A bright, white light. He'd seen it before, not too long before. He wasn't real thrilled to see it again. Then again, maybe he was. He sure was tired; maybe it was time for a rest.
He walked forward into the light. From a distance, he heard someone calling him, but he couldn't make out who the voice was. Probably Jeannie. Maybe 'Roro. Kitty and Jubilee were both too far away, so it probably wasn't either of them. Didn't matter much; he was too tired to care.
"Geez, you're a sorry case."
The voice came from a few feet behind him, even though he could have sworn there was no one there when he went past. He spun around and saw a tiny blond girl sitting on the floor (such as it was). She was wearing white robes that seemed to flow around her, and were almost the same shade as her long hair and her pale skin. The only spot of color was in her eyes, which were a deep, laughing green. She could have been six, sixteen or six hundred.
"Who're you callin' sorry?"
"You." She cocked her head to the side. "Not exactly what I was expectin'. A little shorter than I thought. Much more angst-ridden, but that's to be expected, I guess. Angst is contagious, you know, and your crew has been passin' it around like the flu for years."
"Who the hell are you?"
"Um, you might wanna watch the language. You're only here on a probationary basis, you know. About twenty people had to argue to get you this far and let me tell you, it was a helluva fight."
This was getting a little too ridiculous. "You ain't exactly watching your mouth."
She shrugged and grinned, her eyes dancing. "I'm an angel, I can say whatever I want."
He tried to think of an appropriate response, but could only come up with, "Where are your wings?"
"Hangin' around somewhere. They're a total pain, I don't wear 'em unless I need 'em. Count your blessin's you got this whole robe and blonde hair thing. I was a brunette and I prefer blue jeans, thanks."
"Right." He suddenly got tired of playing games. "Would ya mind tellin' me where I am and what's goin' on?"
She raised an eyebrow, less than intimidated by his growl. "Don't get testy, I was gettin' to that. You are in what is commonly referred to on Earth as Limbo. Up here we refer to it as the seventh inning stretch or Mel's Diner." She shrugged again at his look. "What can I say, an awful lot of smart-alecks come through here. Anyway, this is the place people wait until we decide what to do with 'em."
"Thought all that got decided a lot earlier."
She looked a little sheepish. "Normally it is, but some folks give us more problems than others. You are a textbook case. It's gonna take forever just to balance up your score card. You've got so many marks on both sides it's ridiculous." She gave him a glare that might have been intimidating if it wasn't coming from a five-foot-nothing pixie with two yards of hair. "It really would make our lives easier if you would decide if you're a hero or a bad guy."
She blew a piece of hair out of her eyes with an exasperated puff, ignoring the half-hearted apology. "And to complicate the situation, we weren't expectin' you. That's why you've got me instead of the traditional dearly departed. We were going to send Mariko, but she's tied up on guardian angel duty - that little girl of yours, Akiko, is a real handful; runs Miko absolutely ragged. Illyana was going to pinch hit again, but she's got problems of her own about whether she's gonna be up here much longer and. . . oh, never mind. To make a long story short, you surprised us so here I am."
He was obviously going crazy. Other people got choirs of tall, beautiful angels singing the Hallelujah chorus. He got Tinkerbell- with-an-attitude giving him hell. Not even the Afterlife was fair. "Guardian angel, huh? Why didn't they send mine? He off-duty? Again?"
Now she looked *really* sheepish. "Well, you're, ah, temporarily between guardians at the moment. That's why this whole thing happened. Well, that and the fact that you refuse to learn to duck." She slanted an accusing look at him. "You really do go through guardian angels at an alarming rate. That stunt with Magneto gave one poor guy a nervous breakdown; that's why Illyana had to go shove you back out of the gate, which left young Piotr on his own at a bad time. It's taken *months* to sort that mess out. And we won't even talk about the Dead in Dallas thing. Do you have any idea how hard it was to convince Roma she should get involved in that? And make her think it was all her own idea? Took the guardians for your whole group, plus a few volunteers."
"There a point t' all this?"
She had to stop and think. "Um, yeah. Anyway, you really weren't supposed to show up here right now, but I couldn't get there in time to stop you. So, you're here, and now you have to decide if you want to try to stay." She looked up at him hopefully. "You, ah, really do want to go back, don't you? I mean, it would save us a lot of bookkeepin', give you some time to pull together some more good marks."
"How many do I need?"
She grimaced. "Let's just say it was runnin' really close, last time I looked. You really do need to stop killin' people, you've got, like, negative karma half the time."
"Great, a New Age angel."
"Hey, dude, take what you can get."
"Always have." He looked away, studying the shimmering white around them. It seemed to go on forever, clouds of it in every direction. Pretty boring scenery. "I'm surprised I got this far."
She raised the eyebrow again in an 'oh really?' gesture. "Don't be. You got a lot to your credit. The whole Kitty Pryde / Ogun mess chalked up major brownie points; so does hauling around what'shername, the walking mouth. . ."
"That's it. Takin' care of Akiko looks really good, takin' on Juggernaut for Sam looked excellent, and every time you try to get killed to save someone else, it pretty much cancels out one 'death by claws.' Also gives your guardians coronaries, but what the hell. You do real good a lot of the time."
"Thanks. I think."
"Oh, it was a compliment." She smiled up at him, bringing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. "We're all very aware of the handicaps you operate under, Logan. But you've got a ways to go, I'm afraid. If you decide to go back. Which you're goin' to, right?" She looked up at him with hopeful eyes that would have suited a cocker spaniel.
He almost said yes just to stop the guilt from hitting, but forced himself to look away. "Don't know if I want to do that, angel."
He saw the face she made out of the corner of his eye. "Don't call me that. My name's Michel, I go by Mike."
"An angel named Mike?"
"You expected maybe Clarence? They always expect Clarence." She rolled her eyes, then visibly dragged the conversation back on topic. "And why wouldn't you want to go back?"
"Ain't got a whole lot to go back to."
"Are you out of your mind?" Her politely incredulous tone made him look back. Both her eyebrows were up now, almost disappearing into her hair. "You know, they didn't have to send me to take care of you; normally, they would have sent one of the guardians for your friends. But they're all tied up now takin' *care* of your friends."
"What? Why?" he demanded.
Mike snorted. "In case you've forgotten, you're up here because you forgot to duck in the middle of a fight." She gestured with one hand and a silver point of light appeared, expanding rapidly into a round mirror that hovered in the air between them. "Let's see. . ." She concentrated for a moment, and images began to flash across the surface. "Currently what do you call it, Blue Team, is attemptin' to win said fight while protectin' your comatose body." The mirror showed him sprawled on the ground with Jean and Beast hovering over him, working frantically while Gambit, Rogue and Cyclops fought off a team of Sentinals.
The image changed, to the inside of a Blackbird. "The, um, Gold Team, is flying hell-bent for leather to help them, and you, through some ridiculously bad weather and with a complete disregard for air traffic safety. We've already had to delay three flights and a helicopter tour of New York to keep them from crashin' into your pals."
She started ticking groups off on her fingers, the images changing accordingly. "That British crew, including Kurt and Kitty, are going quietly -- actually, quite loudly -- insane tryin' to keep track of what's happenin' to you. . ." Nightcrawler and Shadowcat appeared, Kitty working anxiously at a computer, her face a mask of fear, while Kurt shouted into a radio link beside her, apparently annoying the hell out of Moira, who was sharing the link. "And the headmasters at the Massachusetts Academy," Mike continued, "are havin' to sit on your little sidekick to keep her from runnin' to your rescue. They wouldn't have a prayer if her guardian wasn't makin' the kid into a klutz to help." In the mirror, Jubilee let off a stream of fireworks aimed at Emma Frost, which fortunately missed, giving Sean Cassidy the chance to grab the kid.
Mike had four fingers standing up now, and wiggled them at him meaningfully. "That look like you got nobody to go back to?"
No, it didn't. But. . ."They'd be better off without me around. Especially now."
"Oh puh-leeze!" She made a very rude noise and shot to her feet, the mirror going blank. "Now you listen to me, you self-pitying idiot! Those people have gone through hell for you a lot of times, and you've done the same for them. Sure, you've had some rough breaks, lots more than your share, but you've never angsted on us before and this is no time to start! This whole adamantium/going feral thing is a bummer, yeah, but no reason to curl up and die!" She had stalked right up to him, and was poking her finger in his chest. "I'll tolerate a certain amount of that nonsense from Summers -- any of them -- and Xavier, but not from you! You know better!"
"Oh yeah?" He was sorely tempted to flatten her, but figured knocking out an angel would look really bad on that score card she'd mentioned.
"Yeah!" She was even closer, up in his face now. "And if you won't think about yourself, consider those poor little girls you keep adoptin'. Hasn't Kitty lost enough already? And Jubilee? Those are good kids, you want to leave them alone? And remember what happened last time you took your eyes off of Akiko, those dreadful foster parents? Yukio can't be everywhere, you know. And we won't even discuss Sam, and all the other kids who are goin' to need you." Her hair was flying around her head from the force of her temper; she shoved it impatiently out of her face. "So don't you give me this self-pity crap!"
Actually, he had forgotten about angsting, as she put it; amusement was beginning to take over as he watched the tiny thing rant. She looked up and caught the smile he was trying to hide. Her jaw squared and he thought she was going to punch him, then she caught a look at herself in the 'mirror' that was still floating in the air next to them and had to laugh. "Oh geez. This is why I've never gotten a permanent guardian assignment, you know. I'm not much on subtlety."
"I noticed. Pretty good speech, though; ya were startin' t' sound like Summers."
"Which one? There are so many." She held up a hand to stop his answer. "Never mind. The point I'm tryin' to make is, if you decide to stay here, there's not much you're gonna be able to do for your friends, which would drive you absolutely crazy, and wouldn't exactly thrill them."
"And if I go back?"
"Well, I can't promise happily ever after," Mike admitted. "But I'm pretty sure the good times will be worth the bad ones. Haven't they been so far? Uh-uh-uh," she cautioned, "think before you answer."
She directed his attention back to the mirror, reminding him. Images flashed across it again -- Kitty, telling an outrageous fairy tale to young Illyana while the X-Men lurked and listened; Jubilee vibrating in place as she showed off the fruits of yet another marathon shopping expedition; long days with Mariko and longer nights; the times in the cabin with Silver Fox; baseball games which degenerated into wrestling matches; Scott and Jean's wedding day, watched from the sidelines; Jubilee hugging him in the woods and promising to never leave him again.
"See what I mean?" Mike said quietly. "You want to give all that up?"
He growled under his breath. "Nothin' worse than a know-it-all angel."
She brightened. "That mean you're goin' back?"
He growled again. "Yeah, looks that way."
"All right, I knew you could do it!" Mike smiled hugely, almost bouncing in place. "I had complete faith in you! And I win my bet!"
She looked and sounded like a six-year-old; he had to smile. "Who'd you bet with?"
"Oh, there's a pool going on you," she grinned mischeviously. "You keep this up, I'm gonna rake it in!"
He thought about asking what angels used for stakes, then gave it up. "Long as I get a cut."
"Sure. So, ready to go?"
"Guess so. What do I do, click my heels and say 'There's no place like home'?"
"How'd you guess?" she said deadpan. He gave her a look and she grinned again. "No, all you have to do it step through the looking glass. It'll take you where you're supposed to be." She gestured with one hand, and the mirror grew until it was big enough to go through. The image of him with Jean and Hank crouched over his body reappeared, frozen this time. "You've only been gone a few seconds by their time."
"Right." He started for the mirror, then turned to look at her. "I don't know if I'm gonna thank you for this later, Mike, but for right now. . . thanks."
She winked. "Thank me by stayin' outta here for a while. I don't need this kind of stress, y'know?"
"You and me both, angel." She didn't object this time, just smiled as he turned, and walked through the mirror.
"Hank! How's he doing?"
"I lost the pulse for a moment, but it's returned strongly!" Hank yelled over the noise of battle. Scott acknowledged the answer with a wave before turning to blast a Sentinal. "Jean, watch the bleeding there, hold it together until his healing factor can begin to take effect!"
"I know!" she snapped back, "I'm trying!"
"Watch that temper, Jeannie." Logan's weak voice snapped both their eyes to him. His were cracked open, a grimace of pain that was trying to be a smile touching his mouth.
"Logan!" Jean's cry of relief was mixed with anger and real fear. "Why do you keep doing this to me. . . us?!"
"Sorry, darlin'," he said faintly, his eyes starting to close again. "Guardian angel was lyin' down on the job."
As he drifted back off, he could have sworn he heard a rude noise somewhere in the distance.
"Lyin' down on the job, my. . ." Mike caught Illyana's eye and cut off her epithet. "He's got a real attitude problem, there."
"You did well with him, Michael."
Michael stood and stretched. In the process, 'she' grew about two feet and a hundred pounds. The robes and yards of hair fell away, replaced with blue jeans, a denim shirt and short dark hair. Only the green eyes stayed the same. "Well, I've got to take care of my own," he said in a much deeper voice, sans accent. "I *am* supposed to be his patron saint. Now all I have to do is find a guardian who can keep up with him." He eyed Illyana speculatively. "I don't suppose. . ."
"No," she said firmly. "Remember, I might not even be here much longer?"
"Ah, yes, I forgot. This revolving door policy we set up for you X-Men might have been a mistake."
"It's too late now."
"True, a deal is a deal." With a flick of his wrist, he made the mirror vanish and he and Illyana wandered off into the clouds. "Let's see, who can I get to volunteer?"
"He already did it. He's still on vacation."
"Oh, yes. Um, Arthur?"
"Couldn't keep up on his best day."
"Let's not be ridiculous. Oh hell, I may have to do this one myself for a while...."