh, Angel." Lips pressed against his temple and he sobbed at the pain, clinging, too afraid to let go.

"Don't let me go, Cordy," he begged. "Don't let me go. I can't be him again."

"Angel, you're stronger than this. You can't fight him until you become him. I'll be here. I'll watch. I'll take care of you."

He froze, bewilderment at the words, and finally he shook his head blindly. "I can't."

"The Machine will help you, Angel," came Cordelia's soothing voice. "It'll set the line, it will define it. Please Angel."

"I won't let him."

"Angel..." The soft hands stroked him, and his eyes opened, looking beseechingly into Cordelia's yellow eyes. It crossed his feverish mind to wonder why Cordelia had yellow eyes, but it was pushed away when the Seer leaned forward, kissing him gently.

He smiled a blissful smile of relief.

And that was when the blue wave of the machine hit him.

~*~

She thanked God yet again for her gift of strength as she barreled into the door, already mangled thanks to Logan the human can opener, faltering when her wide eyes processed the scene laid so neatly before her.

Cordelia in an unconscious heap on the floor, already engulfed in the slow blue wave. Magneto, crying out, unable to stop the Machine, completely powerless, for all his magnetic strength.

Two other women she didn't recognize, one a pale dark beauty, another blonde, with a domineering presence that gave her the immediate association with 'leader'.

And on their right, standing - was... Cordelia.

Rogue's eyes flickered from the still Cordelia to the Cordelia with the yellow eyes, and she sucked in her breath.

"Bitch."

Mystique blinked, cocking her head. "Now that's not exactly complimentary, is it Rogue?"

"So this is Rogue?" The blonde one mused openly, finger on her chin. "What fun. We've heard so much about you. You are an interesting character. All those creatures in your head, must get slightly confusing?"

The dark haired one giggled, as the blue wave continued to seep, touching their feet.

And they didn't feel a thing.

Hmm. Not human.

"There is darkness with this one. She is a killer."

Okay. Certifiably insane to boot. Great.

"Get the hell outta here and I might not kill ya."

Apparently that was incredibly funny, although Rogue didn't see the humor. The blonde laughed, throwing her head back in the process, and the haughty smile that came from Cordelia/Mystique might have pissed Rogue off, had she not suddenly had her hand yanked behind her, wrenching it up, painfully, pulled back against a hard body she knew only too well.

"What fun would that be?" came the whisper. "When we're already dead?"

It was the same voice, the same tone, but Rogue knew it wasn't the same man.

It wasn't a man at all.

She swallowed, counted to ten in an attempt to still her beating heart.

"Angelus."

"Hello, baby. Welcome to my party. You're a guest of honor."

~*~

The strength was coming back fast, and Logan kept up easily, every step becoming more assured, as the anger and worry and fear coursed through him, giving him more speed.

There was no time to think, no time to remember the humans, as they paused at the door, unsure of what to do, or say.

Logan could only watch, processing.

The whirring was loud, biting into his ears and making the over sensitized ear drum beat loudly.

Scott winced, and he grabbed onto Jean's hand, pulling her behind him.

Feral eyes narrowed, when suddenly Rogue screamed out in pain and he had had enough.

Behind him, he heard Scott mentioning the humans, but there was no time to care, as he dove forward.

Rogue kicked up, a booted foot snapping into Angel's face, making him lose his grip as the fangs grazed her neck.

"Logan NO!"

He didn't care, the claws were out as he stepped into the blue wave.

"FUCK Logan!"

He came forward, as Angel glared and smiled and greeted, "Animal boy! Come to play?"

He growled, but a figure stopped him, making him hesitate.

"What's the matter lover?" Cordelia whispered to him.

He blinked, and he sniffed and there was a low growl.

She winked and a foot met his chin, making him reel back.

The battle for their souls had begun.

~*~

"Whatever you do, stay the HELL away from the blue wave."

Fred barely registered the comment, watching helplessly as the X-Men stepped inside, and the chaos continued.

Her mind was reeling, and she blinked, swaying slightly as she attempted to peer into the blue wave that was distorting everything.

"What the bloody-"

The words of Wesley rang through her, but she just couldn't seem to make them come true.

Angelus couldn't beat out Angel.

Angel was stronger. Angel was always stronger.

But there he was, the demonic face, snapping Rogue back, catching her, holding her arms and catching her in a brutal kiss, biting on her lip and making her bleed.

That wasn't Angel.

Oh, God.

Her mouth began to chant, again and again the words of the prophecy rang through her.

Chaos reins on the First Night.

And the blue wave came forward, and the three human members of Angel Investigation were helpless, stepping back, away and away from the fight.

Jean and Storm were desperately trying to get to the machine - HELP MAGNETO.

But even if they stopped the Machine the First Night would continue, because Angelus had taken control.

In the corner, a body was stirring, moving to life.

Her mind kept processing, moving, eyes mentally scanning over and over the texts.

Chaos Reigns on the First Night As the demon engulfs

Angelus kicking Rogue, making her fall back into a rolling stumble.

Cordelia's words, sliding through her.

"Something we do triggers it ... I'm leading it."

A figure looking suspiciously like Cordelia fighting Logan with a brutality that made Fred's throat ache.

"Bloody hell." Wesley moved past her, toward the scene.

"Wesley! What the hell are you doing?" It was Gunn holding him back.

"I can't stand by and watch!"

"You go in there you're toast!"

"We have to stop Angel!"

"You can't!"

"Get out of my way, Gunn."

Fred bit her lip.

And the watchful become blind

Wesley pushing Gunn away, and Gunn returning with a forceful snap of his own, catching Wesley across the jaw.

"No way in HELL you're going in there, Wes."

She sucked in her breath, turning back to the scene.

No... Wes wasn't going in there.

Her mind continued to work, and something jolted through her, and suddenly Fred knew, she knew it so well.

She had to stop it before -

Rogue was next.

With a breath, she walked, silently, Gunn never noticing until she was just outside the rapidly advancing wave.

"FRED!"

She looked back, bit her lip, and closed her eyes.

He sprinted, he ran, but she was too close, he as too far. When he dove, he was caught in it, hands around her waist as they fell.

The blue wave engulfed them, and her eyes jolted open.

~*~

Until the demon consumes many

Gunn and Fred had gotten hit by the wave.

SHIT.

Rogue ducked under, kicking up, catching him in the ribs before shouting a warning to Jean.

"Stop the machine!"

It was enough to lose her guard, and the heavy hand caught her across the mouth, drawing blood.

She reeled, slightly dazed, but flipped over him, keeping him occupied, the demon that had taken over the sensitive vampire.

"Fuck you Angel, for giving up," she whispered, crouching.

"What a sick little fuck you are," she got in response, as the vampire regarded her, hands out to the chaos in the room, where the others were fighting his vampires, his shapeshifter. "You landed on the wrong side, sister."

"Like I really wanted to end up on the psycho team."

"Oh baby you'll get there." He came forward, and she blocked three blows before the fourth caught her in her temple, giving her such a blinding pain that she was literally stunned into place, falling back, landing on the hard floor.

It was all he needed, as he caught her in his arms, pulling her closer to his hard, cold body. 'Let's see, hmmm... Biting is so damn cliché. Let's try this a different way, huh?"

When the knife slit through her abdomen, the blood spurted out, and the dizziness came as she crumpled, even as Logan's howl filled the air.

~*~

And may the pain engulf all As all becomes equal And the demon reigns free

"ROGUE!"

Jean's head snapped to the scene, distracted from the blonde, her heart jumping in fear.

"Oh Lord, he got Rogue," she whispered, and she swallowed, jerking her mind and the blonde flew back, landing against the wall with an audible thump.

Logan flew forward, away from Mystique, diving into Angel, and Rogue fell limply to the side.

The claws dug into the vampire, again and again and again-

But it did nothing.

Jean swallowed, turning her attention way, head aching with concentration as she looked at the rings that were whirring and continuing.

She couldn't get in there. She couldn't stop it without -

"LOGAN!"

~*~

"Fucking bastard." His voice were hoarse, his heart was beating so hard, and his hands continued as if they had a life of their own, digging into the cold flesh again and again.

"LOGAN! We Need you!"

He didn't listen, he wouldn't move, not even when he saw Mystique coming forward, not when he saw Ororo grab the dark haired bitch by the hair, not when Jean pleaded from the machine.

He was gonna finish this bastard off, and then get to Rogue.

Who was gonna be alive.

She had to be alive.

~*~

"NO! DAMMIT!" Wesley paced, prowled, ignoring the ache in his jaw, as his heart cried out in process.

Dammit.

FUCK.

He watched, a helpless spectator.

Gunn and Fred locked in a tumultuous embrace, jerking and writhing and changing.

"You know, I HATE when people claw me."

There was a stunned expression on Logan's face when Angel launched up, caught him by the throat, slammed him against the wall, dangling the feral man like a puppet.

"I can't stop it!" He watched with tear filled eyes the scene by the machine, edging closer and closer and he was tempted to just let it wash over him.

Scott couldn't get a clear shot, not when he had been knocked out by Mystique, the glasses knocked off, and him lying in a heap on the floor.

Ororo was kicked, by Drusilla.

And the heap in the corner was shifting slightly.

"I've got to go in there."

"NO!" Ororo seemed to have heard, and her head whipped toward him and she almost growled, anger in her voice, "Whatever you DO, Wesley. STAY HUMAN."

He couldn't move, and he watched, with growing uncertainty.

He had to kill Angel.

He had to kill Angel.

Oh, Lord.

He gave a shuddering sob, pacing back and forth, until the figure in the corner caught his eye, sitting up and rubbing her head.

Immediately his eyes lit up, "CORDELIA!"

~*~

And the animals are tamed May the soul reign forever

There was a thin line between reality and consciousness, and Cordelia knew it immediately, when she groaned, shifting, suddenly aware.

When her eyes blinked open, it was there, her vision, and she shook, her heart began to hammer, and she scrambled to her feet.

Rogue in a bloody mess on the floor. The young girl was coughing blood, jerking and spasming and OH GOD.

Her foot edged in that direction, until her eyes jerked to the Machine.

Eric - Jean, fighting of Darla and Ororo fighting off... HER.

Her foot edged in that direction, until her eyes jerked to Logan.

OH GOD.

Angelus. Angelus.

Her chest began to heave, and she swallowed.

"CORDELIA!"

Her eyes jerked, and she squinted and outside of the blue fog and the loud chaos, she saw one lone person.

"Wesley," she breathed.

He began to mimic, pantomiming with his hands, and she just continued to squint, unsure of what he meant, what he was saying.

And finally he just groaned, and his arm lobbed back and in a perfect throw, sent something through to her, dropping it in it a clattering jolt at her feet.

A wooden stake.

The feelings rushed over her - panic - sorrow - PAIN - ANGER - HATE -LOVE.

Oh, GOD.

She was brought to her knees, but she resisted the urge to cover it up, to feel anything but her, and she tried to block but it seemed so useless-

Her hand groped for the stake, and she held it unsteadily.

Her eyes flickered over the three scenes, and when she saw Angelus' fangs sink into Logan's neck, it spurred her into action.

No time to think, no time to think - go with the instincts. Go with what you know.

Doubts. Fears and doubts and insecurity had plagued her for so many years.

It was all gone in a second, as everything inside her stilled and she looked at the stake and knew immediately what it was for.

It was for Angelus.

With a deep intake of air, she moved, holding the stake firmly in her good hand, walking past the chaos, past the bleeding Rogue, and with a burst of strength that surprised even her, pulled Logan away from Angel, sending the mutant sprawling over Rogue's body.

And there it was. All that was left.

Cordelia Chase looking into Angelus' eyes, trying to see past him, into Angel.

"Cordy!" His arm lashed out and grabbed the fractured arm, twisting it.

SHIT.

She didn't move, didn't flinch. "Tear the damn thing off, Angelus. I've been through worse. Every vision, every heartbreak, is worse than what you can do to me."

A slow, dangerous smile slid over his face. "Care to play the odds, lover?"

She smiled back, nodding, and the wooden stake was held up.

"Take it Angel. It's a present. For you."

~*~

The punctures in his neck were healing, closing immediately, and Logan barely glanced at them as he looked at Rogue, her face draining of any color.

"Rogue, baby. Rogue."

She shuddered as blinked, blood dripping slightly from her parted lips as she took in a gasp that sounded wet.

FUCK. Blood in her longs.

"Logan," she closed her eyes, not able to say anything else.

"No, come on baby." He immediately reached for his gloves, in his panic and trembling almost unable to get the damn things off.

"You touch me I'll shoot you," she answered automatically, her hand covering her wound, trying to keep it closed. It was a weak complaint, but the tone was firm, even as her fading voice seemed to be losing it's strength. Her eyes were dull, but they pinned him.

"Marie I have to."

"Stop the machine."

"Marie-"

"FUCK LOGAN!" She coughed, and suddenly winced in pain and a sob came from her, making her jerk and making his heart jump, as he gathered her closer, the blood on his hands that smeared from her body now on her face. She took a moment to breath, wet gasping breaths, and her eyes opened, and she looked at him again, sliding down his lips as her head fell back. "STOP THE FUCKING MACHINE NOW."

"Marie-"

"NOW."

There was no room for argument, and Marie was asking what Logan didn't know if he could do. Choose life or love - save the life of a fuckwhit that branded her in the first place or save her and maybe die in the process.

And she was ordering him.

"Logan, we need you now!" He was almost numb as he turned, watching as Magneto looked nearly dead, and Rogue, her eyes closed, was breathing erratically.

Jean slid in next to him, pushing Rogue off of him and pulling him onto her thighs. "Now, Logan."

He stumbled to his feet, the knot in his throat, toward the metal rings that were going faster and faster.

With a growl and a yell the claws slid from his body and he let them slide.

~*~

The metal splintered into fragments, but she never even blinked, eyes focused completely on the man in front of her.

"You are one crazy bitch, you know that?" he said, fangs dripping, a truly grotesque sight in the form of her lover.

She nodded, her throat tight. "I know."

She was caught from behind, her neck jerked back.

"Angelus may I taste her?"

His eyes narrowed, as if in annoyance, and with a jerk he pulled Darla back from behind her, forward, into him, into the point of the stake.

She exploded with a burst of dust, and Cordelia barely blinked.

"Fucking annoying bitch. Go around for a few hundred years and she thinks we're married or some thing."

"The nerve," she responded dryly.

Her eyes flickered to the clock on the wall.

Twenty minutes.

He sniffed, leaning forward, putting her neck dangerously close to his fangs. "You're not scared of me." Strong fingers wrapped around her wrist and she was hauled against him. "That's fucking stupid, Cor," he breathed into her ear.

She smiled, and her fingers slid up, tangling into his silky dark hair, "That's not stupid, Angel."

He pushed her away, snapping a hand across her face. "Angelus."

"No."

"What?"

"No."

The room had gone deadly quiet. She didn't have to look to know everyone was silent. She had no idea how Gunn and Fred had faired, if Rogue was still alive, or if Magneto was still breathing.

She had no time.

Fifteen minutes.

"You're fucking annoying Cordelia."

She had intrigued him, she knew. No one played with death incarnate.

"I'm tired of being afraid of you. It doesn't do me any good. And it's pointless."

"Pointless." His hand gripped her shirt and she was slammed against the wall, a jarring slam that made her body ache and her mind splinter with pain, but her focus was on him.

"Angel will always control you. Actually not always. In about five minutes you're going to be officially dead."

He smiled, a genuine, diabolical grin. "Going for that Oscar again, Cordy?"

"I'm not going to do shit. Angel's going to kill you."

"Angel. Angel's dead."

"No he's not."

"And how are you so damn sure?" he responded, his body pressed against her, arousal at her so clear, pressing against her hip.

Sick bastard.

"Cordelia!"

"Stay away!" she barked at Wesley, never moving her eyes from Angelus'. "All of you. This is between me and him."

"Damn right." The demon kept her against the wall, hands at her hips, the wooden stake digging into her side. "As I remember you kinda like this position."

"You wanna know how I'm so sure?" she responded, voice even. "Because I can feel every damn emotion coming from your body."

It was enough to make him stop, freeze, features finally unsure, and he almost let her go, before he shook it away and grabbed her cheek, jerking her face to the side in a movement that could have easily snapped her neck.

"Vampires are immune to empathics, you dumb shit."

And her eyes glittered with something close to tears as she whispered, "I know."

Someone gasped audibly behind her, and Angelus saw it, he felt it, and she knew the Angel that still existed jumped in response, because suddenly there was the impossible.

There was hope.

Angelus jerked back, and she fell to the floor, but her voice kept going, spurring on her lover.

"Come ON, Angel! Do it! You've been wanting to do it for the longest time! Kill the bastard. He's NOT YOU!."

"No," Angelus whispered, the words making him shake.

"He's not you, Angel. You can feel. You can emit feelings. Think about what that means! Think about what that's made you become."

Her chest was heaving as Angelus fell to the ground, and his eye went in horror to the stake in his hand.

"No."

"You control him, Angel. Put the bastard away."

"FUCK!"

It happened so quickly she almost missed it, and the hardest thing she ever had to see made her heart splinter as she PRAYED she was right - she had to be right.

For all their sakes she had to be right.

She was spurring him on.

And Fred cried out as Angel staked himself.

Cordelia barely had time to process it as lightning filled the room, and everyone ducked, and her hand covered her eyes to shield herself from the impossibly bright light, as the wind whipped into the room and a loud crash was heard and a howl.

It was utter chaos and when it ended everything was strewn around the room, daylight was peaking into the building, and Angel lay in a heap in the floor.

She crawled forward, her injured arm gathered close to her body as others began to move, stir.

Her heart was in her throat as she turned over the unconscious Angel, placing a palm on a warm chest.

A heartbeat.

Oh God.

She burst into tears, the relief suddenly released in a torrent as she fell across her lover, holding him as closely as she could.

Fingers rubbed through her hair, the caresses gentle, almost imperceptible.

Her eyes opened, and tear streaked hazel eyes gazed into impossibly deep dark brown orbs.

"Hey."

She swallowed down, hard. "Hey."

He gathered her into his arms, his body weakened from the fight but he was warm and alive and ANGEL WAS ALIVE.

"Rogue."

She turned, her head whipping around and her heart came into her throat when she realized one thing.

Rogue, still bleeding, face still pale, was no longer breathing.

~ Chapter Fourteen ~

"Okay, you're going to have to brace yourself. This is going to hurt."

"Oh, Gee. What else is new?" she answered in her most dry, sarcastic tone.

Cordelia sucked in her breath, and her hand reached out. Immediately warm, strong fingers entangled them, squeezing in support, and she smiled gratefully.

"Okay."

Jean jerked and she winced, whimpering slightly.

"Okay, it's over."

She gave a sigh of relief, as her arm was put in the sling. She cradled it close to her body.

Wesley gave a sigh from across the room. "Bloody, hell."

Angel looked over, moving forward and settling into the chair next to him. "Any luck?"

"Well the bloody thing makes sense now," Wesley said, squinting his eyes as he poured over the scroll. "It definitely is the Shanshu."

The Shanshu. Angel's shanshu had finally come to pass. The ramifications of even THINKING it made Cordelia's heart tremble slightly, as she deliberately avoided Angel's heated gaze. "So what caused it?"

"Apparently – Angel staking himself. Only in sacrificing his soul was he able to retain it. I'm not quite... Angel's shanshu - the battle is never going to be won."

"We knew that."

Cordelia gazed at Angel and he took a breath, looking away. "Yes but... that's not all. Angel's... cross, so to speak, has been taken by someone else."

Immediately both heads swiveled to Wesley.

"Someone else? See that's where I'm not getting it. I'm still Vision Girl. I have… Visions. Not that I'm complaining – more than usual-" she quickly amended when everyone gave her a look. "But if Angel reached his Shanshu , shouldn't they.. you know… be … gone?"

Wesley took in a shaky breath, hands burying into his hair, creating spiky tufts, and it amused Cordelia to watch Ororo smirk, placing a gentle hand on his back, stroking his back in an intimate, definite 'more than friends' kinda way.

"I'll keep looking."

Jean smiled. "Do that." She got to her feet, letting out a tired sigh. "Let me go check on Rogue."

Yeah, that was probably a much better idea than to sit around and freak out about why she was still vision bound when Angel was human.

Angel was human.

She gave a ragged gasp, and found herself smiling slightly as she got to her feet. "I'll go with."

Scott nodded, crossing his arms, before turning to Angel. "Any luck on finding Drusilla and Mystique?"

Angel shook his head, looking almost guilty. "But then again... I haven't exactly been - things have been... distracting."

A slow smile spread across Scott's face. "Understandable."

Angel smiled, a smile that faltered as he watched Cordelia and Jean go up the stairs.

~*~

She made sure she was quiet as she drifted into the room, closing the door gently behind her once Cordelia followed her in.

Logan looked up, the hair falling flat around his face, and Jean only nodded, and he nodded back, before turning back, keeping Rogue's hand in his own.

Jean took a moment to steel herself, as Cordelia took a seat next to Logan, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.

Rogue was quiet, and Jean pulled the latex harder up her arms, leaning over the sleeping mutant, gently lifting up the borrowed t-shirt and making sure the bandage was not yet soaked through.

"It's a miracle she survived."

Jean gave a slight smile. "Rogue always does have a knack of surprising us." Logan gave a short snort, and she continued, her tone more conversational. "Apparently Logan hasn't faded quite so much as we thought. She retained some of his healing factor. Not a lot, but enough to stop the wound from becoming worse. It kept her alive. The blood loss is a factor, I'm still not sure about."

Logan took in a shuddering breath.

"Fucking knives stuck in my fucking body like it's a damn cutting board or something."

The muttering made everyone jump, and Jean jerked her face to Rogue's.

The woman's eyes were still close, but she grimaced, a very discernable expression on her young face. "Ah swear. One more person tries to gut me like a trout I put my boot so far up his ass-"

"Fuck Rogue. Save your strength." Logan's voice was hoarse, desperate, with emotion tingeing at the edge of it, different than Jean had ever heard it, and even she had to smile at the look of complete and utter relief in his eyes.

The man sounded… choked up.

His hand gripped hers hard, as fingers stroked her face. Under his caresses, her eyes opened, wincing at the light in the room, and then, when adjusted, opening again. The brown pupils dilated at Jean's warm expression as she leaned over.

"Hello, Rogue. How are you doing?"

Rogue grimaced, swallowing, and said in a rasp, "Water."

Damned if Logan didn't almost knock over the chair to get it from the pitcher on the desk.

Gently, he placed his knee on the bed, helping her sit up, carefully tipping the water into her mouth.

She took a drink, grimaced, leaning against him. "Okay. Now comes the age old 'What the hell happened while Rogue was being gutted like a catfish' part."

Jean turned to Cordelia who shrugged. "Nutshell version?"

"I'll kick your ass if you give me anything else."

"What is with the potty mouth, Streaks?"

"Logan remnants."

Logan smiled, fingers running through the soft strands of her hair.

Cordelia rolled her eyes, settling on the bed.

"Cliffs Notes version: Angel staked Angelus, and he's human. We stopped the First Night, thanks to some metal shredding from Logan. Magneto is in jail. Mystique and Dru escaped in the whole 'we think Rogue is dead' sitch, and Gunn and Fred ... are mutants."

Apparently it was a lot to take, because all Rogue had to answer was the very intelligent, "Huh?"

"Rogue, rest. We'll explain it in detail when we figure it all out ourselves. For now, Sleep."

"Yeah. Cause you look like crap."

Cordelia's addition was most definitely not needed but Jean only rolled her eyes, flicking with her finger as she rose.

Rogue always was a bad patient, but when Logan stripped off his jacket and moved his large frame beside her smaller one, carefully gathering her into his side, Rogue had no real grounds for an objection.

Cordelia stood, following Jean as they walked to the door.

Jean Grey was tired. Her body was tired, her legs felt almost numb, and she had a headache. It made things flicker, emotions that she was usually able to keep filtered out crept in. Usually she would retire with a couple of aspirin and a sleeping pill to knock herself out from the thoughts.

But as she slowly closed the door on the scene of Logan holding Rogue gently, felt the love flooding from him for the young mutant, she only smiled.

It was one emotion she didn't mind receiving.

~*~

"All right. Question. Why the hell do WE get stuck with the dismantling bullshit?"

Fred looked up from her book, giving Gunn a disapproving stare. "Do you really want me to answer that?"

He glared at the contraption, mangled and crippled and not nearly as scary as it had been two days ago.

"Naw. I felt the need to bitch. Thanks for hearing me out. Leftover 'I'm a mutant' trauma."

There was a small bit of quiet after that, as if he was reflecting on that last sentence, and she herself felt a slight bump in her heart as the mention of the word.

Mutants. She and Gunn were mutants. Taking in a shaky breath, she looked back down at the book, but her eyes weren't reading the words.

After being thoroughly examined by Jean, that had been the official announcement. Apparently, that bottle of blood that had been taken from Cordelia had served a very unique purpose. It had changed the machine; at least that's what Jean concluded. Erik had used it, analyzed it, and changed the machine and it worked now.

It had been two days and they were fine. Better than fine.

No danger of dying.

Even now Fred wondered what had possessed her to jump into the blue wave - had she known? Had something or someone knowing?

It was all very peculiar.

She rolled her eyes, looking toward the book and gently turning the page, losing her concentration for a bit and jumping when sparks flew from her fingertips, incinerating it immediately.

"Oh my."

Gunn turned, and suddenly a smile bloomed across his handsome face, as he settled in beside her, placing an arm around her shoulder as she looked forlornly at Magneto's charred notebook.

"It coulda been worse. Storm told me about some dude that has those things shooting from his feet."

It made her smile, as she leaned into him, fingers gently, CAREFULLY, caressing his cheek.

He didn't care about the mutation, trusted her implicitly. Stupid, considering that she hadn't quite learned how to master the sparks, but sweet.

He gazed at her, into her eyes, and his expression softened. Gently, he leaned forward, brushing his lips over hers. She sighed, arm creeping around his neck, bringing him in closer, and when his mouth opened and it became hot, the degree of passion increased, and suddenly her heart was racing, as his hands gently slid over her body, holding her waist, caressing, pushing her into him, and then sliding up firmly, until fingers brushed the tip of one breast.

She broke off the kiss with a gasp, her flushed face looking at him in surprise. He looked a little breathless himself, but dutifully let the hand slide away, leaning in to kiss her once more.

"Too fast?"

She blinked, blushed, and pushed her glasses up, in an effort to hide the smile on her face. "No. But... work. Public place."

"Destroy Machine. Got it."

She got to her feet, breathing in, legs quite wobbly, come to think of it, and crossed her arms, joining him in looking at the machine. "So... Theoretically, we could readjust the parameters to a sequence that could render it harmless. It would take a bit of time and I would need some calculations but-"

"Or we could use Gunn's new manly man muscles." She raised an eyebrow, and her mouth fell open slightly as he jumped onto the machine effortlessly, a definite feat, and used HIS mutation, strength, to rip it all apart in less than a minute.

Her shoulder sunk down. Caveman. A smirk drifted across her lips. "That works too, I guess."

He winked, and when she smiled, he paused from his work, saying calmly, "Girl, you ever throw yourself into a blue wave thingy again I swear I will spank your ass so hard it ain't even funny."

Her eyes widened and he pointed a finger at her, continuing before she even had a chance to huff.

"I kinda love you, you know. So don't pull that shit with me. I just about had a heart attack."

And with that, he went back to his job, dismantling, leaving Fred to watch, shake her head, and smile, a delicious faster-than-normal thumping in her chest.

~*~

He wasn't sure how to say good-bye.

He wasn't quite sure if there WAS a good-bye.

Storm had dragged him into this room, stating he had been pouring over his books and scrolls for too long and needed to rest.

He had agreed, his eyes were beginning to cross themselves.

But he had not expected her to slide in with him, place her chocolate brown palms directly over her heart, align her body perfectly with his, the snow colored strands of silken hair spilling across his chest.

They had lain there for hours; quiet, unsure, as his hand stole to her spine, gently sliding up and down.

"You are worried."

It was the first word she had spoken since she had lain with him, and he sighed, tired.

"Yes."

"It is understandable."

He swallowed, nodding. "Well... Angel's Shanshu - as remarkable as it is... so much is left unanswered. And the prophecy is still unfulfilled, and Gunn and Fred are mutants. It doesn't feel like the end."

"Hmm. You are right. It does not feel like the end," she agreed, her voice sending vibrations through his chest. "But that is not what I think you are worried about."

He was quiet, the finality in her voice making him wonder. "Exactly what do you think I'm worried about?"

"Being human. Everyone in your group has achieved some sort of transformation and you have stayed the same."

He was quiet, but felt her fingers as they reached up, tracing a pattern on his chest.

It was neither a confirmation nor a denial, but she knew the answer.

"Has it occurred to you that you did not change simply because you did not need to?"

He took in a breath, closing his eyes.

After a minute, they blinked open. She tilted her head, resting her chin on him as she reached up, and slid off his glasses.

"I highly doubt I have met anyone quite like you, Ororo," he responded, his voice rough.

She was quiet, her eyes frank, open, as if she was processing something, before she spoke. Somehow he got the impression that nothing she ever said hadn't been carefully analyzed and replayed in her mind first.

He admired that. There was discipline in that trait that was almost unheard of in this time and place.

"I would like you to realize something, Wesley," she began, carefully. "You are a truly glorious exception, to a rule I had long ago given to myself."

"But?"

"There is no but." She gave a conflicted smile. "But there is a maybe."

"Remy."

She sighed, resting her cheek against him. "It is complicated. With him. And with you?"

"Yes?"

She smiled slightly. "It is not so complicated. But when I return. Things will be complicated again."

"Is that what this has been about?" His hands gently slid up her arms, light caresses that barely touched her skin, but her heart beat against his chest, and the flush in her cheek made him wonder if she was at the very least affected by it.

"This has been about you. I will miss you Wesley. You make me proud."

It wasn't quite love, but it was enough. There was an aching tenderness within him, a curse that made him wonder why he always had to fall for women who seemed meant for someone else, but her brown eyes were edged in warmth, and it made him wonder, with how perfectly she fit against him, if perhaps this was something slightly more.

A perfect, lean body rested against his, a small, beautiful, sad smile flitted across her features, and she leaned forward, her knee edging between his thighs as she slid up his body.

The kiss was slow, languid, but incredibly sexy. It seeped through him, as she sighed, long eyelashes fluttering against his cheek, as her fingers stole to his cheek, gently tracing circles there, keeping his lips on hers as her mouth tilted, opened.

Increasing passion filled the next embrace, intimacy that deepened, as his arms slid around her waist, until her body fit against his, completely on top of him, and he was able to gently scoop her, turning, until she was gently sandwiched between the soft bed and his firm chest.

When her fingers slid down in between his pectorals, to smooth under his shirt, long nails raking gently at his abdomen, he pulled away, mouth inches from hers as her eyes twinkled at him.

He smiled.

"I hope you figure things out, Ororo."

She blinked slightly, moisture tingeing her eyelids. "Same to you, Wesley."

~*~

"Are you sure you're going to be okay?"

Goodness. Cordelia loved Jean and all, but if the lady asked if she was going to be okay one more time, Doctor or not doctor, she was just gonna thump her. Hard.

"I'll be fine. We've kinda got some things to take care of."

Jean took in a breath, looking concerned and conflicted and all Jeany like, and finally just sighed, looking over the rooftop, the wind brushing her beautiful red hair into her face.

With one graceful move, she brushed it away.

"All right. But I will back as soon as I can. And I'll bring Charles with me. I don't feel comfortable leaving you, and Gunn and Fred here with out full control of your powers."

"Yeah I know, mother. But we'll be fine. We've got some other things to worry about. Figuring out this whole prophecy thingy, for instance."

Jean nodded, leaning down to pick up her back.

"Yes. I think it might work, having an X-MEN contingent in Los Angeles."

Cordelia gave a cocked eyebrow, a glimmer of hope in her eyes. "The uniform? I get to keep the uniform?"

"Of course you do, if you want the responsibility that comes with it. And Gunn and Fred, with some training." Jean's face softened, and she nodded. "Good luck, Cordelia. To all of you. And again, my congratulations to Angel on his… Sushi."

"Shanshu. No problem." Jean sucked in her breath, looking back toward the plane.

"Well."

Cordelia paused, cocking her head. "Hey Jean?"

"Yeah."

Jean was quickly engulfed in a huge hug, making her jump slightly, as Cordelia leaned back, moisture making the hazel orbs glitter with unspoken affection. "Thank you. For saving my life. And my sanity."

The words were edged in warmth, and Jean smiled, her throat curiously full as she nodded, patting Cordelia and turning, walking to the plane.

~*~

"Careful."

"Fuck, Logan. I'm not an invalid."

"Uh. Yeah you are." Rogue stuck her tongue out at him, but he only rolled his eyes, leaning down and scooping her up, carrying her the rest of the way up the stairs.

The rest of the group was waiting, watching as Logan carefully set her down, taking her duffel bag and walking to the plane, where Angel was waiting.

The sun looked good on him. Bastard could use it. Logan had never realized exactly how incredibly pale the vampire was until he was in the sunlight.

The ex-vampire was silent, eyes drifting over the setting sun, a quiet serene air about him, as he leaned against the jet.

When he spotted Logan, he took a breath, nodding.

They said nothing, as they looked at each other, looking away.

"So. Human, huh?"

"More or less. I've still got the strength. We're not sure... Wes is still figuring stuff out."

"Ah." An uncomfortable silence. "Still growl?"

"Yeah."

"Good." Angel quirked a smile, and Logan nodded. "Chicks dig it."

The smile became a large one. "Yeah."

Another silence, and Logan set the bags down, taking out a cigar from his pocket and looking at it. "Things got a little confusing there."

"Yeah they did."

Logan nodded, turning back to view Rogue and Cordelia, who were speaking, an aura of familiarity and friendship surrounding them.

"Worked themselves out."

"Sort of."

He nodded.

"Shit still needs to be talked about."

"Yeah."

He nodded again. The cigar was rolled around in his hands, and taking a breath, he looked down at it, before offering it to him.

Angel blinked, and then gave him a questioning look.

"For old times sake." A long look, and Angel took it.

"Thanks."

"Just don't smoke it. I can get away with that shit. Now that you're human, you won't. Shit will kill you."

~*~

Angel was the last one to descend after the jet took off.

He stood, hands in his pockets, watching the skies long after the jet had disappeared.

Rogue had not said good-bye, and he knew that it was very on purpose. She smiled, as she walked up the stairs to the plane, had turned, and when their eyes caught, there was an understanding – forgiveness and acceptance.

Wind ruffled in his hair, as the sun set and he took a breath, a long, luxurious breath, and walked to the edge of the roof, swinging a foot over and leaning back, watching the city turn to night.

"Don't tell me you're still gonna do this."

Cordelia stood in the doorway, an amused smile on her face.

He shrugged. "Old habits die hard."

"Yeah I bet."

She came forward, carefully resting her good elbow on the wall, overlooking the city.

"It is a pretty view."

He turned, watching as the sunlight caught the highlights in her hair, making her whole body seem to glow. "Yeah. Amazing."

She was quiet, hands clasped together. "It's almost surreal, isn't it? What happened?"

He smiled, nodding. "Wesley's probably wondering why we haven't locked ourselves away."

"Yeah. Why is that?"

Her eyes locked with his, and she blushed, looking away.

There was a moment of silence, uncomfortable quietness that said more than any words could have. It was written in stone, the insecurity on Cordelia's face, as she traced the ledge with one fingernail.

His heart was in his throat, almost literally, and he took a breath, once again reminding himself that he actually HAD to, before breaking the quiet.

"I guess I don't believe it yet." She looked up quizzically, and he shrugged, eyes roving over the city that they had protected for years. It's... weird. I'm actually... cold. And ... little things like... I forgot what it was like to have the hiccups. And... have I always had that thing with my hair?"

"Yeah. Never went away. But it looks good."

A small warmth settled in his stomach, warmth and contentment and just a little bit of apprehension. "Cordelia. I ... I don't know much about being human. Now that we're here. I don't know what to do."

"Yeah." She let out her breath, slowly, and ever so quietly, she reached out with her good arm, taking his outstretched fingers in hers.

He allowed her to look, and once again he had to remind himself to breathe, every tingly nerve on edge as she carefully held his large fingers in her small one, turning the palm over, studying it, every curve, every line, in a curious recreation of the way he had studied her digits, long ago, on a day he would never forget.

Quietly, she brought the fingers to her lips. He was completely still, and his heart was POUNDING, literally POUNDING, and it brought an almost terrified smile to his lips, as her lips neatly took the tip of his index finger, sucking gently, before letting it go, entwining their fingers.

"We have time, Angel," she said finally. "I hate to break it to you, but I'm not exactly the greatest at being human either. But we have time. We have forever. We'll learn, and we'll make mistakes - but ... it's the future. And we have one. Together. That's... enough for now."

She smiled, shrugging slightly, and tears came unbidden to his eyes as he slid off the ledge and gathered her into his arms, keeping her close to him.

She felt his breath on her ear, her heartbeat steadily bumping from her chest, and in the stillness of the night fall, his own heartbeat, loud and promising and strong, beat steadily against hers.

There was a whimper, and he grazed his cheek against hers, feeling the moistness on her cheeks, and her pliant body was trembling.

"We're here, Angel," she whispered. "We're here."

It was amazing to think about, he knew, and he smiled, joy unspeakable in his heart, knowing it was nowhere near over, but they had been granted this moment. They had been granted a lifetime of moments.

"I know," he whispered.

"What are we going to do?"

"I don't know," he whispered, pressing his lips against his best friend's temple. "I don't know."

~*~

She had expected some sort of confrontation when she arrived.

She had not expected him to pull her into his arms and hold her so tightly she nearly choked, nor had she expected to be pulled out of the cargo room without even having time to change and being damn near dragged into his bedroom.

"Remy, I-"

Hands slid around her waist, and she was pulled into a searing kiss, a hot mouth ravaging her before she was able to gather her gumption and her senses and pull away.

"Remy-"

"Tell me I am not too late," he said thickly, dark, fiery red eyes so intensely focusing on her, palms cradling her as if he was holding something infinitely precious. "Tell Remy you love only him, Mon Ami."

Oh... My.

The words hardly had time to process, and she must have looked silly, with her mouth open that way, but Remy didn't seem to notice as he immediately continued in a whisper, heatedly, sincerely, "I love you, Goddess."

Oh... My.

Silence.

Perhaps this would have been a good time to speak. She licked her lips, swallowed when her throat went dry and tried to say something, anything.

She could think of nothing.

"Remy..."

Carefully, she pulled the searing hot hands from her body, plucking them off and giving them back to him, stepping back to a less disorienting distance.

He looked so much in pain, and this was Remy - her best friend. For one night, he had been a lover.

And was it too late?

And he was here and he loved her, and he was serious, no games or sarcasm.

But Wesley was halfway across the country and -

A breath, and Ororo brushed her hair away from her face, moving toward the door.

"Remy... I... need time."

"There is someone else."

It was not a question, and therefore she did not answer, waiting until she paused at the open door. "It is... complicated." Not an easy question to answer. Not one to be taken lightly.

Not one that would be solved any time soon.

She hesitated at the door, pulling back, smiling slightly. "It is good to see you, Remy. Perhaps we can have dinner."

Friendship. She was offering friendship, for now.

She waited, holding her breath, body a little tenser than she would have liked, until he swallowed, running a hand through the wild, crazy hair she loved and nodded.

She smiled, and walked calmly out of the door.

When it closed, she found her strength giving out on her, as she leaned against it, taking deep, heaving breaths, her eyesight blurry and her world complicated.

Complicated.

And not likely to be answered any time soon.

She took a breath, and the Goddess just licked her lips, straightening and turning, moving away from the doorway.

She would decide.

But not today.

~*~

"Governor Johnson has issued a public apology to the mutants arrested during what has now been known as the crisis of Downtown. Thanks largely to the efforts of mutant rights activist Jean Grey, the mutants were freed and given a monetary compensation-"

Cordelia switched the set off. "Hello? Where's our monetary compensation? Mutant! Right here!"

Fred rolled her eyes, shoulders shaking in silent mirth. "It never ceases to amaze me the way Mutants are tread upon. I suppose - we have that to look forward to."

Wow. Now THERE was a somber thought that just plunged them into darkness.

Gee. Thanks Fred.

Cordelia gave Fred a long look, looking away, finding an acceptable source in Wesley, who was still buried in his elbows in books.

"You know what Wesley? Give it up. You're not going to figure that thing out anytime soon."

"Amen to that," Gunn said, raising a toast to Cordelia's statement with a glass tipping in her direction.

Wesley gave them both a half glare, taking the coffee in his hand and gulping it down. "As the remaining HUMAN, I would like to say - stuff it."

"I take offense to that," Angel said, coming in, putting down the ax, and placing it into Gunn's hand.

"That's right. Angel is very human, if not a little supernatural." Cordelia winked and Angel smiled.

Gunn just stared at the new ax. "Yo? What's this?"

"Uh.... replacement. Your old one was looking pretty... old."

Wesley blinked, once, twice.

"EUREKA!"

Both Fred and Cordelia jumped at the sound of his loud voice.

"Geez. I hate when he does that," Cordy remarked, but obediently moved toward the table, as their English Watcher began to scramble through the scrolls, finally finding what he was looking for with a feverish sigh.

"THERE!" he said, pounding at the paper. "The battle will never be won, but the cross shall be passed on - the new champions will emerge! HERE!"

Cordelia blinked. "Kay. Huh? Wesley, as weird as things are right now, I still would require an explana-OWWW! "

"Oh shit – Vision."

Angel caught her as soon as her legs gave out.

She shuddered, burying her head into his shoulder, whimpering slightly as she swallowed away the tears.

"Crap, that never does get better does it?" she whispered breathlessly, looking into Angel's tortured eyes.

"You okay, girl?"

"No," she whispered, her voice choked, as she sunk into a chair. "It's not better."

"Oh, God."

Hands were stroking her palms, as Angel kneeled before her, her friends – her family – gathered around her as they stared in open apprehension.

"What'd you see?"

"Icky demon - the usual - but... Angel.... it's..." she blinked, her hand holding onto her head. "Umm... " Her head swiveled over to Gunn, then to Fred, and her eyes widened.

"The vision – was for Fred."

Cordelia swallowed, carefully gauging Angel's reaction, the stunned expressions on everyone's face as they swiveled to look at the young woman.

"Are you sure?"

She nodded, her heart hammering breathlessly, gulping down the air in an effort to clear her head.

Angel stood, still holding onto Cordelia's hand as he looked to the Watcher.

"Wes?"

The Englishmen was standing, almost numb with shock before he shook himself out of it, coughing once or twice before clearing his throat, nodding.

"That was… what I was about to say. " Wesley once again began reading, paraphrasing as he brought the scroll up. '"The battle will never be one. Angel would never be free unless… The only way Angel could Shanshu was if someone took the burden - helping the helpless and fighting the good fight and so forth - FROM HIM. Fred... she was brought from Pylea and has been with us for this exact reason. An apprentice, so to speak."

Cordelia's eyes moistened with tears, and she closed her eyes, felt them dripping down her cheek and wiped them hastily away. "Of course they'd do this. Of course there had to be a catch."

"It's not a catch. I chose this."

The quiet voice that had interjected came from the seated Fred, who shrugged, gave a small smile.

"I... chose it. That night. It's hard to explain... but I think I knew. That's why I..." she raised a hand, jiggling it slightly. "The mutation."

"Oh wow." Cordelia sank into a chair, rubbing at her head with her hands. She closed her eyes and shuddered slightly.

"What?"

"Well... the PTB really does like to keep it in the family."

"I just..." Angel looked incredibly uncomfortable. "Fred and... fighting?"

"Ah. The fighting. I guess that would be me." Gunn stood, and his gaze caught Fred's as he slowly began, "Lorne told me. I'm... her champion."

Cordelia noted the intense stare between the two new chosen, but she said nothing.

"So… I guess I'm still Vision Girl."

"You shouldn't have to be." Fred ran her hands through her hair, standing up, her voice unsteady.

"You and Angel… and even Wesley. You – We took your space. You can leave. You can leave the fight to us."

In the silence that followed, Cordelia could perceive a certain amount of dread.

In everyone.

~*~

There was a certain amount of quiet in the mansion, as if the inhabitants were stepping on eggshells, afraid to speak about what had happened.

Everyone was trying to find their ground.

No one knew exactly where that ground was.

More than once, Logan had considered calling the hotel in Los Angeles, asking for the Seer, and in a roundabout way – find out exactly what the hell was going on.

Nothing was easy, mutants civil rights activists were likening the quarantine of the mutants as bad as when the Japanese-American citizens were quarantined during World War II.

It was a heated argument, and the world was on edge.

And in the mansion, with the mounting tension outside, and the quietness that happened inside, he wondered when things would go back to the way they were.

Until he realized they never would.

Rogue was healing, good for her.

On the outside.

But Jean, still tired and still not sleeping, told him that she would not talk about what she saw, or how she had managed to defeat Magneto.

And she was not talking to him.

Logan was never good at the talking thing.

He was getting better, but when he tried usually every other word as an expletive and he doubted Rogue have appreciated that or thought it the least romantic.

He fully intended to pry whatever it was that was going on through her out of her. She knew he loved her. He had told her, laid it all out on the line, and he wondered if perhaps that had been part of it.

Too much to lay on a woman barely out of being a child.

Even now, he wondered if the Logan inside of her was just so completely disgusted with his turn of suitor and in a fatherly way, warned her off of Logan.

After all, Logan was no fucking saint.

He should have gone after her, have cornered her and made her talk, because that was the only way she would.

Instead he waited and brooded – and shit, he wondered if he had spent too much time with the damned vampire – sorry – ex-vampire.

Apparently she got tired of it, because in the end, she cornered him.

In his room, on his bed.

She slipped in, closing the door behind her, carefully gentle with her rapidly healing body, as she lowered herself down in his desk chair.

"Don't move," she said, when he swung his feet over the bed.

Okay. So he didn't move.

She waited, sitting, wringing her hands together, and with her streaked hair tied back in a braid, face still void of makeup thanks to a shower that had just been taken, she looked almost like a child, had it not been for the incredibly old eyes.

But she was hauntingly beautiful, and it was one of many observations he had, as he waited for her to speak.

Finally she licked her lips, took her breath, and began.

"I love you," she said, a trifle shaky. "I... love you. Don't move-" she said again, when he looked ready to jump off the bed. "Stay the hell put, sugar."

He growled, grumbled, but she narrowed her eyes and he stayed put.

"I... want to be with you, Logan. And ... I know I've been a shitty person in the last few days but... I love you. That's it. That's... all that matters. I love you and I can't be afraid of... me anymore. Because you... you make me not afraid. You ... touch me, Logan. In a way no one else does."

He stayed quiet a long minute, and she swallowed, shifting her feet, before finally her impatience got the better of her and she demanded, "Well?!"

"What the hell do you want me to say?"

It was gruff, and to the point, and she swallowed, looking insecure as she looked away, unsure how to take the stern tone.

But true to her fiery nature, she finally just told him, "Ah want you to tell me… that it's not impossible. That there's hope."

Her voice trembled, there was an odd, choked sound, and she looked so vulnerable, and suddenly he was there again, that fateful day, so many years ago, when he had held her in his arms and promised to never be afraid of her, to always be her friend.

He sighed, running his hands through the coarse hair and standing, pulling out the dresser drawer and pulling on a long sleeved shirt, leaning against the wood.

His back was to her as he said, "I can't do that."

There was deadly silence, and he heard the chair scrape on the wood, and he took a breath, and continued shakily, "Not if you don't believe it, Rogue."

He turned, and something jingled in his hands. Her mouth was parted slightly, eyes turning wide at the side of the tags dangling from his fingers.

"Well?"

He could hear the rapidly increasing heartbeat, could see the way she processed the gloves, the long sleeved shirt, the stance, and the intensely feral stare he was so good at giving. Rogue was always a quick girl, clever.

But he never expected the primal urge that went through him she licked her lips, and said in a husky voice dripping with hope, and desire and…. Love, "And why the hell don't you make me believe it, sugar?"

He didn't need a second invitation. In two strides he was there, with her, and shit he had to be careful because she was still hurt and she was strong but-

"Logan," she whispered, and it was quickly followed by a gasp as he held her, rocked her, showed her exactly what he meant by hope, by love.

Gloved hands threaded fingers, and she held on to him, straddling his waist, as he held her, forehead beating with such sweat as he touched her, gentle, always gentle.

He could be rough later.

Her body was hot, sweaty, and her small and impossibly strong fingers held tight to him, as she leaned her forehead against his shoulder. Her body was pliant, warm, trembling.

"You've always touched me Logan. You're the only one," she whispered, mouth pressed against the flannel, blurring the words.

And it was there, in those words, what Rogue couldn't bring herself to say, not yet, but it branded him, searing into his soul, and he shuttered, almost forgetting about the skin as he pulled back so he could stare into her eyes, into her soul.

Depth and sincerity met him in those glistening orbs, and suddenly it was him who's chest was heaving, as she slid gloved fingers up his chest, eyes wet with unshed tears.

"I hate this. I hate not being able to touch you."

"Shut up, Rogue," he snarled. "You can."

Their eyes locked, but again words weren't part of the conversation, and he made her believe, he MADE HER believe.

There was hope.

~*~

Fingers rubbing absently on his bare chest were soothing, but a tad bit distracting, and Gunn only responded by pulling her closer, thankful that his body, sated, finally, truly, for the first time in what seemed like years.

The intimacy in the air was palpable, and Gunn felt it, as he ran a finger up the skin of her back, tracing the silkiness up her spine, a pale contrast under his dark fingers.

Gunn had only made love on a few occasions. Sex was something he took seriously, and almost never did it – because having it meant something. It was a distraction, from the much more horrid evils that homeless life had to offer.

He wondered what exactly had caused this, why this was different, why this was special. Why did he need to hold her, keep her close to him? Why did he wish not to fall asleep or roll away and instead fought the sleep, if only to see the flutters of her eyelashes where her cheek rested against his left pectoral?

"Gunn?"

He brushed his lips against her forehead absently. "Yeah, baby."

"Are you scared?"

"A little."

She was quiet for a moment, and when shifted, now chest to chest as she crossed her arms across his, regarding him.

"Did you think they'd really stay?"

He sighed, shrugging. "I hoped they would. We could use their help."

She cocked an eyebrow and he carefully combed through the wild dark dresses of her hair with his fingers, moving them away from her face. "I would have missed them," he admitted.

"I'm glad they stayed too."

He let out a sigh, thinking back to the answer that Cordelia and Angel and Wesley had given them.

It wasn't over. It wasn't ever going to be over. And they would stay, for as long as it took.

There was no light at the end of the tunnel, but there was hope, and friendship… and love.

It was what they were fighting for, after all.

That hope.

~*~

"Are you seriously gonna eat that, sugar?"

Rogue looked positively disgusted as she cocked an eyebrow, hand tickling the nape of her neck as she looked on in perfect horror.

Logan gave her a blank look. "What? What's wrong with it?"

"It's... that's Bambi!"

He rolled his eyes, taking another rib and pulling off the meat with his teeth. "One of these days we're gonna have to wean you off of Disney, baby."

"Hey guys, enjoying lunch?"

Rogue looked up, smiling up at Jean, a smile that faltered when she saw her friend's face.

"Jesus Jean you look Fried! What the hell are you doin' up? Get some sleep!"

"I will, I just..." The telepathic doctor sat across from them, licking her lips before taking a breath. "I... wanted to tell you something."

Logan passed Rogue another look, but clearly concerned, she only nodded, leaning forward. "Sure, sugar. What's up?"

"I... I was going over Cordelia's charts. The procedure that we did was ground breaking. But..." Jean gave a tight smile, fingers twitching over her free hand excitedly. "Cordelia gave us a key to... unlocking genetic... we were able to filter her mutation. That's huge. And if Magneto could figure it out to turn ordinary humans into mutants, then the possibilities-"

"Jean, honey what are you getting at."

Jean took a breath, calming herself, and began again, looking directly into Rogue's eyes. "What I'm saying is, we might be able to find a way, using Cordelia's charts and genetic samples... to find your switch."

Something jolted through Logan's heart, as he turned, saw the way Rogue seemed to be struck dumb.

"Now, I don't want... I'm not sure, but... there's hope."

Rogue was quiet for a moment, and finally, she managed a tight smile, reaching over and pressing Jean's hand tightly.

"Thanks."

There was more emotion in that one word than Logan had ever seen.

Jean smiled, shrugged, and then pushed her exhausted frame away from the table.

Logan waited, putting down the rib, wiping at his hands with a napkin.

She was incredibly quiet, shoulders hunched over, face hidden by the hair, the streaks in her face.

He barely heard the word she whispered.

"Wow."

He waited, and finally, he reached for her hand, pulling it away from her lap and moving it onto his.

She looked up, incredibly misty eyes as he looked at her.

Carefully, eyes locked on her so that the meaning was clear, Logan pressed his lips against the glove, cherishing the touch.

And there it was, tangible and reachable and yet incredibly far away. But it existed, and it warmed her heart as his mouth pressed against her palm. She smiled, and continued her task of finishing her food, because the future was a bit brighter, the first night was a little bit over.

Because there was hope.

~*~

He was seated on the computer, alone.

Wesley Wyndham Price took the glasses off, reaching up to gently massage at the crook of his nose, blinking away the exhaustion.

Gunn and Fred, now bound together not only by choice, but by destiny were holed up together, no doubt doing what new couples in love did.

Cordelia and Angel most likely consummating what had to have been the longest courtship in history.

And Wesley, was alone, in the hotel, piles of books and scrolls surrounding him, eyes red from rubbing and body tight with tension, with no destiny, no future, desperately human and unsure.

Everything was changing.

Joy and uncertainty mixed together into one not altogether stable stomach.

Wesley never asked for much. And truly, his heart burst with happiness for Angel, a centuries long struggle that never seemed to end, finally coming to a lighter, happier place, with one of the most amazing women he had the pleasure to meet.

But there were feelings inside of him that betrayed him, made him wonder, exactly where he fit in the puzzle.

It was a sobering thought.

"You've got Mail!" the computer said.

Wesley looked up, sighing, reaching for his glasses and sliding them on. With the mouse he clicked on the icon, stilling when he realized exactly who it was from.

"Perhaps it was immature of me, but I felt the need to reach out to you, even if it was through the joys of the Internet. I am here, and things are no less complicated, and I gather they are not exactly uncomplicated for you as well. But the thought of you brings a smile to my lips.

I hope thoughts of me do the same for you.

All my love,

Ororo Munroe."

It took a minute of rereading for his heart to finally work again, as the small smile drifted upon his face.

"Whatcha doing?" The hand clamped on his shoulder startled him, and he gave a small yelp when he turned, finding Cordelia looking over his shoulder.

"Bloody hell, Cordelia!"

"Weirdo," she responded, grabbing his hand and pulling him up. "Where the hell were you? We were looking for you everywhere!"

"Pardon?"

"There he is!" Gunn smiled, coming forward as he entered the lobby, tossing him his coat. "What the hell dude? Holed up in there like some sort of hermit and crap! Let's go?"

Fred smiled, pulling on her coat, Angel helping her before holding his hand out to Cordelia.

Wesley just looked confused.

"Is there... has Cordelia had a vision?"

"No. Thank God." Smiling, she slid her arm into the crook of his neck, pulling him along. "Darts. At the bar. You better come. We chose it `cause you like to do it."

Gunn thumped him on the back of his head, and Wesley's glasses nearly dislodged, but the smile that his best friend threw at him was one of warmth, of love.

Of family.

Wesley sighed, taking in a breath, as he let them drag him out, muttering about bars and bets and forthcoming apocalypses.

But he smiled, because there was one thing that was certain, even as he doubted so many other things in his life.

There was hope.

~*~

"With mutant/human conflicts as tense as ever, White House officials are urging that citizens stay as close to home as possible, until further notice. Rep. Dan Fisher said in open conference he does not regret the quarantines."

The reporter cut to an elderly looking gray haired man, with a stern expression and even sterner glasses.

"We cannot allow what happened in Downtown Los Angeles to happen in any other part of the country. I believe that it has been established with this that mutants are dangerous, and I will continue to take on the late Senator Kelly's work in pursuing the Mutant Registration Law. It is now a matter of life and death."

With a muffled curse, Scott Summer flipped off the television, giving Storm a tired look before shaking a sad, grim smile.

It was something he had to worry about, but now, so many other things took precedence in their own little universe of a school. He took a long look at the pad that was handed to him, reading over the scribbled notes quickly, making mental notes that were filed away in the back of his brain for later perusal.

"Mr. Summers?" He let the pad fall away from his gaze, instead finding them locked on a young boy with spiky green hair and a badly skinned knee.

"Wow. That looks like it hurts."

The child looked almost teary, and Scott smiled, reaching out with his hand. "Jean?"

"Um... Scott." He turned, and Ororo motioned with her head.

His fiancee was lying on the couch, sound asleep.

On her face was a gentle, peaceful smile.

Scott paused, watching the serenity on Jean's face.

"Storm can you take him to see Hank?"

"Of course. Come along, Ned."

Carefully he kneeled in front of his sleeping wife, studying her. The lines of worry on her face had diminished slightly, and sleep, the sleep that had avoided her for weeks now taken over her still form.

Gently, he gathered her into his arms, as she readjusted herself automatically, resting her head on his shoulder and sighing.

It wasn't far to their room, and settling her on the bed without jostling her took some effort. As he pulled off her shoes, he heard a sleepy murmur, "Scott?"

"Yeah, Jean?"

"Are we okay?"

He smiled, moving up to regard her sleepy eyes. "Yeah. We're gonna be fine."

A gentle kiss pressed against her lips, and she smiled sleepily, eyes drifting closed again.

Carefully, he pulled the blanket over her, walking out the room, closing it behind him.

"Cyclops?"

"Hey Bobby."

"Is Jean around? Her class is starting and the kids are wondering where she is."

Scott just shook his head. "She's sleeping. I'll take over."

"It's biology."

"We'll play on that CD-Rom. I'm not disturbing her."

Bobby just shrugged and nodded, and Scott followed him to the classrooms, looking back to the closed door.

He wouldn't disturb her for the damn world.

~*~

His world was plastic.

Clear and transparent, and so terribly sturdy.

Erik leaned back, watching as Charles was wheeled in.

"Old friend," he said, nodding as Charles wheeled himself in, and not a smile crossed the handsome face.

"Erik," he responded easily.

They sat, across each other as they had sat for countless times, chess pieces in perfect order, score card ready and waiting.

But it was different.

Magneto had a curious lump in his throat, an irregular beating in his heart as he waited for Charles' familiar greeting.

"What?" he said finally. "No sermon, old friend?"

A shake of his head was all he got.

He waited, watched, as Charles bored into him with those eyes of his, making no secret of what he was doing.

It was unnerving, to see not a hint of warmth in the kind, old face.

"Whatever are you looking for, Charles?"

"I am looking for a trace of my old friend, Erik," he responded, voice clipped. "And I found him lacking."

Magneto's smile faltered, eyes drifted down to the plastic frosted pieces, strategically placed on the checker board.

"You think me dead?"

"I think you dead, Erik."

He swallowed, unwilling to believe he was trembling. "What makes you better than me, Charles? You and your ideals."

"I do not make deals with devils. I do not endanger the lives of the innocents-" Charles cut himself off, looking away, before looking back, taking a breath, voice calmer, more controlled. "The difference between you and I, Erik, is that you have lost hope in all things."

"Ah. And you have not?"

"On the contrary, I have. But only in you."

A plummet of his stomach, a lump in his throat, and all he could produce was, "I was trying to change the world!"

"You did. You've gotten mutants quarantined and riots started. You've gotten innocents killed. That is the world you have changed, Erik."

Magneto's body was rigid, his eyes were flashing, and he said vehemently, "You think you are any better, Charles? Having those children doing your work for you?"

"No, I do not. Because like you, Erik, I have chosen not to forget."

And with that, Charles Xavier motioned, and Magneto watched with red, angry eyes, as his age old friend moved away from him, and left him in the hard, plastic bubble that he loathed.

Erik sighed, his hands knotting into angry fists.

Charles was right.

He would never forget.

~*~The End~*~

The End

You have reached the end of "First Night". This story is complete.

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