The property surrounding Xavier's school really was beautiful. I had been there for about 5 days, not including my time spent unconscious in the medical centre. Garan, Mark and Gabrielle spent their mornings and afternoons in various classes, but I was exempt, considering that my studies consisted of observing mutants for my thesis. I had managed to get a hold of my advisor, who was pretty pissed at me, considering we hadn't spoken in months. I couldn't explain to her why I had dropped off the face of the Earth. I just told her that I had reconsidered my thesis topic, and I was changing it to something more closely related to the on-going tensions between humans and mutants. I told my thesis advisor that I was staying at Xavier's school for an undetermined amount of time, and she nearly died from excitement. I think I was forgiven.

When I wasn't writing my thesis, which I seemed to find more and more reasons to put off, I would walk the grounds. Always barefoot. I had spent too long locked up in a cold, metal facility. I wanted to feel the grass between my toes, and the wind on my skin. Often, I would wake up in the middle of the night, dreaming I was enclosed with in the small walls of the isolation tank. I could see Hunter standing above me, but he couldn't help me. Captain had him by the throat and was choking the life out of him. The whole time, Hunter stared at me with accusing eyes. I protected you, they said. This is your fault.I would wake up panting and sweating, then I would grab a blanket and run outside. Gazing up at the stars, knowing I wasn't locked up again, was the only thing that could get me to sleep on those nights.

Last night had been one of those nights. I couldn't sleep in my bed. I had woken up staring at the empty bed across from me, knowing that Tacy should be there. She should be here with me, safe and away from John's touch. Her absence felt as accusing as Hunter's glare in my dream. So I got out of bed and went for a walk. I had walked all night long, and when the sun rose, I kept walking. I never went in for breakfast. I didn't want to see anyone today. I just wanted to be alone, and maybe to cry a little bit.

I followed the tree line, right around the edge of the expansive property. The trees melded into a large forest on the other side of the iron-wrought fence. Here and there was a gap in the fence, replaced by a tree with a massive trunk, older than the school itself. I pressed my hand to one of these ancient tress, listening to the wind whisper through its branches.

"You sleep at all last night, kid?" Logan's voice came gruffly from behind me, shocking me out of my reverie. I turned to face him. He was dressed in his customary jeans and white muscle shirt, with his old leather jacket thrown on over top. He held a lit cigar in his hands, and I watched as he put it to his lips and puffed out a cloud of fumes. That same smell seemed to hang around him constantly; cigar smoke, mixed with a musky, woodsy scent. Even when he appeared relaxed, as he did now, his stance was tense, almost primal, as if he were ready to spring and attack with a feral grace at any given moment.

"I don't think so, no," I answered honestly.

"Something on your mind?" he asked. I shrugged. Logan lowered his cigar, and pressed it into his palm. I bit back a shout of protest, even as I heard the sickening sizzle of burning flesh. Logan grunted in pain, then disconnected the cigar from his skin and stowed it in his jacket pocket. I watched as the skin knit itself back together, covering the burned flesh with flawless pink skin. Logan held up his hand for my inspection. "Everything can heal, kid, if we give it a chance."

"Wow. That almost sounded enlightened, even for you," I grinned. Logan just grunted.

"Watch yourself. I'm just trying to be helpful. You know, good teacher," he said in his deep baritone.

"What exactly do you teach?" I raised an eyebrow. Logan looked offended by the question.

"Art."

For some reason, I found that funny. I chuckled once, an Logan looked incredibly satisfied with himself. "See, that wasn't so bad, now was it?" he asked, and I had to smile at him.

"No, not half bad at all," I grinned, but my initial worries crept back in to my mind, and I sighed. "Alright, you win. I'm just worried about the others," I explained to him. "Back at the MCA. We were a family, and I just left them. I figured it would be best for me to go, since I'm no one special, but now . . ."

"What do you mean, no one special?" Logan asked abruptly. I looked at him, one brow raised as if the answer were obvious. "Kid, just because you don't have any powers, doesn't mean you're not special." Logan growled. He didn't sound angry, but his voice was full of intensity. "I doubt any of your mutant friends would've been smart enough to figure their own way out of that place without getting caught."

His sudden praise made me blush. "Well, I had some help . . ." I answered modestly.

"Was it a boy?" Logan asked, and, surprised, I nodded. Logan looked smug. "I knew it. There's always a boy involved. Your boyfriend?"

I shrugged. "I guess so. He was one of the guards, but he hated what they were doing to us. He showed me the tunnel that allowed me to escape." A sudden thought struck me. "Logan, why haven't we made our assault against the MCA yet?"

"We don't have enough." I opened my mouth to protest, and Logan raised his hands defensively. "I know, we have your testimony, and the others. But the government won't take the word of four kids against a company that, as far as we can tell, is considered to be totally legitimate."

"So there's nothing we can do?" I asked angrily.

"We just keep digging, kid, and keep training, until we have something to light the fire underneath them."

In the woods beside us, I heard a sudden rustling of leaves. I heard Logan sniff once, twice, then I heard the steely grating of metal as three claws, each about a foot long and made of an impossibly shiny metal, slid out between the knuckles of each hand. He pointed those claws in the direction of the trees. "Show yourself," he threatened deeply. My body tensed.

The leaves rustled visibly, and a person stumbled through them. She was smaller than me, and her face was impossibly dirty. Underneath a layer of grime, I knew her hair would be the lightest blonde I had ever seen. "Tacy," I breathed, not daring to believe my eyes. Tacy caught my gaze, and her face split in to a dazzling white smile. She stumbled forward the last few metres, limping slightly on her left leg, and flung both arms around me. I didn't care that she was covering my clean clothes with dirt. "You're alive," I breathed. Tacy nodded firmly in to my shoulder, and I could feel her tears staining the front of my shirt.

"I take it you two know each other," Logan said. Tacy let go of me, and stepped back a little ways. She stiffened as she took in Logan. He raised both hands in a gesture of peace, even as he retracted his metal claws back in to his hands. Tacy's stance didn't change.

"Logan, this is Tacy, my best friend from the MCA." I introduced him. "Tacy, this is Logan. He's one of the X-Men. He's going to help us." Tacy glanced at Logan again, her expression doubtful. "Tacy doesn't speak all too much," I said to Logan in explanation for her silence. Logan nodded, unsurprised. I assumed he had met uncommunicative new mutants before.

"Let's take her to see Storm," was all he said.

I led Tacy across the ground and into the school. Classes had just let out, so the halls were crowded with mutant kids. I could sense that Tacy was watching them walk through walls and levitate their notebooks with as much amazement as I had on my first day there. I could see Pete and Booby leaning up against the wall outside of Bobby's Chemistry classroom. The other students still hadn't gotten used to the novelty of having me around, and seeing me with a new, somewhat dirty, and exceptionally beautiful mutant girl had them all staring as Logan led us into Storm's office.


PETE'S P.O.V

Class had just let out, and I had hurried to Bobby's class room to have a quick discussion before my second period Gym class arrived. I found Bobby outside the Chemistry room, giving advice to one of his more challenging students. "Bobby," I said, even as the student blanched and said a quick goodbye to his teacher at my approach, I tended to have that affect on a lot of the students; it rarely bothered me anymore. "You promised me last week we'd have our guy's night. You, me, Warren . . . Maybe even Logan, if he wants to come. No girlfriends, no students, just some old school fun times." I chuckled.

"Look, I know I promised, Pete," Booby said, deflecting. "It's just that Rogue really needs me right now, what with the baby, and-" I rolled my eyes, cutting his speech short. I'd heard it all before.

"Yeah, I get it. Man, being the only single one really sucks sometimes," I said, turning my head away from Bobby, towards the crowds of students milling about in the halls. That was when I saw her.

She was beautiful. Her face was streaked with mud and filth, but somehow, that made her look even more perfect. Her long, pale blonde hair was pulled back into a high pony tail, one that swung back and forth entrancingly with every step. Her eyes were a clear, bright blue that seemed like pieces of the ocean had gotten caught up in her long lashes. She was with the new girl, Carmen, who had her arms wrapped around her shoulders in a comforting way. Suddenly, I found myself wishing I was in Carmen's position. That I could be the one holding on to those delicate shoulders, offering words of comfort.

"Dude, are you here?" Bobby asked, half joking, but his face showed real concern. I felt certain I was gaping across the hall Ike an idiot, but I didn't care.

"Who is that?" I asked, hearing the note of desperation in my voice.

Bobby turned his gaze to follow mine. "I dunno. Carmen's friend from the MCA I guess," Bobby shrugged. "She's pretty."

Just pretty? She was a vision, perfection, entrancing, a masterpiece walked straight off the artist's canvas. She filled my vision, she was all I could see. All that mattered. I had to know her.


CARMEN'S P.O.V

Storm was in her office, sitting at the leather desk chair in front of the computer, when Logan led us in and shut the door behind him with a snap. Storm looked up at the noise and her eyes widened as she took in Tacy, covered with mud and dirt. "Is this another one?" Storm asked. "From the MCA, I mean?"

I nodded. "This is Tacy, my best friend," I said. "Tacy, this is Ororo, but everyone calls her Storm. She runs Xavier's school now, and she's going to help us save our friends." Tacy nodded her understanding.

"How did she escape?" Storm asked curiously. I turned to Tacy and smiled kindly. She blinked once, before signing with rapid fingers.

'After Garan, Gabrielle and Mark escaped, John was furious. He executed Tyler and Diamond in front of all of us.' I felt tears well up in my eyes, and a pang of sympathy hit me for Adam. Poor Adam, who had to watch his girlfriend die . . . 'A fight broke out, and Courtney was killed too.' I squeezed her shoulder; she had been close to Courtney, closer than any of us. 'John took me up to his rooms that night. He told me . . . terrible things.' Tacy shuddered, and I felt the urge to punch John right in his face, maybe knock out a few of his perfect teeth. 'I hurt him. I knocked him out. Then I ran. I slipped out the front doors, no one noticed me. I did my best to throw John off my trail before coming here; that's why it took so long.' Her hands stopped moving, and I nodded in understanding.

I glanced at Logan and Storm, but I only saw confusion in their eyes. I remembered that neither one of them knew sign language. I decided to give the Cliffs Notes version. "Tacy prefers not to speak," I said for Storm's benefit. "She told me that after the others escaped, John executed three of the mutants. Tacy was taken into his private rooms for a. . . personal session," I grimaced. "She was able to knock him out, and she escaped, thankfully, with her life."

'That's not all I escaped with.' Tacy reached into her bag, which I hadn't seen before, and pulled out a large manila envelope. She opened it and pulled out a large stack of file folders, each stamped with the name of a mutant kid. She handed the stack to Storm, whose eyes were wide with the sheer volume of the files. 'These were in John's office. If everything he had on all of us - profiles, test results, journals . . .'

"Ha!" I exclaimed, jumping triumphantly to my feet. "How's that for proof! In your face, government!" I did a little happy dance on the spot. Logan and Storm had each grabbed a file folder, and they were looking through them carefully. I glanced down at the stack. The name Dracoll, Carmenjumped out at me from the middle of the pile. I pulled the file out and opened it. Next to my picture was my name, birth date, birth hospital, everything about me, right down to my favorite ice cream flavor. Weird. I flipped the page. Here were Captain's private notes on my personality.

Subject had shown to be disrespectful towards authority, unnecessarily sarcastic, rude and uncooperative. Disciplinary action required. Well, no surprises there. I perused the notes, quickly scanning over the entries, chuckling quietly at some of them. Then something caught my eye at the bottom of the page. TO BE TERMINATED.

"You're right, this should certainly be enough to get to them. Well done, Tacy, and you too, Carmen," Storm said approvingly. When I didn't answer, she raised her eyes to my face. "Carmen?" she asked, quizzical as to the expression she saw there.

I sat down on the nearest chair heavily, my mind a turmoil of different emotions. Rage, betrayal, pain, disgust, and even more rage. "They were going to terminate me." I said, the calm in my voice belying my anger.

"What?" Logan asked stupidly. Tacy's hand had flown to her mouth in pain in shock.

"They were going to terminate me. They were going to kill me, to wipe my existence off the face of the earth," I felt the anger rising in my chest, and my voice rose with it. "THOSE FUCKING BASTARDS!"

"Carmen, calm down," Storm raised her hands soothingly, but I didn't want to calm down. The rage was building, but it didn't feel like my rage. The calm, rational part of my mind told me I was over reacting, and the rest of me knew it too. But something inside me had just snapped, a barrier had broken, and I could feel floods of emotion rolling around me. I stood abruptly.

"THEY WERE GONNA KILL ME! I DON"T WANT TO CALM DOWN, I WANT TO KILL THEM!" I screeched angrily. The volume of my voice surprised even me. I looked around for something to throw, I was that angry. That's when I felt a slight pressure on my shoulder, and the floods of rage evaporated with Tacy's touch. I still felt the burning, pressuring anger in my chest, but it was my own, and I could control it. I breathed deeply, squeezing my eyes shut.

"Hey, kid, you okay?" Logan asked cautiously. I opened my eyes and blinked rapidly.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." I lied through my teeth. "What just happened?" Logan shrugged, and Storm stared at me in a calculative fashion. Tacy just rubbed my shoulder's soothingly, as I struggled to hold my rage in check. "Maybe I'm just tired," I offered. "I haven't slept in days. Maybe I should just take Tacy to our room and we can sleep."

Storm looked satisfied with this. "Alright, then. We'll discuss this further in the morning." I nodded my understanding, and Tacy took me by the hand to steer me out of the office. Logan stayed behind, and I watched him take a very obvious step towards Storm sitting at her desk. I glanced back over my shoulder and gave him a very significant look, causing him to drop his eyes to the floor with either guilt or embarrassment, I couldn't tell.

Back in our dorm room, I listened to Tacy's happy squeals as she took a shower for the first time in weeks. I tried to ignore the conflicting emotions that were in my head, and outside of it too, pressing up against me and trying to force their way in. I tried to stifle them, like I had so many times before but I couldn't. The barrier had broken, and I couldn't repair It now. I could only wonder what it all meant.

Tacy finished her shower, and sank blissfully into the soft, cotton sheets on her bed. I knew that she, at least, would sleep peacefully tonight. I was glad of that; at least one of us could be comfortable. I tried not to reflect on what had happened as I closed my eyes and drifted into an uneasy rest.

My dreams were plagued with fire and hurt. I don't know if I ever really slept. It all felt so real. I could feel it all around me: sadness so deep it made me want to bawl my eyes out, pain so strong I tore at my hair, anger and rage that set my skin aflame, oblivious to my screaming. There was also love too, and happiness, and peace, but no where near enough to block out the burning, no where near enough to soothe the pain. The worst part was that none of it came from me. Every hurt, every tear, every burning angry flame, came from some one else. I felt it all as if it were my own, and I felt every reason behind it. Every lovers quarrel, every broken friendship, every whiplash, every beating and every scream was mine to live and re live. I clawed at my skin as the fire burned through me, the pain tearing open the hole in my chest with a searing pain of a bullet, piercing me through my core. My eyes flashed open, swimming with tears that were not my own, burning with fire that ate me from the inside out.

I think that's when the screaming began.


Cliffhanger! Mwahaha, I feel so evil!

The next chapter will be up as soon as Sarah finishes writing it... I have been sternly lecturing her on the importance of writing for several days, so I'm hoping it won't take to long... :P

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