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"The Archetype Association"

The Archetype Association

Author's Notes
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49


Matt Adams wiped his face and finished waxing the last of his cars. "There you go, honey," he crooned, "you're all set to rope us in a new mark."

Of course, he said that every morning, even though he hadn't made a sale in nearly a month. Adams was an incurable optimist, however... he knew in his heart that another sucker would always show up eventually.

Stepping back into his air conditioned office, Adams took a deep drink from the can of Pepsi on his desk and sat down, turning in his chair and propping his feet on his desk. A moment later, he was deeply immersed in the fascinating details of the comics page.

The faint sound of footsteps in the gravel of the lot caught his attention, and he lowered his paper and peered out the window.

"Oh, Mama," he whispered to himself.

The young woman who was examining one of the vans could only be described as a knockout. Redhead, long legs, nice...

His train of thought was rather abruptly derailed when a muscular man with slicked back hair appeared came into view from the other side of the van.

...boyfriend. Oh, well, he thought with a sigh, better get to work.

He stood up with a grunt and walked out, taking his Stetson off its hook on the wall and plopping it onto his head. He pasted his friendliest smile onto his face and walked towards them. "Morning! Can I help you folks?"

"We were looking at this van," the man said in a scholarly voice. "What can you tell us about it?"

Adams felt a sensation pass through him that is not unlike what a lion feels upon seeing a blind gazelle with three broken legs. "Well, sir," he replied in his silkiest voice, "let's talk..."

Bobby sat in the chair of his motel room, idly leafing through a copy of the local paper. He found that the best opportunities for meeting women would be the square dance or the rodeo. Maybe I can combine the two and rope up a few dancers.

The sound of deep, regular breathing on the other side of the room distracted him for a moment. He turned his head to where Strange sat on the floor, meditating. "I don't suppose you're up to hitting a bar?" he asked quietly.

"I gave up drinking years ago," Strange replied in a normal tone of voice, nearly startling Bobby out of his chair.

"Sorry about that," Strange told him as he open his eyes and stood up. "I was just coming out of the trance when you spoke."

"That's okay," Bobby said as he composed himself. "A heart attack every week or so keeps me young. Hey, can you whip us up a deck of cards or something? I need something to keep me occupied until we leave."

"I saw a tobacco and magazine store right next to the diner. Why don't we pick up some things to read on the trip?"

Bobby considered it. "Not a bad idea. Are you going to change into something a bit less conspicuous?"

Strange snapped his fingers, and was briefly engulfed in a brilliant purple aura. He emerged from it dressed in a blue polo shirt and tan slacks. "You were saying?"

"Never mind." Bobby picked up the keys from the nightstand, and they left the room.

The store was densely packed with paperbacks and magazines, and had a smaller rack near the candy which held juvenile and comic books. The extensive tobacco section near the back of the store gave off a surprisingly pleasant aroma which seemed to have permeated the wood of the building decades before.

They each picked up several paperbacks and magazines, and filled a small sack with penny candy. "Something to snack on during the trip," Bobby explained.

"Just keep in mind that rest stops are few and far between out here," Strange cautioned him.

"We should be okay. Want to check up on Jean and Hank?"

"They probably have the salesman ready to cry by now. Let's go watch their handiwork."

The leaves crunched underneath her feet as she walked through the forest. The gold and scarlet cape of the trees billowed above her, undulating with the breeze that cast its melancholy enchantment over the land.

Draping the hem of her cloak over one arm, she gathered her skirt up in her hands, allowing her to run through the bushes, following the faint trails left over hundreds of years by countless generations of deer and elk. The rich, earthy smells of the loam of the mossy hills and old, crumbling wood filled her nose as she wove her way among the ferns.

Shade gradually made way for sunlight, and she walked out of the woods to step onto a large field, which was cut by a bubbling stream. Following it, she crossed over several other trickles of water, joining with the one she trailed and causing the slow stream to become a cascade of froth as it pounded on the rocks along its way to the falls.

She didn't slow her step as she leapt off the edge of the rapids, descending in a long, slow arc towards the bottom. She pierced the water like a naked blade, arching her back and swimming towards the light. As her head broke through the surface, she flipped her hair back, spraying the surface of the pool with miniature raindrops.

Gliding lazily through the water, she swam towards a large, flat, moss-covered rock at the edge of the pool. She climbed atop the rock and lay on her back, letting the warmth of the sun bake the moisture from her clothing. Gathering her hair into her hands, she braided it into one long plait, which she draped over her right shoulder.

The sound of the falling water had an effect that was almost hypnotic, beguiling her and making her drowsy. She stretched, yawning, and slipped into a relaxing doze. 

He walked softly through the forest, taking care not to disturb the creatures who dwelled there. They, after all, lived here just as he did, and he felt that it was proper to be polite to his neighbors.

He followed the game trails, knowing that they would eventually lead him to water. Finding that there were no animals in the area, he slung his bow across his shoulder and quickened his pace, moving towards the sound of running water.

The bubbling of small streams eventually increased in volume until it became the roar of spray. Leaping from rock to rock, moving quietly enough to remain unheard, he squinted against the sudden brightness as he stepped out onto a small but lush patch of grass that faced the falls.

He was briefly dazzled by the play of sunlight on the surface of the water, and so did not see the young woman who lay only a short distance in front of him. She seemed to appear from within a pool of shimmering light, stretched out before him as if beckoning him to come closer.

She awoke from her slumber gradually, curling up into a ball and opening her eyes. Finding that her hair had fallen over her face, obscuring her vision, she lazily brushed it back.

A heartbeat later, she jumped up into a crouch, wrapping her cloak around herself and staring at the intruder with cautious eyes. She did not move from her rock, but did slowly look him up and down, maintaining a steady gaze.

He was tall and lean, clad in fur-trimmed leather, and held a bow in one hand. He stared at her for a long, breathless moment, then slowly bent down and placed the bow and his quiver of arrows down on the ground, stepping back and holding his empty hands in front of him. Slowly, the man sat on the ground, crossing his legs and placing his hands, palms facing up, on his knees. He kept his eyes on her, but did not move.

Standing up, she warily circled him, trying to determine if he was a threat to her. He remained still, but tried to maintain eye contact with her whenever she entered his field of vision.

Hesitantly, she reached out with one trembling hand, touching his cheek and running her fingers along the roughness of his whiskered chin. She smiled at the novelty of the scratchy texture, then moved her hand down his neck to stroke the softer hair on his chest.

Glancing at him, she tugged at the top of his tunic, pulling it above his head and tossing it aside. As she stared at his chest and shoulders, she traced her fingers over the dragons that writhed along his arms. He touch was as light as a breeze, barely stirring the hairs on his skin. He resisted the urge to twitch at the sensation, which felt like an insect alighting on his body.

He slowly raised his right hand, taking care not to startle her, and brushed the side of her face with the back of his fingers. She flinched for a moment, but took his hand in hers before he could pull it back, pressing it to her cheek. He gently stroked her face, moving his hand along her chin and brushing the tips of his fingers over her lips. His touch shifted to her hair as he moved downward, caressing her shoulders and throat.

She leaned in close to him, softly brushing her lips against his, wrapping her arms around him and guiding him to the ground. As they stretched out on the lush carpet of grass, she draped her body over his and sealed their mouths together, sharing a single breath between them.

He made sure that his own mouth and hands were not idle as he stroked her back and slowly moved downward. She smiled to herself, and encouraged him by firmly pressing her hips against his left leg. She slid slowly along his body with a slow, deliberate motion, savoring the onset of a familiar tingling sensation deep within her.

She became more frantic in her responses to him, leaving scratches down his back and blazing a trail of kisses along his chest. His back arched in response, and he shuddered as the intense reactions shot through his body.

They reveled in each other's embrace, letting the heat build as they each sought to find that part within the other that would make them whole. She felt her entire body stiffen as...

... She awoke.

Rogue found herself in the bed which she was sharing with Will. He was still wrapped in the sheet, and by the sound of his breathing, was still asleep. She, however, was wide awake, and had an insistent tingling between her legs which was slowly frustrating her.

She bit her lip, uncertain about what to do. She could go into the bathroom, but she was reluctant to leave Will's side. On the other hand, she had no intention of waking him with any movement of the bed. She decided to compromise, and rolled over so that she was in spoon position with him.

Will mumbled incoherently for a moment, then rolled towards her, lying on his back and bending his legs. Rogue barely got out of the way in time, and ended up with her right leg loosely trapped underneath Will's lower body.

She lay perfectly still for about thirty seconds, holding her breath and keeping her eyes on Will's face. Once she was certain that he was still asleep, she hooked her left leg over him and crossed her ankles, effectively wrapping her legs around him. She then curled her left arm around Will's chest and pressed herself tightly against him.

Thank God he's such a sound sleeper when he's healing, she thought to herself. I'd die if I had to explain this.

She shifted her hips by the smallest amount, but the signals that her brain received were so intense that she had to suppress a gasp. Well, if I'm going to do this, she decided, I may as well take it to the limit. In for a penny...

Slowly, by minute degrees, she increased her tempo, building herself up to a plateau as her breath quickened. She stayed at the edge for an agonizingly long time, but was unable to reach beyond it. She nearly sobbed with frustration.

Will made a sudden movement in his sleep, almost a twitch, which caused him to twist towards Rogue and settle against her. Fortunately, the fabric around his head twisted with him, covering his face. The movement, however, was enough to help Rogue past the edge. Her entire body tensed for a moment, and she had to bite her lip to avoid making any noise. A few seconds later, she relaxed, sinking deeply into the mattress with a sigh.

She looked at Will, who now had the covered half of his face comfortably nestled against her bosom, and smiled blissfully. I should probably feel guilty about that, she mused, but I feel too damn good right now to worry about it. She shifted her head to a comfortable position on the pillow and started to fall back asleep. Before she did so, however, she wrapped her arms around Will, drawing him close to her again, and kissed the top of his covered head.

Matt Adams' day was rapidly going downhill.

He had a personal rule against lying to a buyer, based more in a desire to avoid lawsuits than any moral imperative, but he had no problem with embellishing the truth somewhat to make a sale. He had encountered sharp customers in the past, and thought of himself as adept in the art of creative distraction.

This couple, however, was in a class of their own. Every time he sang the praises of the van, the man would either open the hood or crawl under the car and respectfully correct Adams:

"She's got a brand new muffler!"

"Actually, sir, I see quite a bit of corrosion. Also, the shocks seem to be a bit worn."

"Er... well, the engine's been totally rebuilt!"

"Using a secondhand distributor cap, I noticed. What were you asking for it?"

Adams quoted a price, and the couple looked at one another. "You can do better than that," the woman said to him.

"What if I drop that by ten percent?" Adams asked desperately. That wouldn't give him his usual profit margin, he realized, but he felt that he absolutely had to make the sale.

"Take off another two hundred and we'll pay in cash," the man countered.

"Deal," Adams declared. "Give me a few minutes to draw up the papers." He almost ran back to his office.

"Did you do anything to him?" Henry asked Jean in a low voice once he was sure that Adams was out of earshot.

"Not directly," she admitted, "but I did sort of increase his determination to make a sale. Don't worry, he still made a good profit. Do you think this thing will get us back to Salem Center?"

"It's in very good condition, actually. I don't foresee any difficulties. Do you want to drive twenty-four hours, or stop for the night?"

"I think that it'll be better for Will and Rogue if we take it easy. If we can get in fourteen hours of driving per day, I'll be happy. If our money holds out... and I don't see why it won't... we may stop for a day or so in Chicago. I've never been there for anything that wasn't an emergency, and I'd like the chance to see the city."

Henry nodded. "It sounds like a workable plan." He glanced at his watch. "Why don't we gather everyone together after we finish here, check out of the motel, have a big lunch, then set out and drive until the pleas to stop become intolerable?"

"I like it."

Ororo soared on the desert winds high above the town, keeping herself at an altitude which would prevent anyone from seeing her with the naked eye. She hadn't planned on flying while they were on the trip, but the motel room that she shared with Jean was becoming a bit too confining for her, and she needed to spend some time in the sky before sitting in a car again.

Ororo, Jean's voice echoed in her head, we got a van. We should be ready to leave after lunch.

Thank you, Jean. I will awaken Will and Rogue. She began her descent back down towards an isolated area outside of the town. A few minutes later, she walked back towards the motel.


The sound of someone on the other side of the door caused Will to stir. He yawned and blearily opened his eyes.

He was wide awake about two seconds later, when the proper neurons in his brain fired, and his eyes bugged out as he realized that he was staring at Rogue's bare chest. He rolled backwards, right off the bed, and landed with an unceremonious thump on the floor.

The noise woke Rogue up, and she sat up in the bed, then grabbed two pillows and covered herself with them as she blushed bright red.


"Get in the bathroom, quick!" he hissed to her. She did so, backing out of the bedroom and shutting the door behind her. Will grabbed his jeans and shirt and threw them on. He then took a few deep breaths to calm himself and opened the door.

"Yes, Ororo?" he asked, faking a yawn.

"We have a vehicle now," she told him. "We will be leaving immediately after lunch, so it would be best if we were ready to settle accounts with the motel within the hour."

"All right. We'll meet you at the diner in half an hour. Who checked us in?"


"We'll give her the keys at the diner, then. She can handle checkout while we're waiting for our meals."

Ororo nodded. "Where is Rogue?"

"She's in the bathroom."

"Very well. We will meet you at the diner."

Will nodded and shut the door, collapsing against it in relief as he locked it. He then quickly finished dressing, making sure to put on his gloves. He glanced through the room for a moment, and gathered Rogue's clothes from the chair where she had evidently placed them before going to bed.

Stepping up to the bathroom door, he placed the clothes right next to the base of the jamb. "Your, uh... your clothes are right outside the door," he said in a voice which cracked slightly. He hurried back to his bed and sat down, facing away from the bathroom. A few seconds later, he heard the door open, then shut again. The shower started about a minute after that.

Will spent the next several minutes folding up his uniform and placing it inside one of the shopping bags that Jean had left in their room. He pulled his wallet out of his uniform pants and placed it in the back pocket of his jeans. He debated about what to do with his pistol, finally deciding on removing the clip and spare, placing them and the pistol in separate bags and covering them with clothes. The only thing that he could do with his sword was wrap it up in his coat. Just as he finished, he heard the water shut off. He sat back down on the bed and waited quietly.

Rogue emerged from the bathroom, her hair tied back with a rubber band. Her face and ears were still a bit pink. "You're not going to tell anybody about this, are you?" she asked him.

"Of course not!" he told her indignantly. "First, it's nobody's business but ours. Second, how would I find the words?"

Rogue couldn't help smiling at that.

As they walked towards the diner, she linked her arm with his. "You think you're up to the trip?"

He nodded. "I'll rest most of the time. You can dust me off when mealtime rolls around."

"Wonderful," she sighed. "I've finally become a mother."

"Does that mean I'll get a spanking if I'm bad?" he asked with a wicked smile.

"I might spank you if you're good."

"For free?"

"Quit it," she told him cheerfully, giving him a light swat across the top of his head. "We're in public."

"Yes, Ma'am," he said meekly as he opened the front door to the diner and ushered her through.

"Hi, you two," Bobby said in greeting as they sat down in his booth. "Feeling better?"

"A bit," Will replied. "Did anybody order yet?"

"We thought it best to wait until you arrived," Ororo said from the booth across from them, where she sat with Jean, Henry, and Strange.

Rogue nodded and took a menu from the rack on the table. "I think I'll have the chicken club sandwich," she decided after a moment.

"And since I finally have my appetite back," Will declared, "I'm probably best off with the all-you-can-eat option." He glanced at the menu for a moment. "I think I'll go with the roast turkey."

"Do you want to get the soup and salad bar again?" Bobby asked.

"Not a bad idea," he agreed.

The waitress appeared a few minutes later, and they all placed their orders. "Tell me, Stephen," Will asked after they were alone again, "Now that you've seen the mutant metabolism in action, have you formed any opinions?"

"Well, I'm considering the idea that it all goes into a pocket dimension."

"We're not that bad," Jean said in a chiding tone.

"You ladies aren't, no, but I'm becoming convinced that if Hank were left to his own devices, he could single-handedly wipe out a species or two."

Hank snorted. "You can't fuel eight hundred pounds of muscle with diet shakes."

"Point taken," Strange said with a smile. "I promise to refrain from bottomless pit jokes for the rest of the trip."

"We tried putting him on that diet with the shakes once," Bobby joked. "We couldn't find an oil drum-sized glass, though."

"That's brave talk," Strange observed, "considering that you have to fall asleep in the man's presence eventually."

"Don't worry about it, Stephen," Jean assured him. "They started joking with one another five minutes after they met, and I doubt it's ever going to end. I'd probably miss it if it did."

"It makes the rest of us feel a little more grown up," Rogue added. "We can always tell ourselves, 'Well, at least we're not as bad as those two'."

"It's so nice to know that I'm a baseline for aberrant behavior," Henry said as he leaned on one hand. "It makes me feel special."

"Is there anything else that we need to get before we leave?" Will asked.

"Well," Jean thought out loud, "we got munchies, water, books and magazines, and a few tapes to play during the trip, since I'm not about to listen to country music all the way to Chicago. Any other ideas?"

"You might want to consider getting some pillows and blankets," he suggested. "Even if we trade off on the driving, we're all going to get tired from watching the road roll by. And I guarantee that I'm going to need to conk out every once in a while."

"It's a good idea, Jean," Henry agreed. "I want Rogue to get some extra rest as well. We will simply have three people in one of the bench seats from time to time."

"Okay. We'll hit the general store when we're done here."

"And I'll stop off at the drugstore to get a sleep mask," Will added. "With the way the sun is out here, I'm going to need it."

After they finished lunch, everyone split up for about half an hour. Jean and Ororo purchased some light sheets and two pillows at the general store, while Will and Rogue spent time in the drugstore, where he bought a sleep mask, a notebook, and some pens.

"Planning on getting some writing done?" she asked him from behind his shoulder.

"Maybe. We'll definitely have the time, and I'm not planning on sleeping twenty-four hours a day. Besides, my agent's going to start foaming at the mouth if I don't send something to her soon."

"When's the last time you were published?"

"I had a short story included in an anthology about two years ago. I think I want to do something a bit more challenging this time around."

"You have any ideas yet?"

"I'm running some concepts around in my head, but I haven't decided what genre to work in yet."

"Want to bounce some ideas off me?"

"I think I want to let them cook a while first. Once I finally get started, I usually get the whole thing done pretty quickly. Tell you what... you can read the whole thing once it's complete. You'll get to see it before my publisher does."

"Ooh," she breathed, widening her eyes, "I get a sneak preview?"

He nodded. "Of course, that will be before my editor tears it to shreds." He shook his head. "I really shouldn't say that. They've been very good to me."

"When is it due?"

"About three months from now."

"You're going to write an entire novel in three months?"

"It's not as hard as it sounds. Before I even put pen to paper, I have a basic outline of the plot in my head, from beginning to end. I write everything out by hand, one chapter at a time. That first draft is revised when I type it into my word processor. I e-mail everything to my publisher, usually a few hours before the deadline."

"Is it always last minute?"

"I've found that I do my best work at the last minute. The pressure of a looming deadline helps kick my brain into high gear."

"Sounds stressful."

"It is," he admitted, "but it keeps things from getting boring."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said in a mocking tone, "have we made life too predictable for you lately?"

"I think I can live with some normality for a little while," he replied blandly.

"Everybody set?" Jean asked once they had all wandered back to the van.

"Did we all go to the little boys and girls rooms?" Bobby added in an exuberant voice.

"Are you absolutely sure that we can't leave him here?" Strange pleaded.

"That isn't an option, I'm afraid," Ororo sighed. "The doctors say that he has to be kept under close supervision."

"You have his medication, don't you Hank?" Jean asked.

"One whack across the head, administered as needed," Henry intoned.

Strange laughed. "You know, I thought that this would be a somber trip, but I don't think that I've relaxed this much in a long time."

"We aim to please," Rogue told him with a smile.

"But we shoot to kill," Will added.

"And on that note," Ororo said as she rolled her eyes, "all aboard."

"I'm driving," Henry announced.

"I'm nervous," Jean replied. "Please drive forwards this time."

"Okay, if you want to do it the boring way."

"Please... let's do it the boring way," Will asked. "I've had enough excitement over the past few days to last for a while. Boredom, dullness and monotony sound very appealing right now."

"Good," Jean said, tossing a pillow to him. "You can stretch out on the back seat. And you take the middle one," she told Rogue as she handed her the other pillow and a sheet.

"I call shotgun!" Bobby yelled as he scrambled into the front passenger seat.

"Which means that I'm forced to sit between two beautiful women," Strange sighed. "Poor me."

It took about two minutes for everyone to get comfortable. Rogue stretched out on her seat, placing her pillow against the side wall of the van and letting her feet hang over the other end of the seat. Will tucked his sheet around himself and curled up slightly, pulling his sleep mask over his eyes and turning so that he faced the back of the seat.

"Ignition in ten," Henry counted. "Nine…. eight…. seven…."

"Get on with it!" the others yelled.

"And awaaay we go."

Seven hours later, Bobby pulled into the parking lot of a truck stop. "Mealtime!" he announced as he cut the engine.

An assortment of moans and grumbles answered him as the others piled out of the van "I think I'll get the name of the nearest motel," Jean said as she leaned back and stretched. "We've been cooped up enough for one day."

"I second the motion," Strange added. "Any opposed?"

"Hard to say," Bobby admitted. "Two of our voters aren't exactly present."

Ororo glanced towards the back of the van, where both Rogue and Will still slept. Will had turned over at some point, and his face – the portion of it not covered by the mask, at least – was now visible. His mouth was creased into a small frown which could almost be called a pout.

Rogue was still lying on her back, and had an expression on her face which was almost identical to Will's. The others watched, fascinated, as the two of them moved in almost perfect tandem while still asleep, turning onto their left sides.

"Are they psi-linked, Jean?" Henry asked.

Jean concentrated for a moment. "Not exactly. It's more like they're…." She paused, searching for the right word. "….Synchronized. They're acting independently, but I think it's to the same stimuli."

Strange pulled at his goatee as he thought. "Interesting. That leads to some speculations."

"Such as?" Henry asked.

"Let me see something first." He pulled a pen from his shirt pocket and ran it across the sole of Rogue's right foot. As she drew it back, Will mirrored her actions.

Bobby whistled. "Wow. That's almost creepy. Maybe we should just leave them alone. We might hurt them if we wake them up."

"Not if we do it gently," Strange disagreed. "Right now they're in a state that's similar to a shared trance. Which one of them is easier to wake up?"

"Rogue," Ororo supplied.

"Could you do so. then…. slowly, please?"

Ororo nodded and shook one of Rogue's feet gently. "Rogue? We've stopped for dinner. Time to get up."

Rogue and Will both shifted their heads upwards, passing their right hands over their faces. Ororo shook Rogue's foot again, a bit more firmly. "Rogue, wake up."

The two sleepyheads opened their eyes and stretched, arching their backs and yawning at the same time, resulting in a curious dual tone. Rogue sat up first. "What time is it?"

"Just after eight," Jean replied.

"You let me sleep for seven straight hours? I'll be up all night now!"

"Don't bet on it," Will yawned as he put on his shoes. "Your body wouldn't have let you go that long if it hadn't needed the time to repair itself. You'll be up for four hours or so, then you'll start to drift off again."

Rogue shrugged at that, then winced as the movement caused a twinge of pain in her shoulder. "Hank, you might want to give me a once-over before we all turn in. I still feel a bit sore."

"All right," Henry agreed. "How do you feel, Will?"

"Physically, I'm fine, outside of still being tired. That probably reflects the fact that my nerves are still shot, and that I'm feeling really unbalanced right now. I think that I'm going to have to go deep into the Chorus for a few hours to get myself centered again."

"How are your power levels?" Strange asked.

"Pretty high…. and that's part of the problem. Normally, I'd just lower my shields and let my mind drift for a while, but right now I'd probably trip a circuit breaker and cause a blackout. I don't even want to think about what would happen to the van."

"Don't worry about it," Strange said. "I set up some barriers while you were asleep. Anything within one hundred feet of you should be safe, unless you're actually concentrating on shorting it out."

"In that case," Will said as he stepped out of the van, "let's eat." He offered his hand to Rogue, who smiled and took it, slipping her sneakers on as she stepped down. "What are our choices for dinner?"

"There's a regular diner," Jean told him. "We also have a Tex-Mex place and a McBurgers. The Tex-Mex place has music tonight."

"McBurgers sounds good to me," Rogue said. "I don't think I could handle a room full of singing cowboys right now."

"Okay, that's fifteen double cheeseburgers, five chicken sandwiches, eleven jumbo fries, and seven mega-size Cokes. Anything else?"

Jean looked at the total. "No. I think we just justified your opening for the day. Can I have a receipt, please?" She, Bobby and Strange took the trays and brought them back to the tables where the others sat. "Here you go," she said to Will as she handed him the receipt.

Will took it, but gave her a confused look. "Why would I want this?"

"To keep track of how much of your money we're spending?"

His reply was a snort. "Like I care. Jean, you couldn't even begin to make an impact on my finances. If you run out of cash, just tell me and I'll either get more wired to me or switch to plastic. So go ahead, all of you…. use me, abuse me, chip away at my credit rating. I can take it!"

"My God," Henry moaned, "we've taken in a masochist."

"Doesn't that mean that it would be crueler to not abuse him?" Bobby asked.


"Yeah, Jean?"

"Shut up and eat."

"Yes, Ma'am."

They divided up the food and ate. Will discussed their timetable with Jean. "I think we can hit Chicago in another two days," she told him. "We might have to push it near the end, though."

Will thought about that for a moment. "It might be a good idea to factor in an extra day. Let's face it, unexpected events have a tendency to land in our laps. I'd rather pay for another night at a Howard Johnson's than lose a suite of reserved rooms at the Drake."

Ororo nodded. "Good idea. Can you make those reservations now?"

"I'll take care of it as soon as we check in."

"That reminds me," Jean said. "I wanted to ask you if you'd mind if we spend two or three days in Chicago. I thought it would be nice to just sightsee."

"No, I don't mind. Actually, I'll make a pretty good guide."

"You've lived there?" Rogue asked with some surprise.

"I got my counseling degree at U. of C., worked at one of the better restaurants as a chef's assistant, and cut my teeth as an investor there."

"Do you still have a place in the city?"

He shook his head. "The rents are too ridiculous."

"What would you suggest as tourist stops?" Henry inquired.

"The usual places…. the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field and Cominisky Park, the Field Museum, the Navy Pier, the Frank Lloyd Wright tour. And then, of course, there's the Million Dollar Mile."

"What's that?"

"It's a long row of very ritzy shops. Matter of fact, I think we might stop there before we check into the hotel. If we're going the grand tour, then we're doing it in style."

"Well, I suppose that we can endure it," Ororo said with a straight face.

"Are you sure? I can change our reservations to a Motel 6 if you want."

"That's all right," Jean said hurriedly. "We think that your plan will work just fine."

"Okay, if you insist." He folded up the wrappers to his burgers and stuffed them into the fries box. "I'll go check us in and make the reservations. I'll be back as soon as I'm done."

"You'll be at the place down the road that the waitress told us about?"

"Right. I shouldn't be long." He picked up his trash, tossing it into the wastebasket and getting a refill for his drink on the way out.

"He seems to be doing a lot better," Henry noted.

"The rest that he got was a big help," Rogue informed them.

Strange looked at her closely for a moment. "Would you be opposed to telling us just what you were dreaming about? You and Will were linked very closely. I don't want to pry, but it might give me an insight into the nature of his powers."

Rogue sat back in her chair and thought for a few moments. "It was a lot like the dream that a few of us had the night I caused Will's…. accident."

"I was drifting through a dark, warm place, with music and whispering all around me. I guess it was like what a baby feels in the womb. I felt calm, safe…. complete."

"After a while, things started to change. Instead of floating, I felt like I was sort of drifting along with a current, and I knew that I had a specific place to go to. I turned so that I could see what was in front of me, and after a while I saw something up ahead.

"It was a huge tube, as straight as a ruler. It looked like it was made of some kind of dark, glossy stone, but it had a sort of organic appearance at the same time. It went as far up and down as I could see."

"Were there any entrances?" Strange asked.

"No…. and that started to worry me after a while, because I was getting closer and closer to it. I wasn't going too fast, though, so I sort of flipped over so that I'd land on my feet. I figured I'd be able to stop myself."

"And did you?"

"Yeah, for about ten seconds. I took a few steps, and then I started to sink into the stone."

"Were you frightened at all?"

"That's the weird thing. I know I should have been scared out of my mind, but I felt completely safe. The stone was warm and thick, but wasn't sticky at all. I could feel my feet hit air again, so I knew that I wasn't going to drown."

"Another question," Strange said, interrupting her, "and it may seem a bit odd. Were you wearing anything?"

She thought for a few moments, trying to remember. "To be honest, I don't know. Is that important?"

"It might be, depending on what happened later. Go on."

"Well, to be honest, sinking through the stone felt almost…. sensuous. It felt like I was getting a full body massage in just a few seconds. I closed my eyes once my head started going through, and didn't open them again until I felt my hair was free. When I did open them, I was inside the tube, and I was looking at a huge library, about twenty feet across, shaped like a circle, and stretching up and down as far as I could see. Shelves and shelves of books were on the walls, as far as I could see. The noise was a lot quieter, too."

"By this point, I had figured out that I was dreaming, and I also figured that Will was somewhere nearby. The moment that I thought about finding him, I started to float up. I was going pretty slowly at first, but I picked up speed really quick, and soon I was really zooming past the shelves. After a few minutes, I started to slow down, and I could see something above me.

"It was a wooden desk, made of stained redwood, I think. It was one of those kinds that have two sections that fold out and have lots of compartments inside them. I was seeing it from the bottom at first, but I leveled out with it after a few seconds. There was an old-fashioned lamp, with a green shade, floating right next to it. There was an old-fashioned wall clock that wasn't attached to any wall. It was just floating in the air, ticking. It didn't have any hands or numbers on its face. All it did was tick.

"Will was sitting in a chair, leaning back in it with his feet on the desk. He was wearing jeans, sneakers, and a grey turtleneck."

"Did he notice you?" Bobby asked.

"If he did, he didn't say anything. He just sat there, reading the book that was in his lap. I decided not to bother him, so I just sat down and listened to the music. After a while, the ticking of the clock relaxed me enough that I sort of blanked out for a while. The next thing I knew, you were waking me up."

"Rogue, what you just described is exactly how Will described the Chorus to Charles and me," Jean informed her. "I think that you were actually experiencing, passively, what Will does when he goes deep inside the collective consciousness."

Rogue blinked, absorbing that information. "Wow. Do you think I was in any danger?"

"I'm not sure," Jean admitted. "It would depend on whether you got there on your own or piggybacked onto Will's dream."

"I'll ask him about it later. Right now, I want to finish my food before it gets cold."

Will returned about fifteen minutes later, and they all got back in the van and went to the motel. "You get your own room from here on, Stephen," Will said as he handed the magician a key.

"Thanks. Any reason why?"

"Let's just say that I don't think that I go well with condiments." Jean, Ororo, and Rogue laughed, but the men just looked confused.


Continued in Chapter 38

Authors Note: Sorry about any delay in getting this out, but my computer's operating system melted down, and it took me a week to fix the problem.
I'm curious about something, and I would like the opinion of my readers. How do you picture Will Riley? Put another way, who would you like to see play him if The Archetype Association was a movie? (No, this is not an X-Men movie casting call. I'm only asking about Will.) Please e-mail me if you have any ideas. Thanks.


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