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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


"All set?" Will asked as Rogue walked out of the restaurant.

She nodded, then raised an eyebrow as he put one hand to his side. "You okay?"

"My phone's buzzing." He removed it from his jacket and activated it. "Riley." He listened for a moment, then nodded. "All right. We'll be there in a few minutes. Out."

"What is it?"

"Forge got a few days of surprise leave, so he decided to pay us a visit and show us what he's whipped up for me."

"How do we get the car out of the parking garage?"

"I'll just open up a Door. You distract the attendant for a minute, and I'll drop a twenty into the booth."

"Distract him how?"

He grinned. "Use your imagination."

"I have to admit," he said as she parked the car, "that was one hell of an effective distraction."

"Well," she replied, "I saw the air grate on the floor, I thought of Marilyn Monroe, and the rest fell into place." She cut the engine, and they stepped out and walked towards the front door of the mansion.

"I think the kid left eyeball prints on the glass," he chuckled.

"It's always nice to be appreciated. We're home!" she announced as they walked in.

"Hi, guys," Jean said cheerfully. "Forge is in Charles' office. They're waiting for you."

"Both of us?" Rogue asked.

Jean nodded. "Mystique gave him some stuff to give you, and he's got some new equipment that he'd like you to try out."

"Okay." She and Will walked to Xavier's office and tapped lightly on the open door. "That didn't take long," Xavier observed from behind his desk.

"We took a Door," Will explained. "Pleased to meet you, Forge," he said, shaking the man's hand.

"Same here," Forge replied. "Valerie didn't tell me much about you, and I admit that I'm curious."

"Me?" Will scoffed. "I'm an open book."

"Written backwards," Rogue commented. "Using a mirror. In invisible ink. In Sanskrit."

"Well, sure, there's that..."

"Hi, Rogue," Forge said. "Your package is over there. Raven threatened to fillet me if I didn't give it to you."

"Did she say if there was anything private inside?"

"There's a letter. I think the rest is mostly clothes and books."

"Okay. What's the equipment Jean said you had for us?"

"Well, I have two things for you." He opened up one of several cases lying on the coffee table, removing a small case and handing them to her with his bionic hand. She opened it to reveal a pair of green earrings. "The left one is a new communicator. It picks up your spoken words from the vibrations in your jaw and sends incoming signals straight to your inner ear. In a best-case situation, you could send a message and get a reply without ever opening your mouth. It's always on, but it'll vibrate if a message is coming in. Just tap it to activate."

"What's the other one?"

"A combination locator, pulse monitor, and body thermometer. It'll send an emergency signal if your vital signs become dangerously erratic."


"And for you, Mister Riley," Forge continued, opening another case, "I have these." He removed several objects.

"These lapel pins also serve as a communicator and locator. They're larger than an ordinary pin because I added as much shielding for the electronics as I could without affecting their functions." He held one in each hand. "You should be able to keep them on your person without any problem. They'll also beep or vibrate."

"They'll clip onto my uniform?" Will asked, looking at the pins, which had the standard red-and-black 'X' insignia on them.

"Just like any other lapel pin."

"How do they pick up vibrations?"

"They don't, unfortunately. The microphone's keyed to your voice. Now," he said, picking up the next object, "this cellular phone piggybacks its signal onto the nearest commercial cellular band and uses the satellite software to re-encrypt itself. It bounces the signal over seven or eight satellites, so while there is a slight communication delay, the signal is virtually untraceable. Like almost any other cellular phone, it can also be set to beep or vibrate."

"Very nice," Will said, taking the phone and looking at it. "Also insulated, I assume?"

Forge nodded. "Once you take off the insulation, the thing's about the size of a credit card."

"And lastly, the piece that I'm most proud of." He lifted out an object similar in size to a loose leaf binder. "This notebook computer has a five hundred terabyte capacity, a one thousand hour battery... rechargeable, of course... language-adjustable keyboard..."

"How did you manage that?"

"You can't see it, but there's a thin layer of liquid crystal suspended under the surface of each key. When you tell the computer to switch to a different language, the crystals reconfigure themselves to reflect the standard keyboard for that language."

"What's the personal security?"

"Thumb print on the touch pad... by the way, the track ball pops out from here... voice print, and retinal scan from the camera. That's the small bar here, just above the screen. It'll also allow real-time communication.

"This media tray reconfigures itself to read whatever's put into it. Right now, it'll accept regular floppies, Zip disks, Superdisks, CDs, MDs, DATs, microcassettes, and audiocassettes. It'll also write to any of them. This adapter will read VHS and Super-8 cassettes. I used a blue-laser technique that was just developed. You'll be able to write three times the usual data onto an ordinary CD-RW disk. I bought you a case of one thousand of them, by the way. You'll be able to burn a disk in about five minutes.

"The operating system is indistinguishable from Windows, but it can reconfigure itself to work with almost anything. If the industry standard changes, I'll be able to upgrade you through the mansion systems.

"It uses the same communication protocols as the phone, but the data compression ratio is so tight that it'll be like working on an ISDN line or a cable modem. The communication software is designed to set you up a ghost account on whatever server you dial into and erase all traces after you log out. It finds the nearest, fastest local server and works through them."

"One last question, Forge," Will interrupted. "This does have a word processor, right?"

"WinWord's latest, with a few improvements. Last gimmick: see this slit just above the monitor? It's a document scanner. Place the page face up into the slit, and it'll scan it in half a second. You'll be able to transmit documents as fast as you can run them through."

"I love it," Will said as he hefted the computer. "This is also insulated?"

Forge nodded. "That accounts for most of the weight. As long as your powers aren't running super-hot, you shouldn't have any problems. If they are, just turn it off. I made sure that even if it's in its carrying case, it'll fit into the side pockets of the seats on the Blackbirds."

"Nice touch. Now I only have one problem."

"What's that?"

"Resisting the temptation to install Quake."

As Will stepped out into the hallway, carrying his new equipment, Logan saw him from the kitchen and waved him over. "You got some time?"

"Sure. What do you need?"

"I want to clear you on your new guns. Show you how to take care of them, adjust the sights if they need it, that sort of thing."

"Okay. Just give me a minute to put this stuff in my room."

Five minutes later, the two of them stepped into the armory, where Bishop sat waiting for them. A pistol and rifle lay on the table beside him. "Meet your new friends," he said in a businesslike tone. He hefted the pistol in his left hand. "The Randall Firearms B-122 nine millimeter. Single-action, holds eight rounds in the magazine, plus an extra in the chamber." He attached a small cylinder to the muzzle. "This is your suppressor. Cuts the noise by about half. I'm modifying a holster for you. It should be ready tomorrow."

Will took the pistol from Bishop and examined it. "You took off the grips?"

"It reduces the silhouette. The texture strips I added should give you a secure grip."

"This is a mirror image? Ejects to the left?"

"Yes. You'll train with standard rounds, but I'll load some plastic rounds for you."

"Good. How many spare clips do we have on hand?"


"Do we have any depleted uranium on hand right now?"

"I'll look into it. Now, I could have manufactured a laser sight for you, but Logan and I decided that it would be better to use off the shelf technology. I'd like to avoid another Cable incident if I can."

"You just lost me," Will admitted.

"Cable had a habit for a few years of using throwaway guns. The inner workings self-destructed an hour after being used, so they couldn't be analyzed, but they became his calling card to the agencies that wanted to talk to him."

"He's admitted that it wasn't one of his brighter moves," Logan added. "If we use ordinary tech, then we can replace it easily, and it's harder to trace."

"So," Bishop said, opening a small box, "you'll be using the Wilcox Modular Special Operations Smart Sighting Unit. It has two parts. The laser unit will send either a visible or infrared beam. The beam can be set to either be solid, or to one of seven blink rates. That might allow you to send a signal of some kind.

"This spotlight sends out both visible and infrared beams. It also has a dimmer switch. Forge gave us some long-life batteries, so they'll both run for about forty-eight hours each."

"Will the units work if they're not attached to the gun?"

"Yes, but why?"

"I might be in a situation where I need to use the laser to distract an enemy, or to send a signal to you when I can't be around. Or I may need to use the spotlight as a work light, or use it to calm down civilians."

"Good planning," Logan said. "Okay, let's get started."

For the next hour, Will took apart and reassembled the pistol until both Logan and Bishop were satisfied with his competence. He then practiced speed loading and ejecting magazines filled with blanks. Finally, he donned protective gear, attached the suppressor onto the barrel, then asked Bishop for the laser sight and spotlight. "I may as well get used to the weight, since they'll throw off the barrel."

"Sound reasoning."

Will attached the two units onto the underside of the barrel, then left to go change into his uniform. "I want to make sure that none of my other gear gets in the way," he explained.

"Makes sense," Logan said. "How does the grip feel with your gloves on?"

"It seems secure." After making sure the safety was on, he placed his finger inside the trigger guard. "I've got enough finger room. Let's check it out."

They went to the Danger Room, where Bishop set up a firing range simulation. Logan joined Will on the staging area floor.

"All right," Logan said, "turn on the sight. Use the visible beam so I can see what you're doing. Now aim for the center of the target. Widen your stance. Stand up straighter. Straighten your arm. Good. Pull off one shot."

Will gently squeezed the trigger, then flinched involuntarily as the recoil jerked his hand back. "I've been neglecting this," he muttered.

"You haven't exactly had time," Logan pointed out.

"That's no excuse and you know it. If I miss my target, or worse, shoot an innocent bystander by mistake, I doubt that saying 'I missed a few training sessions' is going to fly as an acceptable reason."

"True." Logan studied the target after Will had emptied the clip. "Your aim's improved a bit," he said approvingly.

"The sight helps a bit," Will admitted. "Put up another target. I want to try the infrared setting." After Logan had replaced the target and moved aside, Bishop reduced the lighting. Will replaced the clip, chambered a bullet, then shot off five rounds. "That's a little better, I think."

Bishop activated a camera and zoomed in on the target. "Not quite as precise," he commented, "but still acceptable."

"I may have to add a scope," Will said as he removed the clip and slapped in a new one. "Give me some skeets, clay pigeons, whatever you want to call them."

"Just in front of you?"

"For now. We'll try surrounding me another time."

Bishop worked at the computer for a few seconds, and soon afterwards an orange disk, about a decimeter in diameter, sailed lazily across the room. Will hit it with a single, casual shot. He raised an eyebrow. "That was actually easier than the target. Give me two at once."

Bishop complied, giving the two disks a half-second delay. Will destroyed them both with ease, then activated the safety. "Now that is interesting," he mused. "It's easier for me to hit the more difficult target. Any guesses from the floor before I give my theory?"

"The moving target requires a more intuitive approach," Bishop suggested.

"It's more like huntin' wild game," Logan countered.

"I think you're both right. Is that enough for now, Logan?"

"Yeah. We'll put in some time once a week or so. Right now, though, you have to learn the important part."

"Cleaning," Bishop and Will said in unison.

After Will proved to Logan that he could properly clean and oil his pistol, he went looking for Rogue, finding her engaged in a conversation with Jean, Ororo, and Betsy. He found that he couldn't catch the entire thing, but decided that the amount of giggling that he heard placed it in the general category of 'girl talk'. He quickly came to the conclusion that there are some things that men are simply better off not knowing.

He rapped his knuckles lightly on a nearby table to call attention to himself. "If I might interrupt this little kaffeeklatsch, I'd like to bend Rogue's ear for a second."

"What's up?" Rogue asked.

"I wanted to see if you'd help me out with the tailor from hell. I want to upgrade my uniform to that bulletproof fabric, make a few minor modifications, that sort of thing."

"Okay," she replied, standing up.

"Hang on," Jean added, "I'll come along."

"Uh..." Will faltered.

"Wait a minute," Betsy said to Jean, "you're not going to be the only former model who gets input."

"I..." Will started to say.

"I suppose I should come along," Ororo sighed, "if only to keep you two from arguing telepathically."

At what point did I lose control of this process? Will thought to himself as he followed the four chatting women, looking strikingly like a dog on a leash who is being dragged in an unwanted direction.

"You're right, Rogue," Betsy said clinically. "It is a nice butt."

"Told you."

"The abs could use some work, though."

"Could we dispense with the anatomical comments, please?" Will asked in a pained voice.

"We're just teasing, Will," Jean said with a grin.

"No, I wasn't," Betsy protested.

Ororo fought to keep from laughing at Will's expression. She decided that he wasn't as embarrassed about standing in front of four women wearing only briefs as much as the fact that Jean and Betsy were viewing his body with the professional detachment of former models, while Rogue was practically salivating. "What sort of modifications were you considering?" she asked him.

Will gave her a grateful look. "Can you give the protective fabric the consistency and appearance of regular cloth?"


"How much impact could it take then?"

"A fifty caliber bullet wouldn't get through. There would still be heavy bruising, of course."

"Impact damage doesn't bother me. I'm just trying to prevent penetration through the skin. I don't want to spend most of my battles trying to dig out bullets."

"I can understand that. What do you want first?"

"Let's start with the shirt. Make it an Oxford collar, with two breast pockets."

"What color?"

"Make it white for now. I may change my mind later. Lengthen the tails by about four inches. I may need the extra room for flexibility."

"All right. Do you want an undershirt?"

"That depends. Would you be able to get past it if something actually got through?"

She nodded. "If there is penetration, surgical scissors can cut the material from the edge of the damaged area. It's a safety feature developed by the Shiar."

"Okay. Make it a T-shirt, very light grey."


"Black. Pleated leg. Five pockets." He thought for a moment. ""Let me see something." He walked over to the monitor. "Can we cut the bottom of the leg so that it looks like a hem goes over the boot, but it's actually inside the boot, so that nothing catches when I walk?"

Jean and Betsy looked at one another, mentally discussing the idea, then nodded. "We could put stirrups on the inside of the legs," Jean suggested.

Will considered it. "Let's give it a shot."

"Give us a minute to work it out," Betsy suggested as she and Jean worked at another terminal.

"Put on buttons for suspenders," he requested. "I really don't want my trousers slipping at a crucial moment."

"But that might provide a convenient distraction," Rogue said with a smirk.

"For the team, or just you?"

"Oh, I'd enjoy it, too," Ororo volunteered. "Elastic suspenders?"

"Yes. Four straps, please."



"Shoes and socks?"

"Let's try a mid-ankle high hiking shoe, distressed leather, black, black sole, steel toe. Thick black cotton socks, knee-length."

"Bolo tie again?"

"Yes, but I'll take care of that part. Black vest, cloth front, satin back with a belt. Oh, and a black belt with a polymer buckle."

"But you have the suspenders," Jean protested.

"Better safe than sorry. Black leather gloves. Grey fedora, felt, black band. Coat, heavy cloth, no belt, smoke grey, three buttons, four interior pockets. I'll put Forge's new gizmos on the lapels. That should do it."

"What about your weapons?" Rogue asked.

"I want to wait until Bishop finishes work on the holster before I load myself down with gear again. Just generate the uniform for now so I can check the fit."

"Good timing," Betsy told him. "The pants are ready."

"Running program," Ororo announced. About thirty seconds later, the computer spoke. "Cycle complete."

"Ding," Rogue chimed.

"Will gave her an amused look. "It's safe?" he asked.

Ororo nodded, then flipped a switch. "The light is on. Give it a try." Will opened the door to the chamber and stepped inside.

"Can I watch?" Rogue asked.

"Let's keep it a surprise." He closed the door.

"Hey, Ororo, can you turn on the camera?"

"I heard that!"

Four giggles were the only reply.

A few minutes later, the door opened again. "Well?" he asked as he stepped out.

"Very impressive," Jean said.

"You certainly won't have any problem blending in," Betsy told him. "Cover your eyes and face, and you could hide in the shadows."

"It may be my imagination," Ororo said, "but I think it makes you look slimmer."

"That's probably the dark colors," he suggested. "What about you, Rogue?"

"Well, the beard definitely makes you look more distinguished... and a bit older. I think Betsy's right. You might get a second glance from civilians, but you sure won't attract attention the way our costumes do."

"Ah, but you lovely ladies always attract attention, no matter how you may be dressed."

"Flatterer," Ororo said with a smile.

"How does it fit?" Betsy asked.

Will squatted down and twisted his upper body to the left and right. "I think the pants need to be a little looser in the rear. The cut's a bit confining."

"You're not about to start singing falsetto on us, are you?"

"They're not that confining. You did remind me of something, though."

"What's that?"

"I'm going to need some sort of protection for that general area. Think about it: somebody lands one good kick, and I'm down for a long time." He took off his hat and looked at it clinically. "I should probably figure out some way to armor this, too."

"That should not be a problem," Ororo said. "I can run it through again, and put a layer of impact gel between the felt and the liner."

"What's impact gel?"

"Another fine creation by Forge. It consists of two thin layers of plastic, or something like it, I suppose, filled with resin."

"It looks sort of like a cold pack," Jean added.

"And is normally as supple as one. When one of the plastic layers suffers enough blunt force, however, the gel hardens within a few centoseconds, becoming as resilient as six inches of steel."

"So the fabric hardens, and the bullet bounces right off," Will finished. "I like it. What's the catch?"

"The catch is that once it hardens. It's impossible to move if you're wearing the stuff," Betsy told him.

"So you can't use it in your uniforms, but it'll work for my hat."


"Can the gel take normal wear and tear without hardening?"

"No problem," Jean told him.

"Let's do that, then." He tossed the hat back into the chamber. "We may as well recycle."

After arguing with the computer for a few minutes, Ororo finally got it to understand what she wanted, and a new, armored hat was ready. Will looked at it approvingly. "Good work. Anybody have the time?"

"It's just after nine-thirty," Betsy said.

"I think I'll call it a night, then."

"Good idea," Ororo replied. "You have the night watch tomorrow."

"I'll try to sneak in a nap during the afternoon, then. Good night, all."

"Hey," Rogue protested, "don't I get anything special?"

Will thought for a moment. "Ororo, could you make me a silk kerchief, about half a meter square?"

"What color?"


Ororo tapped at the keyboard for a moment. Ten seconds later, the kerchief was ready. Will removed it from the chamber, then walked over to Rogue and held it up by two corners, at about face level. "Could you hold this for a second?" he asked.

"Okay," she said with a smile.

Once she held the kerchief, Will wrapped his arms loosely around her waist and back, then dipped her down. Once the kerchief settled, covering her face, he pressed his lips to hers.

Betsy pressed a button on her watch. "Beginning count now," she announced.

Three and a half minutes later, Will had to come up for air. He helped Rogue to her feet, without dislodging the kerchief. "Night, love," he said casually as he left.

Rogue stood there, motionless, for several seconds. Betsy, who was becoming worried, stood up and walked over to her, pulling off the kerchief.

She had a look of dreamy bliss on her face, and her eyes were unfocused and lidded. "Are you all right?" Betsy asked her.

Rogue slowly turned to her. "I'm fine, Betts," she said in a low, husky voice, "just fine."

"He was that good?" Ororo asked.

"Uh huh."

Will studied his new uniform in his mirror, nodding in satisfaction. Not bad, he thought to himself. Not bad at all. He changed into a pair of sweatpants, then spent fifteen minutes or so copying several files from his desktop computer to his new laptop. Once that was done, he sat cross-legged on his bed, opened his notebook, and started transcribing the first chapter of his novel.

A few minutes later, or so it seemed to him, there was a knock at his door. "Come in," he called.

Ororo walked in, dressed in a short white robe. "I was about to go to bed, then I noticed that your light was on. I wanted to let you know that I appreciate what you did for Rogue."

"It's not like I didn't enjoy it," he said with a grin.

"True. May I sit down?" He nodded, and she settled gracefully at the foot of his bed, mirroring his pose. "Rogue has been my good friend for several years now. I can honestly say that I have never seen her happier than since you joined us. I just thought that I should thank you for that."

"I want her to be happy," he said, putting the computer aside for a moment and wrapping his arms around his legs. "I just wish I could help her solve her biggest problem."

Ororo nodded sympathetically. "We have been seeking a solution to her control problem ever since she joined us. Nothing that we have tried thus far has worked."

"Is the core of the problem physical or psychological?"

"Charles seems to believe that it is a combination of both. He thinks that she has a physical problem which is exacerbated by psychological factors, such as low self-esteem and a need to punish herself."

"For what?" he asked, sitting up straighter. "What did she do that was so terrible?"

Ororo thought for a moment. Rogue had apparently never mentioned her history with Carol Danvers to Will, and she could see to way to bring it up which would not cause Rogue to feel hurt and betrayed. "I think it would be best if Rogue told you herself," she finally said. "I might not be the best judge of what happened."

Will looked at her dubiously, but decided not to press the issue. "All right. I might be able to help with the self-esteem issues, though."

"How so?"

"By getting her to view herself as I see her."

"And how is that?"

"As the most beautiful, precious thing in my world," he said softly.

Ororo smiled. "You have the soul of a poet."

"Thanks for the compliment," he said modestly as he saved his work and turned off the computer. "I'd better get to sleep. See you tomorrow?"

"Of course," she said as she stood up. "Since you have night watch, you can sleep late if you want." She then surprised him by bending down and giving him a light peck on the cheek.

Will smiled up at her. "Thank you, Ororo. You know, if my heart wasn't already taken..."

"But it is," she reminded him as she smiled back. Then she sighed theatrically. "Pity."

"Yes. In a crowd, my eyes see only her." He then looked at her appraisingly, admiring her long, trim legs and the low cut of the neck of her robe. "That particular outfit, however, is doing its damnedest to get my attention."

Ororo laughed. Good night, Will," she told him as she left, shutting the door behind her.

Will arose just after eight-thirty in the morning, sitting up in bed and letting out a yawn which could probably be heard in the War Room. He staggered over to his bathroom and took a lukewarm shower which improved his spirits markedly. After shaving and trimming his beard, he looked through his closet. He chose to dress up a little that day, selecting a pair of navy Dockers, a dark red dress shirt, his lapis lazuli bolo tie, and a black vest. He pinned his pocket watch to the vest, slipped his feet into a pair of casual loafers, and went down to the kitchen.

Betsy and Warren were cleaning the last of the breakfast dishes. "You're too late," Warren informed him.

"That's okay," he said cheerfully. "Juice and a banana should be enough for me." He poured himself a glass of orange juice and sat down, taking the paper from the other end of the table.

"Are you planning on going out?" Betsy asked him.

"Not really. I just felt like a change from the jeans look this morning. Where's Rogue?"

"She's in a team session with Jean, Logan, and Bobby. They should be done by ten."

"Good. Would you happen to know if I'm scheduled for anything before tonight?"

She glanced at the bulletin board next to the refrigerator. "You've got dinner duty. Other than that, you've got the day off. You might want to take a nap if you've got monitor duty, since you'll be up all night."

He nodded. "I was planning on it." He stood up and looked in the cupboards and freezer. "I think I'll make lasagna for tonight," he decided, taking out packages of Italian sausage and ground beef.

Betsy nodded in approval. "Do we have everything for salad?" She had gained a pound or two at her last physical, and was trying to watch her weight.

"Looks like it." He tossed out the banana peel and put his glass in the dishwasher. "I'll start working on dinner around four. If Rogue asks, let her know that I'll be in my room. I have to work on my writing."

"How is that going?"

"It's starting to come together. Once I have everything in my computer, it should start going a lot faster. See you later."

Will went up to his room and opened one of his windows to let in a breeze (he had learned several weeks ago that opening the other one caused the papers on his desk to fly halfway across the room). He made his bed, then proceeded to flop right back onto it and open up his laptop. He stuck a CD in the media tray and plugged in a pair of headphones.

After typing up a few pages of the second chapter, he saw that he could add a twist to the plot, one which could throw the reader off onto a false trail. He cackled evilly to himself as he jotted the idea down into his notebook. "The things I do to my readers' minds," he said quietly.

He was so absorbed in the creative process that he didn't even hear Rogue knock on his door and come in. She stood only a few feet away from him, watching him merrily type away. She tried to decide how to best get his attention, rejecting several methods which would be fun, but might shock anyone who walked in.

She glanced around the room, then noticed that he had left one of his hats hanging on the coat rack. She took it, judged the distance, and tossed it like a Frisbee. It sailed across the room, landing in Will's lap and causing him to yelp in shock.

He yanked the headphones off his ears, then looked around the room wildly for a moment, relaxing when he saw her. "Was I that zoned out?" he asked sheepishly.

"'Fraid so," she told him with a grin. "You look nice today."

"Thanks. I wasn't in a casual mood. How did your Danger Room session go?"

"Not bad. I've had better days, but I didn't make any blunders, either. How's that going?" she asked, nodding towards the computer.

"Pretty well. I might actually get it done with some time to spare. My agent will probably think I've been replaced by a pod person." He gestured for her to sit down.

She decided to lie down, instead, taking the laptop away and settling her head in its place. "Feel like doing anything today?"

"Not really," he admitted. "I've got night watch, so I was going to take a nap later."

"I forgot about that." She stretched. "A nap sounds pretty good to me, too. Mind if we snuggle together?"

He smiled. "As if I'd ever say no. How does right after lunch sound? I'll dig out an extra bed sheet."

An idea suddenly came to her. "Hold off on the sheet. I want to look into something."

He shrugged. "Whatever you say." He stroked her shoulders and arms through her pale yellow blouse, then moved down towards her ribs and abdomen. A light sigh signaled her approval. "You know," he said casually, "I spoke with Nightcrawler after the last data transmission he sent us."

"How's he doing?" she said drowsily.

"He's fine. We talked about you for a while, and he reminded me of something that I'd almost forgotten."

"What's that?"

"How very ticklish you are."

Oh no.

Logan walked by Will's room on his way to the stairs, and was not surprised to hear Rogue's voice. What she was saying, however, did surprise him:

"Hahahaha... stopit, please... no, not there... no fair... dirty fighter, dirty ack!... No, leggo my foot..." Shriek! "Okay, okay, I surrender, you win..." She finally lowered her voice, which dissolved into giggles.

Logan continued on his way, grinning. The guy has an evil streak. I knew somethin' about him reminded him o' myself.

Henry and Ororo made hot, open-face turkey sandwiches for lunch. "This is fancier than usual," Bobby noted.

"Will has been raising the standard of what constitutes an acceptable meal," Ororo told him. "Henry and I are simply trying to meet the challenge."

"You have my vote," Will said as he sat down and poured himself a glass of milk.

"Mail call!" Betsy announced when she walked in. "Big one for you, Will," she told him, handing him a package.

He glanced at the address. "It's from Jeff. Probably the documentation for your funds." He opened the package and glanced at the contents. "I was right."

"What is the current value?" Ororo asked.

"I'll let you know once Wall Street closes for the day." He put the papers aside and started eating.

"Oh," Bishop said, "I almost forgot." He reached inside his vest and tossed an object to Will. "Your new holster. Make sure it fits."

Will slipped his arms through the straps and adjusted the holster until it fit comfortably underneath his right shoulder. "Not bad," he decided. "What's this pouch underneath?"

"They'll hold your sights and suppressor. I also added a telescopic night sight."

"Good. Is there anything suspicious I should be on the lookout for during watch tonight?"

"Not really," Ororo told him. "You know the system well enough by now to let it run on automatic. Just keep an eye on the Morlock tunnels. They're the weakest link in our defense system."

He thought about that for a moment. "I wonder if Stephen and I could develop a magical defense system that would complement our other security."

"That's not a bad idea," Xavier said, leaning back from his plate. "It would certainly help balance the scales against the technology that the Genoshans and some of our other opponents tend to use."

"I'll talk to Stephen about it at our next meeting."

As everyone got up after the meal, Rogue tapped Will lightly on the shoulder. "I'll be up in a few minutes," she told him.

"Take your time," he replied with a smile. "I want to put on something more comfortable, anyway." He headed back up to his room and changed into sweat pants and a mock turtleneck, switching to cotton socks and slipping on the white gloves which Rogue had given him. He then set his alarm clock for four P.M., a time which would give him enough leeway to have dinner ready by six.

His door opened a few minutes later, and Rogue walked in, concealing an object behind her. She had also changed into a turtleneck, and had tied her hair back in a French knot. "I just came up with this idea," she warned him, "and I probably still need to work out a few details, so please don't laugh."

"What's the idea?"

She moved her hands in front of her, revealing a small, palm-sized bundle, almost transparent. "It's a Shiar microfiber. It's only a few microns thick, and can't take much punishment, so it's useless for a uniform. But..." She unfolded the cloth, which had been shaped like a tube, then pulled it over her head and face. "It should last through a three-hour nap."

Will had to smile. "I'm associating with a bank robber."

She humphed at that. "Come on. Let's get some sleep."

They settled into spoon position on the bed, and Will wrapped one arm around her waist. She leaned back with a smile. "It's nice like this," she said. "We can both move around."

"Speaking of that," he suggested, "why don't you turn over?"

"Okay." She rolled over so that she faced him. "How's that?"

He looked at her with soft eyes. "Absolutely beautiful," he said as he lightly ran one finger along her cheek, down to where the neck of the mask met her shirt. "They should have given an award to whoever thought of women wearing turtlenecks."

"I'm glad you like it," she giggled. "Then her expression became more hesitant. "Will?"


"Would you kiss me again?" she whispered.

He smiled and drew her closer. "Never be afraid to ask me that." He then closed the distance between them and pressed his lips to hers.

The Shiar microfiber, in addition to being breathable, was also heat-permeable, so they could feel the warmth of each other's skin, if not the skin itself. The texture of the cloth was like fine satin, which gave them both the welcome illusion that they were feeling the actual sensation of skin-to-skin contact.

Will inhaled deeply once they broke contact. "How was that?" he asked her in a low voice.

She smiled. "Warm. Soft." She nestled her head in the crook of his arm. "I could get used to it."

"So could I." He lightly nuzzled her cheek with his chin. "You know, I'd be perfectly happy if we stayed like this."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I don't want you thinking that your powers make any difference to me. I love you for who you are. Past and present, bad and good. I'm not proud of everything that I've done, but you helped me see that I don't have to dwell on it. I don't want you dwelling on your past, either. We'll both just take each day as it comes, and when your burdens get to be too heavy, I'll be right here to help you carry them."

Rogue felt her eyes start to water. "That's... that's the most beautiful thing that anyone's ever said to me," she whispered. "I never thought I'd ever hear words like that."

"And what makes you think that you don't deserve beautiful things in your life? That what you did when you were thirteen... accidentally, no less... will condemn you for the rest of your life? I don't, I can't, believe that. I think that you've done enough good since that mistake for you to be able to look at yourself in the mirror... take a good, long look at yourself and your life... and be able to tell the person in the mirror 'You paid your dues. You can leave it all behind... you can put the burden down and start over.'"

"That would be so wonderful," she said wistfully as she started to drift off into sleep. "Just let it all go..."

"And dare to dream," he whispered in her ear.

She dared.


Continued in Chapter 45

Author's Note: I would like to express my thanks to Mr. John Pfeifer of G.A.T. Guns in West Dundee, Illinois, who provided the technical details for the firearms described in this chapter.


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