Ch. 17 A Time of Change.

Rogue felt Kitty slam into her. The other girl's motion sent them into a semi-controlled tumble not into but through a wall. Behind them laser blasts slammed in three rapid successions into the brick wall they had escaped through. Neither spoke nor paused as they rolled to their feet. Rogue placed a hand on Kitty's shoulder and Shadowcat took them both back into the fray.

Boots crunched upon the debris now coated the street in a thick layer. Kitty felt Rogue's hand leave her shoulder only to find herself accosted by Robert Drake, a.k.a. Iceman, a moment later. Over a road formed of ice, Kitty clung to Bobby as he sped them towards their destination. A place denoted by the pinkish red blasts that heralded Cyclops' power. Above them Rogue soared within the relative safety of a telekinetic bubble to keep attention off the more vulnerable Shadowcat and Iceman.

Kitty's hands spasmed over Bobby's icy hips as another building rushed towards them or so it seemed. At the last moment the stream of ice that poured from his hands angled upwards at a steep incline to take them up the wall and over the roof. Kitty looked up, Rogue now only a faint figure against the cloudy sky.

"Heads up ya two," Rogue's voice permeated the periphery of both Kitty and Bobby's minds. "Iceman, make a sharp left n' come in from tha southern edge."

Kitty was grateful for the warning. She shifted her weight and bent her knees just a bit more. Just as she finished her adjustments, the sharp left came and where Kitty might have been thrown before, she remained steady behind him.

The three of them had just cleared out section 2, 3, and 4. Now they rushed to the aid of teammates caught in Sentinel crossfire. Two of them were down and one injured. Scott was doing his best to keep the remaining two robots off the hurt ones, but he couldn't last forever. In Kitty's mind she saw the layout of this section of the city.

In that mental map, she placed the last known location of the second team, and of robots. Now she understood why Rogue wanted their approach from the south. There was a good covered place for Iceman to drop off Shadowcat without having to drop her into excessive fire. The drop off spot was close enough to the second team for her to get the others to relative safety with speed. It also gave Iceman room to maneuver and act as moving target to get at least one of the robots' attention.

"Knew ya'd figuah it out," This time Rogue's mental voice spoke to Kitty alone. She spoke again and explained her plan to Bobby, Kitty, and Scott. All three gave their ascent with Scott making one minor revision. He and Bobby would provide cover fire for Kitty and attempt to draw one of the Sentinels away while Rogue baited the other. A risky plan, but they had little other choice.

Kitty felt Bobby slow and a second later she saw the alleyway that was also her drop off point. Her hold loosened then dropped all together as she leapt from the ice road. Iceman only looked long enough to insure himself that she landed on her feet before he picked up his speed a second time. Shadowcat wasted no time heading into the building and through the other wall, well at least her head.

Kurt and Amara lay about ten yards in front of her, both unconscious. To their side, Jean leaned against a cement slab, holding her ribs with a pained expression as she tried to keep the flickering telekinetic shield over the other two. The clink and grind of metallic gears drew her eyes to the left. The shoulder guns of the robot extended, but before her fired, Iceman came to the rescue. The next step the robot took landed it on a slick of ice. Something the towering behemoth was not prepared for as it pitched to the right and fell hard onto a side street.

Even as she looked to her right, Kitty heard the whistle of Scott's optic blasts as he pounded the downed mechanical mass. Shadowcat now saw the second Sentinel, much closer then they had guessed. But that did not matter so much now as the creature had its hands full with chunk of concrete, lamp posts, and anything else Rogue could find hurling at it.

With the path clear, Kitty darted out and grabbed Kurt. Jean nodded in grim determination and knelt next to Amara. With Kurt gone, Jean no longer had to cover so much space and as a result the small mental shield strengthened in front of her and Magma. Kitty hoisted Kurt up, one of his arms over her shoulder. She balanced most of his weight on her hip and one hand clenched on his belt to keep him steady. With as much haste as she could risk, Kitty half carried, half dragged him into another building farther away from the fight.

Her heart raced, but from exertion only. She knew the drill now, fight now, get emotional later. A lapse into fear or panic could and would cost her friends their lives and she was not about to let that happen in the least. Out of the corner of her eye, Shadowcat saw Cyclops and Iceman finish off the downed Sentinel and Rogue leading the other away from the 'safe zone' where Shadowcat had just left Nightcrawler. Kitty's agile mind recorded every detail and adjusted her escape route. Now that the Sentinels were not breathing down her neck, she could take a faster route with Amara, and as a result conserve her energy.

Without hesitation she moved through walls and larger pieces of fallen stone or cement. This time she did not take the cautious first look. Instead she trusted her ears to give way the last robot's location as she darted into the alley way where Jean half lay over Amara. No longer able to keep the telekinetic shield up, Jean opted to protect her teammate with the one thing she had left: herself. Kitty's soft touch startled the dazed telepath.

"Just rest, I'll be right back for you," Jean leaned heavily on the ground as Kitty pulled Amara up as gently as she could without slowing too much. Jean gave a weak smile and waved her off. Shadowcat darted off again. Magma was not as heavy as Nightcrawler and allowed for faster movement. She lay the girl next to Kurt and headed back a final time for Jean. Her chest burned with the rounds of sprinting, but Shadowcat ignored it.

"How's it goin', Rogue?" She sent out the thought in the hope that Rogue could pick it up.

"This last 'en won' g'down," Rogue's words grumbled in amusing irritation within Kitty's mind. "How's yer end?"

"Just gotta get Jean. You need me?"

"Na, Ah think we got it. Weh'll meet ya theah." Rogue's presence left about the time Kitty skidded to a halt near the shocky Jean Grey. A small frown touched Kitty features. Apparently Jean had been hurt worse then they had thought. But that was neither here nor there as once Kitty helped a teammate up. It was easier with Jean who could at least bear some of her own weight, and with Kitty guiding her, shaky steps were not impossible.

Progress was slow and the longer each step took the more Kitty's nerves frayed. Right now they were out in the open. Only half crumbled buildings provided any sort of protection. Behind them, Kitty could make out the sounds of the fight. Each loud whistle of Cyclop's eyes, every brittle crackle of Iceman's freezing, even the soft whoosh of various items flung through the air by Rogue. As Wolverine had taught her, Kitty listened. Ears strained to pick up a sound, anything that might indicate the Sentinel or something had discovered her and Jean.

Kitty covered the last bit of ground to the safe building and phased through the wall with a now unconscious Jean. Around the same time the final Sentinel hit the ground. It's yellow eyes dimmed before they extinguished all together.

In the next instant the entire scene faded and the three unconscious teammates stood up. Only the dim, steel walls of the Danger Room met Kitty's eyes. Rogue, Scott, and Bobby soon joined them.

"We kicked some major ass!" Bobby turned to Scott for a high five. The latter smirked and thumped the enthusiastic Iceman on the forehead.

"Easy there Ice, that was just a level one team simulation." But since Amara and Bobby were new to the official team, Logan had started them with the usual level one. The objective was to cover downed teammates while the extraction team pulled them to a safer venue. The only reason Amara had been given the job of 'downed teammate' was a sprained ankle from gym class. But Logan still felt that by observing she would gain enough benefit to still be included in the exercise.

"But did you see the way I frozen those rockets in mid-air? Even YOU have to admit that rocked!"

"Ah especially lahked tha way ya slipped up on ya own ice patch n' landed on ya butt," Bobby might have been hurt by the dry tone Rogue used, but he saw her wink and instead fell into quite embarrassment. His cheeks flushed at that little slip and he found a sudden interest in the tops of his shoes.

Kurt tried not laugh and for the most part succeeded in hiding the few snickers behind one three fingered hand. Amara however was not so kind to Bobby Drake's feelings. The islander vented her open amusement until her arms seemed to be the only thing holding her shaking body together. He frowned and thumped her on the head much the same way Scott had done to him.

"All right, all right, enough," Scott called while masking his chuckles better than the previous two. "Logan is waiting for us in the briefing room."

The seven of them meandered out. Kitty hitched a ride on Kurt's back while Bobby stuck close to the limping Amara despite her earlier amusement at his expense. Jean, Scott, and Rogue walked along behind them. Each wore a slight smile, each watched as Kurt spun around with Kitty screaming at him to stop, and Bobby as he picked up Amara with all the air of a gallant knight and carried her off after the other two. None of them spoke as they made their way at a more sedate pace until Rogue broke the silence.

"Ah ain't tha onlah one feelin' suddenly old am Ah?"

"Nope," Came the in unison reply.

Whatever might have been said was curtailed as they entered the room where Logan sat at the head of a long table. Everyone took a seat much in the order that they had entered the room. Logan took that as his cue to stand and raise the monitor that covered an entire wall. But their eyes did not turn to the screen.

"Well, not too bad of a run especially with a few of the twists. Now, I know you've got questions, so ask… starting with the senior team." Scott as the official team leader started.

"Why did you put Bobby in with the extraction team? They've never had someone with a purely offensive power start off with them before." Usually the extraction team consisted of Rogue, Kurt, Kitty, and occasionally Jean.

"'Cause his power is more versatile than we've ever trained," With that Logan cued the tape at the point Kitty, Bobby, and Rogue made their entry once the call had come from Scott for an evacuation. "In past scenarios, Rogue would absorb Kurt, Kitty, or both, and then all three would teleport into the location. Here there was no teleportation option. Nor with Jean's power could Rogue have flown in two people by herself and still had much left over to help with the evac. But Bobby could keep up with a flying Rogue and keep Kitty with him, sparring Rogue's power even more."

"But since Kitty and Bobby were moving so fast, the com links might have had too much background noise to communicate effectively with Rogue, so she was in essence the com link." Logan nodded with Scott's observation.

"That and we don't know if Sentinels can pick up our com channel. Probably not, but that's not a risk we want to take unless we have to. That makes our telepaths and anyone who can be a telepath even more important." Rogue and Jean exchanged glances. Both girls knew what that meant: extra sessions for the two of them.

"Except you won't just be holding sessions with me," Logan smirked as he read their shared look. "You'll both be working with Charles on a regular basis from now on, and Storm as well. You both need flight lessons." Indignant looks from both girls drew a short chuckle. "Next question."

"Like why me n' not Kurt in the evac team?"

"'Cause it'll take you more time to pull someone, or several someone's out. That means yer distraction people have to work longer if they can't take the target in question out. Plus you can work in areas better that you don't know as well. Elf over there has to have some idea of where he's going b'fore. Now, havin' said, you see anything you coulda done different?" A small frown formed as Kitty watched the video from the session.

"Tried at least once to wake Kurt up once I had him back at the safe building. He'd know where he was going then," She paused and Logan waited. "If that didn't work..hmm… maybe…"

"Yeah?" Logan prompted with a tone of encouragement.

"Well, I've never tried it before, but maybe I could've half phased the person I was taking. Enough that they'd be lighter, but still solid enough that I'd have a hold on 'em. That would be so much easier then trying to get there completely phased out." A nod of approval from Logan, and Kitty secretly beamed and cringed at the same time. Apparently Jean and Rogue were not the only people he had in mind for special sessions.

Ah hour passed in the briefing room as Logan answered their questions and went over the various strategies they had employed during the session. Everyone contributed to the discussion on such a level that Logan felt quite pleased with his students by the time they walked out the door. The ones in this group were already in good shape, now he wanted to work on their minds. That was the reason for such a low level on the simulation today.

He wanted to see how both Scott and Rogue acted as leaders of separate teams, as well as how well they worked together to coordinate the two groups. Aside from a couple of miscommunications and misunderstandings, both of them had done quite well. Bobby and Amara settled into team situations easily and Kurt, Jean, and Kitty had each contributed where need be to either help the less experienced on the team or lend support to their leader.

Though only when the last of them walked out the door did he allow himself a smile. A faint expression that lasted no more than a moment or two, but there none-the-less. A glance at the clock told him he was going to be late if he did not hurry. Charles had wanted to see him, Beast, and Storm after the morning training sessions. On his way to the Professor's office he ran into a very disgruntled and smoking Henry McCoy.

The blue Beast sidled up to Logan as small rivulets of grayish smoke wafted from the man's fur.

"Hasty questions oft bring about hasty and rash answers, Logan." Wolverine smirked at the polite way to say 'if you ask, I'll kill you', and nodded to his fellow instructor.

"Ya know why Chuck wants to see us?" The question, so far off what Logan wanted to ask, seemed to mollify the great blue creature.

"No, Logan, I do not. Though I suspect it has something to do with the further instruction of our young charges."

The door to the office was cracked and the soft laughter of both Xavier and Storm filtered through the slight opening. Beast's large paw pressed the mahogany door further open and he gave a gallant, jesting bow.

"Age before beastly."

"If that's th' case, I should never be walkin' through a door last," Beast chuckled and closed the door behind him to take up the remaining chair in front of the large desk. Neither Storm nor Charles asked about the definitive smell of singed fur though McCoy saw the question clear as day in both sets of eyes.

"A story for another time, my friends. Once tempers have cooled and humor can be found in the telling, namely by me." Sympathetic looks flashed all about him and none did he take offense to. The people in this room shared his plight in teaching and training young mutants and none of them had walked out of every session unscathed.

Since Storm had been the recipient of the easiest class of the day, she retrieved coffee for the other two men, leaving the Professor to his cherished morning tea. The sun, which had been absent when all of them rose this morning, now gleamed in full cheer between the sway branches outside the windows. It danced a pattern through the leaves and over the solid wood floor and for a moment quiet fell.

Xavier watched each of his instructors and friends. He was not sure how they would receive his new idea, but the time had come to put into effect the real goals he had for this Institute. The sudden soft whir of his wheelchair drew their attention. He navigated around the desk to the complete the circle in front of it.

"So, how are the students doing?" Logan began.

"Our senior kids are comin' along well. Jean, Scott, and Rogue all show the ability to lead, and to teach. Kitty n' Kurt are expandin' on their knowledge of their mutation n' they've all got a grasp on the real meanin' of team work. Bobby and Amara seem to be fittin' inta the program well. I've still got Ray workin' on his control." Once Logan finished Storm chimed in. She had now taken over the basic training for new recruits since her mutation, the ability to control weather, allowed her to express that mutation in a variety of ways. Plus she was the least likely of the three to scare new children.

"Jamie and Rahne both requested to help me with the new students, and both Hank and I thought it would be good for them. They are good with children and I think the added responsibility has helped them both. The young girl who calls herself "Siren" is very afraid of her mutation to the point where she will not speak much, but Rahne has taken her under wing and seems to be making progress. The others are unsure of this place and themselves, but I have no reason to believe they will not adjust. In fact the public schools scare them more than here."

No one spoke immediately to Storm's last comment. In the weeks after Rogue's attack, the schools had become near a war zone for their students. They each took it in stride, but the constant bombardment was wearing on them all and it showed each day that they came home. Finally, Beast spoke up. He worked mostly with the intermediate students and helping any of them with academic problems.

"Well my group is coming along well enough I suppose. Most of them are caught admist the throws of adolescents which is a tumultuous enough time of life without the outside influences. However, despite their rowdiness and occasional mischief, they are indeed learning." The blue man paused long enough for a smirk and a drink. When he began again, his tone became far more serious. "However, more and more are needing my help to keep up with school and it has nothing to do with the academics and everything to do with the torture they endure everyday."

Now all eyes turned to Xavier. His brow furrowed as he pressed his chin against steepled fingers. For all that he seemed and often was a serene man, none of them missed the anger and sorrow that shone briefly in his gaze.

"I know that things have gotten worse. I had hoped…" He sighed. They, after all, knew what his hopes had been. That with time the other students of Bayville High would have come to accept his mutant students, and in truth some of them had. But it was a small portion that dared not speak out against the rest. Anti-mutant sentiment had a strangled hold on all of the school in the town and the pressure was only increasing. "But what I had hoped is not fact, and I will not risk their well being after the lastest rounds of abuse. What had started out as nasty pranks has escalated into a far more disturbing violence." It was not just shoves into lockers or fights after school, though those happened often enough, but far more serious acts as well. Jean's pole had been halfway sawed through, and had snapped in the midst of a vault. She had not been hurt more than a bruise, but the intent was clear enough.

Nor had it ended there: animal blood smeared on Kitty's locker, a dead rabbit painted blue in Kurt's locker, and on and on. Xavier not only feared for his students' safety, but also their very real and justified anger. If they found out who the ringleaders of the abuse were, he was not certain just what his students would do, especially if things stayed the current course.

"What we had wanted is, at this time, not an option," His resigned tone brought a trace of sadness to Storm's features. "Instead of pining for what might have been, we must look to what could be. For our sakes and theirs." Xavier reached back and pulled three folders off of his desk and handed them to each of his instructors. "These are the profiles on several prominent professors. Most are mutants and those that are not hold at the very least a neutral stance on mutant kind."

"Biology, math, literature, history…" Beast ticked off the specialties of several of the people. His blue brow furrowed in concentrate until a slow grin revealed long white canines in what most would consider a threatening expression. "A self sustaining school, Charles?"

"Yes," He nodded, "Our students need an academic education along with learning to control and use their powers. It seems we shall have to take care of the academics as well. While the four of us are more than capable of tutoring the students in problem subjects, we will not be capable of running a complete school on our own. I admit that since we became known to the world, I have been researching these people. In fact," He paused with a small sigh, "this is an option I had always considered."

"Chuck, as much as you, as much as we all wanted to see things go differently," Wolverine shrugged, "They didn't. N' like you said, we gotta take care of our kids. For what it's worth, I agree with you on this." Logan's arms crossed in front of him as the folder balanced on his lap, still unopened.

"He is correct, Charles," Beast nodded with Ororo's words, "Most of the ones here came here afraid of what they are, if this is the only way we can give them stability, then so be it."

"Then it is settled, we will continue with the preparations. I would like all of your thoughts on the potential instructors once you have had a chance to look them over. Once we make a rough selection, we will begin the interviews. Thank you." He held each of their eyes for a single moment, one no longer than the rest. With silent nods the three left Xavier.

Charles Xavier wheeled over to the large window that overlooked the courtyard. Below his students played 'mutant ball' with the carefree nature none could show outside. This was not what he wanted for them, but the world had not been kind enough to bend to his will. So for now he would have to be the one to bend.

Though the faculty had left Charles' office, the meeting continued. The kitchen, now vacant after lunch, housed the trio and more coffee. For the moment, no one spoke as each flipped through the files on the potential teachers. But truth be told none of them took in the faces and information in front of them. Too much else ran through their minds and the pretense of contemplation remained only that.

"Well, I do believe that this is going nowhere in a great hurry," Beast's wry comment and soft chuckle drew wry expressions from the other two. "Since we cannot concentrate on the task at hand, perhaps we should look to what occupies all of our thoughts."

"Are we giving up too easily?" Storm asked the question they all thought and had since Xavier had broached the idea. If they stopped now and retreated, would it do more harm?

Logan leaned back and his thick arms crossed in front of his chest with the usual semi-scowl in place. He wanted the kids, their kids out of harms way. Yet he wondered the same. What lesson would they be teaching those same kids? Was it the right one? But perhaps more importantly to Logan would that lesson leave them unprepared for what they would face once they left the safety of the Institute's walls again?

"I am… unsure," Hank began in a tentative voice, "The need for them to be here and have their mutant powers trained is a given, but the rest? Can we muster a suitable faculty to teach them? And then what happens? Will Charles be able to get the needed documentation to the make the Institute credible with colleges and universities in today's political climate? If that is not an option, what do we do?" His words fell off into a strange helplessness for the eloquent blue man, the inability to express every concern he had not only for the students now but also in the future.

"I agree, Hank. Then there are the immediate concerns that both weigh for and against this idea." Storm's troubled gaze fell into her coffee.

"No," Logan spoke, "This is the right thing to do now. Right now half a' those kids are scared a' what they can do. We aren't ever gonna get them comfortable with who they are n' what they are if they gotta clean 'freak' written in blood off their lockers everyday," He paused with their startled stares, "Look Hank, either things are gonna get so bad that a degree isn't gonna matter for these kids, or things'll settle down enough that we can get 'em what they need. 'Sides the public schools ain't 'xactly producin' what I'd want to call the hope of the future."

Wolverine rose under the insistence of his restlessness, and turned towards the bay window nestled in comfortable silence within the wall. The shouts and laughter beyond the walls reached his keen ears, and strengthened its resolve.

"There ain't a perfect solution right now."

"Yes, you are correct there, my friend. Too correct for my liking, but here we are none-the-less. But I believe all your words to hold wisdom, though bleak the conclusion might be at this time." Storm heard the resignation in Hank's words and shared it. Charles wanted the Institute to be a place where mutants could learn to control their abilities and be a part of the rest of the world. Of course they had all realized that backlash once the rest of the population discovered their abilities was inevitable, they had all believe the harshness of it could be quelled if … Well 'if' did not matter now.

"Then we will tell them, all of it, and try to allay their fears and concerns as well." No one spoke of his or her first three students. All of whom had been accepted to Universities within an hour or two of the Institute, and would be attending in the fall. Jean would be majoring in biology with an emphasis on genetics in the hopes of becoming a medical doctor who specialized in genetics. Scott wanted to become an engineer in both chemistry and mechanics. Rogue sought the role of psychologist in tandem with history and politics. What would happen to them?

This was a time of questions and uncertainty, not just for mutants, but all people. The answers did not seem to be near as they stumbled about in the dark. Still they had hope and with that hope in mind the table fell silent once more and three folders opened as the Institute's current faculty set about selecting new members. Once Storm resumed the task, a rightness settled over her that had only been discomfort before. Logan was right: no perfect solution, but at least they had a good one.

"What'd ya think this meetin's about?" Rogue asked as she sat on one of the many couches scattered about the rec room. Kitty sat crossed legged in front of her while the older girl carefully plaited Kitty's brown locks into a French braid. Kurt sat next to Rogue much in the same pose as Kitty. The scene was curious, even to him who knew both of them well. Rogue braiding hair? The odd picture did not fit. In fact their friendship did not fit, yet here it was and he could not help but smile.

"I am not sure," His tone was tentative with the apprehension that he felt. School would end in five months and Rogue would go off to college. Part of his happy world would leave, then he and Kitty would be senior resident members. Kurt, who styled himself the jokester and sometimes clown, wondered if he could fill that void. His one consolation was the duty would be shared and that the three heading off to college would not be that far away nor that removed from Institute life. But still… change was upon them, him, and he felt this meeting would be bring about even more change.

"They haven't, like, told you anything either?" Rogue tied off the end of the braid and flipped it with proper dramatic flair over her friend's shoulder.

"Nope, not a word," A sigh followed the words. Anxiety forced her fingers to find something to do now that Kitty's hair no longer needed attention. Rogue picked at the loose threads that bordered the outskirts of the kneehole in her jeans. A few of them proved long enough to braid. So she did, over and over again.

Oh she had an idea as to what this meeting would be about: Bayville Schools. A few of the younger kids now fought against going outside the Institute doors, and most of the others walked out of the doors with the grim resignation of the condemned walking that last mile. Tensions, well to say they were high would underestimating the truth. All the kids teetered on the brink and one shove in the wrong direction… Rogue shuddered at the thought.

In twos and threes the rest of the Institute trickled in and took up free spaces on the furniture and when that was no longer an option, the floor suited most of them just fine. The babble increased to a dull roar punctuated by squeals of indignation accompanied by laughter. The three friends did not bother with significant conversation anymore. It was just too loud to be heard without yelling.

Rogue blinked as realization thumped her in the back of the head with an insistent fist. The number of kids at the Xavier Institute had to have at least doubled in the last few months. Kids of all ages crowded together and chatted without regard to grade. In a daze, Rogue forgot the need to braid and re-braid the frazzled denim threads.

Even with the increase in numbers, the Institute rarely felt crowded. That is why she did not notice before. In fact, probably twice this number could fit comfortably within the school walls. The scope of it, and Xavier's intentions, consumed her thoughts to such a degree that she did not even notice the adults enter the room. But she did notice the sudden cessation of conversation.

"Students," Xavier began just as he stopped his wheelchair. The other remained a bit behind and to the side of him, "I know you are all wondering why I have called this meeting," Another pause for breathe and for the first time since he came here, Kurt saw Xavier anything other than calm. "You all know of the problems at school. Most of you have suffered them." The attitude in the room changed from merely quiet to subdued. The younger kids clung to those they trusted in an attempt to hold back tears.

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I know this update has taken slightly on the side of forever, and for that I apologize to everyone. I won't go into exhaustive detail about the whys and such, I will only say that I am going to try and be far more frequent with my updates from now on.

This is a bit of a transitional chapter and needed to set up some future ideas that I have. Not too much Rogue and Remy here, but I hope to change that in the next chapter.

To all those who have reviewed and those who have simply read this story. Thank you for your words of support, or support simply through reading. I really do appreciate it all.

Enjoy!

-TL