A Homely Touch
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

The Road Not Travelled
The Long and Winding Road

Main Fan-Fiction page
Stars and Garters

Disclaimers: Seen in part one.

Note: What was NOT seen in part one was the dedication. Knew I forgot something ... anyway, this story is for two people. For Twiller (the story I promised you! Here it is!), and for Lise (Feedback Goddess that she is, and special thanks for looking up the pre-Twelve data for me!). Thanks also go to Mel, for extensive betareading and helpful comments. :)

It was much later when Hank wandered again into the kitchen. Everyone was at least in bed, if not asleep, and he himself intended to sleep lying down for once. But dinner had been a while ago, and he was peckish. Sally always left some nibbles in the fridge in case someone got hungry when she wasn't around, he'd just get himself some chicken or something...

There were voices in the kitchen.

He peeked around the fridge, and blinked.

There was Sally with -- of all people -- Jonothon. The one person who could not benefit from her preferred culinary comfort, and who indeed could not be blamed if he found it rather upsetting. Still, there he was, elbows on the table and 'chin' resting in one hand.

Sally nodded, obviously in response to something Hank hadn't heard. "I can certainly see why," she said gently. "Still ... it could be worse."

<*How?*> Hank winced at the naked misery in the boy's voice.

Sally just smiled her sweet smile, reaching out to touch the scarred cheek gently. "You could be dead," she said mildly. "You could be in hospital, dependent on machinery to keep you alive, with no hope of ever leaving it. You could be an ammonia-breather, locked alone in a bubble for your entire life. I can only imagine how hard life must be for you, Jono, but at least you have one. A life, I mean."

Jono tilted his head. So did Hank. <*Y' think so?*> Jono asked slowly. There was still bitterness in his voice, but now it was mixed with surprise. <*You think living like this is better'n being dead?>

"Considerably so, I would say." Sally patted his hand gently. "Your chances of recovery are much better -- although around here one never really knows."

Jono gave her a pitiful look, suddenly seeming much younger than Hank knew he really was. <*You ... think I'll recover?*> he whispered, aching hope in his psionic voice. <*Really?*>

Sally nodded. "I do. It might not be soon, and it may take some time, but I do believe that you'll eventually gain control of your powers and get back what you lost." She smiled a little. "I know the Legacy Virus is taking the lead right now, but Hank and Dr McTaggert haven't forgotten about you. I promise they haven't. And they'll help."

Hank bit his lip. He hadn't forgotten, either ... Sally had seen him more than once, studying the data on Jono's powers, but only while he was waiting for some experiment or another to run its course. She had a humbling amount of faith in him.

Jono looking down at the floor, blinking rapidly. <*I... thanks,*> he whispered. <*It means a lot.*>

Sally gazed at him for a long moment, then reached out to hug him gently. "It'll be all right," she whispered soothingly. "Don't give up hope."

<*I won't.*> The curly head rested against her shoulder, long arms folding around her as he relaxed visibly. <*Not now.*> She rubbed a gentle circle over his back as he hugged her for a long moment, and Hank could see a suspicious brightness in her eyes. She knew how painful this boy's life was, and all she had to offer were a hug and a few hopeful words.

But she'd offer them, as often as she could, because it was all she could do, and she'd do all that she could for anyone she knew was in pain.

Hank turned away, realizing belatedly that this moment wasn't his to share. Instead, he crept down to the lab. There had been a couple of promising avenues he'd found in his last exploration of the data on young Jonothon.

And who really needed sleep?

"Hank?" Something touched his shoulder.

He looked up rather blearily. It was dawn, according to his 'window'. Sally was standing next to him, a tray balanced in one hand as the other rested gently on his shoulder. "Were you up all night again?"

Hank rubbed wearily at his eyes, pushing his glasses up his forehead. "I ... most of it, yes. I was reviewing Jonothon's files..."

She smiled, putting the tray down carefully and gently removing his glasses. "That was you, last night. I thought so."

"You saw me?"

"No. But I sensed a presence, and I was fairly sure it was you." She moved behind him and ... oh, bliss ... started rubbing his knotted shoulders. "You're very distinctive."

He sighed happily. "You have a magical touch," he said, poking desultorily at the keyboard. "Food and a shoulder-rub -- I may swoon with sheer bliss."

"You deserve it." Slender fingers probed at bunched muscles. "You were planning to get some sleep last night, but you stayed up trying to help Jono instead."

He winced a bit. "Ow. That's the spot. And ... well, I felt bad for him. Moira and I have mostly shelved our study of his case in favour of the virus..."

"He understands that," she said gently. "His condition might be unpleasant, but it isn't dangerous. Moira's is. He knows that you have to try to help her first."

Hank smiled a little. "After you explained it to him, of course."

"Well, yes." She gave his shoulders one last rub, then moved around to lean against the desk. "He's young, he's angst-ridden ... but yes, I explained it to him, and he understands. He knows you haven't forgotten about him."

Hank smiled a little wistfully. The small, even features were a little blurred now, framed in a soft shimmer of dark brown. "You have a great deal of faith in me," he said quietly.

"We all do," she said quietly. "We all have faith in you." Then she touched his hand gently, and left.

Hank looked after her for a long moment, then reached out for his glasses, and then for his breakfast. He could manage a few more hours of work before he crashed. Maybe even a few days more.

It was ... good ... to be believed in.

"Morning!" Jubilee bounced into the kitchen, sniffing the air happily. "Mmm, I wanna get used to this."

"Hi," Sally said cheerfully. She looked a little tired, but her smile was warm and welcoming. Nice change from Emma and Sean, who were both hideously grumpy in the mornings. "I didn't think you'd be up this early."

"Remy told me that if I got up early there'd be hot muffins and fresh coffee. See, if there's a reason, I'll do it." Jubilee plopped down at the table and reached for the platter of muffins. "Blueberry!"

"Just for you," Sally said placidly. "Would you like anything else? Eggs? Bacon? Pancakes?"

Jubilee stopped in mid-muffinsplit. "If I say yes, will you make it for me?"

"Sure." Sally sipped a cup of coffee, absently pushing her loose plait over her shoulder to hang down her back. "You're up early, you get the good breakfast."

Jubilee propped her chin on her hand and gazed soulfully at her. "Here's an idea. You marry Wolvie, I live with you guys, and I get great food every day forever."

Sally chuckled. "Don't think so, dear. I'm very fond of Logan, but he's not my type."

"Can it be? A chick who doesn't want the Wolfmeister's bod?"

"It can, and it is." Sally's lips quirked. "So, did you want a hot breakfast?"

"Pancakes, please. Is there icecream?" Jubilee smiled her own sweet smile. She liked Sally. The small, attractive woman looked, allowing for racial differences, a lot like Jubilee herself, and it was nice to have a woman around who wasn't tall and bosomy and dressing in spandex. It made Jubilee feel ... better, kinda. Besides, she was sweet, and gentle, and rather motherly.

She was smiling a motherly smile now, tinged with imp, as she reached for the already mixed pancake batter. "Yes, there is. But the frozen fruit yoghurt is better on pancakes."

Jubilee gave her a suspicious look. "Better, or more healthy?"

"I made the yoghurt myself. There's strawberry pieces and syrup swirls and all."

"And I say yoghurt me!" Jubilee bit into her hot, buttered muffin and sighed blissfully. "I hope they keep you."

"Keep? I say we marry her." Bobby ambled into the kitchen, rubbing sleepily at his eyes. "Sally, have pity on a poor sleepy man. I need coffee."

"Me too!" Jubilee chirped. "I want coffee too!"

"How do you like it?" Sally asked, swifty pouring a mug of coffee and adding a dash of milk to it. Bobby held out his hands, and she wrapped them gently around the mug.

"Thank you," he said sleepily, and buried his face in his coffee.

"Four sugar and lots of milk," Jubilee said hopefully. Nobody EVER gave her four sugar, really. She was usually lucky if she got two.

Sally just poured the coffee, sugared it, drowned it in milk, and handed it to her.

The mug had a little cartoon cat on it.

"Thanks," Jubilee said meekly. She sipped her coffee. Mm ... syrupy...

Angelo stumbled in making sleepy noises, his hair wildly ruffled and his shirt untucked. Since they were visiting, he'd actually gotten dressed. "Mrglt."

"He means coffee," Jubilee said helpfully.

"I know. He sounds just like Gambit." Sally poured another cup, from a smaller pot this time. "Black, no sugar, right?"

"Mrf." Angelo took the cup and swigged a mouthful. He spluttered a bit, then looked at her with new respect. "Strong."

"Indeed. Sally's coffee is Of The Strong," Bobby said with sleepy solemnity. "So are the muffins. Have a muffin, Angelo."

"I like muffins," Angelo said blearily.

"Muffins are nice," Bobby agreed.

"Si. Muffins." Angelo sat down opposite Bobby. They directed identically unfocused stares at the plateful of muffins.

Sally and Jubilee looked at each other and burst out laughing.

"We're not funny," Bobby said a bit grumpily. "We're just very tired."

"Yeah, what he said," Angelo agreed. He tried to pick up a muffin, and succeeded on the second attempt. "Muffin."

"Yeah." Bobby reached out and snagged a muffin on only the third try. "Yum."

Sally and Jubilee were gasping for breath.

Bobby gave his muffin a quizzical look. "Butter. Should we butter the muffins?"

"I dunno," Angelo said cautiously, eyeing the butter. "It's a bit ... you know ... fiddly."

"Yeah," Bobby agreed solemnly. "Cause, you know, the knife and stuff. Spready."

Jubilee was hyperventilating. Sally was laughing so hard she could hardly turn Jubilee's pancakes.

Bobby looked at them out of the corner of his eye, and grinned at Angelo. "We're pretty damn funny, aren't we?"

"We da man," Angelo agreed complacently. "Sheer talent."

"The best," Bobby nodded. "Sally, can we have pancakes too?"

Sally had, fairly obviously, not had time to pack before being whisked off to an alternate dimension. She'd arrived with only the clothes she stood up in. So Rogue, who was a good judge of size and taste, had nipped out to get a selection of shirts and jeans, a couple of dresses, shoes, and underwear.

What Rogue considered a stop-gap solution, Sally considered more new clothes than she'd ever had in her life. She was perfectly happy with the things she had.

This, apparently, was bad.

"Ya can't just settle for a few shirts and jeans!" Rogue insisted, towing Sally firmly out to the car.

"But I haven't got any money," Sally protested.

"The Professor got you a credit-card," Jean told her, helping Rogue shove her into the car. "You've been working harder than any of us, and you deserve it. You can get whatever you want, as long as it fits into the car."

"Fits into the car?! How much stuff are we going to get?"

"Enough," Rogue said firmly. "We're going shopping, we're gonna get you some nice things, and that's final."

"Okay," Sally agreed meekly. There were things that one could resist, but Rogue with the gleam of the hunt in her eye was not one of them.

Two hours later, she was really starting to wish she'd resisted.

"Oh, this'd look just adorable on her!" Rogue held up a rather bright green satin gown. "Doncha think, Ororo?"

Storm gave it a dubious look. "It is perhaps a trifle ... daring, for Sally."

Dear Ororo. OBSERVANT Ororo. "It certainly is," Sally said firmly.

"Perhaps the gold..."

"Ororo, the gold is a tent," Jean objected. "What about that nice olive..."

Sally backed away. "Uhm ... I'm just gonna go to the bathroom. You guys stay and ... look. I'll be right back." She ducked hastily behind a rack of gowns and sprinted for the exit.

A few minutes later, Remy picked up the phone. "Xavier Institute," he said mildly, waiting to see if he wanted to admit that he was him.

"Remy!" It was a frantic hiss. "Thank heavens it's you!"

"Sally?" He straightened up. "Somet'ing wrong, chere?"

"Damn right there's something wrong! These women just don't stop!" There was a definitely panicked note in her voice. "We've been shopping for three hours! They keep making me buy things! I've spent more money than I used to make in six months, and now they want me to buy a THIRD evening dress! I'm never even going to wear the first two!!"

Remy stifled a snicker. Poor Sally was a frugal, practical girl, and this uncontrolled spending was obviously upsetting her. "Y' sound desperate, chere. Somet'ing Remy can do?"

"Come and get me!!"

"All right, all right, calm down ... I'll meet y' in about half an hour, all right? Jean told everyone where you were going. I'll kidnap y' for lunch, neh?"

"Thank you," Sally sighed in obvious relief. "I promise, I'll make a whole batch of macadamia cookies just for you."

"An offer no sane man could refuse," Remy agreed. "Be there soon, petite. Be brave."

"I'll try," she said resignedly. "Bye..."

Remy hung up. He looked at the phone. He wandered over to the intercom. "Hank, you busy?"

"Yes, Remy, I'm very busy. What is it?"

Remy gazed up at the ceiling, the very picture of innocence. And never mind that Hank couldn't see it, it came through in the tone. "Nothing. Jus' thought y' might wanna come with me t' rescue Sally from Shopping Hell and take her out for lunch. But never mind. You're busy." He clicked the intercom off, and went into a prolonged fit of snickering.

Downstairs, Hank blinked, then made a very rude gesture at the intercom. "I'm not THAT busy," he muttered in a rather aggrieved tone. "I could use some lunch. It would be GOOD for me." But of course, nobody cared about that. Except Sally. And she was out.

He turned back to studying Jono's profile in an extremely pouty mood.

Two days later, he was no closer to a solution. But ... he nibbled on a cookie absently ... perhaps if he got the boy down here, did a few more tests... he didn't have a solution, yet, but he had that uncertain, nagging feeling that told him he almost had the shape of the problem, could almost see it in his mind and fit all the pieces together.

There was a shrill cheep, and his 'window' turned into a view of Forge's face. "Hank?"

"Forge, hello..." Hank guiltily hid the handful of cookie under the desk. He really was nibbling far too much lately. "It's been a few days since we last spoke ... any luck with that little project?" That 'little project' was the device that would, in theory, take Sally home. But Forge had been trying for months now, and never had the slightest bit of success, so it was a perfunctory question at best, as Hank wondered if perhaps Forgue could build something that would help Jono--

"Uh ... yeah. That's why I called." Forge held up an octagonal contraption about the size of a toaster. "It's finished."

Hank stared at him, mind going blank. If the device was finished, then...

...then Sally would...


"Hank?" Forge gave him a worried look, compassion evident in his dark eyes. "Listen, I'm coming over there with it. Do you ... want me to tell people?"

"I ... no. No. I will ... pass on the news." He couldn't call it good news. It wasn't good news. "When will you be here?"

"Tomorrow," Forge said simply. "I'll be there tomorrow." And then he was gone.

Hank was never sure, afterwards, how long he just sat in the lab, staring at the screen. He'd known, of course, that she would go home one day ... at least, part of him had. Another part of him, that was only now making itself felt, said that no, he hadn't really expected her ever to leave ... he didn't want her ever to leave.

Slowly, he examined this part of himself, this new and hidden part that he'd never known was there. Why didn't it want Sally to go home and be happy?

Because she makes me feel special, it whispered. Because she's the only person who's ever bothered to make sure I eat, and sleep sometimes, and don't get so lost in my work that I forget why I'm doing it. Because she smiles at me like I'm somebody important. Because she treats me like a person, like a man, not a big furry muppet. Because she's got beautiful hair.

Because I want...

Hank shook his head, ruthlessly silencing the treacherous little voice inside him. He didn't want to hear it. Didn't want to know.

"Sally?" Hank's voice sounded almost normal. He was proud of that.

She looked up at him with a warm smile. "Hi, Hank. Hungry?"

She was rolling cookie dough into balls, setting them on a tray with quick, economical motions. Her thick, dark brown hair was tied back, several tendrils escaping to wave around her face, framing soft olive skin and large hazel eyes, a long, straight nose and a smile that soothed the most wounded of hearts. He took all this in, absorbing her with his eyes, committing her to memory, and then he spoke. "I ... was contacted by Forge a short time ago," he said softly. "He told me that he now has the wherewithal to send you home."

A ball of dough slipped out of her fingers, falling to the floor as she stared at him, face pale. "He ... what?"

"He can ... return you home. He will be here tomorrow." Hank's voice was flat. Tomorrow. So soon.

"Oh." Sally reached out to grasp the back of the nearest chair, lowering herself into it as if her knees could no longer support her. "This ... is quite a shock. I didn't really think ... after all this time..."

"Indeed. I will ... leave you alone," Hank said softly, and he turned and fled before he could throw dignity to the winds and beg her to stay.

Sally stared blankly at the half-filled cookiesheet. Leave? Go home? See Mama and Daddy again? Her brothers and sisters, Con and Mia and Emily and the triplets ... Her eyes filled with tears. She missed them. She missed Nonna. She missed speaking Greek at the table and hearing it come back. But...

But she didn't want to leave. Mama and Daddy had six other kids to take care of, and Nonna couldn't work so much anymore ... there she was just another mouth to feed, and sure she worked hard, but so did Con and Mia and Daddy ... the bakery couldn't take care of all of them.

Here they needed her.

Sally bit her lip. And all that was just a big fat justification for her not wanting to leave, so she wouldn't have to think about the real reason. She didn't want to leave Hank, that was why, she was head-over-heels in love with him and even if he never noticed, never knew, she'd rather stay here where at least she had a chance, than give it up forever.

And why was that? He was blue, he was furry, he was at least ten years older than she was, he spent all his time in the lab, he hardly talked for days on end...

And he made her heart jump in a way none of the Nice Greek Boys her Nonna liked ever had. He was gentle, and considerate, and charming, with a deep, jolly laugh and a warm smile. Okay, so he was blue and furry. It was a pretty colour, and what woman didn't like fur?

And he had blue eyes, just like her Daddy. She liked blue eyes.

Sally sighed, and started rolling dough-balls again. Cooking helped her to think.

Item: She had made more friends here than she ever had at home. Mostly because they were always in and out of the kitchen while she was cooking, but still. It was nice, having so many people around who talked to her and made little jokes and acted as if they really liked her. And she liked them, too, they were nice people. Well, mostly.

Item: Here she had a power. It was a small, non-combative power, but it was more than she'd had before. And to be honest, she preferred it to things like being super-strong or smart or whatever. It was more useful, at least to her. And it helped her to understand people, which was always a good thing...

Item: The people here needed her. Desperately. They needed her to listen to their woes, to talk them through their problems, and most of all to feed them regularly, the poor malnourished things...

And of course, Hank was here.

But ... she took a deep breath ... was that enough to keep her here, never to see her family again?


Hank nodded. "Forge contacted me a short while ago."

"But ... but she can't go!" Marrow insisted loudly. "Who'll feed us?!"

"Marrow!" Storm said reprovingly. "Of course Sally must go. She must miss her family dreadfully."

Everyone drooped.

"But we'll miss her," Bobby moaned quietly. "Who's going to feed us and make everything better?"

"Don' wanna go back to de way things were," Remy agreed mournfully. "Remy gotten used t' staying inside now."

"Yeah," Marrow agreed. "And what about the food? Who's gonna have hot dinners waiting for us when we get back from fighting and stuff?"

"We're just going to have to manage," Scott said sadly. He'd liked the hot dinners. There was nothing like coming back from a hard day of leading-and-decision-making and finding a nice hot dinner and a glass of something bracing waiting for you. "Maybe we could ... delegate someone to do it."

"It wouldn't be the same," Marrow said sulkily. "I want her to stay."

"Me too," Kitty agreed. "But ... you know ... family."


There was a group moment of silence.

"We have to let her go," Bobby said sadly. "But I'm going to be sad every time I see a muffin."

Somehow, that didn't seem as silly as it should have.

Sally sat in her room, staring blindly out the window at the sunset.

She didn't know what to do. She missed her family, she loved them, the thought of never seeing them again broke her heart ... but here she had a purpose. She was achieving something special. Maybe it wasn't much, but she was making a difference. Thanks to her, the X-Men were healthy, well-fed, cared for heroes, instead of the exhausted, enervated wrecks she'd found when she arrived. They were doing better now, fighting better, getting hurt less often.

But for herself -- legally she didn't even exist, in this world. She couldn't get a job, apply for welfare, or be admitted to hospital. She had no family, no resources and -- if the thing with the X-Men didn't work out -- no place to live.

But if she went home...

She'd have a job, a life, her family to take care of her -- she'd be safe. At least, as safe as anyone ever was. But -- she wouldn't be achieving anything. Wouldn't be changing anyone's life, not in a way that counted. Could she give that up?

Safety, or making a difference?

There was a tap on the door, and she started, realizing that the sun was long gone down and the room was dark. Oh dear ... she'd forgotten all about dinner... "Yes?" she called, switching on the bedside light.

"It's Bobby," he said meekly. "I brought you a tray."

Sally opened the door, smiling shyly. If she hadn't fallen so hard for Hank, she suspected she'd have gone head-over-heels for Bobby. He was so sweet and earnest, his sense of humour masking an empathic gentleness. "Thank you," she said, looking down at the tray.


"We ... sort of forgot about dinner," Bobby said guiltily. "We're kind of used to it just being there, so nobody cooked. Um. So we ordered pizza." He held out the tray hopefully. "Look, barbecue chicken. Your favourite kind."

She smiled at him, accepting the tray. "Thank you." It was just like him to remember that, the one time she'd allowed them to despoil their systems with fast food, she herself had liked the barbecue chicken best.

"You're welcome." He shuffled a little. "Uh ... Hank says that you're going away. Back home."

"I..." She bit her lip. "Forge is coming tomorrow."

"Yeah, well..." He gave her a shy, crooked smile. "We'll miss you."

"I know," she said softly. "It means a lot to me."

"Us too," he said simply, and kissed her temple awkwardly. Blushing, he loped away before she could say anything.

Sally blinked, then, being a practical woman, took herself over to her desk so as to eat the pizza before it got cold.

She was halfway through the second slice when there was another knock on the door. "Yeff?"

"Remy, petite." He poked his head around the door. "Y' decent?"

She giggled. "Yes. Come in."

He slid around the door, all charm and boneless grace. "Bobby brought y' tray, then?"

"No, it was the tooth fairy," she said impishly.

"Bit heavy for her, isn't it?" Remy perched on the edge of the bed, for once not making any comments about her conservative satin nightshirt. "Chere ... y' really going?"

"I think so," she said very quietly. "I ... I miss my family, Remy."

"I know. Me too, some days." He reached out to touch her hand gently, and it wasn't the flirtatious gesture it usually would have been. "But we'll miss you, too."

She nodded. "And I'll miss you, too."

A couple of hours later, she was wondering whether wringing out her hanky would help, or if she should try to find yet another new one. Nearly everyone had come up to say goodbye, and most of them had gotten sniffly, and Sally always cried when she saw someone else do it. It had been a very teary evening.

There was another tap on the door, and she gave a preporatory sniff. "Yes?"

Jono peeked shyly around the door. <*Brought you some juice.*>

Sally smiled. "Thank you," she said gratefully, wiping at her eyes one more time. "It's been a dreadful night."

<*Thought so.*> He handed her the glass, leaning against the wall and shoving his hands in his pockets. <*'s been nice, having you here. Figures they'd miss you.*>

Sally sipped the cranberry juice gratefully. All those tears had left her feeling rather dessicated. "I'll miss them, too. But they've been very ... understanding."

<*They're all trying. But since I don't live 'ere, I thought I'd come right out an' say it.*> He folded up, kneeling on the floor and giving her a longing look. <*Don't leave us, Mary Poppins.*>

Sally giggled, ruffling the curly hair gently. "Don't make me hit you, Jono. I'm puny, it'll be embarrassing."

<*Just thought I'd let you know what everyone's saying when they're not trying to be understanding and un-pushy.*> He tilted his head into her hand for a moment, then unfolded himself again and returned his hands to his pockets. <*Ta, then.*>

Sally smiled and said goodnight. Then she cleaned her teeth and went to bed, still trying to decide what to do.

And trying not to think about the fact that Hank hadn't come to say goodbye.

Hank ran a shaking hand through his hair. Forge was ready. Everything was set up. As soon as Sally got here, they could...

When Sally arrived, they would...

Sally would...

He clenched his fists. Sally would leave. And it was for the best. She would go back home, to her family, to a world where she wasn't a mutant, and she would be safe. He'd brought her here, against her will ... by accident, true, but the fault had been his.

He had no right to want to keep her here, to want to keep her with him.

No matter how sweetly desirable she was or how nice her hair might be.

Forge touched his shoulder gently. "Is she coming?" he asked sympathetically.

"Ah ... yes, yes, I believe so. Any moment. She said ... there was just something..." Hank looked down at his hands. "In just a moment, I believe."

There was a slowly growing crowd around them, as X-Men and GenXers filtered in, waiting to say a last goodbye. Nobody looked happy. Several handkerchieves were in evidence.

"Uhm..." Everyone looked up. Sally was on the stairs. Her hair waved loose around her shoulders, and she was wearing the usual t-shirt and loose jeans. She looked a little worried, then, looking around at them all, she giggled suddenly. "Oh, stop looking so broken-hearted! I'm not going!"

There was a moment of absolute silence.

"YAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!" The room erupted in cheers and whistles, and she was very nearly smothered with hugs as she made her way over to Forge and Hank.

"Are you sure about this?" Hank asked softly, taking her small hand in his. "If you need more time to think..."

"No." She squeezed his hand gently. "Here ... here I can make a difference. I can help people. That's what I want. I ... I wrote a note. I thought maybe you could send it instead of me. To tell my family that I'm okay."

Forge nodded. "I can do that ... uhm, I'll need some blood. Genetic material."

"Already on there. I figured they'd want to check that it was really from me." Sally smiled shyly at him. "I'm sorry you went to so much trouble just to have me change my mind."

Forge looked around, and grinned ruefully. "If I complained now I think I'd get lynched."

Hank grinned at him, still not letting go of Sally's hand. "Absotively, posilutley, and no doubt about it," he said solemnly. "We're keeping her now."

The phone rang.

Bobby picked it up, and frowned. "Guys ... hey, guys!" he yelled over the racket. It quieted slightly "That was Lorna. She said something about people watching her..."

Concluded in Chapter 3.

NB: Er ... I'm fairly sure this is the (adapted to fit) point from which the saga of the Twelve really gets going (Comic-collection is currently in serious disarray, so I can't check). Since Sally is a non-combatant and wouldn't be involved (and because it's WAY too long), part three will pick up right afterwards. And yes, I know that a lot of canon stuff has gone by the board here. This happens with alternate timelines. Inserting another body makes things change.