Editor's Note: You have no idea how good it feels to have new people read my stuff and enjoy it. Thank you. :)
The truth is, and I'm sure a lot of you know this already, those stories I've posted up until now have been out since late 2003. This is my first new piece, which I've had writer's block on for the past 6 months. The updates came fast and furious with my other stuff, because it was already written, but this one is going to be updated slower, as I'm still writing it.
And, as you might be able to tell, this comes literally on the heels of Isolation. There's going to be some particularly brutal bits of cruelty in it, which is why it's got an R rating.
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Sinister Designs : Prologue

By the time the jet finally landed at the institute, sometime early afternoon, both Rosa and Ororo had nodded off. Kurt didn't have the heart to wake either of them. Logan, however, had no such sentimental compunctions.

"C'mon, kiddos," he said, lightly shaking Rosa, then Ororo, on the shoulder. "Rise an' shine."

Ororo woke with a bit of a start. "How long've I been out?"

"Most of the trip, liebling," Kurt confessed as he stood up. "That gentle downpour must have taken a lot out of you. Do you need help?"

She shook her head as she unbuckled herself from the seat. "I should be all right in a moment. How's Rosa?"

Kurt glanced back for a second. "A little groggy."

He felt a dribble of warmth run from his nose. Ororo noticed it at the same time. Kurt pinched his nose and bowed his head, muttering a few choice curses in German.

"You must have stood up too fast," Ororo said.

"It's been doing this off and on since last night. The altitude changes have not been helping." He offered her his free hand. "I think it will pass soon."

"I hope so. I'd hate to think we'll have to use the nitrate sticks on you."

"Oh, please, no silver sticks. I hate those things. They burn so."

Logan looked up from where he was unhooking Rosa from her seat. "You should've seen him packing his nose with gauze earlier. That red sure shows up against his face."

Despite her weakness, Ororo stood and moved to see Rosa. Such a tiny little thing. She must have stood under five feet. For the life of her, Ororo couldn't tell if she was less than ten years old, or just petite and malnourished.

Logan wrinkled his nose momentarily. "Oh-ohh. Get ready."

Rosa started to tremble, looking at her body with a panicked expression. She was changing again. Logan set his mouth in a grim line and shook his head slightly. No wonder she was living alone, if she had this little control over her ability.

"It be all right," Kurt told her in Castilian. "Let it come. No one hate you. Let it come."

The disturbing transformation finished in a few seconds. It seemed to speed up after Kurt's words. Rosa, hunched over a little bit, looked back up at Kurt. Kurt just nodded.

"Can you speak like this?" he asked her. She shook her head. "It be all right. The teacher be happy see you. He know how you look. Other children be happy see you. They know how you look."

She nodded, still hunched over in that wary posture. Ororo took her hand, then gently pulled her to the back of the jet, where the ramp was lowering. Kurt followed behind, still pinching his errant, bloody nose. Logan brought up the rear, their salvaged computer tower clutched in his hands as he watched all in front for signs of weakness. As expected, Professor Xavier was waiting at the base of the ramp, Scott at his side.

The only thing that betrayed Scott's emotions was the slight drop of his jaw, a motion so subtle it could have been mistaken for a simple intake of breath. Ororo wondered whether she or Rosa was the object of his attention. She hadn't seen herself in the mirror for a while, but she knew she couldn't look good. The professor, however, just smiled pleasantly as they descended, his eyes on his new ward. He extended his hand to her and spoke in perfect, comfortable Spanish. Rosa slowly started to move toward him, looking from Xavier to Ororo. Ororo smiled in turn and let go of her hand.

Xavier held Rosa's hands in his, quietly speaking to her. She nodded occasionally. Ororo glanced back at Kurt, who was watching the scene intently. Maybe she'd ask him about the conversation later. Xavier looked up at Scott and nodded, then looked back at the rest of them.

"Ororo, Kurt, can you make it to medlab?" he asked softly.

Kurt and Ororo nodded. For a moment, Kurt let go of his nose, but he could feel the blood continue to dribble, so he went back to pinching it again. To Kurt's surprise, Scott bent over and gently gathered Rosa in his arms. The tender action looked so… ill-fitting… on the stern man. He had never seen such a gesture from him before.

As they exited the hanger, they found the entire student body waiting for them in the hallway. Most had a set of clothes in their arms, alternately held in front or tucked under the arm. The exceptions were the older students, specifically Piotr, Rogue, and Bobby. The reasons, if not immediately apparent, became obvious as Artie fearlessly came up and held his pair of jeans against Rosa.

"We look really close," he said. "Maybe these'll fit."

"She's not gonna wear boys underwear, Artie!" Jubilee objected.

"I was talkin' about the jeans!" he objected right back. "I don't have any of those lacy girl things!"

Logan could smell the fear and revulsion coming off a few of the kids. Not surprisingly, one of them was Judy, who'd also been scared out of her wits at Kurt's arrival. But they were all holding it in this time. Good for them.

"Miss Munroe, what happened?" Jaideep asked, looking at the open hole in Ororo's uniform. "Are you okay?"

"I just need some rest," she told him. "And before you ask, Kurt just has to take care of his nosebleed. We'll be all right."

The plethora of students and teachers made their way down to the medlab. Somewhere along the way the computer tower got passed to Piotr, and a hushed conversation took place between he, Logan, and Kitty. Kitty squeezed her way up to the front, taking pains not to phase through the crowd, until she reached the professor.

"Professor, is Rosa gonna be okay, too?" she asked. "I don't want to leave, but…."

"But you want at that hard drive," Scott finished. "You've got the whole electronics lab at your disposal, Kate. Go to town. I just hope you can get something."

"I do too." She smiled up at Rosa and patted her bristly arm. "Hasta la Vista."

Rosa waved hesitantly as Kitty wove back through the multitude. She and Piotr ducked down another corridor and out of sight.

"Does she speak English at all?" one of the students asked.

"No, but she'll learn very fast," Xavier replied. "Just to warn you, she can't speak at all in this form."

"She can stay up in our room," Jubilee volunteered. "We've got the space. Right, guys?"

She looked at her roommates. All nodded and spoke assent, except Judy, who looked a bit nervous. Charles translated for Rosa. Others spoke. A hubbub of conversation sprang up.

"Did you coordinate this?" Kurt asked softly. "The clothing?"

Scott shook his head. "Once they found out about Rosa, everyone spontaneously decided to do it. We were as surprised as you were when they lined up with a set of clothes each." He looked back at Ororo and Logan and motioned with his head for them to draw near. "I want to keep you up-to-date on a few things. We got a call from Hank an hour ago. He said that he and Isidro would be staying at wherever they are for another day or two. So far so good, it seems."

"They are going to put Isidro under some sort of protection, aren't they?" Ororo asked.

"The way Hank spoke, it was like they didn't want to chance anything happening to Isidro. He's their only witness. He's going to be protected round the clock. Matter of fact, they've called in Nathan and Moira as well."

"Nathan?" Ororo paused for a second in thought. "Nathaniel Essex? And Moira MacTaggart?"

Scott nodded. "All the way from the British Isles."

"These people are important, yes?" Kurt asked.

"Only two of the top geneticists in the world," Scott replied. "You put Hank in there, and they've got all the talent in one spot."

"They called in geneticists for this?" Logan asked suspiciously. "I thought they were looking at hardware, not wetware."

"Same here. So far as I know, only Hank has any idea what to make of the electronics for these amp suits. I guess they're in there to look at the neural gel."

Logan snorted and glared elsewhere. "More likely some bureaucrat wanted to bounce more 'mutant problem' ideas off them. Hank sniffed out any moles yet?"

"No, for once everything seems to be on the level. I'm afraid to jinx it." Scott paused. "Logan, what you told me about the new suit in the jet. You're sure there's no metal in it?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Because I can only think of one reason why someone would go through that much trouble for a mutant-hunting weapon."

The four of them looked at each other, and one name went through their heads.

"Magneto?" Ororo asked.

"They're gunning for him," Scott answered.

"He's the number one terrorist on the slate, of course they're going after him," Logan snarled. "Especially after that stunt at Alkali."

"But we're the only ones that know what he did in Cerebro," Scott reminded him. "Even if someone else found out, that suit must have taken more than a year to put in production. They've been preparing this since way before Liberty Island. Since before the public knew about him at all. They probably designed it side-by-side with their other suits."

"I'm almost afraid to know what Kätzchen will find on that computer," Kurt mumbled.

"I'm more afraid that she won't be able to find a thing." He looked at Kurt directly. "How long has that nosebleed gone on?"

"The pressure changes started it again," he said.

"Don't worry, we've got nitrate sticks in the medlab."

Kurt unsuccessfully tried to stifle his groan.