Disclaimer: Marvel owns all mutants, but this story is copywrite me. It also assumes a different ending to X-Force 114. And, as a general disclaimer, never count on me for a birthday fic. Happy Belated Birthday Luba.

by Denise Keppel

Kitty looked up from the lengthy account of Henry the VIII's many marriages and sighed. Hard to believe, but at times like this, part of her actually wished for an demonic invasion, and she had to force herself to remember why going to college had been the right thing for her. Then again, when she was knee-deep in computer programming or physics, it was all so easy for her. She looked almost longingly at the rather large stack of papers she had to grade as part of her job as a TA. And then she looked down at the dry, boring tome and tried to force herself to concentrate.

A knock at the door relieved her of that burden. Smiling, she tossed the book aside and bounded for the door. Then she stopped and stared at the face from her past. He had changed since the last time she'd seen him; his youthful features had been prematurely exchanged for the world-weary look of one who had seen too much too often. He was now sporting a goatee that, with his natural gauntness, made him look like a bulldog on steroids. And, the crumpled black pants and white shirt reminded her of Pete Wisdom. "What--what are you doing here?" she asked as she stared at Sam Guthrie.

He smiled a weary smile and said softly, "Hi Ariel... why don't you invite me in?" Kitty, surprised that he knew her new name, nodded and pulled him in to her dorm room. The corners of his mouth lifted slightly as he explained, "Rahne asked me ta give ya something." He pressed a small package into her hands. "Moira left it ta ya in her will."

Kitty blinked back tears as she sat down on the couch. "How is Rahne?" she asked, forgetting for the moment to be concerned how the other man tracked her down.

Sam took in the small dorm apartment while he struggled to pick his words. Posters of the typical boy bands hung from the wall, pizza boxes were piled beside the trash can. A beta fish swam in a small tank on the kitchen counter. Over one neat computer, a framed, sharpened pencil labeled the "Redneck Computer" was hung next to a full color picture of a medieval knight kissing the arm of a sad looking woman. The other desk was crammed full of books, disks, and assorted computer related items. Choosing his words carefully, he answered, "She's doin' the best she can..."

"I should have called when...." Kitty said while she looked at the carefully wrapped box. It suddenly hit her that Moira had written her name on the grocery bag brown wrapping. She paused as she struggled with her tears.

"Logan explained everything," Sam said softly as he took off a book bag, with words that didn't excuse her lack of action but indicated that he understood. "Ya have cut off all contact with yer old friends so that ya wouldn't blow yer 'cover'." His tone of voice put the quotation marks around the last word.

"It doesn't excuse me," she whispered quietly. " I spent three years with her on Muir- and now I can't quite..." Tears started to well up in her eyes as the fact Moira McTaggart was dead started to become real to her. "It doesn't seem fair..."

"None of it does," he said as he sat down on the couch next to her. "Rahne lost her home, her powers, and her mother in one day," he added on in a weary voice, clearly placing the young woman's pain over Kitty's.

She looked up, surprised at that statement. "The news reports didn't say that." She bit her bottom lip, trying to figure out what she had said or done that had made the man so angry at her.

"The professor thought that if the public knew all the details, then someone might come after Rahne," he explained softly.

"That?" Kitty started and paused. "Scotland was never like America... has it all changed so much?" It had been over a year since she left the island, but she couldn't image the beautiful land being like the States.

He paused and shook his head, "It just pays to be careful." Rather or not he agreed with the professor's decisions, he felt he had lost all right to object. As the Xavier had so icily pointed out the last time he had talked to him, X-Force had decided to follow a different path from the X-Men, one that was increasingly becoming an opposing one.

She nodded sadly. "It does... Is Rahne okay?"

Rahne herself had been so fragile those first days after Moira's death, she couldn't make any decisions. She hadn't even been able to call Sean and tell him the news. In fact, the confusion after Moira's death had meant that Sean hadn't found out until the afternoon of Moira's wake. Sam lifted his hand at the woman's question. "Dani's moved over to Kincross with her for the time being. Rahne is pretty down right now."

He had just flown back from seeing his old friend, and it surprised him how much pain the young woman was in. Her blue eyes didn't sparkle anymore, even when he got her to laugh. And she had lost so much weight that Dani was worried. That morning, he and Dani had talked about trying to convince Rahne to start talking to Dr. Samson again, hoping that he could help her.

"Ah think Sean taking some time to be over there helps things though." Rahne had always needed a father figure, and the man needed someone to lean on him. Dani had hoped that together the two of them could help Rahne through the next couple of months without calling in a professional.

Kitty forced down the lump in her throat. "She has every right to be." One finger covered her lip as she exhaled. A second later, she shook her head. "Man... Rahne... she's got it rough."

"She does." Sam paused and stared at her. She got the distant feeling that he was wanting to say something.

She waited a second and started to look at the box. "Why did Moira--why me?" she whispered, as she carefully removed the tape from the bottom of the box. She started to unwrap the paper, as delicately as an old woman would be with expensive wrapping paper.

"She left something to everybody in Excalibur," he explained. Then, looking straight at her, he added carefully, "Even Pete Wisdom, though he didn't last long in there." He paused as if evaluating her response to that statement.

Kitty had gotten to both sides of the box but stopped as he said that. "That... I mean, Pete might have been there only for a few months, but he did a lot with us... He was as much a member of that team as Kurt or myself," she chose her words carefully, trying not to give away too much of either her history with the other man or her feelings towards him now. It felt strange to her, the way her heart leaped in her chest as the man mentioned Pete's name.

With time and Dr. Samson's help, Kitty had begun to understand the many reasons she had broken off with Pete; her fear of being abandoned like her parents had left her and her instinct for self-preservation, the fact that she wasn't fully allowing herself to totally love him because she didn't want to be hurt again, and the fact that she had been in a lifestyle that wasn't the heathiest for her physically or mentally. The guy she had met while working with S.H.I.E.L.D had been nothing more than a convenient excuse. Deep down, Kitty had the hope that someday she and Pete would meet again.

In a way, Pete had given her the strength to leave the X-Men behind and go to school. He had started her on the path towards becoming more than Shadowcat, and hadn't laughed when she talked about starting her own computer consulting firm. Instead, he had sat up nights and helped her plot out what she needed to do to make that a reality. And after all that happened to her after Excalibur, she decided to make that dream a reality. It helped knowing that somebody believed in her.

Forcibly, Kitty made herself continue opening the present, sliding out a music box. From the jeweled exterior, she knew that it had to be something of great monetary value, but that wasn't the reason tears started to well in her eyes. This music box had been on Moira's dresser for years, and in the family for generations. Carefully, she lifted the lid and smiled as "Ode to Joy" started to play, in marked defiance of what she was feeling. "Moira loved this box," Kitty explained as she dabbed at the tears in her eyes. "She told me once that she would beg her grandmum to let her hold it when she was a wee lass." Subtle touches of Moira's accent were sprinkled in her words.

She reached in and pulled out a note and two black packages. She smiled as she started to decipher the doctor's messy handwriting. "You told me once that your mother promised diamonds for your twenty-first birthday and pearls for your wedding day. I know she forgot, but I never did. I'm going to hope that I'll be there to give you these, but if I'm not... wear them knowing I was thinking about you." She pressed her fingers to her lips as she forced herself to breathe. "I can't? I can't believe she remembered that..."

Sam smiled at her gently, encouraging her to continue. "It was silly, just one of those casual comments that people make." When they were talking about broken promises and missing family members, that was. That comment had been made late on the night of her fifteenth birthday, while Moira sat with her, waiting on her parents to call. Kitty had explained that her mother had promised her a sapphire ring, her birth stone, for that birthday and the necklaces as she got older. Moira had then surprised her by handing her the sapphire ring her mother had received on her birthday.

Kitty bit her lip as she unrolled the black bags. One was a perfectly spaced and sized pearl choker that looked faintly Victorian. The other was a beautiful sapphire and diamond necklace. "I... I was such a bitch after I left," she whispered. "Moira was sick, I knew that... but I didn't call enough. I should have flown back and checked on her. And I didn't even talk to her for the last ten months."

Sam said nothing as she looked at the necklaces. She didn't know if he was agreeing that she should have been around more, called once in a while, or if he honestly didn't know what to say. "I've been out of touch with everybody for the past nine months," she tacked on.

"Nine months?" he asked sharply, as if there was something important to that date.

"It's a long story..." Kitty sighed, not wanting to delve into everything that had led to her decision to leave the X-men behind. "But.... yeah. Logan and I've only talked like three times since then."

He nodded as if realizing something. "You had no way of knowing..." he whispered. The reason he had volunteered to bring Kitty the package had been to talk to her and find out if she knew what had happened in the past couple of months. After the relationship she and Pete had shared, the least she could have done was show up when they buried him, or when they had the alcohol feast that had marked his wake.

"What?" Kitty asked, her mind more on Moira at the moment.

Sam pursed his lips, ready to tell her everything. Then her roommate burst in, in full Renaissance sword-fighting garb, followed by two men carrying swords. "Ariel, you should have seen it!" she exclaimed as she hung a sword on two hooks by her computer. "I actually won a match against Sir William!"

Sam looked carefully at the woman and the two men with her, both wearing chain mail. He then said, this time with a slight mid-western twang, "This is your roommate?"

Kitty quickly slid the necklaces, jewelry box and wrapping paper into Sam's backpack. "Yeah. Diana's big into the SCA." Diana looked at her guest with a strange expression, as if trying to fix a name to his face. "Diana, this is Simon, a guy I went to school with." Sam nodded at the three.

"Do you want us to leave?" Diana asked as she looked at the clearly upset girl and at the man beside her.

Sam shook his head. "I was just about to take Ariel out for some supper. I'm only in town until tomorrow and we wanted to spend some time catching up.. A friend of our's mother died." He added to explain why Kitty was upset.

Kitty watched as Diane looked Sam over, clearly enjoying what she was seeing. It was bad, but with the constant parade of men that her roommate brought in, Kitty felt like giving the other woman some payback. "We'll be out most of the night, more than likely... don't wait up." In a quick motion, she jumped to her feet. "Ready?" she asked Sam.

Sam nodded. "Sure thing." This time, as he stood up, Kitty watched him move. It was hard to explain how, but he was moving in a different manner than the way she was used to. Clearly, someone had taught him a lot about impersonations.

Once they got outside, he turned to her. "Thought maybe you'd like to stop by a bank and get a safety deposit box," he explained as he showed her the way to his rental car.

"That's a good idea. Dorm rooms aren't the safest place to keep valuables."

"And I saw a good place to eat where I'm staying," he added, still keeping his mid-western accent.

"Sounds good," she nodded. Sam opened her car door and quickly made his way over to his side. "There's a bank I use that's ten miles from here--it's ideal because no students use it."

"You've put a lot of time inta yer cover," Sam said as he started the car, smoothly slipping back into his natural Southern accent.

"I've had to," Kitty explained. "I want to make sure nobody associates me with Shadowcat... that's a whole lot harder than it seems. One slip up, and I'd be history. I couldn't get an off campus apartment when I got accepted here? I had waited so late to apply and they were all taken--, so Diane, despite her quirks, made a great roommate... She never watched TV growing up."

Sam lifted an eyebrow at that one. "Sounds odd."

"Her parents are medieval history professors at Stanford, very counterculture people--valuing books and artistic expression over pop-culture. That's why I got the computer to assign us as roommates." She had hacked into the student life computers and picked her roommate based on who was the least likely to recognize her. Kitty gave Sam directions to the bank branch.

"You two get along?" he asked as he took a left.

"As well as science and art can," Kitty admitted.

"Not really?" he hazarded a guess.

"Not that well," she said as she shook her head. "So, tell me... what's been up with you guys? How has X-Force done since Dani left?" In other words, how was Pete?

"We've changed directions," Sam started, trying to figure out the best way to tell Kitty what about Pete's death.

"What else is new?" Kitty tried to joke. X-Force changed directions more often than a stereotypical male who didn't want to admit he was lost. When Sam didn't smile back at her, she frowned. "What happened? I knew about Terry and about Domino and Dani leaving because Pete joined...." Sam looked around and found a children's playground. He pulled into it and sighed as he turned off the engine. "Sam?" she prodded.

Sam didn't answer, but looked at the kids playing on the swing. He smiled at their innocent fun, and then looked at Kitty. "You really didn't know." The way he said it, it was like he was confirming something to himself.

"Know what?" Kitty asked as she fought a lump in her throat. "What?"

This time, he looked at her, and for a split second, she saw Pete in his face and clothing. "What happened?" she demanded again.

Sam sighed, and knew that the only way to continue was to answer her bluntly. "Pete's dead."

Kitty took in a shaky breath, even though it felt like some one had hit her in the gut. She forced it out in small bursts, trying to force herself to think. One hand started to shake while the other pinched her lips. She closed her eyes. "How?" she finally asked.

This time, Sam took longer to answer. "He was the field leader... he had hurt his knee and couldn't fight with us?"

"Pete never really likes to fight." Kitty frowned at the present tense, which seemed so natural.

He continued, as if she never spoke. "He was several miles away from us, directing us... someone snuck up on him and shot him point blank in the face..."

This time, Kitty couldn't breathe at all. A mental image flashed before her eyes, one of a blood stained white shirt and a faceless head. She clenched her jaw, barely hearing Sam as he said, "Pete's been avenged... we got the bastard."

An eerily silence filled the car as she fought with tears that she didn't want to allow to escape. "How?" she finally whispered as she shook her head.

"Bloodily," he promised her. "We tracked down the Dr. Roman?"

"How could you have let this happen?" Kitty continued, snapping angrily. Before he could answer, she climbed out of the car, slamming the door behind her.

Sam waited inside, hoping for some clue, an idea to make the whole situation better. As she slammed her fist against the car door, he closed his eyes and slumped again the steering wheel. All this time, X-Force had thought her a heartless bitch. But she simply didn't know. Nobody had told her.

He bit the sides of his cheek, trying not to curse the professor. He had called personally and asked to speak to Kitty. Xavier had promised to give her the message. His former mentor didn't even say he was sorry for their loss. At the time, the phone call had seemed stilted, as if Sam hadn't understood the whole dynamics of the situation. But Kitty never heard from the Professor. And Tabitha had hated her for not daring to show her face at the burial. He hit the steering wheel and wondered why no body had told her.

Finally, Kitty climbed back in the car. "Drive," she ordered bitterly. "I need a drink." Her face was paper-white from shock, and her cheeks were wet from tears.

Sam nodded, knowing the feeling. It wasn't too far to the restaurant/bar that was attached to his hotel. And that seemed like as good a place as any. Once they were there, Sam wasted no time in ordering the first round of drinks. In honor of Pete, they both ordered scotch, neat. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Kitty stared at her shot glass for a second, before quickly downing it. She signaled the waitress for another one. This one she stared at for a while, and rolled the liquid around the glass, considering drinking it. Finally, she asked Sam, "Why do you do it?"

"Do what?" he asked as he took a sip from his drink. Even with a healing factor, he was careful about how much he drank. Maybe in part because he didn't want to risk losing control, even for a second, and maybe because he never really developed a taste for the stuff.

"Go out there and fight?" she clarified.

Not sure what to think about the sudden switch in conversation, he took another sip. "Muh family... muh hometown... all that good stuff." He smiled a little, like he always did when his thoughts drifted to Cumberland Corners.

"Apple pie, American flag, and mom?" Kitty asked sarcastically.

Sam shook his head. It took a lot to really offend the Southerner, much more than the words of a hurting acquaintance. Instead, he explained, "Mutancy has a genetic link... Ah've got two brothers and a sister that haven't started puberty... and a whole slew ofcousins.." Kitty's eyes widened as she realized what the man was saying. "Ah want them ta be able ta leave that town and know they are safe. Cumberland Corners is dying as the mines wear out, but even Momma had ta come back home... she couldn't find a job that paid enough, not with four mouths ta feed, and her without a proper education or skills. Ah want more for muh family." And truthfully, deep down, he felt like he was meant to do what he did, risk his life for others. If he hadn't been a mutant, he would have become an officer in the Army.

Kitty took a sip out of her shoot glass. "Scott and Jean, the lot of them had Xavier's dream to fight for... and we both know people fighting because they like to fight.." Sam nodded, thinking of Logan. "But what do you do when you don't know why you're fighting?" she asked softly. "When you wake up in the middle of the night from a familiar nightmare? when the eyes of those you didn't save stare at you? What can you say when you don't know why you're fighting any more?"

Sam exhaled, remembering helping digging students out of an elementary school after Onslaught. If he hadn't had his reasons for being an X-Man, those sightless eyes could have driven him to the brink of insanity. Instead, he spent his sleepless nights explaining to those he failed why he was in the business, looking at his family pictures, writing long letters home. It was the only way he kept sane. But to be in the position of not knowing why he was fighting, not being able to answer those who blamed him for being there, for not being there, for not taking the bullet that ended up lodged in somebody else's back... that would be torture. "Ah never..."

"I'm an adrenalin junkie... so I didn't realize something about me... not until after Pete and I broke up." Kitty finished the drink. "I'm numb inside. I was an X-Man for the thrill of it all... but that answer stopped helping after a while."

Sam just looked at her, encouraging her to continue.

Kitty sighed bitterly and started to recite a list, each name followed by an upheld finger. "Doug... Illyana... Rachel... Somewhere between when my parents faded from my life and their deaths, I stopped letting people affect me. I turned off something in my heart. And now Moira's gone... and Peter... and Pete. " She made a ring of sweat circles. "After I cut Pete out of my life... I realized I had a death wish. And finding Destiny's diary, seeing that our fate was already laid out for us... She even saw what it would take to cure Legacy... And it made me feel like I didn't have a choice in things, like I was...." Kitty trailed off, realizing how much she was telling the man.

"Hopeless?" Sam asked, supplying the word that she was looking for.

"Exactly." Kitty nodded. "I was a liability, an accident waiting to happen." She nearly mentioned the fact that her death had been written into the book she found, but she didn't feel up to that. Hopefully, by changing her path, she could avoid the fight that Destiny had predicted. "So I left the team."

"Did anybody say anything ta ya?" Sam said as he leaned forward. "It had ta be hard ta come ta that conclusion alone..."

"Yes... but it's not like I was surrounded by people who really cared about me. Peter was so enamored with Rogue, Kurt's an acolyte, I hadn't really forgiven Storm and Logan for disappearing on me..." Kitty finished the drink in front of her. "And they all wanted me to act like I was fifteen or so, like none of the shit that had happened happened... Finally Logan realized what I was going through and offered to pay for me to go school... I took him up on that offer. Maybe him not telling me was his way of trying to protect me from doing something stupid? but that's hardly his style." She sighed, letting the alcohol go to her head. "Xavier went as far as ordering Cerebro to erase all mention of me ... don't know if that was a good thing or not, if he understand or not... but I needed to leave."

He agreed with her action. "If anybody came ta me and told me that, Ah'd help them get help, but Ah wouldn't want them on muh team." A person with a death wish wasn't someone to have on a team that saw combat damage. If, or more than likely, when they slipped up, they could take everybody around them out with them.

"I just..." she finished wistfully, "I wanted you to understand why I left, I guess. And maybe a little bit of why I broke up with Pete."

He nodded and shrugged and then signaled for the waitress to bring them another round. She looked warily at him and then to Kitty, as if saying that she knew he wasn't drinking that much liquor alone, and that she expected a huge tip for being so nice before taking their order to the bartender. "Ah didn't figure it was any of my business," he explained. "Relationships come and go, after all."

Kitty watched as the waitress relayed the order, and then made her way over to a redheaded, wirily thin man with a large order of barbeque and a tequila. Something about the man struck her as familiar, though she couldn't put her finger on what. She frowned at him, trying to place him as one of the faculty or staff at her school, but that wasn't it. In fact, if she had the slightest doubt that Sam was lying to her,she would have suspected that it was Pete in disguise. But Pete would never be seen rooting on the Giants while inhaling tequila. The man waved at her and Kitty frowned. "I guess I'll be seeing him for a long time," she whispered to herself.

"Hmm?" Sam said.

"Nothing," she said dismissively. "It's just nice to talk to someone who has an idea what I mean."

That made the man smile. "Since the day Ah was born, Ah have never known what a woman really means by what she says." Sam took his time finishing off his scotch as he watched Kitty laugh. "Ah just nod a lot and most women think Ah understand."

It felt odd to laugh, she realized. Especially after the emotional roller coaster she had been on for the past couple of hours. "It's nice to know that someone can understand what I've gone through."

He nodded. "It's what keeps us together, Kitty. The fact that nobody else has the same frame of reference." Something dark flashed across his face as he said that and, for a second, Kitty got the feeling that a lot of his relationships were based on nothing else but common experiences.

The conversation lulled for a minute as the two took sips off their drinks and started on the food they ordered. Finally, Sam said, "Ah brought something of Pete's Ah thought ya might want."

She smiled at that. "Thank you." Even if she couldn't keep it with her, it meant a lot that she'd have something of his. "I don't know if you'll believe it, but I loved him."

Sam smiled. "Ah do, and Ah think he still loved you." When he packed up the other man's things, he found a picture of the two of them together tucked away in a book of poetry. Besides a few books, it had been the only really personal thing that Pete had carried with him. "It's in muh room," he added.

When he arrived in town, he honestly didn't know what to do with the package. If Kitty really didn't care about Pete, then the gift was out of place. And if she did, then she deserved some privacy to mourn the man. After some thought, he had decided to leave it in his room and come back for it if she wanted it.

"I want to see it," Kitty said. Sam tossed down two fifty dollar bills, more than enough to cover their bill and to give the waitress a generous tip, and led the way through the restaurant to the elevator.

Once the doors closed, she felt a stinging sensation around her eyes. "Fuck this," she said as she took the packet of tissues from Sam. "I... I can't pretend I'm normal now... not tonight." She clenched and unclenched her fist, wishing desperately she could pay the hotel's gym a visit. She needed to hit something so bad.

"Ah figured as much," Sam said as the doors opened. "Ya need some space."

"No," she disagreed. "Just to cry. I never really cry." She dabbed at the tears that were forming. Back when she was an X-Man the first time around, she refused to allow herself to cry too often, afraid the others would take it as a sign of immaturity. It was a pattern she kept up over the years. But, now it was different. Maybe because Sam was her age, or maybe because she didn't feel like a youngster playing an adult's game, but she felt comfortable enough to let loose some of her control over her emotions.

"I've been there... after Doug died..." he said gently as he showed her the way to the room he was staying in. "They think it's easy to lead. But it's not. You can't forget your mistakes. One small slip-up, somebody's dead, and it's your fault..." The last was said in a almost whisper as he remembered their friend.

"You've changed, Sam." Kitty realized as she looked at him again. It was more than the cosmetic things, the way he'd grown into his height or the goatee he now wore. Something fundamental about him had been altered since the time they first met.

"Say it like it's a good thing." The tone was bitter, but not nearly as much as the truth was. He had changed. He had lost the innocence that he had when he first joined the New Mutants. And he had toughened up, now nearly to the point of being hard. He wasn't as comfortable in his skin either, although he didn't he let that show.

"It is... you aren't the same anymore." The Sam she had first met couldn't have made it as long as this Sam had. If the teenage Sam hadn't learned to be strong, he wouldn't have become the leader--or the man--he was.

"Once, Ah told Rahne Ah didn't have faith in miracles anymore..." He had lost a lot of himself through the years, just like Kitty had given up a lot. The one thing he really missed was his belief that people were fundamentally good. "I wish I had her faith," he added wistfully.

"Some people get stronger through pain." That applied to Rahne as well as them, Kitty realized. Her strength had come from realizing that, for now, the X-Men was not the right place for her. "I don't want to go back to the X-Men... I'm tired of fighting for a dream that I'll never get to live."

"Then be strong in the work force... be a role model for gals everywhere." A mutant woman running a company bigger than Microsoft would do more to advance mutant/human relations than anything he had done. "Pete saw you as a fighter. He loved that about you."

"He... he mentioned that?" That stunned her; she never pictured Pete as one to talk about his past.

"I saw it in him." Or more aptly, in the way he was attracted to women who were fighters. "But fight where you want to fight," Sam advised her gently.

"Not tonight... I'm sick of fighting... sick of trying to hold on with everything in me." Kitty whispered as she sat down on the bed. The events of the night started to wash over her in waves of undescribable tiredness. "I want to ...be alone for a bit," she whispered. "I don't want to go back to that dorm room tonight," she added.

"That's understandable," Sam said as he opened the door to his room. "That's why Ah got two rooms tonight... just in case ya needed to be alone."

"You shouldn't have," Kitty protested, surprised at his kindness.

He acted as if he didn't hear her. "Ah'll go and get some stuff for ya," he offered gently as he reached into a traveling bag he had left in his room. Gently he laid a package on the bed. "I think Pete would have wanted you to have it," he said tersely, as he made his way out the door.

Kitty waited a split second before opening the outside wrapper. It was Pete's trench coat. She sobbed as she held it close to her. The familiar scent of scotch, cigarettes and Pete was still there, even if it was very faint. She mouthed a thank you to the southerner, as she realized that he hadn't washed it. She wrapped it around herself and curled up in it, thankful for the favor.

Sensing that the woman really needed to be left alone, Sam quickly left the room. Once the door shut, Kitty curled up on the bed and just breathed for a few seconds. It didn't seem fair, she thought bitterly. Pete wasn't like the rest of them. And he deserved a better death than the one he had met.

Tears started to roll down her cheeks as she remembered lying in bed with him and the way he would wrap one arm possessively around her, his hand cupped on her chest. He claimed that he slept better like that. And he made her laugh. It was more than her dream of patching things up with him, she realized as the sobs started. She was mourning a life well lived, and a dear friend who she had hurt.

When Peter had died, it hurt Kitty. Even though what they had shared had long since died, his death marked the passing of any chance that her youthful dreams of a knight in shining armor would come true. He had been her first girlish love, and that relationship taught her so much about love, herself, and how to go on after heartache. She could never love wholeheartedly, totally open again, having tasted the pain that that would bring.

With Pete, she had been an adult, and an equal. Both things were important to her, she had discovered. He didn't swoop in and rescue her but allowed himself to be rescued by her. He showed her that it was okay to be strong, to be a computer geek, to be herself. And he loved her for each trait.

But what hurt worst about knowing that Pete was dead was the regret. In her dreams, they would meet again and, at the very least, Kitty would say all the things that she needed to say to him. Maybe they could have had a second chance, she had hoped so, but she would have closure. But that couldn't happen now. And that regret was a suffocating grip on her heart.

Sam came back from the mega-store an hour later, and found her curled up on the bed in a fetal position. He said nothing as he sat a large bottle of cold water beside her. "Thank you," she whispered softly.

"It's nothing," he said as he made his way over to the large sink in the back of the room. Kitty watched him as he started to pull things out of his bags. One by one, he sat a toothbrush, toothpaste and a bottle of mouthwash by the faucet. Next to them, in a neat line, he arranged a bottle of bodywash, a bottle of shampoo and conditioner in one, and a hairbrush and comb. On the foot of the bed, he slid a dorm suit and a simple dress. "Ah'm jist tryin' ta make sure yer comfortable," he explained.

Kitty looked at the items he bought, and then back at him. The gesture warmed her heart, and she smiled at him as he laid two other bottles of cold water beside her. "Thank you," she repeated. "I mean it... I needed that cry... I needed to unload on somebody."

Sam sat down by her side and smiled. "We've all been there," he said gently. "A recon' that's the reason Tabitha and A keep comin' back to each other... because we know what the other is going through." There was something in his eyes that said that deep down, he didn't feel it was for the best, but that relationship was a safety net for him.

"You and she broke up?" Kitty asked as she pushed herself up on one elbow. It was the shadow that danced across his face that made her realize-- "Pete and Tabitha?"

Sam nodded. "He wasn't a saint now..."

"He never was," Kitty said gently, as she thought about the other woman. "And I can understand what he saw in her..." Pete had always admired women with a bit of a wild side and more than a bit of brains. "And it's nice to know..." she said softly as she smiled, "that he moved on..that he allowed someone into his life again..."

Sam nodded, deciding that it wasn't the time to tell her everything about Pete after the break-up. He ran a gentle hand through dark brown hair and smiled at her. "He did."

Wanting to be alone, she laid her head back on the pillow. "What you did, Sam... I can understand why I wasn't told... but I needed to be. Thank you."

Sam smiled bitterly as he moved his bags to be next to the door that joined their two rooms together. "It's a part of my job, Kitty..."

"What is?" she asked as she took another sip of the water.

"Notifying the loved ones... It's part of being the team leader." he explained as he made his way to the outside door. He paused for a second, as if wanting to say more. "If ya need me, holler."

Kitty smiled at him. "I will," she promised.

The red-headed man bumped into Sam as he left the one room and quickly went into the other. "Sorry," the southerner muttered as he quickly looked up. "Wasn't watching where Ah was goin'."

"It's okay," the man said as he drunkenly made his way into the room he had rented, seemingly unaware that the blond man was watching him. Once the door unlocked, he quickly entered the room. It had worked, Pete Wisdom realized as he slumped against the door. Over the past couple of weeks, he had run into Domino, Cable and a few other faces, testing the quality of his disguise. Nobody had recognized him through all the plastic surgery. Hell, half the time, he was lucky to remember that the mug staring back at him in the mirror was now his.

Maybe it had been a mistake to go undercover like he had, but it was a mistake that Pete hadn't been able to find a way around. His grudge against Timothy Shanks was well known, known, as was the fact he regretted ever working for the man. As long as Shanks thought Pete Wisdom was alive, he was going to be extra vigilant when accepting new men into his organization.

Pete hadn't had the heart to let Romany think he was dead though. And she in turn let just enough of his motive slip to the two people in X-Force who might have figured out what had really happened to him. Working for Shanks, harvesting mutants for the man was Pete's greatest regret. And now he had a chance to bring down the man, working from the inside out, and having trained the team that was going to do the physical labor when the time was right.

He had followed Sam from San Francisco to Cal Tech, tipped off by Logan that Kitty was going to find out the news, hoping to see if his disguise could fool them. Seeing the shocked look on her face as the two sat at the bar had hurt him. The last thing he had wanted to do was to cause her pain.

Part of him, the logical and rational part, accepted the fact that Kitty had had some problems in her past that made having a relationship with him difficult. When she said it was over, it had been his ego that dictated that he pack up and leave Muir. However, a part of his heart had remained with her, hoping that with time she could accept whatever it was that had prevented her from being truly happy with him.

Emotions, especially about people who were firmly in his past, weren't a luxury he could afford at the moment, so with practiced control, he stopped his train of thought. A part of him still loved Kitty and, if things had been different, he had hoped that with time they could get back together. But that wasn't the reality he lived with. And as much as he wished that things could change, they wouldn't. He had hurt her deeply by 'dying', just as others in her past had hurt her by their deaths, both real and fictional.

He was divided at the moment, with a part of him wanting to knock on Kitty's door and tell her the truth about him and why he had done what he had done. But Logan said she was happy and that she had her own personal reasons for leaving the X-Men. And the last thing he wanted to do was shatter the peace she had found.

He tried to force himself to be angry at his students, and the questions they didn't ask of him while he was with them, not even the most obvious ones like why did he agree to remain in a city that wouldn't allow him to enjoy booze and fags together? And why were they able to just walk into a SHIELD base? And why did he spend so much time alone there, especially with all the cloning equipment just lying around? And how the hell did someone like Pete Wisdom get snuck up on, especially when he knew he had to be on guard?

It didn't work, and Pete turned to the doorway. He knew he could trust Guthrie and Kitty to keep his secret. Then his bloody beeper started to vibrate, reminding him why he had gone through the plastic surgery and the trouble of making those around him think he was dead. He picked it up, cursed a moment, and then started to take care of business.

Back To The Marvel Page