Chapter Four: Your Biggest Mistake

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of the Universe. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of god which is within us. It is not in just some of us; it is in all of us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others."

-Marriane Williamson, Excerpt from "A Return to Love"

Charlotte Price, September 17: Afternoon, The Grind Stone

As soon as all the classes had ended for the students of the institute, most of them rushed to a previously planned agenda. Others milled about without much to do until one of their friends found them and dragged them off to one place or another. It was a monotonous but hectic sense of order that the residents had already become accustomed to despite the short time they'd been in school at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.

Charlotte Price was not one of the people to be dragged off or to have plans. All she could admit to was a sudden craving for coffee and the company of an electric blue-haired Japanese girl to chat with about the Field Day shenanigans. That, and the fact that the rest of the Hellions (save for Jay, who wanted nothing to do with it) were off playing another rematch with Josh and a select group of other students on the basketball court, something she did not want to participate in. Nonetheless, Charlotte didn't really have anything important planned. In fact, the circumstance was the exact opposite.

It wasn't really a matter of importance when she entered her room. But then, Megan spotted her and began another attempt of convincing her to spend time with a group—and Dallas. The Welsh girl always mentioned that Dallas Gibson would be there. She didn't say it in a mean way, of course, but she was confident that if the empathic strawberry blonde and the shadow manipulator would only spend some quality time together, they'd probably find something in common and then the rest would work itself out until they started dating or something along those lines.

Cheshire shuddered at the thought of some sort of romantic rendezvous planned by Pixie. No one else knew she had developed a small crush on Specter that one time she saw him use his powers so proudly during summer vacation—and if Charlotte could help it, no one else would.

The temperature that day was unbearably warm. It was an odd humidity; the kind that was so stifling even the most adventurous students opted to remain inside the mansion at all costs. So the school was alive with a hum of voices and random laughter. In retrospect, the entire day bore an odd sort of presence for everyone. Everyone seemed to be in a sort of rut.

It had been about a year ago. Charlotte was spending her first summer at the institute and was not at all sure what to do. Her roommate Megan Gwynn was getting ready, brushing her hair and picking out a matching pair of shoes so she could hang out with a group of friends. However, being relatively new to the mutant school, Charlotte didn't have the same kind of social network that the pink-haired girl did.

The strawberry blonde could easily sense the coating of excitement that radiated off of the other female, and it left her admittedly a little envious. Not in such a dynamic way, perhaps, but it was lying there in absolute displeasure.

Being kind-hearted soul she was, however, Megan noticed her fellow mutant's downtrodden expression while she was getting ready. "Would you like to hang out with us? I really want you to meet me friends!"

At first, Charlotte considered denying the offer. She didn't know any of them. Then again, she'd never know them if she didn't initiate an introduction first. That was how you met people. She nodded after a long moment of remaining silent, a small smile appearing on her face.

Her side of the room was really plain. It was generally left the same as when she'd first arrived, except for random items of interest that she collected or brought with her. But she stood up and drifted over to her dresser in search of a decent outfit in which to meet new people. Perhaps she was overthinking the entire thing, but she wanted to make a good impression, for her sake as well as Megan's. The girl invited her. She didn't want to give the other students any reason to not like her, therefore blaming the Welsh for bringing her along out of good will.

A while later, the two girls left their room, Megan in her adorable tomboyish garb consisting of a boat neck Dazzler tee and shorts with slip on sneakers. Charlotte opted for a cream, sleeveless dress that reached her knees with a short sleeve cardigan layered over it and a pair of black flats.

Afterward, they walked to the Rec Room, where many students gathered to watch television or watch others play video games on the large screen. There were other factors for fun, including a foosball table as well as a pool table. Then there was the bookshelf toward the back of the room with plush chairs where you could see Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler, reading one of Shakespeare's works. He gave his newest drama student a small wave as she entered with the pink-haired teen. Charlotte offered a shy smile in return.

"Megan!"

Hope waved over the small Welsh, offering a friendly grin before guiding her to sit with them on the couch. Victor was the one to take notice of the new kid, the small cherry blonde with the freckles dusting her nose and cheeks.

"Hey there…?" "My name is Charlotte," she said softly, but sharply. It startled the scaled boy. However, he realized how nervous she must feel, being in a room full of people she'd recently seen but not actually met. "I'm Victor… or Anole."

"… Anole?"

He looked somewhat embarrassed as he shoved his hands into his jean pockets and shrugged. "It's my mutant codename. You know, like when we train?"

The girl nodded in understanding. "I don't have one of those yet."

"Well… you're new. You'll get one pretty soon, though. Everyone does."

They were then beckoned toward the couch by the other students. Charlotte ended up seated next to a boy with blonde hair and blue eyes. She'd only seen him a couple of times before when she passed him randomly through the halls or during mealtimes. He didn't have a noticeable mutation (as he appeared normal—whatever that meant). So she silently wondered what his abilities were. She learned that most mutants were most curious about another's abilities before much else.

Her pondering was answered when the boy said he'd fetch the popcorn. Not a moment later, he turned into a sheer black form and sunk into the ground and was gone in an instant. Her blue-green eyes widened and she actually backed up into Megan, who laughed at her reaction. "Don't be scared! It's Dallas using his shadow form."

"… Dallas?"

She giggled. "His name is Dallas Gibson. He picked out the codename Specter. To be honest, he's got a dark side to him, but he's really nice despite that."

The miscellaneous previews began playing on the large screen. Charlotte looked as if she was trying to morph with the arm of the couch. All of the different emotions floating about in the room were causing her a headache. It didn't help that she had been in contact with Megan for a decent five minutes that left her dizzy.

"Are you okay, Charlotte?" whispered Pixie into her roommate's ear as she saw the petite girl shift even further away.

It was a moment before she answered. "I'm not feeling to well. I'll just go get the drinks or something since… Dallas… is already in the kitchen. I need some time away from so many people…" It sounded a bit ungrateful, she admitted to herself, but she couldn't say it any other way. Her gaze was apologetic at best, though.

So the emotion-ridden girl took her leave, rushing out of the Rec Room and making a hesitant beeline for the kitchen. Being relatively new as she was, Charlotte wasn't entirely familiar with the school's complete layout. She was still very hesitant in venturing without a guide of some sort.

Charlotte Price spotted Dallas Gibson as soon as she entered the kitchen doorway a short time later. He was leaning back against the counter, repetitive and random sounds of popcorn popping in the background sounding over the hum of the microwave. His gaze found her and he nodded once, quickly, before standing up a hair straighter. "Hey."

"I… came here to get drinks in case someone got thirsty and it wouldn't be fair if you had to carry everything there by yourself so I offered…" she rambled, only pausing when she heard the microwave chime loudly, causing her to jump.

The blonde male smiled a bit at her reaction. It was hardly noticeable.

He reached up to get a large blue bowl from the cupboard after opening the microwave door. She wasn't really sure what to do besides stand there like a fool.

She managed to gather some sense, walking to the refrigerator to begin her search for the drinks she said she'd get. "What would you like?"

He looked at her, shrugging. "Just get a pack of cola. And bring water bottles, too. I'll get you a bag so you don't have to carry it awkwardly."

Because forbid the fact that I'm awkward as it is, she thought ruefully.

She set the drinks on the counter while he poured the popcorn into the bowl. Besides those basic sounds of movement and actions, the room was silent. Charlotte looked at him from the corner of her eye, curiosity fueling her actions.

"So why did you really leave the room? I know you didn't randomly decide to help. No offense, of course, but come on."

Her face flushed a light pink. It was a little shocking how he was right on the nose. The male's smile became just a bit more noticeable as he turned to regard her more than he had before. It was more than a little unsettling for her to be focused on by someone she barely knew.

Charlotte bit her lip. "I'm… empathic. But I don't have enough control to keep everyone's emotions out so sometimes it gets crowded and I get headaches." She didn't know why she was telling him this. He seemed genuinely curious, however, and she really didn't like keeping it hushed. "Since it's only the two of us in the room, I feel a lot better. You're… misty blue. Content."

His posture actually relaxed a bit more. Had he been tense at her presence or was he just as guarded? He smiled at her kindly now, helping her open the bottle of soda she had begun struggling with.

Those freckled cheeks darkened in a harsher blush.

So there she was, walking down the streets of Salem Center toward the hanging sign that read Grind Stone. Adjusting her satchel as the strap dug into her shoulder, she pushed the door open, a soft chime filling her ears that was more than familiar.

Soft music was playing through the speakers. She heard rhythm of some sort of indie band, low vocals and guitar strings. The café was pretty much generic in appearance. Like many other places that offered the same services to a caffeine-hungry society, the main color scheme was earthy greens and browns with light touches of wood here and there. A gentle drone of voices floated through the area. All of the people collected in the condensed area made Charlotte a bit uncomfortable—she could feel their outer emotions.

To her (and she assumed many other empaths as well), there were layers of emotions that people could feel at any given time. The outer emotion was the most powerful and frontal feeling. It was the first feeling an empathic person would sense. Then, there were the deeper emotions, which were harder to sense and usually were not to be addressed. She could sense those through skin-to-skin contact. People did tend to get defensive over those hidden feelings, understandably. And finally, there were the core emotions, the kind that Charlotte could only sense when she had skin contact with someone she had a deep bond with. She'd only ever felt the core emotions of her parents.

Perhaps it was for the best, though. When an empath felt someone's core emotion, they tended to be dragged into the emotion themselves. Once inside, it was difficult to discern where one person's emotions began and the other was copied over. Many empathic beings lost their minds because they let the proverbial shield fall because they let themselves become too attached.

Cheshire shook her head, cherry blonde locks swaying at the gesture. It was never wise to dwell on negative possibilities. She concentrated, forming a mental barrier that kept the stronger emotions from influencing her mind.

It was time to return to the present.

The main thing she noticed first was the tall Russian leaning on the counter chatting with Noriko. A smile appeared on her face when those brown eyes found her blue-greens and widened. Surge's posture tensed up and straightened, attempting to be flippant of the current situation. Luka, however, didn't understand why she'd done it, and he looked at her in confusion.

"Hey, Charlotte," greeted Nori, sounding none too amused.

Charlotte snorted a bit. "If I received a greeting like that every time I walked through a door, I'd feel so much more welcome wherever I went!" The sarcasm was palpable, but it was all in good humor as Noriko found herself smiling.

Luka turned around in surprise, only calming when he saw the empath. He fingered the strap to his Captain America messenger bag. "Hey," he greeted in a more cheerful tone than Noriko had.

"What brings you here? I got here a half hour ago. Luka got here five minutes ago. Did you get bored at school or something?"

"No, nothing like that, I assure you," she waved off with a flick of her wrist, "I just had a sudden urge to drink some good coffee. Also, I wanted to speak to you about something." Her tone sobered significantly as the sentence went on, and it caught the attention of the two New Mutants.

The male in the trio narrowed his eyes curiously. "What?"

"How do you feel about what happened on Field Day? Things felt extremely tense around your team even when it was all over and done with. I haven't felt anything like that before," she confessed somewhat reluctantly. It was difficult to openly state just how volatile the chemistry between the squad felt. They could form a nuclear bomb with how volatile it felt, she groaned in her mind as she watched their expressions darken before her.

It was silent for a short while as the two squad mates wondered which one of them would say something to the Hellion first. Eventually, though, Luka took the reins and spoke with total clarity and without consternation. "Sofia doesn't make a good leader. The entire time, she was too busy being distracted—poorly too—by Julian. If for just one moment, she could have seen what was going on and we would have had a good chance of winning. Instead, we floundered about until David had to be asked to make a plan so we'd at least have a small shot. It was just sad."

She nodded solemnly.

He continued, leaning his elbow on the counter. "I don't actually care about winning. But the fact that we lost terribly and the reasons we did… It's enough to piss anyone off, really."

"I mean, Sofia's nice and all, but she can't lead. David should be the new squad leader."

The freckled girl looked at her blue-haired friend, expression unreadable.

"I think Sofia can lead… she just can't strategize," muttered Charlotte in a tone that could be easily described as unsympathetic. She didn't dislike Wind Dancer; she just knew that the girl had no business trying to make a plan when she obviously could not.

"You're right," agreed Luka, "She can't strategize, and that was a major point of our loss. That still doesn't mean I agree with Josh throwing a fit in public like a child. Even if she messed up, Sofia is still our squad leader, and I respect her."

"That's quite admirable of you, Luka," hummed Charlotte with a grin on her face.

The boy scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest, watching the odd female with his glassy blue eyes while Noriko regarded them both with a soft laugh.

Strawberry blonde locks whirled as Charlotte scanned the people around them quickly; only turning back to them once she lowered her voice to a low utterance. "Speaking of Field Day…"

Noriko and Luka blinked in unison, confusion written all over their faces. She had to purse her lips to stop from laughing outright. Accepting the cup of coffee Surge handed her, she stalled in speaking for a long moment. The silence was bothering the two, and it made Cheshire's grin only widen more when she wasn't sipping on the hot beverage.

She lowered the cup, running the tip of her finger along the rim. "You two seemed really cozy through the whole thing."

If only she had brought a camera or had an eidetic memory! The expressions on their faces were the sort that she would have loved to remember forever. Their faces were in a mix of flushed embarrassment with a good hint of flustered anger. Obviously, they believed it was none of her business, how cozy they were.

It was Luka who recovered first. "That's not important," he muttered, "Have you heard all the stuff people have been saying about Kevin?"

"You mean how he's dangerous and to not get near him lest you want to die a horrible death? Yes, I've heard, and Miss Frost almost caught me thinking about punching someone," scoffed Noriko. "I might not adore the guy, but no one deserves that kind of judgment."

Now Charlotte's interest was piqued. "You speak from experience."

A nod was her only answer. She knew well enough what Nori was referring to, and it was all too soon that she found herself thinking about her own squad leader's imperfections.

After that statement, silence could only follow, lingering above them for a solid moment or two. It wasn't an awkward or uncomfortable silence. However, it did leave them thinking about the goings on, and that was enough to draw back some thoughts they'd rather have pushed aside until a later time.

Such as what the school is going to do with Kevin concerning the F.B.I. literally walking in and demanding him to come with them.

Charlotte found it extremely difficult to sleep last night, having tossed and turned until she'd actually given up and listened to music to lull her to sleep. It had worked, but not well, and nursing the current cup of coffee was a high priority.

The bell on the door chimes once again, and the three teenagers turn around to see Danielle Moonstar, advisor to the New Mutants, walk inside with a stressed look on her face and in her gait. Noriko greets her and waves her over to immediately get started on a cup. Luka nods respectfully in her general direction. Charlotte, however, merely flashes the older woman a smile that does not actually reach her eyes.

"Are you here to drown your sorrows into some coffee, Dani?" asked Noriko Ashida while pouring a fresh cup for the illusionist. A real smile was on her face as she regarded the woman who was now practically her new guardian. The New Mutants trusted Dani to a very high degree, something which confused Charlotte. She never voiced it, though.

Moonstar sighed. "Yes, I am, actually. This whole thing with Kevin is driving me crazy. I don't know what to do about it."

You should protect your students, snapped Charlotte in her mind, sipping her coffee while attempting to look calm. She couldn't help but chew on her lip out of a nervous tick.

And if Cheshire thought that the presence of Danielle Moonstar was enough to make her tense, Agent Justin Pierce of the F.B.I. decided to enter the Grind Stone not long after Dani had sat down at a random table. Automatically, she felt a chill move up her spine that was none too pleasant. So this was the man who was attempting to arrest Kevin Ford? Her ocean eyes narrowed at his presence, and she noticed Luka staring at her curiously before she turned her back to the two adults.

Unfortunately, Pierce passed in front of her to get a cup of coffee. He didn't really seem to notice her somewhat distant attitude.

The young woman wasn't completely sure as to the reason why she felt so guarded around someone like Agent Pierce. Of course, it could probably be explained that she had an aversion to the law and all those connected to it, but that wasn't really the case. To be honest, Charlotte couldn't pick out why she felt guarded around him. It could have been for the fact that he was planning on taking an innocent boy to jail for losing his father and it was cruel—heartless, even—for someone to do so.

A sigh of relief came from her when he finally got his order and walked away. She believed it over—until he stopped and began to speak to Dani.

"Forget the donuts, in law enforcement the most important thing is a good cup of coffee," he said in an attempt at a joke, perhaps, "Can I sit down?"

The dark-haired woman glanced at him from the corner of her eye, glaring slightly. "I can't stop you."

Why is she so temperamental around the agent? She has no reason to be, growled Charlotte inside of her mind. At the moment, the girl could not make heads or tails as to why she felt this immense surge of anger and defensiveness pulsing through her veins. Her hands clenched around the cup, slowly forming to fists on each side of the cream-colored porcelain. Noriko was the first to notice, concerning gaze washing over the New York native.

"You're wrong, you know. You were then, you are now," chimed Agent Pierce's voice as he did in fact sit down across from Dani.

The smallest hints of a smirk (most likely rueful) was on Danielle's face. "You really know how to charm a woman, Agent Pierce."

"Are they… flirting?" asked Luka in an incredulous tone. "It's more than a little hard to tell."

If they had been flirting, any indication was gone from Moonstar's expression. She seemed to sober up in the hint of a moment. It was as if matters suddenly were presented in front of her and she had to somehow own up to them. "Do you have any kids, Agent Pierce?"

"No."

"Well, I do. I've got a group of students who look up to me. Rely on me." She licked her lips, looking away from the blue-eyed federal agent. Whatever was going on in her mind at that moment was weighing heavily upon her. Charlotte felt the slightest waves of confusion and fear from her. She didn't want anything bad to happen to Kevin, but she was obviously afraid of what would happen if the government didn't have its way.

Her eyes fell upon the man across from her once more. "I brought Kevin to Xavier's when he had no place else to go. How am I supposed to turn him over and watch him be tortured?" She narrowed her eyes at the male. "People are afraid of us, and his particular mutation is only going to make it worse."

Cheshire tensed at that, head tilting in disbelief at what she had just heard.

"They are afraid, but if your school shields Kevin, then you'll be saying that mutants are above the law."

His gaze seemed so sincere that Dani actually softened in his presence. While she was still very upset and lost as to what she should do, she was actually mulling the words over. "Then they'll have every reason to be afraid."

No matter how much Charlotte knew that his words were supposed to offer some sort of comfort to whoever heard it and was concerned for Kevin's situation, it did nothing to quell her frustration. All she could openly feel was her own brand of distrust toward the man along with the mixed emotions of the people in the room. Perhaps the overload was screwing with her natural emotional process.

That would explain the headache she was developing.

She touched her temple, and Noriko noticed it quickly as she always did. "Dani's stress is affecting you, Charlotte. You don't really like her to begin with, but now she's making you feel tense. Maybe you should go back to the school relax."

Of course she agreed, but then Agent Pierce's voice caught her attention before she was able to give her blue-haired friend a slightly painful nod. "Kevin's father's death was a horrible accident. And Kevin's the one who suffered the most for it. He doesn't deserve to be punished," he began, "I know that. And I believe the law will reach that conclusion. I'll make them reach that conclusion."

He leaned forward a bit, grasping his cup of coffee in between his hands.

"So I'm asking you to trust me. I'll take care of him."

Dani sighed deeply, looking down into the dark brown beverage that warmed her hands and was currently occupying the porcelain mug she held. All of the self-doubt and confusion as to which path to take was practically radiating off of her by then. Cheshire was slowly feeling overwhelmed.

The illusionist closed her eyes, looking absolutely downcast. "My connection with Kevin is… tenuous as it is." And the award for the Most Obvious Statement of the Year goes to… "Even if I tell him to turn himself in, he might not listen to me."

Agent Pierce carried a downtrodden expression of his own this time as he stood from his seat and watched Dani with a copious amount of sympathy oozing out of him. "If he doesn't, I'll have to come with an arrest warrant. Take him by force." Those words made Charlotte's skin bristle defensively. She turned around halfway and glanced coldly in their general direction. "It could make things worse for mutants everywhere."

"I need to leave." Charlotte's voice was uncommonly cold and clipped. The other two teens didn't say anything, they settled for an understanding nod instead. Whether it was Dani's frustration and overall stress or Agent Pierce's determination and resolve mixed in with everyone else in the coffee shop; she couldn't discern what factor was practically making her see red. It was an annoying and highly confusion emotion for the usually tempered empath. She stepped away from the counter and began to walk toward the door with tensed shoulders.

It could make things worse for mutants everywhere…

I'll have to come with an arrest warrant

Charlotte bit her lip and clenched her fists. A part of her was screaming to run out of there and warn Kevin about what was being said about him as if he were some kind of object that was dangerous. He was a teenage boy! Her hand reached out, and she grabbed the knob of the door, muscles tensing lightly to prepare the natural action of opening a door—and she froze as she once again heard Pierce's voice ring through the air nearby.

"Please. Just think about it."

You want the woman to think about how she has a choice between turning in one of her own students or her responsibility to keep all the others safe?

"And by the way, excellent coffee here."

She hadn't heard that last sentence. Cheshire was already out the door, marching her way resolutely toward the institute.

She needed to see Cessily.

Cessily Kincaid and Charlotte Price, September 17, The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning Library

"You want me to what?" Cessily looked up from reading her science textbook with a look of pure shock and badly hidden anticipation, brows raised incredulously.

Most of the anger she had been experiencing at the Grind Stone had definitely worn off and faded into the wind. However, there was still an inkling of the negative emotion slithering about her gut. It unnerved the empathic teenager. She had mulled over the reasons behind the mentioned emotion on her way to the library but came up with only one solid theory.

A big part of her felt that Kevin was one of her respected peers, if not her friend. He didn't deserve to be punished for something as terrible as his father's death when the entire ordeal was an accident. She could see it in his eyes—his very core of emotions. Kevin was not a bad person. Cheshire was angry because Danielle and Agent Pierce had no right to condemn a boy for his father's passing. She couldn't very well wage war against the authorities, but she could try to help Wither in her own way.

"I want you to give Kevin a hug, for friendship's sake," she repeated.

The metallic-skinned girl's expression did not change, despite Charlotte repeating herself. If anything, she looked even more confused than she did before. Pink lips pouted slightly, the strawberry blonde oddly lost for words in which she could explain the odd idea.

Finally, she settled for honesty. "He's always so sad. A hug makes people happy?"

"You don't sound so sure, Charlotte."

"Do I? That's because I'm not." A somewhat rueful smile took the place of her usually calm grin, eyes twinkling nonetheless. It took a little while, but after a moment, Cessily sighed in defeat.

She scowled and turned away with her arms crossed; Cessily's own odd way of blushing, considering she didn't have blood anymore. "He might not like hugs."

"Or he might like them and getting one after being unable to touch someone for such a long period of time will make him the happiest kid alive," she countered, "Or… you know… at least not in the awkward sense? Because then that would just be hilarious."

"Charlotte! That is not cool!"

The freckled teen held a finger to her lips, trying to stifle her giggling and failing miserably. "Hush, Cessily. We're in a library!"

September 17: That Night, The Xavier Institute For Higher Learning Campus

"They are everywhere…"

Sofia floated about three feet from the ground, the wind lifting her up and supporting her as she peeked over the brick wall that separated the school campus from the outer world. Her fingers had a light grasp on the tough blockade. There were F.B.I. agents outside of that wall, on patrol.

A blonde male agent spoke into his cellphone. "Pierce is an idiot. We should just take the kid tonight."

Hopefully they are not truly serious…

"Can you hear anything, Sofia?" whispered Josh from behind her. All of the New Mutants were standing on the lush ground below, watching their leader with mixed expressions. She licked her lips, a nervous tick. "The wind is bringing me their voices."

The Venezuelan female released her control of the wind, landing with muffled force due to the grass underneath her. Sofia's entire squad was watching her in anticipation.

"Some of these F.B.I. agents are not as sympathetic as Agent Pierce is."

"Huh. I wonder why," hummed Luka with an arched brow that did not indicate interest. His expression was its usual stoic calm, but his clenched jaw revealed just how worried he was. It was easy to see that the boy was not happy with his leader's plan. But it wouldn't be the first time and it most certainly would not be the last.

She seemed to ignore the Russian teen's comment. "David, is there anything you can tell us?"

As always, the team strategist did not comment or argue. He leaned his head back on the brick wall behind him, closing his eyes in concentration. "I've picked up all sorts of F.B.I. procedures. They're probably using a standard deployment to watch and contain," he explained calmly, "If that's the case, there's probably just a single car watching the gate by the stables."

Their leader then had them move along the wall. Luka kept his gaze toward the ground, a troubled scowl on his face that generally went unnoticed by his teammates. This just seemed to scream bad plan all over the place. Luka hated bad plans.

Josh's voice caught his attention, making him look up and stop just before he bumped into Noriko's back. "Are we really going to take on the F.B.I.?" Shocking, that it'd be Josh who offered the first point of reason…

"I have my reservations...," stated David, turning back to look at the rest of the squad, "This isn't a Field Day exercise. We could be facing some serious trouble."

"David's right." He might not be best friends with the guy, but Luka respected David's honestly and intelligence in the situation. Everyone else was worried for their necks or wanted to prove something. David, however, was stating the damage that they could endure as a squad.

Kevin didn't seem too happy about David and Luka's differing opinions, though. "Hey, if you're not up to this, David, why tell us the best escape route?"

"Because Sofia asked me to and she's in charge. I just don't know if it's a good idea, Kevin."

Luka scoffed, hands appearing from where they were stuffed in his jean's pocket to lift his palms in a half-hearted shrug as if to say 'what can you do?' "That's because it's not."

While Noriko seemed somewhat reluctant to agree, she did speak up, but not in Luka or David's defense. "You didn't hear what we heard at the Grind Stone. Dani's under some major pressure."

The air was tense for but a moment. They all knew that in the end, the decision wasn't really their call to make. If Dani, Kevin's advisor, agreed that they should turn him in…

"I don't really want to go up against the F.B.I. but I don't think we can let anything bad happen to Kevin," Laurie muttered while her hands fidgeted and she looked at the ground shyly.

"Thanks Laurie." The brunette teen's face lit up more than it had in days.

Their squad leader had made it to the gate, leaning forward a bit to take a peek to the situation outside, expression hard and determined. "Do not worry, Kevin. We will take care of you."

She turned to face David, expression not changing. "Sorry David. But we are going to do this."

His eyes widened at her words, palms spread in disbelief. "We're not just going to walk through the gate, are we? They'll spot us in a second!" Please tell me she's thinking in stealth, and not just this crazy objective!

"No. I will take Kevin over the fence with my wind."

"That sounds like a great plan," said Luka. There was more than a little bit of sarcasm in his tone, and his almost wolfish grin didn't send out any waves of comfort. It actually earned him a cough that sounded like a badly disguised laugh from Josh.

David looked at Noriko. "We'll need a distraction."

"One distraction coming right up!" she exclaimed, shooting the squad a peace sign that was already crawling with pent up electricity.

She ran forward to the gate and crouched partially behind the wall. A wicked grin split her face, drawn forth by pure adrenaline. The Japanese girl's powers crackled to life at her fingertips for but a second before they shot forward and made an arcing strike across the street, past the car, and into the tree nearby. The agent cried out, shouting into his phone for back up while jumping out of the car, gun now drawn.

The wind picked up around them. Sofia was now using her powers to lift both her and Kevin over the wall and onto the street on the other side. Her hair whipped around her as she whispered a soft assurance to her somber squad mate. "Do not be afraid, Kevin. The wind has you. You will not fall."

It's not really the wind I'm worried about, he said mentally. Kevin didn't want to be arrested, but he didn't want to get shot, either.

"Stop right there!"

Just the tone of voice made their muscles freeze for just a moment. Sofia and Kevin turned to see Agent Pierce standing not too far away with a gun pointed at them. "Do not move. I don't want to shoot you!"

Then don't point a gun at us! Kevin's mind shouted in panic. Absently, his hand twitched, a sudden urge to use his powers in defense creeping into a corner of his mind. If he was going to be threatened by some suit with a gun, he might as well gather a defense of his own. So he began to sneakily pry off his glove…

"Agent Pierce! Justin! No!"

Danielle Moonstar ran in and yanked Justin Pierce's shoulder back so he would be forced to face her and her worried anger. The man didn't look intimidated.

"Mr. Ford was trying to leave campus!" And you think it's a good idea to pull a gun on me? It just goes to show how convicted I already am. Why hold a trial when I already know the outcome?

The advisor to the New Mutants was also not so easily swayed. "I'm sure you're mistaken. The kids often have a craving for late night trips to the Grind Stone." The expression on her face, especially the hard look she directed toward her two students, meant that she knew exactly what they had been up to beforehand. "Am I right?"

"Yes, Miss Moonstar," agreed Sofia. She had stepped in front of Kevin, a sign that she was planning to defend him against Agent Pierce if anything were to happen. Her hand was on the slightly shorter boy's shoulder, glare directed to the federal agent.

With all of the negative looks being sent his way, Justin got the message and put away his gun. Once it was out of sight, he looked at them. "… Fine. I'll be back tomorrow. Just remember what we talked about." He made his exit then, shooting them a final glance that made Kevin involuntarily tense up.

Dani grabbed their shoulders tightly. "Kevin, Sofia… come with me," she whispered after glaring at Pierce's retreating back, grip on their shoulders tightening a bit as she guided them back to the gate entrance where the rest of their team waited.

"You kids almost made a horrible mistake."

Surprisingly, Laurie was the first one to speak up, stepping forward with worried look on her face. "We can't just let Kevin—!" "Nobody wants to see Kevin get into any trouble."

Except the agents, of course, but that's their job, thought Luka with a grim sigh.

Kevin didn't look too hopeful, himself. That or he didn't wholly believe Danielle. "That's good to hear, Miss Moonstar."

Dani took the reins again, looking at her squad of students. "But this is an issue for the school and for Kevin. You can't involve yourselves. You'll only make things worse."

That seemed like the incorrect thing to say around Sofia at that moment, because the brunette lashed out, hands on her hips in a classic post of displeasure. "It is wrong. Kevin is on our squad. He is our responsibility."

It was David's turn to attempt to diffuse the situation. He put his hand on Sofia's shoulder, a gesture he believed would calm her down from her sudden act of passionate fury. "Sofia, stop. You're being overly emotional." Why is she like this?

"Wrong thing to say, comrade," muttered Luka as he pinched the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes tightly, "Wrong thing to say."

He was right. Sofia rounded on David, entire body tense. "And what if I am? I will not apologize. That is who I am, and I am the leader of the New Mutants. You didn't want it, remember?"

Is that what this is about?

Before he could say it out loud, she was already walking away angrily. "Sofia!"

"Let her go," said Noriko, looking at him in understanding. She knew he had only meant well. The entire squad, it seemed, shared his belief that Sofia had been way too emotional about this. At least the reason behind her erratic state was becoming a bit clearer.

Kevin finally spoke up then, tone distressed and more than a little hopeless. "Wow, I really know how to bring a house down…"

"Kevin… none of this is your fault," countered Dani.

"Yeah," whispered Luka with an angry glare directed at Sofia's back, "This isn't your fault."

September 18: Lunch, The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning Dining Hall

The Hellions were sitting at their respective table (except for Jay, who sat close to said table along with Charlotte since she opted to sit with him since Kevin began to join), by now expecting Kevin to automatically sit with them upon arrival if not with his squad. Today, however, he moved to sit by himself, distant from both tables.

"That's… highly troubling," breathed Charlotte, her hand pressed to her forehead as if in pain. Jay looked at her, worried, but she brushed him off with a careless grin. It's all… black despair and greys. Like a dark storm cloud… What's happening to you, Kevin?

Cessily's eyes followed him silently until he sat down. "He looks so sad." The concern in her gaze was actually heart-warming to anyone who could see just how much she cared about the boy.

"Yeah, poor guy, Cess. The whole school is talking about him," agreed Julian, offering a sincere glance toward Wither from the corner of his eye before he turned slightly toward Cess. Ever since the encounter between them in the hell, Julian had definitely stepped up to be kinder to the metallic girl, acting as an older brother might.

Santo sat up straighter. "Julian, we were talking about him up till yesterday. He's dangerous."

"Yeah, man. He's a black hole of bad energy. People don't like him. We should stay clear," confirmed Brian, tone earnest as he attempted to make Julian see that maybe Kevin wasn't the kind of person he'd want to hang out with.

Julian scoffed. "That's nuts."

That brought an amused grin to Charlotte's face. "Things are about to get a bit more interesting, my friend," she whispered to Jay. He didn't quite understand, and visibly jumped a bit when Julian all of sudden clambered on top of the table, telekinetic aura surrounding him and reflecting a green energy in his eyes. "Listen up, everybody! I said

"Listen up!"

Items began to randomly float about in a general radius around the mutant. Glasses, plates, and other relatively light objects hovered about.

"You've all been talking. Gossiping. About how one of our classmates is going to jail. You should be ashamed of yourselves. He's a mutant. Just like you and me. Some Flatscan from the F.B.I. shows up and says he's dangerous and you believe it?" Julian spread his arms open, items floating just a little bit higher as if to accentuate his point. "So Kevin Ford is dangerous? We all are. We're the next step in evolution and they want to shut us down. And all you can do about it is gossip."

He then gestured toward Kevin, looking at the group of students. "Take a good look at Kevin 'cuz he could be you."

Julian actually began to float at that moment. He gestured to Ben Hammil, leader of the Paragons. The attention made the flames covering his entire head flare up for just a moment in surprise. "Ben, when you're flame powers manifested, you torched your town's park. Did they send you to jail? Because if Kevin goes, you might be next." Now he pointed to Noriko, who glared in his direction. The sound of crackling static could be heard as a low hum around the room. "Hey, Nori, you were homeless, your powers were out of control, you robbed the local coffee shop. They come for you yet?" Charlotte groaned audibly and dropped her forehead onto the table. Her winged friend looked at her in absolute confusion. "And Dallas, first time you went into shadow form, your grandfather had a heart attack. Are you responsible for that?"

Did you have to drag him into this? She lifted her head from the table and returned to her regular seated position, a flustered scrunch on her freckled face. Dallas doesn't like being mentioned like that at all, not in that way…

Her eyes found Dallas'. He really wasn't pleased, jaw tensed and eyes haunted. The boy still very much blamed himself for his grandfather's death.

"Thanks for the help," praised Charlotte as they were walking through the halls to return to the Rec Room where the other students were waiting for them, "If it helps, I'm glad I volunteered to get drinks to escape a migraine now."

A smirk appeared on his face before he made a response. "I'm kind of glad, too, Charlie."

"… Charlie?"

Another small smile was on his face, warmer this time, and it made her face warm up. "Don't friends give each other nicknames where you're from?"

"I'm from New York!"

He laughed. It was a deep sound. "Good! Then you know what I mean, Charlie. You can relax around us, you know. If you ever feel overwhelmed… just tell me and we can take a walk."

"Thanks, Dallas."

"Don't thank me, Charlie. We're friends now."

So her friendship had developed into a crush over time, yes. But she undoubtedly kept it under so many wraps that a mummy would flip at the sight of it. However… she couldn't ignore that persistent ache that echoed around in her heart when she saw that pained expression on Specter's face.

It seemed Julian was not yet finished with his moving speech, however. "Sofia, didn't you trash your dad's store? You got to avoid jail because you came here." He calmed a bit, but the effect of his words did not at all waver.

"This is the place we go to be safe. They want to take one of us away and all you can do is gossip. You're terrible mutants. You're not fit to be called Homo Superior."

So… as long as a mutant understands they are not above the law, they are not allowed to be? Your passion is moving, Julian, but your words… these words are propaganda. They don't need to make sense, as long as they work. She looked around and sighed under her breath, noting the disbelieving look in Jay's eyes at what he'd just witnessed. But not everyone is fooled…

She couldn't ignore the looks of admiration that seemed to appear on many of the students. That bothered the empath—and some of the New Mutants—it seemed. There was no doubt that some of the teachers would find Julian's riveting speech somewhat haunting. It did resemble many famous words spoken by a certain manipulator of metals.

"Ah can' believe some people are actually listenin' ta him…"

"Unfortunately, Jay, I can."

While Charlotte could clearly see the fault in Julian's words, sure, but she could also definitely see the appeal in them. They really could all be dangerous, in retrospect. Even they did tend to forget that at times.

If there was one thing she could say for Julian's speech, it was that she saw it brought a smile to Kevin's face. For some reason… she felt like that was enough at the moment. Something told her that Cessily thought the same thing.

As if he heard her thoughts, the brunette boy turned to look at her. His smile lit up just a bit more, something that never happened when he looked at the members of his own squad (except Laurie Collins, of course). Cheshire gladly returned the gesture with a warm and honest smile of her own.

Her attention was returned to Jay when she felt him cross his arms in annoyance. It looked like someone didn't agree with Julian's speech at all. She turned to face the red head.

The look they shared set one common thought in motion. It wasn't one they enjoyed, honestly, but they knew was inevitable.

This wasn't going to end well for anyone, especially Kevin.

Cessily Kincaid and Kevin Ford, September 18: Evening, The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning

There weren't a lot of things that could make Cessily Kincaid feel awkward. Giving Kevin Ford a hug as he walked into the basement to work on his next sculpture was definitely one of them, however.

The teenage boy tensed up at the contact. She thought he would rip away from the embrace and tell her to leave—a semi-similar repeat of what happened the last time he'd touched her weird skin. It wasn't as if she could blame him. She was a freak among freaks… wasn't she?

Sure, Julian's words had definitely helped her, but there was still that snake of doubt that lay coiled about in her gut. It would strike at the most random times now. She would feel her self-confidence disappear as if it had never even existed, draining her emotionally. But this time, as she embraced Kevin Ford, the feeling did not appear. She remained confident despite the awkwardness of it all.

Kevin seemed to somehow feel that she wasn't going to back down. For some reason, he didn't want to either. It definitely took him a while longer than was humanly correct, but he finally returned the hug somewhat hesitantly. But not at all reluctantly, he silently admitted.

"Thanks, Cess."

She laughed softly, breath hitting his ear and fluttering his hair a bit. "Don't thank me for giving you a hug, Kevin. You looked like you needed one and I wanted to."

Cessily could feel his smile widen as his skin stretched a bit against her cheek.

For a moment, she wondered if he minded her metallic skin. She wasn't actually flesh anymore, therefore, she wasn't warm. But because they were still in the warmer months of the year, she wasn't cold either. It was more of a lukewarm temperature. But even then, some people might find that temperature unpleasant.

Kevin made absolutely no note of it as they stayed in that position for a very long while. She wanted it to last as long as possible.

Eventually… it had to end. She knew that.

It was nice that he tightened the hold just a bit before he released her though, and it made her feel butterflies even after he had let go. If she could still blush… she would have been.

With a nervous cough, Kevin rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. His happy expression slowly began to fade away again, as if his problems started to wash over him as he sobered up. Cessily knew she couldn't stop it. Things were hard for him at the moment. All she could do was make sure he knew that the Hellions—especially her and Charlotte—were there for him. Even Julian was standing up for him now!

"You know that we're not going to let anything happen to you, right? You're a great guy, Kevin, and the Hellions have got your back!"

A small smile. "You guys are really cool. I didn't think anyone here cared enough to defend me. But then Julian made that speech, and Charlotte actually smiled at me. And then you… you…"

She giggled again when he blushed.

"I wish I could be in your squad, Cessily."

"Me too. When this whole stupid mess is over, we're definitely asking Miss Frost to make a transfer for you! You belong in the Hellions!" He deserved a team that would respect him and care about him. Not one that would whisper behind his back and take the poor guy for granted just because his powers were dangerous. Anyone could be deadly. But she was impervious—so Kevin wasn't the most dangerous person in the world.

Why couldn't everyone else see that?

The gleeful smile she received from him was the only answer she needed to know. He knew he belonged with them too.

September 18, The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning Headmaster's Office

"Look, I know Kevin is probably scared. But believe it or not, I'm here to help." Danielle Moonstar had not been expecting to hear Agent Pierce's voice through the door to the headmaster's office in the school. When she had entered and seen him, she barely held her tongue in the bitter response that was bubbling through her chest. The man sounded sincere.

Emma stood and there was a cold look in her eyes as she regarded the federal agent. "Kevin has the right to be scared. That right does apply for mutants as well as baseline humans, does it not, Agent Pierce?"

"Of course it does, Miss Frost," he explained patiently, "As do the laws regarding causing the death of another person. Accidental or otherwise." There was a hint of a warning there, and the telepath could indeed sense it almost as if he had told her about the undertone of his words openly.

"Perhaps Kevin should be here…" interjected Dani. Emma instantly disagreed, despite Scott's disapproving glance. "We will discuss this with Agent Pierce. We will take care of this. That is why we're here, after all."

Scott Summers shook his head and leaned closed to his girlfriend to whisper into her ear. "Emma, we need to present a unified front on this one." His tone was absolutely grim—and, as always, authoritive.

"That would be impossible, Scott," she countered in just as much of a hushed tone, "Given that we clearly don't agree."

The air around them was tense. No one was agreeing with anyone, especially the two leaders of the school. They almost always agreed when it came to problems associating the students. Dani felt that she had to step in to at least offer her own point, just to keep the ball rolling.

She bit her lip nervously and crossed her arms over her chest, trying to ignore the glance Justin shot her from the corner of his eye. "Emma, hear Agent Pierce out." Did he just smile?

If he had, it was already gone and forgotten. Justin stepped forward to confront Emma. "I'm not the enemy, Miss Frost." His tone wasn't angry, but somewhat pleading. "I just need to know what happened in Atlanta between Kevin and his father. I have my theories, but I need to talk to him."

It was then that Emma Frost rounded on Agent Pierce, proverbial cat claws extending as she defended one of her students like a mother would a child. "Really? You have a theory? You? An F.B.I. agent who has never had to deal with a mutation?" She looked livid.

"Tell me your theory."

While Scott tried to calm the blonde woman down, Agent Pierce was thinking. How odd. She defends Kevin more readily than Danielle. Isn't he Miss Moonstar's responsibility? Why would Miss Frost react so strongly? Is it just a mere distrust of the law system because of what mutants have been exposed and dragged into or is there another reason for this strong adversity?

More importantly, however, he needed to make a statement. "I think he has a dangerous mutation, Miss Frost. And when it manifested, he couldn't control it. I think his father died by accident." He scowled in consternation. "Am I close?" Hell, I'd better be, or I think she'll skin me alive

Thankfully, Mister Summers came to his rescue. "Very close," he stated, "What can we do to make things better for Kevin?"

"He has to come with me. It needs to be handled officially. By the law."

I can't believe they're thinking of putting Kevin through all of this. But I know, in the end, I'm going to have to be the one to make the final decision. It's my duty as his advisor…

"Emma… this is my fault. I brought Kevin to the school instead of to the authorities all those months ago—." And why are you acting as if he's your responsibility? Last time I checked, Kevin is rightfully mine to protect or give up—not yours.

The White Queen gave her a knowing smile, as if she'd heard those thoughts. She probably had. "And you were right to do so, Danielle. It is most unlikely a mutant would receive a fair trial. You knew that at the time and you brought him here."

Yes… at the time. But what do I know now…?

Agent Pierce was not giving up. "Miss Moonstar… you're Kevin's advisor… Tell him that cooperating is the quickest way to get this resolved."

"I'm sorry Agent Pierce… but I just don't know if I can do that. Kevin doesn't exactly trust me right now, and telling him to turn himself in might not be the best thing to do right now."

Justin sighed, crossing his arms and scowling in frustration. "You may be right about that. But the question isn't whether he trusts you or not. You should be asking yourself whether you'd prefer him to be arrested like a criminal or freed like the victim he is. Your decision."

She looked down, ashamed. "I-I'm sorry."

The woman turned away from the agent and the headmasters, exiting the room as quickly as she could, trying to block out the storm of thoughts taking over her mind. She was feeling a plethora of emotions including guilt, disappointment, anger at Justin—at herself, sadness for Kevin, worry for him, and an odd feeling of envy toward Emma because the older woman seemed to have the young boy's respect—something she could not seem to receive.

Outside of that room, the hall had looked empty, but Dani was quickly proven wrong as she spotted Charlotte Price from the Hellions leisurely strolling along the path. The strawberry blonde stopped completely when she saw the advisor.

"Hello, Miss Moonstar," she greeted with a smile that did not reach her eyes. "You seem very upset. Is it about Kevin?"

How in the world would she know that I'm so upset about Kevin? Her empathic abilities don't allow her to know what the emotion is caused by… She's really observant. That's not a good thing for me right now…

Does my knowledge offend you, Moonstar? Just what are your plans concerning the boy you drove away once before? Will you alienate him again or have you finally learned from your mistakes?

"The issue with Kevin has been solved, Charlotte. You don't need to worry about him. Trust me. I'll make sure he's safe."

The woman received another of those empty grins. "Of course you will, Miss Moonstar."

Nothing really disturbed Danielle Moonstar. That is, until Charlotte first gave her that cold smile when Kevin had first run away from the mansion. It was as if her expression was meant to frighten you and make you feel horrible. No light reached those ocean eyes even though that cat-like grin split her face to look cheerful.

Thankfully, it seemed those had been her departing words, and the teenager continued her walk down the hallway, away from Danielle.

I guess I actually have no choice in the matter anymore, do I?

She looked down, fists clenched in determination. Kevin was going to be taken away one way or another, and she didn't want to risk the other students in the process. There was only one path she could take now.

"Mutants are not above the law," she whispered under her breath once Cheshire was out of sight.