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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


"What's our first stop?" Bobby asked Will as they walked out of the hotel lobby.

"Well, I want to get some clothes that I can wear to dinner tonight. There's a good haberdashery about five blocks away, so we'll hit that first. How's the charge on your inducer, Henry?"

Henry glanced at the device. "I estimate another one hundred hours remaining, if I leave it on constantly."

"Good. Hopefully, we can get you something off the racks. After we're done, it'll be the ladies' turn. Once everyone is dressed to the nines, we can go to a restaurant and club that I happen to like."

"What kind of club is it?" Rogue inquired.

"Jazz and swing."

"That should be different," Ororo said with a smile. "Is period clothing required?"

"It's optional, but I thought it would be a nice change of pace."

"Sounds good to me," Jean commented. "Let's get going."

"I don't know, Henry. I really think that blue or black would suit you better."

"I know, Bobby, but the selection of jackets in my size is limited," Henry replied as he checked the fit of the brown suit in the mirror.

"I have a blue blazer in the next size up," the tailor suggested. "I can have it taken in while your friends are being looked after."

"How long would that take?" Will asked.

"About half an hour."

"We'll do that, then," he said as he looked through an assortment of matching suspenders and ties. "Do you also carry fedoras?"

"We have a limited selection, sir. Do you happen to know your size?"

"Seven and three-eighths. These gentlemen will also need to be measured."

"Yes, sir. I'll be right back with a size gauge."

"What do you ladies think?" Will asked a few minutes later as he stepped out of the dressing room wearing a cobalt blue full-length jacket, pleated grey slacks, a white shirt with black garters on the sleeves, and black suspenders, tie, and gloves, topped off by a grey fedora with a black band.

"Elegant," Ororo said.

"Dashing," Jean added.

"Rowr!" Rogue growled.

"I think they approve," Will told the tailor. "Why don't we just snip off the tags, and I'll wear it out?"

"Of course, sir."

Bobby selected a tan jacket similar in style to Will's, chocolate brown slacks, and a dark brown fedora. Henry soon found a black hat which matched his outfit, and Strange chose an ensemble which echoed the colors of his magical garb, choosing to top it off with a white hat with a black band. Henry's jacket was completed soon afterwards, and Will paid for their purchases.

"Any ideas on where we can find something?" Rogue asked as they left.

"Not really," he admitted. "We've still got a while before the club opens, so we can take our time. We'll walk around for a while and see what we can find. Actually…." He walked over to the corner of the block, where a group of teenagers was standing. "Excuse me, I was wondering if you ladies and gentlemen could help me," he said politely.

The spokesman for the teens, who sported several piercings and a dyed, spiky haircut, was obviously unused to being spoken to in so respectful a manner, and hesitated a moment before answering. "Uh, maybe," he said uncertainly. "What do you need?"

"As you can probably guess from the way that I'm dressed, my friends and I are going to a swing club tonight. Would you happen to know of a place where the ladies could find clothes that would be appropriate for the occasion?"

"Sure!" a young woman with bright pink hair said cheerfully. "There's a place three blocks down that way called Past Out. They have lots of Twenties and Thirties styles."

"Thank you very much, Ma'am," Will replied, tipping his hat to her respectfully. "Let's go, everybody." He started off in the direction that the young woman had indicated.

Bobby tapped Will on the shoulder as they made their way down the block. "How did you manage that? If I'd asked them, I probably would have gotten mugged."

"Because you'd be projecting that expectation to them through your non-verbal communication. When I talked to them, I was nothing more than what I appeared to be. Besides, the fact that I was completely, and, more importantly, honestly polite threw them off for a moment, so they didn't have time to think up a rude reply."

"You're a good applied psychologist, Will," Jean said.

"Thank you, Jean. Coming from you, that's quite a compliment." He turned his head to scan the territory ahead of them, then stopped. "Time out, everybody. There's something I need to get done."

"What's that?" Strange asked.

"A haircut." He walked into the open door of the barbershop, and was seated in the chair a moment later.

Ororo and Jean looked at one another. "He is looking a little scruffy," Jean admitted.

"True. Is anyone thirsty?"

"I could stand a soda," Rogue admitted.

"So could I," Strange agreed.

"One six-pack of Coke, coming up," Jean told them as she walked into a nearby corner store, leaving about a minute later. They leaned against the building and chatted for about twenty minutes.

Rogue stood right next to the door, so Will's voice nearly made her jump.

"All done," he said.

She turned around and stared at him. His hair had been cut short and slicked straight back. Trimming off the ends had evidently shorn off the last of his brown hair, because it was now solidly dark grey. He had trimmed back his whickers and shaved off the sideburns, leaving him with a short, elegantly styled mustache and goatee.

"What do you think?" he asked.

Rogue looked at him for a few moments. "I think I'm going to need some time to get used to it," she confessed.

"Fair enough. Any other opinions? You don't get a vote, Stephen. As the only other man here with facial hair, you're somewhat biased."

"I think it suits you well," Ororo offered.

"It looks good on you," Jean agreed.

"I like it," Bobby said, "but Bishop may feel like you're muscling in on his territory."

"That's his problem. Let's go."

A few minutes later, they reached the clothing store, and the ladies were soon happily exploring the possibilities on the racks. "I'll be back in a minute," Will said quietly to Henry. "I'm getting something to read while we're waiting."

"I would suggest War and Peace."

"I was thinking Finnegan's Wake, myself."

Actually, it took less than an hour for the women to make their selections. Ororo walked out of the dressing room wearing a black sleeveless top and a white, mid-thigh length pleated skirt. As usual, she didn't wear any hose – she found it difficult to find a color which complimented her, and her flawless brown skin needed no further enhancement. She wore a few silver bracelets on her wrists, and had found a pair of ornate silver earrings which closely matched them. She finished the outfit with a pair of black stiletto heels.

"Ororo, you look exquisite," Strange said.

"Thank you, Stephen," she replied with a smile. "I was torn between choosing this or a flapper dress. I felt that this would be better for dancing."

"So get both," Will advised. "You can wear the other dress another time. Maybe you can start a trend in Salem Center."

Jean appeared a few minutes later, dressed in a royal blue beaded dress, light blue hose, and a blue head wrap, under which she had hidden most of her hair. "Can anybody teach me how to do the Charleston?" she asked. "I feel like I should know how in this outfit."

"The dancing at the place where we're going is a little more energetic," Will told her. "If you're good at it, there are a lot of jumps and flips involved."

Jean blinked, digesting that for a moment. "Maybe I should get some tap pants," she said to Ororo.

"Good idea," she agreed.

"Is Rogue almost ready?" Will asked.

"She said she might be a few more minutes," Jean told him.

"Fair enough. Can I have the tags for your outfits, so I can pay the cashier?"

"Here you are," Ororo said, handing them to him.

"I'll be ready in just a minute," Jean told him. She headed over to the lingerie section (although given the size of the store, it was more like the lingerie corner). She found something appropriate after a few moments of searching, and headed over to the dressing rooms to check the size.

As she was about to enter the nearest free cubicle, Rogue poked her head out from behind one of the curtains. "Psst, Jean!" she whispered. "Where's Will?"

"He's paying for Ororo's outfit. Why?"

"I want to surprise him. Let me know when he comes back."

"Okay, but I have to try this on first. Otherwise, I'll be giving a bit of a show."

"Got it." She dropped back behind the curtain.

The tap pants proved to be a perfect fit, and after making sure that they were covered by the hem of the dress, Jean stepped out of the dressing room. Will had rejoined the others, and took the tags for Jean's items. "Is there anything else you want?" he asked her.

"No, this'll be fine. He's here," she called back to Rogue.

"Thanks." She stepped out from behind the curtain and leaned against the wall. "Well?" she asked the men. "What do you think?" Her dress was a simple, long-sleeved one-piece, which had a white floral pattern imposed on a rich, rust brown background. She wore a pair of dainty white cotton gloves, white flats, and tan hose. "All I have to add now is some jewelry," she said as she twirled around, flaring out the skirt.

"You don't need any," Will said with a smile. "You couldn't possibly improve on how you look now."

"I have to start writing some of these lines down to use later," Bobby whispered.

"I don't think you could manage them the way he does," Strange whispered back. "It's all in the delivery."

"Is that everything, then?" Henry asked Will.

"Should be…. wait." He patted his pockets, searching for something. "Did I have my pocket watch on me when you found me?"

Henry tried to remember. "I don't think so."

"I'll have to get another one, then."

"Can't you wear a wristwatch?"

He shook his head. "I used to, but I kept reaching for my pocket whenever I wanted to know what the time was, so I said the hell with it and switched to pocket watches. It's the same thing that happens when I try to shave…. the Chorus looks for older solutions to problems, and sometimes that affects me in some very subtle ways."

Strange nodded. "Interesting. Does that ever get you in trouble?"

He grimaced. "There was one time when I was traveling through Europe about four years ago. I was camping at the time, and had just woken up. I wanted breakfast, so I set up a simple noose trap."

"That doesn't sound like a problem."

"It is when you set it up on the Autobahn."

They made a quick stop at a watch repair shop, where Will bought an unclaimed, modern-looking pocket watch with a meter-long length of chain. The chain, which was composed of linked bars, was somewhat heavy and looked a bit more substantial than an ordinary link chain.

"That's the first macho-looking pocket watch I've ever seen," Bobby commented after they left the shop.

"It's probably going to take a lot of abuse," Will shrugged, "so I may as well get something durable. Besides, it could make a decent weapon in an emergency."

"How so?" Strange asked out of curiosity.

"You use the watch as a weight at the end of the chain, and you can wrap it around an enemy's limbs or neck. If you made the chain strong enough, you could probably snap bones."

"Gee, that's my first priority when looking for a timepiece," Bobby said sarcastically.

"It's a way to hide a weapon in plain sight. Law enforcement and security always look for the obvious…. guns, knives, that sort of thing. Simpler, more subtle things will usually slip by them. For example…. Ororo, do you realize that any of the X-Women could walk around in plain sight, carrying at least two deadly weapons, and that most people wouldn't look twice at them?"

"What would they be?"

He pointed at her hair. "Take a metal comb or hair pin, sharpen the tip, and dip it in poison. You could do the same with a pair of glasses….. just take the plastic ends off the ear pieces and put them back on to protect yourself until you need to use them. Or you could replace the shoulder pads in a suit jacket with plastique, strangle somebody with a belt or kerchief, coat the outside of a pair of gloves with a contact poison…. the possibilities are endless."

"You should give him a job coming up with these ideas," Strange told Ororo jokingly.

"I agree. Mister Riley, I hereby appoint you the X-Man in charge of Espionage, Mayhem, Deception, and Other Sneaky Things Like That."

"Yes, Ma'am," Will replied, giving her a snappy salute. "I promise to never tell you the whole truth about what I'm doing."

"You'll be following the old espionage tradition, then?" Henry asked.

"Of course. If I didn't, Wisdom would take away my Junior Spy kit." He glanced across the street. "Time for another stop."

"For what?" Rogue asked.

"I'm not sure yet. Let's go." He dashed across the street and entered a store that billed itself as a secondhand music shop. The others looked at each other, shrugged, and followed him inside. They soon lost themselves among the racks of vinyl records, compact discs, tapes, and sheet music.

After a few minutes, Rogue found Will in the back of the store, looking at a rack of secondhand instruments. "Thinking of getting something?" she asked.

He nodded, then walked over to the older man who sat behind the counter. After a few minutes of haggling over the price, he purchased an old, but still serviceable Telecaster and a portable battery-powered speaker. The salesman then took a measurement of Will's left ring finger and cut a small length of copper tubing to use as a slide.

"You play the blues?" Strange asked.

"A little," Will replied. "I'm a bit more comfortable with classical music." He plugged the speaker in, then played a tune that was familiar to Rogue's ears. "What was that?" she asked.

"Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, by J.S. Bach. I always thought that it would make a great cover for a metal band."

Jean thought about that. "It probably would."

"We are now going straight to the club," Will said firmly. "If I get distracted again, take my hat off and whap me over the head with it."

Three whaps later….

"Okay, we're here. Now stop hitting me."

"Darn," Rogue said with a pout. "I was starting to enjoy it."

The doorman, upon noticing how the seven newcomers were dressed, urged them to move ahead in the line, and they were soon walking into the club. It was decorated in a retro-Forties style, and the dance floor was surrounded by tables where the trend seekers watched one another looking fashionable. The band, composed of a full complement of horns and drums, was playing a fast rendition of Glenn Miller's In the Mood.

"Very nice," Rogue commented, as she surveyed the club.

"I thought you'd like it," Will said with a smile. "Remember, everybody, the sky's the limit here."

After a few moments of discussion with the head waiter, during which some money changed hands, they were led to the upper level of the club, where three tables were pushed together for them.

They were given a few minutes to look over the menus. "I believe I will partake of the surf and turf," Henry decided.

"I'll go with the Porterhouse," Strange added.

"I will have the clams casino," Ororo said.

"Lobster Thermidor for me," Bobby decided.

"I'm going with the Veal Picatta," Rogue finished.

"Good," Will said after they were done. "That leaves the sausage and portabello ravioli for me." He glanced at the bottom of the menu. "I'd also recommend the tiramisu for dessert. It's a local specialty."

"Sounds good to me," Rogue told him.

"Do any of you want to get wine?" Will asked. "I'll just order a carafe."

"I think I will try the chenin blanc," Ororo said. "Henry, would you care to split it with me?"

"Certainly, Ororo."

Once they had given their orders to the waiter and been served their drinks (Will, Rogue, Stephen, Jean and Bobby had all ordered soda), the dance floor started to become more crowded. The band alternated between playing old swing standards by Miller, Goodman, and Basie, Fifties staples like Little Richard and Spike Jones, and some of the newer, neo-swing revival pieces by the Brian Seltzer Orchestra.

Rogue noticed that Will was tapping his foot, and drumming his fingers along with the music. She smiled at him indulgently. "You want to be up there, don't you?" she asked.

"Is it that obvious?"

"You're practically drooling. Go on," she told him. "Jean'll give you a buzz when the food gets here."

He took one of her hands in his and kissed it. "You're a treasure." He then stood up, grabbed his guitar case, and made his way towards the band. Two minutes later, he was up on the stage, plugging the guitar into the speakers.

"What do you think he'll play?" Jean asked.

"I'm not sure," Ororo admitted.

As the brass section of the band began, Will went up to the microphone.

"Hey, bartender!
I got a lover, but it's not what it seems,
Pour me a drink, if you know what I mean!
Don't mix it up,
Give me straight what you got!
I don't want it on the rocks,
I want my lovin' straight up!"

 "Brian Setzer," Rogue said.

"How do you know?" Strange asked.

"Will has the CD with this song. I borrowed it."


"His singing voice is better than I expected," Ororo conceded.

"He's a good tenor," Henry agreed.

After Will finished the song, the audience gave him a fair amount of applause. He smiled, tipping his hat in response, then turned back to the band and talked with them for a few seconds. Stepping back to the microphone, he cleared his throat.

"You should all recognize this one." He launched directly into the opening riff of Johnny Be Good. Five seconds after he had finished that song, he gave a spirited rendition of Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues.

"I didn't know he could hit bass," Bobby noted.

After he had finished, Will bowed to the audience and spoke with the band for another moment, then unplugged his guitar and rejoined the others at the table, just in time for their meals to arrive.

"I needed that," he confessed as he sat down.

"The applause?" Henry asked.

"The music. Having so many people in sync with what I was playing was kind of a psychic boost." He took a deep drink of his water. "Now, let's eat."

Their meals were expertly prepared, and they found themselves torn with indecision when the dessert cart came by. Rogue took Will's suggestion and chose the tiramisu, which she found was delicious.

"Any ideas for tomorrow, Will?" Jean asked as she nibbled on her blueberry cheesecake.

"That depends on what you'd prefer. We can do architecture, sports, culture, or more shopping. What sounds best to you?"

"Why not combine it all?" Bobby suggested. "I'll see a Cubs or White Sox game, and the rest of you can catch a museum or tour in the morning, have a nice lunch, then go shopping in the afternoon."

"That sounds workable," Will agreed. "The two big choices for museums here are the Art Institute and the Field Museum, which is a lot like the Museum of Natural History back in New York. Afterwards, we can take the Frank Lloyd Wright tour in Oak Park."

"Let's do the Institute," Strange advised. "We can split up to see the periods that we like best."

"Good idea, Stephen," Ororo complimented him. "We can decide on whether or not we want to continue our support of the country's economy when we are finished."

Strange chuckled, then abruptly froze while bringing his fork to his mouth. He glanced at Will. "Did you feel that?"

Will, whose posture had also stiffened, nodded in response. "Another sorcerer?"

"The energy signature rings a bell. Give me a second to come up with a name." After a few moments, his expression became one of contempt. "Oh, not him."

"Are we in any danger?" Ororo asked, concerned.

"Not unless you can be bored to death. It's Eobard Emrys."

Will snorted with laughter. "Eddie Emrys? He's still at it? Oh, Bright Lady save us!"

"Who is this guy?" Bobby asked.

"He's proof of the maxim that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing," Strange explained. "There was a half-decent sorcerer in his family about six centuries ago, and the magical potential was passed down the family line."

"Unfortunately," Will continued, "intelligence and common sense were not. He's a total idiot. Three-quarters of his spells come out wrong, and even the ones that are right end up turning on him most of the time."

Strange took over. "But he thinks he has some sort of grand destiny because of a scroll that he found when his powers manifested themselves. It said that when the heir to the throne of the original sorcerer's kingdom is back in power and the nation is independent, then the full might of Eddie's magical heritage will be his to claim."

"Sounds pretty straightforward," Bobby said. "So what's the problem?"

"The problem," Will said with a grin, "is that the nation is question is the Archbishopric of Trier, which was wiped off the map by Napolean. The area is part of France now. Somehow, I don't see the current residents stepping aside to let Eddie take over."

"But Eddie thinks that all he has to do is get together enough money to buy a good sized plot of land over there, and then the prophecy will be fulfilled," Strange finished. "I've tried to tell him that his ancestor's prophecy can't be taken at face value, but he won't listen to me."

"What was wrong with the ancestor?" Jean asked.

"The historical evidence suggests that in the last few years of his life, he had developed a syphilitic brain infection," Will told her. "That made him almost completely insane. He probably would have been locked away eventually, but the bubonic plague hit the area and wiped out most of the population, including Eddie's forebear."

Strange glanced up. "He's coming this way."

Will thought for a moment. "Do me a favor, Stephen. Don't tell him who I am at first."


"I haven't really had a chance to see what my reputation in the magical community is lately. I want to see what his gut reaction is when you introduce me."


A few moments later, a middle-aged blond man walked over to their table. "Good evening, Stephen," he said in a German accent. "You're not usually in this area."

"Hello, Eddie," Strange replied in a bored voice. "What are you up to this time?"

"I'm staying focused on my goal. I'm going to fulfill my destiny…. any way I can."

Strange looked at him sharply. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Since you and the other practitioners of your caliber have refused my requests for aid and training, I've been forced to look…. elsewhere…. for guidance."

"Who did you bargain with, Eddie?" Strange demanded.

"He prefers that I not mention his name on this plane. I won't be mocked anymore, Stephen. Don't be surprised if you have a challenger for your position sometime soon."

"That will not happen," Will said flatly.

Emrys turned to Will with a contemptuous sneer. "And who are you, you ignorant peon?"

Strange smiled. "Eddie, I'd like you to meet my newest student, Mister Will Riley."

Emrys' jaw dropped as his face was suddenly drained of all color. "The Archetype?" he whispered.

"The same," Strange said with a grin.

"Please continue, Mister Emrys," Will said in a silky voice as he leaned forward and cupped his chin in one hand. "I find your speculations on the future fascinating. Tell me, do you keep that talisman of yours on you twenty-four hours a day?"

"H-How did you know about that?" Emrys stammered.

"The problem with a talisman," Will continued, "is that you have to keep it close at hand." He waved his right hand negligently, and a small bag appeared in his palm. "If it falls into the hands of an opponent, then you're in real trouble."

Emrys put his hand to his shirt pocket, then got a look of panic.

"Go home, little magician," Will told him in a stern voice as he flicked his hand and tossed the bag back to him. "You are way out of your league. As the good Doctor is currently my instructor, I'd be honor-bound to fight on his behalf if anyone were to act against him." He glanced at Emrys' belt. "By the way, there seems to be something wrong with your beeper."

"What are you talking about?" Emrys demanded. "I just bought this!"

"It appears to have shorted out." Will's eyes flashed for a moment, and the beeper started spitting out sparks.

Emrys frantically batted at the beeper for a moment, then yanked it off just before it burst into flames. He looked at Will with a terrified expression for a moment, then ran for the door.

Will calmly took his glass of water and poured it over the remains of the beeper. "Do you suppose it was something I said?" he asked the others innocently.

They looked at him for a moment, then burst into laughter. "You're horrible," Jean told him.

"I've never pretended to be anything else." He held his hand out to Rogue. "Shall we dance, my dear?"

"Why not?" she replied with a smile, linking her hand in his.

They made their way towards the dance floor, and Will nodded at the bandleader as they stepped in front of the bandstand. The bandleader nodded in reply, and stepped up to the microphone as soon as the band finished its latest song.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have some special requests for this evening." As he spoke, the drummer began a quick, rhythmic backbeat. "The first is…."

"Hey! Pachuco!"

The crowd cheered and surged onto the dance floor as the band went full blast into the song. Will surprised Rogue by spinning her around quickly, then catching her as she dropped back onto one leg. She quickly got into the spirit of things, however, and joined him in a dance which combined elements of the Charleston, the Twist, and the Jitterbug.

They were surprised to see Jean and Henry on the dance floor a few minutes later, followed quickly by Ororo and Strange. "I didn't realize Ororo was that good a dancer," Will remarked.

"She doesn't do it that often," Rogue confided. "If you can get her to loosen up, though, she can really get down. The wine that she had probably helped."

The band began a rendition of Louis Prima's Jump, Jive, and Wail, and the acrobatics that Will had promised earlier came into play as some of the more adventurous dancers started flying into the air. "Want to try some of that?" she asked him.

"Why not?" he replied. Before she could say anything, he wrapped his arm around her waist and spun around. Her legs went limp and crossed over his back when he stopped. He placed his left arm behind her knees and swung around again, letting go of her waist. She yelled in delighted surprise as she fell and swung out about a foot above the floor. Will spun around for a full turn, then stopped, using the momentum to swing Rogue across his chest and cause her to land in a sitting position on his right shoulder. He stopped her by supporting her back with his right hand.

Rogue gasped, then laughed again as Will lowered her down. "Why didn't you tell me you could do that?" she asked.

"I'd never tried it before," he told her with a smile.

They danced for nearly an hour, until Will let out a gasp and gestured for her to leave the dance floor with him. "Are you okay?" she asked him as they sat down.

"I think I might have done something to my back during one of those flips," he confessed.

"What time is it?" she asked.

He pulled out his watch and glanced at it. "Almost ten."

"Why don't we call it a night? I'll let Jean and Ororo know that we're going to head back to the hotel."

Five minutes later, they walked out of the club. "Jean said that everybody'll probably sleep in tomorrow morning. We can hit the museums and the other stuff in the afternoon."

"Sounds good to me."

The streets were still busy, but not unduly crowded, so they had little trouble getting back to the hotel. "Why don't you let me hit the shower first?" she suggested as they entered their room. "Then you can blast your back with hot water until it loosens up."

"Sounds like a plan." He looked in one of the closets. "Here's a robe," he said, tossing it to her.

"Thanks." She stepped into the bathroom and slipped out of the dress, then opened the door a crack. "Can you put this on a hanger?" she asked as she held the dress out to him.

"Sure." He took the dress from her, placing it in her closet.

After she finished undressing, she entered the shower and let herself relax under the spray of water for several minutes. A quick scrub removed the last of the perspiration that she had built up during the dance, and the body wash that the hotel had provided woke her up a little. She toweled herself off, dried her hair, then put on the robe, gathered up her clothes, and stepped out of the bathroom. "It's all yours," she told Will. "I made sure to turn the heat down before I left."

"Thanks. I shouldn't be too long." He had already changed into his robe, so he sat up with a grunt and went into the bathroom. He found that the showerhead had a pulse setting, so he set the spray for a massage and gradually turned the heat up as high as he could stand. After what seemed to be an impossibly long time, the muscles in his back began to relax, and he found that he had a bit more freedom of movement. Groaning with relief, he quickly washed his hair and soaped himself down. After rinsing himself off, he stepped out of the shower and toweled himself dry. His new, shorter haircut was nearly dry within a minute after being toweled off, and he simply combed it back.

"You all done?" Rogue called through the door.

"Coming out now," he said as he hung the towel on the rack and opened the door.

"Feel any better?" she asked.

"A bit," he replied, just before his voice trailed off.

She had changed into a matching set of white satin bra, panties, and stockings, complete with a garter belt. "What do you think?" she asked.

"You look fantastic," he said after a moment. "Did you pay for that?"

"I asked Jean to pay from our cash reserves. I wanted to surprise you."

"You did that," he admitted, "and very pleasantly so, I might add."

"Thanks," she said with a smile. "Okay, lie down."

"Excuse me?"

"Since my shoulder feels as good as new, and you're the one with muscle pain now, we're going to switch roles for the massage tonight. So come on, handsome, lose the robe."

Will thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. "If it makes you happy," he decided. He removed the robe and settled down onto the bed. Rogue spread the sheet out over him, and he tucked it into place.

"Where does it hurt?" she asked after she lowered the lights.

"Lower back, right along my spine." He was startled a moment later, when he felt her weight settling over his hips as she straddled his back.

"Relax, Will," Rogue told him as she felt him stiffen. "This is as much for me as for you." After a few moments, the tension in his muscles subsided, and she began to apply firm but gentle pressure to his back. "I've never done this before, obviously," she told him, "so if I'm pressing too hard, let me know, okay?"

"Okay," he said in a contented voice. "I have to admit, though, this feels a little weird."

"Why, am I doing something wrong?"

"No, you're doing fine. I just mean that I'm not used to being on the receiving end. I'm usually the one giving the massage."

"You're usually the one who's giving, period. It's all right for you to be the needy one every once in a while, Will. Nobody's going to think any less of you."

"I know that," he said, "It's just that…. ohhhh, right there, please." He groaned in appreciation as Rogue applied firmer pressure to the base of his spine. "It's just that my instincts are to protect and take care of people. If I'm in a situation where I'm the one being protected, I feel like I'm not doing my job."

"And how long do you think you'll last if you're always the one who's shouldering the burden?" she asked in a soft voice. "I'll be honest, Will. Some of us have been afraid that you're going to burn yourself out."

"There's not much chance of that."

"Oh yeah? You already do most of the cooking, you do extra combat sessions with Logan and lessons with Jean and the Professor, you're trying to get us all set financially, you'll be training with Stephen again when we get back, you have your plans for the Underground, and you still have your personal financial work and social contacts to maintain. If you spread yourself any thinner, you'd be translucent."

He grunted. "I see your point. But, except for the cooking, all those things are things that I can only do myself. Even if I could find someone who could handle the work, I still need to deal with it personally."

"Maybe, but what about the grunt work, like your correspondence? That took you the better part of an afternoon."

"True," he conceded, "but let's be realistic. I'm not exactly in a position where I can call the local temp service and get an assistant. There's too much high-security, high-risk information to deal with, and I'm on the move so much that it would be nearly impossible to keep up with me."

"Good point," she admitted. "I'll have to think about it some more." She returned her attention to the massage, slowly moving her way up Will's back and towards his shoulders. Taking his right arm by the wrist, she slowly drew it back, stretching the muscles and feeling where the tension was greatest. She gently rubbed the tight bands of tissue, smiling as they relaxed under her ministrations. "I cannot believe how tense you are," she told him.

"I like to think of it as being extremely alert," he replied.

"If you got any more alert, you'd be paranoid."

"Who told you to say that?"

She snorted and moved up to his neck, where she found that she had to apply a degree of pressure that almost worried her. After a few minutes, however, the muscles yielded to her, and Will's head was soon lolling limply from one side to another. She felt a bit of pride at that accomplishment, and she moved down to his tailbone and buttocks, giggling a bit when she kneaded them as he had during her massage. "This is fun," she observed.

"I have no complaints," he replied.

She moved down to his legs, rubbing behind his knees and the muscles on the backs of his ankles. She then gave him a thorough foot rub, grinning when he rumbled incoherently in thanks. "Okay," she told him as she gave him a playful smack on the rear, "turn over."

He was silent for a moment. "Er, that might be a problem."


"You've succeeded in relaxing most of my muscles, but you've managed to tense a few up in the process."

"What do you…. oh." She blushed bright red as she realized what he meant. "Well, I can't say that I'm not flattered. The question is, what do we do now?"

"How about you turn around while I wrap myself up, and then we just go to sleep?"

"I can live with that. Are you sure you'll be okay?"

He laughed. "After my body realizes that it got itself all worked up for nothing, it'll relax."

She smiled and turned around. A few moments later, Will had settled back into the bed. "All done," he told her.

"Good." She turned back to face him. He was loosely draped by the sheet, facing away from her. "Don't turn around," she told him.


A moment later, a white stocking fell across his face before being drawn back.


Over the course of the next minute, the rest of Rogue's underclothes were thrown onto the bed. Will was nudged over a bit as she climbed into bed behind him and shut off the light. She wrapped an arm around his torso and settled into spoon position with him. "G'night," she murmured.

"Sweet dreams, m'love."


Continued in Chapter 41


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