Disclaimer: Tanya and Pastor Stevens are mine. The rest isn't.
A/N: This story takes place before the third movie, but more or less just ignores it because it was such a mess.
The Song of the Shadows"The first Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay . . ."
Looking out across the congregation, Pastor Stevens smiled. It was wonderful to see people together, happy, celebrating. It always made his spirits soar.
Of course, Pastor Stevens was easy to please. A short, chubby man of thirty-five, he gave the impression of a younger Santa Claus. Smiles came easily to him, and he had a hearty laugh. And he loved people, especially children. Children of all ages. Frances Campbell, the little baby in the front row. The Tucker twins in the side pew. Richy McDonald and his friends, most of whom appeared on and off from week to week. Andrea Fielding, this year's homecoming queen. Tanya Simmons and Robyn Donning, who had been best friends since kindergarten and were now in high school.
All these he knew and more. In fact, as his eyes swept across the church, he could only see one stranger. He sat in the back on the right, his face hidden by a hood. He wore a long coat and mittens to keep out the cold.
Pastor Stevens looked away. Better not to stare. It was Christmas Eve, and all were welcome.
Kurt Wagner knew people were watching him. This was a small church, the kind where everyone knew everyone else. A visit from a stranger was not unheard of, but certainly a surprise. And a stranger who hadn't introduced himself or said where he was from was especially mysterious. But these were good people, and didn't want to be rude. After all, whatever you do for the least of His people . . .
"Noel, noel, noel, noeeee-el," Kurt joined in, and hid a laugh as the people in front of him nearly jumped, surprised by his accent. They hadn't been expecting it, but recovered quickly and avoided the urge to turn around. "Born is the King of Israel . . ."
"Noe-el, no-o-el, no-el, no-o-e-el! Born is the King of I-is-rael!" Bobby and Rogue sang in unison. The people inside smiled and clapped. Rogue slipped her gloved hand into Bobby's.
Waiting at the bottom of the stairs, Storm and Professor Xavier exchanged a smile. Bobby and Rogue had grown even closer since the events at Alkali Lake. Facing death together, Xavier knew, could be a powerful force to unite two people.
Or it could divide. Since Jean's death, both Logan and Scott had retreated into their own worlds. Both would unexpectedly leave for a day or two, then return, sometimes appearing to be all right, but more often as silent as the now still waters of Alkali Lake. Both were gone now, for Christmas, and as sad as that was, it was also something of a relief. The others could relax, without the burden of worrying whether some word or phrase might trigger a memory that would send one of them retreating to his room.
Others were gone, as well. In fact, the school was almost empty. Rogue had nowhere to go, and Bobby had chosen to remain; his parents had not called, nor written so much as a note. Perhaps they never would. Perhaps they assumed he was dead. Did they even care? In any case, he was not ready to go home yet.
Kurt Wagner, as well, had decided to stay, happy to have found a place where people accepted him. He was at a service at the moment, but would be back at the school by the time the others were through caroling.
Bobby and Rogue leapt lightly down the stairs, taking them two at a time. Bobby was grinning playfully, and even Rogue was smiling. The four of them continued on down the street, Bobby and Rogue strolling side-by-side in the front, with Storm a ways behind, pushing the Professor's wheelchair.
It was a beautiful night, clear and full of stars. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground. Bright, cheery Christmas lights hung from nearly every house. Yet Charles Xavier couldn't help feeling uneasy, as if something were about to happen.
Tanya Simmons had a terrible headache. Earlier in the evening, she had taken some medicine, but it had done no good. It felt as if her mind were about to burst in two. Yet all the people around her continued singing, "Noel, noel, noel, noel."
Without warning, the barrier burst, and everything went black. The people, the church, Pastor Stevens -- they were all gone. Yet now she felt surprisingly good. Her headache was gone. Now there was only peace, relief.
Then the screams began. People shouting, running into things. "Demons!" they screamed. "Devils!" Tanya fell to her knees, terrified. Only then did she realize something had struck her. One blow was quickly followed by another, and another.
Tanya cried out in pain, but no one seemed to hear her. She called for her mom and dad, for Pastor Stevens, for her friend Robyn, for anyone to help her, but no one came. Suddenly, she heard a voice, an angry voice, shouting in a German accent, "Get away! Stop! Leave her alone!"
It was the last thing she heard before something struck her in the head, and she knew no more.
Kurt wasn't sure exactly what had happened. All of a sudden, at the end of the song, everything had gone dark. It had cleared quickly, but then people near the front of the church had begun to shout something about a demon. At first, fearing they had noticed him, he had turned to teleport out the door, but then he had noticed a group of people gathering around one spot, wielding candlesticks and song books, desperately beating at something -- someone.
Kurt had teleported to the front. But now that he was here, there was precious little he could do. He could hear a girl's screams coming from the middle of the mob, but he couldn't teleport inside without risking finding half of himself materialized inside another person. So he yelled, and he tried to pull people away from the edges, but it was useless.
Then the screams silenced. Kurt knew what he had to do. Without hesitation, he threw off his disguise and gave a loud cry. People began to look up and stare at him. He ran for the door, and they followed.
Kurt raced through the streets, staying just in front of the first few men. He had to lead them far enough away, he knew. At last, satisfied he would make it back to the church before them, he teleported to the top of a roof. No one saw where he had gone; the shadows hid him well. He vanished from the rooftop in a bamf of smoke and soon reappeared at the church door.
Nearly no one remained. The people who hadn't fled from the beginning had chased after Kurt. Only the pastor remained, kneeling silently near the end of a pew.
Beside him was what Kurt could only see as a cloud of darkness. Kurt reached down to touch it, but his fingers entered the void. He pulled back in astonishment, but tried again, this time reaching his hand in. Inside the shadow, he could feel a body, warm and wet. Kurt drew his hand out again; it was stained with blood. He looked up at the pastor. "She needs help, quickly."
The pastor was shivering with fright. "The hospital won't help a . . . a . . ."
"Mutant?" Kurt finished. "No, but I know of a place. Come with me." Groping in the darkness that surrounded the girl, Kurt at last managed to lift her. The shadows extended nearly a foot all around her, but from them fell blood, as real as any human or mutant's. Kurt stood up, and the pastor followed. Kurt would have teleported, but teleporting both of them back to the school could have proven difficult. It would also be useless, he realized, for the school would still be empty.
Hurriedly, Kurt handed the girl over to the pastor. "Wait here," he instructed, and teleported down the street. He needed to find the Professor.
Professor Xavier could feel Kurt's presence even before he appeared in front of him with a bamf. Storm gasped in surprise, and Bobby and Rogue turned around.
"Professor--" Kurt started.
That was all he got out before Storm cried in surprise, "You're hurt!"
Kurt looked down at his clothes, which were dripping blood onto the snow. He shook his head. "No. I am fine. There's a girl, Professor, a mutant. She's hurt, badly. She's back near the church. We must get her to the school, quickly."
Professor Xavier took this all in easily. "Take Storm with you, Kurt. Bring the girl to the school; we will join you there."
Kurt and Storm soon disappeared in blue smoke, and the three remaining set out for the school. It wasn't far, but Xavier couldn't help a sense of urgency. Time was of the essence now, and there was definitely something Kurt had not told him, something that made matters even more complicated.
Pastor Stevens had been startled, and amazed, when the blue fellow had disappeared, but when he reappeared moments later with a new stranger, he began to be frightened. The newcomer was a woman, with dark skin and long white hair. Yet something in her presence let him know immediately that she meant business. She took one look at the shadow in his arms and turned to the blue fellow. "Get her to the school. We'll be there as soon as we can."
The blue fellow nodded and took the girl back, then disappeared again. Pastor Stevens blinked. "You mind explaining what's going on?"
"Not at all," the woman replied. "But follow me." She turned and headed down the street.
Pastor Stevens followed. "Who are you people?"
"We're mutants. My name is Ororo Munroe, but people call me Storm."
"Is she your daughter?"
"No. No, her parents ran." He explained what had happened, and Storm listened intently. She could understand Kurt's impulse to help the girl. She was like him, feared immediately as soon as people found out what he was.
Except for this man. He hadn't run, and he hadn't tried to kill either of them. He hadn't tried to break up the mob, but anyone could be afraid of an angry crowd; this she knew well. He had stayed to help, and he alone in the church had not believed this girl to be a demon. Listening to his story, Storm found it in her heart to pity this man, as Kurt had told her he pitied people.
It felt good, Storm realized, walking side-by-side, human and mutant. It felt very good.
By the time Kurt arrived at the school, his whole body was shaking from the effort of teleporting so many times with a passenger. But he opened the door with his tail and brought the girl inside. He took her immediately to the medical lab and set her down gently.
Soon, he heard the door open, and the Professor, Bobby, and Rogue entered. Bobby and Rogue were visibly surprised by what they saw.
Professor Xavier took one look and knew this was going to be more difficult than he had thought. He had no way of knowing how badly the girl was hurt, or where, or anything. What he needed more than anything was information. "What happened?" he asked Kurt as he wheeled himself over beside the girl and began to feel around, gently, in the darkness.
Kurt explained what had happened, and though Xavier's face remained calm as he continued to work, he was clearly upset. It never ceased to amaze him how normal people, good people, could become so violent the moment someone shouted, "Monster!" or, in this case, "Demon!" They had let their fear take over their reason, and they had nearly killed an innocent child.
Pastor Stevens glanced around nervously as he and Storm entered the school. The door had been left open, but everything appeared rather empty. "Where is everyone?" he asked his companion.
"Most of them are at home for the holidays," Storm explained. "Come with me; we will find the others."
He followed her down a hall and into a room that instantly reminded him of a hospital. The walls and ceiling were white, and on a bed lay a cloud of darkness, in which, Pastor Stevens knew, lay a girl he had known since she was a small child.
"Welcome, Pastor," said a man beside her, looking up from his work. He was an older man, bald, and confined to a wheelchair, but something other than sight told Pastor Stevens not to judge him by that. This man was different, with a reassuring calmness in his blue eyes as he met Pastor Stevens' gaze.
"How's Tanya?" the pastor asked immediately, knowing without thinking that this was the man to ask.
The older man smiled kindly. "She'll be fine, as far as her injuries are concerned. What I'm curious about is her power."
"Her . . . power?"
"Didn't you notice she doesn't exactly look normal?" Bobby asked, startling Pastor Stevens, who hadn't noticed him or Rogue.
Pastor Stevens plopped down into a chair the blue fellow had pulled up for him. "I guess it kind of slipped my mind," he said sarcastically. "I was a little more concerned about whether she was going to live or not."
The man in the wheelchair nodded. "As was I. But that danger has passed; we have done all we can, and I believe it was enough."
Pastor Stevens looked up at the blue fellow. "Thanks to you . . . I didn't catch your name."
"Kurt Wagner. This is Bobby, Rogue, Storm, and Professor Charles Xavier."
"Pastor Gary Stevens," he nodded, looking a little pale. "And all of you are . . . mutants?"
"Yes," the Professor nodded. "Tanya is quite safe here, I assure you. This is a school, and she's welcome to stay. If her power has just revealed itself, she may need some help learning to control it."
"That's for sure," Pastor Stevens mumbled. "So what exactly is going on?"
"My best guess would be that she is giving off some kind of protective shield, which allows no light to pass through it. Unfortunately, it appears as if things like song books and candlesticks can."
"Wait. You're guessing?"
"Yes. Until she regains consciousness, that's all we can do," the Professor explained.
"That will depend on her."
Tanya slowly opened her eyes. At least, she thought she did. There was no way to be sure; it was as dark as before. Her headache had returned, and brought with it a throbbing pain that spread through her entire body. She wanted to see, to be able to tell where she was. She felt so helpless in this darkness . . .
"Welcome back, Tanya," came a gentle voice from nearby. Tanya relaxed a little. The voice belonged to a man, and the tone was kind, something she hadn't expected. Of course, she hadn't really known what to expect. Part of her hadn't expected to wake up at all.
"My name is Professor Charles Xavier," the voice continued. "You're at a school; you're safe."
"What happened to me?" Tanya asked, surprised to find her voice a little shaky. "Why can't I see?"
"She doesn't know?" asked a voice she recognized as Pastor Stevens.
"Know what?" Tanya demanded.
There was a slight pause; then the Professor spoke again. "You're a mutant, Tanya. It appears you have the ability to generate a protective shield that doesn't allow light to pass through it. You're covered in it at the moment, which is why you cannot see."
Tanya was shaking. A mutant? No, that couldn't be right! People hated mutants! Mutants were some sort of scary animals, not normal teenage girls like her! This was all a big mistake! A nightmare! Yes, that's what it was. A nightmare. Any time now, she would wake up, and everything would be all right.
"It's all right, Tanya; there's no need to be afraid."
Great. The Professor could tell she was afraid. No, afraid didn't do it justice, she decided. Freaked. Petrified. Scared out of her mind. Why did this have to happen do her? She hadn't done anything to deserve this!
"Why?" Tanya whispered. "Why would God do this to me?"
"This isn't a punishment from God, Tanya," came another voice, a German voice.
"You," Tanya realized. "You were at the church."
"Why did you help me? I don't even know you."
"Because . . . because what they did to you was wrong, Tanya. We're not demons, people like us, and we're not monsters. We're simply different."
"We? You're one, too? A . . ."
"Mutant. Yes," the voice said gently. "My name is Kurt Wagner. I'm a teleporter."
"You mean . . . like Star Trek? Where they transport people from one place to another with that machine?"
"Yes," Kurt said, a hint of a laugh in his voice. "Only . . . without the machine."
Tanya smiled. "Now, something like that, that's handy. But this . . . this is just . . . all it's gonna do is scare people."
"It could come in handy on Halloween," Pastor Stevens suggested.
It didn't help. "That's just it," Tanya explained. "Halloween is great once a year, but this is like . . . like being a walking freak show 24-7. I didn't want to be this way! I want to be a normal girl! I want to be me again!"
It was the Professor who spoke next, slowly, gently. "Tanya, this is who you are now. You cannot change that. But you can control it. And I can help you."
"I'm a mutant as well, Tanya, a telepath. I can enter your mind, help you learn to control this power. If we are successful, your power will be obvious only when you wish it to be."
"That'll be never," Tanya assured him. "Look, whatever you can do to help me, do it. I just want to be normal again."
Charles Xavier decided it was better not to press that matter at the moment. Tanya would never be normal again, he knew. Perhaps eventually she would appear normal. But inside? Where it really counted? Never.
But, then, what was normal? Everyone was different in his or her own way. Was dark hair normal, or blonde? Blue eyes or brown or green? Everyone was either taller or shorter or thinner or larger or more intelligent or more athletic than was perceived as normal. Everyone had his or her own special gifts. A mutation was simply one difference among many, one of many things that marked a person as unique.
As with any gift, however, mutant powers could be abused. They could be used for personal gain instead of for the betterment of mankind as a whole. And that was what people feared. They feared even those like Tanya, who didn't want their powers at all, much less to use them for personal gain. Tanya was one of the many who, because of that widespread fear, refused to see the good their powers could do and simply wanted to be normal gain.
Xavier was shaken from his thoughts in time to hear Rogue remark quietly, "You and me both." Tanya either didn't hear or decided not to respond. Xavier hoped she had heard. It would do her good to know she was not alone.
"Try to relax," he instructed as gently as she could. Then he reached his hands into the field of darkness and placed them on Tanya's head. He felt her wince, partly because he had brushed up against a bruise, partly because somehow she hadn't been expecting him to be able to reach her.
"It's all right," he said reassuringly. "I'm not going to hurt you." He closed his eyes.
Much to Xavier's surprise, however, he found himself unable to simply slip into her mind, as he had expected to do. The darkness that clouded her body seemed to have created a barrier around her mind, as well. As he plunged on into the darkness, a pain began to grow. It was slight at first, but soon escalated to a sharp, stinging sensation, like a thousand needles poking into his skull. But needles became nails, and nails became daggers. He was determined, however, to press on as far as he could.
It was amazing. If he had expected any resistance to his telepathy, he'd guessed it would take the form of something like the helmet that Magneto wore. Much as it frustrated Xavier, it didn't cause him physical pain. The only time he had felt something like this, it had come from Stryker's neural inhibitor. That pain had been sudden. This was gradual, but no less potent. He wasn't even sure how long . . .
Pastor Stevens watched in shock, part of him wanting to shout, to do something to stop this, and part of him silently hoping this Professor knew what he was doing. Shortly after he had said, "I'm not going to hurt you," Tanya had started screaming. But Xavier didn't seem to hear her. He seemed lost in his own world, his eyes closed, his face twisted in pain.
Just as Pastor Stevens was about to tell him to stop, Tanya did it for him. She leapt off the bed, screaming, and clumsily tore across the room until she found the door. Pastor Stevens turned to follow her, but a gloved hand held him back. "Let her go," the girl called Rogue advised. "She'll need some time alone. And she won't get far."
Reluctantly, Pastor Stevens turned back around. The other three were gathered around Professor Xavier, who was slumped over in his chair; only the bed had prevented him from falling out completely. Pastor Stevens shuddered. "Is he . . ."
"He's alive," Bobby assured him.
"What happened?" Pastor Stevens asked.
There was an awkward silence as Pastor Stevens looked from one mutant to another. "I don't know," Storm admitted at last. "I really don't know. Bobby, help me get him on the bed."
Pastor Stevens went over to help, as well, but he kept his eye on the door, watching for any sign of Tanya. What could have happened, he wondered, to terrify her so? What had Professor Xavier done?
Tanya was wondering the same thing, but she didn't stop to think about it. She had to get away. Blindly, she stumbled down the hallway. At last, she felt a cool breeze; the door had been left open! She raced towards it, towards freedom.
At last, she tumbled out of the school and onto the snow on the sidewalk. Her head was pounding, and her limbs ached from the effort of running. But that didn't matter. She was out! And she would never go back in.
It had been terrible. No sooner had the Professor said he wouldn't hurt her than pain had erupted in her skull. She'd tried to yell at him to stop, but all that had come out were screams, indecipherable as words. Had he even heard her? Did he even care?
Tanya lay there in the snow, crying. She was alone! Completely alone. There was nobody she could trust. Not her family, not her friends, not these new mutants. Nobody!
Suddenly, Tanya could hear the sound of footsteps approaching. She tried to get up, to run, but her body was too weary. She could have screamed, but who would come to help?
The footsteps stopped, frighteningly close to her. "So you're the one," a man's voice said. "Are you all right?"
Once again, Tanya was startled. The voice was almost friendly, but with a naturally guarded tone, a slowness to trust, both countered and heightened by a rich English accent.
Tanya nodded weakly, then realized he couldn't see her. "I'm all right."
"Do you need any help?" But it was obvious he already knew she did.
"I . . . I . . . yes," she stammered. "I can't go home. I need a place to stay for a while."
"Certainly. You may stay as long as you wish. What is your name?"
"Tanya. Tanya Simmons. Please . . . who are you?"
"Call me Magnus," the voice replied. "Can you stand?"
"I . . ." Tanya hesitated.
"Then don't. Save your strength." There was a sound like the scraping of metal, and then Magnus lifted her onto something hard. "Hold on tightly," he advised as they began to rise into the air.
Tanya held on for dear life, terrified and amazed at the same time. "What is this?" she asked once she got her breath.
"A car door," Magnus answered simply, casually, as if flying on a car door were nothing out of the ordinary. "You can't see the view, but try to enjoy the ride. We'll be there soon."
Tanya was too tired and too astounded to try to make any sense of it. The breeze blew through her hair and the snow was beginning to fall lightly on her face. This, she decided, was what Heaven must be like, except that she'd be able to see it. Perhaps that was where they were going, she pondered, just as she was drifting of too sleep, and, at last, peace.
Perched lightly on top of a cabinet so as to stay out of the way, Kurt watched the people below. Everyone was waiting, waiting for something that, from his position, Kurt noticed first. Professor Xavier's eyelids fluttered a little, then slowly opened. Kurt breathed a sigh of relief and said a silent prayer of thanks.
"Storm," the Professor said quietly, his voice weak. "What happened? The girl -- Tanya -- where is she?"
"She left," Pastor Stevens answered irritably. "As for what happened, we were going to ask you. She ran out of here screaming like a madman."
Professor Xavier closed his eyes. "I didn't realize that it would hurt her, as well."
"What is 'it'?" Pastor Stevens asked, a little less harshly. Clearly the Professor was still in a lot of pain. But what had caused it?
"The darkness that surrounds her apparently provides her with a protective telepathic barrier, as well. Breaking through that barrier may well prove impossible."
"You may not get a chance. She seemed in an awful hurry to get out of here."
Xavier nodded and opened his eyes. "I don't blame her. We should go find her." He tried to sit up, but was still too weak.
Pastor Stevens shook his head. "You stay here. I'll go find her." He hurried out the door.
Kurt hesitated a moment, then leapt lightly down from the cabinet. The Professor nodded, and Kurt followed Pastor Stevens.
Pastor Stevens turned when he heard the sound of light footsteps. The blue mutant didn't try to hide. "What are you doing here?" Pastor Stevens demanded. "Haven't you people caused enough problems?"
"The Professor never meant to hurt her," Kurt explained. "He only wants to help."
"Well, fine job he did." After a moment, the pastor sighed. "I'm sorry. It's just that . . . she's like a child to me. I don't want to see her hurt, see her life destroyed by this problem."
"Perhaps it seems a problem at the moment, but God has a purpose for everything, even this."
Pastor Stevens smiled. "Even for making you blue? Making you look like a . . ." He hesitated.
"You can say it," Kurt shrugged. "I know what I look like. If you hadn't seen me first in a church, you could easily have thought I was a demon."
Pastor Stevens nodded. "A perfect example of how appearances can be deceiving." Anyone who could find God's will in something like this had his respect.
Kurt laughed. "Perhaps that was His purpose -- to show that appearances can be deceiving."
Pastor Stevens smiled, then headed for the door. Maybe these people deserved a second chance. But how could he convince Tanya of that?
He and Kurt walked out together into the snow, and then stopped short. Tanya's footprints led from the school to a place on the sidewalk, where she had apparently collapsed. Another set of footprints led to the same spot, and stopped. Pastor Stevens followed the footprints back with his eyes. They led along the sidewalk as far as he could see. No footprints led away, either belonging to Tanya or the other person.
"Look!" Kurt exclaimed, and pointed to a car parked on the other side of the street. Its back door was missing, completely torn away. Pastor Stevens looked back and forth from the car to his mutant companion. This made no sense. And yet Kurt was acting as if it explained everything.
"Come back inside," Kurt beckoned. "We must tell the Professor."
Professor Xavier tried hard to hide the pain he was in as Storm and Bobby helped him into his wheelchair. He should never have held on that long, he realized. He should have stopped. He should have realized Tanya was in as much pain as he. He certainly hoped she wasn't any more, because he had a terrible headache. The soreness in his body was fading, but he still felt tired, so tired . . .
Xavier looked up just before Kurt appeared in the doorway, followed by Pastor Stevens. Kurt looked terribly worried; the pastor only looked confused. "What is it, Kurt?" Xavier asked.
"We found where Tanya went, but she wasn't there. Another set of footprints led up to hers, but there were none leading away. And across the road, a car door had been torn off," Kurt explained quickly.
Xavier quickly drew the same conclusion Kurt had. "Eric."
Kurt nodded. "I think so."
"But why would he want her?" Rogue asked.
The Professor shook his head. "We wondered the same thing about you. Perhaps he simply found her and noticed she was a mutant; in her case, it is rather obvious. More likely, he was looking for her."
"Who?" Pastor Stevens asked, now thoroughly confused.
Xavier looked up. "His name is Eric Lehnsher, but he calls himself Magneto."
"Let me guess; he's a mutant, too?"
"Yes. He has the ability to create magnetic fields and control metal. He believes that mankind will never accept us and that if mutants are to be free, we will have to fight for it."
Pastor Stevens nodded. "So what's he want with Tanya? A few hours ago, she didn't even know she was a mutant." Even he was still having a hard time saying it. Tanya, the little girl he had known, was now caught up in what seemed to be moving towards a war. If this Magneto was gathering mutants like Tanya . . .
"I don't know," Xavier admitted. "But we'll find out. When I get Cerebro working again--"
Rogue coughed, trying to hide a laugh. Xavier had been working on Cerebro since they'd returned from Alkali Lake. It was almost funny. You could tear something apart in a matter of hours, but it took forever to put it back together. A good deal of it had simply been destroyed, or moved to Stryker's base and destroyed there along with everything else, and had to be completely rebuilt from scratch. The Professor kept claiming he was almost done, and it had become something of a joke between Bobby and Rogue. When would they have a night without homework? Oh, maybe when Xavier finishes Cerebro.
Professor Xavier ignored Rogue's stifled laugh, although he had clearly heard her and was well aware of the joke. "I'll try to find out where they went."
Storm shook her head. "Professor, if her ability blocks your telepathy--"
Xavier nodded. "Eric's helmet does, as well. But chances are, they aren't alone. Mystique could be with them, or John. In any case, it will give us a place to start."
Upon waking, Tanya found she once again had no idea of where she was. This time, however, it wasn't panic that filled her, but a deep curiosity. Where had Magnus brought her? Where was it that she could be safe?
Slowly, she sat up, feeling actually refreshed. Her headache was nearly gone, and the pain from her injuries was becoming more bearable. "Hello?" she asked. "Is anyone there?" No response. "Hello?" she called, a bit louder. "Hello?"
"Good evening, Tanya," came Magnus' voice, and Tanya's head jerked up. She hadn't heard him coming. "I had something to take care of," Magnus explained. "How are you feeling?"
"Better?" Tanya nodded. "But I still can't see."
"Have you tried to control the field?"
"Well, Professor Xavier was going to--"
"You don't need his help, Tanya. You have a power within you, and you can control it. You. Without his help. Without anyone's help."
"But he said--"
"Charles wanted an excuse to get inside your mind," Magnus said calmly, certainly.
"Well, it didn't work," Tanya mumbled.
"Fortunately for you. Now, do you want to try?"
"Then focus, Tanya. Pull the darkness back within yourself."
Tanya tried to focus. She pulled as hard as she could, but the darkness was too strong. She closed her eyes, tightly. At last, trying was simply too hard. She let go, let the darkness engulf her, become a part of her. And she felt, in her mind, that it already was. She and the darkness were already one, and it was part of her, a part she wanted to accept. And yet . . .
"Well done, Tanya."
Tanya's eyes flew open. She could see! The darkness was gone! And yet not gone. It was still a part of her. She could feel it inside her, powerful, flowing. Yet no longer yearning to be released. She smiled, and looked around. She was in a clearing, in a forest. The trees towered high above her, oak and maple and others whose names she didn't know. Yet none of them seemed as tall, or as proud, as the man who now held out his hand to her. Tanya grasped it, and Magnus pulled her to her feet with an ease that surprised her.
It was still dark, but the moon was bright, the sky clear. She could barely separate Magnus' clothes from the surrounding shadows, but his face shone in the moonlight. "Well done, Tanya," he repeated, and the pride that was in his eyes coursed through her, as well. This was not a curse, a problem. As long as she could control it, it was a gift. She looked perfectly normal. And yet within her was a power that could bring the world to its knees, starting with the ones who had hurt her.
Then the feeling was gone, the moment of triumph, and pure curiosity took over once more. "Where are we?" she asked.
"About twenty miles south and west of where I found you. The last place they'll look for you is right under their noses."
Tanya nodded, then asked the question she'd been longing to. "You're one, too, aren't you? A mutant?"
"Yes. But unlike your friends back at the school, we have accepted the truth: humanity will never accept us. They will hate us, fear us, just as they have hated and feared you."
"How do you know about that?"
"You don't expect me to believe those injuries are from a soccer game, do you? Tell me. What did they do to you?"
Tanya explained what had happened back at the church, and Magnus listened with obvious understanding. "But that was only because I looked different," Tanya reasoned. "Maybe if we just sat back, didn't use our powers? You know, hope for the best?"
Magnus shook his head, and a fire was in his eyes. But his voice was calm. "When I was a boy, my family and I waited and hoped for the best. This was our reward." He rolled back the sleeve over his left arm, and Tanya shuddered. Even she, a young American girl, could recognize the Nazi tattoos used in the death camps.
Magnus rolled his sleeve back down. "I was young, just like you. Frightened and confused, just like you. I saw my family killed, along with thousands of others who were simply hoping for the best. Long ago, I swore that never again would my people be hunted down and killed simply because they were different. Humanity fears us because we are superior, because we have the power to destroy them with a thought, a wave of the hand, the blink of an eye."
He held up his hand, and the door of a car came flying towards them. Magnus stopped it just before it hit him, without so much as flinching. "This is how I brought you here," he explained. "Imagine what else I can do with it. And your powers are equally unlimited, Tanya. If you wish, you can bring night to a city, or to the world. All with a thought, Tanya. Who would be able to stand against you? You, Tanya, the Queen of the Darkness, Goddess of the Night. The shadows of the earth would sing your unending song of victory."
Suddenly, he stopped. "Yes. The song of the shadows. Join us, Shadowsong, Queen of the Night. Join us."
Tanya hesitated, but her whole self longed to agree. She wanted to embrace this new power, to master it. But more than anything, she wanted to belong somewhere, and this man was offering it with open arms, with no strings attached. "Yes," she nodded. "Yes. Thank you, Magnus."
The man shook his head. "Magneto. Welcome to the Brotherhood, Shadowsong."
Xavier's headache was nearly gone now that he was working on something. Fixing Cerebro required all of his concentration; the slightest mistake could cause the whole thing to malfunction, which, in some cases, could prove dangerous.
Unbeknownst to Bobby and Rogue, as well as the other students, the repairs wouldn't take long now that he was actually working on it. He had previously been tinkering, much like a mechanic in his shop, meddling with this and that to try to make it work better, trying things that were only rarely met with success. It had become a hobby of sorts, a much-needed distraction now and then.
So, much to the others' surprise, Cerebro was ready to use within the hour.
Pastor Stevens had been watching along with the others. He was thoroughly confused and not at all sure how this would help, but he didn't want to bother the Professor with questions. Now that he was done, however, and the others leaving, Pastor Stevens remained.
Kurt teleported back to his side. "Time to go, Pastor."
Pastor Stevens shook his head stubbornly. "No. I'm staying."
Professor Xavier smiled warmly. "It's all right, Kurt."
Kurt nodded and, without any further questions, left the two of them alone. "Thank you," Pastor Stevens said gratefully as the door closed.
"Just don't move," Professor Xavier advised.
Xavier placed a helmet-like device on his head and the huge round room exploded in a sea of color. It was like looking at walls and seeing only millions and millions of red and white Christmas lights. Pastor Stevens placed a hand on the Professor's wheelchair, trying to steady himself. "What are they?"
"This device connects my mind to every person on the planet. Each light represents a person. The white ones are humans."
"Then the red ones are mutants?"
"Yes," Xavier nodded. Slowly, the white lights faded, leaving only the red. There were fewer of them, but they still filled the room.
"There are so many of them," Pastor Stevens whispered, then, hesitantly, added, "Well, of you, that is, since, er, you're, well . . ."
"One of them?" Xavier asked with a smile.
Pastor Stevens avoided his gaze. "I didn't mean . . . I mean . . . er . . ."
"It's all right, Pastor," the Professor said gently. "It's all right. We're not as different as you think. We all share the same earth. We breathe the same air, live under the same sky. Our feelings are the same. Pain. Joy. Love. Human or mutant, it makes no difference. We all want just as badly to belong, to find that place where we're accepted for who we are, whatever that may mean."
As he was speaking, most of the lights faded, and a few grew brighter. "I've found them," he explained. "John is in an alleyway with about a dozen other mutants. It's about two miles north of here. But I don't think Eric would stay that close; he must know we'll be looking for Tanya. Mystique is in a forest some twenty miles southwest with . . . I've got her," he announced, wincing a little in pain. "She seems to have control over her abilities, but a telepathic barrier still exists."
"But you found her."
"Yes. She's with Mystique. I can't find Eric, but I didn't expect to." The lights faded.
Pastor Stevens breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Professor."
Xavier shook his head. "Don't thank me yet. She may not want to come with us, after what happened, and I doubt Eric will just let us go in and find her. He'll be ready."
The door opened to reveal the others waiting outside. "Well?" Kurt asked. "Did you find them?"
Xavier nodded. "Mystique and Tanya, and probably Eric, as well, are in a forest twenty miles southwest of here. John is with a group of other mutants a few miles north of us."
Bobby was obviously uncomfortable. "What's he doing there?"
"I was wondering the same thing," Xavier nodded. "Storm, I want you to take Bobby and Rogue and find out. Kurt, Pastor Stevens, and I will find Tanya." Storm started to object, but Xavier held up his hand. "No, Storm. If Tanya is indeed reluctant to come with us, few people will be less intimidating. And we must find out what Eric is planning. Find John, determine what he is doing, and return to the school unless one of us calls you." He handed a communicator to Kurt and another to Storm. "Kurt will call you if I am unable to do so telepathically."
Pastor Stevens raised an eyebrow. This guy was really planning for the worst. What was he expecting? If Tanya wanted to come with them, could this Magneto really stop her? The Professor seemed to think he might try. Yet he was sending most of the others off to do something completely irrelevant. Why?
Rogue was wondering the same thing as she, Bobby, and Storm headed outside to the car. "What's he thinking, Bobby?" she complained as the two of them plopped down in the back seat. Storm started the engine. "How many people should it take to find out what John is up to? One! Why's he sending three of us?"
"And why's it matter what he's doing there, anyway?" Bobby agreed. "I mean, yeah, it's good to know what he's up to, but you'd think it could wait 'til we're done rescuing Tanya. That's more important."
"Don't worry, you two," Storm said reassuringly. "We'll be there and back in plenty of time to go help the Professor if he needs it."
Tanya looked around, wide-eyed. Magneto had brought her to his camp, deep inside the woods. Scattered among the trees were tents and piles of firewood, the beginnings of a gathering place.
With them now was Mystique, a shape-shifter. Her skin was blue, her eyes a bright yellow. She had startled Tanya at first, seeming to come out of nowhere, but Magneto had quickly assured each that the other was a friend.
Suddenly, Tanya felt a tingling in her head and stumbled forward, all at once very dizzy. Magneto caught her easily and lowered her to a seat on the ground. "What is it, Shadowsong?"
She almost managed a smile. She liked the name. "It was . . . like I was about to faint. I just felt really dizzy all of a sudden. But . . . it's gone now."
"Charles," Magneto said with surprising certainty.
Tanya looked up, frightened. "Professor Xavier? He's coming?"
Magneto nodded. "Very soon, I would expect. But don't worry, Shadowsong."
"Please," Tanya pleaded. "Don't let him hurt me! Don't let him take me back!"
Magneto held out his hand and helped Tanya to her feet. "Don't you understand, Shadowsong?" he asked, smiling. "He can't. He can't make you do anything you don't want to; his telepathy has no effect on you when you use your powers. He has no control over you, Shadowsong."
Realization flooded into Tanya. Magneto was right. She had the power to defend herself. She didn't have to be afraid. Not any more.
Kurt looked around as the Blackbird lifted off. Beside him in the pilot's seat was Professor Xavier, who seemed perfectly comfortable behind the controls. Pastor Stevens sat behind them, strapped in tightly, his eyes wide in amazement.
Kurt smiled at him, then turned to face the front, trying to look useful. Xavier noticed and motioned to a set of controls that Kurt soon discovered controlled the air and temperature inside the plane. Kurt nodded his thanks to Xavier, grateful for something to do. He felt unusually nervous, and Pastor Stevens obviously did, as well.
"We'll land outside the forest," Xavier explained, and Kurt realized, to his relief, that they were nearly there. "There's not enough room to land inside, and it would give Eric an advantage."
Kurt nodded, remembering how easily Magneto had stopped the jet from falling before. If they tried to land anywhere near him, he could simply send them flying back where they had come from, or worse.
"They're about a quarter-mile inside the forest," Xavier said as they landed. "It shouldn't take us long to find them.
Kurt nodded as they all left the plane. It wouldn't be long now.
"There it is," Rogue called, pointing to a dark alleyway up ahead. Storm pulled over to the side of the road and they all climbed out. Storm handed them two black cloaks with hoods that would shield their faces. Rogue put hers on quickly; Bobby and Storm followed suit.
"Remember -- our mission is to observe," Storm reminded them. "We're not here for a fight."
Bobby didn't know whether he should be relieved or upset. Part of him didn't want to have to fight his old friend. But another part, just as strong, didn't just want to find out what Magneto was up to; he wanted to stop it.
For a moment, he hoped, in vain, that maybe Magneto wasn't up to anything at all. So John was with a bunch of other mutants. So what? And maybe Magneto had simply taken pity on Tanya, the way the rest of them had. Why did everything always have to add up to a plot?
But he knew it was useless. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't explain it all away. Magneto was always planning something. And why would John be in a hidden place with so many other mutants unless it was part of some larger plot?
Silently, the three of them approached the alley. Bobby moved closer to Rogue, but Storm stepped between them. "He might realize," she whispered. "One of us should go in first. You two wait here."
Bobby nodded, and watched as Storm disappeared around the corner. She really did have this planned out. He only hoped it was enough.
Storm entered the alleyway silently. It was dark, nearly pitch black. She'd wanted it that way. Over the past few minutes, so as not to be suspicious, she'd been silently calling the clouds in, covering the moon and stars. The only light came from a lonely street lamp, and Storm hid her face from this.
She needn't have worried. John was totally hypnotized by what he was doing. He wasn't even flipping the lid of his lighter, so intent was his concentration. "Now is the time for the mutants of the world to rise out of the shadows and claim our true inheritance. Humanity's reign on this earth has ended, and it wasn't short enough. A new time is at hand. Join us. Join the Brotherhood of Mutants!"
Storm raised an eyebrow. Magneto had helped prepare the speech; that was obvious even from the very end, which she had caught. John had never been much of one for speeches. Quick one-line comebacks were more his style. He had always been the first to ignore a speaker in class. Yet now the boy's young eyes were alight as if the fire that gave him his code name -- Pyro -- were alive within him. He genuinely believed what he was saying. He was Magneto's pawn now, to control, to use.
So this was what Magneto wanted -- to form this "Brotherhood of Mutants." And from the sound of John's speech, as well as his tone, he was planning a revolution of sorts, certainly a use of force. Storm shuddered as a cheer went up from the crowd. Most of these people would follow him.
Suddenly, there came a voice from the entrance to the alleyway. "No!" Rogue interrupted before Bobby could stop her. "No! There's a better way!"
Rogue could almost feel the dozens of eyes as they turned on her, curious, waiting. John simply stared; he hadn't expected this interruption. Storm was just as anxious, and concerned, and even angry. She had warned them not to interfere, only to observe. But Rogue couldn't do that, no matter what Storm or Professor Xavier had said. Not when it meant letting these people blindly follow Magneto into a war against mankind.
"There's a better way," she repeated. "Peace. Humanity fears us because they don't understand. They see power, and they fear the misuse of that power. All you're going to do is give them more reason to fear you."
"That won't matter when they're gone," John returned coldly.
"Just listen to him," Rogue scoffed. "'When they're gone.' He's talking about the end of every human life on the planet, no matter what they believe about us."
"They're all afraid of us," a man called back. "They all hate us!"
"That's not true," came a voice, and Rogue felt a hand on her shoulder. Storm. Bobby was soon by her side, as well. "Yes, many of them do," Storm continued. "But most are simply confused, unsure of what to think. Are you prepared to annihilate mankind simply because of their ignorance? Are you willing to follow this Brotherhood until it destroys millions of innocent lives? Is that what you are cheering for?"
Rogue and Bobby both looked up at Storm. The annihilation of mankind. Somehow, it hadn't quite sunk in until that moment. Magneto was willing to go that far. He was forming an army, this Brotherhood of Mutants.
And he wanted Tanya.
"They'll be here any time now," Magneto said with certainty. The young mutant beside him nodded as if she had already known. Mystique simply stayed where she was, high in a tree, awaiting the arrival of the others, ready to leap down to help should that help be needed.
Hiding was useless, Magneto knew, as long as Charles was there. But if by some chance they had left him, it could help them invaluably. Yet at the same time, some part of him knew they hadn't. Charles was coming. It was his mistake, his hastiness, that had led this girl to Magneto in the first place, and Charles would come to right that wrong.
Magneto turned to the newly christened Shadowsong. "I'm curious," he remarked casually. "Have you tried extending your psychic shield without the physical effects?"
To his surprise, the young mutant actually understood what he meant. "You mean can I stop him from getting into my mind without making everything dark? I don't know. But I can try."
Magneto nodded, and immediately felt a reassuring, almost tingling, sensation in his mind. He smiled approvingly. Shadowsong had overcompensated, and wrapped him in her shield, as well. But the darkness was almost all gone, more of a faint shadow than anything, barely different from the surrounding shadows. Magneto looked around, and Shadowsong, understanding his intent, slowly extended the shield, little by little, so that it encompassed Mystique, as well.
"Well done," Magneto nodded, genuinely impressed. Few mutants had such control over their powers so quickly. Charles was in for a surprise if he was using his telepathy to find them.
Magneto put an arm protectively around Shadowsong. "All right, Charles," he said quietly. "The next move is yours."
Pastor Stevens looked around nervously at the woods, turning at ever sound, every squirrel or chipmunk. What was he doing here? What good was he going to do? If it came to force, he was useless against a mutant of Magneto's powers.
All of a sudden, Xavier let out a cry of pain and surprise. Kurt was by his side immediately. "Are you all right, Professor?"
"I'm . . . I'm fine, Kurt," the Professor hesitated. "I was tracking Mystique telepathically, hoping that would lead us to the others, but . . . something interfered."
"You mean someone," Pastor Stevens nodded. "Tanya."
"Yes. I had to break contact. I have some idea of where they are, but that could change."
"So what now?" Kurt asked. "Are they going to attack?"
Xavier shook his head. "I don't believe so. Though that may be Eric's choice, it would not make a very good impression on Tanya. Since she is obviously aiding him, we can assume that they are waiting for us. The first move is ours."
"So what do we do?" Pastor Stevens asked. "We can't find them."
"Of course we can," Xavier smiled. "We'll just have to do it the normal way."
People were beginning to murmur. The annihilation of mankind. They hadn't grasped the full meaning of what he had been telling them.
He'd made a mistake letting them talk, Pyro realized. But that couldn't be helped now. He needed to recover -- and quickly. "Mankind?" he returned. "So even you realize that mutants are a race apart from the rest of humanity. We are superior. And that is why we are feared -- because we have the power." He flipped the lid of his lighter. "This power."
With a thought, he sent a stream of fire towards the three X-Men. It was met in mid-air by ice, but not before another man's jacket had caught on fire. Instantly, it began to rain. The flames were extinguished, and Rogue used Pyro's moment of surprise to knock the lighter from his hand. He reached out to catch it, but a gust of wind blew it from his grasp. Storm caught it and closed the led. The three of them turned to go.
"This isn't over!" Pyro screamed at them. "We will win! In the end, we will! We'll kill all of you!"
What he didn't notice was that his audience, as well, was leaving.
Storm turned to Rogue. "The Professor told us not to interfere."
"If he'd known that those people were being convinced to join Magneto, he wouldn't have," Bobby insisted.
Storm sighed. "Perhaps not. But now Magneto will know that we know his plan, and he may act sooner."
Rogue nodded. "I know. It was worth it, though. They need to know the truth." She looked back at the alleyway. People were leaving.
Storm looked surprised, but then smiled proudly. "Well done, Rogue. It looks like they're going home."
Rogue smiled. "So should we."
Tanya watched as three figures entered the clearing. To her surprise, one of them was Pastor Stevens. Why was he still with them? After what they'd done to her, why hadn't he left, too?
Beside him was a blue figure, crouched down on all fours, moving quickly and silently and almost blending in with the shadows. Tanya's instincts told her this was Kurt, the German mutant who had saved her at the church.
The other man, she knew immediately, was Professor Xavier. Now, actually seeing him, she was surprised to find he didn't appear all that intimidating; in fact, he was an older man, confined to a wheelchair, with a rather gentle look about him.
Magneto stepped forward to greet them. "Welcome, Charles. Kurt. And who is this?"
"Pastor Stevens," Tanya heard her pastor stammer. The three of them had stopped just outside the edge of her shadow.
"Oh, come, Charles," Magneto coaxed, an almost teasing smile on his face. "Let's make this equal, shall we?" He raised his hand, and the Professor's chair rolled into the shadow.
Xavier remained perfectly calm. "We have no intention of fighting you, Eric." He turned to Tanya. "We came here to offer you a choice, Tanya."
"My name is Shadowsong," the young mutant declared. "And I have made my choice."
"Yes, but it was a choice made in darkness, when you didn't know all there is to know of this decision. Hear me out, please."
Tanya hesitated. What didn't she know? What more was there to hear? "And if, after I listen to you, I choose to remain here?" she questioned.
"Then that is your choice," the Professor replied. Pastor Stevens appeared ready to object, but Kurt put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. Pastor Stevens sighed and nodded reluctantly.
"All right, then," Tanya agreed, stepping forward beside Magneto. "What're you gonna tell me?"
Xavier looked straight into the teen's eyes. "Magneto is planning a war against mankind."
Tanya turned to Magneto, who lifted Xavier's chair slightly off the ground, as if in a warning not to go too far. "The war has already begun, Charles," he replied. "Humanity has rejected us. We will only survive if we fight back."
"But a war?" Tanya asked. "You want to kill all of them?"
"I did not start this war, Shadowsong. We did not start it. They did. We can sit back and wait no longer. Humanity's days have ended."
Pastor Stevens stepped forward into the darkness. "He's wrong, Tanya. Not all of us are what he thinks we are. Look around you." He gestured to the clearing, but was indicating the world. "Look around you, and you will find the ten good men that would have saved Sodom and Gomorrah. But you have to look, Tanya! You have to believe, you have to want to believe that we exist. We, the ones who will accept and love you for who we are. We are here!"
Kurt smiled and joined him in the shadow. "He's right, Tanya. People fear us, but only because they do not know us. If we fight, if we frighten them, their anger will only worsen, and cooperation will be impossible. There are people -- on both sides -- unwilling to compromise. But a great deal of regular, normal people are sitting on the fence, deciding. They don't know what to make of this. They don't know if we can live together in peace. Magneto's message to them is a resounding, "No!" If they hear that message first, Tanya, before the message of compassion and tolerance, they will decide against us, against peace."
"Compassion," Magneto scoffed. "Tolerance. What a wonderful dream. But we do not live in a fairy tale, Shadowsong. Peace will never be so long as there are those who do not, who will not, tolerate us. And they will exist as long as we allow them to."
"But . . ." Tanya hesitated. "You'd kill all of them? The good along with the bad?"
"Not bad, Tanya," Xavier said gently. "Simply ignorant. And some of the worst decisions in the world have been made out of ignorance, out of desperation. You made a choice, Tanya, out of desperation. You believed you had nowhere else to turn, and here was Magneto, offering you your only wish, to be accepted. But at what cost, Tanya? A war against those whose only crime is believing what they are told and fearing the worst?
"There is a better way, Tanya. Peace. Acceptance. Perhaps they may seem like a dream now, but a wise man once said that yesterday's dream is today's hope and the reality of tomorrow. We -- I never meant to harm you. Obviously, you have succeeded in controlling your powers without my guidance. But are you prepared to use them in this war that is being planned, against people like your pastor, like your family, like those of us who protect them?"
Tanya looked from Xavier to Magneto. "I . . . I didn't realize this was going to turn into a war."
"It doesn't have to," Kurt said quietly. "There's a better way."
Tanya nodded slowly. "A better way."
Slowly, the darkness faded, and Tanya took her place beside Pastor Stevens. Mystique leapt down from her tree, but Magneto shook his head. His message was clear; they couldn't force Tanya to join them. Tanya looked up at Pastor Stevens and smiled as they headed for the edge of the forest.
Tanya was silent as they climbed into the Blackbird. At last, Pastor Stevens spoke. "I suppose you could come home, if you want to, Tanya. Your parents will need some explaining, but I can help you through that."
Tanya shook her head. "No. Not yet. Maybe later, when they're ready. When we're all ready."
They landed, and found Bobby, Rogue, and Storm waiting for them. "Storm, find Shadowsong a room," the Professor instructed. "She'll be staying with us for a while."
Tanya smiled. He'd used her nickname, the one Magneto had given her. Maybe he could tell how much she liked it. Shadowsong. It wasn't normal, just as she wasn't normal. Just as she would never be normal again. But she had found a place where that didn't matter, where her powers were a gift, not a curse.
She had found a home.