A barren landscape, in which the sides are strewn with corpses, many of which are hanging from dead trees. X-23 runs down a road chased by wolves. It’s a dream she sometimes has, running from wolves, running from rivers of blood, running from fire and the promise of death.
She falls and gets up again, desperately fleeing. In front of her is a torn hedge which suddenly opens. She looks into a throne room. On the throne sits a familiar shape, looking very much like Wolverine. He addresses Laura as his love. She’s heard his summons.
A black shape calls out to her from a cage, warning her not to listen. Suddenly, his voice is muffled as he is gagged.
Wolverine – red-eyed – promises he has so much planned for her. Freedom like she has never known. No more cages, he whispers into her ear. No more doubt. Just say yes! Say yes and she will be leader of his hunt. Queen of his hounds! He holds her face with burning hands. My right hand in hell…
Crying no, Laura awakes. She has fallen asleep outside on Utopia. Sometimes she dreams that everything falls apart, except it’s not a dream….
She hears party noises coming from close by and watches the young X-Men and students gathered around a campfire. Someone is playing the guitar. Rockslide tells him Elvis is dead and to stop, only to be mocked by the player and Surge.
A blonde girl about the pizza Pixie has brought. This is her first slice in a year, she tells a clearly not interested Hellion. She’s on a strict diet, ever since she saw Psylocke in that thing she calls a uniform. She had cellulite right up there beneath her derriere and she told herself, no way is she going to go that far. So tonight pizza, tomorrow tofu broth.
She urges Hellion to try some pizza. He’s not hungry, he retorts. Husk offers to help. She could feed him. Who the hell does she think she is? Julian asks angrily. He isn’t helpless! He’s not a cripple! So take her pity and shove it! He levitates a slice of pizza from the box and eats. Well, excuse her, the girl replies in a huff.
Laura quietly watches, then leaves. With no one watching, Hellion no longer eats, the pizza just hovering in front of him.
Elsewhere in the garden, Laura finds Storm sitting next to a chessboard and looking at a snapshot. She seems to be talking to herself when she says the night is too beautiful to be sad. If he were here he would say so and he would cheat. He would distract her with his tailstands and his somersaults and his smile. He would smile. At least now he is no longer homesick for God, she tells Nightcrawler and asks him to be her angel and stay close.
She suddenly notices Laura is there and asks her to join her. It is far too lovely an evening to be alone and she would love the company. She was talking to herself, Laura observes. She was begging for an apparition. Searching for ghosts in the night. Sometimes one wishes to be haunted by the dead. She does not, Laura replies and sits down opposite of the chessboard. She might feel different about Kurt, Ororo replies. A good man, so very kind. So very dear to her. She loved him, Laura observes. He was impossible not to love, Storm agrees.
She apologizes. Laura must have better things to do than listen to her. The children are having a party. She passed them earlier and can still hear their music. Laura should join them. No, is the flat-out reply. She never got along with children he own age either, Ororo muses. She doubts that, Laura states.
Storm explains she was an orphan, a thief. She did awful things in order to survive. And because of that she’s always been an outsider to other children. They couldn’t relate to each other. She never had a childhood. She always had to think like an adult to survive among adults while other children were still playing with dolls or sleeping in soft beds. Those other children were never pushed into situations of life or death as she was. No one understands that, they do. That survival is sweet and nothing is lost as swiftly as humanity.
But Storm isn’t like that anymore, Laura remarks. She was pushed to a line she could not cross and so chose another life, a better life. But that little girl is still in her. She wagers she always will be with her; it is why she fights to keep others from suffering as she did. Life is precious. She and Kurt used to discuss such things: he was an orphan too. There were only handful of them who understood what that means. They played chess together.
She offers to teach Laura. She knows how to play the girl replies and starts off with the white king’s knight. Of course, Storm agrees and makes an opposing move. She expects Laura is quite good. Yes, she never loses, Laura states simply, then breaks off when Wolverine joins them. He greets both and puts his hand on Laura’s shoulder. She shakes it off and walks way.
Storm asks Logan what happened. He replies that she‘s been acting strange lately. Jumpy. Something is eating her up. No wonder with what she’s been through, Ororo replies and reminds him he is the closest person that child has to a father, the one person she needs to be able to trust, and yet he let her join X-Force. A child forced to murder! No one forced her, he points out. Storm tells him not put the burden on this on X-23! All it would have taken was one word from him!
Still hearing all this, X-23 runs away while the two X-Men continue their argument. Short of locking her up, nothing could have stopped Laura, he claims. She doesn’t know how else to live, except to kill! She was trained from birth to believe her only purpose in life is to be a murderer. He suggests she think about that hard because Laura sure as hell does all the time. And no matter how far she runs or tries to change it, that thought never leaves her. Perhaps that is because they have never given her a fighting chance! Storm suggests.
Elsewhere, in hers and Cyclops’ bedroom, Emma Frost has come to the same conclusion. They treated X-23 exactly as her handlers would have. Like a weapon. A thing to be used. She’s always been used. Despite all of Emma’s misgivings, she proved herself. She made so much progress. She had friends her age. She was just beginning to learn what it means to be a young person. A child. They took all of that away.
Did they? Cyclops asks from the bed. No matter what they do, he’s not certain she will ever be able to reclaim her childhood. That doesn’t mean they can forget she is a child, Emma stresses. She already learned this lesson the hard way. She put her students in danger. Pushed them too hard, forgot they were children. And she lost them. Their blood will always be on her hands. She has hoped he would never understand what that feel like. He had to do what it took to keep them alive, he insists. He would do it again. For Laura’s sake and his, she hopes he doesn’t have to, Emma replies.
Laura has fallen asleep somewhere on the grounds of Utopia. Wolverine watches her.
Early the next day, several of the X-Men students meet, most of them save for Dust severely hung over after last night’s party. Rockslide addresses Hellion. Guess what he heard about his crazy girlfriend? Don’t call her that! Hellion orders. His girlfriend or crazy? Surge asks. That she doesn’t sleep in her room anymore, Rockslide continues. She’s always outside instead. Hellion orders him to stop.
Speaking of the devil, Surge remarks as she sees Laura who greets them. So now she comes to say ‘hello,’ Surge asks aggressively, ignoring Hellion’s order to shut it. She’s the one that was on the super secret killing squad and didn’t say one word to them, her so-called friends. Anole too asks Nori to stop.
Hellion greets Laura. Hasn’t seen her much around lately. Not the same when she’s not there getting him in trouble, he jokes. Or like kicking his ass. He sees a leaf in her hair and automatically reaches to get it off, then recalls that his hands are gone. He stammers, then admits maybe now isn’t the time to--
She has missed him, Laura suddenly says. She’s never said that to him before, he replies surprised. She’s not good with words, she reminds him, or anything else.
Precious, Surge comments sarcastically. He’s gonna barf! Rockslide adds. She thinks they’re beautiful, Dust comments and scolds her two teammates for being so cruel to Laura, especially after all she’s done for them. If she can’t take a little ribbing, then maybe she should have let them in on what was going on. What’s in the past doesn’t matter, Sooraya replies. Surge disagrees. X-23 came here to learn how not to kill people. Rockslide agrees. No offense, he tells Laura, but he feels like she’s more freaky now than when she got here. Oh right, that’s not offensive, Anole sighs.
She should go, Laura decides. Great idea, Nori agrees mercilessly. Hellion calls her on her attitude. What’s her problem? Her problem, Sooraya interjects, is that she’s jealous and a… the b-word. Whoa, potty mouth! Santo mocks. She’s not jealous! Surge defends herself She’s being responsible. So Laura’s back and they are all supposed to be fine with it? She’s the one avoiding them! She’s scared, Anole points out. Laura is? Nori scoffs. She is!
Surge, Laura begins. But Nori cuts her off. There’s nothing she has to say that Nori wants to hear! So what if Cyclops asked her to join X-Force? She could have said no! She could have come to her friends and they would have backed her up! She clenches her fist, energy building. What else did she lie about? Were they even really friends? Did she want to be anything but a killer?
What does she want? Laura asks. It’s not what she wants, Nori replies. Who does Laura want to be and is she going to take responsibility for that choice, because that’s what the rest of them have to do.
Enough! Cyclops announces strictly. He doesn’t like what he’s seeing here at all. He needs to speak with Laura now. Hellion jumps up to defend her and is told to shut up. Then Scott addresses Surge. He’ll want a word with her in a minute about her attitude. Which sucks, by the way.
He steps away with Laura from the others, asking if she is okay. She did not need his help, Laura announces. He knows, Scott agrees, but sometimes they all need someone to take up for them. Why is he here? Laura asks simply. This is his fault, he admits. He put her into a situation that was beyond her years… he’s sorry. And he wants her to know that it won’t happen again. This is her chance to be a… kid. To act like a kid. She isn’t a kid, she points out. She does not want to act like one just to make him feel better. She is something else. He knows, Scott agrees. He has something for her to do.
Sometime later, Laura gets out of a taxi. A man tells her that Mr. Summers set up halfway houses for former mutants and their families all over the city. He had to stay here himself for a time. Some people have trouble adjusting to life without powers. Was he an X-Man? Laura asks. No, a construction worker, he replies, a telekinetic. Now he just uses his hands to get the same work done.
He leads her inside and asks why she is here. Laura explains Mr. Summers wants her to learn about different ways of helping people. He thinks it will be good for her. She doesn’t know yet.
The man tells her these are good people who deserve her respect. Some of them will be resentful that she still has her powers while they don’t. If she’s not serious about being here or if she plans on flaunting the fact that she is a mutant then he thinks it would be best if she leaves now.
His voice drones out. Laura shuts her eyes and opens them again. Finding herself in what appears to be her nightmare. Surrounded by fire and corpses but very much awake in the halfway house.