Mystique and Tara arrived at the boathouse door. Tara gently knocked, not sure what she was going to say.
Lee answered the door and said, "Hello?" As he noticed the young woman accompanied by a blue naked woman.
"I need to speak to Andrew, is he around?" Tara asked shyly.
"Let me check. I think he's just in his room." Lee said and gestured for Tara and Mystique to enter.
A moment later Lee returned and said, "He'll be out in a minute."
At Tara's questioning look Lee timidly said, "I'm Andrew's father... I'm really older than I look. I've been told I carry my age well."
A spark of realization lit in Tara's eyes, but she remained silent as she felt in her pocket for the Serpent.
"I have also been told that I carry my age well." Mystique said plainly.
"By whom?" Lee asked automatically.
"Johnny Kennedy." Mystique said with a purple blush.
* * * * *
"I don't know if you'll need a stick for anything, but we got one for you too Robert." Bobby said as the group of boys returned to the camp.
"Thank you Bobby." Robert said with a look of affection.
"Actually it was John's idea. And Ronny used his... mutant thing, to snap the branches. I just held the flashlight and sharpened the ends." Bobby said, enjoying Robert's glow of happiness.
"Thanks guys." Robert said as he was handed a stick.
"Okay, let's cook some food!" John said and moved for the hot dogs.
Bobby handed everyone a hot dog, and when everyone was outfitted, he asked Robert, "Do you want to try one?"
"I will try. If I cannot eat it, may I give it to you?" Robert asked quietly.
"Sounds like a plan." Bobby said and handed Robert a hot dog.
* * * * *
Andrew walked out into the living room to find Tara looking nervous and fidgety.
"What's wrong Tara?" Andrew asked with immediate concern.
"Can I talk with you and Alan? It's about Dawn." Tara said with worry.
"Sure, we were just laying down talking. It's been a really long day." Andrew said and led the way to the bedroom.
"Aren't you going to introduce us?" Lee asked quickly as they left.
"I am Mystique." She said with a sultry look of lust.
"I'm Lee." He said with an answering look.
* * * * *
Lance walked into the common room to find Kitty talking with a group of girls.
"Can we talk?" Lance asked abruptly.
"Sure." Kitty said with wide eyes and moved across the room to stand by Lance.
"I've been thinking about you since we met at the meeting... I'm Lance." He said trying to maintain his calm appearance.
"Kitty." She said, looking into his dreamy brown eyes.
"I guess I just wanted to know if you wanted to, I dunno, go out sometime and do something." Lance asked awkwardly.
"Yeah, I'd like that." Kitty said with a fascinated gaze into Lance's eyes.
"Oh, okay, great." Lance said with surprise.
"But since you're here. We could hang out. You like any movies or anything?" Kitty asked hopefully.
"Not really. I don't really get into movies. But I like music." Lance finished with hope.
"What kind?" Kitty asked quickly.
"I like the older stuff... alternative, punk, garage bands... the gritty stuff." Lance finished with a shrug.
"Oh, *real* music, before the studios and sound mixers take all the character out of it." Kitty said with a knowing smile.
"Yeah." Lance said with a look of surprise.
"Wait here a minute and I'll be back with some music." Kitty said quickly.
"I'll go with you." Lance said and began to follow.
"We aren't allowed." Kitty said with a note of regret.
"What if we don't tell anyone?" Lance asked with a sly smile.
"You see those girls over there? They'll rat us out in a heartbeat. Just stay put and I'll be right back." Kitty said with a smile, then whispered, "And I'll work it out so we can be alone for a few minutes later."
Lance nodded as Kitty bounced away.
* * * * *
"Guys, I think I'm about to do something that could break Dawn and I up for good." Tara said with a tremor of fear in her voice.
Andrew took her hand to offer comfort.
Tara looked down at Andrew's hand and held out her other hand in invitation to Alan.
Immediately Alan took hold of Tara's offered hand.
"Dawn loves you like crazy. Whatever it is, she'll understand." Andrew said with assurance.
Tara carefully guided Alan's hand to Andrews, and they automatically took hold of each others hands as she held onto them both.
"She won't understand this." Tara said as she reached in her pocket and found the Serpent.
"What is it? What could you do that would upset her that much?" Andrew asked, wanting to help.
"This." Tara said and dropped the Serpent on their joined hands.
"What is it?" Alan asked, then felt it begin to move on it's own.
"It's called the Serpent of Astarte." Tara said and used both her hands to hold their joined hands together.
"It's moving." Alan said in panic and tried to pull away.
"Please, trust me, this isn't a bad thing... it needs to be done." Tara said as she continued to hold their joined hands.
"What are you doing? This is a spell." Andrew said in realization as he felt the magics at work.
"Yes, an ancient and powerful spell." Tara said as the Serpent finally settled around their wrists.
"What spell? What are you doing to us?" Andrew asked nervously.
"Andrew, are you immortal like your father?" Tara asked directly.
"Yes, I think so." Andrew said quietly.
"Alan, you aren't, are you?" Tara asked, looking in his eyes.
"No." Alan whispered.
"That's what I'm doing, fixing that problem." Tara said honestly.
"How?" Andrew asked as he saw the Serpent begin to devour its own tail.
"By combining your life forces and linking you for eternity. As you are, so shall you be... now and forever. Linked lives, destinies entwined." Tara said in a whisper voice that was nearly a chant.
The Serpent grew tighter and tighter then... was gone. A golden scaled band was all that was left on both their wrists.
"What?" Alan asked.
"She made you immortal. You won't age, you won't die... at least from old age." Andrew said as he looked at Alan with love.
"Why didn't you ask?" Alan asked Tara in confusion.
"Because I don't have time. Dawn wanted me to use the Serpent on us... but it wasn't meant for us." Tara said sadly.
"You wanted it to be, didn't you?" Andrew asked with sympathy.
"Yes. A part of me wants to be with her forever, but another part knows that it isn't meant to be that way. I am mortal, I'm not supposed to have forever." Tara said with resignation.
"But I am... was mortal too. Why is it wrong for you and not me?" Alan asked in confusion.
"I don't have those answers. I just know that a force that is greater than I am gave me this thing. If Dawn and I used it we would be cursed for eternity. I don't know why, but I'm sure of it. This was meant for you." Tara said seriously.
* * * * *
Robert brought the hot dog to his mouth and took a tiny bite. The flavor overwhelmed his taste and he spit the small piece of meat into the fire.
"I'm sorry Bobby. I cannot tolerate the strength of the flavor." Robert said in disappointment.
"That's okay Robert, that's why we brought these." Bobby said and handed Robert the bag of rice cakes.
* * * * *
"Have you seen Tara?" Dawn asked in panic as she found Orroro walking the halls.
"Yes, be calm child, she is fine." Orroro said soothingly.
"We had a fight, and I said some things, and she left, and now I can't find her." Dawn said, nearly in tears.
"She went to the boathouse to ask Andrew for his advice." Orroro said calmly.
"Oh, okay. I'm going to find her." Dawn said immediately and walked hurriedly for the door.
* * * * *
"Guys, as much fun as this is, it's really getting cold. Let's move into the tent." Scott said with a shiver.
"Yeah. I didn't think it would get this cold." John said from his position, almost in the fire.
"Okay. You want to take care of the fire John?" Scott asked as he picked up the lantern.
With a wave of his hand the fire went completely out.
"We really need to gauge your abilities. You've learned a lot." Scott said as he gathered things to take into the tent.
John nodded as he also gathered things.
* * * * *
"You know I'm a student... what do you do?" Kitty asked as the music played in the background.
"Not much. I was doing some jobs for Magneto but, he really hasn't had much for us to do lately. I've been thinking about getting a groundskeeper job. I like working with plants and stuff." Lance said as he looked into Kitty's eyes.
"That sounds nice. And there's a lot of places around that have big grounds like this place. It should be a pretty good job." Kitty said speculatively.
"Yeah, I've been having fun hanging out, doing nothing most of the time, but I started thinking about what I want to be doing a few years from now. I think a real job is the answer." Lance said quietly.
"I'm going to stay in school for a while. I'm thinking about becoming a veterinarian." Kitty said, enthralled by Lance's handsome features.
"That sounds good. I love animals." Lance said and became lost in her eyes yet again.
Only music could be heard as the two looked at each other, soaking in each other's appearance.
* * * * *
Everyone started unbundling sleeping bags when Bobby asked, "Do you mind if Robert and I zip our sleeping bags together? To conserve body heat?"
Scott thought about it for a second, then said, "I'm guessing you have other reasons, but that's fine. It is getting pretty cold. Just behave yourselves."
"We will." Bobby promised.
Bobby and Robert worked to zip the sleeping bags together as John said, "That actually sounds like a good idea, I mean the body heat part. Could I double up with one of you guys?"
"Sure." Scott said with surprise.
John automatically moved to combine his sleeping bag with Scott's.
Robert noticed the momentary lost look on Ronny's face and asked Bobby quietly, "Can Ronny join us? I believe there is room."
"Sure." Bobby whispered back, then said more loudly, "Ronny, if you want, there is room for you with us. We could use your sleeping bag as another cover."
Ronny looked with question at Robert who gently nodded.
"Okay. Thanks guys." Ronny said quietly.
Scott was surprised by this development. He had expected Ronny and John to double up.
"I'm not sleepy yet. How about everyone else?" John asked as he pulled off his shoes and climbed into the sleeping bag.
"Not really. Just cold. What do you guys want to do now?" Ronny asked the group.
"Wanna play truth or dare?" John asked with a smile.
A chorus of "No." Came in unison from everyone in the tent.
"Oh." John said with disappointment.
"John, I think we're past that. If there's something you want to know about one of us. Just ask." Bobby said honestly.
"Actually I was hoping for a dare." John said quietly.
"Which one?" Bobby asked curiously and propped himself on an elbow.
"I was kinda hoping I could get someone to kiss me... I mean like a real one." John said with a warm blush.
Bobby looked sadly at John, thinking again about how badly he had treated his friend in the past.
"Would anyone mind if I kissed John?" Bobby asked, looking at Robert and Ronny.
Robert looked tenderly at Bobby and shook his head. Ronny just rolled his eyes and gave a look of 'whatever' before shaking his head.
"No Bobby. You need to keep that for Robert." John said quietly.
"Who do you want?" Ronny asked with a little worry.
"Scott." John said and turned to see Scott's surprised look.
"You're a student... I can't." Scott sputtered.
"No, I'm not... not yet. And I'm considered an adult by the state of New York. I'm not asking for sex or nothing like that. Just one kiss... I want to know what a real kiss is like." John said, his voice becoming more quiet.
"I'm sorry John, I really can't." Scott said with apology.
Ronny said in deep thought, "I think I'd like to try it."
"I thought you were straight." Bobby said in confusion.
"So did I. But that was mostly because of all the crap we were taught as kids. I think I'd like to try a kiss, just so I'd know what it's like." Ronny said in thought.
"Sure buddy." John said with a peaceful smile.
Ronny and John moved in their respective sleeping bags until they could reach each other easily.
Ronny had a slight look of fear in his eyes, so John said, "Why don't you kiss me? That way you won't have to do any more than you want."
A look of relief fell over Ronny's face as he carefully pressed his lips to John's.
There was almost no pressure, only a whisper of a touch as John automatically opened his mouth in invitation.
"Is it getting hot in here?" Bobby asked as he watched the display.
"I believe it is." Robert said as he watched the kiss with fascination.
Ronny took the invitation and tentatively moved his tongue into John's mouth to explore.
"We're the couple and we're not getting to kiss." Bobby said with a jolt of realization.
Robert took that as permission and pulled Bobby into a gentle kiss.
Scott looked on with tenderness as the four boys were kissing, not passionately, but tenderly, with gentleness and caring.
Finally John and Ronny's kiss broke and they both looked at each other with question.
"It was good." Ronny finally whispered.
"Yeah, your kiss was gentle, like you weren't sure, it was like you were scared of hurting me. It was nice." John said with a smile.
Ronny blushed and mumbled, "Thanks."
"Guys, I think we need to talk." Scott said to the group.
Robert and Bobby stopped kissing and turned their attention to Scott.
"As nice as this is, you need to save the kissing for those you really care about. Playing games with peoples feelings is a sure way to hurt someone." Scott said seriously.
"I know how that feels, I wouldn't do that." John said grimly.
"Me either." Bobby said with a note of regret.
"I got it." Ronny said seriously.
"Good. You are all great guys, I just don't want you making the mistake of thinking a kiss is a casual thing. It has meaning. And it may mean something different to someone else." Scott said and looked around the group again.
"Good, what do we want to do now?" Scott said, more than ready for the kissing part of the night to be done with.
"Why don't we get Robert to tell us about when he was in space? We've never really sat down and talked about it, and I know I'm interested." Bobby said with a hopeful look at Robert.
"I am not a story teller like my brother Jimmy, but I will do my best." Robert said and sat up to think about his story.
* * * * *
"I haven't seen you around here before... I think I'd remember." Lee said with a smile and a glance at her naked body.
"I only just arrived. I was told to help out here while Professor Xavier is on vacation." Mystique said carefully.
"Oh, okay. I just arrived here this morning... has it only been one day? Anyway, I'm new here too, so if you need someone to hang around with, I'm here for you." Lee said in a rambling tone.
"Thank you. I am known to these people, but I am not one of them." Mystique said without emotion.
"What do you do? I mean, do you have a job?" Lee asked with interest.
"Yes, I have assumed the life of a Senator and have been working very hard to further the goals of mutant kind." Mystique said with a note of pride.
"I don't understand." Lee said hesitantly.
Mystique shifted her form to that of Senator Kelley.
"Wow, that's really something... and slightly disturbing. Would you mind changing back?" Lee said, hoping he did not offend her.
She changed back and gave a gentle chuckle.
"I know it's impolite to ask a woman's age, but if you knew John Kennedy, I'm guessing you're a little older than I am." Lee said in speculation.
"A little." Mystique said vaguely.
"Okay, don't ask, don't tell. I got it. Can you tell me about some of the interesting people you've known through the years?" Lee asked seriously.
"That's a lot of ground to cover. What would you like to know?" Mystique asked as she shifted to be more comfortable on the couch.
"Who's the most interesting person that you've ever met?" Lee asked and also shifted.
"I found Theodore Roosevelt to be a fascinating man. I know about his faults and his overblown ego, but inside he was an incredible person." Mystique said, looking into distant memory.
"For me it was a woman named Melissa Brooks, she wasn't famous or anything, but she was the most incredible person I ever met. She ran a mission in Salem, Oregon... I couldn't understand how anyone could have that much genuine caring and compassion... and patience." Lee said in fond remembrance.
"I have known many special people throughout the years. It's been hard to let them go when the time came." Mystique said with a memory of distant pain.
"I know. The ageless thing really is a curse." Lee said, thinking about his own pain.
"It doesn't have to be." Mystique said and looked into his eyes, conveying her meaning without further words.
* * * * *
There was a knock on the door that startled Lee out of his fascinated gaze into Mystique's eyes.
A look of apology came over his face as he got up to answer the door.
"Is Tara here?" Dawn asked abruptly.
"Yeah, in there." Lee said, pointing.
Dawn nodded and walked to the bedroom.
Lee walked back to Mystique and said, "I think I need to get a list of the people who live here because I'm tired of answering the door and not knowing who these people are."
"That was Tempest, Sprite... Tara, is her lover." Mystique said quietly.
"Oh, then that didn't sound good." Lee said and cast a look toward the once again closed bedroom door.
"I don't think it's anything to be concerned with. I've seen enough people to recognize true love when I see it. They'll work it out." Mystique said with assurance.
Lee nodded, then shifted back to his comfortable position to resume their talk.
* * * * *
"Tara, I was worried." Dawn said as she moved into the bedroom.
"It's done. I used the Serpent." Tara said with fear and regret.
Dawn looked at Andrew and Alan's joined hands and recognized the gold scaled pattern on their wrists as that of the Serpent.
"You said you loved me, don't you want to be with me forever?" Dawn asked in pain as tears trailed down her face.
"I'm not meant to have forever, it's my destiny to live my life here and now, then move on." Tara said as her own tears began to fall
Tara looked around and saw Andrew and Alan trying not to watch them.
"Andrew, would you mind porting us back to our room? I think we're going to have a long talk." Tara asked quietly.
Andrew nodded and formed a portal right in front of them.
Tara walked through the portal, then sparing one look at the gold pattern on the men's wrists again, Dawn followed.
* * * * *
"I feel so guilty." Alan said absently.
"I know, and you really don't have a reason to. We weren't asked, Tara did it herself... but I feel it too." Andrew finally conceded.
"Love, I hate to think that we're responsible for hurting Dawn. She's my sister, I'd never do anything to hurt her." Alan said in comment.
"I know, come here. Let me hold you." Andrew said in a whisper.
* * * * *
"Scott, I been thinking about something, and I don't know if you can help." John said into a gap in the storytelling.
"I'll try, what do you want to know?" Scott asked honestly.
"You know about me an my dad, some of it anyway. I was just wondering if I'm gonna end up like that." John asked carefully.
"Are you asking about your temper?" Scott asked carefully.
"Okay, I guess we can start with that." John said in resignation.
"I haven't noticed you having any problem with it. Anytime I've seen you even slightly angry, you've dealt with it appropriately." Scott said, looking back through his memories of John.
"Okay, I think I was wondering more about how my dad is with his family... am I going to be like that?" John asked with a furrow of worry.
"Tell me how it is. I mean, I know about the violence. How is it with your father besides that?" Scott asked quietly as the others listened.
"I don't think he has a clue. He tried taking me to a baseball game once..." John trailed off in a defeated chuckle.
"Neither of us are even a little bit interested in baseball so I'm guessing he was trying to do a 'family' thing." John said as he thought back.
"What else?" Scott asked in a near whisper.
"He dragged me and mom... before she left, down to Coney Island. She bitched and nagged the entire way, both ways. And while we were there, we didn't have the money to do hardly anything." John said sadly.
"So he tried." Scott said quietly.
"Yeah, I guess he did." John said in realization.
"I don't think it's going to be a problem for you. It sounds like your dad's heart was in the right place, he just didn't know what to do." Scott said simply.
"How can I keep from doing the same?" John asked with worry.
"Guys? What do you think? If John was in a relationship and he wanted some quality family time, what should he do?" Scott asked the others.
"Play a game that you enjoy." Robert said immediately.
"Visit family." Bobby said, thinking about trips to his grandmother's when he was a child.
"Go for a long walk together." Ronny said, remembering the times when he and Bobby had just gone walking for the sake of walking.
"There you go, three very good ideas." Scott said, then continued, "You've got friends here who can help you when you don't know what to do. If you call on us, we'll help you with your problems."
"That's it." John said suddenly.
"What?" Bobby asked curiously.
"I don't think dad has any friends. All he ever does is stay home and drink in front of the television. God, how lonely is that?" John said in a wondering voice.
"What about your mom?" Robert asked quietly.
"I think they got married cause he knocked her up... And she never forgave him." John said in thought.
"So they didn't love each other?" Bobby asked, thinking how sad that was.
"They didn't even like each other. They would constantly insult and argue with each other until one day she finally just left. I felt so bad... because I didn't feel bad." John said in confusion.
"I think I understand. By the time she left, it was just a relief." Scott said, looking back into his own childhood.
"Yeah. Dad really tried I guess, but we couldn't get along. I guess after years of fighting... it's all I ever knew... how would I know how to care about him... I never saw anyone who did." John thought sadly.
"It's not too late John." Scott said quietly.
"You know when you said you'd go with me... did you mean it?" John asked hopefully.
"Yes. I meant it." Scott said with assurance.
"Good, maybe we can figure out some way that we can get along without trying to hurt each other." John said hopefully.
"I think it's worth a try." Scott said and gave John a hug of support.
"I guess we missed our chance to set things right?" Ronny said, thinking about his dad.
"There's a difference bro. John's dad tried, he wanted things to be better." Bobby said seriously.
"Yeah." Ronny said with regret.
"Bobby?" Scott asked carefully.
"Yeah?" Bobby said and turned his attention to Scott.
"If you guys ever need someone to do dad things, I think between Matt and I we've got you covered." Scott said gently.
"Thanks Scott, but it's too late for you to be like a dad to me." Bobby said simply.
At Scott's raised eyebrows Bobby continued, "You're a friend now, you're one of the guys. It just wouldn't be the same."
"Okay, I guess Matt's going to have to bear the burden of fatherhood alone." Scott said as he enjoyed the thought that he was 'one of the guys'.
"I just want to be there if you decide to call him 'dad'." Bobby said with an impish grin.
"It's a deal." Scott said with a chuckle.
* * * * *
There was a knock on the bedroom door.
"Come in." Andrew said, immediately awake.
"Father, I am having discomfort, and my alcove will not connect properly." Jimmy said with a cranky voice.
Andrew got out of bed and threw on a robe before getting the medical tricorder.
After a brief scan, Andrew said, "You're just growing. The pain you're feeling is the growth plates in your legs... come over to the bed and lay down on your stomach."
Jimmy hesitantly complied.
Andrew began to massage Jimmy's legs and the pains subsided.
"Thank you father, that feels wonderful." Jimmy said in relief.
"I'm glad. And I think your alcove problem may be with your height. When you go back downstairs, check to see if your occipital implant is aligning with the data transfer coupler." Andrew said as he continued the massage.
"I didn't know you were versed in Borg alcove mechanics." Jimmy said curiously.
"I know the absolute basics. I couldn't repair one, but I know what most of the basic functions are. I just thought it would be best to know in case one of you had a problem, I could at least have a clue about what you were talking about." Andrew said as he rubbed down the sore legs.
"I believe you are correct, it did not occur to me to measure my own height." Jimmy said in thought.
"Will you be able to adapt the alcove if that is the problem?" Andrew asked hopefully.
"Yes, we will need to disassemble part of the alcove and reconstruct it. But the modification should take less than two hours." Jimmy said seriously.
"Good. I'm glad it won't be a problem. How about tonight? Will you be able to regenerate?" Andrew asked as he finished the rubdown.
"Yes, I believe so. Now that I know the source of the problem, I believe I can make some temporary adjustments for the night. Thank you Father, enjoy your rest." Jimmy said as he got up from the bed.
Andrew pulled Jimmy close and said, "I love you Squirt, remember that."
"I know, I love you too Father." Jimmy said as he returned the hug.