Thu, 12 Nov 1998
"Sandi Bowser"
Iris [Rated R for language]

Disclaimer: All characters herein belong to the Marvel Entertainment Group, in case you didn't know. They, as well as the quotes are used without permission. 'Iris' belongs to the Goo Goo Dolls, and 'Unchained Melody' belongs to the Righteous Brothers...although this version is off the new U2 album, in which Bono and the gang did a lovely rendition, which is one of the main inspirations for this little break in X-Men continuity. 'Oh What a Circus' belongs to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, from 'Evita'. I'm not making any money off of this; I'd rather be paid for my original characters, anyway, which are nowhere to be found in this text. I'm going to give this an 'R' RATING, DUE TO LANGUAGE. There is also a little angst and a bunch o' mush. Sorry for those of you who are completely opposed to this, but I couldn't help myself. It needed to be written for those of us who liked the idea. I'd also like to thank Ian Irelan for the addition of Piotr...thanks, Bengal! :) And now, without further rambling and other annoying stuff, I present the following story. No flames, please; my apartment is nice and warm as is.





'And I don't want the world to see me,
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand.
When everything's made to be broken,
I just want you to know who I am.'
-'Iris'; Goo Goo Dolls

The entire house looked empty; Sam half-expected it, though. He breathed a sigh of relief, almost glad that he didn't have to go through the accusations and questions he knew would come. *Why* was the one he really doubted he could just shuffle through without Wolverine wanting to talk to him about it. [Probably for the best,] he thought as he crept through the front door, just in case there was someone there; after all, his mama did raise him to be polite... [Wouldn't want to wake anyone up, would you?] he questioned himself sarcastically.

He slowly tromped his way up the stairs and collapsed down on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. 'One thing Ah ain't gonna miss is those stairs,' he groaned good-naturedly to himself. There were only a few things left unpacked, so he threw his last few possessions into the boxes with the left-over space in them. He knew there was no real reason to sit around and wait for the rest of the X-Men to come back, but it was kind of nice, being able to just sit in his room, not having to worry that Magneto would attack on the front lawn, or even worse, having to hear Nightcralwer singing in the shower... Sam shuddered at that thought; the week before last, Kurt had been on a showtunes kick and he swore to himself that if he ever heard 'Oh, What A Circus' one more time, he'd scream. But he *would* miss it. He'd miss them all and he hated the thought of leaving a note, but maybe if he took his time packing the car, just maybe he wouldn't have to leave the note there. Maybe they would show back up in time for him to tell them all goodbye, even Sara. He hadn't admitted it to anyone out loud, but he was attracted to her. He'd almost told his mother the other day, before he decided that he needed to bring the rest of the stuff home, on the off-chance that he would join back up with X-Force. [Ah wonder what Mama would say,] he wondered silently. He knew his mother wouldn't judge or anything, she raised her children to think with open minds and hearts; and Lucinda Guthrie was a woman who practiced what she preached.

With a tired sigh, he rolled off the bare mattress on the bed and to his feet, picking up the first of the boxes. After hauling it downstairs and stuffing it in the trunk, he decided that he would take the time out to write that note...leave it on the kitchen table and hope that his mother wouldn't be woken up by someone at the mansion calling to look for him. It took him longer than he thought it would to write it; he really didn't want to have to leave the X-Men behind, but he couldn't help but feel that he just wasn't cutting it with the team. Things were too tightly laced after all the time he'd spent leading and serving in X-Force; Storm sure made sure of that, these days. It was all too confusing and way too much to think about right then and there; maybe the time at home would do him a lot more good than he'd first thought. He momentarily wondered why he hadn't done it sooner; would he have noticed she was sick if he'd gone sooner? Would it have made much of a difference? He didn't want to ponder the 'probably' floating around at the back of his mind; he felt awful enough as it was. So instead, he set the note propped up on the salt and pepper shakers in the middle of the table where it would be spotted by the first one down to breakfast or whenever they got back. At any rate, he had a car to pack.

'There. Now y'all get in there an' stay in there...' he grunted, pushing the last of the boxes into the backseat of the car. Slamming the door shut, completely unconcerned with the fact that there might be someone asleep by that point, although he doubted it with as much noise as his stereo was making in the first place, he leaned against the car, wiping the sleeve of his flannel shirt across his forehead and pushing a clump of blonde hair out of his eyes. 'Well, I guess it's time ta hit the road...' he murmured to himself, looking up at the building in front of him. How many years ago had it been when he'd first seen the mansion, back when it was Xavier's School of Gifted Youngsters? Too many, evidently, since he certainly wasn't a kid any longer, but the sheer mass of the edifice managed to strike awe into him every time. It was a beautiful place. And there were so many good times that had happened here...tragic ones, too, but it didn't matter as long as they had all stuck together; that strange, surrogate family.

Sam felt the back of his eyes sting and he shook his head, abruptly dislodging the thought. Even after his mother was better, he didn't know if he could come back, regardless of the ties that brought them all back, sooner or later. Paige would definitely go back to Generation X once Lucinda shooed her back with reassurances that she would be fine, even if it took about a month to do it. But he didn't think he could come back here. Even re-joining X-Force sounded like a stab in the dark...or rather a stab in the back. His fists clenched when he thought about Tabitha and Bobby. How could they have done that? [Pretty damn easy; you're a loser. A lousy boyfriend, a lousy X-Man, a lousy son...] his thoughts spat at him. He unclenched his fists and felt the half-moon gouges there, not realizing his fingernails had been cutting into his palms so deeply. It didn't matter, anyway, he had a way to drive before he stopped for the night.

He knew he could have just saved a lot of time and just had everything shipped down to Kentucky, but he'd wanted to make the trip and flying up, just to take all the boxes back, would have been pointless. Not to mention a royal pain in the neck. 'Well, Ah guess Ah'll be seein' ya...maybe,' he whispered to the house, thinking maybe, somehow, they would hear it and realize that he wasn't doing this to be difficult; it just *was*.

He shuffled his way around to the driver's side door and opened it to get in. But he really didn't want to sit down against the bone dagger sticking out of the back of the seat...the one that wasn't there ten minutes ago...*the one that had his note pinned beneath it.* He felt the blood drain out of his face and the icy fingers of fear caress the back of his neck, making the hair stand on end. He tried to take a calm breath, but his lungs didn't want to let him and he knew, he just knew he was being watched and that the someone wasn't very happy. Not with a calling card like that. He let his eyes scan over the shadows near the house and found nothing, so he turned and felt the murderous gaze from the shadows, not twenty feet away, slam into his gut like a freight train. He had been right; she was pissed off. At him. And he felt like a jerk all over again.

He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Of all people that stayed, why did it have to be her? He stood still as she prowled out of the shadows, her eyes still fixed in a murderous gaze as she got closer. [Well, Ah s'pose if A'm gonna die outta combat, it's from someone Ah...] The thought didn't finish as her voice rasped out at him.

'So this is how you say goodbye, Cornfed?' she hissed, stalking up to him. She watched him take a step back and he hit the car door; he wasn't going anywhere. 'You think you can just waltz in here in the middle of the night and leave a note all nice and neat? Bye-bye X-Men, no more Sammy. I can arrange that a bit more permanently.'

'Ah...just don't know when Ah'll be back,' he protested weakly. 'It seems ya'll read the note already; Ah got things ta take care of.'

She snorted at that comment. 'Don't lie to me, Hayseed, you aren't coming back,' she spat. 'Caliban could have figured it out and we all know how silly-stupid *he* is, don't we? Well, let me tell you something; I'm *not*. The others might sit around and think you'll come back, but I'll know better...yeah, I'll know...but will I tell them, or let them wait and wonder why you don't come home?'

Sam felt a knot form in his stomach. She knew and he could feel her pulling the rest of it out through that wicked blue gaze of hers. Just as he was about to attempt another useless excuse, she glared at him one more time and added, 'It doesn't matter; go on and leave. We don't need you, anyway.' She abruptly turned and stalked away, trying to keep her composure, her head high, blinking erratically, thankful he couldn't see. [If he does,] she told herself, [I'll stab his fucking eyes out...right before I rip out his tongue.]

*Oh, boy, Guthrie, ya really did it this time,* he thought to himself. He found his voice as she stepped onto the stairs of the front porch. 'Sara, wait...Ah...'

She whipped around, murder in her gaze once more. 'My name is *Marrow*, not Sara,' she half-screamed at him, then dropped her tone, staring him right in the eyes. 'Only *X-Men* have the right to call me Sara.'

If being told that he wasn't allowed to call her Sara any longer didn't do it, her following comment had. Blood rushed to his cheeks and everything; all of it from the past several months roared up to his throat and out of his mouth. He was sick of it; sick of being defensive about every last little thing, afraid he'd be treading on someone's toes. Sam Guthrie had had enough of it and he was mad as hell. '*How dare you*?! Ya think Ah like havin' ta admit that Ah ain't cut out ta be here?!' he shouted at her. 'Ya think that Ah like to know that Ah spent almost all mah life waitin' ta grow up an' join tha X-Men an' when Ah get told Ah'm good enough, Ah get here an' all Ah do is fuck it up with ya'll an' Tabby an' everyone else? Ah 'm a damn loser an' there ain't a thing anyone can do ta change it!' He strode up to her, stopping when they were almost two feet away from each other, breathing hard, tears starting to sting even worse and they were threatening to push out of his eyes. 'Ya'll are better off without me.'

'Piotr Rasputin sat up from his place on his bed as soon as he heard Sam starting to yell. The others had gone out for the evening, but as usual, Sara had stayed behind. Kurt had even tried to coax her out with the promise that he wouldn't wear his inducer at all. For his efforts, he'd narrowly missed being punched and Logan advised him to leave her alone and just get into the car. Colossus had a good idea of why she'd been so unhappy lately and decided that he really didn't feel like going out with the others, either. That way, with a small miracle or two, he could get her to sit down and maybe talk for a bit. Her mouth and terrible manners aside, he'd grown to like Sara; he felt the big brotherly urges start forming as soon as he'd found out about the pictures in her room, the former Danger Room, as it was. He knew the heartache of looking upon beauty and never being able to possess it; that was why he had gone back to the painting and the art. Better to create beautiful things than dwell on the heartache of the past several years. He rushed out of the room toward one of the front windows to keep an eye out. He knew Sam wouldn't hurt her, but he wasn't so sure if Sara wouldn't hurt the young man anyway. They were a short distance from each other, but they didn't seem to be moving at all.'

She took a small step back at first, shocked at the fact that he'd actually lost his temper in the first place. She knew the X-Men dig would get to him, but she had no idea that she'd cut that deeply with it. Yes, she'd wanted to hurt him back for leaving, but she had to wonder momentarily if she hadn't pushed it too far. Until she heard the last statement and her anger flared up. 'Look here, country boy,' she snarled, giving him a hard poke in the chest. 'I have a lot more strikes against me around this place and you don't see me giving up that easily! Just because things don't go the way you want them to isn't any excuse to take the coward's way out and walk out on your family like this!' She stopped abruptly once she realized that she was right in his face and a spark of surprise flashed in his eyes.

'Piotr raised an eyebrow. [Family?]'

'Family?' Sam questioned softly. 'Did Ah hear you right, girl? You're startin' ta think of us as your family?'

Sara felt herself panic at the gentleness of his tone. She looked away. 'Of course not. I don't *need* a family; and these losers sure aren't it if I wanted one in the first place,' she growled, then added in a murmur, 'I meant your mother and stuff.'

'Are ya sure about that?' he prodded gently. ''Cause ya'll are gettin' awful worked up about one a those losers leavin'.'

'I told you I didn't care!' she screamed at him. 'You're twisting everything I say! All I said was that you're a coward for walking out when you have more of a right to be here than I do! If you all had your way, the Morlocks would stay down in the sewers like a bad secret! You don't want us here and no one wants me around here, either, but I stay! I'm not afraid of their little threats!'

Cannonball couldn't help the smile that tugged at his lips. 'Ya say that all the time, but if Ah recall, Ah was one of the people that tried to make friends with ya in the first place. Ah never said once that Ah didn't want ya'll here an' Ah still haven't said it. Ah ain't gonna say it, either; 'cause with the way you're talkin' Ah think ya'll deserve ta be here more'n Ah do.'

'*Stop saying that*!' she screamed at him. 'Stop it! Just stop it and go away! Go home! If you don't want to be here, then we don't want you here, either! Just go ahead and leave like a fucking coward! It isn't hurting my feelings any!' She knew it wasn't true, and what was worse, she could see that he knew it too, because she was practically fighting tears, which made her even more angry. It wasn't fair that the one person that had been so nice and nonjudgemental to her the whole time was leaving her there by herself. 'Just take your stupid little nice boy act and shove it up your ass!'

'If you'll quit actin' like a damn crazy woman!' he shouted back. It felt good to finally lash out, even though he hated doing it to her. But if this was the only way he could get her to at least talk to him, he'd face the consequences. 'Ya aren't an' ya don't hate all of us, but ya act like we're all out ta get ya, just because ya ain't learned ta trust anyone an' ya never gave us a chance! Ah spent so much time tryin' ta get ya ta at least talk ta me, but all ya ever did was push me away! Ah really put mah ass on the line an' stood up ta Storm for ya an' all ya did was throw it back in mah face! And let me tell ya girl, Ah didn't do it 'cause I was tryin' ta be a 'nice boy' an' it was the right thing ta do, Ah did it 'cause Ah *wanted* to, but ya just kept pushin' me away, so what do ya'll expect me ta do?' He could feel his blood pounding in his ears and his own ragged breathing as he stared her down. What happened next was completely unexpected.

'Fuck off! I never wanted anything from you, but you just couldn't give up on the basket case, could you?' she screamed, her voice starting to tremble as she took a wild swing at him. It hit him in the chest, but they both knew it wouldn't hurt; not as weak as it was. 'You just couldn't leave me alone and be an asshole like everyone else. Why couldn't you?' she asked in a plaintive tone, her shoulders stooping.

''Cause that ain't the way Ah am,' he offered gently with a shrug. 'My mama always taught us kids ta see with our hearts and not our eyes. Ah saw some good in there an' Ah didn't want it ta get snuffed out.'

'I do,' she said softly, sitting down on the steps.

'Why? What's so bad about havin' a heart an' seein' things in a positive light?' he questioned, sitting next to her. 'It won't kill ya.'

'But it hurts!' she cried, wrapping her arms around herself. 'Look at me and tell me how a little girl is supposed to feel when everyone runs away screaming, except the ugly ones...and even some of them, do.'

'Ah'd say she needed someone ta see that she was a little girl, not a monster,' he soothed. Carefully, he placed an arm around her shoulders, hoping he wouldn't get stabbed for it. 'An' Ah know someone did, or else that little bit a good wouldn't be there at all.'

'But what happens when they leave and die on you?' she asked helplessly, trying not to act instinctively and push him away.

'Ya gotta find the people that loved them, too an' ya'll deal with it,' he offered. 'That's what we had ta do when mah dad died. We all bonded together an' remembered th' good stuff and not the bad; it helped a lot. Ah still miss him an' Ah wish he was still around...ta talk to an' stuff...maybe he coulda seen what was happenin' with Mama an' she wouldn't be so bad.'

'How sick is she?' Marrow asked cautiously. She tried to convince herself it wasn't as if she cared, but she wanted to know if being so upset about Callisto was normal...or if she was the freak she thought she was.

'Oh, she's plenty bad,' he told her in a strange tone that didn't seem right to him. 'She's goin' to the hospital for it...says she'll get better, but what if she doesn't? Ah s'pose Ah'll stay there an' take care of the kids an' stuff, but Ah don't wanna have ta be the one who keeps everyone together. That was her job, so Ah guess that'll be Paige's job an' Ah don't want that for her. She's just a kid...mah little sister.'

'But she can get better, right?' Sara pushed. 'The doctors can help her. She can go there.' She thought of Callisto again and tears welled up in her eyes. 'There's somewhere she can go...'

'What's really wrong?' he questioned, watching her closely. His answer was a small, choked sob and she curled up into a tight ball, hugging herself tightly. 'Oh, God, she ain't that bad, is she?'

'I don't know,' Sara choked out, shaking her head. 'I'm not a doctor. I don't know what's wrong with her...she's going to die and I can't help and there's no doctors that will so much as look at her. Not a mutant...especially not a sick one.' She snarled bitterly at that thought. Of course they wouldn't. Not with the Legacy Virus spreading around the way it was.

Sam felt the urge to hug her and he did, very carefully, once again praying he wouldn't get hurt for it. 'Maybe Doctor McCoy could help, or Cecelia, even,' he suggested. 'If it's a case that she can't move, we could go there...if she can, but not too good, Ah'll help take her.' He didn't know what he was saying; he was supposed to be leaving, going home to stay with his mother, but he knew that if Callisto needed that help and he knew and didn't do anything about it, he'd get the worst chewing out he'd had in years.

'No you won't!' she snarled, shoving him away. 'And they won't, either!'

'Did ya try askin', instead of assumin' that they wouldn't help?' he asked. 'Ah bet ya they would, if they knew.'

'I don't want their help,' she snapped. 'I don't want anything from you, either.'

'Why? Because ya don't wanna be in debt ta any of us?' he asked seriously, placing his hands on her shoulders. 'Is it really worth it if Callisto gets worse an' she coulda been helped, but ya didn't do anything, 'cause you were afraid that someone might expect ya ta watch their backs someday? Ask yourself that; is the pride really worth losin' her when ya don't have ta?'

'And what if they can't help her, smarty pants? Then what do we do?' she hissed.

'We can at least make her comfortable until it happens,' he offered. 'It's gotta be better'n layin' down there in the tunnels where she could get worse or it's likely that it'll be harder on her body than it would be. C'mon, don't do this...Ah wanna help ya.'

Sara snarled and wrenched out of his grasp. 'Don't touch me,' she warned in a low tone. 'Just go home, Cornfed. We don't want you here and you don't want to be here. It's mutual, so why don't you leave?'

''Cause Ah said Ah wanna help ya,' he insisted. 'Do Ah need any other reason ta be here than ta be there for ya when ya need it?'

'Yeah, you need another reason, because I don't want your help!' she hollered at him. 'I don't want you here!' She could feel her eyes finally welling over and she barely trusted her voice to get out the last of her statement. What came out was more of a feeble whisper than anything.

'Just go away.'

Sam winced inwardly. Why did he have to be so damn pushy? He didn't want to fight anymore, but there was one last thing he wanted to know, so he studied her carefully as she wrapped her arms around herself and he took a cautious step forward. Biting his lip, he reached out to her, once again feeling the blood pounding in his ears and tried to keep his hand steady as he placed his fingers under her chin and gently lifted her head. 'Do ya really want me to?' he whispered. ''Cause Ah don't wanna fight with ya anymore...Ah just wanted ta help an' Ah'm sorry if Ah made ya that mad.'

Looking up at him was the hardest thing she had to do. She tried looking away, but she couldn't and she felt a tear slip down her cheek. 'No,' she finally admitted in a tiny voice. She couldn't breathe, she was so scared. She didn't want him to leave, but he was going to and she'd tried to make him just go, so it wouldn't hurt so much, but he wasn't letting her. 'I...I 'm sorry...' she murmured moments before he pulled her into a fierce hug. She hadn't realized how cold it had been outside until she was standing next to him and noticed how warm he was and she tried to snuggle into the warmth he was providing before he stepped back abruptly.

'God, girl, ya'll are freezin',' he chided, pulling off his flannel. She took a step away, the defensive look coming back into her eyes. 'C'mon, humor the farm boy,' he joked weakly, holding it out to her.

A small smile twitched across her lips as she took it from him. 'Just this once,' she said, playfully glaring at him, slipping it on. 'Thanks.' She rubbed her arms and turned to sit down on the steps again. She was surprised when he sat next to her and offered an arm to her with a crooked smile.

'Ah thought ya might want a shoulder ta cry on,' he offered. 'Ah know ya probably don't, but...'

'Not really,' she admitted, but scooted over next to him. 'But I wouldn't mind a hug...Cornfed.'

He grinned and pulled her into another hug, then suddenly stood up again. She gave him a dirty look as he jogged back around the car for a moment and leaned in through the window of the driver's side, then back around to her, where he bowed, extending his hand to her. 'May Ah have the pleasure of a dance, Miss?' he asked, a slight blush showing up in his cheeks.

She sat there for a moment, staring at him absolutely dumbfounded. What was he trying to do? She understood when she heard the first strains of a song, which sounded suspiciously like U2. Looking at him, then the car, and back to him, she felt a small smile starting to creep across her face. Cautiously, she extended her own hand to him. He pulled her to her feet and into a careful embrace as Bono began to sing.

'Oh, my love, my darling,
I've hungered for your touch
a long, lonely time.
Time goes by so slowly,
and time can do so much.
Are you still mine?
I need your love.
I need your love.
God speed your love to me.
Lonely rivers flow
to the sea, to the sea,
to the open arms of the sea.
Lonely rivers sigh,
wait for me, wait for me.
I'll be coming home,
wait for me.'

And in the window, Piotr Rasputin smiled and turned away.

Sara closed her eyes and rested her head on Sam's shoulder before even realizing it. He smiled down at her and closed his own eyes resting his forehead on her hair. He did have to go and he knew that he would be gone a long time, but it didn't need to stop them from having at least one good memory to share between them. They danced slowly, just holding each other, really, until the song had started to end. Feeling very into the spirit of the moment, Sam couldn't help himself from tilting her face up one more time, her eyes still closed, and placed a soft kiss on her lips.

He suddenly stepped back, gasping for breath from the punch in the stomach she'd given him. It wasn't hard at all; it hadn't hurt, but it had shocked him. He looked at her to see her blushing a dozen shades of red, biting her lip.

'Geez, Cornfed,' she stammered, trying to appear much less flustered than she really was. 'Even *I* know you're supposed to at least ask permission before you do that.' She hadn't meant to hit him, but he'd caught her really off-guard and she didn't understand what he was doing until after she 'd socked him in the gut.

He was trying to keep a straight face, mostly because he finally realized she was just as nervous as he was, but partly because of her statement. He was fighting a losing battle, and heard himself start to chuckle. 'Okay, ya got me; mah bad,' he admitted, offering an apologetic wave of his hands. 'Can Ah kiss ya?'

'You didn't say please,' she teased, walking back over to him, blushing even harder. 'But I guess I'll say yes...just this once...'

'Ya'll are givin' me a lotta 'just onces', ya know,' he teased back, pulling her close again. 'But Ah'll take it.'

'Ah don't know when Ah'll be able ta make it back,' Sam admitted, looking up at her from his seat in the car. 'But Ah'll call an' let ya know Ah got home okay when Ah get there.'

Sara nodded, not saying a word. She pulled his shirt a little closer to fight off the wind that had started to pick up. She didn't know how to really say goodbye and she didn't think she could trust herself to not cry.

'Ah guess Ah'll see ya later, then,' he told her. When he saw a doubtful look cross her face he added with a grin, 'After all, Ah am gonna need ta get mah shirt back, right? No, don't take it off; Ah meant Ah'll get it when Ah come back.'

'Pretty lousy excuse to visit,' she growled, trying to hide her smile.

'Well, Ah don't wanna get punched again if Ah say Ah'm coming ta visit you, instead,' he remarked smartly. 'Now ya'll get inside before ya catch cold, an' Ah'll call when Ah stop for the night.'

'I thought you said you'd call when you got home,' she said with a playful scowl.

'Ah changed mah mind,' he said with a shrug, not even bothering to hide the grin.

'If you don't get going, you'll have to spend the night here,' she warned, then gave him a dangerous grin. 'Not that I'd mind...'

'Behave yourself, girl,' he chided. 'Ah'll talk to ya in a couple hours.'

'Okay,' she agreed, stepping back from the car. She tried to stop herself from grinning and her eyes widened in shock when she heard an actual giggle from herself before going back into the house, clutching a rewritten note in her hand and set it on the table before going back to her room.

When she got there, she stopped. Someone had been there; she could feel it. She scanned the room in a panic, wondering if she could find any clues as to who had been there. Setting on her pallet of blankets on the floor, she got her answer. She felt a sad smile cross her face as her fingers hovered over the picture sitting there. It was unmistakably herself and Sam, dancing out in the driveway.

Maybe she didn't want to just sit there and wait by herself. After all, Piotr might like someone to talk to.