A/N: Yu-Gi-Oh doesn't belong to me. Nor do the X-Men, in any variant. No infringement intended.
Continuity notes: For X-Men Evolution, sometime after Dr. McCoy moves to the Institute but well before "Day of Reckoning". For YGO, some unspecified time after Battle City, when things have pretty much gotten back to normal in Domino City (if that's AU, oh well) and Yugi's group of acquaintances (except for Solomon Mouto) have been filled in on the Yugi/Yami details. Evolution is AU - no Apocalypse, and I used a few details out of the original comics. "Regular speech", //telepathy//.
Spiky hair and a bad attitude. Wolverine sniffed the air, stepping silently through the woods around the Xavier Institute. Not much to go on, Charles.
//The contact was brief.// Professor Xavier's telepathic voice held echoes of caution, a taut worry for his students. //Stay on your guard, Logan. Whoever this mutant is, he's very good at shielding himself... and his intent is all too hostile.//
I could use a little workout.Crouched in concealing brush, Wolverine drew a deeper breath, sorting scents of maple leaves, pine sap, hot tar from the nearby road that led up to the Institute gates....
And a faint, drifting taste of ozone.
//Are you certain?//
I know you can't pick up the scent, Charles.Wolverine snuck through the trees, working his way closer to the small, spike-haired silhouette. Whoever it was seemed to have paused just out of sight of the road, indecisive, hands moving with a stiff-paper rattle that sounded like... shuffling cards. But anything that smells human and ozone is either a nut with an ungrounded battery, or a psychic.
//I'll call the others-//
No.The first heat of berserker rage coiled around Wolverine's consciousness. Deliberate rage, usually locked in the darkest corner of his mind, now unchained to guard him from the unknown mutant's manipulations. Raw rage that would buy him time the others wouldn't have; time Xavier could use to measure the psychic's strength, and try to strike against it.
Rage that sent him springing out of cover, hurtling into the smaller form, slamming them both up against a massive oak. Cards scattered like multicolored leaves.
//Logan! Don't kill him!//
Go away, Charles."Talk!"
Pinned to rough bark, one adamantium claw on either side of his black leather collar, wide violet eyes stared up at Wolverine. The air was filled with surprise, fear-
And violet shock became ruby challenge.
"Let's play a game."
Yugi Mouto found himself on one knee on leaf-covered ground, beside the now-unconscious stranger. Not a tall man, though the adult had at least two or three inches on him. He'd looked a lot bigger with sunlight glinting off his blades. //Yami, you didn't-//
//No, aibou. He's not... seriously injured.// The spirit's thoughts had a flavor of rough humor, not the vicious satisfaction that followed one of the pharaoh's Punishment Games. //Still, I doubt he'll try that again.// Humor faded into concern. //Are you all right?//
Gathering the last of his deck, Yugi felt carefully along the edges of his collar. //I'm okay. I don't - think he meant to hurt me....//
"Logan!" A tall, dark-haired teen ran in from the road, one hand raised to odd ruby sunglasses. "Is everything all right? We heard a-"
His gaze fell on the unconscious man, and sneakers scrabbled to a halt.
"Scream." Hand still by his glasses, the teen looked at Yugi. "What happened?"
"I don't know!" Yugi blinked as other teenagers raced into view; a redhead in jeans as pretty as Mai Valentine and a blue-lipped brunette with a platinum streak and a green Goth outfit. He slipped his dueling deck back into a pocket, quelling Yami's urge to have it out and ready. He didn't know, exactly; Yami blocked him from the more vicious Games. Though the details would filter in later. "I think - maybe he tripped?"
"Logan?" The Goth muttered, disbelieving. "Trip?"
"Rogue." The teen in charge glanced away from her, looked a question at the redhead. "Jean?"
Green eyes creased in concentration, and Yugi felt a prickling at the edge of his mind.
//Telempath.// A flicker of interest from Yami; Yugi sensed the spirit settle back farther in his soul room, concealing the link between them. //Interesting.//
Interesting?Yugi hid a gulp. Oh boy.
But Jean's face eased, and she shook her head. "I think he's just lost, Scott." She smiled. "What's your name?"
"Yugi. Yugi Mouto. Have you seen Tea? She's about your height, brown hair, soft blue eyes." Yugi waved his hand as close as he could get to Tea's height. "We were supposed to take the bus all the way. But the day seemed so nice, and we had a map, so Tea thought we could just walk - but we didn't know how far things are in this country! And then we hit a branch of the road, and she went that way and I went this way, and we were supposed to meet up ten minutes from now-"
"Whoa, whoa." Scott finally took his hand down from his glasses. "Slow down. In this country? Where were you going?"
"Somebody get the serial number off that tank...."
Rogue's gloved hands gripped Logan's, helped the dazed man lurch to his feet. "Logan, what hit you?"
Logan shook his head, as if shaking off water. Squinted against the sunlight. Swept his gaze across the bystanders-
Backed up. Fast.
"Whatever you do, don't pick on the little guy...."
And passed out.
Again Janus felt that searchlight beam of mental power sweep out, seeking him. He'd been able to throw his psychic signature once, making it seem as if he were outside the Institute gates, rather than here on the mown grass of Xavier's own backyard. He might not manage it twice.
The leather-jacketed man wrapped psychic distraction around himself like armor. No one important, just one of the students. Just another of the many young mutants playing or watching a relatively sedate, strictly power-free game of softball. Just one more quiet nudge to a few chosen onlookers, barely noticed, save for that one brief instant when they knew-
-And he fed.
Oh, such delicious hatred.
No one hated like a mutant. He should know.
Janus moved away from his latest feed, letting the blonde saunter back towards the game. She was one of his touched, now; he could feel her presence in his mind, her hate for her drunken father seeping into his veins like warming blood.
Frail, for all you want to seem made of steel. Poor little butterfly, trying to be a wasp. Not like my new tracker. Strong, so strong... he might last months.
Or less. The hunger had been increasing lately. The darkness he freed in his subjects' minds grew quicker, commanded more of their actions, eventually driving his touched to destroy themselves.
But his fools, now. The butterfly would play her part. The part a butterfly did best; distraction.
And Xavier, for all his power, would suspect nothing.
Now for his last target.
Disappointing, really. Humans never hated so deeply. It'd be like stale bread, compared to the succulent feast he'd already garnered.
But oh, the rewards that will come....
After all, the man might be human, but he was also one Janus' touched had heard was going to upgrade some of the mansion's computer systems. The same systems Xavier had used to find and gather such tasty treats here.
Get inside that, and I can feast forever.
And he was almost in reach. All Janus needed was a few more feet, a few more....
Feral grin stretching nearly as wide as his spiked purple hair, Janus reached into the target's mind and shoved-
And almost fell on his face.
Cold blue eyes stared down at him. Eyed the fingers touching a trench-coated arm, as if they were so many larvae from the depths of swamp muck. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Ah - nothing - sorry, tripped-" Janus backed off, pasting a smile on his face. Seto Kaiba's cold annoyance rippled through his mind, blasting like Arctic wind. Contact. I have contact. He reached again, searching for the darkness that was the heart of every mind....
"Mr. Kaiba?" A tall, elegant black woman with a snowfall of hair approached his target.
"Ms. Monroe." Seto inclined his head. "I believe I've seen as much as I need to here."
And walked away.
That's not possible.Janus stood, gaping. He'd touched Seto's skin. Seeped in the black toxin from his glands that would open a living mind. Reached in, digging for the evil that would let him control this human as he had so many others. He was so close....
//Where are you?//
Skulking under illusion, Janus fled.
"I've never seen a computer programmer interested in the Institute's physical layout before."
Seto Kaiba let a hint of grim smile curl his lips as they walked into Charles Xavier's Institute for the Gifted. Evidently Ms. Ororo Monroe's strikingly exotic looks hid a competent mind. "Then your programmers weren't doing their job."
Hmm. Not a challenge, as he would have expected from Summers; Xavier's head student seemed to think he had a personal say in who walked through the Institute doors. Ms. Monroe might not like his attitude, but she was truly interested in knowing. Rare, from someone who wasn't a computer expert. "Every system has a back door." Seto gestured over his shoulder, toward the portal that led to the institute grounds. "Yours has several."
"Physical assault?" White brows lifted, surprised. Considered the idea as they headed for the front of the building. "None of the students would attack the systems."
But you think someone else might. Interesting.Seto mentally filed that fact for further investigation. The Institute had a reputation as a good customer to go with their intriguing programming problem, or he wouldn't be here. But there were a few odd rumors floating around about Xavier. "Your students are interacting with the holograms directly. Accidents happen."
Seto lost her reply in a sudden shiver, a sense of not-alone. A jangling in the edge of his senses, as if he'd strapped on a duel-disk for the fight of his life.
Ridiculous. He wasn't one of those odd souls possessed by a Millennium Item. He fought his deck with skill and memory and a skeptic's reluctant belief in the heart of the cards, not the Shadow Realm's ancient magic. He certainly couldn't feel an opponent nearby.
And even if he could, what would Yugi Mouto be doing here?
Focus."Where's Mokuba?" Odd rumors or not, he wasn't leaving his little brother out of reach again. One soul-stealing monster out to take over his company by kidnapping the Kaiba heir was enough.
"Probably finishing off Kurt at Duel Monsters." Ororo's smile had an honest ease now. "I think it's the first time I've seen our elf that caught up in a game that didn't need a joystick. We had no idea you were that Seto Kaiba." Tolerant amusement sparked in blue eyes.
Seto knew that look. He'd seen it, far more vicious, on the board of Kaiba Corp. before they'd tried to take his company. And his life. It's just a game. Why waste your time?
To hell with them. Or better, to the Shadow Realm. Strategy, tactics, fallback plans; learning to muster the most unusual of allies to obliterate your opponents. That was Duel Monsters. That was what had kept him alive.
That, and the hacking skills that could breach any system on this planet.
Including this one. What are you hiding?"Don't underestimate Wagner. His deck's monster-heavy. He'll learn." Lips formed a grim curve of amusement. "Though if Pryde ever takes up the game, she'll eat him alive."
"Kitty?" Ororo looked shocked.
Seto nodded, a mere dip of head. "She'd be good."
Why, Kaiba couldn't say exactly. It wasn't as if the brunette had expressed any interest in the cards. Or much of anything, in his hearing, beyond boys, dancing the night away, and Astrophysics.
But she had what it took. The sharp eye that could see strategies in just a gleam of a card, the quick mind to calculate the odds, the reckless daring that could risk it all on her skill and her deck.
That, and something more. The spark he'd seen in the best duelists. Even - especially - the most unlikely best. Solomon. Wheeler. Yugi.
And - dimly, vaguely - himself.
"I'll let her know you think so, then." Ororo turned toward the sound of a commotion near the front entrance. "Ah. They're here."
They?Seto frowned. There was a familiar cadence to some of those voices, even speaking English. It can't be.
"Tea!" A swift patter of sneakers overhead. Rubber slid and screeched as Mokuba hit the main staircase running. Kurt Wagner wasn't far behind; a lithe teen, cards still in hand, dark hair almost as long as Mokuba's, blue eyes with an odd glint of yellow in some lights. "Yugi! How did you get here?"
"Well," an all-too-familiar, irrepressibly cheerful voice started, "First we took a plane - actually, a couple of planes - then there was a bus from the airport, then we sort of got lost...."
Seto winced. It is.
"These are friends of yours from Japan?" Wagner jumped in, perching on the banister. "Whoa! What happened to Logan?"
It was hard to tell behind those ruby lenses, but Seto would have sworn he saw Scott Summers shoot an odd glance Yugi's way. "I think he ran into something that disagreed with him. We'll... handle it later."
"But how did you get here?" Mokuba persisted. "Are Tristan and Joey here too?"
Oh god, not the mutt too.
"No, they're spending the break with Serenity," Tea Gardner spoke up, hands dancing as she set down her plain luggage. "Yugi's Grandpa met Professor Xavier in Europe a while back. The professor wanted some Japanese students here for a cultural exchange experience, and I wanted the chance to check out some dance schools here in New York, so here we are."
Damn globetrotting Solomon Mouto... who'd have thought a game-shop owner would have so many contacts. Who doesn't he know?
And Ororo was looking at him very oddly. "Friends of yours?"
Not a chance."We should get in to your system-"
"Wait 'til I tell Seto!" A skreek of sneaker sole heralded the appearance of a twelve-year-old in jeans and a striped red-and-white shirt, blue bandanna flapping over his shoulder. "Hey, big brother! Tea and Yugi are here!"
Logan's arm loosely draped around her, Rogue propping him up from the other side, Jean Grey frowned at Seto. Outwardly the glowering man in the blue trench coat was calm and cool as Storm about to summon lightning, but to a telepath, hostility was practically vibrating off him.
Though maybe that was spillover from Logan. Wolverine was awake enough to put one foot in front of the other, even if his growls still hadn't approached pre-coffee intelligibility.
No, it's definitely Seto, Jean thought, seeing the programmer's lips mutter something. //What's he saying, Professor?//
Xavier's mind-voice was distinctly dry. //I'm not entirely certain... but I believe it may be the Japanese equivalent of "I hate my life".//
//They know each other?//
//So Solomon Mouto said. One of the reasons I wrote our programming specifications in such a manner that I knew the company would send Seto Kaiba personally.//
Jean blinked. //Professor?//
//I'll fill you all in shortly. How is Logan?//
//I don't know.// Jean moved as Rogue staggered, supporting Logan's other side with a little subtle telekinesis. //It feels like... somebody just bashed him over the head. Inside his head.//
"C'mon, Logan." Rogue nudged the Canadian mutant toward the infirmary. "Let's go see if something finally dented that piece of concrete you call a skull."
//Scott, go with them,// the professor directed, as Storm took Logan's arm in Jean's place. //Jean, please stay. I may need your assistance.// She felt the Professor's telepathy sweep past her, probing Logan's semiconscious mind. //You sense nothing out of the ordinary from Yugi?//
Jean felt at the small teen, sensing a mix of emotions complicated as red and black and gold hair. Worry and embarrassment and - glad? That's strange. He likes Seto. //He's upset. Really seems worried about Logan. Almost as worried as he was about Tea.// The dark-haired girl had been easy to find. Jean had just reached out, felt a presence that was open and warm and friendly... and more than a little exasperated. Flickers of images had led them straight to the Japanese teenager; a map flipped three-quarters of the way around, a finger picking its way through English abbreviations, a frustrated forehead thwacking against paper.
Hmm? Great, Jean thought, rolling her eyes. Now what?
//Kurt, if you would?//
"You must have had a long flight." Kurt hopped off the banister, snatched up one of the heavier suitcases. "Come on! I can show you where the guest rooms are."
"Ah, thanks...." Tea and Yugi glanced at each other, then followed, a happily chattering Mokuba in their wake.
Calculation. Suspicion. Plans clattering down like dominos, rerouting in a myriad of directions.
Suppressing a shiver, Jean looked at Kaiba.
His smile was thin, and even, and cool as Wolverine's about to turn tree trunks into toothpicks. "Right beside ours. What a coincidence."
Turning on his heel, the programmer headed for the Danger Room.
Well, that could have gone better. Directing his wheelchair into the infirmary, Charles Xavier glanced around the room. Storm, Jean, and Scott; good, they needed to know the full circumstances. But Rogue.... "We need to speak in private, Rogue."
"Private, heck!" Gloved hands fisted. "Did that little twerp hurt Logan?"
Putting away various instruments, Storm looked up. "There's nothing physically wrong with him."
"Now." Rogue tossed white-streaked hair. "He tripped? Wolverine doesn't trip!"
"I probed Yugi," Jean put in. "He didn't remember anything past Wolverine scaring him. How could you do that to him, anyway, Logan? He's half your size."
Absently rubbing his head, Logan snorted. "Believe me, Red. I'm not planning on trying it twice."
"Doesn't remember!" Rogue bristled.
"If it was a purely defensive reaction, he may not." Xavier frowned. "Yugi Mouto is the grandson of an old friend of mine. I invited him here because Solomon has reason to believe there may be something amiss. Which I cannot investigate with you here."
"Fine!" The infirmary door couldn't slam, but Rogue's blazing temper was loud enough to make up for that lack.
Out of hearing range. Good.Only then did Xavier aim a quiet, questioning look at his most cantankerous X-Man. "Logan?"
"Feels like Sabretooth went through my head with a chainsaw," Wolverine growled. "Find anything?"
"It's more what I did not find that concerns me." Xavier steepled his fingers before him. "Just after I lost contact with you, our unknown psychic attempted to attack Seto Kaiba."
"But Kaiba was-" Jean started.
"Here," Xavier nodded. "Yes. Whoever this hostile mutant is, he's not Yugi." He fixed his gaze on Wolverine. "What do you remember?"
"Tracked the kid, jumped the kid, asked him to talk," Logan ticked off.
"Asked?" Scott said pointedly.
Wolverine didn't even dignify that with a snort. "Ozone got real thick, real quick - then his eyes changed. Not purple anymore. Red."
Xavier probed the hazy memory. "He asked you to... play a game?"
Logan nodded, face sour. "Next thing I know, he's back to normal and I'm facedown in the dirt."
Storm had been studying them both. "You don't seem surprised, Charles."
"It does fit the pattern of events Solomon's described. Not that he's ever seen them personally. Yugi's apparently been quite careful to keep this out of his grandfather's sight." Xavier gestured for his listeners to make themselves comfortable. "You noticed his pendant?"
"Upside-down pyramid on the steel chain?" Jean put in. "Hard not to."
"Gold, with a Horus eye," Storm noted. "Quite valuable, if it is real."
"It's quite real. According to Solomon, it's called the Millennium Puzzle. It was discovered, disassembled, by a team of British archaeologists in the Valley of the Kings; a team who later perished under rather suspicious circumstances. Solomon's never said how he came into its possession, but he was working with various archaeological teams before he settled down to his game store." Xavier frowned. "And ever since Yugi solved the puzzle, some rather odd events have happened around him...."
An artifact of power, Storm thought, listening to Xavier's account. She knew the tales of Cairo of her youth; the Horus eye marked a creation meant to reflect the pure power of the pharaoh. Thank goodness Evan was visiting her sister's for the next few days; the last thing they needed was her inquisitive nephew prying into Yugi's puzzle. Power borne by such an innocent child... we must tread cautiously.
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Jean ticked off the highlights. "Mr. Mouto just told you some strange things happen around Yugi. You poked around, and it looks like the bullies at Yugi's high school are running scared, an escaped convict who took over a fast-food place Yugi was in somehow set himself on fire, and three or four people in Domino City who crossed paths with him have just gone flat-out insane." She looked at the professor askance. "And you think his grandfather wouldn't know if Yugi did it?"
"Given that Yugi apparently neglected to mention that he and Kaiba together thwarted a takeover attempt of Kaiba Corp. by Maximillian Pegasus' financial empire, yes." Xavier leaned on the arm of his wheelchair. "The family is often the last to discover when a child develops mutant abilities. As you yourself well know."
That was uncalled-for, Charles, Storm thought, frowning. Even if it were true. The Greys were a quiet, well-liked, incredibly normal family; finding out their bright, lovely daughter was a telekinetic would be devastating.
"So why not just activate Cerebro and figure it out?" Scott asked.
Xavier shook his head. "Domino City is not a safe place to probe. I've more than once run into certain... malevolent minds in the vicinity. I wanted to make the attempt under more controlled circumstances. Especially given that Yugi himself appears not to know of his abilities." He tapped his fingers together. "I certainly didn't count on an unknown psychic in the vicinity-"
Heads jerked toward the sound; Scott sighed. "Did someone leave Kitty alone in the Chem lab again?"
"That's not Kitty," Logan growled.
"No..." Xavier sat up straight. "It's Tabitha!"
A thunderstorm feeling skittered along Storm's nerves. Electricity... something's wrong with the mansion's power grid!
And the lights went down, and the alarms went off, and the Institute exploded in chaos.
Laughing, Tabitha "Boom-Boom" Smith formed more charges in her hands, blowing them at the basement control panel with a kiss. Glowing orange balls flew and clung, exploding in sparks. Lights flickered, went out.
Fizzler, the young mutant thought, letting the harmless glow light her way as she skipped up the steps toward her unsuspecting classmates. Most of them would have just finished cleaning up from the game, entering to confusing darkness. The backup generators would kick in after just a few minutes, but until then.... Man, I've wanted to do this forever!
But the weaker part of her self had always stood in the way. Good Tabitha, trusting Tabitha. The piece of her soul that wanted friends; the part that took to the professor's rules when all the rest of her wanted no rules at all. The mewling coward who still wanted to love and trust her father after everything he'd done....
A snarl twisted Boom-Boom's pink lips. Tough luck, Professor. Good little Tabby's gone. She'd felt the weakness shattered from her, pushed into shadows with a shriek and a sense of pulling-
Boom-Boom frowned as the pull resumed, sucking at her rage like a leech. A wave of dizziness went through her, making her stumble on the last step. Ow....
But she owed him. Whoever he was. For her freedom.
And she still had enough strength to do what she wanted.
She moved through shadows and confusion like a wildfire, avoiding stampeding teens and adults, using her Danger Room training to its fullest. Seeking the source of her pain, the softness that had to be defeated if she wanted this glorious freedom to last.
"I didn't think you had earthquakes in New York." A strange girl's voice. It didn't matter.
"Not most of the time, Tea. Not unless Lance-" Kitty cut herself off. "Hey, what's with the lights?"
"I don't know." Kurt. Boom-Boom could see them now. Kurt was against one side of a corridor with a girl she didn't know; brunette, vaguely pretty, with the kind of build that hinted she might dance like Kitty. Nightcrawler's holographic inducer still cast the illusion of a normal human; probably the only reason the nitwit wasn't screeching in terror. Kitty was huddled against the opposite wall by a spike-haired teen even shorter and frailer than she was. Between her and the teen stood a wide-eyed little kid, dark hair pressed near multicolored spikes.
Kurt saw her, and smiled. Like he was glad to see her. Ha. "Tabitha! What's going on? I was just going to go to the basement and look-"
"Oh no," Boom-Boom grinned. "You stay right there." There. There was her target. The one who just pretended to be human, the freak who'd actually had the nerve to treat her like a potential girlfriend, like he had half a chance. And then... them! All of them. Pretending to be my friends, getting me to like them, when all I want to do is... this! "Catch!"
Glowing spheres scattered around her prey; Kitty starting backing up, glaring. "Not funny, Tab!"
That's what you think. Five, four....
And violet eyes met hers, and locked.
"No," the spike-haired kid said softly. "Tea, Mokuba - run!"
Kitty grabbed two hands, and Kurt clutched Tea's arm. "Eee-"
"-Eek!" Tea finished, halfway down the corridor.
No fair!Boom-Boom aimed a kick the spiky teen's way, snarling as it passed through the phased kid. Shadowcat! Can't keep them from me forever....
"Whoa!" Mokuba tried to pry his hand loose. "What'd you do?"
"Don't ask, just go!" Kitty yanked them both down the hall, scampering around a shadowed corner.
Aw, going to go crying to the teachers?Boom-Boom scattered more charges, running after them as Kurt and Tea bamfed out of sight. Won't do you much good....
//Tabitha! What on earth do you think you're doing?//
Aw. The professor. Having fun. What's it look like? But now the ultimate party-pooper knew what she was up to. Damn!
//Stop this at once!// A snatch at her mind, trying to reach, stop, compel-
-And it rolled over, and past. All right! "Here, Kitty, kitty, kitty...."
Nightcrawler could teleport. But catch the Kitty-cat, and her little fuzzy-elf would come racing to the rescue.
And then she'd have him.
Seto Kaiba listened to muffled bangs and suppressed a frown. Flickering lights were only an annoyance; the computers that controlled the Danger Room's holograms were on an uninterruptable power source, and he had every intention of immersing himself in their complex programs for at least another hour. The security here was passable, but inflexible; he'd already begun installing safeguards that would allow the mainframe to handle hackers with some of the dexterity of a duelist, attacking and defending with strategies that would change based on what it faced. This would not be a good place to leave the program.
No matter what Xavier was up to.
Mokuba is with Yugi, Seto reminded himself, glancing through the bulletproof glass of his booth into the empty room below, waiting for holograms to fill it with danger and wonder. Yami could care less if I fell off the face of the earth, but anyone trying to hurt my little brother would have to go through both of them.
Pity the hapless soul that tried. Yugi was innocent, not helpless. And while Yami might not have the cruelty of Ryou's dark half Bakura, the King of Games had a ruthless streak to match Kaiba's most vicious business dealings.
Seto blinked at the rapidly clearing black smoke in the Danger Room. Wagner, and - Tea? How?
"It's okay. It's okay!" Kurt rubbed his head as Tea broke out of his grip, looking as tired as if he'd pulled an all-nighter. "The professor locked down the Danger Room while Kaiba's working on it. We'll be safe here."
Safe? From what?Making a quick note on his programming outline, Seto started closing files.
Tea glanced around the echoing walls, stunned. Looked at Kurt, who seemed to be doing his best to vanish in the middle of empty floor.
Took a deep breath, and held out her hand. "Thank you."
Kurt blinked. Started to smile-
Just as Kitty Pryde, Mokuba, and Yugi ran through the locked doors. Without bothering to open them first.
Hand poised over the keyboard, Kaiba paused. Pressed his fingers deliberately down, working around the programming blocks Xavier had left. Hmm. I've never seen Yami do that before.
Only that wasn't Yami; Seto could tell by the frightened look in violet eyes. Though something in the gleam of gold told him the spirit of the puzzle would be surfacing any moment. So. Wagner isn't the only odd one here.
"Yugi! Mokuba! Are you all right?" Tea reached for her friends, gasped when her hand passed through them.
"It's okay," Yugi reassured her. "I think."
"Man! Boom-Boom's lost it!" Letting go of her companions' hands, Kitty shivered, reflexively smoothing her stylish pink blouse. "Professor says just sit tight, they're on their way."
"What? He can't stop her?" Kurt looked even paler than usual.
"I didn't hear you use a phone." Mokuba looked up, evidently relieved to be able to grab onto Tea. "How are you talking to him?"
Grinning darkly, Tabitha advanced through a smoking hole in the steel door. "Ready or not, here I come...."
That didn't sound good. Or even sane.
Eyes narrowed, Seto slammed a CD home.
Kurt faced the blonde freshman he'd considered a friend, and felt his mind go blank. Pure hate twisted her pretty face, lit by the hellish glow of live charges in her hands. Tabitha? Why?
Never mind why. He had to push past the exhaustion from carrying a passenger along on multiple teleports, just as Kitty was shutting away the weariness from phasing two ordinary people. He had to think. He was an X-Man. "Run!"
Firecracker snaps filled the air as the five dodged. Oh, sure, Kurt thought, pulling Yugi up as the smaller teen tripped from a blast. Great idea.
Tea raced along, holding Mokuba by the arm, fierce eyes daring Boom-Boom to try and get past her. Kitty was off to one side, panting as she looked for anything left over from previous Danger Room sessions that might be used as a weapon. No luck.
But they just had to stay clear of Boom-Boom's charges a little longer. Jean and Scott were coming. Rogue was on her way.
"Virtual systems ready!"
"Big brother?" Mokuba perked up, glancing toward the glassed booth.
Kurt's ears pricked up. Kaiba was in the control room, working feverishly at a console. If the programmer could bring up a holographic scenario, they'd at least have someplace to hide....
No, the Professor locked down the systems. Or Kitty would be in there already.Which meant whatever Kaiba was doing, it wouldn't help.
"Battle Ox, attack!"
A minotaur roared into life between them and Tabitha, gleaming axe at the ready.
Kurt gasped. He knew that beast, if only from a card. A Duel Monster?
Snarling, it swung-
-Squealed, disintegrating in a shower of light.
And they were out of room to run.
Boom-Boom spun a sphere in her fingers, orange glinting off her rings. "Mmm... who should I hurt first? You, or you, or..." She smirked at Mokuba. "How about you?"
"Stop it!" Tea glared, pushing Mokuba behind her into the corner. "He's just a kid!"
And what are we?Kurt thought, judging angles. If he teleported there... bounced there... he might be able to grab Tabitha and drop them both outside. Carrying a handful of explosives with them.
Which would just leave whatever Boom-Boom dropped for Kitty to deal with.
//No, Kurt! It's too dangerous!//
Kurt pictured the blasted door, the smoke stains on the Danger Room's impermeable floor. And what do you call that, Professor?
Kitty shook her head, silently mouthing no. Pointing her finger in various directions, drawing in air the likely result of dropped, explosive spheres.
Right. She'd never be able to phase them all. Nuts.
One last stab at reason. "Tab, why are you doing this?"
"Because it's so much fun!" Boom-Boom tossed up glowing spheres, caught them, grinned....
Yugi laughed beside him, dark and rich, and Kurt felt his fur prickle. What's so funny?
The spike-haired teen stood straight, eyes alight. One hand held his Duel Monsters deck; the other drew a card, holding it face down. "Surrender, Tabitha. You've already lost."
"In your dreams!"
"I don't know what may have hardened your heart against your friends, Tabitha, but it's blinded you as well. You've been so focussed on tormenting us, you never realized the true danger." Violet eyes slid to the glass window, so far away. "There's your real opponent. And by threatening his brother, you've given him no reason to play fair."
"Um, not that I don't appreciate the save," Kitty murmured, "But tall, dark and smelly didn't last long."
"Battle Ox isn't the best monster out there," Kurt put in quietly, trying not to draw Tabitha's attention.
"So if he's like, this master duelist, why hasn't he pulled something else out of his hat?"
"It's a duel simulation," Mokuba said, peering out from behind Tea. "Seto just attacked. It's not his turn anymore."
Kurt fought the urge to close his eyes and groan. Oh, this was crazy. He was going to get blown up because of the rules of a game....
"Don't worry," Tea murmured. "Yam- I mean, Yugi's got it under control."
Kitty gulped. "You have got to be kidding me...."
Boom-Boom's face contorted with rage, hands shaking as she cupped her power close. "They were never my friends!"
"If you looked into your own heart, you'd realize the truth. Not that it matters. Kaiba's started a virtual duel, using his deck." Violet eyes held a ruby glint, facing down the growing pile of charges in Boom-Boom's hands without a flinch. "Which means I can use mine to oppose him. Or you." A wry smile tugged up one corner of his mouth. "And believe me, this is one set of card tricks you don't want to see."
Kurt felt his eyes bug. Caught Kitty staring, open-mouthed. Is this Yugi? Granted, he'd barely met the Japanese teen, but he'd thought Yugi was... just another kid.
This didn't sound like a kid.
"Oooh. You're gonna get me with the big, bad hologram monsters. I'm sooo scared." Boom-Boom smirked. Threw-
Yugi twisted his card face-up. "I play Mirror Force!"
A shimmer coated the air between them and Tabitha, bouncing back charges with lethal velocity.
Jean didn't even try to open the Danger Room door; just pushed her way through the hole, ducked, and rolled, raising a telekinetic shield. All the while trying to block out images of what Boom-Boom could do with no brakes on; shattered steel, shattered bodies, blood....
Focus.Rogue and Scott were right behind her, counting on her shield to protect them until they could find some way to stop the madness.
Steeling herself, she looked.
No blood. Just a smoky, groaning Tabitha on the floor, while five kids huddled behind shimmering air.
They got up a force field? I thought the Professor said the room was down.
Didn't matter. Tabitha was fighting to sit up, fingers trying to cup to form more charges.
Glove stripped off, Rogue grabbed her hand.
Jean moved in behind her as Tabitha cursed, scanning both minds for whatever influence had thrown off the Professor's attempt to control Tabitha. Rogue was a glitter of wariness, prickle - shock - strength.
Tabitha groaned, slumping. Draining, strength slipping, no! I haven't had my fun....
Jean shuddered as that dark mind lost its hold on consciousness. Tabitha. But not Tabitha.
Dark. So dark. So angry. So cold....
"Are you okay?"
Yugi. Violet eyes wide and innocent as he reached for Rogue.
And for a second Jean saw what Rogue saw, what that darkness-that-was-and-wasn't Tabitha saw.
Innocence. Love. Purity.
That light... no!
"I'm fine!" Rogue gritted out, backing away from Yugi.
"Somebody get a first aid kit!" Kitty was bent over Tabitha's unconscious form, frantically checking for a pulse.
"I've got it!" Kurt teleported out, brimstone wisping into the air.
Kurt, you idiot!Cyclops made a fist.
//Too late for that, Scott,// Jean remarked, drifting across the jittery surface of Tea and Mokuba's minds, shying away from the edged chill that was Seto Kaiba. Metal screeched. The Danger Room door rumbled open, allowing in Beast and Kurt, red-marked kit in hand. //They've already seen too much.//
Tea and Mokuba were kneeling beside Kitty. Tea's shoulders eased as she saw the even rise and fall of Tabitha's chest. "I don't think it's as bad as it looks. Just smoke, mostly...." Jaw dropping, she stared.
Opening the kit, Dr. Hank McCoy adjusted his glasses. Set to work examining his patient, as if he were simply the gym coach he was dressed as, and not six feet of athletic blue fuzz, claws, and teeth. "Good afternoon, Ms. Gardner."
Tea froze. Mokuba backed up, gray-blue eyes - so much warmer than his brother's - wide and frightened.
"Oh boy," Kitty murmured.
Oh boy is right, Jean thought, hanging onto Rogue's cloth-covered shoulder as the younger girl grappled with Tabitha's power. Charges wanted to form in Rogue's hands, and there was a wispy something laced through the energy that gave them both the creeps. Here comes the screaming part-
"Are you one of the professors here?" Yugi walked into reach, violet eyes innocent and interested.
Beast paused, taken aback. Nudged up his glasses, as if he wasn't sure what he was seeing. "As it happens, I am." Wiping off soot for a better look at Tabitha, he motioned Scott to assemble a stretcher. "We should take her to the infirmary. The burns seem superficial, but she may have a concussion. I won't be certain until she wakes up." He extended his hand. "Dr. Hank McCoy."
Yugi took it, claws and all. "Yugi Mouto."
Jean felt her own jaw head for the floor. You've got to be kidding me.
She scanned him again, just to be sure. Such an innocent soul, who'd come within a heartbeat of being blown sky-high with his friends. He had to be afraid of something he'd never seen before-
But he wasn't. Wary, yes; she could feel the caution waiting in the back of Yugi's mind, like a steel trap under scattered leaves. Yet the image Yugi had of Hank wasn't focussed on fur and claws, but on kind eyes, gentle hands, and calm. What the....
"That's Tea, and Mokuba, and-" Yugi glanced back. "Seto."
Trench coat rustled; Kaiba stalked out of the booth, five cards in his left hand.
Not projecting anymore, Jean thought, curious. Mokuba had been in real danger, after all; and if there was anything she'd picked up from that ironclad mind since he'd arrived, it was that cold, heartless Seto Kaiba would throw himself in front of an avalanche for his little brother.
But now all she could detect was a flicker of relief, and a grim determination not to react to Hank's appearance.
Ice. This guy is pure ice.
"Interesting curriculum." Seto's chill sapphire gaze swept the students, settled on Scott. "I suppose they major in urban renewal."
//No powers,// Jean reminded Scott. //He's a civilian.//
No mind-reading, he shot back.
//I didn't have to read your mind,// she told him wryly, sending the image of his hand near his glasses. //I saw your fingers twitch.//
Beast frowned at a few of Tabitha's burns as Jean helped lift her onto the stretcher. Eyed Kaiba. "I'd been told the holographic system was locked."
"Hm. So it was." Deliberately, Seto tucked his cards back into his deck. "Tell Xavier this little incident activates the hazard pay clause of my contract."
"Hazard pay-" Scott started, fuming.
"Indeed it does," Hank said soberly. Looked over their guests. "Gentlemen and lady, I'm going to ask that you join the rest of the students in the dining room. We've suffered extensive systems damage, and Professor Xavier would prefer everyone to remain in a secure area while we determine which parts of the mansion are... less than safe."
"Less than safe?" Tea muttered, white still showing around her eyes.
"The power went out. It throws off all the security systems," Mokuba shrugged. "That happened at home once. It took Seto almost a day to reset everything."
"Security systems?" Tea looked ill. "I thought this was a school."
"It is!" Kitty looked insulted. "It's just... well, it's special here."
"It's a long story." Scott smiled, held out his hand. "Come on. We'll tell you about it, and about what we really do here."
Jean held telekinetic restraints on the stretcher as Rogue and Beast carried Tabitha out, using her mind's eye to keep track of the kids Scott was escorting toward the dining room. Familiar worry nudged at her. //Kurt?//
Jean!Relief reached her, tempered by a feeling that might be best described as creeped out. Nightcrawler's gaze flicked toward a quiet Yugi. Be careful! You didn't see-
Cascade of images; Yugi standing tall and confident, eyes aglitter with grim mischief, deliberately turning up a trap that might kill.
//Kill?// Yugi? Kurt had to be kidding. That little kid couldn't hurt anyone.
Would you just listen to me? He used Mirror Force!Kurt still looked stunned.
It's a trap card! One of the worst in Duel Monsters. It... reflects an attack back on your opponent. It wipes out everything! When Tabitha threw charges at us-
Oh. Oh. Jean swallowed, throat dry. //It was just a hologram, Kurt.// A really effective hologram... no, that was crazy. The Danger Room had force fields as part of its programming; the simulation must have tapped into that. //It's just a game.//
In the hall lights, Yugi's puzzle gleamed.