ALIEN AUTOPSY ARCHIVE: Please, but ask me first. Then I can put a link to your page on my page, and we'll all be happy. AUTHOR'S NOTES: I've made a few changes, which is sorta the point of an ultimate version, isn't it? Julio Ricardo is Julio Richter, Dani Elk River is Dani Moonstar, and Illyana Rasputina's codename is Darkchilde instead of Magik. I've tried to keep up with the history as told on the pages of Ultimate X-Men, but as this is set some time in the future (and I write somewhat slower than Ult. XM is released) there will be inaccuracies. I hope you enjoy this.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE: Danielle "Mirage" Elk River, Samuel "Cannonball" Guthrie, Lilandra Neramani, Illyana "Darkchilde" Rasputina, Julio "Richter" Ricardo, Rahne "Wolfsbane" Sinclair, Charles Xavier

FEEDBACK TO: mvandyke@macalester.edu

RATING: Almost everything I write is rated at least PG-13, because people swear. I swear, you swear. don't believe me? Listen.

SETTING: The Ultimate Universe, a little bit in the future of the current stories

THANKS: First to Minisinoo, who inspired this story with her great stories set in the movie-verse. Reading her 'Heyoka' stories and seeing how her versions of Native American characters really came to life got me thinking about how the New Mutants books, which I was then collecting and reading, could be made better if the writers had done just a little bit of research. The version of Dani Moonstar who appears here is based heavily on her creation, down to the changed last name. Of course, it took more than a little bit of research, but Minisinoo was an amazing help in answering all sorts of questions. Thanks to Sam, for letting me bounce character ideas off of him. Much of this version of Doug is thanks to his input. The characters are, of course, all the property of Marvel Comics.

Chapter One: Beginnings

"Ah'm still not sure of this, sir." He ducked to get through a low doorway, keeping his steps close together to keep pace with his wheelchair- bound guide.

I understand your reluctance, Samuel. Sam flinched. Is anything the matter?

"Ah'm not used to having people talk right into mah head, that's all." Charles Xavier smiled, but did not laugh. His face remained serious. The smile did not extend past his lips.

You'll get used to it. Sam took a deep breath as Xavier led them into his study, moving his chair into place behind the desk. "Samuel Guthrie, I'd like to introduce you to your classmates. " He blushed and ducked his head in greeting as three pairs of eyes met his. "Illyana Rasputina." She stood near the door, eyes hidden behind thick lashes. Her head and body were draped in a thick cloak, but Sam could sense power in her, a wiry energy, tensed like a spring and ready to explode at any moment. "Julio Ricardo." He was skinny and tan, probably Hispanic, Sam thought. His dark hair was long on one side and shaved on the other and he seemed uncomfortable in his well-pressed clothing. He brushed hair away from his face and nodded, and though he didn't smile, Sam saw something of welcome in his dark eyes.

"Hey." His accent was thick. He sounded younger than he looked.

"Danielle Elk River." She sat in an armchair by the fire, back straight like she was at tea with her grandmother. In her lap was the head of a large wolf that sat at her feet. Both girl and wolf had deep, bright black eyes, Danielle's like two pools that reflected everything but told nothing, the wolf's betraying intelligence and distrust. She nodded, and Sam wondered if the pet reflected its mistress's emotions. "And Rahne Sinclair. " He frowned and looked away from the girl and her wolf to scan the room for the mysterious sixth inhabitant. And stepped back in surprise when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, as the canine's face flattened, muzzle disappearing, reddish-brown hair vanishing into pale, freckled skin, torso lengthening until the wolf had transformed into a young girl with reddish-brown hair and bright, black eyes.

"Um. hi everybody," Sam stammered. Danielle smiled and stood. She was tall and muscular, with darker skin then he'd ever seen in his life and slightly angular eyes. He tried not to stare at her, though he was fascinated with her exotic look.

"Welcome to Xavier's, Sam."

"I'll let Danielle show you to your room so you can rest from your drive. We meet at six thirty for dinner. You're all dismissed."

*****

"So where're you from Sam?" she asked as she guided him through halls fancier than the nicest hotel back in TOWN NAME. He'd fallen behind, mesmerized by the thick carpeting, paintings and chandeliers. "It does take getting used to," she said with a laugh.

"Ah'll say. Ah'm from Kentucky. Never been out of the county before now, either. This place is like a museum."

"Xavier's museum of freaks and outcasts." He blushed a little.

"Where're you from Danielle?"

"Colorado. And call me Dani."

"Dani then. This is mah room?" She laughed again. He liked the sound of her laugh, thick and deep and easy.

"That's what I said. But the Professor has money and he isn't afraid to use it." He put his bag down by the door and stood uncomfortably, not sure what to do with himself in such a huge room. "I can wait around while you unpack, then give you the grand tour. Or maybe you wanna rest?"

"Nah, Ah've got too much energy to sleep." He wandered around the room, almost afraid to touch anything. He tried to pick his jaw up off of the floor, and felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. Dani perched sideways on an armchair and watched him with tilted head and curious eyes. She played with a piece of her hair, twisting and smoothing it before starting a braid. Sam brought his duffel over to the closet and set it on a nearby table. Two pairs of jeans, a pair of dress pants, a collared shirt, three tee-shirts, sweats, a sweater and two ties. Underwear and socks. The shelves were remained depressingly empty. He held framed pictures of his family and looked around for places to put them. Dani stood and came over to his side.

"Your family?" Sam nodded, blushing again. "These are your parents?"

"Yea." He arranged and rearranged the four photos, keeping his eyes firmly on his hands.

"Your mom is pretty."

"She was young when Ah was born."

"You're the oldest?"

"Yea." He pointed to the larger of the pictures. "This is me and mah brothers and sisters."

"What're their names?" Sam pointed to each face.

"The tall one in the back is me of course. Mah mother's next to me, holding Ruth. She's gonna be three next month. The redheads in the front are Louis and Liz, he's 7 and she's 10. The girls are Paige and Jo Ellen; the blonde's Paige, she's 13, and the dark haired one is Joelle, she's 12. The boy with the guitar is Josh, he's 15, and sitting next to him is Jeb, he's 9. The boy in his lap is Matthew, he just turned 5. Oh, and Tom had the chicken pox when we took the picture. He's 7."

"You're dad ain't there?"

"Naw. He died right before Ruth was born."

"I'm sorry. Family is life, Sam." She paused a moment. "You done packing?" He nodded. "Then let me show you 'round this nut-house." He let her lead him out of his room, wondering as she did how he would ever find it again. She kept up a running commentary as they walked, and he found himself relaxing.

"How long have you been here?"

"Not so long. But I was here a few years ago. The X-Men found me, helped me out when my power was being really bad. Asked me to join, but I said no way to that. I had other stuff to do." Her face clouded.

"Who were the X-Men?"

"The last class here at Xavier's."

"What happened to them?"

"They died." She closed her mouth tight and frowned, before breaking out with a huge grin again. "Now, you seen enough of this museum type place? Check this out." They'd stopped before an elevator, old fashioned enough to blend into the opulent surroundings. She pressed her palm into the wall and a light shone, some sort of scanner. Sam had stopped trying to hide his amazement several rooms back and just gaped. The front of the elevator slid away to reveal a stainless-steel and white chamber. They walked in. Sam felt his eyes water in the bright light after the dim brown light of the mansion. "Lower level." Sam could barely feel the elevator moving. The door opened soundlessly into a gleaming hallway lined with doors. He felt like he was in a sci-fi flick. "Welcome to the real Xavier Institute."

"What is this place?" he asked, tripping over his feet as he tried to look at the ceiling and walk at the same time.

"These are the lower levels. Above, it's just mutant high. Down here, we train." She pressed her palm onto a panel like the one above, and another door slid open. They stood in a glass walled control booth overlooking a gymnasium. "The X-Men called this the danger room. Most of our training happens here. The room can simulate all sorts of different environments."

"Just like the holodeck on the Enterprise." She smiled.

"Star Trek reference. I think we're gonna get along just fine." He took a deep breath.

"You think you can show me back to my room? I think I need that rest after all." She nodded and showed him silently back up to the dorm wing. Back in his room, he sat down on his bed, expression bland. She stood by the door like she was going to leave, then came and sat down besides him.

"This is. a lot to take." She nodded.

"I remember the first time I came to stay here. Blew my mind. But they're good people here. It's okay to feel out of place Sam. Everything takes time to get used to."

"Tell me about the other kids." Dani made a face. "You don't get along?"

"Not that," she said, shaking her head. "They're an interesting bunch. Rahne's the youngest. She's a dear, but life's been tough on her. She was raised in a Catholic orphanage, and now she's a werewolf. Not the most natural progression."

"You're close?" Dani smiled fondly.

"She's like family. My power is telepathic, but I can communicate a lot better with animals than with humans. When she's in wolf form, we can speak telepathically. She has an easier time as an animal than a human. She's more in touch with herself that way. Julio's a little older then her; she's 14, and he's 16, but he acts like he's 12. You ever feel a little earthquake, that's him getting hot about something. That's what he does; creates earthquakes and gets pissed off. Only person around here with a bigger chip on his shoulder is me." Sam snorted.

"Sounds like he's the one to watch out for around here."

"The one to watch out for is Illyana-Darkchilde. That girl is bad news." Dani was silent for a long time.

"What's wrong with her?" There was another silence. Dani stood and moved to the window. A light breeze blew, and the sound of faint laughter carried on the wind.

"I don't know very much about her. She's the younger sister of one of the X-Men. Her mutant power is teleportation between this dimension and another one. Apparently the other one isn't very nice. Her power kicked when she was really young and she ended up in that dimension and couldn't get back. The X-Men tried to find her but what could they do? How do you find someone in another dimension? She was there for a long time, half her life I think. But she can travel in time between here and there, and when she finally managed to get back here, only a year had passed. But during that time, her parents were killed, and so were the X-Men. I guess she kinda lost it for a while. Xavier's done what he can, but her mind is. alien. I can get a sense of most people, even if I can't tell what they're thinking, but Illyana. she's like a black hole. You go in, but you never come out."

"Wow."

"Wow is right." The smile was back on her face. "It's good you're here, Sam. Nice to have another kid from the states around.

"Where are the others from?"

"Rahne's Scottish but she's been in the states for a couple years now. She's been adopted by Moira, the Professor's ex-wife. Julio's half Mexican, half Argentinean, and he's lived all over the world. And Illyana's Russian." She laughed. "Coming here off of the res, I figured I'd stand out, but seems like my background's as 'American' as anyone else's. Guess you're our resident Yank now." He pursed his lips. She laughed and punched his shoulder good-naturedly, but hard enough to sting. Immediately after doing it, she withdrew a bit, shifting her body away from his as though she had done something wrong. To put her at ease, Sam laughed and rubbed his shoulder in mock-pain, telling her she was strong. "Been fighting since I was a kid. See, the thing that gets me the most about this place is the silence. I'm used to houses the size of this room, filled with 20 people and 6 dogs. It's comfortable that way. Seems a crime to have so much space for only one person."

"Now there we're agreed," Sam laughed. The sound of his laugh made Dani happy. He had an infectious laugh, once he really let loose. Like her father's. "Mah family's been crammed into tiny places as long as Ah can recall, and it can be a royal pain sometimes, but Ah wouldn't have it any other way. If Ah ain't tripping over siblings, there's something wrong. Or else Ah missed dinner." She stood to go, flashing him a smile.

"I am definitely going to like having you around."

*****

"I am definitely going to like having you around." She saw the words as much as she heard them, words and picture swirling about in the seeing pool. Illyana Rasputina, known as Darkchilde, swept her hand across the pool, leaving it blank. A moment later, a servant materialized at her side.

**Yes?** Illyana asked, in the language of that land.

**You asked that food be brought, Mistress.** She nodded coldly and waved an arm, not once looking at him.

**Leave it and go.** She'd learned well the ways of this place. Survival of the fittest. If you weren't strong, you weren't respected. Without respect you were dead. As leader, she had to be stronger than anyone else. They didn't understand emotion. They did understand pain.

She took meat from the plate and ate carelessly. She'd learned not to look too hard at what she was eating. It might have been someone she knew. I'm so cold, a part of herself screamed. This isn't you! This isn't Piotr's little snowflake. How she wished she'd never returned to the world of her birth. How she wished she'd never been reminded of her beloved older brother by learning of his death. She'd survived all these years by blocking out what had been, forgetting what she'd had and thinking only of how to survive until the next day. She'd forgotten her family, forgotten her home, pushed everything so far down she thought it was gone forever. She thought she'd never feel again.

Until one day she'd reached out with a muscle that had nothing to do with her sorcery, reached out and torn a hole in her world, a hole that led back to that little farm in Russia, the place where once, so many years before, she'd tried to protect herself from an army by wishing herself elsewhere, wishing until it had come true. It had been a wish turned nightmare, and she hadn't allowed herself to want anything since then. Desire left one vulnerable, and being vulnerable meant death. So many things here to kill a poor lost child. It had been dumb luck that had led her to the Lord, and kept her off of someone's dinner plate. Dumb luck.

The Darkchilde opened another seeing pool, this one into Charles Xavier's office. He was there, planning his little crusade, following his meaningless dreams. Dreams that had killed the only person Illyana ever really loved. Learning her parents were dead, that had been easy. Learning Piotr was dead had nearly destroyed her. And she would have taken the world down with her, if _he_ hadn't interfered. She didn't need to learn how to control her powers. She knew what she could do. She'd spent half of her life training. She was the Mistress of this place, and that was all. She kept it from falling back into the chaos of when she'd first arrived. All she really needed was to take her revenge. She would kill Charles Xavier for the death of her brother, and then she would return here, return home, and never set foot on the Earth again.

Illyana Rasputina had been human once. No more.

"They're so young."

*****

"They're so young," Xavier said, resting his head in his hands. "So very young. Am I doing the right thing, Lilandra?" The woman lifted dark, avian eyes to the heavens a moment before answering.

"I believe you are, Charles. These children need someone in their lives, someone to show them they are human, not monsters. You do that for them." She moved around the desk to stand behind him, and began to stroke his shoulders. "I wish you had called me before. I want to help you. You cannot do this on your own." There was a silence, the still-awkward silence of new lovers. Xavier hung his head in contentment.

"That feels so wonderful." He touched one of her hands gently, stroking the soft down that grew from her elbows to the back of her hands. I am so glad you're here. She smiled, then leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.

"You are welcome."

"Lilandra, you and I." She silenced him with a soft whistling through her teeth.

"Not now, love. Let me just be here. You need to rest. I can help you."

"Help me work or help me rest?" he asked, eyes twinkling. She tossed her head back and made the soft keen Charles had learned passed for laughter among her people.

"You need both, do you not?" She brushed her hands together swiftly. "Now, let me see these files you are poring over."

"I'm having a dilemma, you see," he began, lifting the report off his cluttered desk and handing it to her. It was a list of names and locations, young people he'd detected with Cerebro. Mutants. "There are so many children I'd like to reach, but."

"But you are worried that what happened to your X-Men might happen again." He sighed.

"I don't want to train them to fight, but if I don't, how will they defend themselves? The world is a dangerous place for people like me."

"And those who support you." He smiled wanly.

"Of course. I wonder why there aren't more people here on Earth willing to do what you do. More people willing to take a risk and see someone for who they are, not what they can do."

"There are, Charles. But they are afraid. The people who hate yell the loudest, and it is far too easy to fall into a mob, or to become a part of a silent majority. I saw it happen on my world when my sister drove me into exile. She accused me of conspiring with the Kree against our people, all the while convincing the Shi'ar that the Kree were to blame for all the troubles our people had faced in the past centuries. She did not care about fact, only about manipulating the emotions of our people so they would rise against me and place her in the position of power she felt she deserved."

"If only hatred and prejudice were an exclusively human trait. I don't want to hide, either, but making the X-Men public only brought them pain and hardship. And death." He paused, pushing the pain back until it was only a tingle, an ever-present reminder in the back of his mind. "We must expand the school, but I worry that putting too many mutants in one place would make us a target for every group out to kill 'muties.'" She nodded, and leaned back to perch halfway on the desk.

"There are ways to hide yourself. I have allies, contacts here on Earth and nearby who could improve your defensive and cloaking capabilities a thousand times."

"I don't want to ask any more of you than I already have. The medical and holographic technologies you've given us have proven invaluable, and I don't want to be a drain on your resources."

"Charles, you are underestimating my people and my resources. I may be royalty-in-exile, but I am still royalty and there are still systems that pledge loyalty to me, either openly or in secret. There are many in the Imperium who feel my sister is throwing lives away in this war, and the people begin to long for more peaceful times. The biggest problem would be finding time for my allies to come here and install the technology." He opened his mouth to protest again, but she continued. "And I want to help you, Charles Xavier, not just because I care for you, but because I believe in what you are doing here." She paused, and kissed him somewhat timidly on the cheek. "I think expanding the school is a wonderful idea. And I think that you should send the children to contact the new students."

"I don't think that would be safe."

"I disagree. If you know exactly what sort of situation you have with each new student, you'll know exactly what you're sending the kids into. And they need to get to know each other. Even if they won't be going on missions, they need to learn how to work with each other. That's something everyone needs to learn."

"Yes, love." She brushed off her pants as she stood. She'd been on Earth for nearly two months, and had forced herself to wear human clothes as much as possible, but was still uncomfortable in them, especially pants, as Shi'ar legs didn't bend in quite the same way as a human's.

"Now, I will be in the lab if you need me. Please make a point not to need me until dinnertime."

"Yes Lilandra," he repeated, almost laughing this time.

*****

Xavier had the students assemble in the danger room after breakfast the next morning in their training uniforms. He'd designed these uniforms to be functional, not as militaristic as the X-Men uniforms, more like Kevlar gym clothes than anything else. He held his breath until Illyana arrived, the only student who hadn't attended breakfast and the one he worried about the most.

"Illyana, I would appreciate it if you joined us for meals," he said as she stood over him, clad not in her uniform but in a long tunic that opened on the sides up to her hips and left arms and legs bare.

"I do not eat," she replied. Her words were short and, though unaccented, clearly the words of someone who did not speak English easily. And the words were curt, and harsh. Sam winced. He'd been raised to be respectful to his elders, and besides, her tone was unnerving coming from such a pretty girl. He hadn't seen her face clearly the day before. She had pale blond hair set in dreadlocks, fierce eyes and heavily tanned skin. She looked like she spent much of her time outside, working hard by the look of the ropy muscles on her arms and legs. She looked over at him like she knew what he was thinking, and his eyes flew immediately to the ground.

"That may be, but you can still interact with the rest of us when we do." She nodded, face set in a look of quiet obedience that didn't reach to her eyes. "Do you have a problem with your uniform?"

"Yes." There was a silence, as he waited for more and she was reluctant to give it. "Too confining." Sam waited for the Professor to say something, but the man simply nodded. Illyana joined the other students in line, standing besides Julio, who managed to look even more nervous then usual with her there.

"I don't want to run this school like the military. Despite what you may or may not have heard about the previous class at Xavier's, you will not be asked or expected to engage in combat situations. However, you are all aware of the attitude towards mutants in this country, and how dangerous life can be even when you're simply trying to live a normal life. Therefore, I will be training you in self-defense, teaching you how to defend yourself in all sorts of situations using all of the tools available to you. This includes your respective mutant abilities, but does not exclude your physical body. Mutations should not be used as a crutch.

"First of all, I'd like you all to come forward and explain all you know about your abilities- how they work, and what you can do, and cannot do. Sam, if you would begin?" Sam cleared his throat and stepped forward.

"Um, Ah can fly, and when Ah'm flying, nothing can hurt me. At least, nothing Ah've run into so far. Ah don't know how it works exactly, only that Ah have to be concentrating, and Ah do get tired after a while. Ah've never tried running into anything while Ah'm carrying someone, so Ah don't know if they'd be safe too, but it'd sure be cool if it worked."

"Thank you Sam. Now, can you demonstrate for us, please?" Sam looked nervous, but nodded.

"Sir?" The Professor nodded. "Cover your ears, y'all." A roaring, popping noise suddenly filled the room. Everyone, including the Professor, winced, with the notable exception of Illyana, who stood as still as a sculpture, her face impossible to read. Sam was surrounded by a bright, fiery field that reminded those who'd flown of the exhaust from a jet engine. He held his arms tight at his sides and took off, making a circle of the room before landing again. He was shaking slightly.

"Are you alright, Sam?" the Professor asked.

"Yea. It's easier for me to go fast and wide then to go slow and move quickly."

"Thank you Sam. Danielle?" She nodded. Sam watched her closely, resting his hands on his knees as he caught his breath. Dani looked at the ground as she nodded, her eyes remaining on a point to the right of the Professor's chair.

"I guess I should demonstrate on you, Professor?" The older man nodded. Dani squared her shoulders and concentrated. There was a moment, and then an image appeared. There was the professor, only walking, hand laid lightly on the shoulder of another man, a man with broad shoulders and white hair. The image was as real as life for a moment, then shimmered out of sight.

"Now tell us what we just saw," the Professor prompted.

"Well, I looked into your mind and saw your desires and fears, or at least some of 'em. That was a strong one. He was your friend?" Xavier nodded. "Then I find something strong and make an image of it." He didn't seem to notice that Dani never once looked him in the eyes, but Sam thought it seemed uncharacteristically rude.

"You can see what anyone is afraid of?" he asked. Dani shrugged.

"Sometimes. I don't really see it until I make the image. All I get from people's heads is feelings, nothing I can understand."

"Thank you Danielle. Rahne." The young girl looked up and took a breath.

"I have three forms." She changed from human to half-wolf, to wolf and back to the in-between form. "When I'm like this, I have enhanced senses. I'm faster and stronger and tougher in this form than as a human." She was more relaxed in that form too, and it showed. She remained in that form as the professor's eyes moved away.

"Thank you Rahne. Julio?" The young Mexican looked to Rahne.

"Help me out, chicka?" She growled in pleasure and nodded, stepping back and taking a defensive stance, claws extended and fangs bared. "I make earthquakes." He cupped his hands together and aimed his arms at Rahne. They heard a sucking noise, then Rahne grunted and flew backwards as if struck in the gut by an invisible hand. She changed into a wolf as she flipped, landed on all fours and shook out her neck and back.

"And finally, Illyana." She held out her arms, palms facing down. Then she curled her fingers into a claw shape and reached forward, grabbing onto something in mid-air and pulling outward. Where she ripped, the world tore away, revealing a dark landscape somewhere beyond. Sam gasped.

"Limbo." She spoke softly, but her voice carried. "My home. From there I can go anywhere. Or any-when. There I am strong." It was the longest speech any of them had heard from her up to that point.

"Thank you, Illyana."

"But there is more." She raised her arms high above her head. Another circle appeared, this one larger, surrounding them all. They felt a wretch and the world was changed. The room was gone, and they were inside of that dark landscape. There were mountains all around them, stone sentinels watching over a beautiful valley. There was no sun in the sky; the light came from the mountains and the earth in soft, yet somehow menacing waves. "Welcome."

"Illyana, teleports us back immediately!" the professor commanded. She smiled. Sam and Dani exchanged a glance. It was the first time either of them had seen her smile.

"No."

Teleport us back to Earth, Illyana Rasputina. The four confused young mutants winced at the power in their instructor's telepathic command. Illyana only laughed. She threw her head back and laughed, and it echoed from the mountains like the sound effects in a bad movie. Only this was real. She raised her hands and her clothes were transformed to a tunic of blood red leather and shining silver armor. A circlet appeared about her brow and she held a bright sword in her hand.

"You are not in control here, Xavier. This is my place." She spoke more clearly now than before, and the way she stood was subtly, but importantly, different. She stood taller, prouder, here. Her eyes were opened wide, and her back was straight.

Professor? Sam questioned nervously. He sidled around closer to his instructor. The others looked as terrified as he felt. Dani, who had seen so many fearful things in the minds of others, Julio, who knew nothing of physical suffering, Rahne, who had been raised to fear Hell. This was what Hell looked like, she thought.

It's alright, Sam. Stay where you are. Xavier felt Rahne begin to panic, and reached out with his mind to calm her. "What do you want, child?" Illyana's face hardened and they saw emotions fly across her normally impassive face.

"I want Piotr!" Her sword flared like a torch. "It is your fault!" she screamed, launching herself at him. Rahne snarled and leapt towards the young woman, grasping her wrist between her teeth and twisting with all her strength. Illyana gasped, but never lost her wits. Raising her free hand, she boxed the young mutant's ear, forcing her mouth to open in pain. Then she made a symbol in the air and spoke a word none of them could understand, though Xavier felt the command in his mind. Change Rahne screamed as she was forced painfully back into her human form. She lay at Illyana's feet.

"How..?" She clutched her chest in shock and pain.

"This is my place," she said simply.

"Illyana, I understand that you blame me for your brother's death," Xavier said as calmly as he could. "I blame myself. But I didn't force him to do anything. We cannot change what is past."

"You're wrong," she said through clenched teeth. "From here, I can change the past. I can save his life." Sam watched Xavier carefully. The older man was as talented at hiding his emotions as he was at reading those of others, but Sam could imagine what he was feeling. This was the chance to bring his students back to life. It had to be unbearably tempting.

"But Illyana," Sam said, somewhat surprised to hear himself speaking, "you can't know what might happen if you change the past." She narrowed her eyes and moved her arm as though tossing something at him. He couldn't see anything coming towards him, but he'd seen enough of her power. He concentrated on raising the blast field around him, and, almost immediately, felt the surge of power that came with the activation of his mutant ability. Something bounced off of his chest and went careening into the ground near the professor's wheelchair. Against his own instincts, he powered down. "Look, I barely know you, but I don't want to fight you and I don't think you want to fight me."

"You don't know anything about me!" she screamed, her eyes flashing. The sky clouded over and lightning flashed.

"You lost your brother. Someone you loved." He stepped cautiously towards her. She raised her sword and pointed the tip at him. Out of the corner of his eye, Sam saw Julio step forward and begin to raise his arms. Professor! he thought as hard as he could, filling his thoughts with as much urgency as he could muster up. The telepath nodded, and sent a mental command to the young man to stand down. Sam sent thoughts of gratitude towards the professor and turned his attention back to the angry young woman in front of him. She was magnificent. Her thick dreadlocks blew in the ever-rising wind, her blue eyes shone with passion, and she looked nothing less than the cover of one of Sam's fantasy magazines. He swallowed hard and stepped ever closer.

"Don't take another step, or I swear, I'll cut you in half." He raised his hands slowly, palms forward.

"If you're going to kill me, I won't try and stop you." He took another step and stopped. She was barely a foot away. "Three years ago, my father got sick. I took care of him for a year and a half, as he got weaker and weaker. Every time he took a breath, it sounded like his chest was about to collapse. He started coughing blood. He couldn't sleep through the night. He couldn't walk under his own power. We took him to the hospital, but he'd been out of work so long, and we didn't have insurance, so they put him out on the street and I had to watch him die, little by little, over three months. We buried him on my 18th birthday." Illyana held his gaze and didn't move, even as, between them, Rahne stirred and slowly turned into a wolf and crawled backwards. Sam looked straight into her eyes and didn't blink. Behind him, the others held a collective breath.

"I wanted to kill every doctor at that hospital because they hadn't helped my father. They started investigating the mine where he'd worked, and found out that they'd been bribing safety officials. People from the mine came by and offered my mother $30,000 if she didn't talk about how he died. He'd had lung cancer, and they knew. They knew that sending him into those mines would kill him and they just kept doing it, kept bribing widows and letting their men get sick so they could save a few bucks. I went crazy. I put on a mask and went out late one night and destroyed that mine, and the office buildings, and everything I could get too. And I went home and when I woke up and turned on the news, I found out that I'd killed this. I'd killed this guy. He'd been working late and fell asleep in his office, and I. I knocked down this building around him and he died. And he had a family and kids and. and I'd taken their father away, just like my father was taken away from me."

The entire world was silent. Then Illyana raised her sword and swung. Sam flinched, covering his eyes against the bright light coming from that sword flying towards his face. He figured that he was about to die. He'd failed and they were all dead.

But they were not dead. They were back in the danger room. The only sounds were soft whimpers from Rahne, crouched wolf-formed at Danielle's feet, and slight murmurs of comfort from the young Indian woman as she stroked Rahne's fur. The professor took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. Sam staggered to a wall and slid down until he sat, head between his knees, his ears ringing as he ran shaking hands through his short hair.

Illyana stood quietly a few steps removed from the rest of them, the sword still in her hands, though the armor was gone. In one smooth movement, she swung the blade up and over her shoulders, and it vanished as if into an invisible sheath hanging on her back. Then she opened a tear in front of her, stepped into it, and vanished.

*****

"And you still think this is a good idea, sending them off on their own?" Xavier pressed his hands tightly together, and nodded. On the video screen, Moira MacTaggart looked older than her 50-odd years, and tired.

"Yes. Yes I do. And they've made a great step already, the way Sam took control of things and diffused the situation the way he did. I'm very proud of him."

"Of course, you're right," Moira said. "I'm just worried."

"If you want Rahne to stay here, I won't argue. You're her guardian; it's your right." She shook her head even as he began to speak.

"No. She needs this just as much as the others, if not more." Moira slumped slightly and rubbed her forehead. "Charles, what are you going to do about Illyana?"

"I think this is exactly the breakthrough we've been looking for with her. Up until now, she hasn't let any of us know how strongly she's hurting from Peter's death. Blaming me." He had to pause a moment. "Blaming me is a natural step."

"How do you know she'll come back?"

"She already has. She's in the mansion right now. Probably talking to Sam." Moira's lips tightened slightly.

"I know the girl is suffering, and my heart goes out to her for all she's lost, but damnit, she hurt my child." She gazed away from the screen for a minute, at something or someone just out of the picture, and then shook her head. "You need to stop blaming yourself, too. You're putting yourself up as a father to a lot of these kids, whether you want it or not, but part of being a parent is knowing you can't make their choices for them. The X-Men made their own choices. You have to let these kids do the same, because if you try to stop them, they'll stop listening to you, and do what they want anyhow." She smiled gently at him until he smiled back. "I'll be in touch," she said, reaching forward to cut the transmission.

"Goodbye."

*****

Sam tried to get out of the danger room and back to his bedroom without speaking to any of his classmates, but he got stuck in the elevator. He'd never entered or exited the lower levels on his own, and he now discovered that his handprint wouldn't activate the elevator. In rage and frustration, he punched the panel.

"Careful there!" Danielle maneuvered around him to lay her hand on the panel and open the elevator. He entered without looking at her. "You probably couldn't hurt that panel but you might break your hand. He clenched his jaw, but snorted in laughter and pain, despite wanting to stay angry. His hand throbbed and he massaged it roughly.

"What was that made out of, anyhow?"

"I dunno. Probably something extra-terrestrial. Most of this stuff down here is." He stared at her, not in the mood to be shocked but shocked all the same. He shook his head as the elevator door opened and they headed towards the dormitory wing. At Sam's room Danielle paused before heading to her own room, just a little down the hall. "That was a really good thing you did today." He looked at his feet.

"I was scared. I just didn't want anyone else to get hurt." She shook her head vigorously.

"Everyone gets scared. None of the rest of us could stop her. The professor couldn't stop her. If we'd tried to fight her we'd probably all be dead right now. But we're not, because of you." He hesitated, working over his question in his mind but forcing himself to ask.

"You don't hate me? You don't think. I mean, for what I did?" She knew what he was talking about, and now she knew what she would see if she reached into his mind and made an image of his deepest fear.

"It wasn't right, what you did. But nothing is going to change it now. If you can learn from what happened, well, I guess that's the only thing to do. to get something good out of it. Because if you let it consume you then there were two lives lost that night." Sam blinked to keep the tears out of his eyes.

"How come you're so smart?" Her face closed, just a little bit.

"I've killed too, Sam." She smiled and the emotion that'd passed over her face was gone. It was like a cloud had covered the sun for a moment, and then was gone and the sun was so bright and warm it was hard to believe it had ever been otherwise. Sam was half in love with her right there. "I'm going to take a nap."

"Sleep well," he said absentmindedly.

"You should get some rest, too." He nodded and slipped into his room. Now that he was alone, he tried to let go of the tears he'd been forcing off earlier, but, stubbornly, they refused to come. His head felt tight, and he could feel his pulse throbbing behind his eyeballs. He pulled off his shirt, surprised to find it, and himself, damp with sweat. Not wanting to make a mess of the fine room, he tossed the shirt over the back of a chair and staggered towards his bed. Only to find it occupied.

She sat right in the middle of the large, four-poster bed, wearing the simple black tunic she'd worn at the beginning of the training session. She sat comfortably, legs splayed and bare way past Sam's comfort level. Just looking at her filled him with rage, but it was rage tempered with a mess of other feelings he couldn't name.

"Get out." Her face was as cool and still as ice, but her eyes were fire and the muscles in her arms and legs tensed with barely contained action. "I said."

"I hear you." He stood still, trying to meet her eyes, but it was so much harder now than it had been earlier, when fear had made him strong. Now he was painfully aware of being shirtless. Skinny shirtless.

"What do you want?"

"I want." Outside of her land, her words came difficult. Through his anger, he could see how hard it was for her not to be able to communicate.

"Why didn't you kill me? Why didn't you kill all of us? You could have."

"Yes. But. you are like me." She was silent for a long time. "I want to kill. In my land, I kill many people. I should stay in my land. But this place, it was Piotr's home. It should be my home too, I think." Sam licked his lips, crossing his arms over his chest self-consciously.

"Look, I want you to stay." She gazed steadily at him, looking right through him. "Well, not here." He pointed at the bed as he spoke. She stood up, grasping the headboard to steady herself.

"You lie." She tore open one of her teleportation rifts and was gone. Sam fell onto the bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering what she thought he'd lied about. When he finally drifted off, he slept uneasily and woke often.

*****

Illyana visited the professor later that day. She didn't apologize, didn't say much at all in fact. She kept her mind clear and shielded, and he didn't probe, but he remembered his words to Moira and kept his temper. In fact, he wanted to throw her out on the street for endangering her classmates and hurting Rahne, but something told him that if she could develop a connection to her classmates she wouldn't do that again. It was him she was angry with, after all.

And so the two strong, stubborn people stared at each other for some time. They had more in common then either of them could see. They were both powerful beyond the imaginations of most people, both terribly independent people who tended to be more than a little lonely. He was an old man estranged from any family he still had, and she was the only surviving member of a once loving family. He surrounded himself with young people, trying to make a family for himself, and she needed someone to hold her and tell her she was loved and special. But she would rather tear out her own throat than admit that to anyone, even herself, and Xavier had made an art out of keeping his students at arm's length.

"There is a place for you here, Illyana," he finally said, "but I need some reassurance that you will not attack your classmates again." She stood still, arms hanging loose at her sides, face hooded. She nodded.

"You have my word." There was another long pause. Xavier half expected the young woman to teleport herself out of the office. But something held her back. "More?" she asked with a slight incline of her head.

"Just one thing." He took a deep breath. "I'd like you to get one of the other students to tutor you in English." He studied her closely for a reaction, but couldn't read anything from her. He wanted to look into her mind, but restrained himself. She'd know if he tried anything, and he didn't want to alienate her further.

"Who?"

"I want you to choose. I'll ask myself, of course." She paused only a moment.

"Sam." Xavier was initially surprised, but slowly realized that it made sense, and nodded.

"I'll talk to him about it. If he agrees, I'd like the two of you to begin immediately." She nodded and took a step backwards. For a moment, he thought she was going to exit through the door. Then she opened a portal. Xavier smelled a wisp of cold, crisp air and caught of glimpse of a snow- covered tundra. Then Illyana was in that frozen world and the portal was closed.

*****

The five young mutants were set to leave for their road trip three weeks after Sam first arrived at the institute. During that time they fell into easy patterns, even if many of them were unsatisfied with their assigned roles. Although Dani was often more reserved and quiet than the other students, she emerged as something of a leader, especially in combat training. She had a knack for looking at the entire situation and finding the solution, the weak point in whatever challenge they were facing. She was very intelligent, but didn't like school much at all. She often missed classes, and when questioned, would say, honestly, that she'd simply forgotten. She spent most of her free time outside, exploring the mansion grounds, Rahne, wolf-shaped, a silent presence at her side.

Rahne kept to herself mainly, or stayed as a wolf a little behind Dani. She did well in their classes but almost never spoke. And if Illyana was in the room, she didn't speak at all, and didn't take her eyes off of the young woman. Sam was aware of some special animosity between the two, or at least flowing from Rahne to Illyana. He couldn't tell how Illyana felt about the younger girl, but it was clear that Rahne hated Illyana, and not just for the painful humiliation she'd suffered when Illyana had forced her to transform against her will. It was on his first Sunday at the school that he first got a glimmering of what the real problem was.

Every Sunday, Lilandra drove Rahne into the nearby town of Salem Center and they went to church. It was one of the few times when Lilandra left the mansion, but she was fascinated with Earth religions and had a remarkable holographic device that allowed her to transform her exotic features into those of an average human. Sam accompanied them that first week, and had an opportunity to speak to the alien after the service, when Rahne had stopped off in a restroom.

"She seems really happy here," he said nervously as they watched her walking off, almost skipping, in fact. Lilandra smiled at him and he blushed. Even in her holographic disguise, he couldn't forget that she was an alien, that the woman he was talking to was actually several inches taller than him, and had black feathers for hair and uncanny reflective eyes like a falcon or a hawk's. As a child raised on science fiction and fantasy novels, not to mention being the son of a man who'd personally taped every episode of Star Trek from the 1960s until his death, actually meeting an alien had been a lifelong dream. And somehow, Lilandra was both nothing like and exactly what he'd expected.

"Yes, she is," she replied now. Sam loved listening to her voice, but was usually too shy to try to speak with her. "Charles tells me she was raised in an orphanage run by a church. And that they were good people, most of them, and treated her well, but perhaps a few of them were a bit too conservative." She paused. Sam could imagine that the girl's transformation into a werewolf hadn't been taken well by those conservative members. "I think that her religion has been very good for her, but she needs to learn not to judge people so quickly. Some people you have to dislike for their actions, and not because your religion has told you that they are evil." She laughed, and a few people looked over in curiosity at the odd noise. "She was terrified of me for some days when we first met, until we were able to sit down and talk."

And Illyana herself was a whole other problem. She challenged the professor on everything, sometimes to the point in which the other students got irritated with her and thought she was acting childish. And yet she got away with far more than they did. Whereas Dani was lectured for forgetting about classes, and Julio was grounded for sneaking out at night to go into town and meet one the hundreds of girls who seemed to hang on his every word, Illyana seldom received more than a disapproving glance or frown.

At first, Julio was the one most bothered by this preferential treatment, but after he was grounded (and lost most of his privileges, including the ability to enter the lower levels on his own), he began spending more and more time with Illyana. One of the few times Sam ever heard her laughing was when he saw her sitting in a tree, Julio on the ground below trying to teach her Spanish.

He'd agreed, reluctantly, when the Professor had asked him to tutor her in English. He was used to teaching others, but all of his experience came from working with younger brothers and sisters. On top of that, half of him was terrified of her, and the other half thought she was the most attractive girl he'd ever seen. He tried to temper those thoughts by reminding himself that he had a girlfriend back home, but it was hard to think of Alicia when she was back in Kentucky and Illyana was right there in front of him, seemingly unaware of the effect she had on him.

They met one evening after a particularly long day in which Dani had skipped class and Illyana had gotten not only the professor to loose his patience and yell at her, but Rahne to change into her half-wolf form, toss a desk against the wall and snarl at Illyana, who stood with something almost like a smirk on her face for a moment before turning and teleporting herself away.

Sam was frustrated with her, and tired after spending the afternoon comforting a crying Rahne. He suspected that some of his irritation came from the professor, through the discreet mental link he kept with each of the students in case any of them got into trouble and needed assistance. Sam had tried to calm down before their meeting, but had managed only to stub his toe and break one of his favorite drawing pencils. When Illyana teleported into his room just as he was changing his shirt, he lost it.

"Don't you ever knock?"

"What fun would that be?" She was a fast learner, though her words remained somewhat strained and she tended to keep to short phrases. He sighed, and then he heard her laugh for only the second time in his two and a half weeks there.

"What's so funny?"

"You." He covered his face briefly with his hands.

"I'm glad you think I'm so funny." He pulled on his shirt and took a seat at his desk. "Look, don't you ever get sick of giving the professor such a hard time? He's not the devil, you know."

"I know," she said, deadly serious. She moved towards him and sat on the desk, just centimeters from touching him with her tanned, muscular legs. He glanced at her and forced himself to look away. She rested her head on one hand, bringing her face close to his. "You want me?" It was at once equally question, offer and statement. Sam's jaw dropped and he turned bright red. He jumped to his feet and moved several steps away from the desk.

"No!" She looked right at him.

"You lie." He gasped and sputtered.

"Just. just because I think you're hot doesn't mean. doesn't mean anything." He swallowed several times. She shrugged and took one of the notebooks off of his desk, opening it to a page filled with verb conjugations.

"What is the past tense of fight, Sam?" He sank onto his bed, feeling somewhat weak. She regarded him with calm eyes until he answered. It was only after she left that Sam realized how easily she'd turned the conversation away from his questions and only Sam himself. And he became suspicious of her seeming innocence of the ways of the western world.

*****

After the disastrous history lesson, Professor Xavier went back to his office and sent a telepathic message for Danielle to meet him there. It took her nearly a half hour, but he didn't question her. She took a seat across from him and sat quietly, looking at her hands.

"Danielle, I'm concerned about you. Your mental abilities are improving wonderfully, but your grades have been getting worse. You're late to meals and training and classes, and lately, you've been skipping more and more classes." He leaned back in his wheelchair, lacing his fingers. "I want to help you, but you need to tell me how." Dani was silent for a long time.

"Professor Xavier, I really do appreciate what you're doing here. And I'm glad to be here."

"But there's something more? You're free to speak here." She swallowed, and her gaze moved from her hands to the window.

"It's just that. some of the things you want me to learn, just aren't important to me."

"And what is important to you?" She scratched her ear briefly, then folded her hands tightly again. She fidgeted slightly with her clothes. The professor had, on other occasions, commented on the way she dressed, saying it was inappropriate for her to look like she shopped at second hand stores. He offered her money, but she didn't frequent thrift shops because she had to, but because she liked the clothes she found there. She wanted to be comfortable and didn't care how she looked in the process. She'd rather buy boots that were already broken in, and save herself the blisters, and a few bucks.

"I like learning about my powers. And fighting with the others, as a team. I like being outdoors." She shrugged. "I just don't like learning about dead white men."

"You should get a high school diploma."

"Why?" The professor was momentarily at a loss for words.

"You'll need it to get a job."

"Professor, after I leave here I'll probably go back to the res. A high school diploma won't get me all that far there."

"Do you want to spend your entire life on the reservation?" She shrugged again and smiled.

"I'm here, aren't I? And I don't want to spend my life stuck in a book." Xavier sighed.

"I'd like more of our class work to be interactive, but the five of you are all at different levels and much of our work has to be individual."

"Professor, I'm 19. I don't need to be in school anymore. Maybe I can just do my own thing while the others are in classes. Or I could find some work to do around here." She fell silent. The professor nodded.

"Let me thing about it. I'll let you know what I decide. You may go." She stood and bowed her head slightly.

"Thank you Professor." Dani walked out of the office and wandered almost haphazardly outside. Julio and Illyana were sitting on the back porch, close together. She perched on the railing, stroking his shoulder and cheek with one bare foot. They looked up when she closed the screen door, unapologetic.

"Hey Dani," Julio said with a half-smile. Illyana glanced at her, then looked away as if the older girl wasn't worth her time. Dani grimaced.

"Hi Julio." She liked him, in spite of herself. He was rude and loud and irritating, but, even at 16, he had a gift for charming women.

"What's wrong?" She shrugged.

"Nothing."

"The prof yelling at you about being late again?"

"It's not really a big deal."

"You should get a watch." She rolled her eyes.

"I've never needed a watch before, and I don't need one now."

"Hey, I was the same way when I was living with my mom in Argentina. If you're early there, people think you're rude. But Americans get all anal about being on time, and the prof's the worst."

"We'll see."

*****

"You'll be driving the first leg of the trip. Your destination is Chicago, Illinois, where you'll meet with two young people, Katherine Pryde and Douglas Ramsey. Now, since Samuel and Danielle are the only ones of you licensed to drive in the United States, they will be the only ones driving, is that understood?" The five young people, assembled in front of Xavier's desk, nodded. Illyana gazed out the window, seemingly uninterested. Dani didn't look directly at the professor either, but her expression was clearly one of respect.

"We trust that you will work together on this," Lilandra said. "You each have a great deal to bring to this task."

"I'll be in telepathic contact with you at all times, the same light connection we've worked on over the last few weeks. I'll expect one of you to contact me in the more traditional manner every evening, to keep me briefed on your progress. If you get into any trouble, let me know and Lilandra and I will fly to your location as quickly as we can, but you'll be essentially on your own." He paused briefly to emphasize his next words. "I do not expect that you'll get into any trouble. The Ramsey and the Pryde families are expecting you, though neither have given any commitment that their children will accompany you. You'll be acting as ambassadors for this school, not pressuring anyone into doing anything." He looked briefly at Lilandra, then nodded at his students. "Good luck, and be careful."

"And have fun," Lilandra called as they began to file out of the room. Glancing back at them, Sam saw the look that passed between Xavier and Lilandra, and he felt a pang of longing to see his parents together again. Dani closed the door as she exited the office, and, their bags already packed, they headed out to the waiting car.