Apocalypso: Epilogue


by Sami Merchi



* DISCLAIMER * This is a non-profit work of fan-fiction involving characters created and owned by Marvel Comics Group. This story contains EXPLICIT VIOLENCE, and a few lines of EXPLICIT LANGUAGE. If this bothers you, please do not read the story.

* WRITTEN BY * Samy <samerc@mash.yok.utu.fi> Merchi

* ARCHIVED AT * http://mash.yok.utu.fi/corona.html

* CONTINUITY * This story takes place in my Shadows of the Future timeline http://mash.yok.utu.fi/corona/xforce/index.html  in year +3 (three years in the future), on the 4th of July, about half a year after FIRST AND TEN, shortly after YOUR WAY, about half a year before WHO DARES WINS

"Xi'an is a hero!" Coy Leong beamed proudly as he walked the clean, antiseptic halls of the hospital. "She saved a lot of people -- maybe hundreds -- thousands!" The teen was practically bursting with pride over his older sister.

"Yeah well, I had a part too", Illyana Rasputin added with a little smile, walking the halls between Xi'an's two siblings. She didn't really care, though, whether she was remembered or not -- but teasing people was always a bait she couldn't help but take when the opportunity presented itself.

"And everyone else, too!" Coy Nga continued, seeming a bit more indignant than Illyana -- which, of course, wasn't necessarily saying much. "Like Roberto! He must have helped, too!"

"You *always* talk about Roberto", Leong rolled his eyes.

"I do *not*!" Nga frowned at her brother.

"Do too!" Leong snapped back.

"Kids", Illyana shook her head with a smile. "I'm never gonna have any", she stated firmly before looking over to Nga with one corner of her mouth quirked in amusement. "It's okay to have a crush on him", the blonde quipped. "Every other girl does."

"I do *not* have a crush on him!" Nga's eyes widened and her cheeks started burning red.

"Yeah right", Illyana smirked as the trio rounded a corner. "And I'm Diana, Amazon princess."

"Look! There's Xi'an!" Leong interrupted the other two, pointing a finger at the large group of people up ahead.


"No comment", Xi'an said with a tense face, closing her eyes for a brief moment, mustering her patience and trying to ignore the crowd of reporters around her. "The Fallen Angels have no comments on Palenque at the moment. A press release will be issued later today, I assure you all." She flinched reflexively a little at a few camera flashes, and took a deep breath. ((Don't use your powers... Don't become Tran... Don't use your powers to get rid of everything and everyone that annoys you...))

"What are your feelings on the destruction wrought on Palenque?" a reporter stuck a microphone at Xi'an's face. "Are you aware of the historical significance of the site and the amount of cultural heritage lost in the devastation?"

"I am painfully aware of that", Xi'an sighed, looking towards the video camera the reporter's partner was aiming at her. "In my home country, history and tradition are extremely important. Far more so than I have seen the case be here in the United States", she failed to hold back the little barb. "It saddens me greatly that such a loss took place. However, I would like to remind everyone that had the battle not taken place, a great many more lives might well have been lost at the hands of the invading N'garai. The history contained within the buildings of Palenque was as unique as any human life. In fact, it served as reminder and information of *thousands* of human lives. Neither could ever be replaced or rebuilt once lost. The question we all must face is which of these irreplaceable things is more important to us -- stone or flesh."

"With Roberto da Costa in critical condition, you are in charge of the Fallen Angels operation", another reporter cut in. "What are your thoughts on this, and are you planning on changing anything about the organization?"

"My prayers are with Robert", Xi'an answered, forcing herself to remain calm as ever, "and I have every expectation that he will make a full recovery. As long as that is the case, I have no intention of changing anything about the Fallen Angels." ((Wonderful, Robert -- leave me in charge. Was this always your plan? To force me to stay by placing a burden of responsibility on me? Counting on me not being able to walk away from a position in which I was actually needed? Could you be that manipulative? That devious?)) She stared at the camera lens for a few moments, thoughts racing thru her head, ignoring the noise of the reporter crowd around her as if they didn't exist. Then, she frowned. ((Damn you, Robert...))

"Is there truth to the rumors that you and da Costa are lovers?"

"WHAT?" Xi'an blinked, her jaw dropping as she looked towards the reporter who had asked the question. She just stared with a stunned expression for a few moments, feeling her cheeks redden but she wasn't sure if it was from anger or embarrassment. With her supreme self-control, she reined in the desire to wipe any memory of the question from the minds of everyone present. She'd just have to endure the embarrassment. But, she was under no obligation to stay and be embarrassed by further questions. She vanished.

"What --?"

"Where did she --?"

"How --?"


"Heya, Shan", Illyana smiled as the reporter crowd parted a little thanks to a subconscious nudge by the Vietnamese woman who was also using her telepathy to make the reporters think she wasn't there anymore. She was extending the courtesy to Illyana, Leong and Nga as well, to protect them from the ravening hordes. "Jedi mind trick?"

Xi'an nodded without a verbal answer, noting a black eye Illyana had but choosing not to comment on it. Instead, she put her arms around her siblings, embracing them gently. "Leong. Nga. I'm sorry I had to leave so abruptly last night, but I was needed. I am very sorry. Can I take you ice-skating some other time?"

"Don't worry about it, Xi'an", Leong smiled, returning the hug. "You're a superhero! You had to go save the world! POW! SOCK!" he swung his fists around in a cartoonish manner. "Like Superman in Illyana's comics! Just because he has to leave Lois behind sometimes doesn't mean he doesn't care about her!"

Xi'an raised an eyebrow and looked briefly towards Illyana. The blonde shrugged and gave a sheepish smile. "And they say comics rot kids' minds!"

"You are being so immature, Leong", Nga rolled her eyes, looking away from her brother.

"Nga", Xi'an placed a hand onto her sister's shoulder. "Leong. Come on, let us go find something to eat. Have either of you eaten today yet?"

"Chips", Nga answered. "Chips and ice cream."

"That's not real food", Xi'an shook her head and started down the hallway, her hands on her siblings' shoulders. "Come on. Illyana", she glanced over her shoulder. "You'll keep an eye on things here?"

"Will do!" Illyana chirped. "Do they have TVs anywhere in here?"

Xi'an walked off with Leong and Nga, not answering. Illyana hadn't really expected her to. She grinned, and headed towards one room in particular.



The door opened without a sound, pushed ajar just a little, barely enough for a dark eye to peer thru the crack into the room beyond.


Amara Aquilla was in the room, a chair pulled up next to the bed where Roberto da Costa lay motionless, the steady beeping of the heart monitor letting her know of his steady pulse.


She had her knees pulled up against her chest, resting her chin tiredly upon the knees. Every minute or two, her tired eyes, bags underneath them, started drifting closed until she noticed, and forced the weariness away, sitting a little straighter.


"Do not leave us, Roberto", she murmured, quietly reaching over to place her slender fingers onto his wrist, lightly running the fingertips a few inches up and down his dark skin, feeling his warmth and sighing a little.


"We need you." A brief hesitation, and she leaned down, her lips brushing over the back of his hand. Taking a deep breath, she sat back up, and looked away, out the window where the hot summer sun was scorching Manhattan. "I need you", her throat constricted slightly.


"You have done so much for me, Roberto", she sighed, lowering her eyes into her lap. "Do you know, I never had any idea what I wanted out of life? I always thought, father would marry me to a local noble, which almost happened. I'd spend the rest of my life being a wife. But..."


"Ever since I joined the New Mutants...the Hellions...the Fallen Angels... I have seen so much of the world outside Nova Roma. I still don't know what I want out of life. I only know what I *don't* want. I don't want to live in Nova Roma anymore and just be someone's wife."


"I suppose I have always been directionless, Roberto. I don't know what I want to do. I only know I want to do something -- *anything*. You gave me something to do again." A little sad smile slowly grew on her lips. "I needed a place in the world. You gave me one."


"I don't know what will happen to the Fallen Angels if you do not recover", she grew more serious again. "Xi'an...she does not want to be in charge. I can tell. She only wants a peaceful life, to be with Leong and Nga. Not all of this..."


"The Fallen Angels were your vision", Amara stood up beside the bed, holding Roberto's hand gently. "They will fall apart without you. We will all scatter back to the four winds once more. I don't want that to happen. I have a family again. I don't want to lose it again."


"Come back to us, Roberto", she gave a little squeeze to his hand, closing her eyes. "We need you. We need you to hold us together." A very faint sniffle, accompanied by a forced smile. "I'd give you more reasons to come back, if only it wouldn't hurt Danielle..."


Amara moved over to the window, pulling the curtains a bit further open to let more sunlight into the room. The door was pushed open, and she turned around to see Illyana at the doorway. Tired face brightening a little, Amara nodded to her fellow blonde. "Hello, Illyana."

"Hiya, Amara", Illyana replied a bit absently, glancing down the hallway after Danielle Moonstar's figure disappearing behind a corner. Stepping inside the room, she decided not to mention the other woman to Amara. "How's loverboy doing?"

"The doctor says the prognosis is favorable", Amara rubbed at her eyes a little, probably due to weariness. "It will take time for him to recover, though."

"Knowing him, he'll probably be machoing his way out of bed two weeks before he should", Illyana snorted and closed the door behind her, walking over to Amara and raising an eyebrow as she looked the Nova Romani woman in the eyes. "When have you last slept?"

"Yesterday morning", Amara answered.

"Been up all night?"

"I wished to make certain nothing would go wrong here."

"Hnh", Illyana's lips quirked in minute amusement. Then, she stepped over to the chair, plopping herself down and crossing her legs. "You guys worry too much. Should've come out drinking with me."

"Is that how you got that black eye?" Amara asked.

"Beijing duck", Illyana answered.

Amara's eyebrows rose and she stared blankly at the Russian woman for a few moments. Then, she said, "Not all of us choose to deal with our grief in the same way."

Illyana's expression turned serious for a moment and she avoided Amara's eyes. Then, she forced away thoughts of Sam by clinging to another topic. "So, did you hear Dani and 'Berto broke up?"

"What??" Amara's eyes widened.


"Uh-uh", Douglock placed his hand onto Marrow's chest and pushing her back down onto the bed. "Rest. You need to heal, Sarah. Give your body time to recuperate."

"Rest makes you *weak*", Marrow grumbled in her bed, crossing her arms over her chest. "I didn't become the best hunter in the Dark Dimension by being *weak*. When others rested, I kept on going. That's why I'm the *best*."

"I'd rather have you be alive than the best", Douglock shook his head.

"You think I'm going to *die* because of a few cuts?" Marrow snarled. "You safe-safe upworlders are so scared of anything tiny-tiny that might prick your intact little skins! Get a little blood when you rip a toenail and you're all boo-hoo and pretend you can't even walk because of your soft-soft upbringing. All of you, threaten with a little pain and you go crying back home!"

"She has a point", Chance added from where she was sitting in a dark corner with a gloomy expression. "A lot of people are like scared little sheep, freaking out for the smallest reasons. Some of us have had to scrounge for food from garbage cans while other people in their expensive fur coats run screaming away from the thought of eating something that fell to the floor for a second."

"But why eat from garbage when you can have clean food?" Douglock failed to wrap his mind around the concept. "Why take risks or suffer pain when you don't have to?"

"Why?" Marrow asked, and raised her hand, three bony claws still protruding from the back of it. "See these?" she asked, waiting a moment, and then, snarling, struck the claws into the metal frame of her bed. With cracks, the bones snapped off and clattered to the floor, leaving little stumps a little under her knuckles. "*Because*", she just said, glaring at Douglock.

Douglock sighed and shook his head, walking slowly around the bed and picking up the broken-off bone claws. He didn't have to ask to know whether breaking them off had hurt. "I don't understand you, Sarah", he said quietly. "I just don't."

"There's nothing *to* understand", Marrow wrinkled her nose, looking away.

"And she doesn't want you here anyway, playing at being the sentimental type and trying to change her into being something she's not", Chance snorted.

Douglock's eyes widened a little as he glanced over at the Korean woman. He just stared at her for a few moments, then shrugged and threw his hands up. "Fine, whatever", he shook his head, starting for the door. "I don't understand you women. Never have, never will", he mumbled, departing the room. "I wish my language power extended to womanese..."

Chance waited a while after the door was closed, and then looked over to Marrow. "You don't need him", she said.

"Hmp", Marrow grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest. "Who said I did?" she snapped, indignantly, avoiding Chance's eyes.


"Scott! Scotty! Slim! Cyke! Cyclops! Summers!"

"SHADDAP, RICHTER!" Tabitha Smith yelled at the top of her lungs, grabbing the plastic cup of water on the nightstand beside the hospital bed where she was lying, and threw it at her source of aggravation despite the pain radiating from her bandaged eye.

"Nyah nyah! Can't even hit me, one-eye!" Julio Richter dodged the cup and the arc of water it left behind.


Alas, not so, Danielle Moonstar who opened the door only to be greeted by water in her face. "Tabitha", she bared her teeth icily, glaring at the blonde in bed, while water dripped down her face.

"Whoops", Tabitha grimaced and then gave a nervous smile. "Well, take it this way -- not melting proves you're not the Wicked Witch of the West..."

"I think you're not helping your case, Cyke", Rictor noted as he watched Dani's expression turn darker. Tabitha answered to the nickname with a growl. "Though you sound more like Wolverine", Rictor added.

"Well, at least you're up on your feet", Dani still had her nose wrinkled at Tabitha as she looked over to Rictor.

"Just cuts and bruises", the Mexican nodded, sitting down on the edge of his bed. "Still sore as all hell, but the doctor popped by just before you and made sure I was mostly okay. How about everyone else?" he asked.

"Shatterstar and Marrow are recovering", Dani answered neutrally, then her lips twitched for a fraction of a second, parting but remaining wordless for a heartbeat before she spoke. "'Berto's expected to pull thru."

"What about Sam?" Tabitha asked. "Is he okay? His ears --"

"Nobody's told you?" Dani's eyes widened a little, and she raised a hand over her mouth. "Oh, spirits..." she grimaced.

"What??" Tabitha gasped, her eye widening. "What's wrong with Sam? What? Dani, tell me --!"

"Tabitha..." Dani winced.



At the sound echoing in from the hallway, Shatterstar leapt up from his bed, flipping once in the air and landing in a crouch. "My apologies", he said without looking over his shoulder at the nurse by his bedside, "but it appears one of my comrades is in distress." With that, he dashed out of the room, ignoring the nurse's protests.

Shatterstar navigated down the hallway in his hospital gown, heading in the direction where Tabitha's cry had come from. Deftly, he dodged people rushing here and there, managing to steer clear of running into any of them.

"Shatterstar", Douglock noted casually as the warrior passed him by without notice, thanks to his being in his human-looking Douglas Ramsey form. "Where are you headed?"

"I heard Meltdown cry out", Shatterstar skidded to a halt with a menacing expression. "I do not *trust* this place -- they have even taken my *sword*..."

"Paranoid much?" Douglock shook his head with a smile. "I saw Illyana lugging your sword around. You might want to ask her about it. And Tabitha's all right. It's not like the MLF's attacked this place or anything. Geez, relax", he urged and then asked, "Do you ever?"

Shatterstar glared at Douglock. "No."

"That figures", Douglock sighed, looking up at the ceiling with a minute smile. "You should ask Sarah on a date."

"I do not 'date'", Shatterstar hissed.

"And it shows", Douglock nodded.



Dani tensed up at the sound of the voice, grimacing and freezing in place. Forcing her face back to neutral, she slowly turned towards the door. "Bridge."

George Washington Bridge watched the young woman for a while, then with a sigh and a shake of his head, said, "A word with you?" He glanced subtly to Rictor and Meltdown, before returning his eyes to Dani. "This way", he said in a tone that wouldn't take no for an answer, turning around and disappearing from the doorway.

"Jerk", Tabitha glared after the black man.

"Cable certainly rubbed off on him", Rictor remarked dryly.

"I'll be right back, guys", Dani sighed, giving her two teammates a look before starting for the doorway.

"Need backup?" Rictor asked.

Dani paused, and forced a little smile. "I think I'll live."


"So, anyway", Illyana stared out the window, pursing her lips a bit. "What're you going to do now?"

"Now?" Amara asked, standing beside Roberto's bed and watching him silently while the heart monitor beeped steadily. "Now that they've broken up?" she looked slowly towards the other blonde.

"I just think..." Illyana frowned, and then stopped in mid-sentence with a grimace. "I..." A sigh, and a shake of her head, blonde tresses fluttering about. "Dani's a friend."

"An old friend", Amara agreed. "A good friend. A dear friend."

"I bet it hurts her that they broke up", Illyana sat down onto the edge of a nightstand. "I mean... I bet she'd be really hurt to see him hooking up with someone else within weeks. Right?"

"A period of grace, then?" Amara suggested. "He will be off-limits for a certain amount of time, after which he will be fair game?"

"That's reasonable", Illyana nodded. "How long?"

"A year is too long", Amara said.

"So's half a year."

"Three months?"

"Two", Illyana retorted.

"One", Amara countered.

Illyana grimaced. "Compromising doesn't work well when both sides want a low number."

"Three months is honorable", Amara decided. "It is not too long but it is still a significant amount of time. It should be enough for Danielle. We can re-evaluate at the end of that period if she still seems in bad spirits."

"Sounds like a plan", Illyana agreed. "What if someone else makes a play for him during that time?"

"We'll kill her", Amara shrugged matter-of-factly.

"Deal", Illyana nodded.


"Screw you, Bridge!" Dani yelled, taking a step towards the large man. "Sam's *dead*! The man I love could still die! The rest of my team is hospitalized! And you think we should've *HELD BACK MORE*? FUCK YOU!"

"Moonstar. Bridge", a tall redheaded male with a crewcut and square glasses spoke sharply, adjusting his tie a little as he stepped forward. "Shut up."

"Amazing, seeing Henry as the voice of reason", a blonde remarked, sitting in a chair in one corner of the hospital's small coffee room, one leg crossed over another.

"Gyrich", Bridge snarled, turning towards the redhead. "You --"

"I SAID SHUT UP", Gyrich gritted his teeth, stepping up against Bridge, towering over the brick-wall black man by several inches despite being far far slimmer. "I've had *enough* of you playing your own game, Bridge!" he snapped, jabbing a finger at the black man's chest. "Nobody gave you permission to call in X-Force in the first place! If anyone's to blame for what went down in Palenque, it's *you*!"

"I gave them *strict* orders not to damage --!" Bridge started.

"I DON'T *CARE*!" Gyrich yelled. "You sent them in, *knowing* how much damage they're capable of causing! You knew *damn* well that they'd end up doing exactly that! You fucked them over, forcing them into a situation where they'd have to break orders!"

Bridge gritted his teeth but didn't answer.

Gyrich let a little smile touch his lips. "I know what you're thinking", he nodded slowly. Raising a hand, he pointed a finger at Bridge's chest. "And that's exactly why I'm letting you get away with this time."

"You are?" Dani blinked, looking surprised. Bridge, on the other hand, looked suspicious.

"It's true that you caused a lot of damage", Gyrich walked slowly around the coffee table, putting it between himself, Bridge and Dani as he went to his briefcase. "The projected losses for sending in Nuke were close to seventy-five percent of Palenque", he explained and then looked over to Dani. "You got away with under thirty percent losses."

"'Acceptable losses'", Dani wrinkled her nose in disgust. "That's all Palenque is to you. A set of numbers. So easy for you whites to just write it off because it isn't part of your history", she glared.

"Nor is it yours", the blonde pointed out from the corner. "You're Cheyenne, Dani. Palenque is Mayan. I thought Native Americans didn't like to be lumped all into one."

"We don't", Dani turned her glare onto the blonde. "But I'll feel closer to their history than yours anytime."

"Don't assume what's easy for me and what isn't, Moonstar", Gyrich watched the dark-haired woman seriously. "As a leader -- and a good one, from what I've heard -- you should know all about having to deal with losses."

"I know that I don't *like* them", Dani gritted her teeth.

"Neither do I", Gyrich glared, snapping open his briefcase, "but I *accept* them. I suggest you be happy with that, Moonstar, because that's the only thing right now standing between X-Force and criminal charges." Taking out a piece of paper, he handed it towards Bridge over the table. "Official reprimand", he explained. "Go over our heads one more time, Bridge, and you'll never work for SHIELD or any US federal body ever again."

Bridge took one look at the paper, then without saying anything, crumpled it up in his hand and threw it into the waste basket near the blonde.

Gyrich gave a faint smirk of amusement at the gesture of defiance, and then looked over to Dani. "I don't suppose you'd tell me where the X-Men are hiding these days?" he asked.

"No", Dani answered.

"Do you know?"


"Would you tell me if you did?"


"I didn't think so", Gyrich smirked and held up a finger. "Consider yourself lucky that unlike the X-Men, X-Force isn't on the wanted list currently, Moonstar", he said. "I don't like people who give the government trouble."

"You mean you don't like people who give *you* trouble", Dani corrected.

"No", Gyrich answered seriously. "I don't like people who give the *government* trouble."

Dani snorted.

"I don't like people who give me trouble either", Gyrich narrowed his eyes at Dani, "but that's personal. This is business." He snapped his briefcase shut. "Oh", he added, "and tell da Costa not to tell his public relations to put a spin on this thing. *Our people* will handle this. *We* can *control* it." Grabbing the briefcase, he headed for the door. "Come on", he told the blonde.

The woman stood up and nodded briefly to Bridge and Dani before following Gyrich out, grinning widely. "Now you know what I went through with X-Factor..."

"Oh, shut up, Cooper..."


"The N'garai lock", Douglock explained, motioning towards the dozen-foot diameter disc of techno-organic material mounted like a gigantic painting on the wall of the dank underground room. "This is the portal Calypso used to bring the N'garai from their dimension to ours."

"Calypso was in possession of techno-organics?" Shatterstar asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously as he studied the disc and Douglock alike from the other side of the room.

"Denial, SelFriendShatterStar", Douglock shook his head. "Selves immersed in SelFoeCalypso's pool of organic liquid in situation: low lifeglow, result release of transmode virus in environment with energy supply. What he means", he nodded, "is that when we got knocked into the pool of blood, we infected it and turned the portal into techno-organics."

"You can do that?" Dani quirked an eyebrow. "Infect even liquids?"

"Affirmative, SelFriendChiefDaniMirage", Douglock nodded. "Time reference: Self's arrival on Earth, SelfMentorProfessorXavier tested Self's capabilities with wide variety of matter, referent inclusive: organic liquids."

"I bet 'Berto would love to get his hands on this thing", Douglock jabbed his thumb over his shoulder at the N'garai lock, "but frankly, I feel safer having it here, both with you guys, *and* further away from civilization than Da Costa International. It's not exactly a toy to be tinkered with."

"I'd promise to take good care of it here", Dani said, and then sighed a little, "if I had a clue whether I'll still have a team together to help me do that."

"Rictor will stay", Shatterstar said. "I am uncertain of Tabitha's intentions."

"What about you?" Dani raised an eyebrow.

Shatterstar snorted. "I am a *warrior born*. I do not run from *war*."


"War", En Sabah Nur sat back in his chair, watching the Horseman he beckoned forward follow his order like an obedient puppy. This brought a little smile to Nur's lips. "Bring me the girl", he said in his deep, echoing voice. War nodded, turned around, and departed.

Apocalypse rose from his chair, and slowly walked across the silent hall towards another exit. Making his way thru numerous hallways and corridors, he finally emerged into a chamber where the opposite wall was crowded by ten-foot long tubes filled with translucent, pale green liquid. In one of them, a figure bobbed slowly up and down. "Progress report", Apocalypse called out.

"Proceeding nicely", a green-faced figure garbed in green and purple emerged from the shadows. "It is now only a matter of time", he reported, very self-pleased.

"How much time?" Apocalypse asked.

"Two weeks", the figure answered. "Maybe three. A month at most."

"Excellent", Apocalypse's blue lips slowly drew into a smile. "Do not let me down", he said, sharply, and then turned around, starting to depart the chamber.

"When it's done", the figure interrupted Apocalypse's departure, "you'll call off the Riders?"

Apocalypse stopped, and slowly turned his head to look over his shoulder at the figure. He smiled some more. "No", he answered.

"But you said --"

"Your previous encounter with the Dark Riders made you stronger", Apocalypse stared into the figure's eyes with a near-mesmerizing intensity. "The next one, stronger still."

"Or dead", the figure noted with dry displeasure.

"That is possible", Apocalypse smiled. "But if you are weak, you would perish soon in any case", he waved his hand a little. "Consider this my reward for your service. I will force you to be a survivor." Turning around, he strode out, a cape trailing behind him. "There will be war, Mesmero", his voice echoed in the room, chilling Mesmero's bones. "I. Want. A *WAR*."


Danielle Moonstar bit her lip, feeling her throat tight and constricted. The dizziness trying to make her collapse to the soft carpeting of the office wasn't helping matters any.

"What do you want, Dani?" Roberto da Costa asked a bit sourly, reaching for the remote and muting the television's coverage of the recent events in Palenque. He turned his eyes onto his ex-girlfriend, trying to figure out why she had come to visit him.

"I..." Dani started, and then, with a grimace, looked away. Her hands clenched and unclenched, back and forth, with nervous frenzy. For a moment, she thought she'd have to run to the bathroom to be sick. "Spirits, this is hard", she croaked out, a little bit of moisture managing to force its way into her eyes.

"Is it about X-Force?" Roberto asked calmly, playing with the pen in his hand, clicking it over and over again, hoping that by focusing on it, he couldn't hear his heart.

"No", Dani swallowed and stared into Roberto's eyes, breath shuddering out from between her lips. "And in any case, X-Force isn't my responsibility anymore. Ric's in charge now."

Roberto's eyebrows rose.

"I need to be away for a time", Dani's eyes filled with more moisture, a sob croaking out her throat. "I... I came to ask...if you'll come away with me..." Weeping openly, she sniffled and wiped her eyes with her hand, shoulders shaking. "Do you still have the damn ring?"

The pen clattered to the floor and Roberto's jaw fell.

"I'm pregnant!"

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