In Bayville, there were three very different mutant groups. The X-Men, the Brotherhood, and the Morlocks. Heh, the good, the bad and the ugly. Or something like that. What none of them expected though, was the approach of two siblings in a camper van. Okay, so maybe that's not particularly dramatic, and neither is that these two people are singing along to a Veggie Tales CD as they go ("You're His Cheeseburger" was not the most intimidating of prospects really). All the same, this perfectly normal duo were about to make a big impact on the Bayville area.
"So, this is the place?" Tobias Jethro 'TJ' Cooper asked his sister when they pulled up.
"Yep," she answered with a pop on the 'p', pulling on the hand break, putting the van in park and turning off the engine.
"Talk about your fixer-upper," he grumbled, getting out of the van.
TJ Cooper was nineteen years old, just shy of six feet tall, and his hair had gone from almost white blonde as a child to a darker, more brown-ish blonde. He was also competent enough with wires and pipes to be able to handle fixing electrics and plumbing in a way that they stayed fixed for long enough that calling in a professional wasn't worth it.
"Well it's ours now Teej, and we're gonna do 'em all proud," his sister answered him as she also got out, and planted her un-manicured hands on shapely hips that were disguised by an over-sized T-shirt.
Susan Anastasia Page-Cooper, TJ's older half-sister, was all of five-foot-six and had only slightly lighter hair than her brother, and her eyes were a more blue-grey-green to his hazel. She was twenty-four and had a way with a needle. Sewing was what kept money in her pocket most of the time, though she also sung fair enough that she'd make enough to pay a bill or two by singing on a street corner – if she really needed to.
"I still say it's a fixer-upper," TJ said, crossing his arms and shaking his head at the building.
It was a church.
Su-An had seen it in the paper. It was scheduled for demolition if someone didn't buy it. She'd immediately emptied her savings account, contacted the right people, and now the run-down place of worship, once frequented and now desolate, was all hers.
"Well, it's not gonna fix itself!" she declared happily and headed inside.
It took them an hour to clean out the dust, debris, cobwebs and rodent remains, and then the real work would begin.
Su-An and TJ were on their way back to the church from the hardware store – wood and paint having been purchased in large amounts – when they saw two teenage boys fighting on the pavement.
"Don't do it Su-An," TJ half pleaded, half warned.
Of course, she didn't listen, and they were pulled up alongside the two boys and she was out of the car before TJ could continue to try and tell her why what she was doing was a bad idea.
The two boys were literally head to head, and Su-An had no compunctions about grabbing them both by their hair and dragging them apart.
"You should be ashamed of yourselves!" she scolded them. "Brawling in the street! Have you no dignity!"
"He doesn't," answered the darker haired boy with a scowl and a German accent.
"Oh, like you're so much better!" the other boy growled, his yellow eyes flashing.
"Su-An!" TJ yelped, getting out of the car and coming to stand behind her and look at the two boys she'd caught.
Their eyes bugged at the sight of him.
"Big," the yellow-eyed boy said.
"Very big," agreed the one with the German accent.
TJ frowned. "Su-An, this is not the way to make friends on our first day in town," he said.
"Sure it is," she retorted. "If these two young men have so much energy, then I'm sure they won't mind helping us out!"
"Yeah, yeah, sure. Whatever you want," the yellow-eyed boy whimpered. "Just don't hurt me."
TJ rolled his eyes and Su-An smiled, taking the boys to their van and pushing them into seats. Half a minute later, they were at the church once again, and the boys had introduced themselves as Kurt Wagner and Todd Tolanski.
"You're the ones that bought the old church yo?" Todd asked, surprised as he pointed at the decrepit building and looked at the two.
"Yes," Su-An answered.
"Su-An's got this thing for churches," TJ told the boy's quietly. "Sometimes it's better to just smile and nod."
"I heard that!" Su-An said, whacking her brother's shoulder playfully, doing her best to sound and look angry before she cracked a smile and started laughing. "Okay, let's get to work."
As they worked, Su-An and TJ asked the boys questions and learned about the city that they had just moved to, as well as why the two boys were fighting.
"Sounds like a stupid reason to me," Su-An said at last, perfectly straight and an honest look of bewilderment on her face as she watched Todd and Kurt. "I mean, just because you live in different boarding houses?"
"You don't get it," Todd said.
"He's part of the Brotherhood," Kurt added. "I'm with the Institute."
"We do not get along," Todd finished definitively.
Su-An just got this really disappointed look on her face then, shook her head, and walked off to get the paint, since they'd finished fixing up that wall now, and the one they'd finished just before was now ready to be painted.
"What's her problem?" Todd asked, watching her go.
"Su-An is... different," TJ said carefully. "It has to do with her mother. She just... doesn't believe that people need to be divided."
"What? She's a communist?" Todd questioned.
TJ shook his head. "No... sort of, maybe a little, but not really."
"Oh, that's not confusing," Kurt put in.
"It has to do with my faith," Su-An said, returning with the paints. "Trying to explain me Teej?"
"And failing, as usual," he answered, taking a paint tin from her.
"What do you mean by your faith?" Kurt asked, curious.
"TJ and I were both brought up going to church every Sunday," Su-An explained, dipping in a paint brush and applying it to the wall. "Teej accepted what we were taught, that was fact, that was that, and otherwise he pretty much leaves God to His own business. Don't you Teej?"
He chuckled a little sadly. "I'm what Su-An calls a 'Sunday Christian'."
"And I'm not," Su-An said firmly. "Part of that is that I get frustrated that people create barriers that don't need to be there. Catholic or Protestant, black or white," she cut her eyes across to the two boys. "Brotherhood and Institute."
"What about people with, uh, special talents?" Todd asked. "Or who look different?"
"You did not just say that," TJ groaned.
Su-An chuckled. "We all look different," she pointed out, "and the world would be a dull place indeed if we were all good at the same things. You are the way that you were made to be, and that's perfect for you, so why should anybody want you to be anything different?"
"I think I just fell in love," Kurt said.
Todd snickered. "She ain't seen the real you yet, blue-boy," he said.
"Well, we did just meet," Su-An pointed out. "Though I did notice that a lot of kids around here seem to like showing off their underwear," she added with a raised eyebrow. "And I honestly have no idea why."
"Because it's the look!" Kurt defended adamantly.
"I'm gonna tell you what I told Teej in high school," Su-An said, shaking her head with a smile. "A girl's first priority is always going to be hygiene -"
"And being able to either see or smell your underwear is never going to impress," TJ finished with a smile. "I got a lot more attention from the girls I was interested in when I started listening to her," he added.
"Meaning?" the two boys asked.
"Meaning shower regularly, brush your teeth every morning, wear clean clothes, and don't tuck your shirt into your undies," Su-An clarified with a chuckle.
"Hey, I shower regularly!" Todd objected. "Once every month!"
"You might do better with once every couple of days," TJ told the kid comfortingly, patting his shoulder.
"Woah, something smells good," Kurt said, pausing in painting the walls to sniff the air.
TJ chuckled. "Must be dinner time then," he said. "Su-An will have made enough for you guys as well, as a thank you for helping us. I honestly didn't think we'd get this much done in just one afternoon."
"So that's where she went," Todd said. "I thought she just ditched us to do the work."
"Maybe a little. She's not all that fond of mess. Organised chaos is fine, but she does like things to be clean," TJ answered, smiling.
"Oi!" Su-An's voice echoed through the building, as though she'd heard him. "You three wash your hands! Dinner's ready!"
"Hang on, dinner? Oh no!" Kurt said, slapping a hand over his face. "I'm so dead when I get back to the Institute," he moaned. "They're going to wonder where I've been all day."
"We'll drive you home once we've fed you," TJ promised. "Su-An will probably even make excuses for you to whoever is in charge."
Kurt sighed in relief.
Once they'd all washed their hands and sat at the table, Todd and Kurt were ready to dig in, but held back when they noticed that their hosts weren't starting immediately, but rather had clasped their hands in front of them and bowed their heads.
"Dear Lord," Su-An said with reverence. "Thank you for this food, and for this day. Thank you that we arrived in Bayville safely, and got the chance to meet these two boys, and thank you that the hardware store was having a special on paint. Amen."
"Amen," TJ echoed quietly.
"A-amen," Kurt stuttered out.
Todd just looked unsure. "What's that mean?" he asked as Su-An and TJ finally picked up their forks and began to eat their vegetables first.
"Amen? It's sort of like... all in favour say 'I', I guess is the easiest way to explain," TJ said. "Only, it's 'amen' instead of 'I'."
Su-An giggled. "It's from the Hebrew language," she said. "It affirms the certainty of what has been said. You might read in some fantasy novels they say 'so mote it be' after a prayer or something. It's basically the same thing."
Todd nodded his understanding. "Okay, cool, now what's this on my plate?"
TJ and Su-An both laughed, while Kurt snickered.
"Peas, potato, and crumbed lamb cutlets," Su-An explained. "That extra plate in the middle of the table is for bones," she added, finishing off her peas and picking up a cutlet between her fingers, which she began to tear at. "It's not the most polite of foods, but it is fun to eat with your hands now and then," she explained.
"Which is why you told us to wash ours before coming to eat," Kurt guessed, picking up one of his own cutlets and biting into it.
"It's also why there are napkins, cause gnawing at your bones can get messy," TJ said happily.
After the meal and been thoroughly devoured and the plates had been cleared off the table, Su-An brought out a book.
"It's a tradition," TJ explained. "There's no getting out of it."
"It's important," Su-An said to her brother, then turned to the two boys. "I read a bit of the Bible every night after dinner," she explained. "And then pray again afterwards for everybody I can think of who might need prayer."
The two boys nodded their understanding, even if they didn't completely understand. They got treated to Genesis chapter one, and were surprised by what it contained, that Su-An believed it, and by what she went on to pray for when she'd finished reading.
Su-An did, indeed, drive both Todd and Kurt back to their boarding houses.
"Ya don't need to come in," Todd told her when they stopped at the Brotherhood House. "Lance might have wondered where I was, but he'll be cool."
"Well, if you're sure," Su-An said, looking at him with concern.
"Yeah, I'm sure," Todd said. "Oh hey, d'you mind if I swing by your church after school tomorrow? Maybe help out a little more?"
"Mooch another meal?" Kurt teased with a grin.
"I'd really appreciate that Todd," Su-An said genuinely. "We'll be getting scaffolding up in the morning so that we can work on the roof tomorrow afternoon. Heights don't bother you do they?" she asked. "If they do I'm sure there'll be more painting to be done, or we could just sit and talk about your homework instead. I'm sure you must have some," she added with a slightly teasing smile.
"Y-yeah, that's cool. Whatever you need me to do," Todd said, rubbing the back of his head, a little embarrassed. "You're real nice Miss Cooper," he added, then turned with a wave and headed into the house.
"Well, let's get you home now, shall we Kurt?" Su-An suggested with a smile.
It was just ten minutes to get to the Institute.
"Can we help you?" a male voice asked from the intercom at the gate.
"I'm just returning one of your students," Su-An told the small black box. "May we come in?"
"Please do," the voice answered, and the gates rolled open.
There was a welcoming committee waiting for them when Su-An pulled up in front of the mansion.
"Kurt!" exclaimed a boy with red sunglasses angrily, marching down the steps with a frown on his face. "Where have you been!"
"And why do you have, like, white paint in your hair?" asked a girl with brown hair and a pink cardigan.
"I'm afraid I kidnapped him," Su-An said with a smile, getting out from behind the wheel and smiling at the assembled group.
"You what lady?" growled a very rough looking man as he stalked up to her, looking her in the eye with a very protective glare.
"Logan," cautioned a bald man in a wheelchair. "I think we'd all feel better if we got the whole story."
The man, Logan, backed down and went to stand beside the wheelchair, but he was still frowning.
"Bad choice of words," Kurt advised sheepishly.
"I noticed," Su-An said, but she was still smiling. "I spotted Kurt here having an altercation with another boy, named Todd, in the street earlier today. I broke up the fight and then they both came to help me and my brother make a few repairs. He is fed and unharmed, I swear. I would have gotten him to call and let you know, but we haven't got phone lines in yet."
"You are new in town Miss -?" the bald man asked, extending his hand to her.
"Page-Cooper," she answered, slipping her hand into his easily and shaking it firmly. "Susan Anastasia Page-Cooper, call me Su-An."
"I am Professor Charles Xavier. My colleagues Ororo Munroe and you've already met Logan," he said, indicating the dark skinned woman with white hair, and the man who had been in her face for a moment shortly before.
"She's really nice Professor," Kurt said earnestly, escaping his peers for a moment to convey this, what he clearly felt, was important information. "And her brother is really cool too."
"You're too young for me sweetheart," Su-An teased, messing up his hair fondly.
"I know," he answered, blushing a little. "Thanks for the advice though," he added.
"Advice?" Charles asked, holding in chuckles at the by-play.
"On what girls like," Su-An said, eyes bright with good-natured mischief and a smile on her lips that was clearly being held in so that she wasn't just grinning her head off.
"Can I come and visit you again?" Kurt asked eagerly.
"I didn't turn Todd away, I'm not about to double-standard myself," Su-An chuckled. "Besides, that old church needs all the help it can get. You might want to check with your Professor though," she added more seriously.
"Please Professor?" Kurt begged, eyes wide.
The man sighed and looked at the boy, the to Su-An. "I don't like the idea of those in my care being out alone," he told her honestly. "Especially when I don't know where they are."
"But you can only do so much, right?" she finished with a smile. "I've got a little brother," she explained. "Believe me, I know."
He chuckled. "I see that you do," the professor said, smiling. "Would you be offended if I stopped by tomorrow morning just to make sure that -"
"We're putting scaffolding up tomorrow morning," Su-An cut off. "I mean, yes, sure, but ye be warned," she added, lines of concern creasing her own brow as she looked at the man in the wheelchair. "There's holes in the roof we need to fix," she explained.
Xavier nodded his understanding. "And I could get in the way or worse. Then," he looked up at Logan. "Perhaps Logan can stop by? He'd be able to help you out with the scaffolding as well as reassure me that no harm will come to Kurt while he is with you."
"Just gonna volunteer me like that Chuck?" Logan huffed, crossing his arms. "Sure, fine."
"Sounds alright to me," Su-An assured, smiling more easily again.
"Um," a girl with red-brown hair, with white stripes at the front, stepped up. "Can I come over too?" she asked.
"Rogue?" asked Ororo, surprised.
"I'm still workin' on fittin' in here too," the girl, Rogue, said. She shifted her feet a little embarrassed to be asking, and tugged at her gloves. "I just thought, maybe..."
"I'd love to have you," Su-An said kindly. "Too many boys and I'd start spitting chips just like them," she confided with a smile. "I'm sure we'll be great friends."
Rogue's face lit up in gratitude.
"Then it's settled," the professor declared. "Now, I believe that you all have homework," he said, turning to the teenagers, and began to herd them inside.
Su-An wrote out the address of the church on a faded receipt from her glove box and handed it over to Logan.
"See you bright and early," she promised, then winced. "Uh, but no earlier than nine?" she pleaded.
Logan chuckled almost evilly at that. "Not a morning person?" he asked.
"Oh, I function just fine in the mornings," she countered. "I just don't like to."
The scaffolding went up quickly, which was nice, and the crew that had been hired to put it up were finished in time for lunch. Su-An sent them all to wash their hands before eating.
Two loaves of sliced bread, and many different fillings were laid out on the table for the men to choose from, and Su-An smiled as she watched Logan shuffling around the table with his plate, just like the rest of them.
"I think those guys want to hire ya," the gruff man said to TJ as Su-An farewelled the crew after they'd eaten and she'd handed over the pay for the job they'd done.
TJ chuckled. "Useful to know," he answered. "But do we pass standard for the safety of the kids?"
"You're not much more than one yourself," Logan observed. "Which makes me worry about Rogue a little, but I know she can handle herself."
"Teej doesn't get handsy, if that's your only concern Logan," Su-An said, coming back in time to catch that last comment.
Logan raised a brow in scepticism.
"Absolutely true," TJ stated proudly, fist over his heart.
"So, do you guys want a hand getting a start on that roof of yours before the kids get here?" Logan asked. "We can talk properly without all the crew doin' their noisy job," he added.
Su-An and TJ nodded, smiling at him in genuine gratitude.
"So, why a church?" Logan asked five minutes later as he slid roof tiles into place.
"Because it looked lonely," Su-An answered. "No church should look lonely like this one did."
"You don't feel uncomfortable with the idea of living in a place like this?"
"It's a building," Su-An answered. "A person's body is more a house of God than anything made of bricks and mortar. Besides," she went on, "I always feel more myself when I'm reminded of God's presence. Living in a church, I'm not likely to forget it."
"God fearing folk then," Logan commented, mostly to himself, but he was heard, nonetheless. "If it works for you I guess."
TJ groaned. "Susan Anastasia Page-Cooper, don't you dare start preaching now," he said. "You already said a bit yesterday to the kids about accepting all kinds, regardless of differences and stuff. You don't need to tell a grown man about the end times."
Su-An pouted. "Is it so bad that I don't want anybody to miss out on the party God's got planned?"
Logan raised an eyebrow. "Party?" he asked, amused, surprised and disbelieving all at once. "I've never heard that pitch before. Paradise, yeah, but a party?"
"I've talked to a lot of people who think that Heaven is just a whole lot of people standing around playing harps all day," Su-An said. "But that isn't right. Heaven's described as the most fantastic place you could ever want to be."
"For me, that would be a nice cosy cabin with a log fire while it's snowin' outside," Logan said. "I'm not all that big on parties."
Su-An shrugged. "Okay, so say you saw that cosy cabin, the log fire, and a special someone to share it with even, someone who would never get on your nerves and who loved you, unconditionally, and then it got ripped away from you before you could quite step in the door, and even the lingering smell of snow and wood smoke was gone, and instead you feel your flesh being ripped from your bones over and over again, but the memory of that cabin lingers forever, and your tormentor comes by every hour, just to remind you of what you didn't quite get to have."
"That's very graphic," Logan said.
"That's Su-An," TJ said. "I did try to warn you."
"The bit that really gets me," Su-An explained, "is that it isn't just that you don't get your paradise, it's that you get to see it and then get told that you can't have it. That's why I don't want anybody to miss out on what God's offering," she said, clearly passionate.
"Not anybody?" Logan asked, accepting that she was so very set about this idea. "What about criminals?"
"Those who have sinned in their mind are as guilty of committing the sin as one who has sinned in the flesh," Su-An intoned gravely. "We're all rotters," she added, trying to lighten the mood. "I'm not one to judge anybody. I just... don't want anybody to miss out on something that they shouldn't have to. It's covered in John chapter eight, verses one to eleven."
Logan nodded his understanding, even though he'd never read the bible that he could remember.
The roof was nearly done when Todd, Kurt and Rogue arrived after school.
"Right, I'm off. What sort of time can we expect to get those two back?" Logan asked, jerking his thumb at Kurt and Rogue.
"Probably about the same time you did yesterday, maybe a little later," Su-An said. "Before curfew anyway, I promise."
Logan nodded and left.
"Phew," Todd said, relaxing when the door closed behind him. "He always makes me nervous."
"Aw, he's just a big softie," Su-An said, wrapping an arm around the boy and giving him a hug by way of welcoming him back.
"Softie?" Todd yelped. "That guy's got adamantium coating every one of his bones!"
"I'm gonna guess that's a really hard metal," TJ said raising an eyebrow.
Todd, Kurt and Rogue all confirmed at the same time saying "unbreakable," "hardest in the world," and "you have no idea," over each other quietly.
"Well my guess is that a lot of his gruffness stems from how much he cares about people," Su-An said. "He's protective, and defensive, but he doesn't like people to know it, so he grumbles and growls and acts as scary as he can."
"You figured this out in less than a day?" Rogue asked, her eyes wide.
"Oh, I started to get the idea when he got in my face last night," Su-An answered with a smile. "I bet he's the best sort of person to have as a friend."
"So are we working on the roof or what?" Kurt asked eagerly – clearly wanting to change the subject before it started getting uncomfortable just as much as he wanted to help out.
TJ and Su-An laughed at the boy's eagerness.
"Yes Kurt," TJ said, messing up the boy's hair. "It's mostly fixed up already though, thanks to Mr Logan's help, but there are still a few spots that need to be fixed up."
"Alright! I'm so up there!" Kurt cheered.
"I take it you like heights," Su-An teased lightly.
"I'm not such a big fan," Todd admitted, "but I don't mind 'em, and anything blue-boy can do, I can do better!"
"No you can't!" Kurt objected.
"Yes I can!"
"No you can't – yes I can, yes I can!" Su-An sung happily.
"Great, you've got her started on Broadway songs," TJ chuckled at the boys. "Come on, work to be done," he said, setting a hand on a shoulder each of the two boys and steering them towards the scaffolding.
"Now," Su-An said, turning to Rogue. "We'd better find you something that's going to survive getting paint on it, 'cause I don't think your pretty things would appreciate it very much," she added with a smile at the girl.
"Whatever," Rogue allowed. "As long as I'm covered."
Su-An nodded her understanding – no one really wanted paint on them after all – and happily draped an arm around the girl's shoulders, leading her out to the camper van where all their easily portable worldly possessions were stored in boxes.
"Tell me about yourself honey," Su-An said as she opened the first box, searching for something appropriate for painting and that would satisfy a teenage girl's need to look cool.
"Not much to tell," Rogue said quietly, standing off to the side of the door as she watched.
"Sure there is," Su-An countered. "You've got that gorgeous southern twang, and a pocket full of teenage angst if I'm any judge," she said, not unkindly.
Rogue shifted uncomfortably.
"Okay, how about this then? I'll ask you a question, and then you ask me one. Sound fair?" Su-An suggested hopefully. "They can even be embarrassing ones if you like," she added, hoping to draw the girl in.
Rogue smiled a tiny, hopeful smile. "Can I go first?" she asked.
Su-An grinned. "Of course you can," she answered.
"What do you do?" Rogue asked. "I mean like, your job or whatever."
"I can do all sorts of things. I make and sell clothes sometimes, that's a fairly portable skill, but I don't have an actual official job just now, since I only got here yesterday," Su-An answered. "Ah-ha! I have a winner," she said, drawing out a long-sleeved turtle-neck shirt and a pair of jeans for inspection. "These won't mind getting paint all over them."
"I think the jeans have been used for this before," Rogue quipped with a slight smile, picking up one leg and pointing to a paint stain.
"Yeah," Su-An admitted. "I guess they have. Okay, my turn for a question. Uh... Do you like gumbo?"
Rogue laughed. "Is there anybody who doesn't?" she asked happily. "Oh, I haven't had gumbo since I got here a month ago."
"A good gumbo takes time," Su-An said sagely. "I'll start one cookin' tomorrow morning so that we can have it for dinner tomorrow night – if you want to come again, that is,"she offered.
Rogue's eyes lit up. "Really? Thanks! I'd love to," she said.
"Want me to turn around while you get changed?" Su-An asked, handing over the clothes properly.
"Uh, thanks," Rogue said, more quietly.
"Your turn to ask," Su-An reminded the girl as she turned around.
"How old is your brother?" Rogue asked.
Su-An giggled. "Nineteen," she answered. "And he's my half-brother, same father. How old are you?"
"Seventeen. So half-brother?" Rogue asked.
"My mother, Eileen Page, died when I was little. Dad remarried, and I tell ya what I love that brat brother of mine to bits," Su-An explained. "Who... is the most annoying person in the Institute?" she asked with a giggle. "I swear, I'll take it to the grave," she added.
Rogue laughed. "Oh all of 'em," she said happily. "Kitty's too perky, Jean's too perfect, Spike's got attitude, Kurt's got this habit of popping up just when you really don't want him to, and Scott... well..."
"Do I smell teenage crush?" Su-An asked teasingly.
"Yeah, but he's got it bad for Jean," Rogue said with a grumble.
"Try and find some other fault with him honey. It will make it easier," Su-An said gently, kindly.
"Scott's... uptight. Doesn't know how to relax. An' hey, you slipped in two questions!"
Su-An laughed. "Caught! That means you get two extra, free of charge."
"Your first boyfriend," Rogue said instantly.
"Haven't had one yet," Su-An answered with a smile. "I took myself to school dances when I was around for them and appreciated how attractive people were, but I am still yet-to-be kissed beyond pecks on the cheek by family and close friends."
"You make that sound like it's a good thing," Rogue said, surprised. "How old are you?"
"Twenty-four. Yeah, unheard of, right? I don't mind it though. When I find my Mr Right, then he'll get to have all those firsts with me, and that will make it just that much more special. You've got one more, then it's my turn again."
"I've finished changing," Rogue said.
"I'm glad it fits," Su-An said, turning around. "You can leave your own clothes... uh..." she quickly made her bed. "Just here, they won't get mixed up with anything that way."
"Thanks, uh... okay, you guys just moved here, so where did you move from?" Rogue asked.
Su-An's smile seemed to change a little, without growing or shrinking at all. "Well, that's a bit complicated," she said. "TJ, his mother, our father and me, well, we've been big on travel pretty much all TJ's life," she explained. "I was born in Texas, and Teej was born in Iowa. We've been to just about every state in the country that can be reached on four wheels, and I've been to school in every one of them like some kind of army brat."
"So you're from all over," Rogue said.
Su-An nodded. "Alright, now it's my turn again. What's your real name? I'm not buyin' that your mother named you Rogue."
Rogue blushed. "Anna Marie," she said quietly. "But I'd appreciate it if you didn't go tellin' anyone."
"Cross my heart," Su-An promised. "Narry a word. Your turn again."
"Why'd you decide to buy a church?" Rogue asked.
Su-An led Rogue out of the camper van and around to the shed, where she grabbed up tins of paint, brushes, and a couple of rollers. "Because I'd had enough of travelling for a while, and my heart just ached at the thought of a church being torn down because no one cared about it," she answered.
"What's the deal with the Brotherhood and Institute division?" Su-An asked quietly. "I'm new in town, remember."
"Ah, it's sorta... the kids in the mansion have it real good. The Professor takes care of everybody. Over at the Brotherhood house, the woman in charge doesn't really take care of the guys who live there, so they pretty much have to manage on their own. I was with the Brotherhood for a while, but the Professor won me over, he had a better offer. Kitty is sorta friends with one of the guy's there, called Lance. He's probably the most responsible of all of 'em, even if he is a bit of a hot-head."
"All teenage boys are hot-heads," Su-An said.
The two girls laughed together.
"I heard that," TJ said, coming up behind them. "I'm offended Su-An, even me?"
"Yes," she answered, poking a finger into his chest. "Even you. Or have you forgotten the number of times you did yourself an injury because you were trying to be 'cool'?" Su-An asked, removing her finger and going back to painting.
TJ blushed, and rubbed at where he'd been poked.
Three hours later, and everything was finished – except moving in the furniture and cleaning up the floor. TJ had even fixed up the electronics, the plumbing and the phone line had been put in.
"Woah, I never knew cleanin' up a place could take... woah," Rogue said, staring around her at what they'd accomplished.
"Many hands make light work," Su-An and TJ said together.
"And get paint everywhere," Rogue added with a smile, peeling some out of her hair.
"Well, go wash up, I'll start cooking and we'll have a look at your homework, shall we?" Su-An suggested.
"Hey Todd," Su-An called just before he was about to go through the door.
He turned and looked at her.
"You're welcome to come by any time," she offered. "And bring a friend if you want," she suggested.
"Thanks Miss Cooper," he said with a smile. "Maybe next time I will," he added, then went inside.
"Same offer is open to you two," she added, turning to Kurt and Rogue just before she pulled back onto the road. "Any time at all."
"Thanks," Kurt said.
"Ditto," Rogue added. "Really."
"Delivery for Professor Charles Xavier," Su-An called into the intercom at the gate. "Two students ready for their beds after a long day."
The sound of the Professor chuckling came over the speaker. "Please come in," he said, and the gates opened.
He was the only one waiting at the stairs up to the front door when Su-An pulled up this time. "Did you two have a good day?" he asked them, as they got out of the van's cab.
"Yeah," Rogue answered, almost as though she was surprised by the fact. "I really did."
"I helped fix the roof!" Kurt said, grinning. "You could see the Institute from up there!"
The Professor chuckled fondly at the two teens. "I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves. How's the work coming, Miss Page-Cooper?"
Su-An smiled a little crookedly at the address. "Keep that up and they'll start callin' me PC," she said, shaking her head. She didn't really mind. "Thanks to all these helpful people, we'll be moving furniture in tomorrow, which is much sooner than I expected," she admitted.
Kurt was the first one to show up at the church after school the next day – Friday. For once, he wasn't smiling.
"Kurt?" Su-An asked, quickly waving for a couch to go into the next room and going to him. "Is something the matter?" she asked, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.
"Sort of," he admitted, "but it isn't something that I can really talk about," he added.
"Sure it is," Su-An countered gently, and led him into the back room behind the central alter of the main church area. "And sometimes, the things that it's the hardest to talk about are the things that it's the most important to," she said closing the door so that it was just the two of them, no one to see or hear what Kurt needed to talk about.
Kurt took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and reached for his wrist watch. Just before he touched it, he looked up at Su-An. "Promise not to scream?" he asked.
Su-An would have giggled at that, but she could see how serious this was to him, and crossed her heart solemnly.
Kurt's appearance flickered, and then his pale skin was gone, replaced by blue fur.
"So that's why Todd calls you blue-boy, and Logan called you elf," Su-An said, looking him over calmly.
"You don't mind?" he asked, worried.
"I mind that you have to hide it," Su-An said honestly. "And I mind that you're too young for me," she added, a smile creeping onto her face.
Kurt's jaw dropped and he just stared at her for a moment, then launched himself at her, flinging his arms around Su-An's middle, grinning.
"Danke," he said, almost crying. "So much," he added.
"Du bist willkommen," Su-An answered with a chuckle, wrapping her arms around Kurt's shoulders and back again, gently, kindly, and firmly. "Just don't expect me to know more German than that," she warned. "I'm not great with languages."
Kurt laughed a little wetly.
"Kurt?" Rogue called. "Kurt! Where are ya, ya fuzz-ball?"
"She knows?" Su-An asked quietly.
Kurt nodded. "All of us at the Institute are... different," he said quietly. "I'm blue, Rogue can't touch people..." he trailed off. "The Brotherhood are the same. There's a reason that we call him Toad."
Su-An nodded. "He's in here Rogue," she called out, twitching the door handle so that the girl would know where it was coming from.
"Kurt!" Rogue exclaimed, shocked and worried to see him without his image inducer turned on.
"Hi Rogue," Kurt said, waving slightly.
"Want to join the group hug?" Su-An offered, holding out an arm to the girl.
"I- I can't," Rogue protested quietly.
Su-An chuckled. "Now, that's just being paranoid," she said, grabbed Rogue's gloved hand, and tugged her over, wrapping an arm around the girl's shoulder's and resting her chin on top of her hair.
Rogue started crying then too. "Oh God, I never thought I'd ever... oh God!" she sobbed, clinging to Su-An's shirt.
"Shh," Su-An whispered. "It's okay," she promised quietly, stroking the girl's hair soothingly. "I'm not going to run screaming for the hills, or the newspapers," she added. "The only one I'd ever tell already knows, 'cause He's the one who made you."
"God, huh?" Rogue asked, having been treated to the second chapter of Genesis at dinner the previous night, and prayed for as well.
"Exactly," Su-An said, tugging the two teenagers a little closer. "And because He loves you, I'll love you too."
"Su-An?" TJ called, knocking on the door. "Hey, Mr Logan's here, with a guy in a wheelchair? They want to talk to you."
"Sure," Su-An called back. "Just gimme a sec, I'll be right out."
"I get the feelin' they want a private conversation," TJ called back.
Su-An shook her head and chuckled. "Then send them in," she answered.
The door opened then, and Xavier rolled in, followed closely by Logan.
"TJ said he'd take over directing furniture," Logan explained as he close the door behind him.
"Kurt," Xavier said sternly. "You did exactly what I asked you not to do. You revealed the presence of Mutants to a normal human. I would have thought that you, of all the students, would be the most responsible about this matter."
"Woah," Su-An said, "chillax Charles," she added.
"No!" Xavier said fiercely. "If the greater Bayville area were to discover that Mutants exist, let alone are living here, the results could be disastrous."
"Did you think," Su-An said quietly, not releasing either Kurt or Rogue from her hold, "that it would only be bad if they think you have broken their trust by lying to them?"
The look on the Professor's face was one of such complete shock that Su-An wondered how often it got worn. Probably not often enough.
"That's soundin' uncomfortably accurate an observation Chuck," Logan rumbled.
Xavier sighed and steeped his hands, bowing his head and pressing the bridge of his nose between his forefingers as he did. "I only want what is best for my students."
"Long or short term?" Su-An nearly snapped at him, finally releasing Kurt and Rogue from her tight embrace. "Could you two give TJ a hand? I think the Professor and I might lose our tempers at each other, and you shouldn't have to see that."
Kurt and Rogue nodded their heads.
Su-An patted their shoulders and gave them both a kiss on top of their hair. "Thanks," she said.
"She gettin' mad at him for being close-minded about somethin'?" TJ asked when Kurt and Rogue left the room behind – Kurt's inducer back on, so he looked normal again – and joined him in shifting a mattress from the back of a truck and into one of the rooms.
"I always thought the Professor was fairly open-minded," Kurt said. "Certainly more than Magneto," he added, more quietly.
"Yeah, ol' bucket-head isn't the nicest of guys," Todd said, meeting them on the way to and from. He'd just left a chair behind and was on his way out for another one and on seeing them had stopped in the door of the room to chat. "But what's this all about?"
"The Professor is having a discussion with Miss Page-Cooper," Kurt said a little sadly.
"What?" Todd demanded. "An' you jus' left 'em alone together yo?"
"She asked us to," Rogue defended.
"Su-An will be just fine," TJ told the three kids. "Now, there's a box full of bed sheets somewhere, a couple of beds to make up, and a linen closet to get filled. Who's up for that job?"
"I'll do it," Rogue volunteered.
"Thanks Rogue," TJ said, waving her out the room and down the hall. "That leaves me with two big strapping boys to help me get the table in."
"Table?" Kurt asked.
"You mean that big, heavy-lookin' wooden monster that was almost the full length of the truck?" Todd asked, horrified.
TJ nodded, a smile on his face.
"What d'you need a table that big for anyway?" Todd asked, following the man out.
"It's going to sit in the middle of the church with a cross on top," TJ answered.
"That's it?" Kurt asked, shocked.
"No," TJ said, bursting out laughing. "It's the dining table, for when we have visitors. Su-An's cross is going to sit on a small stand right up the front of the church, framed by the windows. There's actually another two of those tables to come. We'll have one across the front and one down either side of the church, so that we can sit as many people as possible, and have space in the middle that everyone can see."
"Like for a band or somethin'," Todd suggested.
"Yeah," TJ agreed, "something like that. Now, you two can take this end, I'll go up there and get the other end."
They were just settling the large table down into place, the two boys sweating much more heavily than TJ, when Logan left the room where Xavier and Su-An were still talking.
"How's it going?" Kurt asked, worriedly.
"I think you can relax, Elf," Logan said, patting the kid on the head. "I'll admit to being surprised, but the Missy is putting up quite the determined front. I think she'd be able to talk Bucket Head around even."
"He wouldn't listen to 'er," Todd said simply. "She's -"
"Yeah," Logan cut the boy off. "Yeah, I get it. He doesn't listen to anybody anyway."
It was another half hour, and almost all the furniture was in place – still a few chairs to come – when Su-An and the Professor finally emerged.
"Professor?" Kurt asked, "Miss Page-Cooper?"
She smiled at him first and held out her arms. "Come here," she said. "Elf," she added silently, just mouthing the word.
The boy smiled happily and ran up to her, his arms going around her just as they had before as he smiled and sighed against her.
"Is everything alright?" Rogue asked, running up behind Kurt but stopping short, looking from the pair to the Professor.
"Yes Rogue," Xavier said. "Yes, everything is, amazingly, just fine."
"Except that you're going to have to re-think a few things," Su-An said to the Professor, a tease in her voice. "Now, I should go and stir the pot in the kitchen."
"We've only got a couple more chairs to bring in," TJ said. "Then it's all done."
Su-An nodded. "Rogue? Want to come and make sure I've got it right?" she asked, patting Kurt on the head and unwinding his arms from around her.
"Sure," Rogue said, smiling.
"Hey, what's goin' on?" Todd asked. "I'm missin' somethin' here, an' I don't like bein' out of the loop."
"Miss Page-Cooper knows, but we haven't told her brother yet," Kurt said quietly as he watched the two females go.
"Oh," Todd said, understanding dawning. "Great! So we tellin' TJ too?" he asked.
"Telling me what?" TJ asked. "Why you asked Su-An about people who looked different or who had special talents?" he added, looking at Todd.
"Yes," Xavier said, sighing deeply. "Miss Page-Cooper has talked me around, rather impressively. Mr Cooper, we at the Institute, and those who live at the Brotherhood house, are not normal people."
"No one is," TJ said with a shrug. "That's what makes life interesting."
"Go ahead Kurt," Xavier said.
"No screaming," Kurt warned.
"If Su-An didn't, then I won't," TJ promised, crossing his heart just the same way that she had earlier.
Kurt turned off the image inducer.
"You're fuzzy," TJ said.
"Well, if that doesn't just take the cake," TJ said, grinning lopsidedly.
"You're bein' very calm about this," Todd observed.
"I've been all over the country," TJ told the boy, ruffling his hair. "I've met people who would willingly pay hundreds of dollars to look like Kurt."
"What?" Kurt yelped, eyes wide. The other three looked equally stunned.
"Yeah. I'll see if I can find the photo albums for you tomorrow," TJ promised. "Bit late to be searchin' now, since I'll bet ya that any second -"
"Food's ready!" Su-An's voice rang out. "Everybody go wash your hands!"
"-Su-An'll call us to eat," TJ finished, grinning.
"We'd best get back to the mansion," Xavier said, looking at Logan.
"Don't you even think of it!" Su-An called, though none of them could think how she'd be able to hear what the Professor had just said. "You're here, it's dinner time, you're staying for dinner!"
TJ chuckled. "Dad says her mum was just the same," he said. "Come on Professor, Mr Logan, if she's decided you're staying for dinner, you're staying for dinner."
"I'll just let them know up at the mansion where we are," Xavier said. "I wouldn't like them to worry."
Once everything at the church was settled, TJ found a job for both himself and Su-An at the local high school. He became an assistant teacher, mostly in showing them how to use electronics without blowing anything up. Barely out of high school himself, he couldn't be a teacher in his own right, but he was perfectly qualified to be an aide. Su-An was swiftly given charge of the sewing and cooking classes. She did have the qualifications to teach, even if she'd told Rogue she mostly made her money by making and selling clothes.
Their new jobs also meant that they got to meet the rest of the kids from both the Brotherhood house, and the Institute. Which could be quite trying at times, from both sides.
There was another new teacher at the same time. One Mr Hank MaCoy. In charge of chemistry and the new Phys Ed. coach. TJ helped him out on the track as often as he could – which meant: when it didn't clash with the electronics club.
"Miss PC?" called one of the girls, Kitty, from the Institute.
"Hello Kitty," Su-An answered, knowing that she wouldn't be getting out of the abbreviation any time soon, and resigning herself to it. "How's Lance?" she teased.
Kitty's face went red. "I- that is- he- I mean-"
"I teasing Kitty," Su-An assured the girl. "What's up?"
"Mr MaCoy needs a female staff member on hand to supervise the girls at the track," Kitty reported. "Normally that would be Miss Walters, but she isn't here today."
"You can count on me!" Su-An sang out happily, throwing a salute. "Lead the way."
Kitty beamed. "Thanks Miss PC!" she cried, grabbing the older woman's hand and dragging her through the halls towards the track.
"So, that 'no running in the corridors' bit isn't something you worry about?" Su-An asked casually, bringing Kitty up short and bashful.
"Sorry Miss PC," Kitty said, blushing as she slowed her pace as they left the building and reached the sports field.
"Miss Page-Cooper," Hank said, smiling. "I am surprised Kitty managed to talk you into taking on more of a burden, when you're still new here."
Su-An laughed. "Mr MaCoy, I assure you, it's no burden at all. Besides, I've been stuck inside pretty much all day. It's nice to get out – and you're just as new as I am."
It wasn't long before being 'out' wasn't so nice.
Jean Grey was collapsing in the middle of the field, a minor quake dropped all the girls in Kitty's sprint onto their faces – which saved them all from being skewered by a javelin – and Hank impressively caught two shot-put balls bare-handed.
"Get Rogue," Su-An instructed Kitty as she ran past her. "As fast as you can," she added over her shoulder. "Teej!" she called when she spotted her brother. "Get all the students inside!"
"Jean?" Scott Summers was calling out to the pained looking red-head.
"You wanted me Miss PC?" Rogue asked, running out onto the field.
"Duck!" Su-An yelled as a shot was streaking through the air towards the girl.
Rogue dropped just in time, and crawled towards the woman.
"What's goin' on with Miss Perfect?" Rogue asked.
"She's over-loading is my best guess," Su-An answered. "That's why I asked Kitty to get you. Think you could do all of Bayville a favour and drain her off a bit?"
Rogue chuckled like she'd just been hit in the stomach. "Yeah, I think I can do that," she agreed. "I want chocolate for it though. I'm linin' myself up for one hell of a headache."
"Deal," Su-An agreed.
Five minutes later, the returned TJ was cradling Rogue while Scott held onto Jean, the disaster averted.
"The next time," Rogue said, locking eyes with the red-head, "you start gettin' headaches from your powers actin' up? Don't keep it to yerself," she ordered. "Not even for a minute."
Jean chuckled weakly. "Got it," she answered. "Thanks Rogue."
"So, what kind of chocolate?" Su-An asked Rogue as they walked back to the school building.
"Dark," Rogue answered shortly. "An' in large quantities."
She was being a sticky-beak, she knew that, but just at that moment she felt the same nudging, guiding presences that had told her to buy that church and settle down. Su-An followed Hank when he left the school and headed for the park.
When he got up onto the auditorium stage, she sat down as unobtrusively as possible, and listened to him reciting Shakespeare.
"Is this a dagger, which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to feeling, as to sight? Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?" Hank quoted.
"Sleep shall neither night nor day hang upon his penthouse lid, he shall live a man forbid. Weary sev'n nights, nine times nine, shall he dwindle peak and pine," she said quietly to herself, sadly. "Though his bark cannot be lost, yet it shall be tempest-tossed!" Su-An called down, standing up again and heading down the stairs. She had, admittedly, quoted from an earlier piece of the same play, but she felt it suited him more accurately than the piece he was quoting himself.
"Oh, Miss Page-Cooper," Hank said, spotting her and visibly calming himself. "I didn't see you there. I hope I didn't disturb you?"
"Not at all," Su-An answered. "Though I believe that I just interrupted your own recitation," she added. "You missed your calling in the theatre," she complimented.
Hank chuckled and pulled at his neck-tie. "I come here to clear my thoughts, get my head back in its right place. Shakespeare is helpful, I find. You were quite good yourself," he replied, smiling a little.
"I'm more one for the Psalms," Su-An admitted, "but I can appreciate where Shakespeare has his virtues."
"Psalms?" Hank asked.
"Let me think... ah, I know just the one," she said, smiling. "Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." It was roughly the middle part of Psalm one-hundred and thirty-nine.
Hank stared at Su-An for a moment. "That's beautiful," he said quietly.
Su-An smiled. "That's not all of it," she admitted, "just my favourite bit."
"Miss Page-Cooper," Hank started.
"Su-An," she cut him off, smiling and shaking her head. "Really. Please, just Su-An."
Hank chuckled. "Yes, of course. If you'll call me Hank."
"Miss PC!" Kurt's voice rang out.
The two teachers looked up to see him standing at the top of the amphitheatre, waving to them.
"Kurt," Su-An answered with a smile, stepping away from Hank and holding out her arms for a hug from her favourite blue boy. "What's up?"
Kurt grinned as he jogged down the steps and settled happily into her hold. "The Professor wants to thank you for earlier," Kurt said. "You and TJ are invited to dinner at the Institute."
"Kurt, I'm honoured," Su-An said, smiling kindly, "but I'd feel better if I was the one doing the cooking. Remember, I'm in charge of the cooking classes, and I know Kitty still needs a lot of help. How about you tell him you're all welcome to come to the church for a meal instead?"
Kurt's smile disappeared, clearly disappointed. "You don't want to visit the Institute for dinner?" he asked. "What if I promised to keep Kitty away from the kitchen?"
"Kurt, you know how I'm a teacher now? And how that means showing favouritism would be bad? Well what do you think might happen to the friendship I'm trying to build with Todd if I did that?"
"Oh," Kurt realised. "I get it," he said, smiling again. "Not eating with the poor so that you don't take their food, and not eating with the rich so that the poor don't get the wrong idea that their food isn't good enough, like that nun!"
Su-An laughed and nodded. "Exactly!" she declared happily, tapping Kurt on the nose.
When the kids from the Institute arrived at the church, the first thing Kurt did was turn off his inducer.
"Kurt!" Scott yelled, ready to scold the younger teen.
"There's my elf!" Su-An's voice rang out happily.
"She knows?" Scott asked, shocked, turning to the Professor.
"Kurt told her a couple of days ago now, and when I came to resolve the situation I thought that he was creating in doing so..." Xavier began.
"No-one talks my sister around unless she's actually wrong," TJ said, coming up to greet them all, messing Kurt's hair along the way as he went to get a hug from Su-An. "Todd and Lance are already here," he added. "Well, I had no idea so many of the students were more precious than they let on."
"Did he just say 'precious'?" Evan asked. "Dude Teach, I didn't peg you as someone to use mushy words like that!"
TJ laughed. "I didn't mean it in a mushy way," he said. "Like how a diamond is a precious stone, you are all precious people."
"Oh," Evan said, then smiled. "I guess that's not so mushy," he allowed.
"Mr Cooper," Kitty asked, "What are Lance and Toad doing here?"
"Lance and Todd," TJ corrected, "have been helping us with the garden. Lance is surprisingly good at landscaping."
"Ya don't say," Kitty said, chuckling weakly and blushing.
"I find it hard to believe either of those two are doing something helpful for no reason," Scott said, a deep frown on his face and his arms crossed. "They're only ever looking out for themselves!"
"Well now that's not true," Su-An said, walking up to the group, Kurt tucked into her side like he was her son rather than her student.
"Miss PC?" Scott asked, confused.
"Mr Summers, first impressions are rarely fair ones," Su-An said firmly, looking him straight in the eye through his red-mirrored glasses. "And even you don't do something without a reason."
"What does that mean?" Scott demanded, getting defensive.
Su-An smiled and waved his aggression aside. "It means that you're human," she said, shaking her head at him. "I want help bringing the food out, and then we can eat."
The food was brought out, hands were washed, and everybody took their seats. They were also just about to tuck in when they noticed. Rogue, Kurt and Todd weren't touching their food, and neither were TJ and Su-An.
"Thank you Lord for your goodness to us. For the sunshine and the rain, for friendships old and new, for the trials in our lives and the strength you provide to get us through them. Thank you for bringing people into our lives who are proof that you take a daily interest in what we do. Thank you for this food, and for people to share it with. Amen," Su-An said.
"Amen," the echoed word rippled through the assembled people, though some people stuttered over it.
Throughout the course of the meal, most of the kids took turns getting up from the tables and standing in the middle of the open space, where they showed off what they could do – causing as little damage to the church as they possibly could, since it was only just fixed up. After dinner, the reading, and another prayer, Ororo showed off by watering the new garden out the back.
"Can I keep one of those rain clouds on a string?" Su-An asked jokingly. "That's got to be useful."
Ororo laughed. "Yes, it is. But when I first realised this power it was very overwhelming."
"I'll bet," Su-An agreed, then turned back to all the kids who had come out with them to see the garden than Lance and Todd had helped create in the church yard. "Who wants dessert?" she called.
Cheers went up.
"In honour of the occasion, Todd helped me make something extra special," Su-An told them all happily, leading them back into the main church area.
"Does that mean we're eating bugs?" asked Drake, the ice boy.
"No," Todd snapped, offended, crossing his arms over his chest defensively and pouting.
"And I'm still not entirely clear on this 'occasion'," put in Roberto, who was apparently also known as 'Sunspot'.
"Rogue saved Jean's sanity and the entire city by draining off some of her power before something very bad happened," TJ explained, again.
Everyone headed back to their seats, and Su-An and Todd wheeled out a covered trolley. Todd then snapped off the cover, revealing an icing sculpture. A bust of Rogue.
"Wow," Rogue said, getting up from her chair and coming to get a closer look. "That's real good," she admired. "Todd?"
The boy shrugged. "You did stay at the Brotherhood house for a while," he pointed out. "I know what you look like."
"But the sculpture isn't for eating, much as it is edible," Su-An pointed out. "The real dessert," she continued, waving at the door, "is a little something called pavlova."
TJ then entered pushing another trolley, with a large white thing on top, covered in fruit.
"What's pavlova?" Rogue asked, staring at the dessert curiously.
"Pavlova is basically egg whites and sugar. It can be a bit like marshmallow in the middle, but the outside is crisp. It's something I learned how to make when we met some Australians down in California. It doesn't have to be served with fruit, but apparently it's traditional," Su-An explained.
Su-An was, for once, not going to be in church on a Sunday morning. She'd noticed the asylum on one of her drives, and had felt the pull to visit it. She'd picked up her bible, left a note for TJ so that he wouldn't worry, and had gone first thing one fine Sunday, two weeks into her time in Bayville.
"Can we help you?" asked the men – guards – at the door.
"I've come to help someone here," Su-An answered firmly.
The two guards looked at each other for a moment, then brought out a list of people who they had in their custody. "You know, we got a lot of dangerous crazies in here lady," one of the guards cautioned.
"There is someone here who I need to help," Su-An said, refusing to be deterred. "A young girl," she added, though she didn't know why. She attributed it to the same pull that had brought her to this place. The one who ruled her life wasn't above giving her a nudge, since she was so open to his nudging, which made her smile inside.
The two guards stared at her. "You're here to see her?" they demanded, frightened. "But she's due to get a visit from the Professor later. We don't want to have to go through letting her out more often than we have to."
Su-An's eyes burned with anger at the way it sounded like they were treating the girl. "You may send the Professor in to join me with her when he gets here," she told them. "I will see her."
The guards sighed, resigned that they wouldn't be getting rid of her, and let her in.
Half an hour later, Su-An was waiting in a cell for the girl to be brought to her, and then the door opened.
The girl, Wanda, was in a straitjacket, and thrashing about in her bindings when she was brought in.
Su-An slipped passed the professionals and went straight to the girl, wrapping her arms around her and stroking her hair. "Shh," she whispered, "shh, I'll take care of you," she promised, her heart breaking for the girl before her.
Wanda looked up at Su-An with surprised eyes, her thrashing about stopped. The men who had brought her in stared for a moment, then hastily left.
"You're not who I expected," Wanda admitted. "Who are you?"
"Su-An Page-Cooper," she answered. "Most of the kids your age call me Miss PC."
"What do you want?"
"To see you smile?" Su-An suggested hopefully.
"Nobody smiles here," Wanda said, turning her face away.
"Will you talk to me?" Su-An asked quietly. "Tell me why you're here?"
"My father put me here," Wanda answered, frowning, growling and starting to search for a way out of the room. "I'll make him pay for what he's done to me!" she hissed.
Su-An's heart broke a little more for the girl, and she held her a little closer, stroking her arm through the restraining clothing.
"What's that?" Wanda asked, spotting the book.
Su-An had set the bible on the floor when the door opened, and now attention was drawn to the simple black-covered book. She reached over and grabbed it up, opening it and handed it over to Wanda to read some of.
Wanda read, skipped over pages, read more, turned back and forth through the book, reading silently. Then the tears started coming.
"Miss PC?" Wanda asked quietly through her silent, body-shaking sobs. "Does this God really exist?"
"He told me to come here today," Su-An said, "told me I had to find you. He's really real Wanda," she promised.
"And does he really love me? Want me?"
"Of course he does," Su-An answered, stroking the girl's hair.
"Do you want me?" Wanda asked in a whisper.
"Sweetheart," Su-An said, looking Wanda in the eyes, "for as long as you need me to want you, and probably a while longer after that as well," she answered, a couple of tears falling down her own face as she smiled at the girl she was holding.
"I think..." Wanda said, doing her best to wipe the tears off her face with the sleeve of the straitjacket, "I think I'll... try and stop hating my father... but I... I think maybe I'd feel better if I... thought of ... him," here Wanda looked pointedly at the pages of the bible still open in her lap, "as my father instead."
Su-An smiled encouragingly down at the girl. "He's not big on handing out hugs himself," Su-An warned Wanda gently, "but he knows when to send someone around to give you one," she added, giving the girl another squeeze.
Wanda smiled. "Thank you," she said.
"Now I just have to convince the guys who run this place to let me take you home," Su-An said with a smile.
The door of the room – cell – that they were in opened then, admitting Charles Xavier. He seemed stunned by what he saw.
"Wanda?" he asked, tentatively.
"Hello Professor," Wanda answered, a little coldly, turning from him back into Su-An's gentle hold, cradling the bible in her own jacketed arms.
"How are you today?"
"I'm ready to leave this place," Wanda answered shortly.
"Wanda, you know there's a place for you at my Institute, but I worry about your control -" Xavier began.
"There is a place for her at my church," Su-An cut in, lifting her eyes to meet with the Professor's, and it was the look of someone who would not back down.
A look the Professor had seen before, the day Kurt had revealed his mutation to the woman.
"No child should ever have to be in a place like this," Su-An continued fiercely. "Whatever their circumstances."
"Miss Page-Cooper, Wanda's powers are tied closely to her emotions. Control is the most important and the most difficult thing that she needs to master," Xavier explained. "Until she has control, letting her out into the world is a risk for all involved."
"If you think keeping someone in a cage is good for their emotional stability," Su-An said, "then you're dumber than you look. Wanda," she said, turning to the girl, "I'm gonna go now and have that chat with the guys who hold the keys for this place. Will you be alright?"
Wanda pulled the bible tighter to her chest. "Can I hold onto this?" she asked.
Su-An nodded. "Of course you can," she said, stroking the girl's hair and standing up. "I'll be back soon, okay?"
Wanda, and more slowly, Xavier, nodded.
"What did you and Miss Page-Cooper talk about Wanda?" Xavier asked, as the door closed behind the woman.
Rogue was waiting on the steps of the church when Su-An got back, with Wanda.
"Rogue!" Su-An said, smiling and giving the girl a hug. "Just the girl I wanted to see! Rogue, this is Wanda," she said, introducing the two girls.
"Nice to meetcha," Rogue said, smiling a little at the other girl.
"You too," Wanda answered, trying for a smile of her own. "I like your collar."
Rogue's smile grew. "I've got a couple, if you'd like one," she offered.
"I'd really like that," Wanda answered, her own smile growing larger and more confident.
Su-An was smiling too. She just knew those two girls would make good friends.
She was getting worried. Hank had been snarling, catching himself, and clutching at his chest and head all week. Whatever was going on with him, she doubted it was something that would end very well.
"Dr Jekyll?" Su-An asked, laying a hand on Hank's shoulder one day just after school had been let out. "How's Mr Hyde?"
Hank chuckled humourlessly. "Yes, I suppose I have been behaving rather strange lately," he admitted. "I- Your Jekyll and Hyde analysis isn't too far off, I'm sorry to say," he said with a sigh, massaging his temple. "Except that the potion I take is supposed to suppress Hyde, rather than bring him out."
"Hank," Su-An said, worry for him increasing. "Are you telling me that you really are dependant on some brew other than coffee?"
He nodded sadly.
"You need to talk to someone about that Hank," she said. "Being dependant on a substance is never going to be healthy."
"Worse, it's starting to fail me," Hank replied. "I'll be going to talk to Professor Xavier about it shortly, he was able to help me before, when I was younger. It was when I left his care that I created the ... drug that I've been using."
Understanding lit up Su-An's features, and she smiled gently at him, laying a hand over his arm in as comforting a way as she could.
"I'll drive you there," she offered. Then her gentle smile turned a little cheeky. "When I drive Kurt and Rogue back after dinner tonight," she added. "Feel like coming to visit us at the church?"
Hank smiled sadly. "I don't think that's really a good idea," he said. "What with the outbursts I've been having lately -"
"Hank," Su-An said, cutting him off, "I promise, you will be fine and we'll all watch out for you."
The man sighed in resignation, accepting defeat in the face of the sewing and cooking teacher, and smiled tiredly as he followed her out to the parking lot.
"Mr MaCoy?" Rogue said, surprised to see the chemistry teacher coming in through the church door with Su-An. "Su-An?" she asked quietly, looking worried.
"It's fine Rogue," Su-An said quietly. "Mr MaCoy is apparently an old acquaintance of the Professor. Kurt and the others have nothing to worry about," she added, patting the girl on the shoulder. "Who else is where?"
"Well, there's me, an' Wanda is paintin' her nails in her room between math equations – doesn't want to be disturbed right now. Uh, Kurt an' Todd are playin' tag of all things, Kitty an' Lance are in yer garden plantin' more veggies," she laughed then as a grumbling blur halted in one of the further corners of the room, revealing Pietro with a mop. "An' TJ's got Pietro cleanin' the place up as punishment for braidin' the wires in the electronics club."
"And TJ himself?" Su-An asked, smiling.
"His workshop," Rogue answered.
"I don't know how I managed without you Rogue," Su-An said, wrapping her arms around the girl and hugging her fiercely.
"Ya di'n't have ta worry about so many people before ya came ta Bayville I reckon," Rogue suggested, returning the hug with a happy smile.
"That's probably it," Su-An said, sighing melodramatically.
Hank's hand went to his chest in that moment, and he gasped painfully, seemed to growl as he curled in on himself.
"Pietro, get everybody in here, now!" Su-An called over to the boy. "Then go tell the Professor that Mr MaCoy is in trouble!"
"Gone!" the white-haired boy said, dropping the mop and disappearing in a blur.
"What's happenin'?" Rogue asked, looking at Su-An, worried. "Is it like with Jean?"
"No, at least, I don't think so," Su-An answered. "I think it's more... like young Ronnie," she said.
"Wolfsbane?" Rogue said, surprised but no less worried.
"This ain't gonna be fun," Rogue said, eyes wide as she stared at her suffering teacher.
"What's up?" Kitty asked, running in ahead of the others. "Mr MaCoy?"
"Hey Kitty," Su-An welcomed, smiling as best she could in an obviously bad situation. "Mr MaCoy isn't feeling too good right now," she looked past Kitty to the boys. "We need to keep him from being a danger to himself, and others."
"I could sink him in the floor up to his neck," Kitty offered, wide-eyed.
"You can pass it on to others?" Su-An asked, surprised.
Kitty smiled weakly. "Like, yeah. Right, so..." she approached Hank carefully, laying a hand on his shoulder and sinking down into the floor. When only Hank's head was above the ground, she stopped and brought only herself back up. "Okay, so, like, what now?"
"Now we expect radical change and try and keep him calm," Su-An said. "Though to be honest, I'm guessing."
"Heh, joy," Kitty said nervously, backing up so that she was safely within Lance's reach.
The boy obligingly wrapped his arms around her in some bid to keep her away from whatever might hurt her.
"Su-An, try a hymn or something," TJ suggested. "Something everyone's likely to know."
"Hymns? What is this? A sing-a-long?" Todd asked, hopping nervously and trying to hide it with bravado in his speech.
"Only thing resembling a 'hymn' that I know is 'Kum-bay-ya'," Lance said. "An' a couple of Christmas carols."
Kurt 'ported out, then back again with Su-An's bible. "Would reading him some verses work?" he asked hopefully.
"That book calmed me down," Wanda said, smiling at it fondly. "I'm sure it will work for Mr MaCoy," she said, taking it from Kurt and opening it up to the book of Psalms in the middle.
"Everybody read over Wanda's shoulder, alright? Psalm twenty-three," Su-An suggested.
They shuffled around and started reading slowly. "The Lord is my shepherd..." They read it through until the end, though sometimes they looked up from the page to the door, hoping that the Professor would arrive soon.
Hank's breathing had slowed down, and he didn't seem to be in pain as much any more.
The Professor wasn't there yet, but everybody breathed a sigh of relief all the same. He'd calmed down. Definitely progress.
Then he screamed, and started growing fur. Blue fur. But longer, shaggier, and a lighter shade than Kurt's. He started snarling as well.
Wanda quickly flipped the page over to Psalm twenty-five. It was longer than the one they'd just read, but nobody groaned when she planted her finger firmly on the number and they began to read again.
They were up to verse sixteen, "turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted" when Xavier finally rolled through the doors. They kept reading though. The words seemed to help their teacher somehow, and they weren't about to stop doing the only thing that they could.
Between the Professor, and the psalm, Hank was finally calm again, and in his right mind once more, and Kitty helped her favourite chemistry teacher out of the floor.
"You alright now Mr MaCoy?" she asked, looking up at him hopefully.
"More or less," he answered, looking at his hands, despair written all over his furry blue face. "I can't go out like this," he said sadly, "and who am I if I can't teach?"
"A one-trick pony?" Su-An asked, raising an eyebrow at him. "There's more to life than teaching Hank, and I don't see why you can't keep doing it anyway."
He turned to her, and was momentarily terrified. He'd forgotten where he was, that he was in the company of more than just mutants.
"Miss Page-Cooper?" Kurt asked, approaching her. "Did I just lose my place as your favourite blue fuzz-ball?"
Su-An blinked at the boy, shocked that he would ask, and said so. "Now why would you think that?" she asked.
"Mr MaCoy is fuzzier," Kurt pointed out, then blushed and added in a mumble, "and closer to your age."
Su-An chuckled and pulled Kurt into a hug. "Yeah, but he doesn't have a tail," she pointed out, smiling.
"Miss Page-Cooper?" Hank asked, a little stunned at the conversation that he was hearing. "You're not a mutant too, are you?"
"Pure homosapien," she answered. "TJ too," she added, nodding in her brother's direction. "At least, to the best of our knowledge."
"Then I don't understand how you are being so calm about this," Hank said, rubbing his hand over his face.
"What? Just because I'm boring, I can't appreciate the interesting people?" she asked, a hand over her heart and a played up look of shock and hurt on her face. "You wound me sir!"
"Su-An," TJ said with a sigh, rolling his eyes.
"Evan, Miss Page-Cooper and I would like a word with you," TJ said, catching the boy in the hall and waving him into a classroom.
"Good luck dude!" his skating buddies said, waving as they kept going down the hall without him.
"Am I in trouble?" Evan asked, stalling at the door.
"Completely up to you," TJ said, giving him a tap on the back so that he was inside the room, and closing the door behind him.
"Hey Spike," Su-An welcomed. She was sitting on her desk like a kid, rather than behind it like a teacher.
"Hi Miss Teach."
"Evan, I know you're not in any of my classes, but I still write observations of your behaviour on your progress report," Su-An said. "So does TJ," she added.
"And you are in some of the classes I help out with," TJ said.
"This is about my progress report?" Evan asked, surprised.
"This is about how you seem to be going backwards in some of your classes," Su-An said seriously. "Evan, you're a bright kid. Why are you letting yourself down like this?"
Evan had the decency to look embarrassed. "I'm just not all that interested in my classes I guess," he admitted.
"Would you be more interested in your classes if you were back home with your parents, instead of here with your aunt at the Institute?" Su-An asked.
"Woah, what kind of question is that?"
"Calm down Evan, it is only a question. I don't have any way of implementing consequences, except to hold you back after school for some tutoring," she said, raising an eyebrow. The threat of tutoring was not an idle one.
Evan winced. "Thanks," he said. "I guess I miss my parents, but I really don't like the idea of just being sent home because my grades aren't good enough."
TJ and Su-An smiled. "That wasn't so hard to say, now was it?" TJ said, clapping the boy on the shoulder kindly.
Evan smiled a little. "No, I guess not," he said.
"So, what are you going to do about it? It's too late to change your progress report – it goes home today after all, but what are you going to do when you get back to the Institute?" Su-An asked.
"I'll talk to Auntie O," he answered, smiling. "I've got a danger-room session with her after school today," he added. "Would you... like to come watch?"
"I've got the electronics club today," TJ said, shaking his head. "Or I would love to."
"I'll give you a lift back to the Institute, and we'll go from there, okay?" Su-An suggested.
Evan smiled. "Thanks Miss Teach, I really appreciate it."
"No problem. Just tell the rest of the X-men who might want a ride, will you?"
Evan gave the thumbs up and disappeared out the door. Half a second later he stuck his head back in again. "We were done, right?" he asked.
TJ and Su-An laughed. "Yes, we were done," they said.
"I'll let the boys know too," TJ said, before ducking out of the room himself.
'The boys' were the Brotherhood boys that had started hanging around the church – all of them but Freddie, who barely liked going to school, let alone into other, more populated areas.
Su-An went to find Wanda and Rogue herself, to let them know they'd have the run of the church if they wanted, since she'd be at the Institute for a little while after school.
"But no crazy partying, alright?" she warned them sternly, before breaking out a smile. "After all, I'm still young enough that I'd want to be invited," she added.
The girls laughed. "You got it!" they agreed.
"Delivery of, I swear, half the student body for the Xavier Institute," Su-An called into the intercom. "And special delivery of Evan for one Ororo Munroe."
The gates opened.
Hank and Ororo were waiting at the entrance.
"Auntie O, can Miss Teach come in and watch the session?" Evan asked, jumping out of the car first.
Ororo blinked and looked up from her nephew to the woman who was laughing with the students, reminding some of them about homework, and with one Nightcrawler firmly attached to her side.
"We've all been in her home," the Professor's voice echoed through Ororo's mind, "I think that it is past time she saw the inside of ours."
"Certainly Evan," Ororo answered, smiling. "Go suit up, I'll give her the tour on the way down."
"Evan," Su-An called, just before the boy's hand landed on the door handle. "Don't forget your progress report."
"Oh yeah," Evan said, stopping short and digging into his bag. "I'm sorry it's not that great Aunty O," he said, handing it over to her. "Could we talk about it after the session?"
Ororo looked down at the report. "We will definitely be talking about this after the session," she told him.
"He's already promised to work on it," Su-An said quietly as Ororo welcomed her into the building.
The session wasn't the best, but the talk afterwards was better, and a plan was made for Evan's parents to come down from New York for the weekend. Spooky things were going on, however, and the fog that had rolled in wasn't helping matters.
"You know what?" Su-An said, looking from Ororo, who was definitely jumpy by this time, out to the fog and back, "I'm officially calling a girl's night in at the church tonight, and Ororo? I insist that you come. I'll force TJ to be our butler."
Ororo managed a smile, despite being on-edge after being reminded of her claustrophobia during the simulation. "I'll get the girls and meet you at the front door."
Su-An borrowed the phone and called the church while Ororo got all the girls together. If she was calling a girl's night in, then she had to call the Brotherhood house as well, since Tabitha had left the Institute after her dad had shown up.
The Hungan came for Ororo that night. Wanda didn't let them get very far though, and then Ororo finished them off. After that, much ice cream was had by all, along with a few ghost stories.
"Duncan Matthews," Su-An called, summoning the attention of the entire classroom. The boy's attitude had been bugging her since her first day teaching here, and she finally, finally had the boy in her class. She may have been substituting for the geography teacher, but she was still a teacher, it was her class that day, and Matthews had just done it. Again.
"Yes Miss PC?" Duncan asked, feigning innocence.
"You will stay behind after school today, and every day for the next week," Su-An told him firmly.
"What? Why?" the boy asked, horrified.
"Because I do not tolerate bullying in my classroom," she answered sharply.
Silence, hard and heavy fell over the room. Duncan Matthews, one of the star players on the football team, really attractive guy and pretty much on top of the popularity pyramid, had just gotten called out for bullying?
"What are you talking about?" Duncan demands, scowling.
"Lunch times as well. I am neither stupid, nor blind, Mr Matthews," Su-An says with almost vicious delight. "Rogue, please stand up."
Rogue, smart girl, normally cut geography or sat up the back where she wouldn't be noticed – just because Duncan was also in the class. She'd come today though, even sat in a chair with a good view of the teacher, because she knew that Su-An was teaching it, and she was a really good teacher. She stood without complaint, even if it was embarrassing.
Duncan was seated right behind her. He'd stuck a note on her back. There was a spit-ball in her hair as well.
Su-An moved between the desks and took the note of Rogue's back, then scraped the spit-ball out of her hair, and raised an eyebrow at Duncan.
"I am talking, Mr Matthews, about the presence of a note in your handwriting attached to the back of one of your peers, and the presence of a spit-ball in her hair," Su-An said, also picking up the straw that Duncan had used for the spit-ball from his desk.
The silence, which had been so heavy before, gives way to whispers and murmurs.
"But what about football practice after school?" Duncan asked, realisation setting in that he was definitely in trouble with this teacher.
"I'm sure they'll be able to manage without you for a week," Su-An said. "And hopefully you'll learn that bullying isn't acceptable, and that your actions have consequences Mr Matthews."
"May I sit down now?" Rogue asked.
"I will see you in the sewing classroom after the last bell of the day Mr Matthews," Su-An told the boy, then returned to the front of the classroom. "Now, all this whispering I'm hearing, does it have anything to do with the Caribbean Islands?"
The football coach was not amused when Su-An found him and told him that Matthews would not be able to attend practice for the next week. He was even less amused when he found out why, though his displeasure was abruptly re-directed.
"Shame to lose such a good player," he said, scratching the boy's name off the team list. "But I fully approve of your course of action Miss Page-Cooper. If we let him think that bullying is okay, that he can get away with it, then we aren't doing him or society any favours."
Su-An smiled. "You have someone who can replace him on the team?" she asked.
"Yes. They're not as good, but that may just be because they were a sub. Work them hard enough, they'll all be good. I've got a lot of work to do with these kids. TJ's been a big help though," he said, jerking his chin out to indicate where TJ was helping out. "Now, Miss-Page Cooper, I've been meaning to ask you something."
"You've been living in that church for a while now, got it all fixed up even. When will services be starting up?"
Su-An smiled. "We have small services every night," she answered. "Dinner, fellowship, prayer, and a bible reading. I don't do preaching, er, much," she added, smiling a little awkwardly, like she'd accidentally preached at people a couple of times and knew it.
The coach laughed. "Fair enough. But would I be able to bring my wife along on Sunday morning? I know it's rude to invite myself over, but it's a church as well as your home."
Su-An smiled. The boys from the Brotherhood house would be sleeping still at that time, and the kids from the Institute would probably have a danger room session. No risk of them being found out by someone who might not be as open-minded. Wanda would be fine too. Theological discussion? Oh yes, she was very up for that. "We'd love to have you."
"Miss PC?" Jean asked, running up to her as she farewelled the last of the students.
"Miss Grey, what can I do for you?"
"It's about Duncan," Jean said. "Uh, I was just wondering... Is it true that you really gave him detention for bullying?"
"It is," she answered, nodding gravely.
"It– it wasn't Scott, was it? I know those two are really competitive," Jean said, worried.
"I know the difference between bullying and being competitive," she said, scolding lightly. "And I suggest you think long and hard about just why those two are so competitive Miss Grey," Su-An added, raising an eyebrow at the girl.
Jean blushed. "I... think I'm gonna go find Scott," she said, then turned a left quickly.
Su-An smiled as her sewing class filed in all talking about the steadily approaching October thirty-first. She was more of a Christmas person than a Halloween person, but she appreciated the fun of dressing up.
"Everybody is excited about Halloween I see," she observed once they'd all taken their seats. "How many of you have a costume planned already?"
A few hands went up.
"Any of you buying your costumes?" she asked, suspiciously.
Laughter was her response as all hands went down again.
"Glad to hear it!" Su-An declared with a grin. "Now, paper and pencils out, I want to see your designs, and then we'll move on to the practicalities of making your costumes."
There was a cheer around the room, and students grabbed out notebooks.
"Miss PC?" one student asked. "What about the project we were all working on?"
"Glad to see you so dedicated," Su-An said with a smile. "We'll get back to it after Halloween," she promised.
In all of her sewing classes, Su-An had a total of seven princesses, ten cat costumes, fourteen angels, seventeen vampires and thirty witches. There were also two wizards, a Frankenstein monster, a grim reaper and four demons. Not much in the way of original ideas, but every design was slightly different from the next at least, so there was still variety.
At least they weren't all going for zombies and toilette paper mummies.
"What's your costume gonna be Miss PC?" Kitty asked as Su-An looked over Kitty's design for a cat costume.
"You'll have to come by the church and see for yourself," Su-An told her, smiling.
Kitty smiled back. "The church is, like, becoming the cool place to hang out Miss PC," she said happily.
"Hm? Because of me? Or is it TJ and Wanda who make it cool?" Su-An asked, teasing.
The class laughed, and catcalls came that it was all for her, or TJ, and a few for Wanda – who was in the next grade up, thankfully, and not hearing this.
"All Hallows Eve," Kurt said with a sigh as he slid into Su-An's car. "I am not looking forward to this."
"Aw, why not?" Su-An asked. "It's an opportunity to let yourself go, hang loose, shake that tail," she suggested with a grin. "Besides, I made a costume for you."
"Kurt don't need no costume, yo," Todd said, smiling as he leant against Su-An's car. "He just got to turn off his inducer."
"Which is exactly why I don't like Halloween," Kurt said, sagging in his seat.
"Todd, you keep up that teasing and I'll hide the costume I made for you and give you a pink tutu instead," Su-An said.
"Eh?" Todd yelped. "I'll be good Miss Cooper, I promise!"
"Get in," she said with a chuckle. "Just waiting for Rogue, TJ and Wanda, and then we're all in."
"TJ said he'd walk," Wanda said, sliding into her seat. She smiled over at Su-An. "With Rogue," she added.
Su-An chuckled. "Oh, those two really are something special."
"Not as special as you," Todd said, getting into the car. "Thanks to you, Matthews is off the football team and leavin' us innocent freaks alone. An' 'is pals aren't startin' anythin' either, just in case they get the same."
"Cross-stitch costs macho points I guess," Wanda laughed happily.
The boys joined in while Su-An pulled out of the parking lot. It wasn't a long drive before they reached the church.
"You kiddin' me!" Todd exclaimed when Su-An presented the costumes that she'd made for all of them. "Ain't nobody gonna have anythin' that looks like this yo!"
"That's the point," Su-An said, smiling. "Do you like them?"
"I'm sensing an ulterior motive," Wanda commented, raising an eyebrow at Su-An.
"Not at all," she denied. "I just came up with ideas that I thought would suit you all that were... less obvious."
"I'm still surprised that there's no demon suit," Kurt said, looking at the row of costumes.
Su-An frowned and wrapped her arms around Kurt's shoulders tightly. "You're not to ever think that again," she told him. "Not ever. Even if you are devilishly handsome."
There was a prince costume, complete with crown, a white robe/dress that looked like a cross between a nun, a princess and an angel, and a collection of black that looked suspiciously like a Zoro costume. The hat and mask weren't much helping to alter than impression.
"What about Rogue's and TJ's?" Wanda asked, reaching for the only female costume, just caressing the fabric for a while.
"Someone say my name?" Rogue's voice echoed from the door.
Su-An smiled and ducked out, returning with two more costumes. "Here are yours," she said, holding them up.
"Mine better not be the dress," TJ said, staring at the two costumes hanging from his sister's hold.
"That has definitely got an ulterior motive," Wanda said, looking at the two costumes that Su-An was handing over to her brother and to Rogue.
The King and Queen of Hearts.
"It's beautiful," Rogue said, taking the dress that was being offered to her. The sleeves were loose and would fall past her hands, but there was also a pair of long gloves as well. The collar was high and the hem was low. There was a crown too.
"Our secret? We can surprise everybody come Halloween night," Su-An asked hopefully.
The four young mutants and TJ all smiled back at her.
Halloween night arrived at last, and the church was dotted with pumpkins – each one with a crucifix carved out of them and a candle inside. There were black sheets over all the furniture and white, cobweb-looking runners and hangings draped artistically around. There were candles, some of which burned a different colour, and red, green, blue and purple mood-lighting in different areas. There were no fake spiders, or cotton cobwebs, or scarecrows, or zombies, or coffins, or sarcophagi, or fake ghosts, but it was still very dramatic.
Su-An opened the doors of the church at six-thirty for the first of the trick-or-treaters – the little kids who were being taken around by parents, grandparents, or older siblings who would have their own celebrations to go to in an hour or so.
Little ones came and went, and Su-An, not yet changed into her costume, greeted each with a smile, asking whoever was with them if there were any allergies, and handing out bars of chocolate or bags of lollies, and a piece of paper with a bible verse on it.
When the kids from the Institute, the Brotherhood house, and a whole convoy of regular kids from Bayville High arrived, Su-An had transformed. She looked like a taller, cream-coloured version of Kurt without his inducer on, though somewhat shaggier from the waist down, and around the chest. She even had contacts in so that her eyes looked like an albino's – completely pinkish-red, with no sign of the whites of her eyes. The tail moved as well.
All of them were awed. Kurt most particularly loved her costume.
A friend of Rogue's, a girl called Risty, was more interested in Rogue's costume of course, and was teasing her about it mercilessly. Su-An got the impression that the girl was avoiding her though, and seemed to get nervous every time she spotted Su-An in her costume.
It was a good party, generally speaking, though when Logan and Ororo arrived – dressed as a cowboy and a witch respectively – the teenagers all seemed to slow down with their partying. Until Su-An handed both of them a shot glass, ordered them to slam it, and then pointed them to the dance floor.
"Miss Teach," Evan said, coming up to stand beside her, his eyes wide as he stared at his aunt. "I think you've damaged my brain."
Su-An laughed and wrapped her hands around his shoulders. "Hey, your aunt is allowed to have fun too, and she's known Logan for a while. Doesn't it make some kind of sense?" she suggested.
Evan shrugged. "Sure it does, but it's still disturbing to see it. Like no kid ever wants to walk in on their parents being all lovey-dovey, I didn't ever want to see that," he said, gesturing to where Logan and Ororo were dancing together, along with a few other couples on the dance floor that he knew; Rogue and TJ, Wanda and Todd, Jean and Scott.
"I think they're cute," Kitty told him as she walked past with Lance.
"Arg!" the boy exclaimed quietly, grabbing at his hair, "am I the only one not paired up with somebody?" he demanded.
Su-An laughed and patted him on the head. "Maybe it's because you're still tucking your shirt into your underpants on a daily basis," she suggested, before going to re-stock all the food platters and re-fill the punch bowl.
Lance left the Brotherhood house shortly after Halloween. Just packed up his stuff one morning, gave Kitty a ride back to the Institute, and asked if he could stay. Scott didn't like the idea all that much, and said so to the professor.
"Lance never does something without a reason, usually one that's beneficial to him," Scott said.
"Coming here, in and of itself, has been beneficial to all of the students," Xavier cautioned. "I expect that he will do quite well here, given the chance."
"I still don't trust him," Scott grumbled.
The Professor sighed in frustration, folding his hands together. "Then, while he is settling in, I'm going to have you visit Miss Page-Cooper at the church. Lance needs support and welcoming, not suspicion."
Scott jerked back like he had been physically hit by the Professor's words.
"What? But- training!"
"I'm sure that we can get along fine for a day or two, and if something comes up then we will of course call you in," Charles reassured the boy gently. "I think that you really do need this Scott," he added. "That Lance is here at the same time just makes it more urgent."
"Scott, nearly all of the X-men, and the students who are not yet X-men, but will be with training, enjoy the company of Miss Page-Cooper and her brother. Why do you only go to visit her when someone else drags you along?" Charles asked.
Scott had no answer, and less than an hour later, Logan was driving him to the church, smiling, even humming of all things.
"Logan, good to see you again!" Su-An called in greeting, coming out of the church to give the rough man a hug. "You haven't been to visit in far too long," she scolded fondly. "And Halloween doesn't count."
Logan smiled back. "Yeah, Chuck's been keepin' me busy, and when he isn't, well, I'm on the road a lot of the time, tryin' to find answers for that blank in my memory. This ain't entirely a social visit though," he added, turning so that Su-An would have a better view of the teenager he'd brought. "Chuck was hoping you'd mind Summers here for a couple of days, while Lance is settling in at the Institute."
Su-An smiled. "Of course I will," she answered. "But you come in and stay for dinner too Logan," she insisted. "I don't know how, but TJ found a butcher with venison."
Logan grinned. "That's good meat," he commented. "I'd be glad to stay. Anythin' I can help get done around the place so I can feel like I've earned it?"
"I think TJ's got a project in the shed he's working on, you might see if he wants help with that," she offered.
Logan nodded and headed in, leaving Su-An and Scott alone together on the steps of the church.
"I've been wondering when you would come Mr Summers," Su-An told him, as he shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. "Usually you're only here when Jean drags you, and then you just watch her."
Scott blushed at having been caught staring at Jean.
"You'd better come in," Su-An said. "We'll get you settled."
When Scott entered the church, he kept his eyes on the backs of Su-An's feet, just following her and not looking around him.
"Hey Scott," Evans greeted happily, startling him into looking up for the source of the voice. "Come join us man! These cartoons Miss Teach has are great."
Su-An took Scott's bag from his hand and gave him a push, not letting him refuse.
On the screen, an orange squash was singing. Around him, Scott noticed that Evan, Todd and Kurt were singing along with the chorus, badly, but enthusiastically.
"I can be your friend!"
Kurt and Todd even had an arm over each other's shoulders.
Scott wanted to get up and leave, but Evan was keeping him firmly in place. Almost as though he knew, and wasn't letting him.
"Hey blue-boy," Todd said once the cartoon was finished. "Tag," he said, thumping Kurt on the shoulder and jumping away with a laugh.
"Oho, we know how this went the last time!" Kurt called back, leaping off the couch after Todd.
"So man, what's got you so uncomfortable?" Evan asked, stretching out on the couch. "I know you've got a stick up your ass normally, but you're here on top of that an' I don't see Jean around anywhere, which means somethin's up."
"The Professor is giving me some time off from the Institute," Scott said, clearly unhappy.
"Probably a good idea," Evan agreed. "You're way to serious. You spend all your time on school work or training. It's like you don't know how to have fun man."
"Big Boy Syndrome," Su-An said, leaning over the back of the couch, surprising both of the boys.
"When did you get there?" Scott demanded sharply.
Su-An laughed. "It's my home Mr Summers," she told him. "I know where all of the creaky floorboards are and how to miss them."
"Good one Miss Teach," Evan said, smiling.
"Are you staying for dinner tonight Evan?"
He shook his head. "Nah, I got homework to do, and Ma's going to call tonight. I just wanted to check out these cartoons Kurt was so crazy about," the blonde answered.
Su-An nodded. "Ah yes, homework. Very important," she said seriously, then smiled. "I'm glad your grades are picking up," she told him. "You're finally doing yourself justice."
Evan smiled. "Thanks Miss Teach," he said. "I'd better go now."
"Be safe," she told him.
Evan nodded, grabbed his skateboard and backpack, and headed off.
"Mr Summers, I think that it's time that you and I had a little talk." One that she had started having the first time he had come to the church, but hadn't finished.
"About the reasons for your prejudice, and the things that make you angry, and the things that frighten you," she answered, gesturing for Scott to get up and follow her to another part of the church building.
After dinner that night, Scott watched as nearly everyone left. Soon it was only the Coopers, Wanda, himself, and to his surprise, Tolansky.
"I moved out of the Brotherhood house about a week ago," Todd explained when Scott asked why he was still here. "Decided to better myself. Miss Cooper's really bin helpin' me out."
"He bathes more often too," Wanda put in as she walked past, a bowl of ice cream in hand. "And brushes his teeth."
"So no complainin' that your room-mate for the weekend smells bad," Todd warned. "'Cause I know I don't no more."
"Yeah," Todd answered. "Miss Cooper asked me before dinner. I know she's given you a talkin' to already, but she don't know about Lance like I do, so I'm gonna fill you in on a thing or two while you're here." Todd had a particularly determined look on his face that, despite having beaten him in a fight several times, made Scott worried.
"An' you're gonna listen," Wanda added firmly, which definitely added potency to the situation.
Christmas that year was particularly special for the people of the church in Bayville. They were invited to the Institute. There was a farewell celebration for those who were going back to their families for the holiday, and gifts were exchanged. Lance caught Kitty under the mistletoe, and Jean caught Scott the same way. Su-An, somehow, wound up underneath the sprig with Kurt, Hank and Logan, all at the same time. None of them would have noticed if Rogue and TJ hadn't pointed it out. Su-An blushed happily as Kurt and Hank gave her a kiss on the cheek – which she returned to each of them with a smile. Her face burned bright red when Logan grabbed her around the waist and dipped her though.
"Take notes for when you get older kid," Logan said, looking at Kurt with a smile, then kissed Su-An on the tip of her nose, effectively breaking the tension and making everyone who was watching laugh.
"You're not to get frisky with Miss Page-Cooper while I am gone," Kurt warned, waving a finger at Logan once Su-An was on her own feet again.
The man laughed. "I wouldn't dream of it," he said.
"You'd better not," Ororo told him, stalking up to him.
Su-An stepped away quietly. "There, now it's you two under the mistletoe," she said.
Logan grinned and dipped the dark-skinned woman just as he had Su-An moments before, but this time he planted his lips against hers, causing the students to cheer loudly – all except Evan, who was gagging in the corner at the display.
"My sympathies," Pietro said to his long-time friend and rival, though his smirk indicated that he clearly didn't really mean it.
Evan chuckled and showed the only Brotherhood boy left – Freddie had decided to go back to touring with the monster trucks, and Boom Boom was obviously female – to where the buffet was laid out.
"You want to come back to New York with me man?" he offered. "My mum and dad would be glad to see you too you know."
Pietro smiled, but shook his head. "Thanks, but no thanks. Me and Tabitha have the whole house to ourselves right now, since Mystique is gone and the other guys all left as well."
"Does that mean that you'll be hosting all the parties from now on? Or are you just going to be playing house?" Evan asked with a chuckle.
Pietro laughed too, though a little more nervously as his eyes landed on the blonde who lived just down the hall from him, hanging out with some of her friends from the Institute.
A few days later, the television stations started going crazy about an angel in New York. Charles decided that sending someone to make contact with the man – suspected mutant – was vitally important. Rogue and Wanda volunteered instantly.
When they came back, it was without the angel man.
"We gave him the address and phone number of the Institute and the church," Rogue said, "but he wanted to stay where he was."
"We also ran into Magneto," Wanda added, sitting down between Su-An and Todd, holding herself tightly.
Su-An wrapped her arms around the girl tightly at those words. "How did it go?" she asked quietly.
"We were in a church at the time. He was going to destroy it just to- to catch the guy. I couldn't let him do that," Wanda answered in a harsh whisper. "I... I stopped him, Rogue drained him. He didn't look happy to see me. I... told him that I forgave him, but that I would never think of him as my father ever again."
"You were very brave, to face him," Su-An comforted. "You have a greater power than he does, but facing someone who has haunted you for so long, it still takes a great deal of courage."
Wanda nodded, sniffed, and tears started running down her face, even as she buried it in Su-An's shoulder.
When the students came back and the circus came to town, Su-An immediately did her best to talk the students – all of them – out of going.
"I've seen this circus before," she said, sounding deeply unimpressed with them. "It's cheap tricks with a few scams on the side," she advised. "Not to mention, these guys actually try and make their clowns creepy."
"But it's, like, just a circus Miss PC," Kitty objected.
"Tell you what," Su-An said, smiling now. "I'll make a list of all the things they'll have under their big-top, and we'll make our own circus," she suggested. "A better one!"
That got the kids on-side and excited. The visiting circus was completely forgotten in the wake of making their own. Even Principle Kelly liked the idea – it could be turned into a fund-raiser after all.
When school let out for the day, Su-An sent a note back to the Professor with Evan, warning him that the magician of the circus was genuinely able to control people. It was no trick when he did it, and it was more than mere hypnotism. She recommended he install a mental shield in every one of the students for their own safety, and possibly in the minds of the older mutants he could reach as well.
"On what grounds, exactly, are you making such accusations, Miss Page-Cooper?" Xavier asked when he arrived at the church to perform the placement of mental shields for the last of the mutant students in Bayville. Just because he was doubtful didn't mean he wouldn't take the precaution after all.
"Difficult to explain," Su-An sighed. She sat herself down in a chair and faced the Professor. "You know that I don't do judging if I can help it Charles," Su-An said. "This is one man, however, that my whole being simply rebels against. I want to forgive him for what he does, and for the things that he has forced others to do, but this is a man who does not want forgiveness. He has long sold his soul to another in the hopes that he may never know what awaits him beyond his mortal coil. A vain hope, but one he clings to as though it were certainty."
"You have met him then," Xavier asked.
Su-An nodded. "When he was much younger, but no less twisted with hate," she lamented softly. "I tried to reach him, but he did not want to be reached. His only desires are power and control."
The school's circus was a hit though, and the visiting one moved on quickly when it got so little business due to local competition.
Todd, Kurt and a couple of the girls from the gymnastics team did a trapeze act, Wanda and Pietro did a magic act (with their powers, but subtly, mostly for special effect), Ronnie did a dog act with some of her classmate's pets. Kitty was the assistant that got cut in half by Lance, and Jean did fortune telling on stage. Some of the kids did stilt walking, others were clowns, tumblers, jugglers, Evan even did a knife-throwing act.
All those who weren't in the spot light did something behind the scenes. Sewing the big top and costumes, making the snacks that got sold, handling the many lights, providing the music that made all the acts even more dramatic, making the posters and minding the money – though that last was also supervised by teachers.
Su-An watched, amused, as a girl with dark hair asked Scott to the girls' dance that the school was holding.
"Well, that will depend on if my girlfriend minds or not," Scott answered, shuffling away from the girl trying to press herself against his arm.
"I mind," Jean said, approaching from behind them. "Because I was planning on asking you today myself," she added more gently, smiling as she slipped her arms around his neck.
The dark-haired girl frowned and huffed off as Scott smiled and accepted.
"I thought they were still 'just friends'!" the dark-haired girl accused one of her friends, as though she had been misinformed.
"I thought so too!" the friend defended as they left.
A tap on the shoulder distracted Su-An from her lunch-time observations of the student body. It was Rogue, and she was pulling at her hair in one nervous fashion.
"You're not standing there to ask me to the girls dance," Su-An said with a gentle smile.
Rogue shook her head, a blush rising on her face. "Would you mind if I asked TJ?" she asked quietly.
Su-An chuckled. "I'll even write you a note for him, so he doesn't have to come find me to ask the same thing," she said, pulling out a pad and pen from her pockets.
Rogue brightened. "Ya don't mind?"
"I'll even make your dress if you like."
"Thank you. Um... Are you askin' anybody?"
Su-An's smile faded at the question.
Rogue noticed. "I only ask 'cause... I know a certain guy, practically an irritating little brother really, with a German accent, who'd love for you to ask him," the girl said quietly.
Su-An visibly forced herself to brighten her smile for the girl who had been her first female friend in Bayville. "Rogue, you know I adore Kurt, really I do, but I said it before: he's too young for me. As much as I wish it weren't true."
"Maybe, next years dance?" Kurt asked, coming around the corner he had been hiding behind.
Su-An shook her head sadly, but smiled and stepped up to face him. "On your graduation day, unless you find someone else," she promised. "For now, just wait and see if another girl your age asks you to the dance."
Kurt nodded in understanding. "I'll hold you to that, ja?"
Su-An nodded. "I hope you do," she told him, reaching out to mess up his hair, making the two teenagers laugh.
"Is this a bad time?"
The three looked up to see Tabitha, aka Boom Boom, standing there, looking a little nervous.
"What's up Tabitha?" Rogue asked, smiling. "Not like you to be nervous."
"I just asked Pietro to the dance," she said, blushing a little. "He said yes, but I don't exactly have a dress."
Su-An laughed. "Stop by the church after school with a few designs, I'll whip you up something," she promised with a smile.
"Thanks Miss PC."
It wasn't long after the dance that things started to really heat up. The girls went on a girl-power crusade against Bayville crime for a while, which Su-An ended up smoothing over with the police. Mystique returned to the Brotherhood house, where she proceeded to show exactly how deeply unimpressed she was. Logan went missing, Mystique, Tabitha and Pietro finally joined the Institute, and the X-men went to find and rescue their gruff instructor with their help, while the younger students at the Institute stayed at the church, hanging out with friends, doing homework and watching TV.
The cartoons were interrupted by a news broadcast, and Amara came running to drag Su-An and TJ to see what was happening.
The regular students who were there were edging away from the Institute kids, and Wanda was unimpressed with them. Todd was just resigned to watch it happen though.
Magneto showed up with more mutants as the giant robot that the X-men were fighting seemed to be getting the upper hand. He didn't much look like he was helping though.
The regular students were definitely looking nervous now.
Su-An grabbed the remote and turned off the sound on the TV.
"Pop quiz!" she declared, stepping in front of the screen, a determined look on her face piercing all of the students who were looking nervous. "If you could choose any super power for yourself, what would it be?" she asked, then started pointing to students to give her an answer.
"Manipulating fire! That looked seriously cool on the TV just then."
"I'd want to be like Spider-Man!"
"I'd generate electricity, that way I'd never have to worry about batteries for my CD player again!"
"If you didn't completely fry your CD player first on accident," one of the Institute kids said quietly.
"With great power comes great responsibility," Su-An said, laying a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder. "And a need for great control," she added. "And support, and caring. You have all just seen a number of your classmates fighting against a giant robot on TV. Now, I think it's safe to say that they didn't build that robot, did they Mr Forge?"
The boy who had disappeared into an alternate dimension in the seventies, recently rescued by Kurt, shook his head. "Definitely not one of my inventions," he said, "and no one else at the Institute is really all that big on stuff like that. Even Magneto wouldn't be able to come up with that, he's more for taking advantage of other people's work than creating it himself," he explained.
"In which case," Su-An said, drawing attention back to herself, "this is the work of someone who simply doesn't like people who could potentially help make the world a better, or at least more interesting place."
"But, Miss PC, what about ... are they dangerous?"
"Have they ever bullied you?" Su-An asked.
"Then why would they start, just because you suddenly found out that they could do more stuff?" she asked, rhetorically.
"Uh, because they wouldn't have to hide it any more?" suggested one of the kids.
"Hey yeah!" Ronnie said, smiling suddenly. "Now it's not as big a deal about Scott's sunglasses, because everyone will know that they're the only thing stopping his eyes from blowing the gym a new sky-light!"
"Scott doesn't have the most fun of powers," Amara added with a small smile. "Mind you, that time we went on that cruise, and I got ill from being away from land because of my power... also not so fun."
"Yeah," Tabitha agreed. "But then when we got you on land again and you were feeling better, you saved a whole island from a volcanic eruption because you could dive into the core of the thing and defuse it!"
Amara suddenly was the focus of awe in the room among the non-mutant student population.
"Okay, that bit was fun," she admitted sheepishly.
"So, people with powers are cool?" Su-An asked.
"Way cool!" one of the boys answered, and the rest of his peers seemed to agree.
"Some don't have such an easy time of it though," Su-An said. "Do you all remember Mr MaCoy?"
"Best Chemistry teacher ever!" seemed to be the consensus.
"Do you remember the large blue guy wearing only a pair of trunks?" she asked, gesturing to the TV.
"That's why he left?" asked one of the girls. "I... guess I can see why," she admitted. "Do you suppose, Miss PC, if the word is out, that he might come back?"
"That depends if the board of the school want to hire someone who once got mistaken for Bigfoot," TJ said.
Ronnie giggled. "That was a fun trip," she said. "Not so fun when some guys with guns decided they like the idea of catching Mr MaCoy and turning him into a big furry museum piece."
"Hey, we all got away from that just fine! Including those guys," Drake said, with a pout. "Same couldn't be said for the guns, but hey," he added with a shrug. "They were dangerously trigger-happy anyway."
"Yeah, right, like they're the only ones?" Wanda prodded. "You seemed happy to go crazy with the ice any time and anywhere."
"Right now though," Su-An said, turning the TV back on, "I'd say that a lot of our friends are in some trouble."
An explosion sounded across town from the direction of the Institute.
Todd hopped up to the roof to see what was going on.
"I'd say they're homeless too now yo," he called down before coming down again himself. "That was the Xavier Institute. It's blown to smithereens."
"I hope the Professor had insurance," Tabitha said, eyes wide at the news.
"That doesn't answer where we'll stay until it comes through. If it comes through," Ronnie pointed out, hanging her head, despondent.
"Here," Su-An said, stroking the girl's hair. "For as long as you need to."
Wanda smiled. "I remember you saying something similar to me," she said. "I think we're going to have to send in a rescue party," Wanda added, looking back to the TV as footage was played of the army collecting up the rock-ensconced mutants, and then even more of the few X-men who had escaped being targeted by the army and the local police at the ruined Institute building.
"All students who are powered up and ready for action," Su-An called, doing her best impersonation of a military officer.
The kids smiled and leant forward.
"Stay here," she finished.
They sagged visibly.
"The rest of you I advise go home, your parents should be worrying about you," Su-An said, then headed for the door of the church herself.
"Su-An," TJ called warily. "Where are you going?"
"Wherever it is that God is telling me to go," she answered. "Keep the kids safe!" she added with a wave before disappearing.
TJ sighed and folded his arms. "Sometimes, it really bugs me when she does that," he said.
The kids all laughed.
Su-An reached Bayville's lookout ridge, the place of parked cars and hormone-driven teenagers come Friday and Saturday nights. Shortly after she got there, Kurt, Jean and Kitty arrived. Ororo and Scott didn't reach them until the sun had set.
"We need to rescue them! We're X-men, and we don't abandon our own," Scott said, becoming frustrated with himself.
"But we have no idea where they are, and since the X-Jet got captured by the army, we have no way of getting to them even if we did," Jean attempted to reason.
"What about you Miss PC?" Kitty asked. "Like, got any miracles handy? Or even a general direction would be good right now."
Su-An smiled at the girl. "Such faith, but in the messenger, rather than the source," she said quietly, patting Kitty's head. "A miracle. A direction," she hummed to herself, then turned her face Heavenward in silent appeal, breathing deeply. "Lord, grant us guidance," she whispered, then suddenly looked around, as though surprised. She brought a hand up to her mouth and giggled into it. "Well now," she said, walking over to a bush. "Are you coming out, or just watching?" she asked.
A man with an eye patch stepped out.
"So much for a secret location for a meeting," Scott mumbled.
"Not many of you left, are there? I want to help, but my hands are tied," the man said. "I can, however, give you that direction you need," he added, holding out a palm-sized computer, which Ororo accepted, before he walked away.
Kitty laughed. "You're, like, the best Miss PC," she said, wrapping her arms around the cooking and sewing teacher. "You sure you're not a mutant with psychic powers?"
"Absolutely," Su-An answered. "There is more to the world than scientific explanations. Now, I have a church full of kids right now, and I think I'd better get back before they drive Wanda, Todd and TJ all up the wall."
"The students?" Ororo asked hopefully.
Su-An smiled and nodded. "They, and you, are all welcome to stay for as long as you need to," she said.
"Thank you," Ororo said genuinely. "Thank you so much."
Su-An nodded, and left the reduced team of mutants to their planning.
It was two days of rearranging the church, the rooms, the kids, and then Ororo returned with the rest of the X-men, and a little more shuffling happened. The regular students all came and went happily, excited to learn about their peer's powers. It was less than a week before the press had caught on and was hanging around outside the church.
"Who called the press conference?" TJ asked as he wove and muscled his way between the journalists and photographers carrying the groceries.
"Can you confirm or deny that mutants are hiding in this church?" a journalist asked.
TJ frowned. "People are living in this church," he answered, pushing through the last of them and reaching the door at last.
"Well said," Su-An said, holding the door open for him.
"I'll find the pulpit for you," TJ whispered as he shuffled passed. "These people want something, so we might as well look professional about it," he suggested.
Su-An sighed deeply, but nodded. "TV crews are starting to show up now too," she observed. "Turn the box on, see what they're saying before we go out."
TJ nodded. "Church is on the news folks!" he called as he headed through to the kitchen.
It was one of the non-mutant students who turned it on and flicked through until they found a station with the church, surrounded by members of the press, being shown. A woman in a red suit was holding a microphone and giving a report. One that the students, and teachers, all found ridiculously incorrect.
The pulpit, a microphone, and a few speakers were pulled out of the basement and dusted off.
"If they're gonna make a professional hullabaloo about it, then we're going to look professional when we give them answers," Su-An said firmly.
Jean sighed heavily. "Does that mean I'm going to have to talk to them again?" she asked. "The Professor was always getting me to be a representative of what the Institute was offering."
Su-An smiled and patted Jean on the shoulder. "If you don't want to, then you don't have to. It might actually be better if someone else did it."
"Like you," TJ said, smiling at his sister. "Since you do own this place," he reminded.
Su-An frowned. "I was planning on it," she said firmly. "But I can't speak for the kids, Ororo and Logan," she pointed out. "I don't have that right."
"Yes you do," Wanda said quietly. "Because you took us all in, and because you care about us."
"Yeah, but I don't know what it's like to be you," Su-An pointed out.
"Then I'll come with you," Rogue said, squaring her shoulders and standing up. "If they want horror stories, then yeh can't go past mine."
Su-An nodded sadly, and let TJ and Logan out the doors first to set up the limited sound system they would use to communicate with the media, then she and Rogue stepped out into the vipers den that waited at their doors.
"My name is Susan Anastasia Page-Cooper. This church is my home. I am the sewing and cooking teacher at Bayville High. You are the press, and since you are congregating here and we're able to see it on our own television inside, I'm guessing you want to ask questions."
The questions came thick and fast, but one of them really made Su-An's eyes flash.
"Are mutants dangerous?" one reporter called out.
"Are you?" Su-An snapped back, quicker than Ororo could have called up lightening.
A silence fell like lead, just as it had when she had called out Matthews for bullying in class.
Rogue stepped up then.
"I like taking walks in the park. I like eatin' gumbo and paintin' my nails. I like ridin' quads and motor bikes when I get the chance too. I like poetry, and chocolate, and flowers, and dancing. I don't like my mutation."
"You're the mutant that if you touch someone they get knocked out!" one of the reporters said, recognising her from the news footage.
Rogue nodded. "That's right. They get knocked out, and I get their memories, their powers if they're mutants, and I get them stuck in my head for the rest of my life. If I tallied up all the lifetimes of memories that I have, I'd probably be older than my own grandparents. Despite all this, I try and have a normal life. Sometimes, that's a lot harder than it needs to be," she said, and it was visible in the way Rogue held herself that she was holding herself up and stopping herself from crying through sheer willpower.
Su-An lay a gentle hand on Rogue's shoulder.
"This press conference, impromptu as it was, is over," Su-An announced, steering Rogue to turn around and wrapping an arm around the girl's shoulders. "Come on Rogue, let's get you some hot chocolate," she said gently to the girl.
Rogue nodded gratefully, a weak smile on her lips.
Principle Kelly tried to have all the mutant students removed from Bayville High, but his efforts only resulted in his own removal, while Su-An was given his position. This irritated her to no end, but she'd been given a job, and she would not shirk.
Hank MaCoy was re-hired to the school staff, and along with teaching chemistry, he was the man in charge of teaching the kids about their mutant peers – in the new 'genetics' class.
It was a couple of weeks after this transition that a band – popular with the students – came to Bayville to put on a concert. Part of their nation-wide tour. Rouge was being dragged along to it by her friend Risty – Wanda was going with them as well. It was going to be a bit of a girl's night out, with Risty being the ringleader for fun and Wanda keeping an eye on her best friend, since she knew how Rogue felt about crowds.
TJ had smiled and backed down when they told him to, but reminded them that Su-An was still young and would be most put-out that she wasn't invited, even if she wasn't a fan of the music.
Su-An drove them, and stayed with them for the concert.
She watched in concerned horror as things started to get out of control. She wasn't too impressed to find out that Risty was actually Mystique either, but her main concern was Rogue – and the general safety of all persons in the area as a secondary but related worry.
One she could, fortunately, leave to other people to take care of.
"Wanda, we've got girl to save," Su-An said, eyes wide.
"I'll contact the Professor," Wanda said. "You chase her, if you can."
Su-An nodded and said a silent prayer as she ran out through the hole that Rogue had made in the side of the building. The girl – currently looking like a really beefed up guy – was nowhere in sight, so Su-An did what she had done all her life: allowed and trusted in God to guide her to where she needed to be.
She rounded a corner just as a beam of red light that she recognised as Scott's blasted Sabertooth through the wall she was two feet away from.
Distantly, she was aware of Logan and Wanda telling the other X-men what the situation really was, but she didn't have time. She ran through the hole with only the thought of Rogue's well-being thumping through her being.
"Rogue?" she called, heading down between some of the rows of shelves.
Rogue's voice was tiny and helpless, like a child's, when she called out in the tense stillness. "Help me," she begged. "I can't..."
Su-An spotted her and, taking off her coat as she moved, ran up to her, wrapping her up in the coat so that she was covered once more, no longer at risk of touching someone with the arm that had been exposed when her shirt-sleeve had been ripped off.
"I can't control it," Rogue whimpered.
"Yes you can," Su-An countered. "You have up until now. You're strong, and you're not alone. You have friends to help support you."
"Friends?" Rogue said, and her face contorted painfully before settling into an angry, even wrathful expression. "I have no friends!" she declared, her form morphing into Ororo's and rising into the rafters of the building.
"Yes, you do!" Su-An insisted, yelling up to the girl now. "You have me, and you have Wanda, and you have Kurt, and you have Logan, and you have TJ! Rogue please. You know that we care about you! It's alright to need other people. We'd be lost without you. You're strong! Look at yourself! You have more control over the powers you got from other people than some of them do!"
"No!" Rogue objected, shaking her head and continuing to rage.
"Anna Marie," Su-An called softly, trying a different tack. "Anna Marie, come down from there sweetheart. Tell Su-An what's wrong Anna Marie."
Rogue slowly descended, tears streaming down her face as she crumpled on the concrete floor, holding herself desperately.
Su-An wrapped her arms around the girl and hushed her as she rocked her gently. "There now," she cooed. "You let that all out. Never be afraid to cry if you need to."
Logan and Wanda approached carefully.
"How's she doin'?" Logan asked, his tone probably as gentle as it ever got.
Su-An just kept rocking the girl who was sobbing herself to sleep in her arms, stroking her hair and back softly, repetitively. After a while, she finally gave an answer.
"Not good," was the verdict. "But better, and she'll keep getting better while people are there for her and supportive."
Logan nodded. "I know what it's like to be betrayed," he said, kneeling down to rest his own hand over Rogue's hair. "The pain never leaves yeh, but ya learn to move past it eventually."
Wanda nodded and knelt as well, leaning forward so that she could wrap her arms around Rogue's middle.
Kurt bamphed in then with TJ, surprising Su-An.
"The Professor suggested it," Kurt said, joining in the little group around Rogue.
TJ joined in as well, sliding in behind the girl and slotting his arms in just a little way above Wanda's.
Rogue was well and truly ensconced in a pile of warm caring people who were all worried about her – and though they all held each other so closely, none of them had skin-on-skin contact. It was warm, and loving, and safe, and it felt like home to the girl.
The Institute was rebuilt, but Rogue didn't move back, preferring to stay in the church She didn't leave the X-men, and she still went to danger room sessions and school, but it was quieter at the church somehow, even though there were still lots of people there every afternoon. She spent a lot of time with Wanda, the two of them working on controlling their extreme powers.
When all the kids had gone home for dinner with their families, the church held only Su-An, TJ, Wanda, Todd, Rogue and Kurt – who though he still officially lived at the institute, also shared a room with Todd at the church. They were an interesting little quasi-family, but the love they had was real.
"Oh Lord," Su-An said as they all bowed their heads in prayer before eating. "For your daily grace, we thank you. For your all-encompassing love, we thank you. For your guidance, we thank you. For your peace, we thank you. We thank you that we have each other, and a place to be together in safety. We thank you that every challenge you put in our path is not insurmountable, and that every goal you set for us can be reached when we put our trust in you. We thank you for your protection, and your strength, and for the gifts that you grant us, even when they seem more like a curse. Thank you that today you granted us sunshine, smiles, and laughter. Thank you that no pain lasts. Thank you for providing our every need."
"Miss Teach?" Evan asked, knocking on the door of Su-An's office and cracking it open slightly so that he could stick his head in. "I've got a problem."
"Come on in Evan," she answered, shuffling her paperwork aside and smiling at him.
Evan quickly came around the door and shut it behind him.
"Oh," Su-An said, here eyes wide. "I'm guessing your problem is that they aren't going away?" she asked, seeing the spikes that were covering the boy almost like samurai armour.
Evan nodded. "I can make more come out, but I can't get these ones to go back," he explained. "I guess it's been happening slowly for a while now. It's been harder to make them go back, and then over the weekend I had a fever, and..."
"Gotcha," Su-An said, getting up from her chair to wrap her arms around the boy. "It looks good though," she tried to comfort. "And you won't have to worry about shirts ever again."
Evan chuckled. "This isn't going to be a problem at school?" he asked hopefully.
Su-An shook her head. "Kurt's tail isn't. Mr MaCoy's fangs aren't. This won't be either. You look different, that's all. You still control whether you spike people or not, right?"
Su-An smiled. "Then it's no problem. In fact, it might even make you a desirable member for the football team! Like your spikes have been useful for pitching tents and staking plants before, all this armour means we wouldn't have to get you padding," she teased, giving his new built-in helmet a noogie.
Evan laughed. "Thanks Miss Teach," he said. "Um... I met some folks a little after this happened... they're like me and Kurt – a bit on the, uh, conspicuous side, but they've been hiding and... one of 'em's a little kid."
"You bring them by the church sometime," she said gently, laying a hand on his shoulder. "We'll work on getting them re-integrated into society."
Evan smiled. "Thanks Miss Teach."
None of them knew that several types of Apocalypse had been averted just because Su-An and TJ had moved to Bayville and met Todd and Kurt that first day. That was probably for the best, for all of them. It was certainly a good thing for the Morlocks that they were out of the sewers and being accepted, at least generally. It surprised a lot of people though, when wearing fake tails became main-stream cool. Scott could only groan at Kurt's having become such a trend-setter, even if only a few of the tails looked like his.