Disclaimer: Kate and a random mutant who turn up during the Cerebro search are mine. All others are Marvel/20th Century Fox's.


1) The account of Hank McCoy's mutation used here differs radically from the comics version -- it is taken from the X2 novelization written by Chris Claremont.

2) I realize that in the comics Pietro and Wanda Maximoff were first members of the Brotherhood before turning to the Light Side of the For . . . I mean, the X-Men. But I couldn't resist the idea of Quicksilver running around wreaking havok at the Mansion. And, since Fox went against canon and made Rogue a teenager, I followed suit and made Pietro a kid.

3) The Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son referenced herein can be found in Luke 15:11-32.

4) John Proudstar, aka Thunderbird, was one of the first X-Men to die in battle. Shortly after his introduction, he gave his life to stop a villain from getting away . . . If memory serves me right, he jumped on the back of a plane which then exploded. Warren is the infamous Warren Worthington III, aka The Angel/Archangel. The girl with green hair is Lorna Dane, codename Polaris. The gentleman with the cards should be easy to identify.

Upstate New York

12:37 PM

Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters

Level Four Computer Lab

"I believe I've isolated the correct string of programming, Professor." Hank McCoy looks up from a screen of complex computer coding, raising a furry blue eyebrow at me over his half-rimmed glasses. "I'd like to run a diagnostic to make certain of the results. But I believe this program will greatly increase Cerebro's focusing abilities, without endangering the individual being focused on."

Is it just me, or does Hank shift imperceptibly in his chair with that statement, as if remembering a not-so-distant pain? If he does, his thoughts don't project it, and I know better than to pry. Instead, I nod.

"How soon should it be ready for testing?"

"Hmm." Hank turns back to the screens for a moment, hunching his shoulders in a gesture he has carried since we met over a decade ago. Then he turns back to me. "Within a day or so, I should think. But I'd like a fresh set of data to work from, to decrease the chance of programming errors."

"Shall I give Cerebro a quick run-through?"

"If you don't mind. I . . . Oh." One of the monitors beeps, and he turns once again. "Excuse me a moment."

I nod, watching him as he once again hunches over the keyboard. Hank is an old friend, a former student who fought alongside Scott, Warren, and Jean before moving on to continue his education. He returned not long after Stryker's attack, looking for help and a place to hide. The first wave of Cerebro2's energies triggered some hidden code locked within Hank's X-Gene, transforming him in a matter of moments from someone who was able to hide his mutation into someone who is not.

Just one more thing I will someday have to answer for.

Still, Hank's presence here has been a blessing. He has taken over the duties as physician which Jean left vacant, and the children love him -- he has become a sort of surrogate uncle, for despite his now-startling appearance he is a gentle giant. His brilliance has helped with the modifications we have made to Cerebro -- the new safeguards and failsafe programs that will keep it from ever again being used as a weapon.

I pray they will be enough.

"Now, as I was saying," Hank turns around once again. "If you wouldn't mind, I believe a quick scan should provide sufficient information."

"Very well." I nod and turn for the door, heading for the elevator that will take me to Cerebro.

I once overheard some of the children speculating on the source of the money used to build Cerebro, the Danger Room and the Blackbird. One of them was of the opinion that I'd won the lottery. Another said it was obvious the money had been made in the stock market. Still another -- young Pietro Maximoff -- spun a wildly inventive story about how I'd once been involved in smuggling and the black market, until the accident that left me in a wheelchair gave me a change of heart and caused me to use my ill-gotten gains for good.

At which point I began laughing so hard that the children realized I was there. I've rarely seen Pietro blush as hard as he did that day.

I reach the lower level that houses Cerebro, hear the familiar voice greet me and close myself inside the vast spherical room.

The truth about the money is, of course, far less exciting than Pietro's fanciful tale. The School, like so many of the houses in this area, is an old family estate with an old family behind it. Some were rogues -- I wonder if Pietro knows that there once was an Xavier who made his living by smuggling? -- but for the most part they were respectable men, with solid heads for business. It was they who built the fortune that built the X-Men, and not a day passes that I do not thank my grandfather and great-grandfather for the sound financial decisions they made in planning for the future -- even as I wonder what they would think of the future their money has built.

The computer springs into humming life, and I am greeted by the familiar constellation of living stars. A short run-through, Hank requested -- there is no reason I shouldn't get some work done while I'm here.

Searching for new students in need of the School's resources was my main reason for designing Cerebro, and it is still the purpose I use it for the most. I know all too well that many of those lights are confused, frightened children in need of safe haven. A great many of them need what this School is meant to provide.

But, while extensive, our resources are not unlimited -- especially in these months since Stryker's attack. Much as I would wish to, I cannot bring every light I see here. I cannot give all of those who need it safe harbor. So instead I sit here and try to weigh and balance the lives and futures of the people those lights represent.

Which one shall it be?

So much is involved in the decision; the individual's powers, their situation, their level of control. But also there is a great deal of chance, of guesswork; for in the end it often comes down to a simple decision based on my instincts.

Who will it be? The girl with hair the color of emeralds, her gift so closely mimicking that of the man I call both enemy and friend? Or should it be the older man with the fiery temper and the deck of cards?

So many lives, and only a few within my ability to help.

What about him? The burgeoning young telepath with the highly-specific, barely-controlled abilities? The boy whose gift is slowly growing stronger, imposing itself more and more on his father's livelihood?

So many lights.

Ach, Charles. There's not enough room in this world for all the ones ye want t'help.

Moira's voice, her words, echoing back to me from a time long ago, when the dream was new and her love was mine. The days when the three of us worked together on a dream that once belonged to us all. Now Moira has gone her own way, and Eric's anger has forced him into a separate path.

Only I am still here to look out at the lights.

One light catches my attention, and I stop my search for a moment. This light flickers and rages with an uncontrolled inner flame. I would know that light even if it were not so close to the other one, the cold steady beacon that represents my lost brother. Even if it were not near to Erik's light, I would know that flame.


John Allardyce is not the first student I have lost, though the first was also named John. That was John Proudstar, who called himself Thunderbird -- and his loss, like all the others, haunts me to this day.

Did I choose them poorly? Did I fail in some way to prepare them? Or did I simply fall short of the fearless leader they hoped for? Whatever the case, I have lost students. Friends. Children.

It is one thing to send a child, trained and prepared, into the world to make their own way. It is another for them to leave angry, as Warren did; or to turn aside, like John Allardyce, into a path of vengeance and war.

Or to die, as John Proudstar died -- his light extinguished before it had time to burn. Not a day passes I do not think of him -- the first son I ever lost. He was never truly part of the team in the way that Warren, Scott, Jean and Hank were. John thought of himself as separate, as a man apart; and he saw no reason to hide that from me. He was a proud boy, as his name suggested -- proud of his heritage, proud of his strength and his abilities, proud of the gift that set him apart from other people. I did not love him the less for that pride.

Just as I do not love this John any less for it.

The children do not speak of him when they think I might hear them. Some think it would hurt me. Others know it would hurt them, to speak of their vanished classmate and the choice he made. They -- or at least most of them -- think of John Allardyce as a failure, a traitor, a fallen angel, even as they remember him as a roommate, a teammate, a friend. To reconcile those different views is more than they wish to attempt.

I wish there were some way to tell them the truth -- but the truth, I have learned after years as a teacher, must sometimes be discovered in its own time. For my students' own sake, I must allow them to come to terms with John Allardyce's choice -- just as once I had to let Scott and Jean and the others come to terms with John Proudstar's choice. I must let them find the truth out for themselves.

And that truth is simply that John -- Pyro, as he calls himself now -- stood at the turning point of his life and made a choice. It was not the choice I wanted him to make, it was not the right choice, and I wish with all my heart there were some way I could help him to unmake it; but right or wrong, it was John's choice -- and for the sake of my love for him, my lost son, I must honor it.

And so now all that I can do is sit and look out at his light, his star, burning with that inner fire that once helped light these hallways -- and wish him well. All I can do is offer him some silent wish for luck. For happiness. And perhaps, someday, for peace.

I hope there is some way that he can hear it.

I turn away from the firelight burning of John's star and withdraw from the vast lightshow of lives. There are several lights there that bear further attention -- but that is for another day. Hank will surely have the data he needs by now.

As the elevator takes me to the main floor of the mansion, I let my thoughts dwell on my lost sons . . . . but then the full sunlight of a late-Spring day strikes me through the hallway windows, and the shouts of a no-holds-barred baseball game echo through an open doorway, and the thousand thousand small thoughts of a School full of children filter past my mind.

Stars fall, sons turn away, and life -- tragically, paradoxically, wonderfully-- goes on.

"Professor! Professor!" Kate, one of my youngest girls, runs down the hallway to greet me. Her blue eyes sparkle and she radiates excitement as she comes to stand next to me. "Professor, guess what?" She smiles brightly, squirming with barely-contained excitement.

I can't help but laugh, troubles banished for the moment by the joy and energy Kate is bursting with. "What is it, Kate?"

"I got an A on my spelling test!" Kate beams, pride pouring from her delicate features. Spelling has always been Kate's problem area, and an A for her is no small accomplishment.

"That is fantastic. I'm proud of you." And I am, savoring the triumph along with her.

Kate smiles shyly and leans closer. "Guess what else, Professor?" Then, without waiting for an answer, she throws her slender arms around my neck and nestles her golden head on my shoulder. She giggles.

"I love you."

My heart bursts with love and pride as I return the embrace. "I love you too, Kate."

In this moment I wonder if John knows that the same love and pride is extended to him -- now, and for as long as my heart beats. I wonder if he knows that -- like the father of the Biblical parable -- I will always be waiting to accept him if he chooses to come home.

I wish him what I wished him before -- but I extend it now to include all of my children.

I wish them luck. And happiness. And someday, God willing, peace.

Perhaps one day my prodigal will return, weary of war and looking for a place where his scars can be healed. If he does, I will be there to greet him. Maybe I can't run to him, but my arms will be open just the same, and there will be a feast to welcome him home. Perhaps one day that will happen.

For now, there is Kate and Piotr and Bobby, Marie and Pietro and Kitty. There is a School full of sons and daughters for me to love and care for, and a door I must make sure will always be open -- both for those seeking harbor, and those who are looking to come home.

The End

Does anyone else feel like this fic should've started, "Captain's Log, Stardate 65434211.7"? Maybe that's just what happens when anyone tries to write a Patrick Stewart character in the first person . . .or maybe it's just me . . . .