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The Death of the Hired Man
Chapter 1

DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are
used without permission for entertainment purposes only.

Dedication: To Romie, my own little "mutant", and a definite member of Homo
Sapiens, Superior ... proof positive that every genetic mutation is a gift.


Where to start ... first of all, this story holds a warning. I am introducing a new character: my very own mutant. If you don't like original characters, then go away now. Next, I have to tell you that I'm not entirely sure where this story is going. It's kind of an experiment, but they've worked well for me in the past... I'm sending someone in to the X-men, a non-alpha mutant that has her own set of problems, and seeing what goes on in the group because of it. If that makes this a "Mary sue," then so be it, but understand that I can't stand "Mary sues," so this will be unconventional if it is indeed one.

Next off, we have the title. All I can do is recommend that you read the poem of the same title, by Robert Frost. I'll probably clarify it all in the last chapter of the story, as I'm notorious for that sort of thing. In the mean time, trust me ... this is not a deathfic, but rather a story of family.

Finally ... canon. Sigh. I am somewhere between movie and cartoon for canon, but I'm not sure where the line is. I'm new to X-men, so I know I'll blur some of it. I suppose this is primarily comic canon... I refer to the original 5 X-men, I have Beast around in the background, and Bobby's a grown-up with the rest of them. On the other hand, Jean's the one running the infirmary and she and Scott are only engaged, so we're back to movie canon ... especially when I refer to Logan's return, his emotional status and depth, relationship and history with Rogue and such. Oh, and no Warren in the story... I haven't seen enough of him to write him, so I'm not. You'll mostly see the cartoon group: Jean/Scott, Bobby, Remy/Rogue, Jubilee, Logan, and the Professor.

I wish I could give you some indication of how long this story will go, but I have no idea ... the last time I started a project like this, it wound up at 500K, and spiraled off another 5 stories of the same length. Okay... I'm wordy. I don't think this one will go that long, but I figured you should be well warned. Also, I have a real life (as do most fanfic authors), so I can't commit to consistency. I plan to post a couple of chapters a week, muse willing.

Rating note: For the whole series, I'm going to say R/NC17, as I tend to wander into sexual situations. Don't expect a "sex story" though ... that's always a sideline for me, a compliment to the emotional balance of the story as necessary, rather than a primary attraction. Still, the majority will be in the PG range, and I'll make those questionable areas "skippable" and well mark them if you'd rather bypass them ... they won't be "necessary" to read the story.

Kathleen McKinnin stopped the rental car and looked out at the mansion that she'd grown up in. It hadn't changed, she decided. It hadn't changed a bit. Carefully, she turned the volume down on her car radio, reducing the music to a reasonable throb before turning off the car. In the event that someone was with her when she next turned on the ignition, she didn't want to blast anyone out of the car with her music.

Without the sound of the band beating in her ears, or the engine of the car to soothe her, the New York winter day seemed deathly quiet. There were no students battling the snow to play on the grounds, and no need to shuffle from class to class on a Sunday afternoon. The yard was quiet, deserted. It was fitting with her mood.

She carefully extricated herself from the vehicle, locking the door out of a habit gained in Los Angeles, and she pulled her coat more tightly around herself. This was *not* a southern California winter, she realized. She'd left a world that was sunny and seventy degrees, and she was now standing, shivering in a world that was nearer to twenty. With great clarity she remembered why she'd been so eager to leave the mansion years before.

Kathleen hadn't even reached the door to the mansion when it flew open and Jean Gray came bounding out. Without an opportunity to brace herself, she found herself surrounded in a friendly, if overzealous hug.

"You're early!" Jean declared unnecessarily. "We didn't expect you until noon."

Kathleen returned the hug, trying to keep the desperation out of her grip. She didn't remember the last time she'd been hugged, really hugged, with affection and love and friendship. God, it had been a long time. "The plane was early," she finally answered, although Jean hadn't really asked a question.

"I'm glad," Jean smiled as she finally pulled away. Her face wore a bit of concern, but as she sensed little past the walls that the Professor had taught them all, she didn't bother with worry. Kate was home, and they would deal with the rest in the near future. "You've been gone too long," she told her friend. "I'm about to go crazy in that infirmary."

With arms around one another, the women walked into the mansion and closed the huge door behind them. "It's been a long time since residency," Kathleen smiled. "I'm looking forward to it in a weird way."

"That's good," Jean laughed. "You'll definitely get your practice in short order. With Hank gone, I swear I can't keep up."

"Charles said it was busy," Kathleen agreed. "You're up to over a hundred students?"

"One hundred, twenty," Jean clarified. "I never imagined the school would get this big." She shook her head to emphasize the point. "I remember when there were only ten of us."

"You remember when there were only five," Kathleen grinned. "I remember the stories you and Scott used to tell me."

"All true." The deep voice came from a doorway near the end of the hall. When Kathleen faced it, she couldn't help but grin. "How you been, Kate?"

"Missing you, gorgeous," she said playfully. With a huge smile, she left Jean's embrace to hug Scott, once again stunned by how good it felt to experience simple human contact.

"Mutual," he murmured as he tightened his grip. His gaze held more than simple concern as he met Jean's over Kathleen's shoulder, but his finance merely shook her head and sent him a telepathic message of 'later.'

"So, do you just stand around and wait for straggling mutants on Sunday afternoons, now?" Kathleen asked.

"Only when they're as pretty as you," Scott joked, putting one arm around Jean as she moved closer, yet keeping the other around Kathleen.

Kathleen shook her head and laughed, a real laugh. She had no illusions about herself. She had grown up next to Jean, and in that shadow she knew that she was no beauty. Her hair was more auburn than red, her eyes more hazel than green, and her figure more athletic than slim and willowy. While the two had often been mistaken for sisters, she knew which one of them was the beauty. It wasn't her.

If Jean picked up on those thoughts, she didn't comment as they entered into the dining room that they'd been steering Kathleen towards. As they passed through the door that was propped open, the visitor's jaw dropped.

Streamers, balloons, and crepe decorated the huge hall. There were vivid colors everywhere, and even a sign on one wall with a sloppily painted, "Welcome Home Kate." She was stunned, shocked. She'd expected a quiet return to a place she'd grown up in, but never this.

The room was filled with people she both recognized and didn't. Some were teens, and many were older. She caught Bobby's eye first, sending a smile that he returned. She saw several of the students she'd referred to Charles in the preceding months and years, many of whom were moving towards her. She even saw people she'd never seen before, and she wondered why on Earth they would show up for her. Mostly though, she was overwhelmed by the warmth, the genuine caring in this room. She hadn't felt anything like it, with or without her shields in place, for years. Considering her mental shields were high and tight for this reunion, she was shocked at the warmth that battered them.

"Dr. McKinnin?" Jubilee stepped forward, her smile quiet and questioning. "It's good to see you again."

"Jubie!" Kathleen smiled. She threw her arms around the girl, young women she amended mentally, and gave a tight hug. "It's so good to see you!"

"It's good to see you," the girl smiled. "And good to be here. You were right, you know. This is where I needed to be."

Kathleen nodded, fighting tears. This was all more than her unsteady emotions could take at the moment. Shields or not, the mental overwash was beginning to strain her. Added to jet lag and the emotional exhaustion of the last few weeks, she didn't know how much more she could take without embarrassing herself.

"You've all gone to so much trouble," she said softly, hearing the catch in her own voice. Not trusting it any longer, she dropped a shield and projected to Jean, *I'm so tired, though. I need to lay down. Please. I can't do this now.*

Jean slipped an arm around her old friend. "Too bad you got here early," she announced loud enough for the room to hear. "We're all here, but lunch is a long way from done. Let me take you to your room, and we'll get together later for a meal and some real welcoming."

Kathleen nodded gratefully and allowed Jean to turn her out of the room and down the hall. She didn't say a word until Jean was unlocking a door to one of the bedrooms and sliding a key into her hand. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "You all went to so much trouble."

"We wanted you to know that you're welcome," Jean smiled. "Now that you do, you can get the rest you need. Dinner will wait."

"I'm sorry," Kathleen repeated, her voice even softer.

"I know," Jean said, hugging her friend. "When you're ready to talk, you know I'm here. Anytime, day or night."

"Later," she whispered.

"Rest," Jean told her firmly. "Doctor's orders."


* * *

"She looks good," Scott offered, trying to gain Jean's attention as she picked at her meal. He'd been surprised when Kate had left the celebration before it had even started, but he knew Jean well enough to know that if she suggested it, it was necessary.

"She's closed off," Jean said simply. "She's never done that before. Not even when she was a terrified little girl who thought she was insane."

Scott reached across the table and clasped Jean's hand. He knew how unstable they'd all been at the beginning, and for Jean Kate's initial arrival years before had been a shadow of her own mutant manifestation. Like most Telepath's, Kate had thought she'd been going insane, and it hadn't been far from the truth. Her inability to actually read thoughts had only made matters worse. She hadn't been telepathic after all.

"She'll be okay," he told the woman before him. "We've all been through our own emotional hurdles. I think it comes with being a mutant. She knows, more than any of the rest of us, what it takes to get through it. She'll let us know what she needs when she's ready."

Jean nodded. "My head knows that."

"The heart takes a different direction," Scott smiled. "Always works that way."

"Room for one more?" The gruff voice interrupted their discussion as a plate was plopped down. Scott's jaw tightened even as Jean squeezed his hand in consolation.

"Always room for one more, Logan," Jean said brightly. "How's your day been?"

Logan shrugged, scowling at the joined hands on the table before him, but not lingering there. He knew that Jean was taken, that it wasn't something questionable, but he didn't have to like being reminded of it.

"How's the bike running?" Scott asked mildly, trying to be polite for Jean's sake if for no other reason.

"Smooth," Logan said with a genuine smile. "I took her around the lake earlier to check out that new carburetor. She sounds sweet."

Scott nodded and took another bite of his sandwich. He'd gotten so tired of Logan drooling over his motorcycle that he'd finally bought a second one and given the older man the first. It hadn't been entirely unselfish, in that he found he enjoyed souping up the second one as much as he had the first, but Logan didn't need to know that. "Good to hear. I've been having some trouble with the timing on jeep though."


Scott shook his head. "Not sure. Doesn't sound like it. I've been over it a dozen times, and it's all right, but it doesn't *feel* right."

Jean shook her head and let the men discuss their manly toys. She was certainly grateful for the common bond that had kept the two from killing one another on more than one occasion, but that didn't mean she understood the fascination. She suspected this was half the reason they found themselves at odds. They liked the same things, and had far more in common than either of them would ever admit. If taste in woman hadn't been in that list of common things, than life would have been better for all of them.

She glanced around the dining hall, taking a standard reading of the room. No thoughts were screaming at her, nothing broadcasting beyond her shields. Despite the dozens of kids in the room, the mood was fairly sedate. She detected neither pain nor anger, two emotions that consistently breached the shields that the Professor had helped her set up, so she assumed that all was in order. That duty aside, her responsibility as acting physician in Hank's absence, she allowed her mind to wander to her earlier concerns.

It was good to have Kate back, but there was more to the return of her friend than some job burnout and fatigue. While those were the reasons Kate had recited to her on the phone, it didn't take telepathic abilities to see that the woman was skimming over the truth, if not actually lying.

She and Kate had been friends since they'd met. Jean remembered vividly the morning that the professor had summoned her to his office only to greet a skinny and terrified little red head. The tiny girl had been tear streaked and defensive, emotions flying off her faster than Jean's inexperienced abilities could interpret. With both her own help and the Professor's, Kate had finally learned to build shields in her mind to block out the chaos that had bombarded her. Initially, Jean had recognized a soul mate. It was weeks before they realized that Kate wasn't really a Telepath, but rather an Empath.

It was a fine line, Jean pondered. While she primarily saw thoughts and images, and from there she interpreted feelings, Kate's mind worked the other way around. Kate felt feelings, emotions. From that, she had to put together images and interpretations. It was far from exacting, but it was useful. It was a cousin to telepathy, much as telekinesis was. They were two sides of the same coin.

Still, Kate had more difficulty in controlling her gifts than Jean did. They were never sure if that was the intrepid nature of empathy, or if Kate was just weaker in her abilities. Still, after years of work, Kate managed to not only accurately gage most emotions, and successfully block emotions as necessary, but to "push" emotions as well.

The pushing was the hard part, Jean remembered. Unconscious pushing was far more effective than the conscious variety. More than once, Kate had become angry only to find all those around her angry as well. The same was said of sorrow. When her mother had died, Kate had projected so much pain and grief to the other students, Jean included, that no one had the strength to help her. The other side of the coin was that Kate's joy and laughter, her predominant moods, were contagious. People loved to be around her because she made them feel good. Her positive nature gave hope, and her energy motivated those around her. It was defiantly an asset.

Back at the beginning, Kate had even wanted to join the group in their team efforts as they formed the X-men. It had taken only a few minor "missions" to realize that she was more of a liability than an asset. While it was often helpful to know if an enemy was unstable or bluffing, it was far more dangerous to have to protect an unarmed girl while trying to protect themselves. After Scott had nearly gotten himself injured while trying to get Kate out of a bad situation, and this in a relatively mild altercation with the Friends of Humanity, Kate had refused to return to the team.

Instead, she'd taken her gift, and her education, and gone into Psychiatry. It was an excellent match. She had a head start in understanding her patients, and enough empathy to help them deal with their illnesses. Later, when she'd realized that teenagers nearing manifestation of their mutant abilities had their own distinctive emotions, she'd taken her skills into crowded middle schools to battle the enemies of puberty and ignorance.

Because she could detect mutant emotions before thought patterns were clearly established, she often found them before even Cerebro could identify them. She helped dozens of students come to grips with their mutations, and those that couldn't were referred to Professor Xavier for more intensive help or even admission to his school. It was helpful, it was necessary, and now Jean was beginning to realize that it must also be horribly stressful.

"Earth to Jean Gray," Logan said again, his hand waving before her face.

With a start, Jean pulled herself from her thoughts and memories and focused on the men before her. "What?"

Logan shook his head with a laugh. "I hope you were than involved in your own thoughts and not somebody else's."

She smiled sheepishly. "All mine," she reassured him. Feeling an additional presence in the room, Jean looked up to find that Logan had done the same. Her eyes followed his to the new arrival even as her smile widened. "Kate," she said softly.

Logan's eyes were trained on the woman standing in the doorway. She looked uncertain, and she smelled of fear. She also smelled of cucumbers, but he didn't know what to make of that so he discarded the thought.

She stood only about five feet tall, and she had a healthy build to her. She wasn't fat, exactly, but neither was she thin. She had a pleasant face, auburn hair that reached her waist, and eyes that were staring straight at him. He met that gaze, his curiosity at an all time high, and watched her walk straight towards him.

Until Jean rose and hugged the woman, he honestly thought he was the reason she'd come to the table. He didn't like the disappointment he felt that he wasn't, but this too he discarded. "You gonna introduce me, One Eye?"

Scott grimaced at the nickname, but did just that. "Logan, this is Kate McKinnin, an old friend of ours."

"Kathleen," she corrected as her hand met his. Logan wasn't surprised that the skin was soft and the grip was firm. "Nobody's called me Kate for years."

"Kathleen," Logan repeated, releasing her hand and seating himself once more. He watched as Scott did the same, and he wondered vaguely when they'd all become so damn proper as to stand when a lady approached.

"You must be starving," Jean said softly. "I'll grab you something."

"No thanks," Kathleen told her with a grin. "I ate a peanut butter sandwich in the car. You know me, I never go anywhere without PB&J."

"As long as you keep it out of my engines," Scott said with a smirk, and both he and Jean began to laugh.

"It was frozen," Kathleen defended, her voice holding mock outrage. "You can blame Bobby for that. I was just trying to thaw it out."

"She didn't know it would melt," Jean told Logan with a grin. "It took Scott a week to get the peanut butter out of the manifold."

They all shared the laugh. Then, Jean turned to Kathleen and asked quietly, "Feeling better after your rest?"

"A little," she smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "I didn't realize how much I missed this place until after I was back. God, it's been a long time."

"Too long," Scott said gently.

"Yes," Jean agreed. "Kate's volunteered to help me out in the clinic," she told Logan. "At least until Hank gets back. Maybe I won't be in there fifteen hours a day, now."

"That would be a nice change," Scott agreed as he patted Jean's arm.

"Doc or nurse?" Logan asked.

"Doctor," Kathleen told him politely. "Although it's been a while since I've practiced on bodies rather than minds."

"It'll come back to you," Jean smiled. "In the mean time, I should probably take you down to the infirmary and show you around. I don't expect a three o'clock emergency, but then emergencies are rarely convenient."

"I thought you were going to help me with the biology exams," Scott interrupted. While he didn't mind teaching the class when Jean was too busy in the clinic, he had his own doubts about grading an exam on binomial nomenclature. Now, if it had been a physics test he might have managed, but the health sciences were not his area.

"I did, didn't I?" Jean agreed. She chewed on her lower lip for a moment and considered.

"I can take her down," Logan offered. "If she's worth her weight in Band-Aids, she'll be able to look around and put two and two together," he said simply. "She shouldn't need a guided tour."

"Agreed," Kathleen put in. "In fact, I'd prefer to nose around on my own, rather than having you looking over my shoulder. Take it at my own pace, as it were."

Jean looked skeptical, but Scott was relieved. "I really should have those tests back to the kids tomorrow," he told Jean earnestly.

Finally she nodded. "Thanks, Logan," she said with a small smile. Then, to Kate, "If you're sure you don't mind?"

"Not at all," she said, rising.

Logan stood beside her and placed a hand at her elbow. "Right this way," he said, indicating the door, and with that they were gone.

Scott and Jean sat there a moment longer before she spoke. "I was hoping to get her alone for a minute and find out what's going on," she said.

"I know," he acknowledged. "But, I really think she needs some time."

Jean sighed. "And, you're probably right. Time is what she'll get." She stood and reached out a hand to Scott. "What you'll get is some help with those exams," she smiled.

Scott squeezed her hand as he stood, then released it to precede her out into the hallway. And, if he got a few uninterrupted moments with her while they were grading, he wouldn't object to that, either.

Chapter 2


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