Charles looked up when he felt Stephanie's mood flatten, concerned when she set her fork down on her plate slowly. He was even more surprised when almost everyone seemed to forget that she was there, with the exception of Remy, who was watching her with ill concealed interest.

__________________________________________________________________

Stephanie felt like she was going in slow motion while everyone else was moving at light speed. IF she looked up she knew that's what she'd see, everyone moving unnaturally fast as she just sat there, barely breathing, muscles slack. Sighing to herself, she stood up, moving slowly out of the dining room.

__________________________________________________________________

Charles felt a chill of apprehension slip through him as he watched Stephanie walk away. Her movements were oddly jerky, almost as if she was attached to a marionette wire in some strange puppet show. He reached out telepathically, and was only slightly surprised when he encountered no mind where hers should have been. For some reason she'd shut down, a behavior that was frighteningly similar to what David had been able to accomplish when he was alive.

"Professuer?"

Charles turned to Remy, who was watching the door Stephanie walked through, "She not doin' too good." There was concern in his voice, and a deep sense of dread.

Nodding, Charles left the table, wondering where Stephanie would have gone. Almost immediately he ruled out her room. If someone noticed her absence that was the first place anyone would look. The grounds were also out of the question. He was quite surprised when he saw her in his study, curled up in an armchair.

"Are you all right, Stephanie?" She started at the question, looking at him with guilty eyes, "We.. lost you at dinner."

She shrugged, "I just needed to get away for a minute or two, I'm sorry if I scared you or anything." She turned, looking at the books lined up neatly on a shelf next to her, "I take it you like Shakespeare?"

Charles nodded, moving the hover chair closer until he was seated next to her, "Yes, very much so. Do you have a favorite play?"

Stephanie nodded, "When I was ten an acting troop invaded a park near our house. The first night I went they were doing A Midsummer Nights Dream." She smiled briefly, "After the show was over one of the actresses let me play in her costume closet. It was one of the funnest nights of my life."

Charles smiled, imagining what a sight it would have been to watch Stephanie emerge from the back of a wagon dressed like a fairy queen. "What did Carla say when she saw you?"

Immediately, the smile disappeared, "She marched me right back to the wagon, made me apologize for bothering the actress, and put everything back the way I'd found it." Stephanie shook herself, "So, did anyone miss me yet, or are you the only one who noticed?"

"Remy did notice your leaving, and was worried about you. The only reason he isn't here is because everyone else would have followed, and I think it's a bit early for you to be interrogated by the whole tribe."

Stephanie laughed, "That bad, are they?"

Charles sighed, "My students are rathertenacious, when it comes to gossip."

"Why do you call them your students? Almost all of them look entirely too old to be going to school, not to mention a private one."

Charles pondered for a moment before answering. " The students here are very special. As I told you before, everyone here is a mutant. They are here to learn control over their abilities so they will not hurt themselves or others. While most have, almost all tend to stay on here, or go to our sister institution on Muir Island."

Stephanie blinked, " So when do I get a rundown on who can do what so I know who I can mess with?"

"If you like, I can show you the training areas." Charles answered.

__________________________________________________________________

Honey, what in the name of all Hell have you gotten yourself into? Stephanie asked herself as the doors to the elevator opened. Charles has shown her to a seemingly ordinary panel that swung inward, revealing a large metallic elevator. There were three buttons, "Ground", "Lab", and "Hanger". The last one made her raise an eyebrow. Why in the world would her father have a level names "hanger?" The answer to that question had to be different from the one floating around her head, so she kept silent. The elevator was fast, if the dropping of her stomach was any indication, and it had taken them a good fifteen seconds to descend to the "Lab" level. Now she was walking down a long corridor of the same chrome material as the lift. The walls were bare, with fluorescent lighting running along both ceiling and floor. From what she could tell there were doors, but they were only numbered.

"This all used to be natural tunnels. They extend about a mile in all directions, except for the eastern side, which drops off because of the cliffs. When I decided to turn my home into a school for mutants, I believed it to be prudent to give them a place to practice without drawing attention to them or us."

Stephanie nodded, looking straight ahead at a pair of glass double doors marked, "Medlab". "So, how far down are we, anyway?"

Charles cocked his head, "At the moment, we are almost 200 feet below the surface. This way," he said as he turned a corner, taking her down another monochrome hallway. "The depth is for protection, both of us and our neighbors. The majority of my students have abilities that are extraordinarily dangerous."

"You must have one hell of a furniture bill, then." Stephanie asked, remembering horror tales from her college friends about siblings that torched couches.

That brought a short bark of laughter from Charles, "Fortunately for all of us, most of my students tend to go outdoors to work out their frustrations, or to the Danger Room. The only real problem we have left is discovering a means to prevent Hank from making the furniture blue with his fur."

Stephanie laughed, then backtracked, "Danger Room? Isn't that a littleominous?"

Charles looked up at her, "I'll leave that for you to decide." He said, "Here we are."

It wasn't until then that she realized that they'd stopped walking, and were now standing in front of two huge metallic doors. Stephanie eyed to keypad next to the doors, taking in the palm panel just below. "A little tight on security, are we?" she asked.

Charles didn't answer. Instead he walked up to the pad, punched in a short sequence of numbers, then let his palm be scanned. Seconds later, the doors opened without a sound. "You oil these boys regularly?" she asked in jest, then stopped when she heard her voice echoed back. The room beyond was pitch black, and she gave Charles a dubious look. "You want me to go in there?"

"Trust me, there is nothing to worry about." He said, going ahead of her. As he entered she heard the click of large lights coming on, and stood, awed. The room was easily a sixty foot cube, though there were no distinguishing marks on the walls, only smooth paneling. Suspended above the room she saw what she supposed to be a control booth.

"Cerebro : Relaxation scenario three." Charles said calmly.

Suddenly, there was a shift, and Stephanie found herself standing in the middle of a forest. She could hear the birds, feel the wind as it caressed her, the touch of a midday summer sun on her arms. Faintly, she could hear the sound of a river. "This is incredible," she whispered, looking around in amazement. " I've heard about holographic projections, but this is way beyond anything I've ever heard of." Bending down, she touched the grass, surprised when she could feel the blades scratching her fingertips. Cautiously, she pulled out a handful, watching as it conformed to her actions, leaving a bare patch of brown dirt. "How do you?"

"Most of the technology is enhanced using experimental machinery. At its base, its simply force fields and bended light. Cerebro, scenario twenty-two."

Suddenly the glade was gone, and Stephanie found herself floating in space, but she could still breathe. And she was floating. There was no sensation of weight against her feet, nothing solid for as far as she could see. Only blackness and tiny points that were stars, even below. "Holy shit."

She started when she heard her father laugh, blushing. "Don't worry, most people react that way to this scenario."

Stephanie twisted herself, relieved to find that it was fairly easy, and faced her father. "How do you keep the anti-gravity? Most computers would have crashed and burned by now."

"As I said, most of the technology is experimental. It does make a peaceful place for meditation, though."

In answer, Stephanie looked around again, a faint spot of orange catching her eye. "What's that?"

Charles looked in the direction she was, and suddenly she was there, wherever there was. Now they were hovering over a swirling mass of orange, red, purple, and almost any other color she could imagine. They were glowing, constantly clashing and combining to form new variations. "This is beautiful."

Charles smiled, filling with pride, " This rooms purpose is not only to supply entertainment," he began, "Cerebro, scenario twelve. Non combatant"

Stephanie found herself in the middle of a war zone, wincing at the sound of falling mortar around them, cringing as dirt rained down on them. Laser fire went through them, hitting targets.

"More often than not we use the Danger Room in this capacity. At its base its designed to test and hone a mutants skills to the limit, and on occasion, beyond. Because I set a non combatant perimeter, the computer is not acknowledging our presence. Without it, we would be fighting for our lives right now."

Stephanie swallowed, " You mean, this thing can hurt you?" she yelled over the din.

Charles nodded gravely, " If one is not careful, they can easily be killed, but only if the failsafes are disengaged. When they're on, the computer automatically shuts down when someone is seriously injured, and sends out a general SOS to anyone in the mansion." He paused, "Cerebro, shut down."

Immediately, they found themselves in the same chrome room, that seemed to have not changed at all. "So I take it I don't get my own pass code to this place for a while."

" At least not until we know what you can do. As you've seen, this can be a very dangerous place." Once again, he paused, and Stephanie thought she heard a faint buzzing, and then it was gone. "It appears my students have noticed are absence and are wishing to speak with you." He took her hand when she paled, "Trust me, they arent as bad as they look once you get to know them."

Stephanie raised one eyebrow, "Yeah? What about the huge guy with the attitude problem? Before dinner he looked at me like I was some kind of security threat or something."

Charles sighed, "I'm afraid that's Bishop. He is something of a paranoid, so do not take his actions too seriously. He was once a soldier, and he has yet to realize that his war is over."

____________________________________________________________________

By the time she and Charles made their way back upstairs, everyone seemed to have migrated to the rec room, occupying almost every surface, Rogue going as far as sitting on the pool table while Logan and Remy played a game. Everyone was chatting animatedly, about everything and nothing, and Stephanie envied them for the briefest of moments. Though they all used to be strangers, now they were family.

"There you are, cherie," Remy said, lining up his shot, " Remy was getin' worried. T'ought I'd haf ta search for you m'self."

Stephanie smiled, " I'm sorry to disappoint, Remy. Charles was showing me around the grounds. Very interesting if I say so myself."

Rogue snorted, "Ya don't know the half of it, honey. Sit down, take a load off."

Stephanie did as she was told, and found herself sitting next to Cecilia and Hank, both of whom were deep in an argument about the benefits of cloned plasma versus that taken from actual donors.

Cloned plasma? Are they serious? Stephanie thought. As far as she knew, cloned plasma was unviable, but here they were talking about it as if it were an everyday necessity.

"So Chuck gave ya the rundown?" This came from Logan, who was chewing on an old cigar.

"Something like that. All I know it that all of you are mutants, though I have no idea what your mutations are."

Stephanie barely had time to duck as a large snowball came whizzing past her head. She turned a glare in the general direction of its origin as she heard a muffled French curse, and found Bobby looking at her.

"Nice reflexes. That's my power." At her raised eyebrow, he lifted his hand, and a delicate sculpture of a swan materialized out of the air. "Everyone calls he Iceman, or Popsicle, depending on your mood."

Now I know why he's a prankster, Stephanie said to herself. She could imagine waking up to a rather cold piece of ice in your underwear. " Should I be afraid?"

The question earned her an emphatic nod from Hank, "Be afraid, be very afraid." He whispered conspiratorially.

Next up was Rogue, who amazed her by floating a few feet off the floor, and lifting Hank over her head with one hand. "Plus AhI can drain the energy off anything that comes in contact with mah skin. Kinda sucks, especially in summer." Stephanie could see that it bothered her more than she let on, but stored the information away for later.

Remy smiled when she turned her gaze to him, "Curious, cherie?" he asked, pulling a playing card out of his pocket. He held it aloft for a moment, and she watched as it began to glow pink. Then he threw it toward the ceiling, and it exploded with the dull report of a firecracker, reducing the card to nothing but ash. "Be a real problem when ya sleepy, non? Almos' charged ma bed once. If I let it go long 'nough, makes a good hole in jus' 'bout an'ting." He looked past her, "Stormy, why don' you show her what ya do?"

Stephanie turned to the woman, almost laughing at her exasperated sigh. "Remy, I have told you repeatedly not to call me that." She turned her attention to Stephanie, "I can control the weather," she stated calmly, lifting her two hands in front of her. Stephanie watched, transfixed, as a miniature storm came into being in the space between her slim fingers. "Can you control it on a larger scale?"

Storm nodded, " I have been known to cause changes in the weather when upset, especially lightening strikes," she added, giving Remy a pointed look.

"I'm a telepath and telekinetic," Jean said, lifting a glass from the table with her mind. She looked around, "Just about everyone else cant show you what they do, unless we want to buy more furniture. Bishop is an energy converter, Logan has a healing factor and adamantium claws, Besty is another telepath, Cecilia creates force fields, and Sam becomes invulnerable when he flies. And Scott emits force beams from his eyes, which is why he always wears his shades. Without them, they're uncontrollable."

Stephanie nodded, head whirling. The people around her were dangerous. Most mutants she knew could do little more than parlor tricks, tell you what you were thinking if you concentrated hard enough, move pencils, things like that. These people had the potential to destroy houses, and probably anything else.

"So what do you do?"

The question came from Bobby, and it froze her. What could she do? She'd never experimented with anything. Strange things happening when you were around didn't count as a mutant power, did it? "I honestly don't know," she answered.

Charles stepped in, " I suspect that Stephanie is a telepath of some caliber, though I have no idea of any other powers." He turned to her, " We can start working on your abilities tomorrow, if you like."

Stephanie nodded blankly, ready to sneak away once again. This time however, she found her path blocked by Logan, who insisted she sit down and tell them all about her. For the next several hours Stephanie learned about her new housemates, laughing at their childhood antics, or antics that occurred moments before she arrived. They were open, inserting opinions here, telling what really happened there. The feeling of belonging returned again, but this time it didn't sadden her.