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The Year After

Chapter Text

 

 

After Apocalypse had been defeated, some things changed, but mostly, everything stayed exactly the same.

Everyone went home. The Brotherhood returned to their house, Angel to his old life and Tabitha to the new one she had built for herself in the meantime. The summer holidays had started, and so the X-Men left the Institute to visit their families. Kurt's parents had invited Rogue, Scott went with Jean to first see her family, than they planned to spend some time with Alex. Logan jumped on the occasion and took off who knows where. In no time, the mansion became eerily empty.

The Professor and Magneto had started some careful negotiations with the intention to prevent an other crisis like the one that just occurred, and they both knew that in order to do that, they had to work together. Given their in the meantime infamous polar opposite political views, this proved to be far easier said than done, and they usually ended their meetings with heavy and energetic disagreements. Despite this, they did make progress. Erik didn't want to start a war (right away, we need to get stronger first) and Charles accepted that they had to be prepared to eventually use violence against the Humans (but only after trying every other option, Erik, and you have to make absolutely certain that it won't cause any diplomatic damage). They always met alone, in public, often playing chess while talking. Xavier made sure to block his telepathy behind solid walls, in order to prevent himself from reading, influencing, or leaking thoughts into Magneto's mind. He hated to have to do this, but their relationship wasn't solid enough yet to risk any breach of trust. And it worked. As their philosophies slowly, painfully slowly met in a middle way, they as people quickly grew closer again. They never had been as distant as their students thought in the first place.

In the meantime, the world marched on. For now, the « Mutant Discussion » had shifted in their favor, but it was questionable how long that would last. Mutants started to come forwards with their stories about what it was like to live in a world that considered them first none existent, than freaks of nature, and first mutant support groups and safe places started to emerge. Scientists started to do some serious research into the subject, while, as Dr. McCoy noted, this could be just as easily a bad thing as a good one. Charles Xavier got asked to various talk shows to debate the question. He was happy to accept every single invitation, so that he could help spread information about what Mutants really were and why they weren't dangerous and needed to have exact the same rights as any other citizen. He talked about working with children who were afraid of their powers and that they always became a lot safer for everyone once you showed them some trust and gave them a safe environment to practice their otherwise dangerous gifts. From what he saw in the minds of random people on the street, they found him rather sympathetic, which was good, but it also meant he had to seriously discuss his right to exist with some angry young activist, or worse, a respected member of the Church, and stay polite, even when their hatred towards his people nearly suffocated him.

On the other side, anti-Mutant groups also appeared and thrived all over the country, the biggest being the one calling themselves « The Friends of Humanity ». Not a week went by without at least one ani-Mutant hate crime, and far too many Humans seemed to support or at least accept it. News coverages of the incidents had a bad habit to focus on the attacked Mutant, and whether or not they had been dangerous. They mostly weren't. The ones who had it the worst were those with clearly visible mutations, and Charles worried about the Morlocks and his former student Spyke who was now one of them. He knew that Storm did, too, a lot. After all, he was her nephew.

Than the new school year started, and everybody came floating back in, chatting and exchanging gifts from their holidays. Some of them had stayed in touch via emails and occasional phone calls, but there was only so much they could talk that way, and they all had a lot to catch up to. Much of it were normal adolescent subjects, their summer, friends and acquaintances, a book or a tv show. But over it all lingered the feeling that they were now the center of a very focused, very dangerous public awareness, and that too showed in the interaction between the students. Especially with the rumors that had taken wings over the last two months. No-one knew for sure where the « Mutant Discussion » was leading, but everybody had their own opinion and theories. What those were, varied strongly from child to child, seemingly depending on their home state and town. Neighborhood, if it was a big city. Mutant acceptance over the country ranged from trying to welcome and include them over not wanting to see that « this could happen here » to undisguised hate, and it seemed to be sheer luck what the climate was where your family lived.

The school had a new principal, who made a big deal of showing his acceptance for « different » students. He invited the Brotherhood back, and, in case they didn't want to go anywhere near the grounds ever again (which was the case), offered to organize some private teachers to homeschool them. This, they all accepted, or, as their acquaintances suspected, Avalanche accepted for all of them. On the first day of school, Principal White made a beautiful speech about acceptance and welcoming everybody into a community, regardless of gender, age, skin color or « weird genetic mutations ». The use of mutant powers at school of course was still forbidden, but the penalty was now a warning and detention instead of getting immediately expelled. Parents got letters warning them that incidents like at the prom would not be accepted, and that the children would bear the consequences of any disruption from their friends or family. If you were neither, you had no business being on the school grounds, and yes, they would call the police on you, and yes, there would be severe consequences, powers or no powers.

All in all, things were going quite well.

Chapter Text

 

 

She was back! Rahne had to practice some serious self-control not to just transform into a wolf and run around the garden, to smell everything… Heck, she was even excited enough to behave like an undignified dog and jump up people's legs to lick their faces. Better not.

Besides, she wasn't really back yet, her father had only agreed to come for a meeting with the Professor to discuss if it would be a good idea to allow his daughter back into the school. She should behave to make the best possible impression, to make the Institute look like the best place on Earth somehow… And she knew that her friends could be a little wild when they were playing. She too, and that was something she didn't really want to advertise. So she got herself together and didn't run off to join them.

They were very early, school wouldn't start for some weeks yet. So that she would have the time to get back home if Dad decided that the Institute wasn't really for her. There was nobody in the garden, which was strange, in a weather like this, there would be. So maybe they hadn't arrived yet, and Rahne was determined to see everyone while she was there.

 

The Professor and Mr. McCoy were waiting for them at the door. Mr. McCoy hugged her, while the Professor shook her father's hand.

« Mr. Sinclair. I hope you had a pleasant trip. »

He than smiled at her. « Rahne. Good to see you again. » She felt the familiar presence in her head, and his voice, only audible to her. [Wolfsbane. We missed you.] She could feel that it was true.

She had missed this. The feeling of being part of something big, of being old enough to be trusted with important secrets. Even the teachers here behaved as if they were accomplices.

Mr. McCoy reached to shake her father's hand. Dad looked a little shocked to see the big blue furry Mutant, and needed a second to react. Pfffft, it wasn't as if she hadn't told him all about him before.

« I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Sinclair. Allow me to take your luggage to your rooms. » He politely waited for Dad to nod, than grabbed the two suitcases with ease.

« I have arranged one of the empty student rooms for your stay. », said the Professor. « Rahne, you can sleep in your old room, if you like. » She knew he knew she would love to, he could read her mind, after all. So she tuned to join Mr. McCoy on his way inside, when her father audibly coughed a little. Of course, he wasn't used to telepaths.

« I would love to, Professor, thank you very much. »

 

Nothing had changed. Rahne almost felt as if she hadn't been away at all. Her old room hadn't been used since she left, so while her personal things were missing, the furniture hadn't been moved, and Rahne felt tempted to immediately unpack everything. She held herself back. For now, she was only a visitor.

Someone knocked on the door.

« Come in! », called Rahne. It was her father.

« So this was your room, eh? » He looked around. Rahne thought that he seemed relaxed and honestly curious. This was a good sign.

« Yes, but it was a lot better when everything was in place. Look, my poster with the forest at night used to hang there, and on this side of the pin-board, I've had some photographs. »

« And what was on the other side ? »

« My time table and reminders of important deadlines. » Her father smiled.

Rahne unpacked her picture of Jesus, her statue of her guardian angel, and her Bible. She put the picture on his old place on the now empty bookshelf, the angel and the Bible on her night table. Her father was looking out of her window.

« You have a beautiful view. »

« Yes, right?! », she jumped from the bed and joined him. Her window overlooked a part of the grounds surrounding the mansion. The green trees seemed to call to her to go for a little exploration.

« All the grounds look like this. There are squirrels living in those trees, did you know that ? And there are lots of mice. I've once even chased a wild rabbit. »

« Ah yes, I remember. You told me about it back than. » He smiled at her. « Rahne, why don't you go out for a bit, get some fresh air ? I'll be in my room, I think I'll try to finish that book I bought on the airport. »

Rahne felt a wide grin spread on her face. « Are you sure ? I could show you around... »

« No, I'll be fine. You can show me everything later, go and look if any of your friends are here. »

Rahne enthusiastically hugged him, than run out of her room.

 

Rogue was the only other student at the Institute this early. Of the teachers, Mr. Logan was still on holiday, but Storm greeted Rahne warmly.

Dinner was calm, without any of the usual casual use of powers. Mr. McCoy chatted with Rahne's father about different interpretations of the Bible, while the Professor questioned her about her time away. In return, he told her about the changes of public attitude towards Mutants in her absence, and how the Brotherhood and Magneto were now supposed to be good.

[Please don't use that word, Ra h ne. Good and evil are relative. I know for sure that Magneto always acted out of what he thought was best for mutantkind.]

That, she thought, must be very hard for telepaths. Always knowing what the others think and feel, therefore being forced to sympathize with evil people.

[But we also see the shared humanity that remains hidden from the rest of us. We understand the reasons behind one's actions, and we can help them, if so they wish. People are never evil, their actions are. We have to understand this, if we want to make our world a better place.]

But surely Magneto…

[No. He really isn't. ] T he thought was accompanied by a vague image of Magneto, in civilian clothes, sitting at a coffeehouse table and watching absentmindedly a little boy walk with his parents down the street. [ And the Brotherhood are only children. ]

 

Jubilee and her father arrived during the night, so at breakfast, there was a lot more happy chatter. After that, the girls took their fathers for a tour around the mansion, spicing their description of the rooms with funny anecdotes from their time there. The Professor accompanied them to answer any questions and fill in any details they might leave out.

The Danger Room got most attention.

« But… Isn't it dangerous to let the children in there? », asked Jubilee's father. « Won't they get hurt? »

« Yes, they can. », said the Professor, just when Rahne opened her mouth to protest that it was complete nonsense. « But we are doing everything we can to prevent that from happening. We have safety rules, there is always an adult supervising the training sessions, and the training programs are carefully adjusted to each child's abilities. There is also an emergency shutdown, and we do have the means to provide immediate medical attention, should the worst happen. »

« But accidents can happen? »

« Yes, they can. But they can also happen elsewhere. The problem is, Mr. Lee, that your daughter's abilities are dangerous – to others and to herself. She needs to learn how to control them, and to do so, she needs a safe environment where she won't cause too much damage if she makes an error. Think about it as using roller skates : You can fall and seriously injure yourself if you don't know what you're doing, therefore you have to learn how to put them on correctly, how to keep your balance, where you can and can't go wearing them, how to slow down and stop immediately, how to break a fall… You also need protective gear, like a helmet. The children will use their powers, even if we forbid them, and they have the right to do so. But we must seek to teach them how far they can safely go, and how to react in crisis situations. This room allows us to do so, and in a way that is fun and entertaining to them. »

« My daughter's powers aren't dangerous. », injected Mr. Sinclair. « Why does Rahne have to participate in these sessions ? »

« Well, a lot of it is like playing a sport. She can still improve on her speed, her agility, her sense of smell, and various other things. We also teach the children how to defend themselves without the use of their powers, and basic first aid, and the Danger Room sessions are a good way to practice team play. »

« We could show them if they like? », asked Jubilee hopefully.

« Oh yes ! », jumped Rahne on the idea. She had missed the Danger Room and it's excitement, she had missed fighting alongside her friends. « Please, Professor ! Dad, would you like to see me fight in the Danger Room ? »

« It is really cool ! », agreed Jubilee. « You'll see ! Please, Professor ? Pretty please ? »

Professor X looked between them with a smile. « Well, if your fathers agree… That way, they can see for themselves what it looks like. »

He turned around to the two men, who were now faced with three hopeful Mutants.

« Well, alright than. », gave in Dad.

« You two be careful ! », added Mr. Lee.

Jubilee punched the air with a muffled « Oh yes !! »

 

The Professor chose a training program that was more fun than challenging. Jubilee shot fireworks from her hands, and Rahne was running around following a smell track, passing hindrances on her way. Nothing tried to kill them, which was just as well, because they both found that they were seriously out of form.

« But I did practice while I wasn't here ! », complained Jubilee, completely out of breath but grinning widely.

Rahne waggled her tail in approval, and lay down on her stomach, tongue hanging out of her mouth, the wolf version of a laugh on her face.

« What a spectacle! » Dad entered the room with Mr. Lee and the Professor. « You two were great. »

« Yes. », agreed Mr. Lee. « I didn't know Jubilee could do anything like that. I always believed her mutant power was to destroy DVD players. »

« And coffee machines! », laughed Jubilee.

« And your cellphone. Maybe I really should leave you here, we've already spent more than the scholarship fee on electrical devises since we pulled you out. »

Rahne finally stood up and turned back into her human form.

« Well, Dad, how was I? »

« You were good. This really isn't something you can do elsewhere, is it? »

Rahne shook her head. Dad give a dramatic sigh.

« All right, all right, I'll think about it. »

Jubilee held up her hand for a high-five.

 

They spent the afternoon having some father-daughter time out, wandering around Bayville, playing a little with a frisbee (a dog toy, but it had been the best Dad could come up with when her mutation kicked in, and it had grown on her), and than ate a really giant cup of ice cream sitting on a terrace in the sun. Rahne was happy.

« You really like it here, don't you? » Dad's tone was calm and serious.

Rahne shrugged. « It's where my friends are. And the teachers at the Institute are cool, it is fun living there, there is always something going on. Besides, it isn't as if Mutants were very welcome elsewhere, either. » Her time at a local school in Scotland had thought her that, both before she first came to the Institute and after she left. « Here, at least the folks at the Institute get what it's like. »

« And what is it like, Rahne? », asked her father. It was a strange question, he was there, he had been there right from the start, he saw it. But his eyes were earnest.

« Everyone thinks I'm a freak. First, I thought it, too. And they tell me to just ignore my powers, and I totally could do that, I mean, I'm not like Scott or Mr. McCoy, I don't have to use them, but they are fun... »

Dad had finished his ice cream and was listening with all his attention.

« And I have to be really careful around people, I mean, I can't transform and talk about transforming, but I also just can't sniff them or flesh my teeth, and every time someone talks about wolves, I have to be careful not to correct them or say anything generally weird…

But here, people get it, and I am not even that strange. You met Rogue, right ? I mean, come on, that girl is way more off than I am, right? And everyone else has powers, and they just use them as if it was normal. Nobody even cares what form I'm in, except in the kitchen, the Professor asked me to be a human in the kitchen. I mean, I shed a lot less than Mr. McCoy does... »

Dad nodded. But his expression was strange. At that moment, Rahne suddenly realized that no, he didn't know. Her father had no idea what it was like to be a Mutant, even less one with the ability to turn herself into a wolf. And he never would know.

Chapter Text

 

 

The day after the demonstration of the Danger Room, the adults came together for a serious conversation. Rahne and Jubilee were downstairs, bothering Rogue for some more details about the battle against Apocalypse. Her <annoyed / I just want to read this book in peace, is that too much to ask?!> was so intense it could probably be felt beyond the gates.

Mr. Sinclair and Mr. Lee both radiated cold determination. Charles had the impression that their daughters had more or less convinced them that the Institute was a good place where they were happy, but so far, they ignored it, hidden away under worry and mistrust towards the Mutants running this place, whose minds Charles quickly touched, too, just to reassure himself with their familiarity. Beast's thoughts were soft, deep and crystal clear, with a few fragments of quotes from great writers and thinkers surfacing from time to time. Storm's mind was noble, levitating above them, and Charles could feel how it sparkled with lightening. They were both calm and focused. Wolverine still hadn't returned.

« I suppose, » opened the Professor the meeting, « we all know why we're here. We need to discuss the possibility of Rahne and Jubilee rejoining us here at the Institute. »

What followed was a very long and very tiring discussion about the political climate in general and that at the school in particular, the everyday life at the Institute versus at home with the family, the not-so-everyday work with the X-Men and the dangers it had posed in the past, school results and friendships, the company of other Mutants versus the importance of the family, past failures and successes…

Soon, Charles was very happy that Mr. Sinclair and Mr. Lee had agreed on having this conversation together instead of separately, which would have been their good right. They had figured that united, they disposed of more information and were therefore less likely to be manipulated by the Mutants (Charles could effortlessly rewrite their thoughts anytime without them noticing it, but they didn't know that). Having to go through this twice would have been terribly exhausting. It was even worse than an appearance on a talk show. There, there was someone to guide the discussion, and his opponents weren't a part of his private life. He loved all the children, including Wolfsbane and Jubilee, and wanted them to be safe and happy. But how safe could they ever be around him ? Also, on tv, he didn't have to justify himself for not letting the children use their powers for chores (safety reasons, mostly). Nor was he asked for details about his secret negotiations with a famous terrorist.

« I can assure you that Magneto won't attack this Institute any more. »

« And what about his ideas? Mutants should rule Humans, that sort of things. They must spread like wildfire in a place like this! »

« I can assure you that we are collectively opposed to Magneto's ideology. Here, we believe in equal rights for everyone. The children know and understand that. They know Magneto far to well to know not to let their guard down when dealing with him. » If only that could be said about all of them.

« If I may, Mr. Sinclair, I would be much more concerned about the things your daughter might see at home on the Internet. », objected Beast with his calm voice. « Here, she is in the middle of everything, she sees and experiences the direct consequences of any Mutant related actions firsthand. The blogs whose existence I know of are run by strangers from a certain distance. They have a greater probability to get details wrong, or spread simplified misinformation, not understanding the full consequences. »

The discussion turned to the effects of the anti-Mutant climate on the psychological well-being of teenage girls. Charles assured them that they payed closely attention to any kind of mental difficulties the students might have, private thoughts included. Storm compared the current situation to being in the eye of a hurricane : Everything changed fast and drastically, hurtful comments and some actions were surrounding them. But in the Institute, things were calm and the children mostly protected from the hate, not in small part because they looked out for each other. There was just a chance, however slim, that they could come out of this all relatively unharmed.

Three hours seventeen minutes after they sat down, both Rahne's and Jubilee's father had given his permission to let his daughter live in the Institute again.

Chapter Text

 

 

Living with the X-Men had been no fun. Living with the Brotherhood had been great, but of course Mystique had to ruin it for her. After that, Boom Boom had crashed with some friends from before the Institute, who in turn had pointed her to some of their own friends in another city, who were looking for a bartender in their disco. Tabitha had taken the trip, because she had nothing better to do, and besides, she had to pretend to be looking for a job if she wanted to keep getting help. Also, road trips were fun.

She liked the guys, Matt and Annie, from the moment they met. Matt had his hair dyed orange and a piercing in his nose, Annie was wearing a black leather mini skirt, high boots, and had tons of metal necklaces and bracelets. They didn't know that she was a Mutant, and, following on a strange idea (<let's see how long it takes for them to find out, haha / I think I've had enough of Mutants for now, thanks, let's try something else>), she didn't tell them. They run a small club and shared the house just over it, and they were willing to let her join in, if she was any good at her job, that is.

Tabitha Smith was great at her job. She had always been an outgoing person, and now she could spend most of her evening on a party, joking with the guests and dancing on her own behind the bar. The people there were great, actual, interesting people, not the boring children at school, nor like the stiff X-Men with their Rules, or those loveable loosers at the Brotherhood. These people, you could take seriously. Okay, « serious » was a loose term, that was exactly what they all were not, but hey, who cares.

Than the existence of the Mutants got revealed, and things changed. At this point, Tabitha's little « time bombs » were still a secret. Not that she never blew up anything – she loved to blow things up! – but she never did it when others were around. Most of her new friends even liked the idea of genetically given superpowers, she often heard how « cool » Mutants were, or that they wanted to be one. Tabitha thought back of Perfect Scott Summers and More Than Perfect Jean Grey, with their good looks and good grades and always super tidy rooms, and held back a laugh. Cool indeed!

As the subject grew sore, with all the weird domes and whatnots, these comments became rarer and rarer. At some point, everyone just realized that this was something real, and that they too would have to do something about it somehow.

First, they proposed a Mutant ban in the club. Tabitha vetoed. Second, they had the idea to only allow undangerous mutations, to which she argued that it wasn't possible, they'd have to ask everyone at the entry, and even so, those were the most easy to hide. And who could tell the exact difference between a dangerous and a non-dangerous Mutant? You, Sanders? Well shut up than.

« And what do you propose, since you're so clever? », shot back Sanders.

« How about we make a special evening only for Mutants, and ask them to come all than? » Laughter erupted, but that wouldn't stop Boom Boom if she was once at it. « None of the other clubs has a Mutant night yet. If we are good, we can grab us a niche and at least make ourselves a name for when they do notice it exist. »

And so came, that, in the middle of intense arguments, the Night Light Club organized it's first Mutant Night.

 

A bunch of completely normal people came, of the boring kind, in clothes that were a lot less revealing than those of their usual visitors. They were more quiet, too, and consumed less alcohol (something Tabitha was secretly grateful for), and made less of a mess.

As the evening proceeded, some of them became a little bolder, and Tabitha witnessed a beautiful spectacle of little firefly-like lights dancing around the guests in complex formations. Everyone broke into applause, and the Mutant, a young man in blue jeans and a white T-shirt, bowed with tears in his eyes. He reminded Tabitha of how her father would always praise her when she blew up something he'd asked her to, how wonderful it had felt to not only use her powers openly, but to get positive attention for them. Had that feeling not prevented her from leaving, she would have done so a long time ago.

« Wow, that went great. », said Annie when the last Mutant had left and they were closing up. « Anything to add, Sanders? »

« Fine. » growled Sanders. « You win. »

Tabitha grinned at him and blew him a kiss.

 

Next time they held a Mutant Night, a month later, more people came, and Tabitha noticed that some of them had hair as if they'd just stepped from an anime. Usually, she wouldn't have given it a second thought, but the girl with the pink curls also had two really cute little horns, and the eyes of the boy with the deep blue hair looked like that of a serpent.

From time to time, the crowd became larger and more colorful. The Mutants were the best customers one could hope for. They proved, compared to the Humans, more quiet and well-behaved, something Tabitha suspected had to do with the fact that they had to keep such a low profile at day. After some time, they started asking for the music to be switched of for some time, so that they could have a demonstration of their powers, but that was all. Mostly, they seemed just to be happy to hang out with their friends where they could meet other people like them.

The Mutant Nights became more frequent, from once a month to twice a month to every week, and they started to organize special events, like the Mutant-Human Meetup Evening (exactly what it says on the tin), or the Big Power Show (Mutants using their power to put up an act, than being judged by a jury). The Night Light Club gained a reputation, and since Tabitha showed to be great at motivating people and even had some idea how to talk to Mutants, she got promoted.

The problems started on the, khm, not very legal side of the nightclub business.

 

Tabitha had known since her very first day that Matt and Annie had their connections to the criminal underground. It wasn't anything big or bad, some rather harmless drugs, a less expensive way to get their alcohol, the guarantee not to call the police on certain people for certain reasons. Exchange of information. Nothing Tabitha would see a problem with. After all, laws were nothing but rules, and rules existed only to keep people from having fun. Tabitha lived to break rules.

About a week after the incredibly fun confrontation with Apocalypse's horsemen, Tabitha went down to the meetup point of the half-legal groups the Night Light Club was part of. It was in one of the cellars of a half-inhabited apartment, and there was always someone there up to a little chat, or to singing her favorite songs karaoke, depending on how high they were. When she arrived in the basement, she immediately knew that something interesting was going on, because there was a real crowd there. As she got closer, she could see the two young women in the middle of it, showing off a bunch of weapons. Guns mostly, but there was also a baseball bat, and a bottle of cleaner fluid.

« … and kick their knees, like this… » One of the women said, while demonstrating it in slow motion on her partner. « Should get them off balance for a sec, than you can put a couple of bullets in their head, and see how the stinking mutie reacts to that. »

The audience laughed. Tabitha felt the blood turn to ice in her veins.

« Boom Boom! Hey, Boom Boom! » Sammy, whom she was originally supposed to meet, called from the other side of the combatants and waved with both arms. « Hey, Boom Boom, over here! » Tabitha had kept her nickname, even though people didn't know where it came from. They just assumed it was because of her explosive party nature.

« Guys, this is Tabitha, I've been telling you about her. She's ace, man, she totally kicked my ass when I was stupid enough to challenge her! »

Now the women (and everyone else in the room, for that matter) had turned their attention towards her. For maybe the first time in her life, Boom Boom didn't like it. Not noticing her discomfort, Sammy continued enthusiastically.

« Tab, you won't believe what you've missed. The Friends of Humanity sent two members to show us how to defend ourselves against those muties. It's crass, man, what they can do to you! And figure this, these girls totally know what to do against them! »

« Nice to meet you, Tabitha. », smiled the woman who'd just pretended to knock the other (a Mutant, Tabitha realized, she had been pretending to fight a Mutant) to the ground. She was a little sweaty from the exercise, but had a honest, friendly face. « I'm Sarah, this is Janette, we're members of the Friends of Humanity, maybe you've heard of us? »

Tabitha nodded weakly. Her head was spinning, the images of the women fighting followed tightly by that of the guns and her acquaintances, watching with fascination. Sarah's face lightened up, as if Tabitha knowing who the Friends of Humanity were was the greatest pleasure she could possibly imagine.

« Than you know that we have sworn to protect humanity against the Mutant threat! We are just showing some of the weapons we use, in case one of you would need it or even wants to join us. Here, look! » She picked up a small handgun. « This darling is really easy to handle, and you can hide her almost anywhere. We know how to get you one, if you like. Here, let me show you, we've brought some targets to practice on! »

Tabitha had a terrible flash of the gun aimed at Todd's head, who of course wasn't paying attention, because he was busy catching flies. She felt sick.

« Th… Thank you, but… I am actually pro-Mutant. », stammered she. What had happened to that self-confident girl who had a comeback for everything?

« Well, that's your decision. », said Janette. She had a warm, melodious voice. « I just pray to God you won't regret it. I give you my word, those Mutants are dangerous, don't trust them, please. » She handed Tabitha a card. « If you change your mind, you know where to find us. Please don't hesitate to come to us if you need any help at all, that's what we're there for. »

Chapter Text

 

 

Evan missed his skateboard. He missed a lot of things from his old life – hot showers, walking down the street in broad daylight - , but he missed his skateboard most of all. He missed the easy speed, the feeling of balance and the excitement when maneuvering around obstacles or doing stunts.

Those belonged all to the past. These days, Evan was more concerned with getting fresh groceries.

It had taken some help from his old friends, but in the end, the X-Men had found them a couple of super markets that were willing to sell them some of the food that had just reached it's expiration date a little cheaper than it's original prize. Provided they could find the money, of course, which was a whole other story. The Morlocks couldn't exactly go out and get a job.

Spyke had quickly gained on popularity once the others realized that he wasn't afraid to leave the sewers and get some things done. Callisto was the only one who still hadn't warmed up to him, constantly telling him that the Morlocks didn't do this or that that went against the Morlock way. Which was probably true, but even she had to admit that their quality of life had improved since Evan took some things in his hands. Having an aunt with a high salary who sent them some money or new clothes they couldn't buy for themselves from time to time probably helped, too. Before, Spyke would have refused it all out of pride. By now, he had learned to be grateful for all the help he could get.

At least the streets were safe now. After Duncan Matthews and his band had been arrested, things had mostly calmed down. It still wasn't an alto good idea to show yourself in daylight or to enter a shop, but nobody was after them any more, and nobody went (too far) out of their way to spread hate. Than the Professor had started to publicly speak up, and things had gotten even better. The prizes for their food went a little down, there was talk of charities and a news crew wanted to make a piece about them. But Callisto had refused both energetically, and Evan had been unable to persuade her. Maybe she was even right. Invisibility had always been the Morlocks' greatest protector, and it would have been stupid to give up on it.

 

So Evan was walking down the empty street with two big bags full with fresh food, when a car stopped nearby and some people got out. Them being the only thing moving in sight, they automatically attracted Evan's eyes. [Oh, no.]

Any city kid recognizes trouble when they see some. It is just one of those things you learn from an early age on, and it becomes an instinct. Don't go near those people, Evan, walk a little faster, Evan, ignore strangers talking to you and look straight ahead, Evan. Don't be alone on the street in the middle of the night the first place, Evan.

Those people were trouble. Adult men, not even that young, nor very sporty. Their car had a « Humans hold together! » sticker on the back window. One of those stickers the Friends of Humanity distributed everywhere. They talked loud, a little louder than they probably should have, as if they'd just drunk a limited quantity of alcohol. Not enough to be drunk or unaware of your actions, just enough to make you a little bit bolder than usual.

They were too near to be avoided, so Evan just ignored them and walked quickly past. Or would have, but one of them stepped in and blocked his way.

« Look at that! What do we have here now, eh? » He spoke a little louder than would be normal, underlining Evan's suspicion of alcohol.

« Just let me pass. », said the young Mutant. Worth a try, right? He wasn't afraid of a fight, but had also better things to do right now than beat up some half-drunk amateur Friends of Humanity.

« Oooh, it speaks! » the other men had assumed a loose circle around Evan. The boy put down his sacks and grew a long spike he could use both for self-defense and to attack.

« I said, let me pass. »

« Of course, mutie. » The man who seemed to be their leader kicked over one of the bags. « We'll even give you a direction, amright, boys? » They advanced slowly on Evan. Spyke went into attack position.

A moment before they actually attacked, a wind blew over the sidewalk, and suddenly, the men all found their pants pulled down and their faces drawn full with hearts of light pink lipstick.

Evan grew a second spike, a shorter one with a burning end, just for the dramatic effect. The men exchanged panicked looks and run for it, stumbling over their pants.

As soon they were gone, the wind returned, but this time stopped before Evan in form of a young man of his own age with white hair and an insolent grin on his face.

« Hey, Daniels. Long time no see, hugh? »

« I was handling them Pietro! »

« Sure you were. But did you see the look on their faces? Classic! » Quicksilver picked up the spilled-out content of the bag in super-speed. « No need to thank me, by the way. You're welcome. »

« What are you even doing here? »

« Just going for a quick round. » Pietro zipped behind Evan's back, forcing him to turn around. « I'm boooored! There is nothing going on, everyone is just sitting around waiting for orders. I go out of my mind like this! » He zipped back on his old place, making Evan turn around again. Than he seemed to suddenly remember something, and pulled out an object from his pocket. He closely examined it from all angles. « Oh man! And now I'm gonna need another lipstick! »

Another wind, Quicksilver was gone. A moment later he was back, with a new lipstick and a bag of chips. « Hm, always wanted to try this color. Chips? »

Evan began to feel his head turning trying to keep up with the speedster. How did people live with the guy?!

« Did you steel those? »

« Nah, I've found them. » Evan made a « not amused » -face. « Come on, Daniels, brighten up! It's not as if anyone would miss them, there were looots of others where these come from! »

« Whatever. » Evan gathered his bags and started to walk away. Leaving out such a good opportunity for a fight or at least a little bickering was also a new habit, but it was completely pointless and avoidable, and he had better things to do.

Wait. Was this what it felt like to be an adult?

If so, than Pietro Maximoff couldn't be considered an adult, because he zipped a little forwards and waited for Evan by the next tree, eating his chips.

« Ah, come on, Daniels, you're such a spoilsport! How about a little basketball game? Just you and me, eh? »

The offer was tempting. Since he'd joined the Morlocks, Evan had played basketball exactly once, with Torpid and a found ball. It had been more baby sitting than a serious game between equals, and if Quicksilver was one thing, than a challenging opponent in sports. Still…

« Get lost, Pietro. »

« Ooooh, that's just rude! I did save your skin just now, remember? » He had not, but Pietro always talked too fast for anyone to interrupt. « Well, in that case, see you, Daniels! » He was gone before Evan could react in any way.

Spyke allowed himself a deep sigh. Truth to be told, he had missed Quicksilver and their childish rivalry. They were something from the past, a time of boring school lessons and skateboarding and basketball, when he could sleep on an actual mattress without inevitably tearing it open, and the white haired speedster was one of his major problems. He didn't regret that it was over, but sometimes, he missed it all, so much it hurt. Pietro and the schoolwork included.

With this, Evan made himself on his way back to the sewers and the Morlocks awaiting the groceries.

Chapter Text

 

 

« We will need some form of help organization. », said Charles and moved his remaining knight to F2. « Mutations raise a lot of special problems, and there are a million reasons why we can't let everyone keep trying to cope with them on their own. While if things continue in the direction they are headed, someone will start one without our input. »

Erik took out one of Charles's pawns with his queen. « The Humans can't be trusted, Charles. Every recorded information about Mutants is a liability they can use against us. The data you have accumulated is already enough to keep me awake at night, and that is nothing compared to what a nation wide organization would get. »

« But don't you see, more data is the only way we can help those people! » This discussion was heading in an alto familiar direction. And they'd only just started!

Erik looked up, straight in his eyes, and Charles felt his telepathy crash against the solid walls he'd locked it up behind. He couldn't let it loose, not now, not in the presence of this man, even if keeping it in gave him a splitting headache. Headaches caused by his powers, he was used to. This, he could handle. The consequences however of him simply crashing into Magneto's mind, uninvited and unannounced, would be catastrophic, both on political and personal level. Not only would Erik have every reason to avoid him in the future at all costs, it would even be the sensible thing for him to do.

Magneto's mind felt like cool metal, and had a strange magnetic effect on Charles, attracting his own with an almost destructive force. He'd never encountered anything remotely like it, and still didn't have an explication for this phenomena. He'd theorized that Erik worked like a real magnet, on the mental as well as the material plane, but that would have meant that he had the same effect on every telepath. Charles couldn't very well ask without revealing one of his biggest weaknesses, and all the other telepaths he'd encountered had their minds shielded, so there was no way for him to test this theory. However, as time passed and an army of mind readers literally attached to Magneto failed to materialize, as did anyone pushed away by his Mutant abilities, Charles had to admit that this explanation was likely incorrect.

« In that case, my friend, you'd better guarantee that no Human will ever see it. »

« I am sure that we will find some way, but there may be a law in place that prevents someone from only employing Mutants. While I do have to admit that the Government has been a little slow in this regard, they haven't started yet debating our legal position in the world. It means that most is still up to interpretation... » He absentmindedly moved his tower to a square where it could be taken by Erik's knight, which is exactly what happened. « If we get a good lawyer and move quickly, we should be able to exploit at least a few loopholes before anything is cemented against us. First, we will need a list of... »

He broke up and both men turned as one towards a not-even-so-small group of protestors, some wearing Friends of Humanity t-shirts or carrying a « Humans hold together »-sign.

It was a warm day in early fall, and Charles and Erik were sitting in the park, playing chess. They were not the only ones, there were two more couples at the stone tables. People were jogging, walking their dogs or pushing elder relatives in wheelchairs, some were seated on the benches along the path, children were running around, yelling. There were fifty protesters, give or take some, and they advanced in closed rangs, chanting « Protect Humanity! ». It appeared to be a march instead of a simple gathering.

The metal chess pieces on the board (it was Erik's set) started to tremble, first hardly noticeably, quickly getting stronger. Charles looked around them, but, for the better or the worse, the protestors had drawn all attention to them.

« Erik! », hissed he. When, there was no reaction, he repeated, louder. « Erik! Stop it! »

Erik turned back to him, his blue eyes sparkling with fury. « Charles. Send them away. »

Charles shook his head. « You know I don't use my powers for that sort of thing. »

This time, he felt the tremor inside his wheelchair. He knew that it was supposed to intimidate him, but the dramatic effect was somewhat lost in the knowledge that, a) Magneto would never harm him (seriously), and b) even if he wanted to, he knew better than blowing his disguise by sending Mutant advocates flying through the park in broad daylight.

« If you won't use your powers on them, use them on me. »

« … what? »

« Either you stop them and nobody gets hurt, or I will, and I won't make you any promises about how, old friend. » Magneto's voice was cold and matter-of-factual. Charles knew that he meant every word.

As the anti-Mutant protestors approached them, the Professor reached into their minds, one after the other, and gently pulled up something important to do that lay resting behind their thoughts. It was easy, far too easy, and like every other time he used his powers to manipulate someone, this ease scared Charles. He could rewrite the minds of every unpleasant person around him, and they would never even know.

As he started his retreat from the mind of their leader, a dedicated member of the Friends of Humanity, leaving a strong certitude that <THIS MARCH IS OVER!>, he accidentally spotted something else (besides that motorbike he'd been saving for for two years and that was now on sale, such a beautiful black bike...), something that made the Professor turn white as a freshly painted wall.

« Charles? », asked Erik with genuine concern.

« Erik. We must go, now, I need to speak to Callisto. »

« What is it, Charles? What did you see? »

Charles closed his eyes a moment to clear his mind. « It was just a side thought, you know how unclear those are. Something they get payed for, by someone Max doesn't know, but suspects to be a higher official. Erik, someone in the Government seems to be paying the Friends of Humanity to catch Mutants. »

The chess pieces were literary wiped in Erik's bag with a hand wave. Both men were tense, and Charles could feel his friend's concern, mixed with rage. There were three Mutant groups in Bayville, and some people who were not part of either. The latter were almost out of danger at the moment, because the former were so visible. If you really wanted to catch a Mutant, you went after one of them. The Friends of Humanity would, that was only a question of time, and everyone knew it. Not to catch, but to seriously injure, if not worse. From these three groups, one was an Institute for school children in a highly secured mansion a little away from everything, who were probably the most visible Mutants in the country. The second group were five children / young adults living alone, with dangerous powers and a history of recklessly using them. They were also quite famous, and should anything happen to them, the public would take their side. The third group lived in the sewers, only came out by night, refused any contact with, well, basically everyone except for a chosen few, and had visible mutations that made them look « other ». It wasn't difficult to guess who was most at risk, and if Charles was right and there was really a more imminent danger than they'd originally assumed, Callisto needed to know about it at once.

« The Morlocks are basically night active. », said Erik. « And they will not appreciate it if we just come bursting in their camp. We should at least agree on a plan. I assume you know where to find them? »

« Yes, I do, but it will be a little tricky with my chair. As a matter of fact, I wasn't planning on running down there right away with you. I wanted to go home and ask Storm to take a message. I think she will appreciate the opportunity to see her nephew again. »

Erik crossed his arms. « No. »

« I'm sorry? »

« I said 'no'. You are not going to start any negotiations with Callisto without me. You want to send down Storm, fine, but I am going with her. »

« I don't want to start any negotiations, Erik, I just want to warn her that there might be people trying to set traps for Mutants in her area sooner than later. »

« Whatever. With me, or not at all. »

There were so many reasons why this was not a good idea. It wasn't an accident that Charles insisted on meeting Erik alone. While the X-Men accepted the idea that they were now on the same side, they didn't trust Magneto by far, and didn't know him as well as the Professor did, either. He didn't want to risk any conflict.

Charles was just about to send a telepathic note to Logan to come and pick him up, when his chair got stuck on an irregularity in the path. It was just one of those mildly to highly annoying obstacles he met with every time he left his house, but they had to slow down. Erik turned around and saw his angry frown. He half begun to wonder if he should offer him his help. Charles answered without a second thought with an energetic < REFUSE ! / I'm fine, thank you / Just give me a moment>.

Erik's eyes widened, and Charles realized his mistake just a moment too late, when he was hit with a wave of <Surprise / Shock / Charles!>.

After sending the protestors home, he had forgotten to rebuild his mental walls. Contrarily to what he had thought, Charles's mind hadn't invaded Erik's, just settled comfortably next to it, where he could share his friend's surface thoughts and feelings. It had been so natural that none of them noticed, distracted by their discussion. Right until when he had of course to carelessly reveal this unforgivable breach of trust and privacy, just because he didn't want Magneto to touch his chair…

« I.. I'm sorry... », stuttered Charles, utterly horrified. « I didn't mean to... »

He quickly pulled back his mind from Erik's metal one, disregarding how wrong it felt to do so.

At least, he would have, had Magneto not clung to him with all his force, firing off a <Determination / Don't you dare! / Charles..! »

Charles stopped dead, confused, and Erik used the opportunity by tightly grabbing his mind and pulling him back into his, encircling him with the feelings of cool metal. For a non-telepath, Magneto possessed a remarkable mental control. Not little of it he had to thank the training by the Professor, in a time when they hadn't been fighting on opposite sides.

Despite his convictions, Charles couldn't help but to lean against the metal surrounding him. <Longing / Erik>

<Satisfaction / Smugness / Charles.>

« I missed you. », whispered Magneto, accompanied by a memory of Charles sitting on the other side of a chess board. <Can't feel him / Sadness / I guess I deserved this>

[I missed you too, old friend.] Charles was too deep in to speak out loud. Erik's memory triggered one of his own, the same moment, his friend looking at him while the chess pieces re-assumed their starting position on their own. <Admiration / Longing / HEADACHE / Determination / Can't give in / Can't push him too far>

The metal mind pulled even tighter around his. Than someone bumped into his chair.

« Au! Watch it! »

Charles opened his eyes. Without noticing it, he had closed them and let his head fall back. Erik was no longer beside him, and he spotted him leaning against a tree next to the path, blinking like someone who'd just woken up from a deep dream.

The Professor started to maneuver his chair free. They really needed to get that massage to Callisto as soon as possible.

Chapter Text

 

 

That evening, the Morlocks all got woken early by one of the X-Men, a Black woman with long white hair, wandering into their camp. Callisto was not amused.

The woman, Storm, turned out to be Spyke's aunt, which didn't earn her any bonus points from the Morlock leader. She didn't like Spyke. Yes, he was dedicated and useful, but he was also permanently questioning her authority and had a bad history of doing impulsive stupid things without thinking of the consequences first. That bit got better with time, but Callisto was not one to forget easily.

« The Professor wants to talk to you in person. He is waiting with Magneto at the amphitheater. », announced Storm. She made a strange, otherworldly impression, as if she would float off any moment into higher realms. It was just wrong. A weather witch had no place in the only refuge that granted them any protection from the elements. Also, who did she think she and her precious Professor were, that they could just command around Callisto, leader of the Morlocks!

« And if I have other plans? »

« The Professor says that it is a matter of the utmost emergency. »

« Aha. I'm glad he thinks that. » Emphasis on the thinks. Callisto decided that it was unnecessary to bother with basic manners if the visitor didn't, and started eating the four days-old slice of bread she'd saved for breakfast. But she resisted the urge of just sending Storm away.

Disregarding the hypocrisy of the whole situation, if X and Magneto really were back together, that would change the whole scene, and she had to know exactly who stood where if she wanted to protect her people. Apart from that, they could both use a good tap on the head for caring more about themselves than the good of marginalized Mutants.

She took her time finishing her bread, than some more to check in on the others and point them in the direction of their respective chores that night. Meanwhile, Storm and Spyke exchanged some words about how the other was doing. Fine and fine, as far as Callisto gathered from the fragments of sentences that got through to her.

« I was wondering what you think about how Evan is doing? », asked Storm politely on their way to the amphitheater.

« He does his work and is a useful member of our group. As long as that is the case he can stay. »

Callisto knew that she was harsher than necessary, and not quite telling the truth (the Morlocks welcomed everyone, no matter their usefulness) but she couldn't help but to dislike Storm. She didn't even know why, she just really didn't like her.

X and Magneto were really waiting for her, the former in his wheelchair wearing a ridiculously expensive suit, the latter standing behind him with his purple cape falling dramatically from his shoulders and his famous helmet on his head. It looked exactly just as ridiculous as everyone said.

« What do you want?», asked Callisto instead of a greeting.

« To warn you. », answered X just as briskly. He'd probably read her mind and saw her dislike for small talk. Bitch, were telepaths creepy.

« Why, what are you geniuses planning this time? Because your last great action caused angry men with baseball bats chasing my people and throwing stink bombs in our canals. »

« You should be more grateful, Callisto. », said Magneto. « After all, without us, you would be ruled by Apocalypse, and believe me, he doesn't like people defying his authority. »

« Oh, yes, my bad, I remember now. That was the one that made everyone argue about whether we are a threat to national security or not. Almost got us all arrested by the police and their giant robots. And correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know, you were the ones to set him free in the first place. »

They didn't correct her. Callisto rolled her eyes.

« Riiiiight…. So, talking again, I see? What did you two have to smoke to get that idea? »

« We realized that we can achieve so much more together. » Said X earnestly. « Our feud harmed everyone and profited no-one. »

« We could have told you that thirty years ago. But no, you're right, go ahead, it is not as if you had anything better to do with your time than poking each other. »

« We are not here to listen to your lecture, Callisto. », said Storm behind her. Callisto almost jumped. Damn that woman, she'd completely forgotten about her. And did she really think that her speaking up for her Professor would cast a good light on him?

« Than don't. Just say what you want to say, and we can all go and do something useful. »

« There was an anti-Mutant march today in the park. », said X.

« Big news, there is one every few weeks. So? »

« I've half-accidentally found in the mind of their leader that the Friends of Humanity are planning an action with the aim to catch as many Mutants as possible alive. They are going to sell them to someone close to the Government, who will supposedly experiment on them. »

« We have no information about when it will start, but Charles is quite sure that this won't be called off. », added Magneto. « Since the Morlocks are the most likely target, we found it important to warn you and offer you our help and protection, both together and individually. »

Callisto never had been a sensitive child. As long as she could remember, she had had the habit of showing negative emotions aside and deal with them when she was quiet and alone. It possibly was a side-effect of her mutation, because she'd never even considered that there might be other ways to do it until she had been ten and cast out because she didn't look like a normal kid any more. Before than, she'd thought that people reacting emotionally to some news were only playing make-believe for fun or to get some extra attention. She never had had much patience for either.

Now, the « Government-is-paying-hate-groups-to-capture-your-people-to-experiment-upon »-news landed neatly in the « later » basket, and she could focus on the practical things.

« Thank you for your warning. Stay away from us. »

X probably saw the reaction in her mind, because he thankfully remained silent. Magneto did not.

« I think you don't understand what this means... »

« Magneto. » X turned around and gently touched his hand. He actually fell silent. Would you look at that!

« Yeah, I know what it means. Thanks for your concern, but we can handle it. We don't need you mixing in our affairs any more than we need bricks tied to our feet. Talking about. » this was meant solely for Magneto, « Tell your son to cut it out already, will you? »

« My.. son? »

« Yes, your son. Quicksilver, he's your son, isn't he? Spends his nights running around town and picking on everyone who as much as says a bad word about Mutants. Is he trying to get people angry at us again, or is he just this stupid? Oh, and he keeps Spyke from his chores. Make him stop. »

As far as Callisto was concerned, the discussion was over. She turned and headed back to the sewers, only turning back after a few steps to add :

« And don't send any more of your people below. The sewers belong to the Morlocks, is that understood? »

Chapter Text

 

 

With the new school year came a new normal, which was mostly the old normal, only that the X-Kids now had to worry a little (or a lot) more about politics, too.

At school, there were the fun subjects and the boring subjects, the cool teachers and the teachers whose lessons you had to beware, and those were pretty much the same as before. The training sessions were the same, as was goofing off with the other children, the grounds started to smell like fall, and Rahne still sneaked out on fullmoon nights.

The Human children at school were less openly hostile, since Principal White had made a big show of tolerance, but there were still the whispers behind their backs, those who refused to come near them, and those who did their best to make them look bad in the eyes of the teachers. The teachers themselves were a little different. Some seemed honestly determined to treat everyone the same, others dropped a cruel joke here or there, and Roberto would tell everyone willing to listen that he kept getting less credit on his English assignments than the rest of the class, even if their work was worse. Mr. McCoy looked it over every time, and concluded every time that his teacher was strict, but the note was not unreasonable, and that it was indeed very difficult to give an objective note on essays.

The X-Men and the Brotherhood mostly avoided one another, but their interactions were more awkward than hostile, and Kitty was regularly seen with Lance after school. This meant that she was an excellent means of communication between the two groups, and they learned through her that Magneto told his team even less than Xavier did. Or maybe there really was nothing going on. Like, at all.

One sunny afternoon, Tabitha came walking through the gates, cheerfully greeted everyone, and had a private talk with the Professor. After that, she kept coming back every two to three weeks, full of gossip about glitter and glamor and parties, and have you heard that new song yet, and omg, Ray had done what. Than she, the adults, and Scott and Jean would lock themselves in the study, and when they came out, Tabitha was still as cheerful, but Jean retreated to her room without a word and Scott usually spent the next one and a half hours shooting beams at targets in the Danger Room.

The talk shows hadn't gotten tired of the Professor yet, and on those evenings, the children were allowed to stay up no matter how late, all gathered around the big tv screen, while Storm and Mr. McCoy made them warm drinks and Mr. Logan sat a little away from them looking grumpy, because that was what he did. But these evenings became rarer and rarer, and only too soon, they ceased altogether. By mid October, the public had become tired of stories about poor outcast Mutants and inspirational Mutants who were successful despite having some visible mutation, or even used it in some harmless but creative way. The only stories that stayed were those of criminal Mutants who broke the law with their superpowers for some personal gain, and problematic Mutant children who caused a whole lot of trouble to their families and their school.

 

Last weekend of September, a new girl arrived. From Japan. Apparently, her parents knew the Professor from before and had written him a whole lot of emails asking him to take their daughter, because she was a Mutant and couldn't really control her powers and the only school for Mutant children anywhere near them had closed many years ago. Her name was Hisako Ichiki, and she arrived wearing one of those cute Japanese school uniforms Rahne'd seriously thought only existed in mangas and anime.

She was a cheerful girl, even if she seemed to be afraid of her powers, because she refused to show the others what they were. The Professor asked them not to push, until she learned how to control them. She got Tabitha's old place in her shared room with Amara, and went around telling everyone how excited she was to get to be in America, and that she wanted to see everything.

Jubilee thought that it would be a good idea to start with the mall, and since it was a Saturday, she actually managed to get all the girls to join them, even Jean, who, like Scott, had started to spend more and more time with the adults.

It was a great afternoon. They wandered around the shops and looked for some new clothes for Hisako, who had to leave behind most of hers because of the luggage limit on the airplane. Rahne knew from experience how much that sucked. Jubilee was an expert on everything, and she showed them some great places to get good, relatively cheap clothes. Kitty knew a lot about matching colors, because she had written an essay about it last year, and held them a fascinating crash course. Rahne had to step in and remind Hisako, who found the idea of wearing « normal » clothes to school just as strange as the others her uniform, that the most important thing still was that what she wore was comfortable and that she could move well in them.

They run into the Scarlet Witch at the music store, where Wanda was going through the Cd s of the classical music section.

« Don't tell me you actually listen to that? », asked Rogue.

It must have been one of her good days, because Wanda didn't bring down the roof over their heads for insulting her taste in music, she just asked « What else should I listen to? And who's that? »

« Oh. Hi. I'm Hisako. Hisako Ichiki. Are you their friend? »

« No. » Wanda picked up a Cd collection with some symphonies of Beethoven played by the Wiener Symphoniker.

«  That's Wanda Maximoff. », helped out Jubilee. « Also goes by Scarlet Witch. Obviously the only living person in the world who actually likes classical music. »

«  I like classical music! », protested Jean. « And so does the Professor and many other people! »

« Yes, riiiiight. » Jubilee rolled her eyes.

« Yes! », said Jean. « It is a very sophisticated way of self-expression. You have to learn it to really understand. Only because you don't or don't like it, doesn't mean others can't find a deep meaning in it, because it is there. »

« Don't start a fight over this, you two! », said Rogue. « Hey, Wanda, wanna come and check out some real cool music? You can still go back to your violin if you don't like it, but every gal must have heard those at least once! »

Wanda shrugged, and Rogue pulled her towards a different section.

When, fifteen minutes later, the girls had gone through everyone's favorites and almost started a fight over them six times (lucky that Tabitha wasn't here, she would have blown something up by now), the two were still standing over the rock section. Rogue only looked up long enough to wave « Go on, I'll meet you later. »

She stayed with Wanda for the rest of their excursion, right until Hisako's jet lag forced them all to return to the Institute. After a search of five minutes, they found the two girls sitting on a bench with a coffee each, chatting.

« I've never seen the Scarlet Witch this stable. », remarked Kitty.

« She's started taking mood stabilizers. », answered Rogue. « Plus everything is going fine for her at the moment, there isn't much drama, her family is together and happy, she's happy, so I guess that helps, too. »

« Did she say anything about Magneto? », posed Jubilee the question they all have been thinking.

« Nothing interesting. He is doing good, he seems happy, he visits them every week and they often spend some time together, but Pietro seems to be avoiding him, he never goes with them anywhere. I've told her that while I was there, Kurt had five major arguments with his father, so that's probably normal with boys their age . »

No one could find an adequate reaction to this, because they all knew the lie. Magneto was far from the good and loving father Wanda thought him to be, and when her quest to avenge his cruelty had become too much of a liability to him, he had rewritten her memories about her childhood. The family Wanda loved didn't exist, never had. Maybe that was why her twin didn't want to spend time with them. Maybe it was something that had happened to him they didn't know about. The only one who wasn't in on this open secret was Wanda herself, and no-one really knew how to behave when it came up.

« Wait, isn't Magneto the terrorist you are all fighting against? », asked Hisako.

« Were fighting. », corrected Jean. « He and the Professor had made peace about the whole affair with Apocalypse. »

« He's Wanda's father. », answered Kitty the next question before it could be asked. « Pietro is his son, her twin. Also calls himself Quicksilver. »

« Oh. » Hisako looked back over her shoulder to Wanda, who finished her coffee, than stood up to leave, too.

« Don't worry, you'll meet them soon enough. They are pretty hard to get rid of. »

Chapter Text

 

 

Evan heard Pietro scream before he even entered the park.

Since their first encounter that night, he kept bumping in the white haired speedster, as he suspected, not by accident. Pietro had discovered that annoying mutantphobes was a great fun, and he now spent his evenings doing just that, to a degree that made even Evan think he went too far. He provoked people. Those people became more and more biased against all Mutants. Pietro had fun, all the others paid the prize. But even worse, at least in Evan's eyes, was how he spent a good part of his nights, and that was by pestering his old teammate. He turned up near him, chattered in a speed that made it near impossible for any living being to follow, run in circles around him, causing a whirlwind, and tried to attract his attention by grabbing objects Evan actually wanted to use.

The attention being unwanted didn't exactly mean that it was unwelcome. Pietro was distracting and annoying, but he also was someone Evan knew well, and, if he was lucky, he could catch some useful info from the chatter, like that his favorite basketball team had lost their latest game or that Lance and Kitty were now dating.

One night, he had become so frustrated that he'd fired off a couple of spikes. Pietro was long gone by the time they reached him, shouting « Too slow! », so they buried themselves harmlessly in the tree that had just been behind Magneto's son.

They took up sparring after that. Mostly, it was just Spyke shooting some thorns and Quicksilver complaining about how slow he was, but it still was fun, and it even lead to a little less harassment the rest of the time.

They had been planning to meet in the park that night, since they run a little less risk of causing significant damage there. None of them exactly needed extra trouble, even if the speedster acted as if he didn't care.

 

Evan started running in the direction of Pietro's cries, preparing for a fight. He'd never heard so much panic in Quicksilver's voice before.

He found him hanging in a net from the big oak tree, struggling to get free. The net was tight, and didn't allow him any room for movement, his right arm uncomfortably twisted behind his back. The only thing the speedster could achieve was that he now swung heavily back and forth.

« Daniels! Daniels, get me down! »

Evan had to admit that there was a certain temptation not to, or at least to first enjoy the sight as much as possible. But Quicksilver's panic reminded him far too much of Auntie O. and her claustrophobia. Once, when he was eight, he and some friends had decided to play a prank on her and locked her into the closet. First, she had screamed in panic, than broken down crying, and Mom had spent the next hour or so trying to calm her down. Evan knew since than that he should take irrational fears more than seriously.

He had just produced a sharp spike and was about to cut the net down, when Pietro suddenly went very still, before hissing « Someone is coming. Quick, Daniels, hide! »

Spyke's reflexes were fast, trained and sharpened in Xavier's Danger Room, and he was flat on his stomach under a bush before he even fully realized what was happening.

Just in time. A second more, and he would have been seen by a group of five men who arrived, dressed in a way that was obviously meant to imitate military fashion, with a Friends of Humanity logo on their chests. They gathered in a half-circle around the tree.

« Look at that, what do we have here. », pointed one at the boy wriggling in the net.

« What a pretty fishie we caught this time, eh? », joked another. « A real nice sight after that old bitch last week. »

A third pulled out a knife and grabbed the rope, ready to cut it. « Pete, you've got the tranquilizer? Give him the strong one, if he is the one I think he is, he's gonna need it. »

He cut the rope with a fluent motion, and Pietro fell to the ground. He continued wriggling there, and tried to roll away. It would have even worked, if he had his mind enough together to use his powers, but he was still overwhelmed by panic, and tore at the ropes binding him instead.

Three men knelt to hold him down, while the man who was probably Pete pulled a box from his pocket and took something from it. Spyke and Quicksilver both recognized the injection needle at the same time. Evan abandoned every hope of waiting until the men left, or at least until he was in advantage, and jumped from his hiding, knocking a man unconscious with a huge thorn. The second tried to defend himself, but went down just as easily. The needle fell to the ground, someone got hold of it. Two of the three men got up and attacked at the same time. Evan bowed down to evade them, jumped to the side, and kicked at the knees of the man closest to him. The other had somehow got behind him, and tried grabbing one of the spikes on his back. Evan spun around, knocking the two together. They went down and didn't get up again.

The only one left was the guy with the needle. When his friends stood up, he'd assumed a position kneeling over Pietro, holding him down with his body weight. Evan knocked him against the tree just strong enough to knock him unconscious, but while he'd been busy with the two others, his opponent had already injected the needle into Pietro's neck, and Quicksilver'd gone quiet.

Evan freed him from the net, but didn't get any response from the speedster. He had to shake him for almost a minute until Pietro finally opened his eyes. They were glassy and unfocussed. Evan helped him up, and he immediately tried to run, but didn't seem able to use his power, because he stumbled at the first step over his own foot and would have fallen, had Evan not caught him.

Spyke's thoughts raced almost as fast as the boy leaning on him usually did. They had to get out of there, somewhere safe, ideally where Pietro could get medical attention, if necessary. The Mansion was best equipped, but too far, the Morlocks the nearest, but still a walk away, too long if he had to carry him, and their resources were limited. The Brotherhood would be his best chance, but they were even farther away than the Morlocks. Except that…

He helped Pietro lean against the tree (« C'n take care ov m'selv, D'niels. »), than searched the pockets of the five men. He found the car key he was looking for, and also pocketed the now empty needle. Enough crime series had taught him that it might still contain a trace of the drug.

The car, a brown van, was waiting just beyond the gates of the park. It took the boys some time to get there, mostly because Pietro kept refusing with all his remaining strength any form of help that wasn't strictly necessary, so that Evan had to catch his arm every few steps in the very last moment to keep him from falling, only for the speedster to pull away as soon as he was standing again.

Evan could drive. That was not a problem. He had very little experience in driving, because he had always preferred his skateboard. That was fine, too. The real problem was his now fully mutated body with the huge spikes growing from his back, that made sitting in a car, even more so the driver's seat, an interesting challenge. In the end, he pushed it as far back as possible, sat on the edge of the seat, and tried not to worry about the wholes in the backrest. Or about the fact that he couldn't use his safety belt.

Pietro was hardly awake, and didn't even complain about their speed. For once, he would have been right, but Evan preferred to play it extra safe given their conditions and drive slower than a snail with rheumatism, as Lucid always said.

Finally, Evan parked the car in front of the Brotherhood's house. Funny, he remembered it as half a ruin, but now, it seemed really luxurious. Worse, it was totally him, because the places where the plaster had come off matched those in his memory.

Toad opened the door. As soon as he saw Pietro, he started shouting for everyone to come at once, and the whole went up in chaos. Nobody missed Evan when he left and returned to the car.

 

He drove back, parked somewhere he knew the owner would be heavily charged, and left the keys under the driver's seat. He than returned to the camp as fast as he could.

« Callisto! » The Morlock leader looked up from her discussion with Caliban and Cybelle.

« Yes, Spyke? »

« The Friends of Humanity just tried to kidnap Quicksilver. The Professor and Magneto were right. »

Chapter Text

 

 

Wanda was sitting on the floor in her room, with her brother lying unconscious downstairs on the couch and Toad calling her ridiculous pet names through the door, with both her hands over her ears, and tried to keep her calm.

[He's alright, he's alright, he's alright, he's alright, relax, no need to worry, he's alright, he's alright, he's alright, he's alright, relax, he's alright, stay calm, it's fine, he's alright, he's alright…]

She'd started rocking at some indeterminable point, repeating it over and over, trying to block her feelings out.

[He's alright, he's alright, he's alright, you're just blowing it out of proportion again, he's alright, stop being silly, he's alright, he's alright…]

It didn't help, she knew it didn't help, which made her panic above everything else. The contents of her room started to tremble. [No! Nonononononononononono…. Come on Wanda, relax, relaxrelaxrelaxrelaxrelaxrelaxrelaxrelaxrelaxrelax…!]

Of course it didn't help, it only got her mind stuck in a spiral of fear and worry and panic, and Wanda could feel her powers come loose, no matter how hard she tried to push them down.

A moment before her room dissolved into red chaos, the lock on the door clicked open, and two legs followed by a purple cape entered.

[Father.]

Magneto hurried at the side of his daughter and knelt by her on the floor.

« Wanda! Wanda, can you hear me? » She could, but she was unable to speak, the only thing she could do was cling to him and do her uttermost best not to loose control.

Father grabbed her arm with one hand, and placed his other on her chest. « Wanda. It's all right, I'm here. Breathe with me, do you hear? Breathe. »

He gently guided her into taking deep breaths. The furniture slowly started to shake a little less. But it wasn't enough. Wanda could feel the panic craw inside of her. One mistake, and it would break out again. [Don't think about it, it's all right, Father is here now, DON'T THINK ABOUT IT!!]

« Wanda! » Father's voice sounded alarmed, and after a moment of confusion, she noticed how she'd begun to slip again. He gripped her tighter, now with both hands. « Wanda! Der Erlkönig . Sing it to me. Now. »

She took some deep, shaky breaths, trying to find her voice. The words were there, by now an automated easy-access resource in a crisis, more sound than meaning.

« Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind / Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind... »

Her tone was wrong, but that didn't matter. Wanda forced herself to focus on the words, to stay in tact, breath at the right time, continue singing… By the time she finished, she had herself enough under control not to let her powers explode.

Magneto let go of her and leaned back, wiping his hair out of his eyes. « Well done, Wanda, I'm proud of you. »

« I'm sorry. » Wanda looked away, ashamed. She was supposed to be better than this. « I haven't had a fit in three weeks. Not since Toad broke into my room to leave me those stupid flower buckets. »

While she was inside. Asleep. Wanda couldn't stand people going anywhere near her things, and waking up to find someone who'd done just that and was now standing next to her bed, looking at her, had proven to be enough to send her over the edge. She'd almost seriously injured him.

« Don't be. I know you are doing the best you can. »

He wasn't angry at her. [Of course he isn't angry at you, he never is. Why would you expect him to be angry?] She didn't know the answer, but every time, there was this irrational fear that Father would punish her somehow for her misbehavior.

« How is he? » Now that the worst panic was gone, the worry asked for her attention again.

« Your brother is well, as far as I could tell. He is in the living room, sleeping. I don't know yet what has happened, but he seems to have been given some sort of narcotic. He should be fine, you know that he has a fast metabolism. »

« Can I see him? »

« If you don't think that it will upset you too much, of course. »

Pietro was lying on the couch, covered by one of Fred's blankets (you could say about the Blob what you wanted, but he did like to have a warm, clean bed, maybe because he couldn't use the actual furniture. He was the only one of them to actually have multiple clean bed linen at any given time). He was fast asleep, as far as Wanda could tell, but didn't look ill.

The other boys were hovering around the living room, but retreated as soon as they saw Wanda. It was always like this after a fit. They were afraid of her, and for once, they showed it. Most of the time, they all went really well along, even if the jokes the boys permitted themselves with each other were more rude than those directed at Wanda (not that she was complaining). Only these moments showed the rift between them, when she was still exhausted from the intensity of her emotions and even Pietro wouldn't go anywhere near her.

Talking about exhausted. Now that she'd seen that her brother was all right, the well-known feeling of being like a balloon that all the air just escaped from kicked in. She felt tired and empty, and only wanted to curl together in her bed and sleep. Or maybe nestle up near someone who would stroke her hair. Not that there was any chance of that happening, Wanda was way too old to go to her father for comfort, and outright refused to let the boys see her this vulnerable. Maybe, she thought, one day, when she'd have a boyfriend or was married. Since this was about the only reason she could think of for either of these things, she just settled with pushing the idea in the box labeled « Would Be Nice » in the back of her mind, somewhere next to doing something useful to make the world better and not being the only girl living with four teenage boys.

« You should go to bed, Wanda. », said Father. He knew her well enough to see that she was running the risk of falling asleep standing up. « If anything happens, text me, I will be here in ten minutes. »

She had meant to call him before, she really had, but than Pietro had fallen over, and everyone was yelling and pushing, and Toad had jumped on the ceiling, and before she knew, she was crouched on the floor covering her ears, and Lance was telling her to go to her room, now , and that idiot of a Toad was following her and wouldn't shut up…

The memory was foggy. Tired. Her bed was so good warm and soft… Wanda nodded and turned towards the stairs.

« I will come back tomorrow. », heard she Father's voice behind her back. « Until than, don't do anything stupid. Or anything at all.  »

Chapter Text

 

 

I t was, unsurprisingly, Kitty who brought them the news.

«  Kitty! I thought you were spending the afternoon with Lance! », greeted Kurt her with his characteristic accent.

« I was going to. » Kitty threw her bag on the floor and let herself fall in a free chair. « But he canceled it. Said he's needed at home. You guys won't believe this, the Friends of Humanity tried to kidnap Quicksilver . »

« WHAT? », came the unanimous answer from everyone in the room. That was Kurt, Rogue, Sam, Bobby, Hisako, Amara and Rahne. Most of the were writing homework, Amara was drawing something.

« I know, right? They set him a trap in the park, and that idiot of course run straight into it, so he got stuck in a net. They injected him with some sort of drug to get him to calm down, Evan had to go and get him out of there. »

« Evan? », asked Kurt. « How is he? »

« Lance couldn't care less, but from what I've understood, he is doing all right. H e and Pietro have been s e eing each other lately, mostly to fight about who is better at sports. »

« A nd what about Quicksilver? », asked Rahne. She felt that this should be somehow about the speedster instead of Spyke . He was the victim after all, even if nobody liked him.

« He slept through half the day and is now playing the poor ill child and commanding the others around to get him stuff. Wanda almost tore the house down when she heard, they had to call Magneto to calm her down. But she's ok now, too. »

« That is horrible. », said Hisako, obviously trying to figure out the correct reaction. « I hope he gets better soon. »

« Don't worry, he's been through worse. », shrugged Bobby. « I just hope that Magneto won't get too mad. »

« He'd have torn off the headquarters of the Friends of Humanity by now if he had. » Sam shook his head in desperation. « Has any of you guys an idea what I am supposed to do with this thing? I think I should dissect it in different geometrical forms and than calculate their perimeter, but honestly... »

Amara got up to look if she could help him, while Hisako tried to make sense of th eir attitude.

« Are you going to visit him? »

« What, who? Quicksilver? Why would we?  »

« But he is your friend and he is sick, shouldn't you bring him a box of chocolate or something? »

« Ok, first, he is not our friend. », corrected Bobby her energetically. « I don't know who told you this rubbish, but it was a lie. Second, he isn ' t sick, he has been drugged, and the drug is wearing of f . Third, if you are really stupid enough to w aste money on the Brotherhood... »

« Hey, wait, I think she's got a point. » Maybe it was Rahne's religious father, always talking about compassion, who made her say that. She liked to think it was simple common sense.

« We have made peace with the Brotherhood, remember? Maybe we should treat them as if they were our friends. »

Rogue rolled her eyes. « What do you propose, we turn up at their place with a box of chocolate and act super friendly? Because that is not going to work, I can tell you that. »

« We could send them a card? », proposed Hisako. « Back home, when I was younger, we always sent each other cards when someone was ill. »

«  Look, any reason to bake a cake, and I'm in. », promised Kitty. She loved baking. Everyone else had nightmares from the idea.

« Kitty, if we send them one of your cakes, we will have the boys and Magneto after us for attempted murder. As soon as he finds out.  »

« Didn't you say that Magneto was the father of Pietro and Wanda? »

« He is, but he doesn't live with them. The Brotherhood lives alone. »

« It's way less fun than it sounds. », added Rogue. « You have to do everything yourself, and the boys don't really do anything at all, so you suddenly realize in the middle of the night that there is no toilet paper. And Mystique would jell at us for everything. »

« Apparently, it is much better since she left. And Lance told me once that they learned how to split up the chores between themselves. »

«  But seriously now, should I get my cookbook? »

«  Kitty...  »

« I can cook. »

«  Hisako! Don't encourage her! »

« Why not? I think it is a good idea. Who's with us? »

In the end, Rahne and Bobby joined, so did Kurt. Amara and Sam were busy with his maths homework, and Rogue simply refused to have anything to do with the project, but told them as much that they'd have to split their cake in five (everyone unanimously vetoed the idea of giving Magneto some), or the boys would get into a fight over it and one of them (Toad or the Blob, probably) would finish it all alone.

They tried to ask for permission, but strangely, no adult could be found far or near. Hisako automatically assumed the leading role, checking on all of their actions. Ordering around was not in her nature, but that didn't mean by far that she didn't get the last word, and yes, she was a good cook. So was Rahne, actually, Dad had always found it important that she knew how to follow a cooking recipe. Kitty was very enthusiastic , but had to be watched closely, and could multiple times only just be prevented from adding the wrong ingredient. Kurt and Bobby worked on the icing, Kurt teleporting around to get things, Bobby seemed to be concentrating hard not to make mistakes .

It was great fun, and even the fact that they were making it for the Brotherhood couldn't spoil it. Halfway in, Rahne run up to her room to get her music player, and soon, she and Kitty were singing and dancing. Amara had to come over from the other room to tell them of f to get the volume down already, some people were trying to work.

T hanks to Hisako, they made a whole lot less of a mess than they would have otherwise, which was just as well, because she and Rahne were somehow left alone to clean it up. Kurt had teleported off with the cake and a note written by Amara (« Get-better-soon cake. Love, the X-Men. p.s : ONE PIECE EACH! »), and the others were telling the story those who had just arrived from whatever they had been doing all afternoon.

Rahne found that she was grinning wide, and felt an urge to whack her tail that she didn't have in her human form. As soon as they were finished, she turned into a wolf, run to the others, and lay down on the floor, a wide wolf-grin on her face. They were all together now, waiting for Kurt to arrive with the report. Still no adult anywhere, but Jean and Scott had joined them. They agreed that the cake was a great idea, and Scott offered to look over Sam's homework.

Kurt arrived with a * paf * and a whipping tail right in the middle of the assembly. He looked around.

« What a welcoming comity! »

« Tell us already, what did they do? », shouted Jubilee. Kurt finally burst into laughter.

«  It was great! You guys should have seen their faces! So I put down the cake at their front door and rang the bell, than I teleported in a safe distance. Fred opened. First, he looked around for a person, than he saw the package and called the others. »

He had to pause to catch his breath. « They were all shouting, and Lance insisted on having the grounds searched! »

Everyone laughed.

« What about Pierto? », asked Roberto when he calmed down.

« He's well and running around again. Wanda was lecturing him about how their father told him to take it easy for a day. »

« And did they like it? », asked Kitty with anticipation.

« Yes, they did! Toad swallowed his whole and Fred needed like what, two bites? Wanda took hers up to her room. Well done, guys! »

« Thank Hisako. It was her crazy idea. »

« We should do this more often. », decided Jubilee. « But next time, I want in, and you take pictures! »

Chapter Text

 

 

The Professor and Magneto first met in Charles's office two days after the unsuccessful kidnapping attempt. This had past the point of the things they could discuss in a cafe.

It felt far too right. Charles tried to remind himself that their relationship was strictly professional, but it was impossible with Erik sitting in one of his armchairs and their minds closely linked. In the end, he gave up, and turned his whole attention to his friend's <cold determination / raging anger just below the surface> . He instinctively reached out to caress over it.

Erik blinked. « Stop it! »

Charles pulled back his mind as if he'd just received a mental tap on his fingers. Knowing Erik, he probably had. « Stop what? »

« You are trying to calm me down. Don't. »

< Shame about getting caught.> Charles averted his eyes. « I'm sorry, my friend. I didn't think. »

<Affection / COLD DETERMINATION / ANGER / Don't show him..!> « Oh Charles. You never change, do you? »

Charles reflected back his affection. Erik frowned. Right. They were getting off topic, which was something that could only too easily happen if you accidentally concentrated on any of the underlying thoughts or emotions instead of the spoken words. It had taken Charles almost a decade to learn how not to do that. But the link between them made it near impossible not to get distracted by Erik's more emotionally charged thoughts.

« Anything from Callisto? »

« Did you expect there would be? »

They knew that Callisto knew, because Spyke would have told her, but the Morlock leader had, unsurprisingly, kept to herself, and Charles had insisted on not pushing her. It would only harm their already tense relationship, and it was not as if she could do anything either way. They hadn't decided yet what the attack meant and how to react themselves.

« And what about Boom Boom? »

« Tabitha is an independent woman who already does more than could be expected of her by infiltrating that street group of the Friends of Humanity. »

Erik leaned back. « So I take that's a no. »

« That's a no. », agreed Charles. « But she is too far away from both the leaders and the Bayville division to be in possession of any useful information about what is happening here, anyway. Her value is as a source of inside view on the attitude of the average young person towards us. »

Since Tabitha first visited and told them about her experience with the recruiting, she'd started spying for them. Nothing big, just asking her friends and the guests at the Night Light Club some questions from time to time, and pretending that the Friends had some chance to convince her after all, so they'd talk to her and tell her about their « actions ». If they had been planning something local, she'd known about it. Charles was impressed, even more so because so far, Tabitha hadn't blown anything up in the process.

Some <impatience> surfaced in Erik's mind as he prepared to ask the question he'd come for. « Did you get anything from Cerebro? »

Charles had spent the entire previous day connected to the computer, trying to read the minds of diverse leaders of the Friends of Humanity. It had been an informative experience, although not one he was eager to repeat.

« They want to get rid of all of us. In the short term, they don't really care, how, in the long term... » Erik nodded. <Understanding / I knew this would happen.> « We were right. For now, Bayville is their main focus, because we are the most visible. Elsewhere, they mostly try to gain popularity, sew mistrust, get Mutants banned from public spaces, this sort of thing. Us, they want to hit, and hit hard. Soon, before we'd expect it. They haven't agreed on a date yet, but all those they consider are before this year's Christmas. »

« Did you find out who they are going to attack first? »

« No. They haven't decided yet, but they are planning to divide us. Somehow make sure that we won't help each other. Catching Mutants is one way to do that, especially if they manage to divert the blame on one of the other groups. Erik, your son was not the target two days ago. »

<SURPRISE.> « He wasn't? »

« No, Evan was. The Friends of Humanity knew that they would meet in the park. They have been watching us, Erik. They know… A lot. »

He accompanied this statement with a mental impression of <Extreme discomfort / Seeing in their mind s the exact schedule of everyone / Hidden cameras .>

<Not understanding> « What did they want Spyke for? »

« He is a Morlock. They are famous for their mistrust, and if one of them goes missing while spending time with the Brotherhood, Callisto will never go anywhere near them again. What they would have used him for? The same thing as Pietro. Someone has been paying them for captured Mutants, and they have been chasing us all summer now, only in other parts of the country and really masterfully covering their tracks. » <Shame about not having noticed / Horror at the thought of those poor people.>

<Anger.> « Who? »

« I couldn't find out. Nobody knows, but rumors say that it's a man and that he works for the Government, maybe even SHIELD or the FBI. »

Erik stood up and walked to the window. Charles could feel his pulsing energy and need for action, without any idea what to do. He wheeled next to him, and sent out a calming touch to his mind. This time, Erik accepted it and let their thoughts slide together.

« What do we do now, Charles? »

« We make sure that they don't divide us. »

<Hint of amusement.> « By sending us more cake? »

Charles smiled and reflected the amusement back to Erik. « That was not my doing. »

« I thought so. Otherwise, I would have expected to get some, too. »

Charles shrugged. « You can't really blame the children for not liking you. They have learned to know the Brotherhood as people, but you are still a stranger to them, and a dangerous stranger to that. »

« In that case, it's time to change that. At least if you still refuse to involve the Morlocks yet? »

« Callisto knows where to find us. If they need us, they'll come, until then, there is not much point trying to force them. For now, we can only work on ourselves, and bringing the two teams closer should be our main priority. »

Charles shot him a memory from when the X-Men and the Brotherhood had joined forces to save him and Mystique. The feeling of pride, the wish that it could always be like this, helping one another instead of getting in each other's way.

« That was years ago, Charles. »

Charles sighed. « Yes, and things haven't got easier since. I am not saying that it will be easy to get everyone forgive past injuries, but I am sure that together, we can think of something. »

Outside, some brown leaves fell from the trees, preparing them for the cold of the winter.

Chapter Text

 

 

Tabitha usually slept in late, than got up, did whatever she had to do that day (they'd divided the chores up between themselves, and it always changed), than, if there was still some time left, went out for a little walk, looking if she could find any of her friends. If yes, they would hang out a bit, have a little chat about God and the word, and Tabitha would write down afterwards everything they said about the Friends of Humanity. If not, than she had a key for the Night Light Club. It was empty and soundproof, so she would spend some time throwing explosive energy balls at empty cans, wondering why it didn't bother her more that she couldn't do it openly any more. She always took a nap before her shift began, than put on her sexy clothes and became the cheerful bartender. Sometimes, she managed to catch some more info about the Friends or about Mutants, which she also noted. If you wanted to hear rumors, her position was the best in the world, and she'd started her own private collection with the really funny and absurd ones.

The Mutant Nights were still a roaring success. Other clubs had long since begun to imitate them, but once someone was hooked, they came back, and the fact that they'd been the first had earned them a reputation as « real » Mutant friends, who welcomed them out of principle, not just profit. Tabitha was still responsible for organizing them, and as long as that stayed so, Mutants would be warmly welcomed to the Night Light Club.

The Friends of Humanity were trying to change that, going around spreading « information » about how dangerous those Mutants were and why it definitely was not a good idea to allow them in your club. They had kept their friendly appearance, and Tabitha had had enough contact with Sarah and Janette to know that they were seriously good people who honestly believed in all the nonsense they were preaching, which kind of made Boom Boom really want to blow up something.

And many believed them. Places actually hung « No Mutants! »-signs in their windows, and Tabitha had to blow off her anger by placing a handful of explosives in a nearby trash bin. Small ones, that wouldn't cause any damage apart from making a noise. She wished she could throw a big one through the window, one like the one she'd used to leave Mystique a good-bye note.

Worse were the comments from her friends. Tabitha was a known Mutant supporter, and they liked to remind her of the dangers that brought. Muties are deceitful, they said. They are filthy and diseased, don't go near them, they'll hurt you. Worse, people will think that you are one of them. The muties are done terrorizing us, don't you worry. You just watch, we will fight back, and how we will.

One thing you have to give Tabitha credit for: She didn't do anything rush like gifting them cute not-so-little plasma balls right than and there, and next time she was at the Mansion, she asked the Professor to please show her that « quiet place » he'd been talking about going to when she was upset.

It turned out to be one of her happiest and most peaceful memories, a sunny afternoon she and the boys had spent outside of their boarding home. Tabitha had been sitting in the shadow, listening to music and texting with Amara about some unimportant gossip, while Todd was hunting for insects and Lance and Fred were playing Tic Tac Toe. Even Pietro had been quiet for once, having fallen asleep in the sun.

In the future, when Tabitha came close to loosing her patience, she imagined being back under that tree. Maybe she would listen to the wind and the birdsong. Maybe she would roll her eyes at Lance loosing on purpose to Fred when he thought that he'd been winning for too long now. Maybe she would throw one of her marbles at the boys, missing them on purpose, just to see Todd jump up the nearest tree or Pietro run a complete round around the house before even completely waking up.

Because Tabitha Smith had a higher purpose now, and that was to play spy girl for the X-Men. Since nobody suspected their connection, she could see and hear things other Mutants never could. If that meant keeping in touch with Sarah and Janette and playing the role of the Mutant ally who is still curious enough to want to see the « other side » of the « discussion », so be it.

It was, unsurprisingly, Amara who told her about Pietro over the phone. Tabitha didn't know if it was hilarious or scary. She did try to find out whether the two women knew something, using the same hints-dropping-keyhole-listening method she had developed and perfected to pick up gossip. They didn't seem to know anything. Killing Mutants? That, they didn't agree with. Than what? Exile them, for a starters. And if they didn't want to go?

« Make them. We'll send the Police and the Military, if we have to, they'll bring them to the airport. »

« Arrest them? For what, being different? »

« No. For putting American lives in danger. »

Next time she visited the Mansion, she stopped by at the Brotherhood's place on her way back.

Fred answered the door and pulled her in a bone-crushing hug with a loud « Tabby! » This, of course, summoned the others.

Tabitha remembered only too well how hard it had always been to make ends meet, so now that she could afford it, she'd stopped by at a fast-food restaurant and bought hopefully enough for everyone, even if one never could tell Fred's appetite in advance and she didn't know Wanda well enough to be able to guess how much she ate. They sat together in the living room, wrapped up in blankets against the late-autumn cold, and ate while Tabitha told the boys more or less the same gossip she'd told Amara and the other X-Men that very morning. In return, they told her about Pietro being almost taken hostage after an epic battle in which he singlehandedly defeated half of the Friends of Humanity (« It gets more and more epic every time he tells it. », whispered Lance. « Just nod and look impressed. »), and about the cake prank, which they found more confusing than anything else (« Are we now supposed to be super grateful or something? », asked Todd. « 'Cause it wasn't so good, ya know! »). For the rest, they knew about as little as the X-Men about what was going on, maybe nothing? (« Father knows what he's doing. », assured Wanda them with an angry glance when she thought that they'd been speculating long enough. It was the only time she actually participated in the conversation.) School work was difficult, even with the private teachers, who by the way sucked and hated them, and they had to go to the Bayville library for their classes (« Just as well, I'd rather not have them see the state of this house. », commented Lance).

Wanda didn't really talk. Actually, she was only there because Pietro had asked her to come down. Just as well, that girl creeped her out. She never knew what to expect from her. The first time she'd visited, Wanda had attacked her, and in hindsight, Tabitha probably shouldn't have thrown explosive plasma balls at her, either. Hadn't exactly calmed her down. The second time, Wanda was a lot quieter, and Pietro had caught her at the front door to tell her about his sister's mind wipe, and that he'd personally kill her if she as much as hinted that something might be wrong. The rest, she knew from the X-Men, and it was horrifying. Magneto's terrible parenting skills were legendary, especially for someone who had lived with his son, but even he couldn't be capable to do this to his own daughter..? Obviously, he could, and Tabitha knew that she was not the only one really uncomfortable in her presence.

She left with a cheerful « Bye, loosers! », leaving behind a bag full of groceries on the kitchen table (the good stuff, the ones she knew they hardly ever got), and drove back home, music blaring and just a little bit over the speed limit. She had a strange feeling, something like anticipation mixed with fear. But more anticipation. Definitely more.

« Boom Boom! », greeted her Annie cheerfully. « You're back! How was your weekend off? »

« The usual. » Tabitha threw her bag on her bed. « Visited some folks from before. And here? »

« Nothing. How are your friends doing? »

« Still the same idiots. »

Annie laughed and started to return to the kitchen. At the door, she turned back, remembering something.

« Did you hear that the Friends of Humanity are recruiting? I know you're not a fan, but they are going to throw a party, and there will be free self-defense classes. Sounds cool, you really shouldn't miss that! »

The feeling from before in the car returned, and this time, Tabitha could tell what it was. Something was coming. Something exciting was going to happen, soon. She didn't quite know what it was yet, but Boom Boom wanted in.

Chapter Text

 

 

The X-Men and the New Mutants usually trained separately, but the Professor made sure that the two groups got enough practice together. What was new, was the Brotherhood joining them.

« Professor, what is the meaning of this? », demanded Cyclops.

The two groups eyed each other. Wolfsbane knew that it wasn't the first time they teamed up, far from it, but in the past, it had been always more spontaneous. Training together? That was new. And it wasn't as if they had put behind them any of their past dislike. She and the other New Mutants hadn't had much contact to Magneto's group, and she doubted that they knew all of them. The X-Men on the other hand had relationships with them ranging from love (Kitty and Lance) over beginning friendship (Rogue and Wanda) and rivalry (Scott and Lance) to probably everything in between. It didn't really matter when they were fighting a common enemy, but otherwise, those feelings were bound to get in their way.

« We want to see how well you fight together. », answered Magneto simply. « You will have to, soon enough. »

His presence was the biggest cause of the children's unease. The Master of Magnetism was standing next to the Professor, looking as if he naturally owned the place, not like someone guest in the house of his arch enemy. Xavier seemed to be okay with this, or at least if he thought that there was something unusual with the situation, it didn't show. The other adults gave him and his team more weary looks, but otherwise didn't object.

Hisako, who'd only recently gotten the permission to join them and went now by the code name « Armor » after the blue engery field that surrounded her and made her really look like an anime character, nervously looked between her friends and the strangers.

« Yes, » whispered Jubilee. « That's him. »

« He's… Not like how I imagined. »

Magneto was not like how anybody had imagined, because he wasn't wearing his helmet. It turned out that the most dangerous Mutant of all was an older man with short gray hair and blue eyes. Had he put on other clothes, he would have been just like the grandfathers bringing their small grandchildren to the playground and watching them from a bench. One of the severe ones, who always insisted on the children being polite with grown-ups and washing their hands before a meal, and who got really angry if they misbehaved. Weirdly, this didn't make him any less threatening.

Scott and the Professor had meanwhile stopped arguing, and the training could begin. They did do a quick round of who-is-who saying their names and what their respective powers were for those who hadn't fought together yet. Than the adults left, and someone started a program.

Rahne was mildly surprised that they didn't have to fight against each other, but had to accomplish a task together. It was not far from the usual, they had to get from point A to point B without being hit, and they had to work together to do that, or it wouldn't count. The only thing new was that there were more people involved.

It went about as bad as could have been expected. There were definitely too many people in the room, and the teams were by now too instinctive to be just ignored. Rahne found herself fighting alongside of Sunspot and Cannonball most of the time, the X-Men worked close together using their well practiced moves, and the Brotherhood looked as if they were in a competition for the first place. People got each other in the way, and by the time they'd finished, everyone had been hit at least once.

The Professor and Magneto, who had been watching the whole thing (something Rahne had been hyper aware of the entire time), re-entered the room and looked over their teams. It was a gorgeous sight. Half of them were either soaking wet or had traces of paint on their uniforms, Kitty's pigtail had come almost completely undone and Jean's and Jubilee's hair stood in all directions, as if they had been electrocuted. Which wasn't far from the truth, actually. Sam and Bobby had let themselves drop to the ground without any ceremony. There were at least twenty Jamies standing around looking really sad and defeated. Hisako was on the edge of tears. Most members of the X-Men and the Brotherhood were shouting abuse at each other, most loudly Scott and Lance, who were short from a physical fight over whose fault their failure was.

The Brotherhood all fell very quiet at the sight of their boss (Rahne couldn't think of a better term at the moment, because a leader Magneto was not, so much was sure), except for Lance, who was too focused on his fight with Scott to notice. They only stopped when the Professor pointedly cleared his throat and called « Scott..! » in a warning tone.

« I can see that this will need some time. », said Xavier. Magneto didn't say anything, just stood behind him and shot killer looks at everybody, most of all his team. « I propose that we meet again this Sunday. If that is all right for you? »

There were some moans from the inhabitants of the Institute. The Brotherhood stayed quiet, they just looked as if they would have declined on the spot had their boss not been there. Not that it mattered, anyway, they all knew a rhetorical question when they saw one.

« Of course. », answered Magneto, playing along with the game of courtesy. « What time should we come? »

« Around nine? », proposed Xavier, ignoring the somewhat louder moans coming from his students at the idea of having to get up on a Sunday.

« We'll be there. »

« Do you need to use the showers ? »

Magneto swept his team with another look. Toad was soaking wet, Quicksilver covered with dust, the Blob and Avalanche both had traces of green slime on their clothes, and the Scarlet Witch a huge rip in her top.

« Thank you for the offer, Charles, but we haven't brought any spare clothes. »

Xavier gave him a long stare, which he returned. Their facial expressions hinted at a telepathic discussion, but Rahne couldn't have guessed what it was about. In the end, the Professor gave a long sigh, as if he was saying « Do what you want. »

« In this case, we will see you on Sunday. » He turned to the Brotherhood. « I would like to remind you that all of you are very welcome here at all times, should you feel the need. »

None of them said anything, they just looked fearfully at Magneto, as if they were expecting him to tell the Professor off for his offer. Or maybe tell them off, for hearing it.

« Magneto agrees with me. Our times of rivalry are over. », added Xavier quickly.

 

« What did you think of today's training? », asked Rahne Jubilee that evening when they were already in their shared room, but hadn't gone to sleep yet.

« It was weird. », answered her friend. « And I feel sorry for Hisako, poor girl totally freaked out. »

« You would have, too. She only knew Magneto from the news about his attacks. »

« And from what we've told her! »

« That isn't any better. »

« True. Do you think that the Professor really trusts him? »

« He sure did seem like it. I don't know, it was weird. Do you think he's right? »

Jubilee sat down on her bed and crossed her legs. « Well, they have been talking for some time now. I almost started to think that he just said it to make us feel better, going by that we saw no trace of it. Seems he's been telling the truth after all. »

Rahne was lying on her stomach with an open book, which she now closed. « By now, they could have made up a whole plan about the next three years, and we wouldn't know. But why didn't he ask us? We could have helped! Doesn't he trust us? »

Jubilee shrugged. « I don't know. He's kept things to himself in the past. Important things. Maybe he has a reason. »

« I can't imagine what that would be. » Rahne rolled over and sat up. « Why wasn't Magneto wearing his helmet? »

« Maybe because he knew that he wouldn't need it? Must be uncomfortable, such a helmet all the time. Or maybe he just looked into the mirror. » They laughed.

« I just hope that Scott and Lance will get soon over this fight. », said Rahne. « It is important to have an unquestioned leader. »

« I dunno, it would be fun to watch if they weren't doing it during practice. »

« Maybe. I wish they could just be the wolves and have a real fight, the winner gets to be the alpha male. But with them, the other would keep trying to undermine his authority either way. »

« Don't worry about it, they'll figure something out. » Jubilee yawned. « Not that I want to cut you off, but I have doubly chemistry tomorrow. Night! »

« Yes, good night! » Both girls crawled under their blankets, and soon, they were both asleep.

Chapter Text

 

 

Next time, Charles and Erik tried a different strategy. Instead of splitting the teams up, they made them cooperate. It worked a little better. The time after that, they made the children pull a name and work in pairs. There was still a lot of unnecessary arguing, but this time, everyone made it over the finish line. The two men continued with a different method each time, two times a week. Two weeks and four sessions later, by end October, they almost had the impression that they could let the three teams together in a fight without it turning into an inevitable disaster.

There hadn't been any other incidents with the Friends of Humanity since, but that was probably because the Mutants were more careful now. The Professor and Magneto had forbidden the children to go anywhere alone and to talk to strangers, and they imposed a strict curfew. The Morlocks seemed to have vanished from existence. Meanwhile, the whole situation had grown even more tense, and it was only a matter of time until someone snapped.

On one of her visits, Tabitha brought them the news that the Friends of Humanity were starting a campaign to « mark » the Mutants, apparently just to warn their fellow Humans about the danger. Next Monday, Charles received a message from the school that unidentified individuals had scribbled insults and slurs all over the benches and lockers of his students. And their classmates had laughed about it, told they when they got home. Hisako cried for most of the afternoon.

Principal White started an investigation because of bullying and vandalism, but somehow forgot the underlying mutantphobia, and the short speech he gave sounded empty and shallow. Not that he'd had much of a chance to find the perpetrators, there was no evidence to go on, and what had happened was a violation of school rules, not a crime he could have called the police for.

Than someone graphitied the walls of the Brotherhood's boarding school. That evening, Charles spent hours trying to calm Erik down.

<Ugly words smeared on the window of Herr Schneider on the corner / yellow stars and people avoiding them on the street...>

It was not just the Humans, told him the Master of Magnetism after the metal in the room had stopped trembling. He was mad about the average Mutants not doing a thing to defend themselves. Didn't they see where it was going.

And the children were going on his nerves. He knew how to lead adults, that had never been a problem, but he had this constant feeling that the teenagers were slipping out from under his control. They respected him, but they also didn't trust him and only told him what was strictly necessary. Wanda was the only one he knew for sure didn't lie, but she too refused to talk about some things, even if it seemed to bother her.

Charles wondered for a moment about telling his friend about the other side, the one that he saw in the Brotherhood's minds. They didn't respect him, they were afraid of him. They constantly tried not to say anything that might make him angry, and since they didn't know what that was, silence seemed to be the wiser option. And they certainly didn't tell him about the difficulties of day-to-day life. Magneto made sure that they had electricity and water and some money for food, but it wasn't really enough to make them comfortable, and they all would have bitten their tongues off if that had been the only alternative to telling him.

They never talked about Erik's team, even less about his own children, because Charles knew that it was a subject bound to blow up. He didn't agree with his friend's treatment of the Brotherhood, and the guilt about not having done enough to help them didn't do much good to his conscience, either. He could have stepped in and recruited them when Erik went missing or when they thought he'd died, but chose to ignore them instead, not eager to cope with five problematic and traumatized teenagers. He could have helped Pietro and Wanda when their father was neglecting them. Somehow. He'd never even stopped to try and find a way.

He didn't say any of these things. It was not the time. It never was. Besides, he knew how hard Erik tried to do his best from the man's own mind. The fact that he always did, that he never gave up and just kept going no matter what odds or facts were against him, was actually one of the things Charles admired him for the most.

Instead, the Professor told him that it wasn't so far yet, that history wasn't going to repeat itself because humanity had marched on and learned from past mistakes. He listened to his worries about the Brotherhood and reminded him of his former invitation, that he and his team would be always welcome in his house, and that maybe that would be a solution for some of his problems, at least he wouldn't have to deal with everything on his own.

<And neither would I.> But he kept that thought to himself.

Magneto didn't accept the offer, but Charles hadn't really expected him to, and that night, he flew away without any answers or solutions. Charles watched him, until he was out of sight.

 

The bullying at school had gradually worsened since September. After the scribbling on the desks, Charles, who was getting fed up with writing unanswered mails to the principal and most teachers, finally snapped and wheeled straight to White's office flanked by Ororo, who somehow managed to look like a storm cloud in a woman's body.

The secretary let them in without much trouble, and the principal got up to shake their hands and to move the chair reserved for visitors so that Charles could better access the table with his wheelchair.

« Mr. Xavier, Ms. Monroe, what a pleasant surprise. Here, take a seat. »

« Thank you, principal. », answered Storm. She sat down, Charles parked his chair.

« To what do I owe this visit? », inquired the principal when he had reassumed his place.

« We are here on behalf of my students. », started Charles right at the core. « I understand that there have been some complications. » The principal nodded as if he'd understand the seriousity of the problem.

Charles, with some input from Ororo from time to time, spent the next minutes talking about all the things the school failed to do for his children. It could be summed up with that they no longer felt safe or welcome there and were being bullied by the Human students, while the teachers turned their back or even subtly encouraged them. White listened attentively.

« Those are serious accusations, Mr. Xavier. I would like to go over the one by one, if that is possible. Also, » he quickly typed something into his computer « I have been in a close dialogue with all of the staff ever since I took over, and I have received numerous complains about your students. We just put this list together on our last meeting, I was going to contact you about it. Could we combine the two, if you have the time? »

Complains? What complains? As far as Charles knew, his children had been astonishingly good that year. He could have listed the number of detentions and forgotten homeworks on one hand, and none of those were serious enough to call him in the principal's office for.

« Certainly, that is why we are here. »

White folded his hands on the desk. « We noticed the same… schism between your students and the rest of the children you talked about. They seem to be always together and hardly talk to anyone else. The others are than trying to get their attention, even if it is through somewhat hurtful means. Have you ever talked to them about this behavior? »

Ororo stared at him. « Behavior? Our students are being bullied! »

« I was just wondering if we can be sure that they didn't provoke it, that's all. Like the new girl, Miss Hisako Ichiki. You mentioned that she has trouble fitting in? »

Charles nodded. « That is true. »

All in all, Armor was happy with her new life. She saw the Institute and America in general as an exciting adventure, and she had almost immediately befriended all the other students. She spent most of her time with Amara, Rahne and Jubilee, with whom she was planning to go and see a Broadway musical some time. But she was also a Mutant teenage girl far from home, and sometimes, especially at night or after a phone call with her parents, she radiated homesickness and longing for her family and her best friend so strongly, that Charles sometimes found tears in his own eyes. The fact that the Human children at school never really gave her a chance before excluding her made it a hundred times worse.

« Her teachers all told me that she is working very hard in their class, but she keeps putting herself aside. She always wears her Japanese school uniform, for instance. That distances her from her peers. And she doesn't participate in any activities after school. Thinking about it, neither does any other of your students. As I said before, she spends all her free time with the other children from the Institute. Setting herself apart like this, is it really a wonder that the others don't know what to do with her? »

« Are you trying to tell us that Hisako doesn't try hard enough to fit in? », asked Storm in disbelief.

« No, I completely understand that she is in a difficult situation right now. All I am saying is that maybe if she gave the others a chance and took part in some activities… We have a broad offer, I am sure that there is something she'd enjoy. »

He let his words sink in, than looked on his computer screen again.

« Than there are Mr. Ray Crisp and Mr. Roberto da Costa. All of my colleagues who at some point supervised the court reported seeing them getting into verbal fights with other boys, often even provoking them. They really shouldn't be offended if they fight back. »

[This is not going the way I had expected it to], told Charles silently Ororo.

«  And you mentioned Miss Kitty Pryde? »

« Yes. The girls in her class keep making hurtful remarks about her dating Lance Alvers. »

« They are very rude. », added Ororo. She would know, she had spent quite some time comforting Kitty. « They say that she has no self-respect, but they guess a freak like Lance is the best someone like her can hope for. It is very dis turbing to hear them bring their genetic traits into it. »

P rincipal White shifted in his chair. « And are you... » <Discomfort.> « … sure that this relationship is good for he r ? »

This took Charles completely off guard. « I'm sorry? »

« Don't forget that Mr. Alvers used to study here, too. We know him. He is a known trouble maker who almost compulsively defies authority, and he has a n extensive criminal record. Some of her teachers worry that he might be a bad influence on Kitty, and since she is your responsibility. .. »

«  Mr. White. First, it is not my place to tell Kitty – or anyone else, for that matter – who to date. She is more than old and capable enough to make that decision for herself. Secondly... » Secondly, you didn't need anything close to telepathy to see how sweet and innocent Kitty's and Lance's love was, or how happy she was every time she could see him. Maybe, no, probably, it wouldn't last, but before it ended, both would have learned a lot about healthy relationships and not judging people after their background or appearances. « Secondly, you will find that Lance Alvers is a very fine young man who had a very difficult start in life, but that doesn't mean that he isn't doing his very best, or that he is in any way unable to handle a serious and responsible relationship. »

«  I am relieved you would say that, maybe it will put her teachers' mind at ease. But this still doesn't change anything. Mr. Xavier, I know that this sounds cruel, but here in Bayville High, we are preparing the children for the real world they will have to live in as adults. And the real world is judgmental. If Kitty likes bad boys and wants to date someone with a criminal background , that is her choice to make, and she has every right to do so. But people will talk, and the sooner she learns that there are consequences to her decisions, the better off she later will be. »

O utside, a heavy windblow whistled along the windows. Charles send a warning thought in Ororo's direction.

« Sir. », started the weather witch, and her voice was covered with ice. « Those girls aren't bullying Kitty because of Lance's background, but because of his mutation. If you don't believe us... »

« That is an other problem. », interrupted White her, and Charles caught a wave of quickly repressed <impatience> . « Every teacher reports on the children constantly using their mutation-card. We know that they have special needs, they don't have to constantly remind everybody of their differences. They are purposefully setting themselves apart from the other students and expect pity and special treatment in return. That is not how things work here, I regret to say. »

Erik would have had an eloquent speech about Mutant pride ready and delivered it with his usual fiery passion. Charles just intensively felt the futility of everything past this point. White had run out of patience of letting other people question his authority, and the longer they tried, the more stubb o rn he would become.

« Just one last thing : One of the teachers has banned Kurt Wagner from using his holographi c image generator watch during her class, because of her strict no gadget rule. This seriously interferes with his ability to concentrate on the lesson, and is furthermore a violation of his right to receive accommodations. I have tried talking to the teacher, but she won't change her mind. »

He handed hi m a white envelope.

«  I have here a formal complain about her. »

Principal White took the envelope. « Thank you for brin g ing this to our attention, Mr. Xavier, we will look into it. Regarding my view on the other problems you mentioned, your students should maybe try a little harder to fit in. They could spend a little less time together, and instead try and mix with the others. Maybe one lunchtime a week? Or some extra-scholar activities? If in any case we can help, we do have a school psychologist and a group of teachers reserved for the anti-bullying programs. They are there for any student, at any time. If there are any more concerns..?  »

They were, a lot of them, and Erik would have listed every single one and frightened the principal into taking him seriously. Charles just shook his head.

« No, principal, these were all. Thank you very much for your help and your time. » He and Storm both shook the hand of that man, than left his office.

« Such an arrogant man. », said Ororo angry.

« He firmly believes that he is doing his best to help us. », answered Charles. And that was the worst in this whole mess.

Not for the first time, the Professor found himself thinking about his former arch enemy and wishing that he'd be there with him, just someone to confide in, if nothing else. It was lonely, to always have to be the strong one.

The cold wind still blew, and continued blowing until well after they got home.

Chapter Text

 

 

Winter on the streets was no fun, and as it got colder, Evan started despite himself to question his decision to join the Morlocks.

It was his second winter with them, and the last one mostly stayed in his memory as a row of days trying to get warm clothes, blankets, firewood, maybe a warm drink if they were lucky (when was even the last time he'd had a big glass of lukewarm milk?), than sitting together in the smoke around a small campfire wrapped in all the tissue they had (which he had to be extra careful with his spikes to avoid tearing it open, it was a frustration), huddling together against the cold.

Auntie O. had made him go home for Christmas, which Evan had been equally grateful for as made it feel him guilty to have to leave the others. On the flipside, his family had given him lots of warm things, which had made January a little more more bearable. But the holiday had been weird, a little awkward all the time, and Evan had finally realized that he no longer lived in the same world as his parents did. It was painful, but not bad, and when he'd returned to the sewers again, he finally knew that there was no place and there were no people with whom he'd rather be.

«  N u thin ' . My dad and your Professor are driving us all crazy. », said Pietro and handed him a bottle of milk. Evan was beyond the point of caring where it came from. It was milk. Callisto didn't have to know about it, did she?

«  And Auntie O.? »

« Spent at least twenty minutes trying to blow Fred off his feet. Had to give it up because she'd needed a wind that would have damaged the room. »

The two boys were sitting on a low wall, watching the empty street. Evan took a sip from his milk, Than another, and another. He got most of his calcium from pills provided by Auntie O., and generally didn't get nearly as much milk as he'd liked or even needed.

« Callisto wants me to find out if your combined team is dangerous. »

« To you? Nah. Avalanch could finish you all without any effort. » Pietro was nibbling a huge pack of cookies. « To anyone else? Dunno, on a good day when we don't get in each other's way. »

T he wind blew some fallen leaves over the street. Spyke and Quicksilver sat in silence.

« Hey, Daniels. », called Pietro after him when Evan got up to leave. « If it gets too cold for ya, we have now heating. Tell Callisto we'll keep Father away somehow. »

Evan smiled at the white haired speedster. He knew very well how afraid Pietro was of his father. « Thanks man. I appreciate it. See you in three days? »

Pietro bit in another cookie. « Yeah. See you, Daniels. »

 

«  Did he say anything about the vandalism? », demanded Callisto first thing .

« Not really. He told me that Magneto 'freaked', but he doesn't think that that's anything special. He might do some weird things, but... »

« And how do we know that these 'weird things' won't harm us? »

B efore Evan had to admit that he had absolutely no idea what Magneto's weird ideas looked like or how dangerous they were, Lucid and Façade arrived. They had been tasked to make a detailed survey from whole of Bayville and report on the warm and safe places.

« Bad news. », said Lucid. « They have isolated a lot of buildings this summer, and the empty warehouse has been demolished. »

«  On the bright side, » continued Façade, « there is a new soup kitchen on Cherry Avenue. And it's being guarded by the Friends of Humanity, so we should stay away if there is any other option, but it is there. »

C allisto cursed half audibly at the Friends of Humanity and all the idiots that support them. Lucid just shrugged and wandered away to see what the others were doing, while Façade tried to cheer her up listing a whole lot of things they'd found that were good.

«  There is this Muslim group, Al-something, they are going to give away toys for free to poor children on the 6th of December. Isn't that great? I mean, they don't even celebrate St. Nicholas Day. I thought maybe we could try and get Torpi d something? Just imagine, something new for a change! »

« You have free hand. », ruled Callisto. « As long as it doesn't cost us any money. Any money , at all. Talking about money... » She drifted away, questioning people about their odd jobs and the expanses.

Cybelle turned up next to Evan. « Hee e y Spyke ! », greeted she him joyfully. « How's your boyfriend? »

«  He is not my boyfriend! »

Cybelle laughed. Evan playfully tried to hit her, but she ducked away.

« Apart from that, he's good, minding his own business for once. How about you? »

From one moment to the next, Cybelle lost all trace of teasing or playfulness. She looked at Callisto, than pulled out a piece of paper from her pocket.

« Remember my friend Hairy? »

Hairy, or Harry, if you were going to use his real name, was a homeless dude with whom Cybelle had looked out for one another before she'd found the Morlocks.

« Living in a shelter, right? Did something happen to him? »

« No, Hairy's fine, thank God. But today, a group from the Friends of Humanity were at his shelter and gave out these. »

She handed him the paper. It indeed bore the logo of the Friends of Humanity.

 

Protect our homeless from the Mutant Menace !!

ATTENTION !!

Mutants are walking on the street pretending to be poor and/or homeless !

THIS IS NOT TRUE !!

They are doing it only to provoke your pity and to benefit from resources set up to protect the most vulnerable of Humanity.

DON'T FALL FOR IT !

If you see mutants pretending to be homeless in public, call them out and tell them off. If you are afraid to do so, call the Friends of Humanity helpline.

Stand together to protect the poor and the homeless ! Support the Friends of Humanity.

Humans Stand Together !

 

Evan stared at the paper in horror.

« I haven't told Callisto yet. », said Cybelle quietly.

« She's not gonna like it, that's sure. »

« What are we going to do? », the small Mutant woman looked desperate. « Right now, the Homeless are angry about being used in a hate propaganda without their permission. But what if they change their minds? What if people believe this? »

They both knew what than. The Morlocks would be completely cut off from all support, both financial and human, and cast as the villains to that. They would be all on their own.

Chapter Text

 

 

As far as Wanda could remember, her father had always given great importance to his children's cultural education. He had been taking them to the theater, the opera and ballet since they were four, and even after it got clear that Pietro was unable to sit still long enough, he and Wanda kept going at least two, three times a year, maybe even more if there was something really special presented. He would make it up to his son some other way, even if Wanda suspected that he was happy enough to be left alone at home for an evening without supervision. She knew that her eight year old self was.

Even later, when he had less and less time because of his activism, Father would make sure that this tradition of family outings wouldn't be interrupted. That only happened when Pietro joined the Brotherhood and suddenly refused to talk to them, but Erik and Wanda kept visiting the theater.

That evening, they went to see The Swan Lake. Wanda knew that she'd seen it once, at the age of nine, and that it had been terribly long and she'd lost interest long before the end, but they had visited a Japanese restaurant after, and Father had done his best to try and teach her how to use chopsticks – unsuccessfully, but they'd had the fun of a lifetime.

But she was older now, and she knew how to appreciate a ballet and to use chopsticks, and, as both Toad and Father assured her, looked beautiful in the red evening gown she had bought just a year ago when they had seen Hamlet. The Swan Lake was still long, but oh so beautiful, and Wanda felt at peace as she always did with music.

« Would you like something to drink? », asked her Father during the first pause.

« Something » meant either water or juice, since Magneto refused to buy his daughter any alcohol. Not because of the age limit, but because they were both terrified by the idea what a drunk Wanda would do with her powers.

« Can I have an apple juice? » Apple juice was among the most expensive options. It was something that someone stole on occasion, but they would never waste money on. Father however could afford it, and the idea of legally obtaining some was just too good to miss.

« Of course. Could you bring me a water along? »

They had found themselves a place next to a window, a little aside from the crowd of men and women in expensive suits and dresses. Wanda made her way through the crowd, noting how they all stood in little groups of four to seven people, discussing other people. There were age differences between groups, yes, but nobody was alone and nobody seemed to have come with a parent. At least no teenager, as far as she could see, she was the youngest.

Wanda just turned back with two full glasses, one apple juice and one mineral water, when she accidentally elbowed someone.

« Oh, I'm sorry. »

« Don't worry about it. » That someone proved to be a rather handsome young man in a blue suit. « Do you need help with those? »

« No, thank you, I'm fine. » Her powers might be a little chaotic, but it was no effort keeping a little liquid inside a glass, no matter how full that glass was or how fast Wanda was going. Not that she could say that out loud.

« Thank you. » The man had just received his champagne and took a sip. Wanda continued her way, and, to her displeasure, he matched her peace without a second thought.

« What do you think of the ballet? »

« It is beautiful, I really enjoy it. » Geez, what did the guy want?!

« It is a masterpiece. And to think that the critics didn't like the music during the first performance! »

« I'm afraid I don't know much about it's history. I just enjoy watching it. »

Luckily, they arrived back at the window where Father was turning a large metal coin between his fingers with great concentration, because Wanda felt that she started to loose her patience. He seemed charming enough, but she didn't want to talk to strangers. She was there with her father, and they were supposed to be getting a break from everything instead of interacting with other things.

Father looked up when they arrived and pocketed his coin before taking the water. « Thank you, my dear. Who's your friend? »

« I don't know and he is not my friend. » Wanda finally took a sip from her juice. It was delicious.

Father gave a theatrical sigh. « Wanda, what do I keep telling you about talking to strangers? » Think three times before saying your name. Don't reveal your mutation under any circumstances. Evade questions about your family. If you feel like if you're starting to loose your calm, better just turn and run. If the stranger turns out to be dangerous, knock them out before they know what hits them, than get out of there as fast as you can without seeming suspicious.

She hadn't broken any of these rules, had she?

The stranger gave an apologetic smile. « Oh. I am terribly sorry, I completely forgot my manners. Inexcusable. Tomson. Ronald Tomson, pleased to make your acquaintance. »

Father gave him one of his darker Magneto looks, which miraculously didn't seem to affect him. « Erik Weber. This is my daughter, Wanda. »

« German? »

« Polish. »

Tomson took another sip of his champagne. « Really? How interesting. I hear it's a beautiful country? »

Toad would have long ago hidden behind the sofa from that look. « Depends on which part you're in. What do you want? »

The man shrugged. « Just to talk to someone. I don't know anybody in New York. I am on a business trip, you see. I underestimated how long these breaks are if you're on your own. »

« You should have brought a book. Leave me and my daughter alone. »

Tomson shrugged again. « Alright already. No need to bite, I was just trying to be friendly. It was nice talking to you. » Father's expression made clear that he didn't share this opinion.

 

Wanda met him again during the second pause. She and Father had somehow managed to get separated, and now she was roaming the hall looking for him. Not that she was worried, Magneto could feel the metal on her, and if everything failed, they would be reunited at the beginning of the third act. Still, it would be a waste to spend the time before that alone.

« Mr. Tomson. Have you seen my father by any chance? »

« Not since he sent me to Hell. » Tomson shrugged. He did that often. « Where did you see him last? »

« We got separated when we left the hall. »

« Ah yes, this crowd is overwhelming. Maybe he went to the bathroom or to get a drink? »

« I don't think so, he'd have finished by now. »

« Don't worry, I'm sure we'll find him. »

The two of them started moving through the crowd, looking for the familiar white hair and black suit.

Without needing any initiative from Wanda, Tomson started talking about himself, about his job, and how he had to travel to attend conferences. He wanted to travel even more in his free time, too, but there was of course always work to do. Visiting Poland was actually on his to-do list. Surely she must miss her home?

Wanda had a mental flash of Mystique's house where she had been just a couple of hours ago and where she would be again in a few hours' time, and took a moment to figure out that that was not what he meant.

« Poland? I can barely remember, we moved here when I was very small. We almost went back to visit a few years ago, but something came up. »

« Work? »

« Yes, sort of. My father has an important job, and unpredicted things keep coming up. »

This triggered a long monologue about phone calls and last moment meetings.

That man was strange, from another world. It didn't sound like something Wanda would have wanted to live in, but it was fascinating to get a glimpse. Also, Tomson was a good speaker, and his stories were actually entertaining to listen to. Before she noticed, Wanda found herself laughing at his colleague turning up one day at work with a funny mug.

There. Wanda spun around after a familiar shape, and yes, it was him. She instinctively braced herself to pull his powers away should he become angry, and called out, waving: « Father! »

If he was angry at her, he had it under control by the time they got near enough to see his face. Why would he even be angry?

« Wanda! There you are, I've been looking everywhere for you! »

« We too, Father. I am so sorry, we got separated, and than you were gone, I couldn't find you anywhere... »

« But you didn't panic, did you? »

« No. I knew we'd find each other, and Mr. Tomson helped me looking for you and kept me company. »

Father looked as if he noticed the young man for the first time, and held out his hand seemingly without any hesitation. He had practice keeping his personal feelings from preventing him to react accordingly in any given situation. Tomson on the other hand seemed genuinely surprised, but gratefully accepted the handshake.

« Thank you for looking after my daughter. I don't like seeing her lost alone in a crowd. »

« Don't mention it. I know that my father would go crazy if it was my sister. »

« I can look after myself, Father. », felt Wanda the need to correct.

He smiled at her. « I know you can, my dear, but that doesn't mean that I must like it. »

« A father will always worry about his daughter. », offered Tomson. « Am I right? That is what we always say in my family. »

« My children », said Magneto with an expressionless face « are the driving force behind my life. They are the future. »

Wanda wasn't sure she liked this idea. She and Lance were capable to shoulder the responsibility, Fred maybe, if you didn't leave him all alone to do it. The others… Toad and Pietro were both really loveable, but had the maturity level of a five year old, and she wouldn't want to trust the X-Men with the future of their species out of principle.

« Quite so. I am looking forward to have some on my own, as soon as I find a wife and a good house. », agreed Tomson. « It is just so much responsibility, and you hear so many scary stories about the risks these days. I don't know what I would do if my child turned out to be physically disabled, or autistic, or a mutant... »

Erik and Wanda both tensed at the last word. Wanda once again reached for her powers, ready to neutralize her father and protect the people around them, should it become necessary.

« Or gay? », asked Father, his voice like a knife frozen over. « Or a girl? »

Once again, Tomson demonstrated his wonderful ability to miss obvious nonverbal clues. He shrugged. « Gays and girls aren't dangerous. »

« Neither are the ones you mentioned. »

« Father... » He ignored her.

« Oh yes, they are. Don't you watch the news? Or hear from actual parents talking about their stories? It is a real struggle every day, and I admire their strength, but I don't think I could do that. Just the shame alone of your child being… being... like that. »

« I do watch the news, Mr. Tomson. » Father pulled out another metal object from his pocket, not a coin this time, but a cube. He closed his hand firmly around it. « I watch the news every day, and I see fear and hatred towards innocent people with no chance to defend themselves. I see people grouping together to ruin the future of children, solely because they are born different. I see victims getting villanized. And than I turn off the news, and I see the same hypocritical fools putting on fancy clothes and pretending to be clever and funny and thinking that they are good enough to talk to my own daughter. »

Tomson, surprised took a step back. « Now just a minute! She addressed me! And it isn't as if we'd done anything wrong, we were just looking for you, because, may I remind you, you abandoned her. »

All of Wanda's alarm bells were ringing by now. She quickly put a hand on Father's arm and stepped between the two men. « That is not true, and you know that as well as I do. It was me who lost him, and I am very grateful for your help, Mr. Tomson. I am really pleased to have made your acquaintance. Father, come. » She started pulling him away from Tomson.

« Wow, talk about issues, what is wrong with you two! », called the young man after them. « And I thought that little girls were easily offended! »

 

Father stayed tense the remaining few minuted to the beginning of act three and only relaxed somewhat when the music started playing. They did get a sushi at the end, just as he'd promised, but ate it in an empty parking house, where they were at least protected from the wind, but didn't risk meeting any Humans.

« You did well today, Wanda. », said Father in the end.

Wanda's tired face brightened up at the compliment. It was true that she'd been in a highly social setting for an extended period of time and wasn't completely exhausted yet. She'd done that often enough since her powers first emerged, but was still incredibly proud of herself every time she succeeded.

« Thank you, Father. »

« It is myself I am disappointed in. I let me be provoked in the most petty of ways, and it almost ended in a disaster. »

Wanda didn't really know what to say to this. Her father was always strong and stoic, him letting her in on his emotions was a rare privilege that caught her unguarded.

« It isn't your fault, Father. I don't understand what Mr. Tomson wanted. He didn't even ask me anything, except if I miss Poland, and just kept talking about himself. »

« Ronald Tomson is an insect. I don't care about what insects think, they just repeat what they hear from other insects. It is the people on the top I am interested in. » Father finished his last sushi and put the empty tray on the low wall next to them. He pulled out his metal that used to be a cube but was now nothing but a formless lump, let it levitate above his hand and shifted it into a marble, a pyramid, a cube, a marble again. « The longer I sit around doing nothing, the more nervous I get. Charles already warned me that I need to be active, or I will lash out when I can't bear it any longer. That almost happened tonight. »

Wanda felt worry and sadness creep up her chest. Father « doing something » meant Father leaving and getting into trouble, and she knew that he wouldn't let her go with him, no matter how often she asked. « What are you going to do? »

Father sighed. « First, make sure that the Mutants in Bayville are safe and under control. Wanda, tell Avalanche that I am coming to talk to him tomorrow at 10.30 a.m. We are all moving to the Mansion. That is going to diminish the effort we have to put into day-to-day life. After that, we can focus our attention on Callisto. »

Chapter Text

 

 

The announcement at breakfast caused a small sized riot. With the exception of Rogue, who sat silently, everyone had their own opinion about why having the Brotherhood move in with them was a bad idea, and did their best to out-shout the others.

The adults waited patiently for them to calm down, but all that happened was that a few of them had begun thinking about the good sides of this plan, and were now arguing on the top of their voices with those who were still against.

Ten minutes later, Mr. Logan snapped out his claws. « All right, that's enough. Don't you have to get to school or something? »

This very effectively killed the mood.

Rahne had always found it interesting how they all could live two separate lives, the somewhat surreal X-Men routine and the completely normal high schooler one. It had been funny enough to realize that having housemates who could respectively freeze or melt things and teachers who read your mind or caused bad weather if you didn't behave had somehow become just another normal fact of life, but it was even better because at the same time, they got to enjoy all the usual teenage drama most people went trough. School, boring classes, annoying teachers, far too much homework, other children being mean over petty things… The list varied from person to person.

Back home, before she first got to the Institute, Rahne had been lonely. After that, she had friends and everything had gone pretty well, until they got outed as Mutants. The older students had been the first ones to be allowed back to school, and by the time Rahne and the New Mutants got there, Dad had decided that she was safer home and took her out of the Institute, before she had the time to get used to this new situation. Than came a period of more loneliness, even worse because she had no longer been used to it. She had become an outcast both for being new in an established class and for being suspected to be a Mutant. Now, people knew what she was, and made it more than clear enough what they thought about it, but at least, she was no longer alone against the whole school.

This didn't make it easy, though. Somehow, no-one had even tried to find out what exactly Rahne's mutation was, but they all knew it had something to do with dogs – DOGS!! - because of a few hints dropped by their teachers (who of course had been informed).

The students were clever enough not to pick directly on their mutations, but there was always something else. Hisako's school uniform. Jubilee's yellow coat. Rogue's dark lipstick. Kitty's boyfriend. Rahne's and Kurt's accent.

Everyone reacted differently to the hostility. Hisako, who wore her heart on her sleeve, often started crying. Rogue closed even more in on herself than the usual, and looked down on everybody. Amara and Jamie tried to stick as close to the teachers as possible. Jubilee grew metaphorical spikes and pricked at everyone who as much as dared to look at her the wrong way. Roberto and Ray went into attack mode and actually provoked the bullies to near-fights. As to Rahne, she followed Dad's advise and did her very best to ignore those idiots. Pray for them, however, she did not. That was Kurt.

The morning went by without any further incidents. Rahne joined the others at lunchtime at their table in the far end corner of the cafeteria. They were all gathered around Kitty, who, apparently, in the meantime had been texting with Lance.

« They just finished their private classes. », told Jubilee Rahne as soon as she pulled out a chair. « Now they are going home to pack. »

« What do they say about the idea? »

« Lance and Kitty are looking forward to spend more time together. » Jubilee rolled her eyes. « Todd and Fred don't want to leave the house, Wanda agrees with everything her father says, and Pietro… Does anybody even know what Pietro thinks? »

« That the Mansion will be probably more comfortable than the boarding house, and anyways, he wouldn't dare to contradict Magneto. » Rogue didn't even look up from her plate, until she noticed that the others were all staring at her.

« What? Is Kitty the only one who is allowed to talk to the Brotherhood? »

« You have been talking to the Brotherhood? », asked Kurt in disbelief. « Why didn't you tell us? »

« Maybe because it's none of your business? I have recommended Wanda some books, if you must know. That girl seriously needs some friends. »

By the end of lunch, Lance had sent another text to share that he was astonished just how much stuff they'd accumulated, and even more how much of it was garbage. Unfortunately, the entertainment got interrupted by the afternoon classes, which crawled by even slower than was normal for the last hours school before a weekend.

Rahne and the others hurried back to the Institute, where more news awaited them. The Brotherhood was to move in the next morning. The teachers had already prepared their rooms, but that didn't mean the children shouldn't help to clean up a little left and right (moans). Mr. McCoy reminded everyone that their former rivals were in a difficult situation right now and that they all would need time to get used to their new life, so the children should please be all really kind and patient with them. Yes, the Brotherhood would all get their own room, no, the X-Men still would have to share, that had worked well in the past, hadn't it? And yes, Magneto would move in together with his team, his room would be on the top floor with that of the other adults, and they all should treat him like they treated the teachers.

« Oh boy, how am I going to explain this to my dad? », wondered Jubilee out loud. Rahne had the same concern, and so had most of the others, going by the nods and soft murmur.

« The Professor has written all your parents to inform them about this decision. », answered them Storm. « They've all given their consent. That said, you probably should tell them yourselves, just to make them stop worrying. »

The evening flew past. The next morning, everyone rose early, even if it was a Saturday and they could have slept in if they'd wanted to. There was excitement and anticipation in the air.

The Brotherhood arrived in Lance's jeep, with their possessions in bags at their feet and looking so cool that it was kind of obvious that they were only trying to hide their nervousness. Boys. Magneto landed in front of them once they'd gotten out, with his cape dramatically welling and dancing around him. He was wearing his helmet this time, but took it off as soon as his feet touched solid ground. He hadn't brought any personal belongings, but Rahne was sure that that was only because of the dramatic effect, and that he'd sneak them in when the entire Institute wasn't watching.

For a moment no-one seemed to know what to do, until luckily Kitty broke the ice by hugging Lance and offering to help with his bags. Storm proceeded to show the boys their rooms, and everyone went inside. That was it. Sam and Bobby, who didn't clear the area fast enough, got tasked to show the « new ones » around, and there was later a gathering where the students were presented with the changed schedule of chores. The Brotherhood stayed under themselves, with the exception of Kitty and Lance and Rogue's short visit to Wanda. The X-Men were probably more affected by the whole, but the New Mutants got bored soon enough. Jubilee left for the mall with Roberto, and Rahne spent the rest of the day catching up on her assigned reading for school.

Dinner was, paradoxically, a lot more quiet than usual. Despite that there were only six people more, the whole kitchen seemed to have shrunk to half of it's normal size. Maybe it was because Fred took up two places. Maybe it was Magneto's intimidating presence. Maybe it was just that the students were all sitting in one place and nobody was talking too loud or casually using their powers like they normally did.

Rahne wondered how long it would take them to get used to living together. And she didn't need Jean's powers to tell that the others asked themselves the same question.

Chapter Text

 

 

Charles wasn't surprised to see his old enemy enter his room after the inhabitants of the Institute had gone to sleep. He himself was awake, going through some legal documents on his laptop in bed, propped up against pillows. It was a welcome change of position after spending all day in his chair, and he certainly wasn't planning on moving any time soon.

« Erik. »

« Charles. » Magneto closed the door. « I need to know more about the security systems. »

« Of course. Come in. » Charles moved a little to the side to make place on the bed. « And take your shoes off, will you. »

Erik obeyed and sat next to him. This was the closest they'd got all day, and Charles felt a strong pull towards the mind of the other. He somewhat dampened the emotions of <need / eagerness / satisfaction>, but otherwise let it go free. Erik returned his mental touch with a <warmth / affection>.

Charles closed the document he had been reading and opened a plan of the grounds with a background flash of <detailed plans of defense systems on Cerebro / on the other side of the building / inaccessible right now.> Erik moved closer, so that he could see the screen.

Accompanied by mental pictures, Charles explained the basic set up of the weapons, those used for practice as well as the purely defensive ones, and of course those that served for both purposes. He than did the same for the building itself. Than followed the different levels of lockdown, a general idea of the combat capabilities of everyone currently inside, and three evacuation plans.

« I asked Jean to take responsibility for your children, and of course I will provide telepathic guidance to everyone. We should be fine, Erik. »

<Not quite convinced / Good enough.>

« Is there any place those safety you do trust? »

« Yes. The one I have designed and built myself. » <Solid metal walls / No openings / Metal everywhere / PROTECTION>

« I am afraid that would too strongly limit the accessibility for everyone without your powers, my friend. »

« That i s the point, Charles. »

Charles closed his laptop, not caring that without the light of it's screen, they were left in the dark. Erik didn't mind, either, he could feel it. They were very close, Charles could feel the other man's body press against his up to the point where he'd lost the feeling in his limbs. There was a certain coziness, amplified as he absently reflected it back and forth between them, and Charles knew that Erik didn't want to get up, either.

[ What was your impression today? ] It had always been more comfortable not to speak out loud.

<Shrug.> « It will take some time getting used to. »

<Realization / Of course> [ You haven't talked to your children about it. ]

<Mild annoyance> « It is not as if we'd have much to discuss, Charles. This was the best option available to us. »

[ You mean to say, this was the best option available that yo u could see.] <Vague memories of times when members of his team had better ideas than he did.>

<Strong annoyance / Do I really have to listen to this / It's too late for fighting.>

[ Of course, my friend. You are quite right. ]

Charles sent him a soothing impression of <Peace and quiet.> , and Erik accepted it, sending back a very similar feeling of his own. Charles reflected and amplified it. Soon, they had both calmed down and slowly sta r ted los ing their focus. The former enemies sat silently, sleepily sharing their feelings as they surfaced. Charles (or was it Erik) noticed how the fine line separating their minds became more and more blurred, until they couldn't tell any more where the Professor ended and Magneto begun.

<The metal mind gently wrapped around his / Warm light shining in his thoughts / Rain tapping against the window / Soft pillows / Charles's hand in his / Metal resting around them, not going to move / Colorful minds singing dreams in their rooms / Haven't finished that document / Time to contact Callisto maybe? / Yes, time to contact Callisto / Safety precautions not taken / Erik's head resting against his shoulder / Interesting article about genetics in this issue of Scientific American / Need to make sure that there isn't too much chaos at breakfast / Wait, Sunday, that is always calm / The clock on the wall ticking / Memory of watching a dinosaur walk past the entrance of the cave / The gentle noise of his wheelchair on the floor of the living room / Regular breathing next to ihm / Wait, war that Deutsch ? / Yes, that war Deutsch… / Erik schtreichling his hand… »

They slid into sleep at the same time, their minds still closely woven together.

 

As always, Charles woke a moment before his alarm was set, switched it off and turned on the light. He had slid a little deeper since the evening, but was still half sitting, and found that Erik had rolled himself to a ball next to him, his head resting in Charles's lap. When the light touched him, he twisted his spine, so that he could look up in his friend's face.

<Sleep.>

Charles sent him a warm touch of <Affection>. [You don't have to get up yet, my friend, just let me…] He sent him a firm order to move aside, making sure not to completely wake him.

As soon as he was in his chair, he turned the light back off and wheeled to the bathroom in the dark, sweeping over the minds inside the building as he always did. Most of them were still asleep, the Brotherhood like five large spots between the so well-known lights that were his own students.

He had almost halfway finished his morning routine when he felt Erik's mind again, this time fully awake. [Charles?] <Starting impatience / I have waited for him so long...>

[Go on my friend, I will still be some time.] He accompanied this by a quick impression of <Getting cleaned and dressed without feeling or using your legs.> Erik didn't answer, but Charles felt that he hesitated for another moment, than left the room.

They met again in the kitchen. By than, the adults were all awake, or as close as they could get before their first cup of coffee. It was a weekend, so the children were allowed to sleep in.

Not all of them did. Scott and Jean rose early, and so did Rahne, bursting with energy despite of the time, and Roberto, who couldn't really sleep past a sunrise. Fred and Pietro were also awake, the former offering to cook something for everyone who wanted it, the latter whipping his foot and obviously uncomfortable with his father in the same room, but doing his best to hide it.

Erik noticed, too, and Charles could feel a vague <Regret> before he suppressed it. It felt like a subconscious reflex by now, and Charles wondered how often he had to do this.

It was tempting to take a quick look inside Fred's memories to see what he knew about Quicksilver's relationship with his father, but Charles resisted it. It was none of his concern. Yet.

« So what's the plan for today? », asked Logan with a yawn. « Anyone's got anything interesting? »

« I, for one, would like to assess the academic level of the Brotherhood children. » Hank took a sip of his coffee. « That way, I can have a picture of my own when I meet their teachers tomorrow. »

The school had been more than happy to agree to pass over the burden of giving the Brotherhood private lessons to Hank McCoy, under the one condition that they keep handing in their written assignments and take some exams once in a while.

Pietro groaned. « Must we? »

« Yes. », said Charles, Erik and Logan at the same time. Roberto grinned.

« Professor, I think we should have a general meeting with everyone, so that we can discuss the team dynamics. », said Scott.

Jean nodded. « Some of the students already have been complaining to me about the Brotherhood. I think we should all sit together and talk it through before there are any severe misunderstandings. »

« We should also decide on our next move. », added Storm. « If you really want to negotiate with Callisto, we must find some other way than the one we used before. She made is abundantly clear that none of us is welcome in her tunnels. »

« Maybe Berserker's got something. », offered Logan. « Kid's bound to know a lot about the Morlocks he won't tell us. »

« And quite rightly not so. » Charles poured hot water for his tea. « Very well, I will speak - » Erik shot him a look. <Displeasure> « We will speak with Ray when he wake... »

Pietro jumped up. « Man, I totally forgot! » And he was out of the room in a blur. Before anyone had had even enough time to be properly surprised, he was back and pushed a crumpled piece of paper in Charles's hand. « Daniels told me to give you this. He says that they have been handing these things out everywhere. »

Everyone knew who « they » were.

Erik felt a wave of <Anger / Told him not to see that boy again.>

[Erik!]

[I told him not to, Charles. I told him not to leave the house alone at night!]

<Worry / Pietro alone / Too close last time.>

[I know, but Erik, your son is a young man, you can't just lock him up!]

There was no answer to that one, Erik just pulled a little farther from Charles's mind.

The Professor carefully smoothed the paper. He went pale, and his <Shock / Horror> pulled Erik instantly out of his sulking.

 

Protect our homeless from the Mutant Menace !!

ATTENTION !!

 

It seemed as if Callisto were about to find a good reason why she should talk to them after all.

Chapter Text

 

 

The cold was getting a worse problem with every day. It was a constant companion, sometimes worse than others, but there was no place to hide from it, and Callisto felt more and more the need to just roll herself in a nest of clothes, blankets and other people and stay there till spring. She knew that her team felt the same, a combined fear and resignation, but also determination not to give in. Not yet. They would survive this winter, as they had already survived the others.

The Friends of Humanity did much more damage than they themselves knew with their newest actions. The Homeless community (as far as it existed) were almost unanimously on the side of the Mutants, knowing how much they shared the same hardships as they themselves did, but the social workers and other help providers fell for it sometimes. In the past, walking up to a food bank and getting a hot cup of tea had been unpleasant, yes, but feasible. Now, the Morlocks had no way of knowing if they would be met with active hate and accusations of stealing, and Caliban and Lucid didn't dear go anywhere near any help program any more. And Callisto knew that there were more of them other where. More Mutants, fending for themselves on the streets, alone or in groups, now getting denied the help they needed. This smear campaign would have mortal victims.

She met with Berzerker inside of an empty building. He looked good, clean and well-nourished. Sending him to X's Institute obviously had been a good idea, even if they all still missed him, even after two years.

Callisto hugged him. Berzerker hugged back, and held on a lot tighter and longer as the last time. Maybe he was over his « too cool to hug »-phase. Or maybe…

« I was worried about you guys. », confessed he. « I barely hear anything from you, and after what happened to Quicksilver, you all just disappeared and the Professor wouldn't let us leave the house... »

« I hate to admit, but X's right there. Something's coming, and if you can stay off the streets, you should. »

« Yea, but it's been « coming » for months now, and still no trace of it…. »

« You really think so? Because from here, I can see a clear plan to drive us in a corner. And it's working pretty well. »

« Oh... » Poor boy looked ashamed. Not so poor, actually.

« I've told you before, never loose sight of what it's like on the streets. It may be all nice and important where you are, but the real is out here. »

B erzerker had he decency to look embarrassed for a little bit. Callisto didn't wait for him to be finished. She gave a sigh and shook her head.

« So, what's you got for me that was so important? »

«  Erm... » Now he looked even more embarrassed. He hadn't been like that when he'd lived with them, had he? Easy to anger, yes, but embarrassed …? « You've heard about the Brotherhood moving in with us? »

« Sure, it's been all over the rooftops. » Spyke had told them, of course. Boy was a pretty good spy, or at least contact to the… not enemy…? Whatever.

« Basically, the Professor and Magneto want me to convince you to do the same. »

Callisto stared at him for a second or two.

« Move in with you? »

« Yea… They say it would be safer and better if all Mutants were together? »

« Ask them what fell on their head. Must have been heavy. »

 

S he refused to meet with the two fools, but did give Berzerker the permission to enter the tunnels if he liked, and went home. They all did spend the rest of the night and the following day huddled together in a heap of tissue and limbs. Callisto wasn't too much of a hugging person, but she had to admit that she enjoyed the closeness to her team, her friends, her family. Cybelle was quizz ing Torpid about some of the things she'd read in her used history book, and the youngest Morlock was only too happy to talk two and a half hours straight about the Middle Ages. The others joined in, everyone adding the bits they remembered from school or found books and magazines, and Spyke declared that if talking about this had been so much fun at school, he'd payed a lot more attention. Façade averted her eyes. She had very fond memories of her school years, and having to drop out had hurt her deeply.

C allisto got woken around two p.m. by Caliban, who was than on guard. She opened her eyes and looked up in his white, melted-wax-like face, that always seemed sad, even if you knew him well enough to recognize his other emotions. Right now, he looked worried, as he gently but persistently shook her shoulder.

« What is it? », whispered Callisto.

« Someone's coming. »

« How many? » She got us as silently as possible (which was very silently), and stood to get her hard wooden rod. She'd had an iron one before, but had had to get rid of it for obvious reasons in a stupid helmet and cape, but the wood served her just as well.

« Just one. »

« Good. No need to wake the others, than. »

She did consider asking Lucid for more information about the stranger, but the woman with the X-ray vision was lying pressed against Scaleface, half under Façade, and Callisto would have have to climb over both Cybelle and Torpid to get there, so she decided against. Caliban might never have been a fighter, but he could defend himself, and the Morlock leader knew that she could handle half a dozen Humans on her own, if she had to, more, given the right conditions. And if it was a Mutant, she wouldn't have to fight them.

The two Morlocks silently and carefully hurried in the direction of the intruder. Their camp was well hidden, away from the main sewers, on a high ground and only had one exit. Yet the man who was now trampling towards them clearly knew what he was looking for. He wasn't a worker, but had clearly planned ahead, because he was wearing high rubber boots against the water. Unarmed, as it seemed.

Callisto gave Caliban a sign to stay back, than crept forward, pressed against the wall and using all her hiding abilities to full extend. When she stepped in front of the stranger, her rod tight in both hands, it must have looked as if she'd appeared out of no-where.

« This is a forbidden area. Turn back. »

The man did startle, but didn't back away from her, as people usually did. Callisto knew how to look intimidating, a tall, muscular woman with short hair and an eye patch with a weapon in her hand and the natural authority of someone who had been in command long enough for it to become a second nature. S omeone like that appearing out of nowhere is enough to drive the intruder away six times out of ten. Maybe seven.

«  I have official authorization to enter the sewers. »

« Too bad, you're still not allowed in here. Go somewhere else. »

T he man actually tried to just walk past her, but Callisto cut him off.

« Do you want me to say it in another language? Go away . »

« Or what? You're gonna beat me up with that stick? »

« Trust me, I don't need a stick. »

He grinned at her. « Sure, lady. And the Police will love to hear all about it, I'm sure. »

That was not some eccentric going on an adventure. He had come there looking for conflict, and he'd come prepared. The problem was, he was right. The law really was on his side.

At that moment, Caliban threw his arms around him from behind. The man spun around around and threw him to the floor, but Callisto was already there, trapping his neck between her rod and her body and pressing just enough to make him feel really uncomfortable. The intruder tried to hit her, but the Morlock leader held him tightly while Caliban tied his hands and blindfolded him. Callisto gave him a grateful smile. She knew how much he hated violence.

The two Mutants led their prisoner away, spinning him around for disorientation every once in a while. The sewers were a maze, there was no way he could have memorized the way to place where they found him.

They released him at a ladder leading to an abandoned yard and waited for him to climb it. He did look a little intimidated, and Callisto made sure to add some threats about what would happen if he ever entered her kingdom again. Maybe it would work, maybe not, but they were safe for now. On their way back, they checked the walls for chalk marks, but there were none. At least something.

« We'll have to relocate after this. », said Callisto. Pity. They had other good hiding places, but their current one was the best, and moving the camp was always a lot of trouble.

« I'm only happy that he didn't get through. », said Caliban. Callisto agreed.

When they arrived, the camp was a mess. Everyone was awake and running around. Spyke's thorns were lying around and there were traces of Scaleface's fire. Lucid held Torpid close, and Façade was guarding the entrance.

« Callisto, Caliban, thank God you're all right. »

« Cybelle, what happened?! »

The small woman run a hand over her face. « I'm not sure. We woke up and you were gone. There was a stranger... »

« A photographer. » Spyke appeared behind her and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. « With a big, expensive camera. I've heard of those, they take high-quality pictures in the dark. He was photographing us, than everyone freaked and we drove him away. »

« And you weren't there! » Cybelle shot her leader an angry look. « I was worried sick about you! »

« We… » A sudden realization hit Callisto. « We were chasing another intruder. There were two of them. » Working together, with the first one only being a distraction to draw their guard away.

She clapped her hands, and the Morlocks stopped still to listen to her. « Everybody, listen up! We need to get out of here, now, so get packing already. We are going to our third hideout. Third hideout, is that clear? » That was the one farthest away from their current location. Hopefully, that would be enough to get them safe.

Chapter Text

 

 

The next reason for Callisto to contact them didn't keep them waiting. On Tuesday, just a day after Ray had, obviously proud of his old leader, forwarded her message to « Get your heads checked out, and quick, or the damage might be permanent », the Morlocks were all over the news.

Two professional photographers and Friend of Humanity activists had adventured in the tunnels under Bayville. While one of them drew the attention of the guards, the other snug in the camp they were protecting, and took as many pictures as he could before the Mutants chased him away.

« One of the freaks broke my camera! », complained the self proclaimed hero and held up an expensive camera with a bone thorn buried in it. Charles could feel Ororo tense up. « I am dependent on this camera for my living! »

They than passed the pictures on to as many talk shows and news channels as humanly possible, and watched as the things took their natural course..

Charles had, for obvious reasons, never been in the sewers, but he could see in the minds of those who had that the photos were exact, very well showing the darkness and the cold of the tunnels. On one of the pictures of the Morlock camp, they could all see a rag tent and a heap of tissue of all kinds around the now cold remains of a camp fire. On the next photo, it was clear that the heap were actually Mutants, sleeping snuggled up between blankets and old clothes.

The rest of the pictures were the same Mutants running, than turning and attacking. Erik noted silently that Callisto wasn't among them.

The news reader zoomed in on Torpid. The youngest Morlock – what was she now, thirteen? - was small for her age, and her body was still closer to a child's than to that of a young woman. She had beautiful big, dark eyes and long curly brown hair that was a little fatty, but well-groomed. Charles could see that she, like so many others, took great pride in her hairstyle. On the third picture, the whole girl was very sharply visible, up to her oversized coat and the gloves covering her giant hands. At the moment, it occupied the entire screen.

« No information so far is available as to the identity of the child spotted among the Mutants. Police chief Johnes told the media that they have launched an investigation and ask the public for any leads they may have. »

They cut to Johnes's face, who was talking into a row of microphones lined up in front of him. « Naturally, we are concerned about the well-being of the minor on the photographs. I can promise you that we will do everything in our power to help her. As for now, the Morlock's whereabouts is unknown, and we urge anyone in any possession of information, however small, to contact us immediately. Please call... »

Charles couldn't bear watching it any more, but before he could as much as form a coherent thought about that, Erik tuned the tv off. It wasn't the first time in the last days that one of them had acted on a subconscious thought of the other.

« Funny, how they never cared about us before. », said Ray into the silence that followed, despite of the fact that most inhabitants of the Institute were assembled in the room.

Some, most loudly Todd and Rogue, hummed in approval. Charles silently begged Erik to please stay quiet.

« Oh, but they don't. It is an old trick, if you want to hurt a group, get their children. They don't care about Torpid's well-being, they care about how dangerous she will be if the Morlocks raise her and weight it up against what they could do with her on their side. »

[Erik!]

Instead of taking the not-so-subtle hint and stop, Magneto looked straight at Charles.

« I have seen it before, you know. Mutants saved by Humans made to turn against their own kind, and believing that they did the right thing. »

« That's enough, Erik! » Everyone, except of course the man addressed, flinched at Charles's most severe teacher tone. « The morals in this room are already down enough, and you are not helping by sowing any more mistrust. So if you would kindly refrain from your usual hate speeches against the Humans, than maybe, maybe we could try and find some viable solution instead. »

He could feel some <Wow / Impressed> floating around the room, coming mostly from his younger students, but ignored it in favor of staring Erik down. He stared back.

[Make me.]

Charles reached out with his mind and touched Erik's a little firmer than usual, making sure that the other man could feel him.

[I could.]

« The problem would be solved if we could take in the girl. » Charles reluctantly released Erik, and both turned to Hank.

« I've already offered her a place, the same time when Ray joined us. Torpid didn't want to leave the Morlocks, and still doesn't want to now. We agreed that she'd continue her education with them until her fourteenth birthday. »

They did send Callisto another message, and she gave her permission for Charles to try and talk to the Humans. No matter how early Ray had gone, it was pretty late by the time he got back, and Charles sent him straight to bed.

He than looked around the room. Only the adults had stayed up, and they all looked exhausted.

« We should all go to bed. », voiced Erik his thoughts once more. The others shared a feeling of <Tired / Approval>. Ororo yawned. Her exhaustion had caught up with her after she'd received the message that her nephew was all right. Hank bade them politely good night. Scott pulled Jean up on her feet and put an arm around her on their way out.

[Erik.]

So far, he and the Professor were the only ones who hadn't shown any sign of wanting to move.

[Yes, Charles?]

<Tired / Amusement> [I just wanted to ask you whose bed you are planning in sleeping in tonight.]

The previous night, they hadn't even made it to their rooms. They had waited for Ray in Charles's study, and talked over their situation after he had left. This had taken them a couple of hours, sitting next to each other on the couch (Charles wondered absently what would have happened had he not given in to the temptation, and stayed in his chair while they waited). That was the last thing either of them could remember, the next being the following morning when they had woken up with Charles's head on Erik's shoulder and his hand holding firmly on to the front of his shirt.

Erik raised an eyebrow. [Is that an invitation?]

[No, I just would like to know how much space I will have.]

 

In the end, it was a non-event. Erik came in his room just after Charles had gone to bed, lay down on the side he'd left free for him with his back to his friend, and curled up to a ball. Charles wondered, not for the first time in the last days, how he could possibly be comfortable in that position, but felt that he was. They fell asleep at the same time, and the next morning woke up at the same time. And that was how it stayed from than on.

Chapter Text

 

 

X kept his promise, Callisto had to admit that much. The very day after he'd asked for her permission to step forward in their and Torpid's defense, the telepath contacted both the police and the news stations he had contacts to, and held truly touching speeches about the Morlocks and the hard life they lived, and how that led them to hold together at all cost, and that they'd saved both Berserker and Torpid when they'd been all alone on the street. At least, Callisto assumed that the speeches must have been touching, since she never saw one, and didn't intend to.

They stayed more closely in touch after that, even meeting in person instead of just sending messages over Berserker. X didn't complain once about the random hidden places Callisto picked, not even when it wasn't accessible with his wheelchair (all right, she'd wanted to test him. Nothing wrong with that). As it turned out, the human magnet had floated him up the ladder before following himself.

The constant proximity of the Professor to his former arch enemy was probably the most ridiculous thing about him. Not just when they first met, Callisto could get why someone wouldn't trust X with handling her on his own. Same went for all of their meetings. But according to Quicksilver, the two of them behaved as if they'd been glued together at home, too.

Callisto'd never met the speedster in person, but he seemed to be good for Spyke. They kept meeting once a week, and Quicksilver always brought him something. A can of warm soup, some leftover chicken wings. A bottle of milk. They all knew that it was his own initiative, because nobody in the Mansion knew of his nightly escapades. After three meetings with Magnet, Callisto definitely admired his son for his courage to defy his father's orders. It didn't look like a safe thing to do.

And they needed him, just as they needed Berserker, who snug off to meet them during lunch breaks at school. Yes, someone had to get up in the middle of the day, but the inside information was worth it. Callisto didn't trust X any more than she trusted Magnet, and the two boys knew of things the two men wouldn't tell her. Sometimes, these things were small and unimportant, sometimes they provided interesting fun facts that might or might not come in handy in the future, really important, they were not. It was frustrating in no end not to know whether that was because she was in on the main things, or because the boys weren't allowed on the meetings where the secrets were discussed.

They had offered her to move in the Institute again, and when she'd laughed, Magnet'd proposed the boarding home of the Brotherhood instead, heating, water and electricity included. It had lead to an interesting discussion with the rest of the Morlocks that night. They'd all agreed to refuse. Even Spyke said that it was safer to keep their independence for now. That boy had really come some way in understanding the Morlock way, and Callisto was almost proud of him. Almost.

December flew past. The new place of their camp wasn't as good as the previous one, but it made do, and for the first time ever, the X-Men actually tried to support them, so they had clean, warm clothes and better food. The Police searched the tunnels a few times, but the Morlocks were well hidden, and they didn't even get close. Façade had gone through with her plan to get Torpid a gift from that Muslim group, and on the 7th December, she presented her a truly beautiful plastic figurine. A dragon. They joked that it was Scaleface's best friend.

Than one evening, they woke to find that the first snow had fallen. That was always bad news, wet and cold and muddy, and the Morlocks didn't really leave the shelter of the sewers after that.

Spyke grew more and more nervous as Christmas approached. His birth family insisted that he'd visit them over the Holidays, and he couldn't refuse them without breaking off every contact. That was more than a bad idea, it risked to turn out fatal, if in the future Spyke (or the Morlocks) would ever need their help. Storm being part of that family made this a hundred times more true.

« It isn't that I don't want to see them, or that I am not proud of being with you guys, it's just... » Spyke made a broad hand gesture that could mean the Morlocks, the sewers, Bayville, or the whole of existence.

« This isn't the life your parents had imagined for you. », Façade gently finished. « I know. Mine neither. »

A sad silence followed. They didn't talk about their blood families, exactly for this reason. It was too painful, every single one a story of disappointment, tears and rejection. And it wasn't as if any of that mattered. The past was over, those people weren't their families any more. The Morlocks were, and it was easier to get through the day with a smile on your face.

 

They only knew about the controversy surrounding them and their pictures from what Berserker, Quicksilver, Magnet and X told them. Apparently, it was a hot topic. Must be nice, having nothing more important to worry about than one single Mutant girl.

Callisto had been on the streets since she was Torpid's age, and she's seen her fair share of bad stuff. Bitter as she might be about Humans as a species (and most Mutants), the Morlocks had enough contact to the Homeless communities to mutually care about what was going on with the other. Not enough to do something about it, but they were always happy if something good happened to them. During this time, she'd met people of all ages, from infants much younger than that boy Leach (how was he, by the way, still not kicked out? She ought to check some day), to seniors much older than Magnet (that guy was fit for his age, you had to admit that much). Mutants and Humans alike. Mostly Humans, though. One would logically assume that those ah so generous people would care about one of them before they cared about Torpid, who, all in all, was doing totally fine, no?

That was not the case, as X gravely assured her. The « discussion » was run by the Friends of Humanity, who just wanted to eliminate the Morlocks because they were Mutants, and children are generally a sensitive subject (here he shot Magneto a very sharp look for not doing anything except standing quietly behind him, as he always did), so they zoomed in on Torpid. And on X himself, from what Quicksilver told Spyke. Berzerker agreed, next time they met. People were asking questions about how good the Institute was for children, but fortunately (hah!), it didn't get as much attention because of the massive hate on the Morlocks. People were calling them names and claim that they abducted and abused children (sure, more people was exactly what they needed. Young children to take care of, even better), and there was more and more pressure on the police to just arrest them all.

The 20th, Berzerker came bursting into their camp at an ungodly hour of 7 p.m. Lucid was on guard, and she woke Callisto before he arrived, which was good, because this way, she was awake enough not to strangle him (seriously though, 7 p.m?!).

« Callisto, thank God you're awake. » The Morlock leader shot him a sharp look, but it lost it's edge when she saw how excited and out of breath the poor boy was. « I was afraid that it might be too early, but Magneto wouldn't wait. He and the Professor are waiting for you in the McDonald's near the park. It is urgent. »

Urgent and bad, by the state of him. Callisto knew Berserker more than well enough to know the look on him when there was trouble, and this was it. So she didn't say anything about the time. She quickly woke Cybelle, just in case she'd need backup, and the two women followed the boy to the restaurant.

There were still a lot of people, and the Morlocks unconsciously shifted closer together. Their life style made em hyper conscious about how different they looked, and it did tend to give one a slight degree of social anxiety, even someone as confident as Callisto. Strangely enough, no-one really took notice of the two obviously homeless Mutants. Callisto only connected this to X when she saw him and Magnet sitting at a table and suddenly remembered his powers. Damn, that man really had a gift for appearing harmless.

The three Morlocks sat down (Callisto couldn't bring herself to think about Berzerker as anything but one of them). It was hot in there, after the cold of the tunnels and the streets, and Callisto immediately took off her coat and two of her pullovers. It was still hot.

« It'd better be important. », she said, and shot the two men one of her looks. « I don't go around dragging you out of bed before dawn, either. »

« It is. » Magnet threw a paper on the desk. It was a print out from what Callisto guessed one of these « online articles » Berzerker had told her about could look like, but she couldn't be sure, never having seen any before. The Internet did sound like a surreal place, that much was sure, even if Spyke assured her it was all real.

 

Court rules in favor of arresting the « Morlock »-Mutants living in the sewers of Bayville.

 

«  I am sorry. », said X gently. Cybelle next to Callisto started trembling, but the Morlock leader reacted as detached as always. « I did everything I could. »

« Not everything  ! » That came out louder as intended. Strange. Was she angry? Callisto didn't feel any anger. Or any vivid emotion at all, actually. « You can influence people's minds, damn you! You could have prevented this, but you didn't. »

X actually had the decency to look sad, but Magnet did n o t. Instead, he leaned forward, his eyes threateningly sparkling.

«  I suggest you'd be careful with questioning our decisions. Charles might care enough to limit himself with a moral code, but I do not. I assure you that he worked far harder to safe your skin than anyone could have expected, and gave more than you ever deserved, and I will not tolerate you saying ... »

Callisto leaned forward, too, holding his gaze. « Because you are the right one to talk, right? Which one of us spent most of his life with a pathetic battle of wits with whom again? Or are you the only one who's allowed to disagree, and the rest of us should just sit back and follow where our fearless leaders might bring us? »

Magnet pulled something out of his pocket, and Callisto suddenly found herself facing a handful of small but sharp metal needles. She didn't even blink, and she also ignored Cybelle tugging on her arm.

«  That's all you got? Because it wouldn't even scare a seven-year-old. »

« Erik, please. » X rubbed his face. He looked tired. Magnet ignored him.

« Now listen here ... »

« No. No, you listen, because I've had just about enough of you. Of both of you. Have you even any idea what you've done?! We were doing fine, you know. Just fine, minding our own business, staying out of trouble… Than you came along, putting up a show with your great powers, and whoups, everyone knows about Mutants. Before, it was just that we looked weird and they didn't want us to scare their children, now they are after us with sicks and robots and stink bombs and discussing how dangerous we are to the mass public. And you? Do you lay low and quiet for a bit and wait for them to forget, oh no, you have to play it up big, just in case someone hadn't noticed yet, and do you even know who gets to feel the consequences? Because it isn't the people living in mansions, I can tell you that much. »

«  Clearly you have no idea... »

«  Erik!  » X stopped rubbing his face, and straightened up. « That's enough, both of you. »

« Oh, you really think so, Professor ? Because I could go on, if anyone cared to listen. Not that you ever did, of course. Have you even looked outside ?! It isn't summer, you genius , how long do you think will we last outside of the tunnels? »

«  That is the other reason we're here. We have some propositions. »

Callisto leaned back and crossed her arms. « Go on. »

X gave Magnet a pointed look, and waited for the other man to sit back and put away his needles. The first, he did, but the needles just gathered to melt into a ball that levitated over his hand. X sighed and shook his head.

« First, about Torpid. I would like to get legal guardianship over her. That would probably involve inscribing her at the Institute and the local school. Whether she joins us or remains with you is up to her, but I will have to see her regularly to make sure about her academic progress. It is not unlike the agreement between Bayville High and the Brotherhood, you can ask Erik about the details. »

Because Magneto cares so much about his children. At least according to his own son Quicksilver, who had no reason to lie.

«  Second, about your camp. I am really terribly sorry, but you can't stay where you are, not even for a day. The p olice has orders to search the sewers, and this time, they will be thorough. But you are right, you can't go on the streets, either, and you have to stay out of sight as much as possible. So if you accept our help – and you have every reason not to – we propose you either join us at the M ansion, or you move in the Brotherhood's boarding home. There is electricity, heating and running water. »

Her first reflex was to tell him to go find some aliens stupid enough to get within a thee-mile radius of the pair of them, because no-one on Earth could be possibly this idiotic. But it was end December, there was an arrest warrant on them, and even without that , the shelters wouldn't take them, she had a group of people to look after, and it could snow at any time. Her pride was her strength, but right now, other things took priority.

« You win. I take the boarding home. And don't look so happy, this doesn't change a thing between us. You still have to to fix your mess. »

Chapter Text

The Morlocks didn't have too many things, but breaking the camp and moving everything around was still a lot of work. The fear hanging in the air didn't help, either. Evan hated it. He hated to move when he was told to, he hated being afraid, and he hated having to leave the tunnels that by now had become his home. Going away for Christmas was bad enough, but this… He really wanted to impale someone.

Ray had stayed to help them, and everyone was happy to see him, Torpid most of all. She enthusiastically showed him her dragon, and kept chatting about the funny and interesting things he'd missed. In turn, he told her (them, they were all listening) some stories about his life at the Institute, and it sounded like the biggest fun ever. Evan wondered if it was the same school he'd been going to.

Pietro turned up, too, but had enough sense not to enter the tunnels and waited for them at the most convenient exit if you wanted to move a lot of stuff out and to the boarding home.

« Looking after him. » He gestured towards Ray. « We're still not allowed to leave alone. Need a hand? »

Quicksilver was able to move incredible weights, something Evan had learned when he'd demonstrated it by running his friend to the other end of Bayville and leaving him there, which according to him was hilarious. This now came in handy. All the Morlocks had to do was to get their things outside, and Quicksilver would run them to the boarding home and still have enough time to complain loudly about how sloooow they all were. He also offered to run them, too, but Callisto refused with a murderous look, no matter how long they had to walk. She was still angry about the whole situation, and did a bad job at hiding it.

The house was… wow. Evan suddenly realized just how used he'd must have gotten to the sewers if this seemed luxurious, but it kind of did. It was big, big enough for all of them, and they would even have had separate bedrooms, had they not all decided on camping together in the living room. Another weird thing, how he felt so much safer with the others around. (Regardless of this, Pietro did insist on Evan getting his old room. Had anyone told them this four years ago, they would both have laughed them straight out of the room.)

They moved the furniture to the side, and made their beds on the floor. There was talk of getting some of the mattresses from upstairs, but nobody followed through. When they were done, the living room looked suspiciously similar to one of their camps in the sewers where someone had randomly dropped a house around. They went to sleep around dawn, and Scaleface assumed a position of guard without any questions. It was so ridiculously unnecessary, but it made them all feel safer.

And it was only the beginning of a longer list of weird changes in day-to-day life. The Morlocks were nocturnal. They slept during the day and came out at night. Which was all nice and good, because they lived underground, where it was dark. The boarding home however had windows. Not that big and incredibly dirty, but windows they were, and led to everyone turning and tossing around restlessly, until Spyke got up shortly after 2 p.m., found some planks of wood and nailed them in front of the openings. It still was brighter than what they were used to, but less terribly so.

Than there was the water. They were used to getting water in two or three places where they knew it'd be safe. Water was something rare and precious. Now it was running from the tap, as much as they wanted any time they felt like it. The idea was beyond weird and led to everyone asking Callisto for permission each time before opening a tap.

Evan was surprised to find that he had the same problems as the others did. Had he really become so used to living in the sewers that he couldn't manage a normal house any more?

 

Before he had the time to figure everything out, the winter break started and he had to go home. It was a very awkward moment when Auntie O. came to pick him up. Most Morlocks hid away inside of the house, but Callisto accompanied him to the front door, and stared her down.

« So... » Evan shifted uncomfortably. « See you next year? »

« If you don't get lost. Merry Christmas, Spyke. »

« And you, Callisto. »

Had meeting his family been awkward last year, it was even worse this time. Evan felt as if he'd taken a trip into his past. Their house was the same, even his old bedroom hadn't really changed, they were only calling it « guest's room » now. Dad was still working his old job, Mom had changed hers once, but was doing exactly the same thing there. Auntie R. and Uncle K. were there as well, along with their families, who were all Humans (related to Dad, not to Mom and Auntie O.), and followed that path that had seemed so self-evident just two years ago. Evan's cousin Samantha had graduated with flying colors and was now studying cultural anthropology at a good university, her brother was in his final year and talking about a degree in programming. Auntie R. was expecting another child, which Evan found strange, because her first daughter was twelve now.

They all knew that Auntie O. and Evan were Mutants, and were really cool about it, but he still had the feeling of people watching him behind his back. Maybe it was just the normal Morlock paranoia. He hoped so.

What he wasn't imagining was that he was addressed far less often than normal during conversations, almost as if they'd thought that he had nothing to add. When he did speak, voicing his opinion or telling them something funny Cybelle or Torpid had done, or something clever Façade had said, they would look at him that strange way. Surprise, maybe, that he knew what was going on? Or pity, but at least discomfort about him reminding them of the people that he lived with?

As to his old friends, Evan didn't even try to contact them. Mom suggested it, once, but understood that the idea upset him, and didn't bring it up again.

He hadn't fully adjusted yet to living during the day, so he stayed up late and slept until lunch. So did most of the other people in the house, so that wasn't really a problem. The inside of the building was too hot, and Evan found himself wandering the streets of his childhood after it was late enough for them to be empty, alone.

One of the nights, he ended up in front of his old school. It was still just the same as it had been when he and Pietro had attended it, as if Evan had walked through a window to his past. How could it all be so unchanged?

Yet at the same time, it wasn't, they had finally renovated the football field and repainted the doors of the gym. Small things, but time had marched on.

A silver blur, and Pietro was standing next to him, looking at the school with a strange expression. It was probably telling of his life that Evan wasn't even a little surprised by his sudden appearance.

« Man, this feels weird every single time. »

« Do you come back often? »

The speedster whipped his foot. « Sometimes. I visit my old parents when I get too bored. »

Pietro somehow never talked about the Maximoffs. Evan remembered them vaguely, a nice married couple who didn't have any children of their own (Pietro hadn't had any siblings), and Mrs. Maximoff had baked cake to celebrate the victory of the basketball team a couple of times. Maybe he should have payed more attention to them back than, but than again, why would he? They were just the parents of that annoying boy who constantly wanted to be better than him in everything.

« Do you miss them? »

Quicksilver took his time to think about this. His thinking was accelerated, too, so it wasn't a long time to Evan, but he saw on his face that it was to him.

« Nah, not really. They're good people, but... »

« It is as if they were living in another reality? »

Pietro looked surprised.

« My blood family too. It's weird. »

« You tell me. They don't even know Wanda, and she is convinced to have grown up with me. Don't know how long I can keep her from visiting. »

« Yes, that is weird. »

His sister's mind wipe was another thing Quicksilver didn't talk about. Maybe it was the place that put him in a special mood.

« So, how do you like our house? »

Evan shrugged. « Dunno, it's very different than the sewers. I didn't have much time in it before I had to come here. How's the Institute? »

Grimace. « Organized. We can't even leave stuff lying around without somebody telling us off, and they are hardcore about the chores, man. Nothing new, everybody left except for us and Rogue, and I wouldn't mind if Father was a little further away. He spends most of his time with the Prof in his study, so it isn't that bad, but still. » He shrugged.

« You haven't heard anything from the Morlocks, have you? »

« Seriously, Daniels, you have been away for like four days! »

« Doesn't mean I don't miss them. »

Pietro grinned at him. « Don't worry, Daniels, I missed mine too, when... » The grin froze on his face.

When he had sold them all out to Magneto. Evan included.

There were a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, which hopefully the speedster experienced as more. It was Evan who broke it by making a vague gesture towards the school.

« Erm… So… Do you want to go closer? »

Pietro shrugged. « T's not as if I had anything else to do... »

The two boys approached the building in silence. It still felt like home, in so many ways. Even after six years, Evan regularly dreamt of skateboarding in the schoolyard.

« Do you sometimes think about what it would have been like if you'd stayed here? »

Pietro shook his head. « Nah. I've had mine since I was four, I was never going to fit in a school with Humans. Would probably have dropped out. Still did, thinking about it. And besides, you've met Father. He would have called me sooner or later. You know how he is with mutations, he... »

There was a blur, and Quicksilver was gone and there again before Evan could properly register it. Only a new set of footprints in the snow showed the way the speedster had taken. He must have run a pretty big round, by the look of it.

« … cares about them a lot. He'd done something, so the way I see it, it was better that I was around to see what it was. »

« Yeah… Hey, remember the time when there was so much snow that school fell out, and everyone who could get here had an epic snowball fight? »

Pietro gathered a handful of snow at superspeed and formed a perfect ball, which he than threw at a nearby lamp post. It hit his target perfectly.

« Yeah, that wasn't so bad. But you were all soooo sloooow! »

It was such a Quicksilver thing to say, and Evan grinned.

« How could you even enjoy sports with your powers? »

« I wasn't using them, duh. Most of the time. When I couldn't help it, I pretended to be hurt, so I could opt out. »

There had been a pretty mean running joke in their team about Pietro hurting himself all the damn time. He would have been kicked out, had he not been so good otherwise.

« So that is what was going on! We thought that you kept bumping into invisible objects or something. »

« You wanna fight, Daniels? »

Evan carefully took a few steps back from the speedster, calculating his chances. They were pretty ok, as far as chances against Pietro go.

« Bring it on, Quicksilver. »

The next moment, he was bombarded by an impossible number of snowballs from all directions. Spyke grew a large, fiery thorn, and did his best to avoid or destroy the balls before they reached him.

It had been ages since his last good snowball fight.

Chapter Text

The winter holidays were refreshingly quiet. Most inhabitants had left the Institute to visit their families, or, in Logan's case, get as far away from everyone else as possible, and those who stayed – Charles, Erik, Hank, Rogue and the Brotherhood – were only too happy to stay quietly in their own corners.

There wasn't really a Christmas celebration. They did have dinner together, and the mood was quite cheerful, but nobody really wanted to spend any additional time with the others afterward. As far as gifts were concerned, there had been a Secret Santa the last evening before the first people left. Tabitha had payed them a visit for the occasion, bringing Storm a pretty scarf. Charles had even persuaded Erik to participate. The Master of Magnetism had manufactured a truly beautiful set of jewelry for Amara from some scrap metal, and received a package of ten fridge magnets from Jubilee. Everyone had found this highly amusing, only Erik himself had had no idea whether to understand it as a joke or something else, and if, than what. Charles had pulled Fred, and found him a T-Shirt that not only just fit, but also had the picture of a bear (his favorite animal) on it, and was rewarded by the <Happiness> radiating from the Blob. He himself had been pulled by Jean, who had printed the group photo taken just after the battle with Apocalypse in A3 format and made everyone in the picture sign it. As soon as the shops opened after Christmas, Charles had it framed and hung it up in the entry hall.

He and Erik spent the better half of the next two weeks together in his office, most of the time with Charles working and Erik sitting at the window looking out into the dancing snow that quietly covered the grounds, and going in his thoughts through countless plans.

Charles always asked the parents for feedback at this time of the year, and had a long list of e-mails telling him that the children seemed happy enough, that the school notes could be better, that there were serious complaints about the bullying at school, and by the way, how exactly was that with that group of criminals now living with them? Many also asked for a personal opinion about their child, and Charles was happy to oblige. This was one of the parts of his job he liked best, because the parents usually ended up happy, and he didn't get a headache from their negative emotions while they were not.

Warren visited once. He was radiating <uncomfortable> strong enough to be felt far beyond the gates while he was in the same room as Erik, but he hid it admirably well. The four adults had a long and very agreeable discussion about the current state of political events, something that Warren proved to be an invaluable expert on.

He and Charles had been keeping loosely in touch via e-mail, and the telepath had learned some things about the man with the angel wings: Warren Worthington was a rich corporate heir, but his father had never accepted his son's mutation, and he could see the disappointment every time he looked into his eyes. Hiding his wings wasn't easy, and terribly lonely, so it was no big wonder that he had flourished at the knowledge of so many people just like him. People he could help. For the first time in his life, Warren wasn't a useless failure to be hidden away.

There was talk about an internship he could maybe arrange for some of the students, but he would have to be careful to make sure that his father didn't realize that they were Mutants. Since the name Xavier had become quite known over the past six months, it would be a little more tricky.

And maybe he could donate to a good cause? He could even convince his father that it looked good and was good for business. Other corporations did this all the time, only that they weren't supporting Mutants but poor children abroad, or something like that. What does Charles mean, that there is no big reliable organization for helping Mutants? Shouldn't someone have started one by now?

They would really need a list about the most important things Mutants needed help with. Maybe they could ask Callisto for help. If they were lucky, she wouldn't bite off their heads.

The afternoon passed by way too fast, and Warren flew home, not before Hank invited him for a few rounds in the Danger Room together. He accepted the offer, and the next day, Angel and Beast had a long training session together. Warren was great, for somebody so inexperienced, and Charles wondered with a shade of regret what he might have been like, had he been found earlier and gotten the chance to really use his wings from a young age on.

By the time he finished, Warren was grinning, and Charles couldn't help but to be affected by his uncontrolled <joy>. He promised to ask Ororo to fly with him on occasion. He knew that they would both enjoy it.

 

The only real conflict in that time, and also their first real fight since Apocalypse, started when on the 27th at breakfast Todd was telling them about a strange dream he had that night about all the girls suddenly talking backwards. Hank of course answered by telling him about all those times Shakespeare characters had disturbed his classes, which lead Charles to recall his latest strange dream that had involved looking for a certain mark of cookie in an endless labyrinth or shelves filled with cookies, two cats, a dog, and Callisto randomly appearing at corners and telling him off for any number of random things. Like STOP-signs having eight sides, instead of being heart-shaped.

« It had made sense at the time. The more I think about it, the less that is the case. »

Those who were present at the breakfast table laughed. Charles was hit by a wave of <Realization / Anger / Rage> from Erik, and before he could find out the cause of these emotions, his friend shut himself away, much more tightly than he had done since that day in the park when their minds had first touched. Charles could barely feel him at all, which in his turn caused him a lot of <Distress>.

For the rest of breakfast, Erik remained so, closed off and silent, with an angry frown on his face, and for the first time didn't wait for Charles to finish and left before anyone else, even though he wasn't busy elsewhere. The others simply wrote it off it as one of the « Magneto's being weird again » moments, so nobody asked any questions.

Charles found him again in his study, where his friend was pacing, obviously waiting for him.

« Charles. »

« Erik, what's wrong? »

Erik turned on his heel to face him. He didn't wear his cape in everyday life, but Charles still could almost see it flatter around him.

« What were you doing in my dream, Charles? »

<Incomprehension.> « Your dream..? » <Realization> «  Oh ! »

« 'Oh' is all you can say for yourself, Charles? »

« I'm sorry... Erik… I didn't realize... »

Erik had been there, too, in that dream about the cookie labyrinth. He had been at Charles 's side all along, like he always was. Like he always was. Oh no.

The metal in the room started shaking, but Erik willed it to stop. His eyes didn't sparkle any less with anger, though.

«  How dare you infiltrate my dreams! Isn't it enough what I give you already when we are awake? Answer me!  »

« I... »

Charles couldn't. He felt dizzy and the world was turning around them. Had he not already been seated, he couldn't have stood on his feet.

« Erik, I... »

Magneto took a menacing step forwards.

«  How many more, Charles? How many of my dreams have you intruded? »

« I don't know, Erik! »

His chair got violently pulled forwards and slammed against the coach. Charles couldn't help himself, his telepathy leapt forwards, and he clawed desperately at Erik's mental defenses. Not being a telepath himself, Magneto didn't stand a chance against him, but he still could hit, and so he did, hard.

It felt as if someone had violently thrown his body backwards against the back of his chair. He clung even tighter at the bit of Erik's mind that he could grasp.

A second mental push left him half collapsed, gasping for air.

«  Erik, stop ! »

The mental order was too strong to resist, even for most telepaths. Erik stopped. He froze, his <Anger> pounding against Charles's mental grip on him, but the Professor remained unimpressed. He did not, however, do anything to calm Erik down, he just made him sit down , holding him tightly.

[ Let go of me, Charles! ]

[ Not until you calmed down enough that you won't attack me. ]

The otherwise cool mind felt now a lot hotter as Erik wound himself under Charles. <Anger / Helplessness / Desperation>

[ Please, my friend, whatever I did to you, I did so unknowingly. Please, let us talk it over. ]

A moment later, Magneto stopped fighting back, and his mind went limp in <Surrender> . Charles held him a moment longer, gentler, making sure to transmit a feeling of <Calm / Affection / Well done> .

As soon as he let him go, Erik moved away from him, crossing his arms and shooting him angry looks. Charles suddenly remembered Pietro and how weary he always was around his father. No wonder, if he always reacted to a potential menace like he had just now. It wasn't entirely his fault, Erik was a wild cat who had had bad experiences with humans, and the best self defense he knew was to attack blindly, but that didn't mean that the scratches hurt any less. Charles honestly didn't know how he himself would have reacted to their fight just now, had he not seen and felt the other side in his friend's mind. The pain and pure terror at the thought of any loss of self agency, the feeling of betrayal that it had been done to him by the one person he trusted the most .

Charles abandoned this train of thought, and heaved himself over to the coach, next to Erik. Somehow he felt that it would be better to sit on unmoving furniture for the following talk. One that wasn't made almost completely from metal.

« You will have to let me read your mind again. »

« Indeed? »

Charles sighted. « If you want to minimize the chances of miscommunication, yes, and you know it was well as I do. »

There was a moment of silence, than Erik raised his right hand. The lock on the door clicke d shut. The metal marbles he kept in his pockets floated out, joined by those he had left in an open box on Charles's desk, as well as some paperclips whose existence as paperclip would now soon be over. They circled him for a moment, before melting into one long band that divided into three and gently wrapped itself around both of Charles's wrists and his neck. The Professor didn't fight back. It was a false sense of security, and they both knew it. He was not at Magneto's mercy, while the opposite was always true. Without the helmet, Charles could fend off Erik before he even consciously decided to attack.

Erik's mental defenses had been shattered, and he didn't even try to replace them. Charles raised two fingers to his temple and closed his eyes to show that he was about to use his powers, than touched Erik's mind with his own, making certain that he felt it and keeping the contact soft and superficial. When there was no protest, he let drop his hand and opened his eyes, but kept the contact.

«  Would you believe me if I told you that I didn't know about pulling you into my dream, and that I never wanted it to happen? »

Erik was still glaring at him, but Charles could feel the <Yes> in his mind.

«  Than we can concentrate on what went wrong. »

H e tried to recall the evening before the dream. He couldn't find anything out of ordinary, not in his own memories, and not in Erik's. He had been reading a book before going to sleep, Erik had talked with Wanda. They had gone to bed at the usual time, assumed their usual sleeping positions, Charles lying on his back and Erik rolled up with his back to him, a few handful of small metal cubes distributed on the bed. They had fallen asleep at the same time, dreamt that dream about the cookie labyrinth, than woken up just before Charles's alarm clock, as always.

«  Can you find anything, Charles? »

« No. And you? »

<No.>

They tried to find other dreams they may have shared, and both came to the uncomfortable realization that the other one had been present in pretty much every single one they could re call from the past months.

« Do you remember that time when Moira visited and wanted us to plant sunflowers everywhere? », asked Charles. He really didn't want to know the answer.

<A trail of soil in the middle of the floor / Moira stubbornly putting sunflower seeds in it>

« And the one where the students had painted all the trees in the park bright blue? »

<Charles excitedly explaining why pink would have been better / Uncomfortable feeling about this.>

« When all my students had failed their year, and the President came in person to tell us off, and in the end arrested everyone whose room was a mess? »

<The inhabitants of the Institute awkwardly waiting in the entry hall while the FBI checks their rooms for disorder / Extremely uncomfortable feeling.>

Charles rubbed his face. This wasn't good. This wasn't good at all.

<Wanting to play chess / Not being able to / The chess figures having a ball on the board?>

[The Black King danced almost the entire time with the White Queen.]

<Something overly complicated involving alien politics? / What was that even? / There were space ships?>

Charles smiled at the accurate description.

[One of my recurring dreams, actually.]

« Oh, Charles, what have you done? »

« I don't know. This has never happened to me before, I swear. »

Or had it? Not to him, but to Jean. She had complained about sharing dreams with Scott, back when they had started dating, Charles had only forgotten because of all the other things she had complained about at the same time. Both of them feeling as if they didn't have any privacy, inability to distinguish between her emotions and Scott's, and a few very disturbing incidents where they had both behaved like the other one. Going to the wrong class, arguing the position of the other, mixing up the names on an assignment, Jean panicking when she couldn't find her sunglasses on her night table. And yet it had taken Charles no little effort to convince her of tuning her telepathic link with Scott down just a bit.

He and Erik didn't have most of these problems. But that wasn't so surprising, given the differences between his telepathy and Jean's, not to mention how much more experienced he was, both in the use and control of his Mutant powers as in dating. But fact was that he had been more closely linked with Erik than with almost anyone ever before (including, to his shame, Gabrielle. She had been very accepting of his powers, but never really wanted to experience them on herself). Even more so since he moved in with them, from that moment on, the contact had been basically permanent.

Including when they had been asleep. Charles couldn't count all the times he had sleepily reached out to the mind of the man next to him, nesting just a little closer against the cool metal, now a little less shiny than when he was awake. They had even fallen asleep and woken up at exactly the same time every single day. How could they not have noticed how suspicious that was?

He didn't have to explain any of this to Erik. He could feel that he saw it in his mind.

The two men sat in silence for a long time, each following his own thoughts, even if both run in similar patterns. They both knew that, now that they were aware of the intensity of their relationship, they could no longer ignore it. The only options left were either to accept and embrace it, or to pull the emergency brakes and make sure to get a constant distance between them. The mare idea of the second scared Charles beyond measure and made him want to jump forward and cling to Erik, both physically and mentally. He could of course accept it if that was what Magneto wanted. He would be fine, he could live with a little distance. There was absolutely no reason why…

<Amusement.>

« What is it, Erik? »

His friend leaned a little closer. He had relaxed a little from his tense position earlier some time ago.

« Oh Charles, do you really think that those are purely your emotions? »

The metal slid of f the Professor, and re-assumed it's previous position as marbles on the desk and in Erik's pockets. Somewhere in the very back of his mind, Charles noted that he really needed to purchase some plastic paperclips, if he wanted to have any when he needed them.

Chapter Text

Callisto had to admit that Christmas had been much more comfortable than the years before. For starters, it wasn't cold. They kept the heating at a minimum, because they were used to the cold and didn't want to change that (just in case), so the temperature in the house never went very high, but it was still much, much warmer than outside. It was also a lot less humid, and the running water was a miracle.

The Morlocks weren't really religious. Well, Façade prayed regularly, and they celebrated or at least noted the main Christian holidays, but that was it. They had a Christmas tradition, which consisted in finding and getting the most beautiful evergreen twig they could manage, and Torpid was charged with decorating it however she could. She had a small box with found Christmas tree decorations for this purpose. Sometimes, people forgot a small figure on their tree when they threw it out, and the Morlock girl carefully searched for them every year. On Christmas Eve, they would have a meal, something warm, also the best they could find, and more than what they had on a normal day, than sit together until late in the day, sing Christmas songs and tell stories.

Getting the food was more difficult than it had been when they had been living in the tunnels. X and Magnet paid for the water, electricity and heating of the house, butforgot about the food for the inhabitants. Not that Callisto would have accepted it, had they thought of it. So the Morlocks still went to their usual places, but those places were now further away, and they had to carry the groceries all the way to the Boarding House, through the snow and the mud. The tunnels while not the safe haven they'd once been, still served them well. Not living in them didn't mean that they couldn't use them to get around, they allowed them to remain unseen, and there was no snow under the ground.

On December 24th, something happened that had never happened before : somebody rang the doorbell. It was early in the afternoon, and everyone was busy with their preparations for the evening. Their daily rhythm had become properly tossed around by living over the ground, and they were no longer strictly nocturnal. They weren't strictly the opposite, either. It was a mess.

The bell rang and everyone froze and tensed. Buzz. Buzz, buzz, buzzzzzzz. Than silence. The Morlocks turned as one person to Lucid.

« Quicksilver. », she said. « At least I think so, I only saw a blur »

« Definitely Quicksilver. », agreed Callisto. « Nobody else is this fast. »

« He left something at the door, than run away. There is nobody to see. »

Cybelle went to retrieve the package. The rest of the Morlocks only relaxed when she returned, a huge basket in her hands.

« Found this.No sign of anybody, just footprints. Well, these look as if there was a wind making them. »

She placed the basket on the table, and the Morlocks all gathered around. It was full of food.

« Stolen. », said Façade at once.

« Probably. », agreed Callisto. « But we can't prove it. Damn him. »

Caliban took out some items and looked at them from every angle.

« We don't need stolen things, and we don't need charity. », reminded him Callisto.

« It would be a shame to waste these. », said the ghostly pale man.

He was right. Even if they found out where the food came from, they couldn't bring it back. And one didn't waste food. Never, under no circumstances. And now that Callisto looked closer…

« Wow. », whispered Cybelle.

It was good food. The kind that tasted great, but they would never buy because it was expensive and didn't provide enough calories to be worth it. This kind of food, one didn't get from a charity, either. Those were fond of packages of rice and noodles, things that last long. Whoever'd assembled this basket, hadn't wasted a thought on that, they'd just considered the taste.

« Are those… oranges? » Façade pulled out a net full of, yes, oranges.

They all stared at the fruit with big, hungry eyes.

« All right, we keep it. », decided Callisto. « But only this one time, and somebody catch Quicksilver, I want to tell him off personally. »

Cybelle shook her head. « Poor boy must really like Spyke a lot. I wonder if he knows that he isn't here? »

« He knows. », said Scaleface. « Spyke told me that they had said goodbye for the next few weeks last time they met. These are for us. »

 

New Year was something they didn't celebrate. There wasn't much point to it. The Morlocks were always awake at night, so staying up till midnight was a little nonsensical, they couldn't afford a second big meal so soon after Christmas, and although many of them had a talent for making a lot of noise if they wanted, it was never a good idea to risk drawing attention to yourself. They did however always watch the fireworks, and were delighted that this year, they could do so from indoors, through the windows on the top floor.

Spyke came back two days later, bringing leftovers from his blood family's celebrations, but unwilling to talk about what he had been doing. Everyone accepted it without question. They couldn't see how a meeting with Humans, who for his entire life had planned for him to become another normal Human, possibly could go well.

Callisto could feel the joy and reliefof the others upon seeing him again. If she was honest, she felt it, too. Something had been missing while Spyke wasn't there, something big and important, and she hadn't even noticed the hole he'd left, untilit suddenly wasn't there any more. The Morlocks were supposed to be together, it was just the order of things. She wouldn't ever admit to it, but it was bad enough that Berzerker wasn't with them. Even if he and Scaleface never seemed to stop arguing.

X and Magnet had invited them both for Christmas and New Year's eve, but didn't mind her declining both. They'd probably had been surprised, had she accepted. Now that the celebrations were over, they got in touch again, and sadly there was no way of ignoring them, since they lived in Magnet's house.

« What? » Callisto looked the two men up and down without taking any initiative to open the door more than a crack.

« May we come in? », asked X. He was wearing a huge coat and was wrapped in two blankets against the early January cold.

« No. », answered Callisto.

« Remember your place. », said Magnet, who didn't seem to be wearing any more than he did in summer, and held his helmet in his hand. It was hard to tell whether or not his real head was an improvement.

« I do. I am standing in the door of the house me and my team live in and you haven't been invited. I am telling you that you cannot enter. »

« Maybe I should remind you that that house... »

« Erik. Callisto. Please. »

« How can it even be that you two are still talking? Shouldn't you be back to poking each other with sticks by now? »

« We've told you, we have set the past behind us. Could we have a word, please? »

Callisto looked them up and down again, silently calculating her odds of convincing them to leave her alone.

« Ok, we'll go for a walk. I'll just get my coat. » She closed the door before they could answer.

She didn't exactly hurry while she put on her old brown coat. It hadn't been new when she'd got it, and had never looked even nearly as pretty as X's clothes, but is was warm and had got her through some winters already.

« What do you want? », asked she harshly as soon as she'd closed the door.

« Your help. », answered X simply.

This was alarming. Callisto didn't put it past them to have been secretly organizing everything – the Morlocks getting forced out of their tunnels, the luxus house, people seeming to respect their boundaries, the food left in front of the door – in order to make them feel as if they owed them, preparing for this moment.

« The Morlocks do not fight. »

X smiled reassuringly. Cursed telepath.

« We don't need you to. In fact, the less attention Mutants as a group could attract right now, the better it would be. What we need is your knowledge and experience. »

Now this she must have been hallucinating.

« You are actually admitting that I know something that you don't? »

« Well of course. », said X. « I thought that this was self-evident. »

« Nah, you two always act as if you were the most intelligent people on Earth and the only ones who know a thing about Mutants. »

Magnet glared at her, but X decided to ignore this statement.

« If we are going to address the needs of the Mutants, than we have to know what they are. All three of us have a different view of our current situation. If we want to be successful, we will need to work together. »

Callisto stayed silent for a while, considering this. She did want to help Mutants, but was known to be ready to do anything for her people, and that were before anything else the Morlocks. Staying invisible was one of these things. Not to mention that her trust for both X and Magnet only went so far. And the myriad of technical difficulties, like:

« You do of course realize that I am a homeless woman with an eye-patch, and your friend here an internationally famous terrorist? What do you think we can do, appear on talk shows and win people over with our charm? »

« No. First of all, make a list of the things that you and your people think are the most urgent issues to be addressed. We will make one each too, and than we can talk about how to proceed. »

Professor X and Magneto asking her advise and offering to help her. New Year really couldn't have had a weirder start if it tried.