The events in this story take place in an AU, six months before the events of the movie X-Men 3: The Last Stand. I am relying primarily on the movieverse, but do have some touchstones with comic canon throughout.
Autumn had blown in with overly windy and wet weather; the grounds of the Xavier school were filled with damp leaves and a chill hung in the air. From the window of his office, Professor Charles Xavier looked out at the blustery gray sky and let his thoughts drift to the west. Faintly, distantly, as a tiny point of light on the horizon, he found her.
The note was short, just as all the others had been, and he smiled to himself as he read her message blinking on his screen.
I’m sending you two more, from Arizona. The girl is quite powerful but fully understands the need to lay low. The boy is going to need help; his autism is complicating matters. They’ll be on the Greyhound from the Atlanta hub in two days. I’ll be moving on to New Mexico within a few days, and I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but I’m being watched again. Hope all is well with you and ours.
Calmly he typed a reply, the keyboard clacking away even though his hands remained folded in his lap.
I’ll have someone meet them at the bus station as usual, and thank you for the note about the autism—we’ll line up someone to begin the boy’s file at once. If the watchers are the same ones as before then move with discretion, or come East—we here at the school would be happy to finally meet you and offer you a sanctuary for a while—the invitation is always open to you, and I hope your ankle is better.
Carefully he hit ‘send’ and the Email sped on its way just as a knock at his study door sounded. Xavier smiled.
“Come in, Hank.”
The doorway was filled with the broad shoulders and furry presence of Hank McCoy; he stood in a lab coat specially made to fit his bulk. Carefully he smiled and pushed up his glasses.
“Charles—I’m sorry to bother you, but this latest applicant for Jean’s position bothers me and I wanted to ask your opinion on his CRV.”
“The Finnish candidate? Yes, I’m a little concerned about his stint in the Oslo University—it doesn’t quite ring true,” Charles agreed, making the wheelchair roll around the desk. “I’m not sure if he’s trying to impress us, or hide something else in his past. Let’s make some discreet inquiries before we offer an interview, shall we?”
“My very thoughts—as you’re probably well aware,” Hank replied gently. He sighed for a moment. “It’s so very hard to consider filling this spot as it is without the added complications of background checks.”
“A necessary evil these days,” Charles agreed softly. “And more’s the pity, simply being a mutant isn’t any guarantee that there isn’t a hidden agenda at work. Still, there are a few bright spots. We’re getting two new students from our agent out west.”
“Ahhh, bounty from the ever-mysterious L, I take it. When and where?”
“Greyhound station, two days from now. She writes that the boy is autistic, which does complicate matters a bit, but at least we know it ahead of time.”
Hank smiled, nodding. “Her assessments have been helpful. Has her ankle healed yet?”
Charles gave a shrug. “I didn’t sense any pain this time around, but she does say she’s being watched again and I fear for her safety. I wish we could convince her to come in and allow herself some time to be among her own kind.”
Hank pursed his lips for a moment, then softly murmured, “I have a meeting with the Coalition of Mutant Affairs in Denver this week. It wouldn’t be any trouble to make a side trip to Arizona.”
Charles smiled back, his gaze distant. “She’ll be in New Mexico by the time you leave. Yes, perhaps that would be beneficial, Hank. In the five years that Ms. L has been sending young mutants to us, we’ve yet to truly thank her. At the very least you can extend a personal commendation for her efforts and see if there is anything we can do for her in return.”
“Consider it done. And I’ll begin the inquiries into our Oslo friend here as well,” Hank rumbled back.
Two days after reading the Email confirming the safe arrival of the students, Doctor Lucy San Marco locked up the Mesa Health van and sighed. It would be safe enough in the hospital parking lot, where the surveillance cameras and security guards were duty-bound to keep an eye on it. The other two doctors, Ian Michelson and Londie Red Cloud, had already left, promising to meet her back here in the morning and help take the unwieldy van on the next leg up to Taos Pueblo.
She shivered in the cool night desert air, and relaxed a little, letting her scent shift from motherly doctor to quiet nonentity. Anyone looking at her would have seen a curvy woman of medium height, her dark wavy hair in a neat chignon, silver wire-rimmed glasses framing her heart-shaped face. Lucy wore jeans and a grey sweater with silver buttons, along with several silver and turquoise rings and bracelets, all the better to blend in.
It helped, along with the pheromones. Looking around, she checked her watch and wondered if she should go for some dinner before trying to book a room for the night. Clutching her purse, she considered her options, and decided that Waffle World was probably her best choice. It was still one of the first and best mutant-friendly eateries across the country, and the menu had enough variety to please even her, the queen of picky eaters. Lucy moved to the well-lit foyer of the hospital and pulled out her cell phone, debating whether or not to call again.
It was tempting. Beyond tempting if the truth was told—she’d been out on her own even since graduating high school, zealously guarding her secret; working at hiding it, and later learning to master it. She had watched the rise of mutant awareness and the parallel phobia concerning it, and seen the media coverage of Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr.
Lucy knew which side of the issue she stood on.
Still, it was hard to trust, even though she’d safely sent nearly fifty youngsters to Charles Xavier. One of the more radical mutants told her she ‘wasn’t mutant enough’ to really be one of them. The accusation still stung, and sometimes Lucy wondered how many others out there were like herself, with far less flashy, less obvious powers. Odds told her a good many were around, trying to fit in one way or another.
She sighed and carefully dialed the number, feeling a hint of paranoia. A machine generated voice asked her to leave a message, and awkwardly, she did. “This is . . . L. I’m going to dinner at Waffle World over on Mesquite drive, so if anyone wants to meet me, I’ll be the one in the grey sweater working her way though a stack of silver dollar pancakes with butter and sugar.”
Lucy shut the phone, her face red. Right—she sounded like some starving Interstate trucker trying to hook up with a roadside madam. Sheesh. She wished she hadn’t left the message, but it was too late now. Sighing, Lucy checked the bus schedule posted on the foyer wall and paced, waiting for the red line and wondering what she was letting herself in for.
Hank McCoy took a breath before stepping inside the 24-hour restaurant. It had been a hectic day, with sessions and presentations and e-mails crisscrossing his hours up until now. Fortunately he’d done his homework, and nearly everything on his agenda had been initialed and crossed off, barring this last impromptu meeting.
The soft scent of bacon and pancake batter drifted out to him and he smiled, enjoying the smell. Out of all the places to meet, Hank was amused that L. had chosen Waffle World, one of the ubiquitous landmarks of America. He liked waffles, and appreciated that here at least, he could eat without too many people openly staring at him. Hank pushed the glass door open and stepped inside. There was a little lull for a few seconds; the typical reaction to his appearance in most public places; and then the soft sounds of conversation and cutlery returned. Hank sighed and looked around at the place.
There was a diner counter three quarters filled with people busily eating. One little girl with dragonfly wings was hovering next to her mother, who had her on a safety harness. The man at the far end of the counter had a lizard tail swinging behind him.
Various tables dotted the main floor, and along the far wall stood a row of booths separated by partitions of glass brick. Hank stood for a moment, wondering how best to seek out L. Merely wandering around the dining room seemed slightly rude and possibly intimidating—when the hostess came up to him, smiling warmly, he’d figured out what to do.
“Seating for one?”
“For two, actually. I’m meeting someone here who said she would be wearing a grey sweater and eating silver dollar pancakes,” Hank politely told the young woman. The hostess nodded.
“I know right where your party is seated. If you’ll just follow me—”
He did, and she led him to the back wall of booths, waving to the last one with a waggle of her fingers. Hank stepped forward, looking at the seated woman just as she glanced up at him and in that first few seconds a wave of rosy red lust washed over him. The sensation was like a somersault underwater, that same giddy stomach rolling feeling only much lower down, and for a moment he actually swayed minutely under the impact.
The woman opened her mouth, and Hank could see the oddest mix of desire and embarrassment on her face, her amber eyes widening in enticing surprise as she choked out, “Oh damn you smell wonderful—”
“Ahhh?” Not the most intelligent thing he’d ever said, but Hank was having trouble processing thought at the moment. Then just like that, the lust, the confusion, the giddiness all faded away and he was left staring down into the woman’s face while the hostess was poking his shoulder lightly with a menu.
“Our special tonight is the Denver omelet—”
“Yes, thank you, I’ll need a few minutes—” Hank murmured politely without looking at her. The seated woman held out her hand to him and he took it, engulfing it in his own, her face red, but her expression bright and determined.
“Sorry about that. Lucy San Marcos.”
“Hank McCoy,” he replied, standing a moment longer, still holding her hand until she waved with her free one at the seat opposite her, bidding him sit. With slight embarrassment he released his grip on her and sat down, the booth cushions groaning a little under his weight.
He watched as Lucy squeezed her eyes closed tightly and drew in a breath through her mouth. Ever so faintly he began to relax, wondering if she was a psychic, like Charles. Then she opened her eyes and exhaled, still looking slightly troubled, but less startled. “Okay. I’ve got it handled. You just took me by surprise there.”
“I could say the same—” Hank pointed out ruefully. “Was that projection some sort of . . . psychic distraction?” as he spoke he opened the menu and briefly scanned it. Lucy shook her head, looking down at her plate.
“Not psychic, no. My particular ability hasn’t got as much to do with the mind as it does the body. The apocrine system more specifically.”
“Scent? Fascinating—” Hank looked up sharply at her, smiling enough to show the tips of his fang teeth. Lucy nodded, toying with one of her silver bracelets.
“I did a write-up of myself a few years back, just to document the first-hand details, but in a nutshell, I’ve got a fair amount of control over my pheromones and scent glands. Not only can I adjust my personal aura, but I can also imitate any bio scent I’ve locked into my hippocampus. I’ve been working on imitating the odors of non-bio elements, but it’s harder to pinpoint. To put it bluntly, I can manipulate others through veromeronasal response. Had enough?”
“Utterly fascinating—” Hank repeated, the menu forgotten. He cocked his head. “Forgive me, but that’s an amazing manifestation of the mutant gene. How extensive is your range? How quickly can you change from one scent to another? Do any of your own pheromones affect you yourself? I have a thousand questions now, and—”
Lucy held up a warning hand as the waitress came back, her cheery gaze fading. He managed another polite smile at the server and ordered tersely “Three omelets please, a short stack of pancakes, one side plate of sausage and a glass of milk.”
“Gotcha, sir. Toast?”
“Yes, thank you.” Hank added. When the waitress had scribbled it all down and headed off, Lucy gave a sigh, looking down at her own plate. “Listen Doctor McCoy—”
“—Hank. Call me Hank,” he interrupted her gently. She looked up at him and grinned, cocking her head in acknowledgement.
“—Hank. I’d rather not talk about my . . . gift here in public if it’s all right with you. I’ve just told you more in the last few minutes than I’ve shared with anyone in years. I’m pretty sure I can trust you, but it’s not really my nature, normally. So if you don’t mind—” She trailed off with an expression of wry appeal.
He nodded, glad to see her relax a bit when he did so. Carefully Hank fished in the breast pocket of his suit coat and pulled out a sheaf of photos, setting them down on the table. Lucy gave a delighted little crow and picked them up, her expression softening as she recognized face after face. Hank watched her as she examined the photos, talking softly as much to herself as to him. “Oh Geez—Lauralee’s getting tall! And Raymundo let his hair grow back! I see Desmond and Skeeter are still into those tacky shirts . . .” Giving her head a shake, she looked up at him, her amber eyes shining. Very softly she added, “Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” Hank replied, touched at how much the little gesture meant to her. After so many years of sending children to safety it had been a small thing to be able to reassure her they were doing well. Charles had suggested it, and Hank was glad to see his thoughtfulness had paid off. With a tap of one long claw, Hank pointed out a photo in particular.
“Ginger and Ollie are fitting in beautifully. We have therapy going for Ollie now, and although it’s early, his response is promising.” Pushing his advantage for a moment Hank added, “You ought to come see for yourself.”
Lucy glanced up from the picture, smiling at that, a dimple deepening on her left cheek. Hank leaned forward, feeling slightly enthralled when she laughed. “Oh don’t tempt me like that—you don’t know how much—”
The waitress returned with the toast and milk at that moment; Hank blinked and pulled back, the suspicion dawning on his face as the food was set before him; one glance at his dinner partner confirmed it as she smirked. “You . . . scented me,” he accused lightly in the wake of the waitress’s retreat.
“Sorry, yes I did. Seeing the kids doing so well had me feeling happy; thought I’d share.” Lucy replied, not willing to admit that simply being close to someone who smelled so attractive tended to distract her focus. Hank McCoy carried an appealing blend of clean fur, masculine pheromones and the soft hint of sweet ancient ferns as his base scent. Lucy breathed it in, well aware now that she could find him in a pitch-black room full of strangers. “You have a great aroma, you know—” she blurted.
“Not according to a few of my associates,” Hank challenged, remembering pointed comments from Storm during more than one Danger Room session. Lucy bit back another laugh and speared a pancake.
“Yes, well take it from a specialist; the nose knows. So what brings you out west?”
He sighed. “A little of everything. The government feels that there should be field offices for the Department of Mutant Affairs throughout the states, so the merits of that suggestion are being weighed out. Also, we’ve gotten a number of asylum requests from mutants from other countries so the Justice Department is trying to formulate a policy to cover that situation, and Charles wants me to scout a site for a possible second school out here on the west coast. Did I miss anything?”
“Wow. You can juggle all that and still take time out for dinner?” Lucy asked, impressed. Hank ran a hand across his forehead, giving a tired little sigh.
“Believe me, dinner is the highlight at this point.”
The waitress set the three plates down in front of him, along with the glass of milk and side plate of sausage. Hank managed another smile at her, and Lucy was amused to see the girl blush; it was only natural in the face of such a sweet guy.
“Thank you so much, Miss. It looks wonderful.”
“Enjoy,” the waitress beamed and wandered off. Hank shot another glance at his companion, his expression questioning. Lucy shook her head, knowing exactly what he was thinking.
“That wasn’t me—you have oodles of charm apparently.”
Hank looked nonplussed. “Oodles?”
“Oodles is a perfectly acceptable unit of measurement,” Lucy assured him as she passed the syrup his way. “According to my grandmother, anyway.”
“Grandmothers are uncontradictable,” Hank solemnly agreed, neatly buttering his toast. “Mine assured me that eating the crusts of my sandwiches would make my hair curly. She would be so proud--”
Lucy smirked, nearly choking on her orange juice. As she moved to wipe her chin with her napkin, she caught sight of a vaguely familiar profile across the restaurant, and the little surge of panic shot through her. Hank looked up, his slightly pointed ears twitching, his nostrils flaring. “What is it?”
“One of the two people I’m pretty sure is watching me. I can always smell them--low-level fear and anticipation mostly; one’s a licorice freak and the other smokes Camels. And they’re both armed.”
“You mentioned being watched,” Hank commented gently. “Charles and I have worried about that for a while. The Brotherhood?”
Lucy rubbed her eyes tiredly. “Hank—I’m fairly sure they’re spooks. CIA. They suspect I’m recruiting for one side or the other, and seeing you with me now probably confirms it for them.”
Instantly a myriad of thoughts flew through Hank’s mind, and he frowned in mid-bite of his second omelet. Lucy could see his preoccupation and kept quiet, sensing a shift in his scent; it was drier now, with the hint of old leather books to it.
A thinking smell.
“Unless they can be convinced to associate us in a different way—” he mused thoughtfully, “Some other connection perhaps.”
Lucy caught yet another subtle scent change and shot him a slightly disbelieving look. “Friends? Associates? Something a little more personal--that sort of thing, Hank McCoy?”
He kept his gaze down at his plate and spoke in a low voice. “Yes, I know it’s a stretch for anyone to credit me with enough good luck to be dating someone like you, but I’m willing to go along with the charade if it throws them—pardon the pun my dear—off the scent.”
Lucy laughed, low and slightly surprised, her attention fully on the big blue beast opposite her in the booth. “I bet butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth right now.”
“You’d lose your bet.”
Lucy was silent for a few minutes and concentrated on finishing her meal. She felt pulled between a sense of growing comfort in Hank’s presence and nagging worry about the two men following her. Finally she spoke softly, laying her fork down. “You know, they’ve never hurt me, or even spoken to me. All they do is watch.”
“So far,” Hank countered, then finished his milk. He absently wiped his upper lip with his napkin while Lucy hid her smirk. When he arched an eyebrow at her she deliberately made her expression bland.
“Sorry, sorry—the mustache was kind of cute. Anyway, I don’t think they’re going to do anything, but I AM surprised they found me. I guess after two years they know my favorite places in each town.”
Hank scowled a little. “They’ve been watching you for that long?” The thought bothered him; he turned his head in profile, trying to catch a glimpse of the man over his shoulder. Lucy shrugged.
“Off and on—I worry more about them following the kids, to be honest. I don’t care if they want to try and hassle me—I can probably handle them—but I don’t want the bastards getting a hold of teens who’re having a hard enough time dealing with puberty AND powers.”
“And yet—they haven’t. So either they’re not trying to interfere or they’re not concerned with that aspect of your work. Interesting. Of course, you’re only conjecturing that these men are CIA—do you have any proof that they’re with the government?”
Lucy opened her mouth, then closed it again, looking startled. Hank gave a nod, and leaned forward once more, his voice a low rumble. “Exactly. I’d like to check up on this situation a little more closely, and to do that I’ll need your help. After our dinner I’d like to go somewhere in this town where there are surveillance cameras: a store or mall perhaps, and see if Charles or Logan can tap in and identify your stalkers.”
“I don’t want any trouble!” Lucy protested, feeling uncomfortable now. “They’re not doing anything as far as I can see, and I don’t want to lose the opportunity to keep screening kids on my route.”
“I don’t want that to stop either—but I’d feel a lot better about you doing it if we knew who exactly was watching you,” Hank countered, reaching one hand out to catch hers and holding it. The gesture was automatic and gentle; Lucy relaxed at the feel of his big palm.
She let go, just a tiny bit and allowed her natural reaction to tint her scent; Hank’s response was instantaneous. His grip tightened around her hand, and a low purr rumbled out from his chest. Lucy blushed, and after a second, he let go, clearing his throat with embarrassment.
Neither of them spoke for a moment, and when they looked up again, it was in perfect synchronization; Lucy laughed.
“Okay, this is just getting silly—Look, I appreciate everything Hank, but I’m fine. I’ve been taking care of myself for years, and if these tagalongs haven’t grabbed me by now, I doubt they’re going to make a move tonight.”
“Then do me a favor,” Hank murmured. “Walk by, and smell him out. That’s all I ask—just check and see.”
Lucy shot him a perplexed look, but Hank kept his expression serious. She rose up and nodded. “Okay, Doctor McCoy—I’ll break a twenty and be back in a moment.”
She walked away, and Hank let himself enjoy watching her, even as he tried to tell himself it was all about keeping her safe. Still, the roundness of her backside and the easy swing of her stride sent little pangs of pleasure through his thighs. He wasn’t exactly inexperienced in the area of scent himself and to his nose, Lucy San Marco was definitely a warm-blooded woman, ripe and sweet.
Hank closed his eyes and neatly shoved that observation into a distant corner of his brain. Time for fantasizing later—at the moment there were dangers to be considered. He idly stacked the plates and noted when Lucy returned, her expression neutral, but her lips drawn into a thin line. She sat, and he caught a flicker of anxiety in her scent.
“Chloroform. My God, he’s carrying chloroform, Hank. He’s an idiot—he’ll end up either poisoning me, or giving me one hell of a headache,” she hissed. Hank gave a nod, his eyes narrowing.
“That’s the problem with a culture raised on television—they rarely get chemistry right. Still think it’s going to be another run of the mill night?”
Lucy’s mouth twisted, and she shot him a slightly angry glare. In it he could see her frustration, and to counter it, he began to fish out his wallet, digging for the tip. Speaking softly again, he sighed. “I’m going to take you somewhere safe, Lucy. Charles would insist along with me on this, and I hope you have enough common sense to agree.”
She glanced once more over Hank’s shoulder, and finally gave a small nod.