'Dear Professor,

I am writing to inform you that as of May 13th, I will be resigning my position at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. I have greatly enjoyed my time at the school, and I can never fully repay what you and your staff and students have done for me.

I have not made this choice lightly, and I hope you can understand my decision.

Sincerely,

Eliza Stark'

XXXXX

Rain pattered against the window of her room. Eliza glanced at the clock to her left; it was past midnight. She knew she should go to sleep, but she wrote better in the wee hours of the morning. At least, that was her excuse for being up so late. She didn't want to think about the fact that this was her last night at the school, and the twinge of pain that came with the thought of leaving all the incredible people she'd met behind.

But, like she'd told Charles, it was her time to go. Her life had been waiting for her in New York. Her brother, her publisher, her friends.

Eliza tapped the pen against the sheet of paper in front of her. It was as blank now as it had been for the last several hours.

"You're a powerful mutant, Eliza."

Erik's words from earlier in the week haunted her. She'd finally gotten up the courage to confront him about his past.

"I was young, and angry. Those were…very different times. And I was a very different man. I was full of anger and pain and rage."

He'd explained his motivations, how he wanted to make the world wake up and realize that mutants walked among them. That humans were not alone in the universe – that more powerful beings existed.

"But they wouldn't listen. Instead they put me in a plastic prison until the early 1980s, when your father and Charles gave me this," he'd motioned to his neck, "entirely plastic tracking device. I've been on house arrest ever since."

"You knew my father?"

"Of course I did. Quite fascinated with mutants, he was. He helped Charles upgrade this house to make it what it is today. He gave me something, once, I think he'd want you to have it now."

From his desk, he produced a glass cylinder, about a foot in length, with metal caps on either end. Eliza didn't have to guess what was inside – she knew vibranium on sight.

That cylinder sat on her desk, within her grasp. She glared at it like it was taunting her. In a way, it was. When she tried to manipulate it, the metal wouldn't budge. Erik had admitted that it had taken him a while to be able to work it into different shapes. Vibranium was a strange metal, not as straightforward as iron or as workable as steel. It felt like it was actively resisting her, almost like it had the personality of a stubborn teenager.

"Your last step, Eliza, is to master the vibranium. Do that, and there's nothing else I can teach you."

That afternoon, between her last classes with the mutant teens, she'd tried in vain to coax the solid metal out of the glass cylinder. It staunchly refused.

Now Eliza stared at it, noticing how it glowed lightly blue.

A knock at her door startled her out of her concentration. She crossed to the door and opened it to reveal Logan standing on the other side.

His hair was a little disheveled. It looked like he'd thrown on his clothes, which probably meant he'd been asleep.

"Saw your light was on. Can't sleep?" he asked, looking her in the eye. They hadn't really spoken since her announcement that she was leaving the school. Her last six weeks would've been lonely if it weren't for Steve's texts.

"Trying to write. Not succeeding," Eliza shrugged, "I guess you could call that sleeplessness."

"C'mon," he said, jerking his head down the hall in the direction of the kitchen. Eliza followed, even though she knew he would probably try to lecture her into staying. Again.

The halls were quiet at this hour of the night save for a few loud snores from behind the students' doors. Their walk was quiet, and the kitchen was empty. Logan reached up to a cabinet above the fridge and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and two lowball glasses.

"Rocks or neat?" he asked as she took a seat at the kitchen island. She requested rocks and he put ice in one glass before filling it and sliding it over to her. He took his whiskey neat.

They each took a sip and Eliza relished the smooth burn down her throat. "It still doesn't seem real," she said contemplatively.

"What doesn't?"

"The fact that it's my last night here. That I spent any time here at all, actually. That I got to meet and teach so many incredible kids. That Erik was exactly the person I needed to find. I think in some weird way, we all…belong here, you know? For a time, at least. I mean, the kids come and go, I assume the staff does as well," she rambled before taking another sip.

Tomorrow Logan would take over the last month of her classes and she would be on her way back to New York. Since Tony spent most of his time in California these days, Eliza would take over his floor of the Avengers Tower. Her job at Columbia was gone, but she had already decided to start a new novel.

Not that she had any idea about what that novel would be about, but when had that ever stopped a writer?

"Guess I can understand that. Always thought there was something weird about this place, but when you put it like that…your time here is up then."

Eliza looked at him. His dark eyes were unfocused, but his features were set. He had finally accepted that she had to leave, even if he wouldn't look at her.

"I'll come visit," she offered weakly, "when I can."

Part of her wanted to put a hand on his shoulder, his bicep, his hand, some small act to show him that she meant what she said, but he beat her to it. He rested his heavy hand on her forearm and said "I know."

She took another sip of whiskey and couldn't deny the warmth of his hand. It reminded her of the warmth she'd found in him once she'd finally broken through his rough exterior. Their one try at dating had gone horribly awry, and even though they never talked about it she could tell he was disappointed that it hadn't worked out.

He had been her closest confidante at the school, always willing to listen to her whine about Erik and his lessons while she helped him with one of the many vehicles in the garage. She listened to him talk about how much he wanted Jean and how much he and Scott butted heads. He'd taken care of her with Storm's help the previous fall when she'd gotten the flu. She would use her powers to help him in the garage.

"We're both damaged. Fucked up by some genetic mishap, then experimented on. You're a reminder that I'm not alone. And that's a nice thing to have some times," he'd told her once when she'd been pestering him about why he softened to her when he held everyone else at the school at a distance.

The whiskey had done its job. Eliza's head felt heavy with sleep now, and she rested her temple against Logan's shoulder. He didn't tense at the contact like he did with others, he simply let her be.

"Thank you, Logan. For everything," she said, fighting back a yawn.

"Anytime, Eliza."

XXXXX

The next afternoon Eliza was back in the city. She stood at the floor-to-ceiling windows on her floor of Avengers Tower - really her brother's, but they shared genetics so they could share a floor of a tower - and marveled at the skyline she hadn't seen in nearly two years. A few new buildings had popped up since she left, and the damage of the Chutari invasion was erased completely.

What she'd forgotten about was the noise. Traffic, people, the occasional siren. After two years of living in a stately mansion with Jane Austen-like grounds, it seemed like she'd gotten used to a certain level of quiet.

Being back in the city was a bit surreal, to say the least.

Part of her wanted to move back into her brownstone in the Village. It was at least a little quieter there, but then she would be alone. She'd grown accustomed to having people around her, and the ghost of her attack still lingered whenever she had too big a space to herself.

If she got spooked at the tower, all she had to do was take the elevator two floors down and Steve would answer his door.

"Miss Stark? Your brother is requesting your presence up on the party deck to discuss your real estate holdings," JARVIS said, interrupting her thoughts. She thanked the AI and headed toward the elevator, wondering why Tony would choose now to discuss real estate. It was a strange request, but she didn't think much of it as the elevator rose.

She got off the elevator and nearly had a heart attack as the lights turned on and no less that fifteen voices shouted, "Surprise!"

Panicking, Eliza had picked up the nearest metal object with her powers and hurled it at the voices. She ended up throwing a coffee table into Thor's stomach, but the larger-than-life god was good humored about it and had graciously brushed off her apologies.

"Perhaps you and I can spar sometimes and make it a fair fight, eh?" the blonde man had said before clapping her on the back - which nearly toppled her over and she swore she heard a 'crack' as her spine realigned. "It's nice to officially meet you, Eliza. This is Jane Foster, my human girlfriend," he said, gesturing to the woman next to him.

"I don't know if the human part needed specification, but it's nice to meet you," Jane said, shaking Eliza's hand. She was pretty, all long brown hair and big brown eyes. In another life, she could've been a ballerina instead of an astrophysicist.

"Same here," she agreed, eyes scanning the room for another swath of blonde hair. She didn't see it and she could feel the disappointment settle in her stomach. Maybe a drink would help with that?

As she turned to head over to the bar, a hand shot out and handed her a gin and tonic.

The hand was attached to the long, muscular arm of Steve Rogers, who looked down at her with a light smile. "Gin and tonic. That's still your drink of choice, I expect?"

"Steve," she breathed.

"Welcome back, Eliza," he said as he bent to kiss her left cheek and she accepted the drink from his hand. She wanted to say more, but she was mobbed by two very enthusiastic gays a second later. Brown curls and bright red locks bombarded her view of the super soldier and her rib cage was crushed in two pairs of arms.

"You are not allowed to leave town ever again!" Desmond declared, "not without our permission, do you understand?"

The couple let go of Eliza and she laughed breathlessly, looking around for Steve but he had disappeared again. Then she took stock of her attack-huggers. Namir and Desmond looked exactly the same as they had before she left, save for the silver bands around each of their ring fingers. Eliza gaped at Namir, and he nodded.

"That's what happens when you disappear," Namir said, his words gentle but the meaning behind them making her insides squirm. She'd missed so much, including her best friends' wedding. Namir raised her chin with his finger and made her make eye contact, "It's okay. You'll be here for the next big thing."

"And all the big things after that," she promised, hugging him around the chest. He patted her hair and hugged her back.

"Desmond brought his chocolate tart," he whispered and she gasped, dropping out of the hug and throwing herself at Desmond, demanding he lead her to the tart immediately.

The party continued in much the same fashion. Ray had sent her a video message from his house in the Florida Keys, where he had retired after being released from the hospital. Damon went down there on his school breaks, and he'd been dating a nice waitress from his local greasy spoon for a few months. His leg bothered him on occasion, and his hands got a little stiff but otherwise he was healthy as a horse.

She didn't get more than a few lingering glances from Steve while she was making the rounds. Eventually they wound up on the same sofa and Eliza could actually talk to him.

"So you're back," he said, "how's it feel?"

She took a sip of her third (or fourth?) gin and tonic and leaned her head on her hand, propping her elbow up on the back of the sofa. "It's a little...surreal."

"Surreal?"

"Just realizing what I've missed while I was gone. All of my friends kept living their lives while I was away and...just thinking that there was a chunk of their lives that I missed, I don't know. It feels weird." She realized she probably wasn't making a whole lot of sense, but the gin had started to kick in.

Steve twisted to face her and mirrored her posture, his elbow on the back of the sofa, one hand holding his head while he nursed his drink with the other. "I know exactly what you mean. Any big plans now that you're back?"

Eliza's cheeks burned. She'd clearly forgotten who she was talking to. Steve had missed sixty, seventy years? Most of his friends had lived full lives and then died of old age while he was gone. All she'd missed could easily be made up over the next few years. It wasn't that easy for Steve.

Before she could continue, Tony plopped himself down between Steve and Eliza and patted both of their knees. "How are things going here?"

"Fine, Tony," she said, dropping her leg and sitting properly on the sofa.

"Jarvis wasn't lying, I do wanna talk to you about real estate. Mostly what t odo with your house in the Village," Tony's breath smelled of whiskey and Eliza wasn't surprised that he didn't appear drunk. Tony had the constitution of an ox - it took much more than a few drinks to get him looking for a lampshade to wear.

"We don't have to talk about that n-"

"After you absconded I had a bunch of movers put your stuff in boxes. They'll be here tomorrow with it so you can fix up the Stark floor the way you want it."

"Don't you want a say in the decor?" Eliza asked her brother, who simply waved her off.

"I'm barely here, and when I am I live in the lab," he dismissed. "The apartment is yours to do with what you wish."

"Thanks, Tony," she said even though she already knew that. The sun was starting to descend over the Manhattan skyline and Eliza looked around. Only the Avengers were left - Thor, Natasha, Clint, and Bruce Banner. The civilians had trickled out over the last few hours, and now Thor was entertaining the rest of them with tales of Asgard. The large man gesticulated wildly, his beer sloshing dangerously over the side of his mug. Eliza didn't mind. She even found it comforting - this was how her life would be now. Surrounded by superhumans. The thought occurred to her that she was one of them - she had superhuman powers of her own, her father and brother had seen to that.

"Eliza?" Steve asked from the other side of Tony.

"Huh?"

"You didn't answer the good cap's question. I didn't raise you to be rude," Tony teased and Eliza shot him a glare.

"Yes you did," she countered.

"Oh right."

Steve interrupted them, "What are you going to do now that you're back?"

"Right. I think I'm going to start a new novel, actually," she said. "All I need is an idea."

"Ugh, I'm bored with this now. Later, losers," Tony said, a hand on each of their knees that were closest to him and hauling himself up. Eliza watched him go and figured that the alcohol had finally started to hit him. Momentarily worrying for her brother's liver, Eliza turned her full attention back to Steve and resumed her previous position.

"Y'know, speaking as a fan I think another novel is a great idea. And if you need someone to proof your pages, I'm just a short elevator ride away," Steve mentioned, not trying to look as excited as the prospect made him. He smiled and Eliza found it infectious as she smiled as well.

"I'll keep that in mind," she said.

XXXXX

The next morning, Eliza woke up to a few loud thuds from her living room area. Panic gripped her chest before she remembered that she was in Avengers tower, that she was safe. Pulling on a robe, she walked out and saw no fewer than six big, burly movers in the open plan living space. Two were carrying the couch from her brownstone into the area, two were carrying the one Tony had picked out, and the other two had three boxes each - all of them marked 'Books', and she was glad they were wearing protective hernia belts.

"Morning, sunshine!" Tony shouted from the kitchen, a mug of coffee in his hand. "Told you I'd have the movers bring all your crap."

"I didn't doubt you on that," she said, wandering over to the kitchen and reaching for the coffee pot which was - thankfully - full.

"Did you want to keep the brownstone? I know you and Alex put a lot of work into it, but I figured since your attack..."

Eliza paused and put the coffee pot back, not looking at her brother. She hadn't been back there since she was attacked - the ghost of it still haunted her. But other ghosts lived there too. Alex, his sandy hair white with drywall dust, making ribald jokes about christening every room in the house once the renovation was done. Arguing over the layout of the first floor - which was better for faculty dinner parties, an open plan or a kitchen island? How Alex insisted on doing most of the work themselves. They'd appreciate it more that way, he said.

"No," she sighed, swallowing the memories. "you made the right call. I'll contact a realtor about it today. Thanks for everything, Tony."

Tony put a hand on her shoulder. "No problem, Eliza."

XXXXX

It was dark when Eliza paused, but the apartment definitely felt more like home. She'd unpacked all of her clothes into the master bedroom's walk in closet, put all her books on the bookshelves, all of her cookware in the kitchen, and she still wasn't half done.

Her stomach grumbled angrily, as if it would no longer be ignored, and she had JARVIS order Chinese food for her. She sat waiting for it and going through an old box of junk on her couch. An early copy of her first novel, a bunch of journals, some tchochkes from her various boarding schools, and a bunch of DVDs labeled 'Peggy, 1963,' 'Peggy, 1995,' and 'Peggy Carter, 1982.'

It had been ages since she'd seen her Aunt Peggy, her father's best friend. And Steve's...whatever they'd been. She slid the disc marked 1995 in the player and there she was, all perfectly pinned curls and impeccable lipstick even at seventy-something.

"This isn't my first interview about Steve Rogers, and it probably won't be the last," she said in her comforting British accent. Eliza listened to Peggy for a good hour, as she recounted her travels and adventures with Steve, and her adventures since. The workings of the SSR after Steve's disappearance, the kidnapping of Howard Stark, the founding of SHIELD.

Eliza's gut lurched. She hadn't seen Peggy in so long, mostly because of the memory issues the older woman was having. The vivacious, vibrant Peggy of her past had almost disappeared and Eliza couldn't bear to watch as Peggy's light flickered in and out. It caused her no small amount of guilt.

As she watched, something clicked into place in Eliza's brain. She grabbed one of the old journals and a pen, flipped to a blank page, and started taking wild notes before the idea could expire and disappear forever. Then, once the basic idea was out of her head she started taking notes on what Peggy was saying.

Her Chinese food was cold by the time she got around to it, but she had her next novel.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

HELLO!

I want you all to know that I haven't given up this story, or Eliza, but I did start grad school and that takes up a LOT of my time and imagination. I'll be publishing as often as I can, but it might be slow going.

That being said, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your continued support, and please take a few minutes to leave a comment about this chapter/story in general.