Chapter 11



Nearly everyone Marie had ever absorbed reached a point in their lives where they made the first step to irrevocable change. Erik Lensherr. John Allerdyce. Remy Lebeau. Karl Lycos. Hell, even good guys like Logan. A point where that step seemed the best-- not the easiest but the best-- choice if they wanted the rest of their life to be bearable. Marie had reached that point. Standing in front of the police barricade, with her hair burnt and melted pieces of PVC popping out of her healing skin, wearing boots on loan from the FD and a CSI coat from the Tenth Precinct techs, she finally could not give an actual fuck.

"I'm taking your squad car," she told the officer closest to her.

Without waiting for a reply, she slipped into the driver's seat, snapped the sirens on and booted it all the way to Turtle Bay. She left the car right in front of Andrei Semyonov's townhouse with the lights on and to hell with the neighbours. Yanking the front door off its hinges, she pushed her way through the butler and a pair of very discrete bodyguards. She didn't even miss a step as she pulled the magazines out of their handguns and emptied them.

"Max!" she yelled up the stairs. "Maksim Ruslanovich Semyonov, you're under arrest. Come out with your hands where I can see them or piss me off and I yank you out by your fucking fillings." She didn't know if she had the finesse to do that but it seemed like such a fun idea to try.

Unfortunately, Max walked out entirely on his own steam, hands up near his head. "What seems to be the problem, officer?"

Marie accessed Sauron's powers and shifted into Liz's disguise. She changed back.

"Ah. I see." He held his hands out.

Dammit, she didn't have any cuffs. The kitchen wasn't that far away. Marie floated a pair of butter knives and wrapped them around Max's wrists.

"I will, of course, be contacting my lawyers about the irregularity of this arrest," said Max.

"You do that. While you're at it, see if they also find anything irregular about five murder charges, prostitution, sexual assault against minors, and kidnapping your own fucking cousin."

"Kidnapping?" Pete. Piotr. He stood at the entrance to the north hallway, the one leading to the music room and Semyonov's office. Like her, he still wore the remains of the clothes he'd had in Hell's Kitchen. Unlike hers, his clothes smouldered. "What's she talking about, Max?"

"Nothing worth repeating," said Max. "The officer is mistaken."

"Illyana was in the building that burned down. She's fine," Marie quickly added. "She's somewhere safe."

"You said Los Damas had her," Pete said. "That as long as we had a united front, we could strike and get her back."

"As far as I know, this is true," said Max. "You saw the videos. Would I do that to my own blood?"

Marie snorted. "He's lying. He hates you because your mom is Andrei's favourite. Andrei wants you to take over the bratva instead of Max. He chained her up in a closet-sized room for two months. He probably made those videos himself, him and his lackey, Stefan, then gave it to Los Damas to send."

Max raised his voice to address the butler. "Get our lawyers on the phone, will you? Add something about excessive violence during arrest."

"Max?" Pete took another three steps closer. "Maksim? Eto pravda?"

Max pressed his lips together.

Pete continued in broken Russian. "Max, in the video... the people in the video hit Yana. They... they used... did you hurt Illyana?" When his cousin still didn't answer, Pete rushed him, snarling. "Did you hurt her?! She's only ten years old! She knows nothing about this life! How could you--"

Marie inserted herself between Pete and Max but Pete was too angry and too damn big. She tried to draw on Magneto but her memory boxes remained stubbornly closed. Ditto with Pete's psyche and Logan's. Great. What an excellent time for her system to shut down. Fortunately, the Tenth Precinct had their shit together because another police siren parked itself outside the door.

Turning her back on Max, Marie faced Pete's cold steel face head on. "Let him go."


"Is safe. But if you don't unwrap your fingers from around Max's neck, you'll get charged with manslaughter and go to jail. Who'll take care of your family if you're in jail?"

Pete shuddered. Marie hadn't known what steel goosebumps looked like until this moment. She rested her hands on his shoulders.

"This isn't you. Let him go, Pete."

His nostrils flared but he let go. Max fell to his knees, gasping. Back-up streamed into the townhouse, their orderly blues and the emotionality of the day making Marie self-conscious for the first time she started this op. Her hands dropped off Pete's shoulders and she clutched her borrowed coat as she turned away.

A heavy hand on her arm stopped her. "Wait," Pete said.

Marie arched a brow.

He gestured to the hallway. "Come with me?"

They walked side-by-side to Semyonov's office. Pete opened the door. Red and blue lights threw moving shadows against the walls. Marie entered first but only Pete spoke.

"The police are here, Dedushka."

Semyonov replied in Russian. "Tell them to leave."

"No. It is over. I have Illyana back. I am going home."

"This is your home, Piotr. You were lost--"


"-- but you are now found."

"No, Grandfather. I am leaving."

Semyonov rose from his chair, arms braced on the table. "I created a kingdom for you, Piotr! You could have the world at your fingertips. All these riches, all this power, it is all for you."

"I do not want it."

"I know, I know, you want to paint. And you can! I can give you more than enough money to paint forever--"

Pete shook his head, looking away.

"-- and take care of your little sister as well. She can attend the best schools, have all the toys--"

"Enough! I do not want to hear you anymore." Pete started to roar then fell a step back, his shoulders lowering, his metallic form stripping away. "I... simply do not care about you any more, Andrei Semyonov. I do not care about any of this. I used to blame you for so many things but now I see there was no reason. Then I thought only you understood love and loyalty to family as I did. But again, I was wrong. I am happy without you in my life. My sister is happy never knowing you. My mother... sometimes, my mother sings."

Andrei seemed to sway back, like a mast in a storm. His hands flattened on his desk.

"I don't want what you're offering. Never speak to me again. Never speak to my family. You are all dead to us."

Pete disappeared before Marie could talk to him about... well, everything. She suspected he was on a one-way plane ticket back to Boston to hug his mom because he was Pete and she was kind of a massive jerkwad shithead. So she hailed a taxi back home to Brooklyn, stood under the shower until the water went cold, then collapsed into bed. The next day, she called Lebeau's number. He didn't answer; she didn't know if she was disappointed or relieved. She left a message-- keep Illyana for another three days then drop her off at Xavier's to Logan's care. Logan was good with kids, whether he admitted it or not. Then she went into work to fill out paperwork for four hours straight then returned home for more sleep. She wanted to sleep for a week. She never wanted to see another piece of vinyl for the rest of her life.

Two days and a weekend later, Marie was back at her desk at MacTac, on her third reading of DNA reports for the mutilation case but she was still sure she'd read it wrong. She rang Jessica Jones up. "Jess, what the hell?"

"Good morning to you, too, sunshine."

"Morning. What the actual hell?"

"I'm as pissed off as you are but the science doesn't lie. Okay, it does and I know several ways how, some of which are pretty easy to fake up. But that's not true in this particular case. The DNA found in Jo-Belle Kaponski, AKA Blitzen, don't belong to Maksim Semyonov or Stefan Igoshkin. Of course with Igoshkin all crispy, his samples aren't the best to work with."

Marie smacked her head against her desk. She lifted her head and did it again. Then one more time with feeling.

"What we can tie to them are the vic's stomach contents and the crystals in her dress to the food and drugs found in the Genie," said Jess. "That's what's so great about meth; no two batches are alike. With your recordings and the witness testimony from two of the hookers should be enough to slam them with human trafficking, possession of at least four different illegal substances, money laundering, and tax evasion. I love taxes, don't you?"

"So we only have possible motive and opportunity for murder one. Defense is going to hammer us."

"Like chicken fried steak in South Carolina." She heard Jess shifting some equipment around. "Is there any way you can convince the little girl's family to go on the stand? Trafficking kids for the sex trade carries a lot more weight than adults, especially adorable little blonde girls."

"I can ask again but I sincerely doubt it." Massaging her temples, Marie said, "Also means the killer might still be out there."

"I hope the fuck not."

"You and me both." Marie spread the evidence over her desk and monitor. "Okay, so the pieces didn't add up the first time around. Max and Stefan invested a lot in those girls. They're huge money makers, money they needed to supply their mutiny against Semyonov because whoever has the gold, rules. Fifty to seventy bucks a pop for the streetwalkers, a hundred to three a night for the second floor, four to eight hundred an hour for the third floor. It would be like randomly killing the horses you trained to go into the Kentucky Derby."

"Maybe the girls-- and the two guys-- narked."

"To who? If they'd talked, I wouldn't've had to go undercover."

"To Semyonov? The old man has a lot of mutants working for him. Maybe he's pro-mutant."


"Doubt it?"

"When greed's involved, it doesn't matter who your people are."

"But truly under all that cynicism, you love raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens."

"Tell anyone and they'll never find the splinters of your body. Look, we'll talk again later. My guy's here for our nooner."

Marie rolled her eyes. "Rub it in, you lucky bitch."

"Hell yeah. Check your email for the extensive report." Jess hung up, leaving Marie to smack her head on her desk one last time.

The time had come for drastic measures. This homicide case could be back to square one. The only way Marie would know for sure was if someone else died while their main suspects were imprisoned or dead. She appropriated the whiteboard used by the MacTac end of the op to piece the case together while she'd been undercover. The rest of the team was at lunch or wouldn't come in until the evening shift. All the better for thinking.

She rolled her chair away from the white board. Andrei Semyonov's fuzzy eight-by-ten crowned the rectangle with Max and Stefan immediately below him. The smudge of Pete's name was readable only to her. The Genie's workers lined up in the middle of the board according to length of time "employed." Below them, a mess of repeat johns with lines connecting them to the women they usually chose for sex. They only caught and ID'd twenty-seven johns during the raid; Marie knew the Genie had at least a hundred regulars. The six dead, mutilated prostitutes, their pictures bordered in red ink, also had links to the johns.

A file of demographic information pertaining to the johns sat to her right. A stack of contact numbers for the prostitutes lay on her left. She also had a phone, a sharpie, and index cards. The glamorous life of a detective second-class, indeed.

Just before first break on evening shift, Marie ran to the door to the captain's office at a sprint and slammed a photo on the desk. Charlotte looked up from her computer.

"Rory Campbell."

Charlotte looked down. "What did he do? Incur a hundred dollars in library fines?"

"He's the killer."

That caught her attention. "Talk to me."

Marie spread more papers on her desk. "Psychologist, US Army reserve PSYOP. He refused DNA sampling--"

"Half the johns did."

"According to the girls, he's had contact with every single one of the vics. Injured in combat, underwent hospitalisation at Alabama VA Hospital where one of his most frequent visitors was one Senator Simon Trask, world-renowned supremacist asshole."

"Military weapons training includes blade work."

"PSYOP would know a dozen ways to ID a body. And how to keep from IDing one."

Charlotte's pressed a button on the phone. "I'll get Judge Walters to approve the warrant. Put a team together, get the address--"

"Done and done!" Marie ran back out to the main floor.

In comparison to the Vostochevskaya take-down, arresting Rory Campbell was a non-event. Marie and a team of five went to his duplex in Queens, he let them in as soon as they rang the doorbell, and sat patiently on the couch as Marie handed over the warrant.

"I thought you'd never come," he said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Everett Thomas demanded.

"When the police raided the Genie, I thought I was done for sure. But you never came. I would have killed someone else if you hadn't come today."

Marie sidled beside him. She took her tablet out of its pouch and laid it on the coffee table across from Campbell's seat. "Hey Rory. My name's Marie D'Ancanto. I'm in charge of this case. Would you like to confess to the murders?"

"Oh yes."

"All five murders?"

"Six," said Campbell. "I'm pretty sure I killed six of them. But... but maybe the first doesn't count?"

"Do you mind if I record our conversation?"

"Certainly not."

She turned the tablet on. "Okay, Rory, what've you got to say for yourself?"

Campbell let out a laugh. One of the cops twitched; Marie gestured for him to leave the room.

"I thought you sounded familiar," Campbell said. "Mistress Liz. You're a shape-shifter. That must come in handy in your line of work."


"I didn't like you very much. That's why I didn't kill you."

Fucking hell, talking to him was like talking to Hannibal Lector. "If you liked the other girls, why did you kill them?"

"Because... because I had to." For the first time, his tone faltered. "I'm not specist, Detective. I try not to be anyway. That's why I only ever sleep with mutants. I wanted to prove... to prove that I didn't hate mutants."

"Sure. That's why you were a Genie regular."

"Exactly! I wanted to... I needed to sleep with them. With mutants. I thought if I loved them enough, I wouldn't have to kill them. But the need was still there. Do you understand?"

Marie could only nod.

"You should understand," Campbell said. "MacTac took down Operation: Bastion. You know what that's like."

"What does Operation: Bastion have to do with your situation?"

"Just this." Out of nowhere, Campbell pulled out a knife and slashed at his head.

Marie and Thomas jumped out to stop him but he had already cut himself. Blood streamed from his scalp, a strip of skin and hair hung over his ear. The bloodbath wasn't what froze Marie in mid-lunge. She froze at the sight of metal plates and microchips sticking out of Campbell's skull.

"They're operating on Americans, too."

Marie never wanted to go undercover again. She closed a box full of Mistress Liz's equipment, folding the flaps shut. Hefting the box, she headed for the door only to half-slip on something. She looked down. Remy's purple handcuffs curled around her left foot. Marie put the box back down on the table to pick the cuffs up.

Halfway to opening the box, she stopped. The cuff's suede hoops felt downy against her palm, cool from sitting on the floor. The steel chain links between them chimed as she shifted their weight from one hand to the other. On the table, to the right of the box, lay her phone. Marie picked her phone up after tucking the box under her other arm. Dr, MacTaggert had left eight messages. Marie ignored them all, going to her address book instead, and scrolling to Remy's coded name.

She could return the cuffs. She should return them. Or she could throw it with the rest of the undercover stuff for the police auction. Then again, if the cuffs were personal property, the unit wouldn't want to be connected to that. Although someone as loaded as Remy could probably afford another set of sex handcuffs. Hell, he probably had one in every colour.

Marie pocketed her phone and put the cuffs back down on the table.

Then picked them up one more time.

She almost left them again but, swearing, she finally opened the box, threw the cuffs on top of everything, closed the flaps down again, and to hell with Remy Etienne Lebeau, King of the United Guilds, pyromaniac, skeevy old man. She pulled her phone out to erase his name from the address book.

Are you sure you want to delete this contact? the phone asked.

Marie scrolled to the yes.She closed her eyes. Swore. And pocketed her phone. If she didn't hurry, she'd never be able to avoid the shift-change jibes.

At the last minute, she got off the train to transfer to Mutant Town connection. She knew she looked out of place, decked out in business casual pulling a brightly patterned granny cart behind her. She wanted to find Skids before she turned in for the day. She didn't even know where the woman lived, only where she worked.

The sunrise gradient slowly faded off the mirrored buildings when Marie reached Skids' usual street. She wasn't there. Marie tried walking down further and peeking into the alleys but nothing turned up. Giving up, she retraced her steps back to the subway station.

There, leaning up against the walls leading down to the platform, was Skids. Marie jogged to her side. She couldn't help but smile but coming from an uptown yuppie, the expression pulled out all of Skids' thorny guards.

"Are you Skids?" Marie asked, heading her off before she could say something that a perfect stranger would find unreasonably rude.

"Who the fuck are you?" Skids asked.

"I'm a friend of Liz's."

"Liz, huh? Tall and blonde with blue wings?"

"Actually, brunette with snake skin and about average sized," said Marie. "You're as vigilant as she said you would be."

Skids snorted. "So, Liz managed not to get dead. Good for her."

"She went home," Marie half-lied. "But before she left, she wanted me to give you some contact numbers. Liz told me you looked out for people here, that you warned her against that mutant fetish brothel. She wanted to make sure you had some back-up if you need it, now that she's not here."

"Some back-up she was. Probably got herself caught by the cops when that whole place when down in Hell's Kitchen." Skids eyed her sharply. "You're a cop, aren't you?"

"Yup." Marie flashed her credentials. "Detective D'Ancanto, Mutant Crimes Task Force. We specialise in crimes against or by mutants. We're a big damn deal, y'know. We've won awards and everything."

Skids snorted.

"Hooboy. Liz mentioned you'd be a hard sell. But here it goes anyway." Marie gave her two business cards, her own, and a generic card from the Xavier Institute. "A good friend of mine said you have to trust someone. When you're ready to do that, I hope you can trust one of us."

With one thing after another, mostly a combination of more paperwork, guilt, and sleep-debt payoffs, Marie didn't go up to Westchester County for another week. It finally snowed, late for the season, but she welcomed it in place of sleet, especially while riding Quasi along the freeways. After parking beside the Grey Clinic, she shook the snow off her shoulders and stomped the slush off her boots as soon as she entered the foyer. Storm was trimming the topiaries near the library. She stopped and turned around at the mess Marie was making of the floor in front of the security desk.

"Gardeners not doing a good enough job?" Marie asked.

"I still find gardening soothing and my greenhouse in the atrium needs very little tending right now." Storm put down her pruning shears. "It's good you're here."

"The doc's been at you, too? Man, you'd think I was paying first class insurance premiums." She headed to the clinic, partially to end the conversation. Any time she and Storm talked for longer than five minutes, the talk ended and the shouting began.

"While I'm certain Moira would gladly treat any ailments you may have acquired in the course of duty, I'm afraid she needs you for something else entirely. As does Peter."

In the movies, whenever something bad or sad was about the happen, the special effects team threw in thunder, lightning, and rain. Which was bullshit, of course; some of the worst news in the world happened on bright, sunny days. When Storm had bad news to tell, no clouds appeared over her head in comic strip fashion. But there was a heaviness in the air around her, sometimes a hint of coldness, too.

Marie walked double-time to the clinic, like walking away from Storm would send the bad news away. But Storm followed her in, probably to herald MacTaggert's wrath.

"Finally! Haven't you gotten any of my messages?" the doctor demanded.

"I was busy. Is this about more blood work? 'Cause I think I'm getting anaemic from all the pokes."

MacTaggert led them into her office. She swept her glasses off her face and perched them on the top of her head. She rubbed the inside corners of her eyes. Marie realised how dark the bags were under the doctor's eyes. Storm's as well. That chilly, Sixth Sense feeling had followed Storm into the little room. "When Gambit brought Illyana here, she was malnourished with a terrible cough," said MacTaggert. "I must say, he did a good job of keeping her healthy. How did he know to refeed her slowly?"

Marie didn't know the answer and MacTaggert didn't seem to be interested any way.

"We thought she'd caught an infection while she was imprisoned but... There's no real good way to say this: Illyana has ALD."

The bottom fell right off of Marie's stomach. She reached for the nearest chair and collapsed. She couldn't feel her knees. "What? How... do you know for sure?"

"We ran all the tests. Twice. There's no mistaking it."

"Oh God. If I'd answered my phone, you could've gotten something from my blood--"

"No," MacTaggert said firmly. "I've told you before and I'll tell you again, your immunity to ALD is yours alone for now. I would not have been able to create an antiviral or a vaccine from you even if I had a year. I have had a year and I'm only two notches closer to understanding how your body works. Even if you had come in the day she was brought and we performed a transfusion then and there, it still wouldn't have worked."

"Then why did you leave so many messages?"

"You're Peter's best friend," said Storm. "And Illyana has been asking for you." She laid a hand on Marie's shoulder and this time, Marie didn't have the strength or frame of mind to shrug it off.

"Where is she?"

"I can show you. It's in a new wing of the clinic. Pete and Logan built most of it. I strongly suspect neither man slept throughout the build."

"I wanted her here at all times so we could better monitor her health," said MacTaggert.

"So... wait, Illyana's powers catalysed while she was kidnapped and she got ALD?" Marie asked.

"That's the damned thing; it hasn't catalysed. The disease is attacking potential mutants now, not just activated x-factors. Rather, we're noticing ALD in non-catalysed mutants now that we know what to look for. I suspect there are many deaths attributed to pneumonia or some other respiratory disease which should have really been attributed to ALD."

"Oh my God." Marie sat up straighter. "Oh my God, Pete! Pete must be a wreck. And his mom... oh my God."

"They're here as well," said Storm. "And they can live here as long as they want. We've cleared a small set of apartments for them on the third floor."

"I need to--" Marie gestured helplessly at the bags she'd brought from the police station. "I was just going to deliver some presents but it all kind of seems useless right now."

"I think it's perfect," MacTaggert said. "She has been asking for you. I think she looks to you as a cross between a cool older sister and Superman."

Marie let out a chuckle mixed in with a sob. "Would it be okay to visit her right now?"

"Of course."

Marie paused before entering Yana's quarters. The little girl's room was a combination of childish fancy and the dreams of an adolescence she might never experience. The bed and dresser were antique finds, whitewashed, with peach and yellow detailing. Pop group magazine centrefolds hung beside framed pictures of friends and a landscape with horses. The reinforced double doors to her room, part of a negative pressure differential to keep the ALD virus in ruined the theme.

Yana lay on her stomach on her bed, talking to someone through her tablet. She looked like any other tween, the way she rested her cheek on her hand and how her angel-fine blonde hair waterfalled over her shoulder. The only difference was the IV connected to a permanent port just under her clavicle.
Marie pressed the buzzer. Yana looked up, brightened and waved her in. While the little girl presumably said good-bye to her friend, Marie donned a disposable gown, nitrile gloves, and a filtered mask. MacTaggert didn't think Marie could get ALD but she wanted to err on the side of caution. When Marie opened the first door, air rushed in with her. The first door shut. The vacuum continued for two full minutes before the second door opened.

"Hi, Rogue!" Yana said, waving.

"Just call me Marie," she said. "I got a few things for you from everyone at the station."

"Oooh, presents! The best part about being sick." As if to punctuate her statement, a hoarse, dry cough bowed Yana's shoulders. She quickly grabbed a mask lying upside down behind the tablet and covered her mouth.

Marie waited it out.

"Sorry," said Yana. "Dr. Moira said I should wear the mask as much as possible but the mic on my tablet isn't the best and I wanted to make sure Elisha and Anita could hear me."

"Those friends from school?"

"Uh-huh. Real friends. The ones who didn't freak out. Wow, that's a lot of presents."

Recognizing the subject change, Marie relented. She emptied her grocery bag on the bed. "Everyone pitched in a little something. Here's a DVD series about--"

"Oh! I always wanted to watch that!"

"Good. And some magazines, a box of homemade cookies and... and here." Marie held out a stuffed doll. This one was made of cotton and yarn, with real denim clothes and stubby grey claws, six in each stuffed fist. "I know you'll always love Bamf but I wanted to give you someone else to hang out with."

Yana laughed. "It's Mr. Logan!"

"Actually, I call him Snikt."

Yana tilted her head to one side, brows wrinkling.

"It's the sound his claws make when they come out," Marie explained.

At that, Yana laughed so hard, she went into another coughing fit. "Omigosh," she managed to gasp between coughs. "I can't unhear it."

"Mr. Logan was the one who found me and helped me get to Xavier's. I know he acts pretty mean all the time but he's really a nice guy. Even now that I'm with the police, he looks out for me." She brushed back Snikt's embroidery-floss hair. "For me, he's Pete, Kurt, and a German Shepherd rolled into one."

Yana held her mask in place again. "Oh! Oh! Please, I can't laugh. I'm gonna cough."

"Sorry." But Marie grinned as she spoke.

Yana swept her gifts up to arrange them on her dresser. All except Snikt who took centre court at the top of her pillows. "I have something for you, too."

"Oh, honey, you didn't have to."

"I kind of didn't. I mean, I made a card for you. Pete gave me acrylics 'cause watercolours get so smudgy and take so long to dry. Acrylics are way better. Here." She handed Marie a painted envelope taped to a cube-shaped gift box roughly the size of a grapefruit.

Bemused, Marie accepted. She took a card out of the envelope. White flowers chased each other through rows of geometrical pines. The execution lacked Pete's finesse but the flair for artistry was there. She only had to practice. God willing, she'd have years to practice. Marie had to force herself to release the card. Her grip had wrinkled one corner. She smoothed it away with her thumb.

"An Illyana Rasputin original and a gift? It's not even my birthday until September."

Mischief played at the corners of Yana's eyes. She bounced on her knees with excitement.

Marie opened the box. Inside, nested in cotton, was a pair of boxing gloves made of blown glass. They resembled old-fashioned marbles with an apple green and teal swirl on the inside and a thick, transparent shell forming the details of the thumb and the tips of the mitts on the outside. A delicate loop of transparent glass popped from the base of the gloves with a silver hoop running through it.

"It's a Christmas ornament!" Yana burst out.

"It's beautiful," said Marie. "But, Yana, sugar, you didn't have to buy this for me. This looks so expensive."

"I didn't buy it. Remy did."

Ice and heat knotted somewhere in the region of Marie's chest. "Remy... brought this to you? Here?"

Yana shook her head. "While we were hiding from the bad guys."

"He was supposed to keep you safe indoors."

"He did! We shopped online." She rolled her eyes with all the disdain a ten-year-old could muster towards adults.

"Oh. Well. Um, thank you, I guess, but I really don't need this."

"He said you'd say that."

Now Marie shifted from perplexed to pissed. "Yeah? What else did Remy say?"

"He said he was gonna get you a gift because, um..." Yana screwed her face around trying to remember. "Because it's time you got something just because it's stupid and sparkly, not because you need it or you traded for it."


"He hasn't visited me yet. Do you think... do you think he's scared of my disease?"

Marie wrapped her in a hug. "Oh, no, sugar. Remy wouldn't care about that at all."

"Then why doesn't he come?"

"It's... it's kind of complicated. He's got two daughters himself, y'know, but they live with their momma really far away. Maybe meeting you made him miss them and he's gone to visit."

"He could have at least called."

Yana sounded so much like a put-out adult that Marie had to laugh. "You're right. It's common courtesy to leave a message if you're going out of town. I'll make sure to let him know the next time I see him."

"And you'll remind him to visit?"

"Of course!"

"Good." Yana smiled, a little shyly. "I want to... It'd be nice to..." Her face screwed around into a grimace, the kind you made when you were trying not to cry. "I looked up ALD. Everyone who gets it dies. Did you know that?"

Marie hugged her again and this time, she didn't let go. She tucked the little girl's head onto her shoulder and ran her hands through her hair. "I read that, too."

"I don't want to die, Marie."

"I don't approve either. But Doctor Moira, and Nurse Annie, and Doctor Hank, and all their friends are doing their best to find a cure."

"Will they find one in time to save me?"

She wanted to say "yes." If it meant giving Yana hope, Marie would say the moon was made of ice cream. "I hope they do, sugar. I really do. I'd be so sad if you died. You're absolutely wonderful and I've only know you this short time."

"Mom and Pete will be real sad, too. And my friends in school." Yana coughed again. This fit lasted a good thirty seconds before petering away. "Do you think it hurts?"

"Do I think what hurts? Having ALD?"

"Well, yeah. But also... but also, dying. Will it hurt?"

"I don't know, honey. I hope not. But we're going to hope for a cure, remember? Because Moira, and Hank, and Annie are awesome."

"Okay. I'll hope. It'll make Pete and Mom happy, too." Yana picked at the straps of her mask. In a whisper that Marie almost didn't catch, she added, "But I still don't want it to hurt."

Marie hugged her so tight, her mask left imprints on her shoulder.

Pete met her in the hallway as she exited Yana's room. Marie started, surprised. Though, she should she have been? This was his sister's place. He stared at the wall, a hand pressed on the panelling, as though he could phase through it like Kitty. Slowly, he turned his head in her direction. His eyes...

God, Pete's canvases had nothing on his eyes. Marie didn't have to touch an inch of his skin to know his thoughts. Every shard of bitterness, every sliver of hope, every emotion he must have felt in the last sixty some-odd days showed in his eyes. Everything he struggled to convey in words or paints was right there. He had no idea how to hide his feelings and Marie treasured him all the more for it. She should have remembered, should have known, even when he'd disguised himself in metal or guido-clothing during the op.

She pressed herself against the pillar that was his body. Her arms wrapped best as she could around his waist. He didn't embrace her back, not at first. He kept one hand at his side while the other remained practically glued on the wall. The panelling bent under his palm, threatening to break.

"Pete." Marie held him tighter. "Pete. Oh, sugar."

His body shimmered into steel. Marie squeezed even more. She grasped his shirt, eyes clenched.

"Don't. Please don't, Pete. I'm here. I'm right here for you. I'll always be here for you, I promise. I promise."

He held his steel form a minute longer then, shuddering, it melted away as did his balance. He fell on the hardwood, taking Marie with him. Their knees smacked hard on the floor despite the carpeting. She still didn't let go. She couldn't. Not with Pete collapsing, curling around her, his great strong body heaving with dry sobs. She reached up to tuck his head on her shoulder and he let her. Her collarbone ached where his jaw worked. At first, Marie thought he was just gasping for air. Soon, she recognized one word, repeated over and over, swallowed, too painful to ask out loud.

"Why?" Pete shook, emptied himself of emotion, and asked, and asked, and asked: "Why?"

Marie didn't have an answer. She could only hold her best friend and cry.

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