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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


Will dropped the bags containing his uniform onto the table of the motel room as he, Rogue, and Henry entered. "Are you going to need the bathroom for anything, Hank?"

"No. I'm just going to check on the condition of her shoulder. It should only take a few minutes."

Will nodded. "Just let me know when you're done." He closed the bathroom door behind him. A moment later, the bathroom fan activated as he turned on the light.

Henry put on some rubber gloves as Rogue removed her shirt and sat in a chair, flipping it around so that she faced the back. She held still and followed Henry's instructions, stretching out her arm and rotating her shoulder. "It doesn't hurt the same way it did before," she noted.

"More stiff than sore, right?" She nodded. "That's probably because you were sleeping in one position for so long. I'd advise a shower. Make it as hot as you can stand and stay under it for a long time. That should loosen up the muscles."

"Okay. Anything else?" she asked as she put her shirt back on.

"I think I'm going to ask Will to help out by applying some therapeutic massage to the area. It was Jean's idea," he said upon seeing the look Rogue gave him. "Since Will still blames himself, to some degree, for your injury, assisting you in your recovery may be of some help psychologically." He stepped over to the bathroom door and tapped on it lightly.

"Not a bad idea," she conceded. "But we didn't bring a dampening collar."

"For what?" Will asked as he stepped out of the bathroom.

Henry outlined his therapy plans for Rogue, tactfully glossing over the aspects which applied to Will. "Do you foresee any problems?"

Will considered it for a moment. "No. Do you think a sitting or prone position would be more effective? If she's lying down, I could apply a bit more pressure."

"Good point. Use the prone position. Actually, if you do it that way, you could use a bed sheet as a barrier. You wouldn't have to wear gloves."

Will pressed his hands against the mattress of the bed nearest to him. "I think the mattress is firm enough that we can use the bed instead of the floor."

Henry nodded. "I'm going to bed. I've still got eyestrain from driving."

"Try putting a warm washcloth over your eyes for a few minutes," Will suggested. "That usually helps me a bit when I feel like my eyes are about to fall out of my head and roll across the floor."

"I'll give it a shot. Good night."

"Mind if I hit the shower first?" Will asked after Henry had left. "I'll be in and out, and then you can use as much of the hot water as you want."

"Okay," she agreed. "What will you wear once you get out?"

He frowned. "I didn't even think about that. I'll knock on Stephen's door and see if he can conjure up an extra outfit or two for me. Be right back."

"Do you have anything particular in mind?" Strange asked him a minute later.

Will thought for a moment. "How about a powder blue denim shirt, black jeans, and black Rockports? These boots are starting to hurt."

"All right," Strange agreed. "I'll add a few pairs of briefs, some white socks, and some plain T-shirts. Do navy, grey, and black sound good?"

"Perfect. Could you give them pockets?"

"No problem. I think that maroon pajamas will work, and we'll make the robe navy blue."

"You have very good fashion sense, Stephen."

"I've been conjuring up my own clothes for years. You pick up a knack for it after a while. Let Rogue know that I'll whip up a few outfits for her if she likes."

"And take away the pleasure of shopping? Perish the thought."

"Nice outfit," Rogue said as Will walked out of the bathroom, dressed in the pajamas.

"Thanks. I like the color, actually. Stephen made a good choice. You can use one of the T-shirts as a nightshirt if you want." He tossed the robe to her.

"I'll think about it," she said as she stood up. "Why don't you nudge the beds together while I'm in there? I'll probably be a while."

"Okay. Remember, make it as hot as hell."

"Right." The bathroom door shut.

Will sat down in the chair, rubbing his eyes and yawning. He was feeling much better, but he still tired very easily. I hope I recover enough before Chicago to play tour guide like I promised.

After stretching for a moment, wincing as he heard various joints in his body crack and pop, he stood up and pushed the two beds together, removing the top sheets and spreading one out so that it lay across the two mattresses. He folded the other sheet into quarters and placed it at the foot of the bed. After digging through one of the bags that he had brought in, he took his notebook and a pen, and started to jot down some ideas for his novel.

Will knew that he tended to lose track of time when he was brainstorming, so he was not really surprised when the bathroom door opened after what seemed to be only a few minutes. "Feel any better?" he asked as he wrote down one last, fleeting thought.

"Much," she replied in a contented voice. "Just give me a second so I can tie my hair back." She spent a few seconds arguing silently with the rubber band.

"Okay." He finished writing and closed the notebook. "All set?" he asked, turning around.

"All set," she told him as his jaw dropped and his heart skipped several beats.

The rubber band was all she was wearing.

"Is something wrong?" she asked in an innocent voice.

Will tried to answer, but found that he was temporarily robbed of the ability to speak coherently.

"Shush," she whispered. She stepped up to him and knelt down, propping her elbows on his knees and cradling her face in her hands. She looked straight into his eyes, and he looked into hers, mostly because they were the only part of her that he could watch without blushing bright red.

"I haven't told you yet how much what you said in the desert meant to me. For a long time, I didn't think that anybody could love me or want me for who I was, powers and all. But when you told me that you loved me, and the way I made you feel, I realized that I can have a relationship that doesn't revolve around my power. I may not be able to have everything that an ordinary woman has, but I can have something. And I know that whatever that something is, I want to discover it with you.

"Now," she instructed him as she stood back up, "stop blushing. I want you to take a good look at me. And no switching your vision to the infrared, either. I'm not embarrassed about showing you my body, and there's no reason why you should be."

Will obeyed, looking closely at her. After a short time, he became more comfortable, and found that he was able to appreciate Rogue's body on an aesthetic level. "How did you get that scar on your breastbone?" he asked.

She traced the white mark lightly with one finger. "That happened right after I joined the team. I was blocking an energy blast that was meant for Logan and his fiancée, Lady Mariko. I would have died if Logan hadn't made me absorb his healing factor."

"That's one that I owe Logan, then." He stood up, circling her, and she was suddenly struck by the parallels to the dream which she had experienced less than two days ago.

After about a minute, which he spent studying her closely, Will sat back down. "I'm going to have to see if the Chorus can teach me to paint or draw," he said quietly. "You deserve to be immortalized somehow."

She blushed. "Maybe we should take care of my shoulder now."

He nodded. "Lie down on your stomach, and I'll cover you with the other sheet." She did so, and a few seconds later, the top sheet billowed above her and settled over her body as he spread it out. Rogue tucked the ends under her feet and head so that it would stay in place.

Will lowered the lights in the room, then knelt at head of the bed where the upper half of her body lay. "Can you breathe okay?" he asked.

"I'm fine."

He didn't say anything further, but after a moment, she felt his hands touch her injured shoulder through the sheet. He started lightly massaging the shoulder blade with his thumbs, making small circles. "I'm going to slowly increase the pressure," he informed her. "I want to see if I can loosen up the knots that are in the muscles. I doubt that I can hurt you, since your invulnerability seems to be at full strength, but let me know if it gets to be too uncomfortable."

"Okay," she murmured. She quickly relaxed, letting herself fall into a light trance as he kneaded her shoulder and collarbone. Within a few minutes, the stiffness in the area began to fade away, and her arm was soon hanging limply off her shoulder as the muscles began to feel like overcooked vermicelli.

Will stopped massaging her shoulder, but did not remove his hands. "Does that feel any better?" he asked in a quiet voice.

"Wonderful," she replied, "but why did you stop? You've got a lot more area to cover, buster. I want the full treatment."

To her surprise, he chuckled. "As my lady commands," he said in a formal tone. He moved his hands to the back of her neck, where he stroked the muscles on either side of her vertebrae, then caressed the sides of her neck with his fingers. Moving back down, he treated her other shoulder with the same attention that he had shown the injured one. He slowly moved down her arm, paying special attention to her bicep and tricep, then applied firm pressure to her wrist and hand, bending her fingers back slightly and rubbing his thumbs into the palm. Moving back up her arm, she crossed his hands over her shoulders again, then kneaded her other arm, taking care to avoid stretching the muscles too much.

Moving back up to her neck, he made a 'peace' sign with both hands, placing the extended fingers on either side of her spine, and drew them down, one after the other, alternating so that he never lost contact with her back. After several of these strokes, he brought his hands down to the base of her hips, where he firmly traced the outline of her tailbone with his thumbs. Moving down, he bypassed her hips, and began a series of slow, gentle caresses on the insides of her upper legs, starting just above the knee and gradually working his way up.

"If you move any higher," Rogue warned, "one of us is going to have a problem. We'll either be unconscious or really, really frustrated."

Will chuckled. "Duly noted." After a few moments of kneading her buttocks with squeezes that reminded her of a baker making bread dough, he bent down, kissing her lightly at the nape of her neck. "Time to turn over." She did so, and after taking a moment to make sure that the sheet was still in place, Will gave her a very thorough scalp massage, moving his fingers in small circles which relieved tensions that Rogue didn't even know were there. He moved her head from side to side, treating the whole of her scalp, then massaged the small bones just behind her ears. He drew his hands up, lightly massaging her temples, then making small circles on her forehead and firmly rubbing the bridge of her nose. He placed his hands on her collarbone, with the fingers pointing towards one another, and slowly slid his hands down her chest and stomach, moving his hands to her sides and drawing them back up, towards her shoulders, where he moved back towards the center of her chest. He repeated this series of strokes four more times, tickling the sides of her ribs slightly on the last pass.

Rogue squirmed and giggled. "Stop that."

"Aha!" Will said with an evil smile. "The lady is ticklish. This offers some possibilities."

"Don't even think about it."

Will laughed. "Bend your knees a little." She did so, and he made wide circles across her abdomen, slowly reducing the size of the area covered, then widening it again. Moving back up, he made several figure eight passes around the muscles which supported her breasts.

Rogue purred when he did that. "That feels fantastic."

"Really?" he asked. "How about this?" He concentrated on one breast, placing both thumbs on the nipple, then moving them down towards the edge. He repeated the process three times, tracing a star pattern. A moment later, her repeated the process on her other breast. Rogue didn't say anything, but did arch her back in response.

Lightly moving his fingers down her body, Will circled the edges of her kneecaps with his thumbs, then gently rubbed the muscles on the backs of her knees. Tracing his way down her legs, he made a fist with one hand and gently dug into the soles of her feet with the knuckles. He ended the massage with one light stroke, which started at her toes and followed the contours of her body all the way up to her face, where he gently pressed his lips to hers through the sheet. "All done," he told her in a soft voice.

Rogue stretched, letting a low, satisfied growl escape from her throat. "He followed me home, Mom. Can I keep him?"

Will lightly scratched her belly. "You've already got my heart, halainn,"

She poked her head out from under the sheet. "What was that last word?"

He smiled. "It's Gaelic. It means beautiful."

She returned his smile as she rolled onto her side so that she could see him. "That's nice," she sighed. She arched her neck in an effort to see the clock, but couldn't quite make it. "What time is it?"

"Almost eleven."

"That massage took over an hour?" she asked incredulously.

"You were so relaxed for a while there that you were almost asleep. That tends to skew your internal clock a little. Besides, when you don't have to worry about deadlines, schedules, or things to do, who cares how long things take?"

"Scott would have a stroke if he heard you say that."

Will snorted derisively. "Scott is a man in serious need of a colonic enema."

Rogue had to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud. "Where's that T-shirt?"

He stood up and walked over to the table, where he had placed the wardrobe that Strange had made for him. "What color do you want?" he asked, holding up the shirts.

"Which one do you think you'll wear tomorrow?"

"Probably the grey one."

"I'll take that one, then. Can you wear one of the others under your pajama top?"

"Sure, but why?"

"I'll wear it in the morning. I like the idea of our being able to smell each other's scents for a while tomorrow."

Will grinned and tossed her the shirt. A few seconds later, they were both ready for bed. "Whose turn is it to cover up?" Will asked. "I've lost track."

"I'll do it." She wrapped herself up in one of the top sheets. Will curled up beside her a moment later and pulled a light blanket over them both as he shut off the light.

Neither of them said anything for quite some time, choosing instead to simply enjoy one another's company. Rogue turned over so that she faced him and slid down the mattress a little, cradling her head against his chest. "Will?"

"Hmm?" he murmured.

"If I could control my powers…. If I were a normal woman…."

"Hey," he said sternly, "don't you talk like that. You are not defined by your power. You have a problem…. a problem that we're going to learn how to deal with, together. That does not make you abnormal."

"I know," she assured him. "I just forgot it for a while. You've helped me to remember it. But if my powers weren't a problem, would you be acting any differently?"

"Not a bit," he said without hesitation. He stroked her back with his free hand. "We've got something special starting here, and we have plenty of time to learn about one another and become closer. But I already know one thing. I have absolute faith that you'll work your way through your problems eventually, and I'm willing to wait as long as that takes." He embraced her tightly. "It took me a long time to find you…. to find someone I could open up to, trust, and love. I'm not about to give you up without a fight, and I'll annihilate anyone who tries to hurt you or come between us."

He fell silent for a few moments as he gathered his thoughts, but was brought out of his reverie when he felt Rogue shaking underneath him. He glanced down at her. "Hey, are you okay?" he whispered. "Why are you crying?"

"Please," she begged, as tears which mixed frustration and joy flowed down her face, "don't talk. Just hold me. Dream with me. Let me hope."

Eventually lulled to sleep by one another's warmth, feeling one another's hearts beat, they held tightly to one another in the darkness.

Rogue awoke first, finding that she had rolled away from Will at some point during the night. The clock beside the bed told her that it was just after six in the morning. The sun was just beginning to peek through the curtains, and the eighteen wheelers were starting out on their runs.

She slowly sat up, taking care not to awaken Will, and got out of bed. Slithering out of the sheet, which was still wrapped around her, she stood up straight and stretched, discovering to her delight that her shoulder felt much better. Moving it around experimentally, she found that she had almost full mobility. Smiling, she threw off her T-shirt and walked into the shower.

The sound of running water had its traditional effect on Will, and he slowly roused himself. He opened his eyes, and was momentarily confused when he discovered that Rogue was not next to him. After a few seconds, his brain's operating system booted up, and he was able to put sound and sight together and come to a conclusion:

Figures, he thought with a sleepy smile. We just started getting serious, and she's already monopolizing the bathroom.

After one or two false starts, he was able to sit up, scratching at his emerging beard. "Hope I get used to this itching soon," he muttered to himself. Standing up, he walked over to the chair and plopped back down, burying his face in his hands.

Okay, you're out of bed, he thought. Now if you can shower and get dressed, you'll be all set to pretend that you're awake.

After a few minutes, the water in the shower shut off, and Rogue walked out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel. "Good morning," she said cheerfully as she brushed her hair back.

"Morning," he replied with a bleary smile. "How do you feel?"

"Great," she told him, beaming. "How about you?"

"Can I hold off on answering until I've had a shower and some caffeine?"

"Sure. Can I have my shirt?"

He looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded in comprehension. "Oh. Sure." He unbuttoned his pajama top, removing it, then pulled off his blue T-shirt and tossed it to her. "Here you go."

"Thanks." She looked at him closely for a moment. "Your scar's almost gone," she noted.

"I think this is about as good as it's going to get. I usually have some reminder of a major injury, especially if there's an emotional association to go with it."

"And that association would be seeing me get hurt?"

He nodded, then yawned. "I'd better take that shower now, before I fall back asleep."

"I slept like a baby."

"I told you you'd sleep through the night."

"True, but I'm usually not up this early…. at least not willingly." She searched through the bag that held her clothes and pulled out a clean set of underwear. Throwing aside the towel, she slipped into the panties and bra. Will, to her disappointment, didn't even bat an eye. "I was hoping I could at least make you do a double take," she complained.

"You were too obvious about it. I could tell what you were planning." He stood up and walked into the bathroom. His pajama bottoms flew out a moment later, and she heard the shower curtain open and close.

Will stared blearily at the dial which controlled the water flow to the shower, then tugged on it negligently.



Rogue rushed into the bathroom, where she found Will lying on the floor. "What happened!?" she demanded.

He rolled over, looking up at her. "If we ever reach a point in our relationship where it's possible for us to shower together, we'll have to have a long discussion beforehand on the difference between 'hot' and 'scalding'."

She cringed. "Are you okay?"

"I'll live. At least I'm awake now."

"I'm sorry. It's a little hard for me to feel differences in temperature because of my invulnerability." She reached into the shower and switched the water to something cooler. "See if that's any better."

He reached into the shower with one hand. "Much," he sighed as he stood up. "I should only be a few minutes." He stepped into the shower and grabbed the shampoo.

Five minutes later, after he had quickly scrubbed himself down, Will stepped out of the shower and dried himself off. Slipping into his clothes, he sniffed at his shirt before putting it on. "I doubt that I'll ever be as good as Logan," he told her, "but I bet I'd be able to find your clothes in a pile just from your scent. No one else could smell as delicious as you." He smiled as Rogue blushed.

Ten minutes later, they were in the diner. Rogue ordered a western omelet with black coffee, and Will ordered chicken fried steak with a Coke.

"Coke with breakfast?" Rogue asked him after the waitress had left.

"You get your caffeine your way, I get it my way. Be right back." He walked over to a stack of newspapers by the lunch counter and took a copy of USA Today, dropping a dollar in the honor can. "You want the Life section?" he asked her when he came back.

"Please." They buried themselves in the papers for a few minutes, and their meals soon arrived. Jean, Ororo, and the others entered just as Rogue was starting on her second cup of coffee. "You two are certainly up early," Henry observed.

"What did you expect?" Will shrugged. "We slept through most of yesterday."

"Good point. How's your shoulder?" he asked Rogue.

"It feels great. The heat and massage did wonders for it. I think that another one or two treatments could bring me back up to full strength."

Henry nodded. "It might be a good idea if you sat up while we were driving today. Lying on your side could aggravate the muscles again."

"Okay. I'd better get something to read, then." She polished off her coffee and wiped at her mouth with the napkin. "Coming?" she asked Will.

"Sure. Anybody want the paper?" he asked, holding it up.

"I'll take it," Strange said.

Will handed the paper to him and stood up. "I'd like some of my money, please, Jean."

Jean blinked a moment, then recovered. "Oh. Sure," she replied, as she picked up the purse she had purchased on their first day. "How much?"

"Forty should be enough. No, better add another twenty for breakfast. I assume you've been breaking up the larger bills whenever you could?"

She nodded. "I figured that we'll need small bills eventually," she told him as she handed him three twenties.

"Smart thinking." He took the bills and pocketed them. "Rendezvous at the van in an hour?"

"Sounds good. Have fun."

They found a small bookstore a few blocks away, and Rogue spent several minutes picking out some magazines and books to read, finally deciding on Vogue, People, Entertainment Weekly, and the latest Anne Rice novel. Will spent a bit longer at it, and walked up to the counter with a large stack of magazines. "Are you actually going to read all those?" she asked him.

He nodded. "These should keep me busy for a day or two."

"Let me see those." She leafed through the magazines. "Money, GQ, Discover, Smithsonian, Psychology Today, Utne Reader, Gourmet, Guns, and Guns & Ammo?"

He shrugged. "I have a wide range of interests. You know that." He paid for their purchase.

"I didn't think it was that wide," she said as they exited.

"The two gun magazines are for research. That Glock-7 that I'm carrying is useless against the people that we go up against. I want to get some ideas that I can run by Logan and Bishop when we get back about a replacement firearm. I want something that I can carry around when I'm not actually on a mission, just in case we're surprised, and something larger that I'd carry while I was in uniform…. maybe one of the more powerful air rifles, or something else that can fire tranquilizer darts."

"That's a good idea," she agreed. "At least you're trying to find ways to avoid killing people."

"It's more out of a sense of economy than any moral imperative," he admitted. "Sometimes, killing somebody is more trouble than it's worth, especially in our line of work. You drop one villain, and ten more show up next week screaming for revenge. Besides, I can always start loading the darts with poisons if I have to. I'm thinking of using the rifle because it's relatively silent."

"The pistol will do that, if you use a silencer."

He shook his head. "There ain't no such critter. Any gun that uses powder, even with a suppressor…. and that's what they really are, sound suppressors, not sound silencers…. is going to make a lot of noise, because the bullet is already going faster than the speed of sound. I'll add one to my pistol to reduce the noise, but I won't be able to mask it completely…. not unless I'm firing point-blank at my target, and at that range, I'm better off using my sword or daggers."

"You've been thinking about this for a while, haven't you?"

He was silent for a few moments as they neared the van. "I think that I've been going about things from the wrong angle, that's all." He put down the bag and sat down on the ground. "Since I joined the team, I've been doing most of my work out in the open…. but I'm starting to think that that's not where I can do the most good. I think that I can get more done, make more progress, if I start working from the grey areas, behind the scenes, in ways that would complement the things that the X-Men do out in the open."

She sat down beside him. "Like what?"

"Well, here's an example. We know that Mister Sinister is constantly working on his genetic research, and that most of his other activities are geared towards advancing that research. We also know that he's got bases all over the place, so destroying one or two of them isn't going to do us any good.

"What if we took it from another angle? We know the basics of what Sinister does, and between Henry, Xavier, and MacTaggart, we can make some educated guesses about what sort of things he needs to do his work. If we track purchases made from manufactures of those kinds of equipment and supplies, and see where they go, we might be able to discover where Sinister is, instead of where he was.

"We can also try to trip him up. Imagine what would happen to his plans if he found that the secret accounts that he finances all his work with were suddenly empty, or that a shipment of supplies that he needed was sent to another continent due to a 'computer error'. What if some of the spies and underlings that he has in various places suddenly started vanishing, or coming down with unfortunate illnesses? We could ruin some of his schemes without putting any of our people at risk."

"That strategy would work against the Hellfire Club, too," she supplied. "You were talking about getting a big financial stake in an industry. What if you made a few hostile takeovers of the companies that the Hellfire Club types own? They wouldn't have a way to hide what they were doing any more, and you'd pull the plug on a lot of their stunts, because they'd lose a big source of income, not to mention their political connections."

"My dear, you are a conniving, devious, and manipulative woman." He smiled evilly. "I like that."

She snorted. "I was raised by Mystique, remember? I just might let her know about some of your plans. Her opinion of you would skyrocket." She leaned her head against his shoulder. "Sorry about what happened when she met you, by the way."

"That's okay. It's kind of nice to know that she's so protective of you."

"Overprotective, you mean."

"There's a thin line between the two. Most parents can't see for themselves when they've crossed it."

"Do you ever think about that?"

"About what?"

"Being a parent."

Will seemed surprised at the question. "Me, as a father?" He thought for a moment. "No, I haven't ever really thought about it. I don't think I'd make a good one."

"Why not?"

"I'm too inconsistent. A child needs stability in their life. I don't think I could provide that, not the way my life is right now."

"Will, we live a life where we could be killed on any given day. That's not exactly what you'd call stable."

"I'm talking about the little things. Think of it from a kid's point of view. Dad comes into your room one morning and tells you that your room is a pigsty, and that you'll be punished if you don't clean it today. Now, your room really doesn't look any different than it has for the past month. Why didn't he say anything before? The answer is that he's been too distracted to notice it before, but you're too young to understand that. So you really don't know what the rules are going to be from one day to the next. Once you add missed pick-ups, forgotten promises, and the feeling that you're being ignored because you have to repeat a lot of things, life becomes very hard for a child."

"I hadn't thought about any of that," she admitted. "I guess it would be the little things that would trip us up."

"It always is the little things that make life difficult from day to day. Think about it…. what would annoy you more: having a stack of bills to pay, or having a constant itch at that spot on your back that you just can't reach?"

She shivered. "I'll take the bills, thanks. While we're on the subject…."

"Of what? Bills?"

"No, silly. I've got an itch on my back, and my arm can't quite reach back that far yet."

"Oh. Lean forward a little." Once she did so, he took off his gloves and started scratching at her back with his fingernails. "Higher or lower?"

"A little higher…. now to the left…. right there." She sighed in relief. "Oh, thank you."

"No problem," he told her with a smile. "I can sympathize, believe me. One of my safe houses has a coat hook in the middle of one wall, just below chest level. I installed it one day when my back was driving me insane and I couldn't leave the house to buy a back scratcher."

She giggled, picturing his frustration. "Somehow, I see you as being a bit more dignified."

"Hardly," he snorted. "I'm a lazy, soft, decadent, sybaritic bum. I want good food, plenty of naps, hot baths, and constant pampering, with generous quantities of gourmet chocolate thrown in for good measure."

"You talk as if that's a bad thing," Henry said as he walked up to them.

"I thought it would be heresy among all you fitness buffs," Strange commented from behind him as he and the others joined them at the van.

"That's a misconception that a lot of people have," Jean admitted. "Sure, we have to keep in shape, but we also have to be able to bounce back pretty easily from different conditions. If we were always working out so much that we were real hardbodies, then any extended missions would be a problem for us, not to mention that it would be a lot harder for us to be inconspicuous when we had to. I mean, who do you notice more... The redhead or the woman who looks like she's taking enough steroids to cause cancer?"

"I hadn't considered that," Strange conceded, "but you do have to admit that you ladies are almost unhealthily slender."

"Actually, Stephen, that's not quite the case," Henry informed him. "Our research suggests that many mutants who are female, such as our lovely companions here, have a lower fat-to-muscle ratio than baseline human women. What would be unhealthy for other women is perfectly normal for them. Moria and Charles think it might have something to do with processing the extra cellular energy inherent in mutant powers."

"I didn't know that," Will confessed. "I thought it was just because of the exercise we all get."

"That helps, too," Rogue said as she stood up and dusted herself off. "Moria thinks that what happens is that nature gears our bodies for two things at once. We have to be healthy enough to survive, so we have more muscle mass, like a predator, but we also have to be able to make more little mutants, so we also get a build that'll attract potential mates."

"Well," Will said as he stood up, "I think that we gentlemen can agree that the Bright Lady succeeded admirably in the cases among us right now."

"You are a silver-tongued devil," Ororo told him with a smile.

"No, I'm a grey-eyed immortal. We get mixed up a lot."


Continued in Chapter 39


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