Categories > Comics > X-Men > Days Never Meant To Be

Making Friends and Enemies

by Spyda 0 reviews

Peter tries to find a way to escape from the Morlocks, as Max and Jimmy are under siege by agents of HYDRA who may be more than they can handle.

Category: X-Men - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Crossover,Drama - Characters: Magneto,Wolverine - Warnings: [V] [?] - Published: 2019-03-17 - 17022 words

Peter stepped forward, craning his neck up to the towering hulk of rusty-orange rock looming before him.
"I'm sorry, run that one by me just one more time," Peter's voice was a high-pitched siren of disbelief.
Ben calmed his voice, trying to sooth the atmosphere.
"Easy, kid, it ain't so bad. But we can't jes' have youse run around. It's better if youse stay here for a while. Y'll see, it's not a bad life."
"No no hell no, that does not work for me. I'm not Patrick Doohan, I am not Number Six, and you must have rocks in your frigging head if you think I'd just let you keep me prisoner like this!"
The auburn haired youth standing in the door way slid between Peter and Ben.
"Hey! Jackass, watch how you talk to him, you hear?"
Peter had no idea who this jerk was, but the puny wallflower who quailed whenever Flash Thompson made a scowly face was long gone by now. Faster than either saw, Peter grabbed the other boy's wrists, twisting them painfully, locking his arm behind his back. With a gentle push, Johnny went face first into Ben, chipping a tooth on the massive golem's rocky chest. Ben's thick, craggy fingers reached for Peter, but the boy vanished almost faster than his big blue eyes could see. Ben thought he saw movement, jerky and awkward, on the ceiling, but it disappeared in the shadows.
Johnny massaged his bleeding gums, scowling at the darkness angrily.
"That jackass! When I get my hands on him-"
Ben tried to stop Johnny, but the youth was already gone, his body wreathed in flame, the echoing rush of his jetstream drowning out Ben's protests.
"Match-head, hang on! Don't consarn it."
There was a way out. There had to be. Okay, Kurt had said that the only way out was by teleporter, but that didn't make any sense; these people needed to breathe, right? They had to get fresh air and water from somewhere?
As this thought crossed Peter's mind, he raced past a large man in a black t-shirt, spraying some laughing children with a torrent of water from his hands. Peter shook his head.
Oh god I hope he isn't the water supply around here. Now I really do have to leave, before I wind up drinking a tall, refreshing glass of dude!
Peter noticed the people staring as he ran by, but what caught his attention was the gaping look of horror on their faces as they stared past him. He was tempted to turn around, but he wasn't familiar with this place, and didn't want to miss a side tunnel or slam into a wall. A sensation, like an electric motor being pressed against the base of his skull, convinced him to divert his attention ever so briefly, turning on his feet to see a golem of raging flame rocketing towards him. He leaned back, feet flat on the mouldering cement floor, and let the human-shaped flare of flame and juvenile rage fly just inches from his head. His skin stung as the flames caressed his vicinity, then was replaced with the relative cool air behind it. Whipping himself upright, his feet instinctively flew from the damp floor, his heels feeling a splash of flame connecting with a whistling hiss less than an inch behind them. Morlocks scrambled away from the chaos, ducking under shanty awnings and into side tunnels. Children screamed and ran to whatever passed for a guardian here in the underground, as Peter juked left and right, zigging and zagging pre-emptively out of the path of any careening missiles. He leapt to the walls, hoping to find some space to breathe, or at least a chance to hide and think, only to have the muted vibrating in his skull inspire him to jump to the ceiling, just as a tidal wave of fire lapped at his former perch, blackening the masonry.
"You stupid flea, get down here and fight!" The flaming figure screamed at him in almost tangible rage.
Peter quickly shook his head, "What fight, this isn't a fight! This is me trying to get out of here and you having a hissy fit!"
Peter winced immediately, now aware of his talent for saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. In a blink and an adolescent roar of anger, the ceiling was painted with white hot liquid flame, licklets of fire whistling to the floor like miniature meteors. The cascade of fire rained down over Peter, who nimbly twisted away. His right hand shot out, and with rapid twin taps of the button on his palm, a rope of silver fluid shot out, catching the flaming figure in the face. The figure pulled at the silver strands, grunting and screaming in rage, inchoate words streaming from it's lips. Suddenly Peter found himself thrown back, as a ring of fire exploded out of the figure, igniting the nearby shacks and hovels. Peter's own foot caught flame, and he scrambled to slap the fire out as the blinded inferno walked towards him. Globs of molten silver dripped from the figures eyes, sizzling as it splattered messily against his chest, his face contorted with rage. Peter thought quickly about his options – who ever this guy was, he was like Mark Raxton, the Molten Man, in some respects. But Peter had lost that fight, and it looked like he was about to lose this one, too. A flaming dart whizzed past his head, singeing his hair and putting his mind back in the fight. Peter ducked behind a column of brick, assessing his options quickly. He could hear a voice amidst the flames, indignant and young, screaming for blood. Looking around, he spotted, hidden well under the chaotic shadows and flashes of orange light the flames were giving off, a stone arch, leading down another tunnel. Moving quickly, the flames coming closer, he whipped out his wrist, and with a liquid noise, pulled himself like a shot along the silver line he had thrown at the wall. With a second line and a stronger pull, he was down the tunnel, engulfed in the moist blackness.
Thick and heavy feet tread down the slick cement floor, as Morlocks on both sides of him rushed to save their hovels and meagre possessions from the flames. Blankets were wrapped over smouldering tarps to smother them, and the water-man in the black t-shirt – Morrie, was his name – sprayed his liquid form over whatever burning patches remained. Small blue eyes scanned from beneath the craggy brow of Ben Grimm. He didn't know if he was going to try to talk Johnny down, or throttle the both of them for letting things get this bad, but he knew he had to find them fast. Before the Morlock Tunnels became a firetrap.
Johnny stomped through the tunnels, his body wreathed in blinding white flames. He cast his eyes over the fire-lit corridors, looking for any sign of the little punk that blind-sided him and hurt Ben. Nobody hurt Ben. And this little shit was going to ruin everything, Johnny just knew it. He had to find this kid, had to make sure he wouldn't cause any trouble for them.
Johnny coughed and blinked as the air in the tunnel became foul with the stench of rotten eggs, thick curls of black smoke lingering around his head.
"Johnny, what the hell, man? You torched the promenade? What the heck are you doing?"
Johnny peeked at Kurt Wagner from the corner of his eye, his face still angry and determined.
"The little shit attacked Ben, Fuzzy. He's gotta learn some manners if he's gonna stay down here."
Kurt hung back a step, stunned; "Wait...he didn't hurt Ben, did he?"
Johnny stopped in his tracks. A light poked through the fog of anger clouding his vision. Ben...Ben hadn't been hurt. Johnny wasn't even sure Ben could be hurt. But Johnny had been. His face still stung and throbbed from where it had collided with Ben. He ran his tongue over his teeth. There was a thin taste of copper, and one of his molars felt different. But...nothing permanent.
Kurt took a tenuous step forward. "He didn't, did he? Then again I ask, what the serious hell, man?"
Johnny said nothing, and his face seemed to soften. The anger in his eyes faded, and he turned back to Kurt. "Jesus man, I was going to kill this creep."
Kurt sighed, leaning against the wall. "It looked like you were going to just torch the whole place, actually. You're lucky Mr. Bench is out there putting out the fires."
Johnny shook the last embers of rage from his head. "Aw hell...I guess I'd better go help him, huh?"
"I think that would be best. Probably convince everyone not to call for your exile or something."
"Th-they wouldn't really do that, would they? Exile me?"
"You weren't here when Callisto was running the show, that lady had a tem-"
Kurt Wagner twisted his head in surprise, as something tackled into Johnny like a shot from a cannon. Half turning, half leaping, and slamming in the wall behind him in the doing, he saw the spider-kid send Johnny flying backwards with a solid fist to the face. Standing, half-cloaked in shadow, his hands and feet coated in a thick, shimmering shell of silver twine, Peter stood, his teeth clenched and his muscular arms tensing.
"Alright, sucker – you had your shot! Now it's my turn!"

Max Eisenhart stared out the window as the truck pulled up to the cabin house. It was like something out of a movie, or pulled off the label of a bottle of maple syrup. Warm, quaint, well-maintained, and larger than he had expected. But then again, he hadn't expected a freaking log cabin in the first place.
His diminutive driver Eugene killed the engine, pulling the keys from the ignition, and clucked his tongue.
"Whelp, this is it, eh? C'mon, I'll introduce you. Just...don't get yer hopes up, right? He might not be...the friendliest sort, ol' Jimmy."
Eugene hopped out of the driver's seat and walked around the truck to the cabin's front door.
Max stepped out, feeling the gravel crackle under his boot, the grey wind stinging his face.
The cabin reminded him of the ones he had seen as a child, when his father took him to visit his grandparents in Switzerland. They had a villa they kept for special gatherings, New Years and the such, and the sight of the high-peaked roof and the warm glowing windows practically tasted of his Uncle Herman's aquavit.
Eugene trundled to the door on his little legs, and knocked on the solid wooden panelling sharply.
He stood back, rocking back and forth on his heels. Looking up at Max, he smiled.
"He's not a bad guy, really. A bit gruff...and never get between him and a beer. Or meat. Or anything showing the ol' game, eh? But not a bad guy ta know, if ya put in the effort."
Max opened his mouth to speak, when the door opened, and a tall, roan-skinned woman with long black hair tied into sweeping braids answered.
"Eugene? What in the name-"
"Hey, Kayla!" Eugene stepped into the house as if he owned it, the woman - "Kayla," Max reminded himself – standing aside to let him pass, apparently nonplussed by his audacity. "Is he here? I didn't see him on the road."
The woman rubbed her temples, sighing, a vein on the side of her head throbbing.
"Eugene, this really isn't the time. Could you come back later?"
Max dutifully stood outside, not wanting to intrude, but when Kayla realized that Eugene wasn't listening, she surrendered and waved Max inside. He stepped in, standing by the door awkwardly.
"Thank you, Ma'am. This is a very lovely house."
Kayla waved at him halfheartedly. "Thanks. Eugene, what are you doing? He isn't seeing anyone. And who's this?"
Eugene nodded to Max, smiling. "Take off yer boots, ya big goof. This is Max, Kayla. Max Eisenhart, this is Kayla Silver Fox. Jimmy's missus."
Kayla pulled out a pair of coffee mugs from the cupboard and set a kettle of water onto the stove.
"Missus," she scoffed good-naturedly. "Well it's a step up from when you used to introduce me as his 'squaw,' I suppose."
As the water boiled, Kayla walked around the table to the carpeted wooden stairs going down, standing at the top.
"James! We have guests!"
Max hesitantly pulled off his boots, uneasy with their intrusion into the home. He looked around at the walls, covered in portraits and tchotchkes. Kayla, a shorter, stockier looking man with a ridiculous upswept hairstyle, smiled back from one of the pictures on the wall, the man holding up a large salmon suspended from a hook in it's mouth. There were pictures of a small girl, her mother's green eyes, her father's black hair, riding a horse in full kit, or figure skating; a tableau of her life, her growth through the years. Max felt a sharp twinge, and wiped at his burning eyes. The girl reminded him so much of his own daughters, his Wanda, and Lorna, and Anya, and his chest felt empty at the memory of them
A hoarse voice made Max turn around. The man from the picture stood before him, wearing a red flannel shirt and a cowboy hat. He seemed wider at the shoulders, broader, than the pictures on the wall had indicated. His face was stony grim, his grey eyes measuring Max. Eugene beamed a wide smile, hopping off the chair and slapped the man on the small of the back. Max assumed it had been meant as a friendly gesture, but Eugene's small stature made it look a bit awkward. The man kept his eyes on Max.
"Hey Jimmy! Good, you're here. Come on, sit with us, runt, we got something ta talk ta you about!"
Jimmy only stared at Max uneasily. "What's he doing here, Gene?" His voice was a growl, like someone had trained a fighting dog to speak English while gargling road gravel.
"That's what we got to talk about. Jimmy, this is Max. He's got a thing, a-a-a business proposition for ya, so just hear him out, eh?"
Jimmy stewed the thought, rolled it around in his mouth. A silent look to Kayla, and she excuse herself from the room, mumbling something about leaving the men to their business. Max felt uneasy about all this. What had Moira gotten him into?
Jimmy sat at the table, eyes still on Max.
"Well, you gonna sit down, or do I gotta crane my neck up ta talk ta you?"
Max clumsily pulled out a chair, and sat.
"Alright, you sawed-off hockey puck, what's all this flamin' hubbub about?"
Max bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Who even talks like this?, he thought.
"Right, okay, Max here is working with Moira MacTaggert, right? You remember her?"
Jimmy lowered his head, hooding his eyes.
"Okay, okay, I know you ain't done the job since Laura disappeared, but this ain't the job. This is something else. Moira said she needed some intel on some folks, good fighters and such, and you were the first one to come to mind. Jimmy, come on, just hear him out, eh? What could it hurt?"
Jimmy sat silently in thought, before getting up and opening the fridge, pulling out three beers. He set them on the table, handing one to Eugene, sliding one in front of Max, and popping the third open for himself.
"Alright, silvertop, let's hear it. What's so flamin' important ya had to interrupt the game?"
Max tried to remember how his tongue worked, stumbling to recall words and language. There was something silently intimidating about this man, something that made you suddenly self-aware and self-conscious, as if the wrong word would end things very badly.
Max thought for a second, then moved his hand over the cap to his beer, laying on the formica-patterened table. "First, Mr. Howlett, allow me to show you that you can trust me." A low, silent hum began to vibrate the air, coming from some distant place nobody could pinpoint. The bottlecap twitched in the shadow of Max' hand, slowly lifting off the table, until it floated silently a solid four inches off the table. Then, with as much effort as it took to raise the cap, Max lowered it back onto the ring of dew on the tabletop where it had previously sat.
Eugene stared at the sight. Moira hadn't told him what Max could do, just that he could do something.
Jimmy, on the other hand, was unimpressed. He raised his left arm, straightened it, and formed a fist, and with a spurt of blood and a wet metallic sound, three long blades exploded from his flesh.
"Big deal, silvertop. We all got ours." He said this with a smirk, as blood ran thick down his arm, dripping off his elbow onto the tile. With a tense of his wrist muscles, the blades disappeared back into his arm, and the blood stopped flowing. He took a cloth from a hook on the wall, and wrapped it around his bloody arm, cleaning himself off, and mopping up the thin red puddle on the kitchen floor. He pulled out a jug of bleach from beneath the sink, and shot Eugene a conspiratorial glance.
"Eh...Gene, no need to tell Kayla I did that on her clean floor, right? She'd flip shit if I got my blood
Eugene chuckled softly, "Yeah, just...warn a body when you pull that stunt, eh?"
Max shook his head in horror, and pulled down another swill of beer. "My god," he muttered. "Didn't that hurt?"
Jimmy laughed, shaking the table. "Are you kidding? Did you see all that blood? It hurt like Hell! But that's my thing – it don't matter how badly I get chewed up, I always grow right back, y'know?"
Max took a second to compose himself, clearing his throat.
"Mister Howlett, my school could use a man like you on board."
"Why, you thinking the kids'll need lessons on how to mutilate themselves?"
Max measured his words. This had to be done right.
"The secondary, honestly. The idea for all of this, the school and everything else, it was thought up by an old friend of mine. Charles Xavier. He...he died, before he could make it happen, but he asked that I see his dream become a reality. The world needs to see us, see what we really are, and not just mutants. With the President and his Anti-Exotic Initiative running roughshod over basic human rights, exotics of every stripe are on the chopping block. What the world needs is an example."
With a raised hand, Jimmy stopped Max.
"Okay, stop right there. This is turning into the old spiel HYDRA tried to sell me back in the sixties."
Max' eyes went wide. "H-HYDRA?"
"Hey, I told them 'no'. I don't do the whole 'terrorist-Kool-Aid-waiting-for-the-Mother-Ship thing."
Max winced. He was failing this. "No, you misunder—I'm not explaining this right, I'm sorry. I'm not trying to recruit you for something sordid or illegal – at least, not anything illegal outside of our existence. I'm not talking about planting bombs or trying to intimidate the nation into leaving us alone.
I'm talking about inspiring them, convincing them through legitimate means that we deserve a place in this world. Charles was never about conquest or rule of force; he was a negotiator first and foremost. That's the plan. Show them the good exotics can do, and they'll welcome us to the table. It won't be easy, but...I believe it can be done."
Jimmy Howlett rolled the proposal around in his mouth, thinking carefully. Max said nothing, not wanting to put on the pressure sale, but Eugene couldn't keep himself contained.
"Well? Jimmy, I dunno about all this, but it sounds better than just moping about here doing nothing, eh?"
A pair of hooded eyes shot out a glare at Eugene, and he seemed to shrink down. Jimmy stood up, finishing off his beer can. "Sorry you came all this way for nothing, pal. But I got my own things to worry about right now. Eugene, you take care now, but you'll both excuse me."
And with that, Jimmy Howlett walked out of the kitchen.

"I'm sorry about that, eh?" Eugene tried to console Max on the way back to the truck.
Max only shook his head. "It's alright. I didn't imagine that I'd be batting a thousand as a recruiter."
"It's just, he's got a lot on his mind right now."
Max stopped at the truck door. "The girl in the picture...she's the matter, isn't she?"
Eugene's face turned ashen. "Laura. Yeah. She went missing a few months ago. Jimmy's convinced she was snatched, but the cops think she just ran away. He'd go looking for her too, but I get the feeling he knows exactly where she is, and he's too afraid to go after her. Afraid of the people who have her."
Max looked back at the cabin, chilling his teeth with a sharp intake of the frigid northern air.
"Who has her? Maybe I can help?"
Eugene climbed into the truck. He rubbed his temples in exasperation.
"Look, it's...Jimmy has some secrets. Even I don't know what they all are. But the way I hear Kayla say it, those claws of his weren't always made of metal. Someone did that to him, someone Jimmy looked for, and never found. They're the reason he wakes up screaming, the reason the two of them haven't shared a bed since Laura was born. These people, who ever they are, turned him into that – metal claws and way too much beer to dull the night terrors, and they have his daughter. Frankly, it's a miracle Jimmy's any kind of sane at all."
Max was silent the entire trip back to Eugene's bar. His mind rolled over thoughts of his own children.
If he closed his eyes, he could still feel the flames as they ate at his home, the life he had built with Magda and his four children curling and blackening with the wallpaper. His neighbours had become swept up in President Cinege's Roma purges. People he had thought of as friends, colleagues, had taken to the streets, driven mad with hatred and the lies of a wicked man, and his family had been the one to pay the price. He had come home from work that day, having had an argument with his employer over the matter of some back pay, only to find his wife's shop and the apartment above it engulfed in flames, an angry mob pelting the fire department with bottles and bricks to keep them away and let the place burn. One of them saw Max, recognized him, and shouted something vile; Max felt pain, blackness, weight upon his chest. His neighbours had pinned him down, beating him with rocks and sticks and whatever else they could find, his eyes never leaving the burning wreck of his home, his family.
It was a girl's voice calling out that woke him from his torpor. Wanda. Sweet, innocent Wanda, with her fiery eyes and wilful spirit. His eyes flared in a rage of binding hope – his family lived! They could be saved! And with a-
Max came back to reality. There were no grand heroics that bloody day. No righteous vengeance, no noble deeds, no wrongs righted. Only compounded. Blood upon blood. Yes, Wanda had been saved, along with her twin brother Pietro, and for that small miracle, Max would always be glad. But his wife Magda, his older daughters Lorna and Anya...they were gone. His life in Hungary was burned down along with his home. Now he was in America; Wanda was studying in Brazil, and Pietro...Pietro was gone, lost.

Max retired to the room above Eugene's bar. The diminutive bar-back had offered it to him for the night, and Max, drained by his long and ultimately fruitless trip, was in no condition to politely refuse the promise of a soft bed and a few hours rest. He ate and showered in an exhausted fugue state, and collapsed on the bony mattress, inhaling the dust from the pillow and finding himself drifting into a dark, dreamless sleep.

The camper pulled up through the thick canopy of the forest. It sagged deep into the moist dirt and muck, and with a rolling jerk, the driver and his passenger stepped out. A man and woman, he with sandy blond hair kept loose about his head, she, crowned by fiery tresses that hung around her shoulders. The man – James – took a sharp breath through his teeth, letting the cold grey mist slip through his lips. He looked down the hill at the cabin below, the lights inside only now starting to go dark. He turned to the redhead, who was now working her way to the back of the camper.
"We're upwind. Is it ready, Heather?"
Heather pulled the trailer door open, and reached inside, pulling out a slender arm, then the slight and pale scarecrow of a figure it was attached to. "It just needs the atomizer strapped on. Help me with that James, it's being difficult again."
James walked back to Heather and the creature. It looked human, arms and legs and head in the right places and right amounts. It's head was shorn bald, and a bulky visor, like a pair of futuristic sunglasses out of an old 1980's punk rock music video, weighed heavily on it's face. In the fleeting moonlight made available by the meandering clouds above, a vaguely female form could be made out, if one were to think to do so.
James took out a small black box from inside the camper, and opened it, producing a thick, doughnut-shaped device. With a press on an obscured latch, it clicked open, and he fit it around the pathetic girl-creature's neck. The creature snorted, the only sound it made, like an asthmatic accordion trying to fill it's bellows. Heather opened her thin windbreaker, revealing a skin-tight suit made of what looked like hard white plastic, circuitry crossing the surface faintly, glowing pale red under the moonlight.
"I hate using this thing, James. I don't trust it."
James had by now changed into his own uniform, green and white, tucking his jacket into the camper.
"I know, Heather. But Hull House thought it would be poetic to use it here. This son of a bitch has been giving General Clarke nightmares for years, and now that we know where he is, we're to put him down terminally."
The creature lurched forward arthritically, as if on rusted stilts, and James and Heather followed at a close distance. As the three approached the Howlett cabin, Heather and James drifted upwards into the air smoothly; the creature's visor opened, black slates of plastic shuttering to the side like horse blinders. With a wet mechanical pop, a thin green mist exploded from the collar around it's neck, filling it's head with a sour, musky smell, a scent that dilated it's eyes to pinpricks and set it's heart rate skyrocketing. With a sharp growl, the creature that was a girl lunged towards the cabin, twin blades of shimmering moon-lit metal erupting bloodily from it's hands as it leapt at through the nearest black window.

Something cold and distant woke Max with a start. It was like a metal chord was struck, something hollow and resonating inside his skull. He sat up in the darkness, and reached for the light, wincing as the darkness screamed and recoiled from the glowing glare of the bedside lamp. As he stood up, it rang out again, noiseless but echoing, something familiar and yet alien. Max opened the door, and slowly slipped downstairs in the indigo dark, finding his way outside, in time to hear the tuneless knell a third time. He knew this feeling; it was the same metallic hum that accompanied his magnetic powers, only writ large, like some vast cyclotron was powering up in the distance. The sensation was coming from the woods behind the bar, up the road towards the Howlett's cabin.
Max threw on his grimmest frown, and in a silent splash of ozone and static electricity, he was gone,slicing through the cold night air like a shot from a cannon.

Johnny daubed at the stinging spider's web of blood splattered across his face. Kurt tried to calm the thick fog of rage that had settled in the tunnel.
"Let's not do anything stupid, Peter. You're still outnumbered, and Johnny didn't mean anything by – well, trying to cook you. Just calm down, and -"
Johnny barely saw Peter's arm move, only a blur of motion and Kurt splashing into the wall limply.
Peter clenched his teeth, and stepped towards Johnny, and in a wheezing expulsion of indigo smoke, Kurt tackled Peter from behind. Johnny braced himself for the two youths to collide with him, but the raw, nostril-burning stench of sulphur struck him before either of the two combatants.

Ben Grimm surveyed the damage of the Morlock alcoves and tunnels. The ceilings were scarred with black ash, and the walls bore the marks of a small explosion. Tents that once lined the walls were now stinking heaps of melted plastic, and threads of silver gossamer danced in the meagre, stale breeze made by the milling and rushing of the confused and frightened Morlocks. Children were rushed to safety by their elders, and blankets and buckets were in full force to kill what lingering flames remain.
He scanned the wreckage of Johnny and Peter's alpha male temper tantrum, swinging his ice-blue eyes side to side, taking everything in. He chewed on his cigar, and continued on, almost crushing the two youths underfoot when they exploded into being in a burst of sulphur and inky smoke.
"Holy cats!" Ben shouted, nearly stumbling backwards as he stumbled not to step on anyone.
Kurt held Peter in a headlock with his legs, trying to grab a hold of the thrashing boy's legs and catching a heel in the eye for his trouble. Someone threw an elbow, someone responded with a fist, and Ben just stormed over, his eyes flashing with anger.
"Awright, you chuckleheads, wrestlin' time is DONE!"
The tunnel shook with Ben's voice, and Peter poked his head up out of the tangled heap. Thick, rocky fingers gripped the back of his neck, and pulled him free of Kurt's grasp. Ben hoisted the boys apart, and set them on their feet effortlessly, both stunned, reddened with temper, and more than a little humiliated.
"Blue, go find Johnny, tell him things are settled."
A burst of indigo smoke and brimstone, and Kurt was gone. Peter felt an inner heat in his face, although he wasn't sure if it was from the fight, or from the dressing down he knew he was looking at.
Ben turned his watery-blue eyes to Peter, his thick stony jaw set. Peter couldn't quite read his facial expressions, but the low growl told him this one was nothing good.
"An' you, kid! What's the big idea, tearin' our homes up, hm?"
Peter looked up at Ben; suddenly, the humiliation in his face drained away. His jaw jutted out, his eyes focused and locked onto Ben's. For his part, Ben softened, just a bit.
"Look, ain't so bad down here. Youse'll get used to it, okay? Jes' give it some time."
Peter lifted himself onto the points of his toes, bringing his face up to Ben's.
"No. Let me go, or we'll have more fights tomorrow. And the day after that, and the day after that. I heal fast, I move fast, and I hit hard, and the longer I'm kept prisoner, the angrier I will get. How long do you think it'll be before I just stop caring and don't pull my punches anymore?"
Any shred of kindness, any humanity or grace, that may have remained in Ben's face, melted away, and like a great orange mountain, he loomed over Peter, gritting his teeth.
"Ya don't want this, kid. I'm tryin' ta meet ya half-way here. It ain't personal, but ya can't leave. I can't risk all these people jes' fer you!"
Before Peter could let loose the string of profanity sitting on his tongue, his eyes went glassy, his head swayed limply on his neck, and he fell back onto his butt, giggling breathlessly. Ben's eyes darted up, and in looking around, he spied the apple-faced grandmother stepping through the throngs of Morlocks that had gathered around their leader and this upstart newcomer.
"Hmph...thanks, Annalee," Ben huffed. The old woman nodded quietly, and stepped back. Peter rolled his head around the room, his eyes unfocused, some part of his mind grasping for any purchase on reality. Ben loomed over Peter, his big blue eyes gazing sadly at the dazed youth.
"Kid, I'm sorry, but...but you'll see. It's not so bad. But first, take a nap."
If you were to ask him later, Ben would say he only tapped the kid. But to everyone watching, Ben Grimm's kick to the boy's face was anything but a "tap".

It was the cold that did it. Peter had been sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Ben had just told the same barbershop joke he told every year, and May asked for the potatoes. A hand stretched from Peter's left, handing her the bowl. Peter looked at the hand, then up along the arm to it's owner. Norman Osborn smiled at him, that same sick, slimy used-car-salesman smile he always seemed to wear around Peter. The dining room lights seemed to give him a sick, green hue, and Peter felt his stomach tighten up. His eyes focused on the form beyond Norman, brown eyes and blonde hair and that button nose. He felt his face stretch into a smile as the soft smell of crushed lavender mixed with the oregano in the stuffing. Gwen. She never looked more beautiful. Something wet pooled at Peter's eyes, and his heart felt dark and heavy, and suddenly, Uncle Ben was saying something, but his voice was thick and metallic. Peter turned to his Uncle, and saw him, smiling, scooping a mountain of mashed potatoes onto his plate, still speaking, a small hole drilled into his chest. Peter stared at the hole, ignoring the coppery tinge in his uncle's voice, just staring, watching a black teardrop pool from the hole and stain his shirt, spreading out like the ripples in a pond. And then, he just dropped forward, splattering into the mashed yams and upending the gravy boat. Peter went aback, his eyes cold and wide with the stark horror of his Uncle's collapse, while Aunt May went on about something she saw on television, some awful man swinging through the city. Peter watched her lips move, watched as they shrank down, tightening, withering, until her face was pulled tight against her skull. A cold wave of horror washed over him, starting in the pit of his stomach, then spreading through his face. The windows behind her glowed bright white and orange, the screeching roar of something massive passing by. The windows flared blinding white, and the curtains burst into flame as the skeleton May droned on, her words lost in the rush of blood and fire coursing through Peters ears.
Then the cold came in waves, and the last thing Peter saw was the roof burning off, and May's flesh cracking and flaking away into the whiteness above.

It took a second for Peter to remember where he was and why he was so cold. He unpeeled his face from the mildewed floor, wiping the wetness from his eyes. The dream. Always the dream.
Sitting up, he rubbed his jaw. Something hard hit him, and left a pattern stamped into his skin; from the feel of it, it was something cracked, like sun-baked road. He ran his tongue over his teeth, gauging the damage. If he could still go to the dentist without having Iron Man show up and try to blow his head off, he'd probably need some bonding for the chip in his teeth, but giving how big Ben Grimm was, and how much Peter's hands had stung from the initial attack that kickstarted all this, chipped teeth were nothing compared to what could have happened.
He felt around the dark room. Well, not completely dark – once his eyes had adjusted a bit, he noticed a small barred window near the ceiling, letting just barely any light at all. Tensing his legs like steel springs, Peter leapt to the wall, landing vertically, and palming the slick, mouldering brickwork.
Blinking, he pressed his eye to the window, and saw the Morlocks walking past, feet, hooves, claws, tentacles, all sorts of different colours and shapes. He could see the market he had nearly demolished in his rampage, saw the people going about, as if nothing had happened. Children with their guardians going shopping, people haggling over the price of strange looking mushrooms and bottles of clean water, trading what looked like little glass beads for reams of white cloth and misshapen carrots. This was a city, or at least a small town, and he had done so much damage to it. He could see a few people mixing some greyish gruel and using it to patch holes in the wall, holes he had put there. The sudden realization that these were people, this was their home, and that he had made it a little less safe for them, even for a second, hit him harder then Ben had. He flashed back to the church where Max had found him, cornered and afraid and angry that his one sanctuary had been stripped away, and he quickly ducked into a corner to retch. These people had nothing but this secret world to keep them safe, and he took that from them. The weight of this idea sank him to his knees, and the tears came quickly and freely.
A metal latch noisily protested somewhere in the dark, and the shadows cut into the shape of a doorway. Peter didn't notice Kurt pouring in from the tunnel outside, only turning in a stunned jolt when a metal tray was placed on the floor. Peter eyed the tray in surprise, uncertain if the food was safe.
"You don't need to worry, it's not drugged or anything."
Peter cast his eyes up to the faint indigo outline of a person, just inside the murk and shadow.
"Kurt, right?"
A fanged smile flashed in the darkness, catching the light from outside the window.
"You remembered? I didn't think you would remember my name."
Peter shrugged, "I'm meeting all sorts of new people lately, I guess I'm just good at names."
He sat on the damp floor, mulling over the food on the plate hesitantly, when Kurt piped up.
"Sorry if you're expecting poison, we used up the last of our cyanide on last week's chili night."
Peter chuckles, but it was a hollow sound. "Thanks, I prefer arsenic anyways. Cyanide gives me gas."
Kurt let out a short, dry snort of a laugh, but Peter's face became sullen again. "So, what happens next? Trial, execution, what's the word out there?"
In the dim light, he could see the pointed, shadowed features of Kurt's face fall.
"We're not monsters, Peter. Nobody wants to hurt you, we just...don't want you to hurt us, either."
"Then tell that big rock pile to let me go, and I won't fight back. I don't like being kept somewhere I don't want to be."
Kurt only stood up. After the longest ten seconds, he sighed tiredly, and turned to leave.
"It's not a bad life down here. You'll like it. You'll learn to like it."
He was halfway out the door when he looked back into the darkened cell.
"We all had to learn to like it."

Ben Grimm's thick feet trod the moist cement floor of his "office". The week-old stogie clenched in his teeth had lost it's flavour days ago, but cigars were as rare as gemstones down in the tunnels, and he wasn't going to mash this one out until he had burned through it. Johnny Storm winced as the bearded old healer daubed at his bleeding face with his hands.
"Hold still, Johnny, my powers barely work on you as it is without you flinching all the time."
Johnny gritted his teeth, eyeing the old man indignantly.
"The little freak's stronger than he looks," he hissed through clenched teeth.
"Yeah, well nobody told youse two ta get all punchy, now did they?"
Ben was in a mood, the likes of which Johnny hadn't seen in a while.
"Hey, he attacked you first, I was just-"
"Bein' terminally stoopid, I know. Damn, Hothead, youse nearly burned the whole joint down. Do I look hurt, kid?"
As Johnny flinched under Healer's ministrations, Ben sat on his floor mat, resting his chin on his hand.
He rolled the smouldering cigar in his teeth. "Dis kid's gonna be trouble. I jes' know it."
Healer stood up, massaging his hands. "Ben, I've done all I can for him. Any bruising or tenderness left is beyond my ability to heal."
Ben nodded, waving Healer off. Johnny stood up, stretching his legs. "Look, Ben, I...we were both jerks, okay, but Kurt says the new kid was talking about some sort of school for people like us, and I was thinking, maybe I could-"
Ben closed his eyes, lowering his head. "We been over dis, match-head. Guys like me an' Doc S, we gotta stay down here, 'cause a' how we look. But yer famous, Johnny. Flamin' boy-astronaut an' such. Youse wouldn't last ten minutes up there, before Iron Jackass an' his goose-steppin' buddies tracked ya down."
Johnny's head sunk. Ben rose to his feet, dropping his massive hand onto the youth's shoulder. "Lissen, Johnny, I know this place ain't exactly a hotspot or nothin', but at least we got food, an' a place ta sleep, an' no lunatics in tin tuxedos tryin' ta kill us. Jes'...jes' hang in there, hm? Be patient, alright? We got two more years a' President Gyrich, then some other bozo takes the job, an' we can get that bullshit Order-682 repealed or revoked, or whatever it is."
Johnny fought back the anger and invectives that sat on his tongue, and silently left.
Ben watched as Johnny sulked away. His thick fingers clenched into a fist. Something had to be done about this Parker kid.

The Howlett residence was a war zone. The walls on fire, the furniture eviscerated in what looked like a hailstorm of kitchen knives. Electrical wiring, pulled from the walls, sparked explosively, burning the gaudy floral wallpaper. Pictures and crude crayon drawings scattered on the floor in a hectic disarray.
And kneeling behind an overturned fridge, Jimmy Howlett held onto the wounded and bleeding form of his wife, tears blurring his vision as he pressed a blood-soaked cloth to her shoulder.
"Stay with me, Kayla! Please, just stay with me!"
Kayla fumbled her fingers to Jimmy's lips, hushing him, just as the broken scarecrow figure of the girl-creature lifted it's head, tilting towards the sound.
Kayla forced her eyes open, pulling her head up to see Jimmy. "N-not so loud, James. 'S taking ev'rything I have to hide us."
The girl-creature jerked and stilted to the fridge, stepping over the broken memories of the Howlett family, sniffing and gurgling in it's throat. It climbed over the remains of a broken chair, looming over the upturned refrigerator, snuffling breathlessly at the air, searching, and finding nothing. The air had no scent, save smoke and the hazy vapourized hatred atomized up from her collar, the green pheromone driving the girl-creature to hunt. The house was otherwise deathly still, no sound, no scent, no sight. Only emptiness. The girl-creature turned away, seeking it's prey elsewhere. Jimmy watched it stalk off, down the hall to the bedroom. He waited, watching the hallway to make sure the girl-creature wasn't coming back, then, when he was confident he had a clear path, he bundled Kayla in his arms, and ran for the door, forcing it off it's hinges with his shoulder. He nearly toppled over as he stopped suddenly, blinking in disbelief at the two figures standing in the glare of xenon headlights from their vehicle.
"Well," began one of the figures, the woman, "Director Clarke won't be happy to hear his little pet can't do it's damned job."
Jimmy blinked through the light, blocking it out with his hand while struggling not to drop Kayla.
"It can't be helped, I suppose," this figure was a man, and wasn't even trying to hide his disdain. "It does come from inferior genetic stock after all."
"Well, we are dressed for a scrap, James. May as well do the job ourselves."
The hairs on Jimmy Howlett's neck stood up, and in a split second, he slid into the dirt, just inches from where his door-frame once stood, now exploded into a storm of splinters and debris. Kayla slipped from his grasp, rolling limply across the scattered gravel driveway.
"Oh that's no way to treat a lady," the woman sneered. A bolt of heat and a clap of ozone, and Jimmy felt a lash of fire go up his spine, searing off his flesh. Jimmy howled in pain, pulling himself along the ground, trying to scramble to safety, anywhere he could clear his head long enough to escape with Kayla or fight back. He screamed in agony as a heavy weight slammed into the scorched strip of flesh marring his back, thin fingers clutching at his hair, pulling his head back. The woman – Jimmy knew her, he realized, although how and from where escaped him – her fingers humming hotly near his scalp.
"Don't play with him, Heather, just kill him already. I'm a bit bored with all this wilderness, and frankly, the smell of the grimy little mutie is starting to churn my stomach."
The woman, Heather, clutched Jimmy's hair tighter; "Aw, but you never let me have any fun, James.
Please, can't I play with him. He makes the cutest screams."
James shook his head, turning back towards the house. His eyes widened when he saw the waif-thin girl-creature, on it's spindly, uneven legs, loping out of the wrecked house, trailing a rod of shredded curtains snagged around it's left ankle.
"Heather, for god's sake, finish him now, the pet's off it's leash and I don't have enough juice to fly."
The woman turned back to her partner, her smirk sick and wide, her eyes flashing madly. She slammed Jimmy's head into the ground hard, a solid metallic tang ringing out, and pulled his head back, stray bits of gravel embedded in his face.
"Aw, but that's no fun, hon. Go keep the doggie busy, and let me play with the runt a bit, hm?"
James rolled his eyes, stretching his hand out blindly. The girl-creature jerked unsteadily on it's spindly legs towards him, and in a clap of static and ozone, was hurled into the exterior wall of the house.
"Clarke is going to be pissed if we break her."
Heather giggled, as she burned the flesh off Jimmy's face with her hand; "Oh don't be such a worrywart, James. We bring back a couple lumps of this runt, or whatever's left of him, and Clarke can clone himself a whole harem of those things. Shit, I think he's done that already. He does like them young and broken, I think." Her voice raised an octave, like a child who had just found a new treat.
"Ooh, James, you have to see this! His skull is so shiny!"
Jimmy screamed incoherently, struggling to get away from Heather's tight grip. He threw his head back, catching her blood-slicked fingers in his teeth, and bit hard, feeling the wet snap of cartilage as hot copper filled his mouth. Heather howled in pain, pulling her hand back,three fingers poorer. Circuitry from her torn suit crackled and sparked where Jimmy's teeth had torn, and with a growl, he spat her fingers in her face. One amputated digit landed on the rim of her gaping mouth as she screeched in pain. Quickly, and ignoring the searing pain in his face and back, Jimmy scrambled forward a few feet, landing on his side and sending his foot into Heather's knee with a wet crack. She folded at the knee, her scream cut off as the short, bloody man moved like mercury, pressing his fist to her skull in one fluid, inhuman motion. Before her partner understood, a sound like metal rubbing against raw meat slipped out, and three sharp points came out the back of Heather's head.
Heather slumped over, convulsing briefly before falling still. Jimmy scrabbled up to his feet, and threw out the blades from his left hand, complementing his armed right.
"You fuc-" James' curse was cut short, as a sound behind him caught his attention. He turned to see the
girl creature, rising from the ground, the metal collar around it's neck split open like ripe fruit, a wet haze of dull green mist clouding around her head. She growled madly, spittle dripping from around her mouthpiece, as she loped forward, only to be frozen on the spot, James' hand stretched out to her and his suit humming with power. Quickly, he shot back to Jimmy, holding the blood soaked man in place with his other hand.
"Fucking mutant filth. To hell with my orders, Clarke will just have to find a new pet freak to work with."
Jimmy made a sound, low and menacing, bubbles of spit and blood falling from his mending face. By now his lips had grown back, his nose slowly but visibly forming anew. His eyes, however, were steel-grey and locked on his attacker.
"Y'shouldn't have come here, bub. Clarke shoulda toldja."
James glowered death at his wife's killer. "I'm gonna kill you last, runt. Do the brat and the squaw first, make you watch. Like you made me watch."
James' suit began to hum, a soft drone that steadily climbed in volume and pitch, until it was deafening steam rolling off the bizarre circuitry. Jimmy and the girl-creature tried to reach for their ears, to hide themselves from the rising cacophony, but were trapped in James' invisible shackles. Both screamed in pain, as the noise became unbearable, inescapable. Blood sprayed limply from Jimmy left eye as a vessel gave out. He could feel his skull ring with the assault.
And then, nothing.
Jimmy fell to the driveway, gasping and retching and trying to think past the pain. There was a voice, soft and gentle and familiar, but cold and stern in it's tone. What was it saying? Jimmy waited for his eardrums to grow back, for his balance to return.
"How intriguing," the silver-haired figure in the soft plaid pajamas noted, hovering ten feet above James MacDonald amid the ruins of the Howlett cabin. "Your suit manipulates the electromagnetic spectrum. I'd be most interested in knowing how you do that, but...well, you are trying to kill a friend of mine."
James grunted, straining to lower his arms, his eyes turned upwards to the bizarre floating man.
"I don't know who the hell you are, but this is so much bigger than you know. These freaks are property!"
Max lit down on the gravel, his hand still outstretched, his fingers still curled into a claw, holding an imaginary ball. "You're right, you don't know who I am. And for a while, even I wasn't certain. But I think if I'm going to do this, I should do it right. You, you disgusting bastard, will refer to me as Magneto, the Mutant Master of Magnetism. And I find your little artificial magnetic suit...quaint."
Max crushed the imaginary ball in his hands, and exploded his fingers out, and James MacDonald was sent careening through the night sky, screaming his hatred and a string of profanities all the while, on a wide trajectory through the woods.
Jimmy haunched to the ground, coughing up threads of blood as his face grew back. When he was certain he had eyelids again, he stood up, running to Kayla's side. Max strode over, as Jimmy rolled his wife onto her back. Her face was pale, her shirt near-black with blood.
"How is she?" Max quickly scanned the carnage, and cursed himself for being too slow.
Jimmy pressed his fingers to Kayla's neck, searching for a pulse.
"Alive, barely."
"Is there a doctor we can take her to? A hospital or something?"
Jimmy spun his neck around; "No! No hospital! They'll find us. God, I...there's a guy I know. It's a drive, but he can help us."
He stood, cradling his wounded wife in his arms and starting for his truck. He stopped in his tracks, his eyes locked on the wreckage of his house for a long second. The girl-creature was gone, wandered off in the chaos, leaving behind the remains of her collar. Max passed him to the truck; "Come on, then, I'll keep her from bleeding out, you drive to this friend of yours!"

Michael Twoyoungmen had been sleeping in his trailer, the sleep of the dead, with dreams to match, when an impatient pounding on his door woke him. He stumbled up from his bed, kicking over a plastic soda bottle he had been meaning to recycle for weeks, and meandering his way to the door. He barely registered seeing his old poker buddy Lucky Jimmy standing there, holding his bloodied wife, some white-haired dude escorting them in.
Jimmy barged into the trailer, laying Kayla on the unmade bed without the slightest pretense of manner.
"Mike, you gotta help her, she's bleeding bad."
Before Michael could say anything, the silver-haired man stumbled in, holding his head and wincing in pain. "Mister Howlett, if your friend is going to help, he needs to do it now. I can't divert her blood from the wound much longer."
With a groan, Max dropped his magnetic control of Kayla's blood, and she began pumping into Michael's bare mattress. Michael hurried, scrounging through a cardboard box near the corner, pulling out a medical kit. Opening it quickly, he pulled out a patch of sterile gauze and a roll of surgical tape, and pressed it to Kayla's seeping wound.
As Michael tended to Kayla's injuries, Max pulled Jimmy aside furtively. Stepping out into the foggy darkness, the sun just beginning to tease itself over the horizon, Jimmy stared out into the distance, the ramshackle trees filling the valley below.
"Am I allowed to ask who those people were, Mister Howlett?"
Jimmy growled under his breath; "Remember when I said HYDRA had asked me to join?"
"Well, they ain't too familiar with the word, 'no.'"
Max' eyes went wide. "Those people were HYDRA? But...those suits – I'd never even heard of anything like them before."
"Pft, yeah...well, welcome to a post-Stark world. They were part of some fancy-ass Buck Rogers outfit, HYDRA's science division. Advanced Ideas Mechanics, I think it's called."
Jimmy dug into his pocket, and pulled out a half-bent cigar and a single match. He struck the match against his cheek, lighting the cigar, and taking thick, long drags on it, letting the acrid purple smoke plume lazily from his mouth.
"Don't tell Kayl' I had this, okay? She thinks I quit."
Jimmy sat on a nearby picnic table, watching the infinite blue-black sky begin to pull away from the pink sunrise. He had sucked half the limp and worn cigar into oblivion, when he pulled it away, chuffing it out against his jacket sleeve and tucking the smouldering stub into his pocket.
"They were friends of mine; Jamie and Heather Hudson. I knew her folks, introduced them to each other. Took me a while to place her face, after what they did to my head, but I remember them. I thought they were my friends. But in the end, it turned out they only wanted me for my healing.
AIM wanted some sort of bio weapon, something they could sell to the highest bidder, or use for their own ends."
Max, turned this new information through his head, analyzing it for long and deliberate moments.
"So, they're the ones who put that metal in your arms?"
Jimmy flexed his wrists, and in a loud sprang of steel on flesh and a haze of blood, his claws exploded from his forearms. "Yeah. Some new alloy; they called it 'adamantium.' Hard, unbreakable. Toxic, too. Stuff will eat your liver and bones. That's why they needed me. My body heals any kinda damage, so I can repair myself faster than this crap can kill me."
Jimmy shook in the cold air, and the sun finally crested the horizon. He collected himself, continuing;
"I got out. Broke out of their facility before they could fuck with my head, killed a lot of them to do it. But I got out. And I ran. I thought I was free, that they had forgotten about me. Captain America comes back, the Fantastic Four start fighting exotics, I thought HYDRA and AIM had enough to deal with. So I hid out here, middle a' nowhere; met Kayla, had Laura."
"Laura...that's your daughter, isn't it? She's missing?"
"Pfft...Gene's got a big mouth. Yeah. Few months ago she was walking home from school. Never arrived. I went looking for her, but...well, it's not like I had any contacts in HYDRA or anything. I burned a lot of bridges when I left the army, and an exotic like me ain't got a lot of places to turn to. HYDRA had her hidden away, and...god, you ever feel helpless, old man? A father's supposed to protect his kid, ain't he?"
Max watched the trailer. He could hear Michael Twoyoungmen inside, working to save Kayla.
"Yeah...yeah, he is."
A long silence hung over the two men, until Max stood up from the table, and stepped towards the trailer.
"Mister Howlett – Jimmy – my offer still stands. We could use a man like you, and we may be able to offer some aid in finding your daughter, somewhere down the line. It's not much, the word of a stranger, but from one father of lost children to another, I will do all in my power to help you get your daughter back, no matter what your decision is."
It was another three hours before Jimmy said anything. Not until Michael came out, covered in blood and sweat, his face lined. He held a cup of coffee in each hand, and put them gently on the picnic table.
"Jimmy, man, I don't know what shitstorm you walked in this time, but don't you ever put me through something like that again, you hear me?"
Jimmy nodded, his eyes hooded. "I hear ya, Mike."
"No, seriously, she nearly died twice on my bed. What the hell did you go and do this time, you crazy bastard?"
Max piped in. "Excuse me, Mister-?", no realizing he had no idea who this man was.
"Doctor. Or I was, before the assholes in the CPD decided my drinking was a problem. Michael Twoyoungmen, I suppose. You a friend a' Jimmy's?"
"Yeah, Mike, this is Max. He's openin' a school for special kids, wants me to work there."
Michael Twoyoungmen looked at Max suspiciously, his eye brows crooked in dismay.
" know this hairy munchkin is batshit insane, right? Always on about secret conspiracies, implanting weird shit in folks; you sure you want him around kids?"
Jimmy got surly, but kept it cordial, despite the vein on his neck throbbing.
"Hey, thanks for patchin' Kayla up fer me, Mike. I owe you big time. But I guess the farm report's jes' about on, an' I know how you hate to miss that, so we'll jes' collect the Missus and be outta yer hair, cool?"
"Whoa, Jimmy, slow down, Kayla was cut up pretty bad, I don't know that she can travel yet. Wanna tell me what happened?"
"You know how my nightmares get, Mike. One second yer frolickin' with a herd a' unicorns in a meadow a' wildflowers, th' next yer dodgin' napalm strikes in th' jungle. Kayl' came ta check on me, an' she caught a nick on her shoulder."
Michael weighed Jimmy's story in his mind. He rolled his eyes from Jimmy, to Max, who stood there stone-faced. Finally giving up, Michael threw out his hands, and sighed. "Sure, Jimmy, a nightmare. Just be careful with her, the stitches might be a bit...sloppy. No jostlin' her or nothing."
He climbed the steps into the trailer, hanging off the door-frame, and turned back to the two men.
"Oh, and Jimmy? Next time take her to a real doctor, eh? For all our sake?"
Max was sublimely careful loading Kayla into the Howlett's truck, using his powers to keep the sutures from ripping. He buckled her into the seat, then himself.
"You have the most interesting friends, Mister Howlett."
"Eh, Mike's alright. We were in the Calgary Police Department together a few years back. Didn't work out. I didn't like taking orders, an' his marriage fell apart. We were a couple a' losers, y'know."
Max didn't respond, his focus on keep Kayla comfortable. She lolled her head about her shoulders, mumbling in her sleep.
"We'll need to get her to an actual doctor, Jimmy. I'm sure your friend did what he could, but she'll need
something more than some ramshackle stitches in a camper."
"You think we can just walk into the local clinic and get her fixed up? They'll ask questions, man, and we ain't got the answers they want to hear."
"...Well, on a related note, do you have any ideas for getting us back to New York? I hadn't anticipated any injuries and that might be an issue."
Kayla opened her eyes, parting her thin, pale lips, her voice a cracked whisper. " the Operator."

Max huddled against the telephone pole outside the hardware store. He couldn't believe his eyes. He had heard rumours, soft hushed whispers that such things still existed, but he never thought he'd see one again. And the oddest part was, the people just walked past it, paying it no heed, as if they couldn't see it, had no idea it was there. Like it was normal or something.
"It's jes' a phone booth, silvertop, it ain't gonna bite."
Jimmy closed the door behind him and hunched into the phone. Kayla was looking better, more alert and lucid. She leaned against Max on the faded bench near the bus shelter, her sigh a stuttering whistle.
"Are you sure you don't need a hospital, Missus Howlett?"
She hummed dimly. "'M sure, Max. Jimmy always said if Mike Twoyoungmen couldn't patch you up, then you were done for. The man's a magician, I swear."
"If you're sure, then. Who's this 'Operator' your husband's calling?"
Kayla sat up, wincing and reaching for her shoulder. "Did Eugene tell you about Jimmy? What he does? What he...did?"
Max eyed the people passing by, suddenly suspicious of errant eavesdroppers. "He mentioned some relocation, yes. Jimmy underground railroad of sorts, wasn't he? For exotics?"
"That's right. He helped folks get out of the States, helped them to places like Wakanda and Hammer Bay. The Operator was one of his contacts, would take the clients further up the network. Jimmy and I were just one stop, there were people from Florida to Wakanda working to get exotics out of the States after the President lost his tiny little mind."
Max watched the people on the street pass by. The smell from the nearby doughnut shop set his mouth to water, but he bit his tongue, holding back on his hunger. Instead, he turned to Kayla, who was adjusted her shoulder painfully, gritting her teeth.
"You're like us, aren't you? A mutant?"
Kayla smiled, and nodded slightly. "That's right. I hide. I mean, I do this...thing, I don't know how it works, but if I don't want to be found, I can't be. Not by anyone or anything. Not by body heat, not by scent, not even by sonar. It's only good for about ten feet around me or so, but it's been bulletproof so far. What about you, you fly?"
Max smiled, and looked over at Jimmy, who was deep in conversation in the phone booth.
"Eh, not quite," he said haltingly, the cold starting to get through his jacket. "Rather, I manipulate the magnetic spectrum. I levitate, like those trains in Tokyo. I move and control ferrous metal, anything with iron in it. Like blood, for instance."
"And that's why I didn't bleed out. Okay, but what about before that? I mean, who the devil are you, even? You just come out of nowhere and talk with my husband about some school you want him to teach at, and you save our butts when those maniacs blow up our house, and you save my life – thank you, by the way. But who are you?"
"Well...that's complicated. I'm...or rather, I was, a lawyer, back in Hungary. But now, I guess...I guess I'm a headmaster. Or a revolutionary. Or a damned lunatic for even trying all this."
The phone clicked on the receiver, and the booth door creaked open arthritically. Jimmy approached his wife and the silver-haired stranger that had kicked over their lives, his hands dug into his pockets in an air of soft but vague rebellion.
"Telly's on his way. We should get in the truck."
Max stood, helping Kayla to her feet. "He can get us to New York?"
"Nope," Jimmy intoned, opening the truck door. "Too far for him. Said the closest he can get us is Eastport."
Max sat Kayla in the truck, and Jimmy helped buckle her in. Max slide in next to her, brows furrowed in confusion.
"Eastport? Where the devil is Eastport?"
Jimmy only sneered, popping the truck's lighter and bringing it to the tip of his cigar stub, held firmly in his teeth.

Ben hated the Silent Room. It reminded him too much of the closet back home, where his brother Jacob would hide Ben when their mother came home drunk and loud. And he felt especially bad that he had used the Silent Room on a kid like Peter. The boy seemed...well, not a total bastard, but certainly there was trouble there, behind those wide hazel eyes. Still...Ben had a community to lead now. He had responsibilities to see to, and this kid and his issues were a threat to all of that.
He turned the rusted handle, popping the door open and letting the main hall light diffuse slowly into the murky blackness. The boy was nowhere to be seen, the light cutting through the darkness like a torch. Ben stepped inside, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom, and heard scratching above him.
With a speed that defied his bulk, his hand reached up and closed down on a spindly narrow limb. Pulling down, he found himself holding Peter by the ankle, the boy squirming to be released.
"Stop yer wrigglin', kid. We're gonna settle this once and fer all."
Ben dragged Peter behind him by the leg – which proved rather difficult, as the boy kept anchoring himself to the floor by his fingertips, and eventually Ben just picked him up and slung him over his shoulder. Peter slammed his fists into Ben's back, and the large rust-orange golem had to admit, it stung a bit, something that surprised him. The kid was stronger than he looked, but Ben ignored the kid's tantrum, and carried him into a room, large and round with high-ceilings. He tossed Peter onto the ground, putting his hands on his hips. Peter looked around, and saw people looking down on the pair from rows of balconies just above them. He swallowed nervously, his mind running through one idea after another, all coming to the same conclusion.
This was an arena.
Ben looked up at the crowd of spectators.
"Youse all know what this is. We got us a troublemaker here. New guy doesn't want to learn the rules down here, likes causing problems. We all saw what happened earlier when him an' Johnny went at it, nearly torching everything we built down here.."
Another twinge of guilt hit Peter.
"Now, back when Callisto was in charge, she'da dragged him in here and slit his wizard and be done with it. Youse all remember when she tried that crap with me, when we first got here. She ain't in charge no more, an' I am, so we're gonna play this different."
Peter stood up, his eyes scanning the area for anyway out. He figured he could jump to the ceiling easily, but then what? He was surrounded by who knows how many people, most of them with abilities he wasn't familiar with, and he didn't want to fight through a mob of civilians just to save his own butt.
Ben loomed over Peter, burying him in a massive shadow, his arms crossed, his craggy jaw set.
"Alright, kid, here's the rules. If youse can beat me, then youse can leave. But if I beats ya, then youse gotta do what I say, got it?"
"I don't want to fight you, Captain Grimm!"
"Yeah, I wouldn't wanna fight me, neither. But it's too late fer that now, kid."
Ben opened up with a quick jab, sending Peter scrambling out of the path of the massive fist. The ground flaked away as Ben's hand cratered the brickwork. Peter aimed his hands, throwing up the metal-horns hand gesture and coating the floor and Ben Grimm's wrists in silver gossamer.
The stony behemoth tugged at his wrist, stuck to the floor, and rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"Oh ya gotta be kiddin' me! Who fights with Silly String?"
Peter stood up, his eyes wide with fear and trepidation. "Please, Captain, don't do this. Just let me go, and we can forget all abou-"
Peter had to wheel back out of range as Ben pulled his fist free, snapping the webbing and gouging the brick floor, and dropping like a hammer back into the stone. The stony giant looked curiously at the whisper-thin threads of silver webbing spiralling around his wrist.
"Kid, if this stuff is because a' puberty, I'm jes' gonna hafta break yer hands, jes' on principle."
With a grunt of effort, Ben threw himself into the air, crashing down on the spot where Peter had only a fraction of a second ago once cowered, fists like twin hammers shattering the floor.
Peter could feel the force of Ben's rocky fist impacting the masonry through his teeth, his eyes aching from the shock wave.
Johnny wove through the crowd of mutants, mutates, and other exotics, half-leaning over the balcony as he came to a stilted stop. Kurt leapt out, wrapping his tail around the nearby support strut, leaning into the void above the arena.
"We have to do something, fuzzy; Ben's going to squash the new kid!"
"I thought you didn't like him?"
"Well yeah, but that doesn't mean I want the little jerk smooshed!"
Kurt hopped back onto the balcony. "So what are you going to do?"
"Something I've never done before, fuzzy – use my brain."
Johnny turned back, pushing his way through the mob.
Peter ran around the makeshift fight-pit, dancing just out of range of Ben Grimm's massive hands. He stepped off of a support strut and into an aerial roll to avoid a low sweep, a large stony fist denting the concrete pillar. His skull was buzzing like a wasp's nest in a tumble dryer, prodding him left and right, always just a fraction of a step ahead of a complete splattering.
"Youse can't run forever, kid. Either surrender, or get ready ta actually fight back!"
The ground just ahead of Peter exploded as Grimm's solid fists crashed into it, sending the boy scattering to the ground. Tumbling head over heels, Peter slammed his ankle into an upturned brick,
yelping in pain. Ben Grimm, never one to abandon opprotunity when it presented itself, plucked Peter from the ground, and pinned him hard against a support pillar, leaning into him, pressing on his chest and forcing the air from his lungs. Peter's head swam, and his vision darkened.
"Anytime this gets too tough fer youse, kid, youse can always quit. We can get youse a nice room, put youse to work helping Doc Lykos. Youse'll be real happy down here with us."
Peter's head lolled on his shoulders limply, and he numbly placed his hands on the thick, granite fingers pushing him into the concrete support. Gritting his teeth, he pushed, slowly finding purchase in Grimm's craggy skin, forcing the behemoth's massive hand off his chest. A small foot leaned into the pillar, holding Peter in place for the final push, as he heaved Ben Grimm away from him, and like a shot, lept at the lapidarian giant and planted a fist hard into his jaw. The crowd watching gasped as their leader's head rocked backwards, Ben stumbling back several steps. He rubbed his chin, eyes wide open in surprise, and looked at Peter, now glaring defiance at Ben, his hands clenched tightly into fists.
Ben barely had time to react as Peter shot forward, striking at the massive golem's face with a blow like a shot from a cannon. The makeshift arena rang out with the sounds of flesh on stone, and the crowd gasped and murmured amongst themselves at the unfamiliar sight of their leader being on the short end of a conflict.
Peter moved like liquid shadow, melting from one position to the next like mercury. Within the space of heartbeats, he had moved from the floor to the wall to Ben's face, to the floor to Ben's legs, lifting them up with a low grunt of effort and tossing the stony giant fifteen feet up and thirty feet away. Ben crashed into the brick floor, the stones beneath him cracking under his mass.
Ben lifted his bulk from the splintered floor. The kid could throw a punch, when he needed to. His jaw actually hurt, a bit. He picked himself up, only to be pulled up off the floor. Twisting and flailing in midair, Ben looked up behind him, seeing a forest of silver threads dangling him from the ceiling.
"Alright, kid, youse had yer fun! Time ta finish this like men, mano a mano. Lemme down from here, ya bum!"
There was no sound when Peter flew into Ben, sending him swaying and swinging around the arena like a pendulum. The room spun below, and Ben felt his stomach knot up, and before he could collect his bearings, the boy made another pass, then another, and another, each time leaping at Ben, punching his square in the body, then leaping away as if he had never been there. Peter made six full passes, pelting Ben with his fists, when the webbing finally snapped, and Ben crashed into the floor again, this time shaking the room. He groaned, pulling his face from the broken brickwork, and rolled onto his back. His blue eyes squinted upwards at the light in the ceiling, and widened at the thin silhouette falling towards him. Peter landed on Ben's chest, his fist raised. With the arrogant snarl of youth, Peter dropped his fist like a hammer, and the crowd caught a collective gasp in their throats.
Peter's small hand was dwarfed in the massive palm of Ben Grimm's. Thick fingers clutched the boy by the fist, and pulled him up. Ben stood, holding Peter off the floor like he was teasing a cat with a piece of string.
"Dang, kid, you got some pepper in ya, but youse got a long way ta go before youse can take down Aunt Petunia's fav'rite nephew."
Peter tried to pry Ben's fingers open, but he froze in panic as Ben pulled his hand back, and slammed Peter hard into the floor, rattling the youth's brain. Peter's hands slumped free to his side, and Ben stood up proudly. He placed a foot on Peter's chest pinning him down, and the crowd counted out, "One! Two! Three!"
On 'Three!", Ben lifted his foot, and stooped to help Peter up.
"That's how we do things down here, kid. Fair an' square, not like the last boss in these parts."
Peter was sore, flushed with sweat, and confused. "D-did you just...beat me by pinfall?"
"Yeah, well...I usedta wrestle. It's better than how Callisto used ta run things, fightin' folks ta th' death. How's yer head? Youse took some good bumps there. Gave some good ones, too. Who taught ya how ta box?"
Peter turned beet red, rubbing the footprint buried into his chest. "My uncle...he tried to teach me, but...
I didn't stick with it. Didn't see the point. I guess I kept some of it."
Ben slung an arm over Peter's shoulder, pulling the boy close, and waved into the crowd. Doctor Lykos
slipped between the milling crowd of people, and approached the pair, examining Peter's eyes with a light, checking his ribs and limbs for breaks.
"The boy isss fine, Captain, but let'sss not do that again, hm?"
"Ehh, he's tough. He can take it."
Peter's vision swam, his head spinning with confusion. He staggered, leaning on Ben's shoulder, stopping the parade out of the arena. He clutched his head, trying to work through what had just happened. Ben turned back towards him.
"Kid? Youse okay?"
Peter nodded, uncertain if he was, in fact, okay.
"I just...wh-what the heck is going on here? I don't beat me, so now what?"
"We'll get ta that in a minute, kid. First, Doc here is gonna make absolutely sure yer egg ain't scrambled, and mebbe get some food inta youse. Then we can discuss it."

Peter blinked through Doc Lykos' light, as the pterodactyl-man checked his pupil dilation for signs of a concussion. A slap-dash heatpack had been taped to his shoulder, another on the small of his back, to reduce bruising from the impacts he took. The "food" that Ben had mentioned turned out to be some sort of corn porridge with bits of meat in it; Peter had been tempted to ask about the meat, but having seen 'Demolition Man,' could assume where folks living underground procured their meat and thought better of confirming his suspicions, for the benefit of his ever eating anything ever again.
Warm green fingers gently molded into Peter's tender head, searching for any signs of tenderness or fracture, and finding none.
"Well my boy, it ssseemss you've weathered the Captainsss fury quite well." Doctor Lykos' rasping hiss escaped his beaked mouth involuntarily, and Peter could see the subtle self-annoyance in the doctors furrowed brow.
"Ahem," his cough was harsh and cold, "you sssuffered sssome light bruisssing to your ribsss, but you should heal in a few daysss. No sssign of head trauma-" Peter winced in pain, "Yeah, tell that to my migrain, Doc."
Lykos continued, "-But you mussst be careful for at leassst forty-eight hoursss. No bashing your ssskull in until then, hm?"
Peter hopped off the table, the heatpack taped to his pack slipping off and falling to the floor.
"But that's how I spend all my weekends, Doc!"
Karl Lykos stared at Peter with his narrow yellow eyes, a single eyebrow arched in confusion. Peter rubbed his neck nervously.
"Well, the Captain asssked that you sssee him in hisss chambersss asss sssoon asss you can, ssso I sssuggest you not keep him waiting."
The tunnels leading from Doc Lykos' office cubicle to Ben's room were sparse and barely populated. Peter got the feeling that people were avoiding him, after his fight with Johnny. And he honestly couldn't blame them. Ben's chambers were candle-lit, and not very well-lit at that, and empty save for Ben, that old lady he thought was called AnnaSomethingOrOther, Johnny and Kurt, and that pink-skinned girl who started this whole nightmare – Jenny, or Jessie, or something, he couldn't quite remember. The hairs on the back of Peter's neck prickled up, and he could feel a discomforting heat rise in his face. He stood in the middle of the room, and nearly lurched to his knees, heaving dryly. The room spun, and he caught a glimpse of the old woman, just staring at his, her eyes seemingly the only light in the room.
"Enough a' that, Annalee. The kid ain't bein' punished."
Ben Grimm put a hand on Annalee's shoulder, and her eyes went dim, as dim as eyes should be, anyway, and the room stopped whirling about Peter's head, bringing his stomach down with it.
Ben picked Peter up, dusting off his back. "Well, ya are, but not like that. Fergive Annalee, kid; she's old school, hard to move on from how the old boss usedta run things."
Ben led Peter to a chair nearby, and the youth sat, uneasily. He sat up, his eyes clenched until he was certain he could open them again without retching.
"What the heck did she do to me?"
The old woman shrank back into the shadows, and Ben gave her a look, as if trying to calm some insult she had suffered. "She didn't do nothin', kid. She made ya think youse were dizzy. That's what she does, she plays with feelings and perception."
Peter's legs slowly solidified, and he raised his face to Bens.
"So...what now? I lost that-that fight, or whatever it was. You don't honestly think I'm just going to
give up though, do you? I won't stop trying to get out of here, no matter how many times you beat me down. So you'd either better kill me or-"
Ben rolled his eyes as Peter rambled on, about his willingness to fight on, his determination to return to the surface.
"Kid, shut up, hm? We ain't here fer that."
Johnny stepped forward, reminding Peter that he had been there the whole time.
"Ben, I'm as much to blame for what happened as Peter is, whatever you got in mind for him, I should get half the punishment, too."
"That's mighty swell a' ya, match-head. But couldya do me a favor an' shut up a minnit? Lemme talk, willya?"
Johnny shrank down. Peter stared at him in awe; they barely knew each other, and it wasn't so long ago they were trying to beat each other into paste, but here was Johnny, willing to take part of Peter's punishment as his own.
Ben cleared his throat.
"Kid, I believe youse when you say you'd rip this place up if we kept ya. Now, I kicked yer butt from here ta Yancy Street, an' I'll do it again if youse get outta line, but then what? We rebuild our shelters? Make these good folks panic whenever youse has a hissy-fit an' start throwin' a tantrum?
That ain't gonna work for me. For us."
Ben pulled out the stub of his cigar, and lit it, sucking it between his teeth for all it was worth.
"So, I'm sorry kid, but youse jes' ain't Morlock material."
He coughed into his hand. "Gotta make it all official an' stuff. Kid, fer th' crime a', an'
assault, an' geez, fer all th' crap youse pulled since ya been here, I hereby sentence youse ta exile.
Jenny here will take ya back where she found ya, an' I don't never wanna see you in these tunnels again, understand?"
Peter stood up. He didn't even feel the smile stretch across his face, and even he was surprised when he launched himself at Ben Grimm, wrapping his arms around the big orange beast of a man. Ben looks down at Peter, uneasily, and tried to pry himself free of the youths grip.
"Awright, awright, knock it off, ya pisher. Geez, kids today."
Peter pulled back, his face burning with embarrassment. "Sorry. The moment, and all that."
He looked to the little pink girl off in the corner, playing with what was left of an old ragdoll.
"So...Jenny, right? You're the one who brought me here? And Mr. Grimm says you can bring me back, right?"
Jenny nodded, not looking at Peter.
"Not so fast, kid. We ain't quite done here."
Peter spun around, confused.
Ben turned his gaze to Johnny, who suddenly found his shoes the singular most fascinating thing he had ever seen, and was determined to memorize their every contour and line.
"Johnny...sorry, gotta be official. Jonathon Lowell Storm-" cue a choked snort of laughter from Peter, and a hot stare from Johnny; Ben ignored them and continued. "Jonathon Lowell Storm, for yer part in this whole disaster, I hereby sentence youse ta exile as well. Jenny will take youse to where Peter was last – that school a' his he mentioned, I think."
Johnny stared at Ben for long, arduous seconds, his mouth a gaping cavern of disbelief.
Ben smiled, not a cruel smile, or a smug one, but one of a gentle older brother who was trying to say something kind, without saying anything that would be soft or too emotional. Johnny wiped at his eyes with his forearm, and swung Ben into a tight hug.
"Yeah yeah, hotfoot, I'mma miss you too. Now, grab yer stuff, an' get goin', huh? Didn't want you troublemakers down here anyway."
Johnny nodded, barely registering any deeper emotions, and bolted away, coming back two minutes later with a ratty and worn our sports bag slung over his shoulder. He stood by Peter awkwardly, bursting with excitement.
"Wait, he's coming with me?"
"Yeah, well youse were all on about that school a' yers, makin' a difference, bein' a place fer exotics like us. An' Johnny's been a pain in my tuchus since we got here. Kid needs some sunshine an' fresh air."
Peter looked over at Johnny, who had the dopiest smile on his face, and just shrugged. "Alright, I guess. Max'll just have to learn to like it, I guess."
Ben nodded, and looked to Johnny. "Be careful out there, match-head. No showboatin'. I don't wanna hear through th' grapevine that youse got yerself killed by Captain Goose-Stepper an' his pals, y'hear?"
Johnny nodded enthusiastically – a bit too enthusiastically, thought Peter – and Ben nodded to Jenny.
"You ready, cutie?"
The pink-skinned girl thought a moment, then nodded bravely. She looked up to Annalee, and took the old woman's hand. "It's okay, Annalee. You can do it now."
The old woman frowned grimly, and wiped a tear from her eye. She focused at the girl, who wrenched her face into a pained grimace, and let out a piercing shriek. Peter and Johnny winced, covering their ears, and clenching their eyes shut. Peter felt his stomach tighten and spin; his head began to buzz and a low droning sound consumed his hearing. He strained to keep to his feet, but found himself buckling under his own weight. His knees folded onto something soft and crisp, and he faintly picked up the scent of grass and light. His head dropped, and he found it resting uncomfortably on a sharp stick. Blinking his eyes open, he looked up, at the morning sky through the trees. The humming that had permeated his skull was now merely a maddening din in the distance, and a cool breeze washed over his skin.
Peter slowly sat up, waiting for his stomach to teleport back to Essex County with the rest of him. A foul taste filled his mouth, and he quickly lurched into the bushes to retch. As he spat out the last of whatever had been in his stomach, he heard a jubilant whooping behind him. He turned to see Johnny hugging a tree.
"Fresh damned air! Natural light! God, I hate the outdoors, but this is the sweetest thing I've ever seen!"
Peter stood up, smiling. "Yeah, it is."
Without warning, Johnny exploded upwards, taking the tree with him. His laughter and jetstream filled the air, and as he looped about hysterically in the sky, Peter scrambled to smother the flames of his celebration with what little webbing he had left.

Moira stared out the back window towards the woods behind the hospital, tapping out the cigarillo she held between her fingers. She turned from the window, kicking over the takeout containers littering the floor. She sighed, letting a silver haze of smoke flee from her lips.
Damn it, Peter, where the hell are you ?
Moira swore to herself – or at herself, it was all the same right now – and stubbed out the thin cigar. She heard a car pull up to the hospital outside, and in a reserved and dignified panic, tried to clean up the mess of her worry, the food containers she and Jessica had mercilessly slaughtered as they tried to puzzle out the mystery of Peter Parker's disappearance.
She stepped out the front door, to see a rusted out Jessica Jones' car return. Jessica stepped out of the vehicle, her hair a mess, her clothes faring little better, a manilla folder in her hands. Moira's eyes perked up hopefully.
Jessica climbed the steps to the hospital, and handed Moira the folder.
"I spoke with the Essex County Sherrif, nice guy. Reminds me of that one actor, on that show with David Arquette's sister, she played a psychic? Anyway, guy's name is Richard Cutter – the Sherrif, not the actor. He tells me that yesterday a bunch of local hunters from the Hollow came in, saying they were attacked by exotics out near Hamilton County."
Moira's eyes narrowed. "Ah shit."
Jessica continued; "Now, these good-ol' boys were deeper into the booze than I get, so the Sherrif's writing it off as drunk hillbillies "sighted" Bigfoot again, but just a heads up, you might want to keep that kid on a shorter leash, if he ever shows up again."
Moira's face sunk, then perked up again, her eyebrows arched in confusion.
"Wait, the hunters didn't say what happened?"
"They don't know what happened. They said a four or five exotics jumped them – more likely it was just Peter, and our Bubbas tripped over their own feet trying to get away from them – but four or five exotics jumped them, and they went running. After that, who knows, who cares, right?"
Moira flipped through the folder. "So what's this, then?"
"That, Doctor Kinross, is the only copy of their report. I figured you'd want the only bit of evidence that there was ever an exotic up here?"
Green eyes scanned the ramshackle and vague report, which read like a very tired secretary taking notation from a very drunk conspiracy theorist. "How did you get this?"
Jessica curled her lips into a smile, which Moira thought ill-suited her face.
"Like I said, Sherrif's a nice guy. I asked, nicely."
Moira stared at Jessica for a long while, utterly deadpan, until Jessica relented with a huff.
"Fine, I paid the clerk seventy bucks. Which is going on my invoice, by the way."
"Right, on top of two days, and your gas, and your food. God, I hope you take payment in the form of blood trans-"
Gleeful mad cackling broke off Moira's line, from somewhere above and behind the hospital. They ran around back, and saw what looked like a massive orange road flare, only engulfed entirely in flames, dancing in the sky. Smoke plumed up from the forest, and Moira slipped out of her shoes and broke into a frenzied run towards the scene. As she got closer, she heard a second voice from the trees, yelling up at someone. This second voice was all too familiar, and she had no surprise when she crested the trees and saw Peter, stamping out the last bit of fire.
"Peter Benjamin Parker! Where the bloody hell have you been these last two bloody days!?"
Peter nearly broke his neck jerking around. Moira was almost raspberry red with anger, storming towards him like the Terminator.
"Oh! M-Moira! Hi!"
"Do. Not. 'Hi.' Me. Where were you?"
The last wisp of flame finally flickered out, and Johnny yelped in pain high above. Peter tried to look for him in the treetops, but Moira physically brought his gaze back to hers. "Well?"
"Ah, that's kind of a long story. See, there was this girl and these hunters, and a lot of shooting and screaming and then me puking my guts out, next thing I know I'm being checked out by a pterodactyl and body-slammed by the Golem of Prague."
Moira only stared at Peter in disbelief.
"Peter, dear god, if you've been back here for forty-eight fucking hours getting stoned, I swear to god I will hurt you."
"Hang on, Moira, " Jessica's voice came from overhead. Both she and Peter craned their heads up to see Jessica floating down, wobbly and unsteady, holding Johnny's ear in a vice-like pinch. He was cursing up a minor storm, struggling to get away.
"Alright, playboys, you made me fly. I hate flying. I suck at it, I look like a goose with a bus taped to it's wing, and you made me do it. So spill, before I show you two jackasses what other powers the gods of 'Let's Fuck Up Jessica's Life' have blessed me with."
Johnny rubbed his reddened ear, wincing at the memory of the pain.
"No, no, it's alright, we'll tell. Just...don't grab our ears again. The hurt like hell, okay?"

Cold two day old Chinese was hardly Peter's favorite, but compared to the fare he'd had the last few days, it was mana from Heaven. He chewed the cold har lung woo, to which Johnny had added extra shrimp from his own container of dop voi, apparently not fond of them, as Moira rubbed her temples, trying to digest what the boys had told her.
"A civilization of in the sewers."
Johnny swallowed a mouthful of sauteed vegetables. "Not sewers. It's some subway tunnels under the Waldorf."
Moira arched an eyebrow. "The hotel?"
"No," Peter intoned, "the Muppet."
Burning daggers returned Peter's sarcasm. "Don't be a wisearse, Peter, not today."
Johnny stifled a laugh, and Jessica stood away from the wall where she had leant herself.
"Okay, when we start dealing with subterranean superfolk, that is when I call it quits. Shit like that is why I mothballed the mask in the first place. Moira, I'll send you my won't have too many decimal points, I think. And if something like this pops up again...get Colleen or Misty on it. I've had my fill of weird shit for a while. Cases like this make it hard to stay off the government's radar, you know?"
Before Moira could respond, Jessica Jones was out the door and in her car. As she vanished down the road, Moira stood up, and swept her hair back from her face. She stood up, and faced Johnny.
"And now you're my problem, hm? Well...Max had better hurry back from Canada and with our new instructor in tow, if you're to stay. I have a hard enough time with just Peter, apparently."
Johnny smirked, and tossed his empty food carton into the trashbin in the far corner.
"Hey, no problem, I can help you keep him in line, if you want."
Peter shot him a dark look. "I remember our fight underground a bit differently than you do."
Johnny stood up to the challenge, standing nose-to-nose with Peter. "I got more room to maneuver up here now, son. Maybe you want a rematch?"
Moira pulled both boys by the ear, shouting at them shrilly.
"There will be none of this nonsense! Now, the two of you, to bed!"
Peter protested, or tried to; "But there aren't any-"
"Sleeping bags are upstairs, pick one and use it! Tomorrow we have contractors coming in to inspect the building, and I want the three of us up early and gone when they get here!"
She chased the boys upstairs, and they trudged along reluctantly.
Moira shook her head as the boys vanished from sight.
"Max, ye daft Hungarian bastard, you'd better hurry back."

The air rippled along the moonlit stretch of the I-95 highway. A small pack of wirey, emaciated coyotes ducked back into the underbrush as, with a wet drumming sound, a red, rusted pickup truck simply happened out of nothingness, a tall, bald man in a long black coat sitting in the truck bed. When the truck stopped humming metallically, he hopped off, and walked to the driver-side window.
"This is your stop, Jim. Sorry I couldn't get you any closer, but three people and a truck is...well, you're lucky I got you over the border."
Jimmy Howlett nodded, and offered his hand through the window to the bald man, who took it and shook it firmly.
"It's alright, Telly, ya did what ya could. Now, where the blazes are we, and which way is New York?"
Telly looked around, rubbing his neck. "Shit, I'd say this is the I-95 in Boundary County. You go south, you'll get to Bonner's Ferry. Go east, and it's Moyie Springs. And New York is a full forty-one hours east-by-south-east. And don't worry about locals getting twitchy about exotics. It's pretty much Deliverance: The Home Game out here, but Ruby Ridge was in these parts, so it's not likely that anyone is going to be calling the Feds on you."
Jimmy nodded, and Telly took a step back from the truck. "Well, I'll let you three get to it, then. Jimmy, watch your ass, hm?"
"Every damned day of my life, Tell."
Telly nodded his head, and simply wasn't there anymore; no pop, no distortion or flash of light, merely an absence of him. Max lay his head against the warm and sticky leather seat of the truck, sighing.
"I'm making so many new friends today."
Kayla nestled her head against her husband, as Jimmy put the truck into gear, and started down the long, empty Idaho road.

The grass was wet between her toes as she scrambled down the slope, ignoring the sharp twigs and thick roots poking and clubbing her feet in her passing. The forest canopy gave way to sporadic spears of ghostly moonlight, lighting her way as she followed the pungent, dying scent of skin oil and sweat southward. The dewy mud made her feet slip in the cool grass, and more than once she skinned her knee against the forest floor. A gust of hard wind hit her face like a wall, carrying with it a thick haze of spoor, the scent she was tracking. He was near.
She scrambled through the underbrush, pushing aside sharp branches and slick rocks. The haze of scent was thicker, like water, pushing against her sinuses as she swam through the miasma of her quarry. Finally, in a low guttural hiccup, she stopped.
He moaned in pain. His legs lay under him, twisted at disturbing angles. The torn circuitry of his armour blitzed and sparked madly, and his face was a large purple bruise. Blood coursed from his mouth and nose, and when he looked up at her with his swollen, bruised eyes and smiled, teeth fell limply from their sockets.
"I knew it would be you. I knew. I knew the minute they gave you to us, it would be you."
She didn't understand him. His words were just static to her ears. No orders, none of the control words the men in white coats used to put her to sleep, to make her compliant. But she recognized the voice, the tone. He was the one that hurt her. Drove hooks under her skin. Put the collar on her neck, the one that made the bright light and the burning smell when she didn't obey. The one who made her scream by pulling on her bones, threatening to tear them out of her body.
She remembered him.
Her lips curled into a feral grimace, and her fingers tensed into talons, forming a half-fist. She screeched, and with a loud expulsion of blood, twin blades of sharp metal ripped from her hands.
He smiled, coughing up a gout of blood. "I knew it."
She roared, and lunged forward, burying her claws in his throat, slashing away at him until his chest ripped open. His heart landed somewhere in the darkness, cut free from it's thoracic prison. His head rolled downhill, and wouldn't stop for another twelve meters, landing in a stream at the bottom of the hill.
Her quarry laid torn open underneath her. She stood up on her spindly, spider-thin legs, cooling blood running down her naked body. With a snort, she threw her head back, and howled at the sky, before vanishing into the woods again. She had to find the other scent, the other man. She knew him, too.
But the thoughts in her head were jumbled, confused. Did she want to tear him open, like she did James MacDonald, or did she want to curl up at his feet and sleep? The small, sliver-thin fragment of her mind that still could rationalize, merely supposed she would have to find him, to find out.
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