We all have a shell,
of steel and glass,
as supple and strong as
the petals of a white flower.
Kindness by kindness,
we are slowly unfolded,
revealing our insides,
as pink as a baby.
beautiful with newness,
we touch the (patient) hand
which exposed us
~ To Forge, by Ororo Monroe.
"It feels right to rebuild," Colossus told Rogue
as they sat together around the kitchen table.
The morning sun streamed through the open window - a tangible
reminder of the fact that it was spring. The first buds were
beginning to color the trees, and the snows had melted to
give way to a vague greenness. She smiled at him, spooning
sugar into her cereal and stirring it.
"Sugah, it's way ta early ta get philosophical with
me an' expect me ta understand ya."
Piotr nodded, amused, "In a sense, it is what we --
Kitty, Kurt and myself -- are doing. We're building a new
start from the bricks of the past."
Her tone was flippant, but he could sense a deeper pain beneath
her words. She had been carrying some pain with her for the
past few months, hiding it beneath a veneer of strength, as
he hid behind his shell of steel.
"Yes, Rogue. Can you pass me the milk?"
She handed him the small carton, and he added it to his bowl
of muesli. He did not wish to pry into her affairs, knowing
all too well the agony of loss and the unbearableness of people's
"Pleasure," her pleasantry was warm, and his chest
tightened strangely. She looked so beautiful in her lemon-yellow
shorts and white halterneck shirt. Her glorious, striped hair
fell down her neck, curling on smooth, brown shoulders. In
confusion, he turned his attention to his muesli, watching
as the grains of oats swirled in a sea of white.
"'Crawler wants me ta take a look at th' Aurora with
him today -- see if'n we can get it up ta Blackbird level."
"Da. Sometimes I fear it might be faster to walk
than take our new jet."
"Got Storm an' Kitty back from South Korea in one piece,"
she told him, her eyes becoming haunted as if some shadow
had passed across her soul.
Was her sadness connected with them? Or with the return of
the prodigal X-Man, Gambit? That would explain Rogue's feyness
the previous evening. Brilliant and brittle, she had talked
too much; been too happy; smiled and joked incessantly. The
remainder of the night, while he was lying awake in bed, he
had heard her painful sobs, each torn from her body. The black
rings beneath her eyes spoke more eloquently than words of
those sleepless hours.
"Ah've gotta be goin'," he heard the catch in her
voice, "Kurt said that he wanted ta get an early start."
"Fine," he smiled gently at her, "Storm has
requested my help in planting petunias in the front bed. If
Wolverine's 'friend' from the Department of Education returns,
we want the school to look as respectable as possible."
"Yeah," she said softly, "Guess that goes
ta show that things ain't always what they seem..."
Remy leBeau dipped his bare feet into the water. He liked
the boathouse with its sweet smell of cedar and gold-varnished
wood; the peaceful atmosphere that was so similar to Onc'
Robert's house at the bayou. Watching the first rays of light
catch the water in glittering brilliance, he smiled to himself.
He was almost happy here. Life was reduced to simple sensation
- the cool, smoothness of the fresh-sanded wood, the caress
and splash of water, hunger.
He took a bite of his buttered croissant, liberally spread
with honey, and washed it down with a glass of orange juice.
It was good, but nothing compared to the crisp, fresh-baked
bread available from any boulangerie in France.
"I brought you coffee," a female voice said from
behind him, "I thought you might like some of 'Crawler's
special blend. Don't tell him I took any though."
Remy glanced over his shoulder, unobtrusively palming some
smooth pebbles from a pile, letting them drop when he saw
who it was. Kitty Pryde smiled at him, her face as fresh as
a dewy flower. She was dressed in a floral-printed sundress,
cinched around her waist with a leather belt. Her dark hair
was taken back in a plait. In her hands, two cups rested on
a wooden tray.
"Mademoiselle Pryde," he inclined his head, "Merci
beau." She handed him a steaming mug and took one
herself, sitting cross-legged next to him. The coffee was
warm; a combination of flavors, rich with cream and cinnamon.
"I came to see how you were," Kitty told him, "Storm
said that donations of coffee would be welcomed."
He laughed, "Stormy knows me too well."
Remy saw hesitation play on Shadowcat's face. She wanted
to speak to him something, but politeness or shyness constrained
her. She fiddled with the folds of her dress, evidently ill-at-ease.
Eventually, a resolute set to her face, she began:
"Wolverine told me about your role in the Morlock Massacre
He stiffened, dreading her words, dreading her opinion of
him. She was an X-Man at the time of the Massacre; lived through
and was touched by the horror; shed bitter, cleansing tears
for the dead. What comfort could there be from her? What hope
"The Massacre changed me forever," she continued,
" I had never known that such cruelty -- such senseless
hatred -- could exist before then. I wondered what sort of
man could ... could lead the Marauders on their mission. What
sort of monster he was."
Monster. The word permeated the cedar-scented wood, the molecules
of air; clotting the sweetness of the sunrise. Kitty turned
to him, and he realized that her hazel eyes held no condemnation.
"I hated him, until I realized that he was as much a
victim of Sinister's sadism as any Morlock was. That Sinister
used him when it was convenient, and flung him aside,"
she paused, "I don't think that I can ever understand
why you took his deal, but I can -- and do -- forgive you."
The world held its breath. Moments passed silently as the
two victims stared at each other, trying to comprehend the
nature of forgiveness. Eventually, he smiled at her, knowing
that he had no words to thank her for the immensity of the
gift, save the most simple, beautiful one in the world:
It feels strange to be home after all these years. Stranger
still to revisit old, half-forgotten roles. I thought that
I had moved on from the X-Men; become the leader of the mutant
team known as Excalibur for better or worse. I thought that
the doors of the mansion had closed for the final time behind
me, leaving me to grow, to change, to evolve.
However, despite my belief that I had left Graymalkin Lane
forever, I returned, for a thousand, small reasons. I suppose
I could pretend that it was because the team needed me. Disparate,
the mansion in ruins, they needed someone to help rebuild.
This would be false.
I returned because of the friendships, the laughter, the
shared sorrows, the deep comfort and support. I returned because
of Wolverine's brusque companionship; Storm's grace and calm
understanding; Rogue's sisterly love. I returned because,
in my deepest heart, I will always be an X-Man.
Coquette stretched out her slender legs, studying the photograph
of her 'mark'. The Creator, as she called him, had designed
her to be the perfect assassin. Stealthy, emotionless, silent;
her very genetic structure seemed to have been spliced for
The case was different this time -- she was to punish the
mark for their failure to keep up their end of an important
deal. A deal that could secure the Creator's position against
his greatest enemies. Coquette smiled. This assignment was
proving interesting -- she was not to kill or harm the mark,
but strip them of everything which they held most dear. Love.
Trust. Control. Hoping for more information, she turned the
photograph over - an address was scrawled blackly in copperplate,
gothic script - 3417 Graymalkin Lane.
Yeah, I know what you're thinking, Logan. It's Pete Wisdom
all over again. A dangerous looker with a shady past and a
poor ability to commit. How many times have you warned me
against people like that? Probably as many times as I have
ignored you with my typical Semitic stubbornness. That's probably
why I want to tell you not to worry! I don't intend to fall
in love with the first available man, however much Remy reminds
me of a more charming Pete. I guess you could say that I have
learnt ... wisdom, however painful, from my experiences. I
only hope my heart has as well...
The Aurora gleamed silver in the dim hangar, as Rogue slipped
through the hydraulic door into the compartment. The faint
smell of cigarette smoke still lingered and she felt her heart
leap painfully, unexpectedly, into her throat. Chesterfield.
Stop it, girl, she silently berated herself, It's
over. He's part o' ya past -- just like Longshot, Magnus an'
... an' Cody. Neither o' ya were strong enough ta make it
work. Remy needed a woman who could forgive, could love in
spite o' it all, an' Ah wasn't that woman.
Attempting to work her pain away, Rogue sat down on one of
the chairs, bending over the control array. The Aurora appeared
to be fashioned after the Blackbird -- a sleek, elegant design
concealing a number of flaws, including poor fuel-economy
and uncomfortable seats.
She pursed her lips, eyes scanning the energy-consumption
readouts. It appeared that the Aurora was burning more fuel
than was strictly necessary for propulsion, almost as if it
required the excess energy to maintain a subsystem.
"Ah'll ask Kitty ta run a diagnostic on th' computer
systems," she decided, "Be easier than Kurt an'
me takin' it apart bit by bit when he finally decides ta grace
me with his company."
Flying up the stairs that led to the hall, Rogue made her
way to the room in which the Muir Island Cerebro was housed.
She could use its mutant tracking system to discover Kitty's
position, thus saving her the trouble and time of physically
looking for her teammate.
The machine whirred into life; red dots appearing on a laser-green
globe, forming towns, cities, continents of mutants. One point
dimmed to be replaced elsewhere by a brilliant scarlet light.
Scrolling read-outs displayed Cerebro's status, as it tirelessly
scanned Earth for signs of mutant life.
Frowning slightly, Rogue tapped in the parameters of her
search, watching the sphere for any change. One by one, like
dying embers, the crimson lights faded to leave a single golden
point in the vincinity of the mansion.
"Full zoom," she pressed a button and the section
of the orb unpeeled, straightening to form a contour map of
the mansion. The golden dot blinked from its position near
the lake. The boathouse.
Continued in Chapter
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