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Retribution

The figure pulled its hood a little closer around its face. Though the thick, hooded robe was hardly the height of fashion, a certain amount of ceremony was required. Skilled hands placed talismans, traced runes, spread glittering powders and set candles ablaze.

When nothing happened the figure frowned deep within the shadows of the hood, then slapped itself on the forehead. Certain things needed to be collected before the spell was cast. Personal things…

‘Guess I’ll have to do a little…collecting…at school in the morning…’

~~~~~~

Kitty let out an exasperated growl as she once again hit the mat. She and Kurt had been training with Logan all afternoon, which was bad enough. And to make matters worse, none of the others were being put through this torture. Just the two of them.

And to top it all off, Kurt had taken to the martial arts like a duck to water. He’d been flipping her around the mat since they’d begun practicing. And with his speed and agility she couldn’t even catch him, much less throw him.

“Like, why are we the only two that have to do this?” She demanded.

“Logan is training all of us, Kitty.” Kurt pointed out.

“I don’t see anybody else here, do you?” She countered.

“Elf’s right.” Logan said in his low, emotionless tone. “But you two need a little extra training.”

Kurt cocked his head at the comment. “But I am already better at this than Evan…” He frowned. “Vhy is he not here?”

“And why do we need to know this stuff anyway? We’ve got powers…” Kitty protested.

“Okay…” Logan sighed. “How do I explain this? You two have got what we call ‘quiet’ powers. They ain’t much good to you in a fight. They’re really only defensive. You can use ‘em to escape danger, but you can’t really use ‘em offensively. So you need other ways to defend yerselves…”

He offered Kitty his hand and pulled her to her feet. “Elf’s got a bit of an advantage over you. His gymnastics training has given him a good base to start with.” He looked at the blue-furred teen. “What he needs is some discipline…” He turned back to Kitty. “Which is something you’ve pretty much got in spades.”

“Are you calling me undisciplined?” Kurt asked.

“If the shoe fits…” Logan began, glancing down at Kurt’s misshapen feet. “If you’ll pardon the expression.”

“I have discipline.” He protested. “Vhen it is needed…”

“Obviously you don’t think that applies to your grades.” Kitty giggled.

“Hey…ve cannot all be child prodigies like you.” He snorted. “I am still passing…”

Logan sighed. “All right already! Get cleaned up. It’s almost time for dinner.”

~~~~~~

“Senior Class Carnival…” Evan mused as he read the poster taped to the wall near his locker. “Sounds like fun…” He looked at his friends with a smile. “Whatta you reckon?”

“Way cool.” Kitty beamed.

“Oh, puh-lease.” Rouge rolled her eyes. “Ah didn’t go to the last one…I’m sure not goin’ to this one… it’s kid’s stuff.”

“And what are you?” Evan countered. “A senior citizen? You’ll back me up, right, Kurt?”

“I do not know, mein freund….” He shook his head. “Something about the word ‘carnival’ just makes my furred skin crawl…” He lowered his eyes. ‘Not to mention the recent…bad experience…’

“It’s not THAT kind of carnival, man.” Evan pointed out. “It’s Ferris wheels and games, music and magic, hot dogs and cotton candy…” Kurt arched his brow at the mention of junk food, one of his major weaknesses.

Evan smirked as, over his friend’s shoulder, he spied another one of his weaknesses. “Besides…you could always take your…GIRLFRIEND…”

His holographically masked dark eyes widened at the comment. Evan backed away with a wicked smile, coaxing Rogue and Kitty with him. Rogue was also smiling impishly, but Kitty looked annoyed.

“There’s my little velveteen bunny…” A voice whispered in his ear.

“Amanda?” He whispered back, a little nervously.

“Who else?” She beamed at him. “Or am I not the only girl you’ve shared your little…secret…with?”

“Vell…” He glanced to where the others were standing, Evan trying to encourage him, while, at the same time, attempting to give him some privacy. “There are a handful of others that…OW!”

“Sorry.” She said sheepishly. She had been absently brushing his bangs from his face, her ornate ring getting tangled in his silky locks. “I really should stop wearing this…” She said as she disentangled it from his hair. “I’m forever getting it caught in my own hair…” She looked at it, several strands of long hair, now its natural indigo colour since it had been pulled from the inducer’s field of influence, were twisted about the setting. She pulled it off her finger and slipped it into her pocket.

“No harm done.” Kurt smiled. “But if you think I need a haircut…you just have to say so…”

~~~~~~

Kitty frowned as the pair continued with their innocent sweet-talk. “He is spending way too much time with that girl.”

“Sounds to me like you’re jealous.” Rogue teased.

“As if!” Kitty bristled. “I’m just worried about him. I mean, what if she finds out what he’s really like?”

“She knows…” Evan shrugged.

“WHAT? HE TOLD HER?” Several nearby students glanced their way at Kitty’s sudden outburst.

“Chill, Kitty.” Evan glanced about quickly, making sure she hadn’t attracted too much attention. “She’s cool with it…” He glanced back to where Amanda was gently stroking Kurt’s cheek. “See?”

~~~~~~

“I wish you didn’t have to hide who you really are.” She said softly to him.

“Not everyone is as open minded as you are.” He replied softly. “I have found this from unfortunate experience…”

“Unruly mobs with flaming torches, huh?” She asked, trying to lighten the mood.

“Something like that…” He chuckled. “Besides…just about everybody vears some kind of mask…”

“True.” She sighed. She noticed the poster that the quartet had been studying earlier. “So…what do you think?” She asked, indicating it.

“The carnival?” He queried. “I do not know…”

“C’mon.” She coaxed. “It’ll be fun. You…and me…at the top of the Ferris wheel…” He didn’t answer, just smiled at her shyly.

~~~~~~

His friends weren’t the only group that noticed the interaction.

“I don’t get it.” Pietro arched a brow as the pair separated, both heading to separate classes. “How’d that freaky little fuzz ball manage to land a babe like that?”

“Beats me.” Todd shrugged.

“Pity?” Fred suggested.

“She probably doesn’t know what he’s REALLY like.” Lance added.

Amanda, pausing as she reached them, smirked. It was obvious that she’d heard them. Leaning in close, she spoke to them in an almost conspiratorial tone.

“Did you ever consider that maybe I like the feel of velvet against my skin?”

Their jaws gaped as she continued on her way.

Tabitha frowned as she exited the girls’ room a few moments later, the quartet still standing there in silence, eyes wide, mouths agape.

“I thought only Toad was into catching flies…”

~~~~~~

“Man…it is so good to be home!” Kitty sighed as she slammed open the front doors of the mansion.

“Yeah…” Evan said. “Now we’ve just got homework…and combat training.”

“Ah, man…” Rogue groaned.

“Get used to it.” Scott smiled. “You’re X-Men now.”

“How do ve get to be ex-X-Men?” Kurt asked, disengaging his holographic inducer to save its batteries.

“Oh, c’mon.” Jean ruffled his indigo hair playfully. “You love it!”

“Ah…” Ororo smiled warmly as she approached the group. “It is good to see that you’ve all returned home on time today.” Both she and Logan glanced at Kurt.

“Vhy does everybody assume the vorst about me?” He asked.

“Saves time.” Evan smirked.

“Ah, Kurt…” The professor called as he rolled into the room.

Kurt let out an exasperated sigh, looking to the heavens for help. ‘Vhat have I done now?’ He thought.

“You haven’t done anything…” Charles assured him, picking up on the thought.

“Professor!” Kurt protested at having his thoughts invaded.

“Sorry.” Charles smiled. “A package arrived for you.”

“Package?” Kurt frowned, falling into step with the professor as he made his way out of the room. As curious as the young German, the others trailed in their wake.

“Man…” Evan said as he saw the afore mentioned package. “That is one long, narrow box…”

“What could possibly be in that?” Kitty asked.

“Skis?” Rogue suggested.

Kurt had opened the attached letter, and quickly scanned it. “Cool.” He beamed, discarding the letter and tearing into the protective wrapping, revealing a simple, highly polished hardwood box. The corners were decorated with ornate brass protective plates. He flicked open the brass latches, flipped open the lid and reached eagerly inside.

“I thought these vould never get past customs…” His friends’ eyes widened at what he pulled out.

“That’s a freaking sword!” Evan almost shrieked.

“No.” Kurt shook his head. “A sword has a thick, flat blade. This is a foil.”

“Do you know how to use that thing?” Scott asked with a frown.

“Of course.” He smiled.

“You fence?” Logan arched a brow.

“Since I vas five.” He studied the blade, swishing it through the air with apparent expertise. He frowned at his own ability, finding flaw where nobody else could. “I am a little rusty. I have not been able to practice since I arrived in America.”

“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you, Elf?” Logan chuckled.

“Why didn’t you say something?” The professor frowned. “We could have organised…”

“You have done so much for me already.” Kurt said. “Brought me here…given me a roof over my head…arranged a proper education…”

“Still…” Charles mused. “It would be an excellent extra curricular activity…” He looked at Logan. “And we have been discussing different defence methods for the students…”

“Skewering people is not quite what I had in mind…” Logan grumbled.

“Not for the students, any way…” Evan whispered to Rogue and Kitty. He baulked when he noticed the look he received from the surly Canadian. ‘I keep forgetting how good his hearing is…’

“Still…” He stroked his chin as he studied the blue-furred youngster. “I’ll rig up something for yer to train with. Some sort of dummy…”

“Yeah…” Evan beamed. “It’d be good for Kurt to spend some time with an intellectual eq…ual..?” He stopped as he suddenly found the covered tip of the foil at his throat.

He looked down the blade to see a rather unusual look in Kurt’s golden eyes. There was a stern intensity there that was almost an equal to Logan’s. A mischievous smirk curled his lips, giving him a truly, demonically wicked expression.

“Kurt…” The professor warned.

“Don’t vorry…” He said as he lowered the weapon a little. “I do know how to use this thing.” He arched a brow at Logan. “And fencing is a highly…DESIPLINED…art. I vould be unlikely to use it on an enemy, let alone a friend…”

“Maybe…” Logan admitted as he took a firm grip on Kurt’s wrist and forcibly lowered the blade. “But accidents happen. Yer only to use those things in the proper setting. Clear?”

“As crystal.” Kurt beamed. He gathered up the box and disappeared in his characteristic puff of smoke.

~~~~~~

The hooded figure carefully cut around a picture of a jovial Kurt Wagner, isolating him from the others in the photograph. Frowning as the job was done, the figure let out a deep sigh.

‘Hope this works on the holographically masked…’

The picture was placed in a small, ceramic dish atop a few coiled strands of silky indigo hair. Both were set alight with a fragrant taper.

The figure watched silently as they burned…

~~~~~~

It was surprisingly quite for a Saturday afternoon. Kitty sat in the darkened control room high above the Danger Room. Logan had rigged up a training routine to hone Kurt’s fencing skills, and the young, blue-furred mutant took every opportunity he could to make use of it.

She was in awe as he filtered about. Coupled with his impressive gymnastic abilities his movements reminded her of the Jedi Knights in those Star Wars movies.

‘The way he looks he’s probably make a better Darth Maul…’ She giggled to herself. She noticed that he had stopped, frowning to himself. She glanced over at the equipment monitoring his heart rate and breathing. Her eyes widened. He’d been in there for nearly two hours now, and he wasn’t even breaking a sweat.

‘I had no idea he was in such good shape…’ She thought.

He walked over to a small keypad on the wall and began punching commands into it. Though she couldn’t hear him she could tell he was cursing to himself. The keypad just wasn’t designed for three, slightly oversized fingers, and he was hitting more than one key at a time.

She felt a pang of sympathy for him. ‘He is like, so really not meant for this world…’ she thought sadly to herself. It was hard enough just being a mutant, but it was much worse for him. With his…exotic…looks, far more elfin than demonic she’d come to realise, he could never be accepted. She’d found it hard to warm to him herself. He had flirted with her like mad, trying to put her at ease. At the time she wasn’t sure whether to be flattered of revolted. Now she knew he was as warm and fuzzy on the inside as he was on the outside.

But he didn’t do it anymore. He didn’t make any of his innocently provocative moves on her. Not since she’d shown an interest in Lance. He had backed off, nobly giving her a chance to explore those feelings. Even though she could tell it hurt him. Tabitha had taken advantage of his gentle nature, and she felt partially responsible. If she’d been just a little more excepting of his harmless advances, he never would have fallen for the selfish blonde.

And then Amanda had asked him out.

Amanda…who apparently knew exactly what Kurt was…and didn’t give a damn about it.

Amanda…who was sweet, caring, considerate, and truly cared for the little fur ball…

Amanda…who, whenever Kurt thought about her, would bring that sweet little smile to his lips, that soft glow to his eyes…

‘Like…listen to me…’ She chided herself. ‘You’d think I had a thing for him or something…’

She heard the machinery below her start up again, Kurt obviously having reset it to his specifications. She let out an involuntary gasp as she noticed that it was now going twice as fast as previously.

With an almost maniacal grin, Kurt jumped, ducked, dodged and parried, never missing a beat. He’d discarded his shirt at some point, and she was mesmerised at the way his perfectly toned muscles moved beneath his velvety pelt. His tail coiled sinuously, hypnotically.

“Man…Ah never realised just what a hot little bod that boy’s got…”

Kitty jumped as the sound of Rogue’s voice. She hadn’t heard her come in.

“Didn’t take you as the voyeuristic type, Kit.” She smirked at her.

“I’m not…I was just…” She stuttered.

“Gotta admit…” Rogue’s smirk never faltered. “He does look good down there…pity he’s spoken for, huh?”

“Rogue!” Kitty protested. “You know I’m not interested in him like that…what with Lance and all…”

“Ah know.” Rogue said. “No harm in lookin’ though…” She sighed. “Hate to spoil yer fun, but…” She punched the kill switch on the main console, the machinery below grinding to a halt. Kurt looked up towards the booth, obviously angry.

“Pack it in, Legolas.” Rogue spoke into the microphone, her voice echoing through the now silent Danger Room. “Ya better get cleaned up if ya wanna be ready for ya date…”

“Legolas is an inappropriate analogy.” Kurt said as he teleported into the control room. “He uses a bow and arrows. Aragorn is the swordsman…”

“Ah now.” Rogue smiled. “But Legolas is the cute little elf.”

Kurt blinked, and if it wasn’t for the fur he was certain the girls would have seen the flush of colour to his cheeks. “And the hobbits have the big hairy feet and European accents…” He thought it best to cover his potentially noticeable embarrassment.

“You’re, like, a total Lord of the Rings amalgam…” Kitty giggled.

Kurt sighed. “Yes…I would have been a much better fit in Middle Earth amongst the hobbits and the elves…and the orcs…”

Kitty and Rogue exchanged a sad glance.

“Thank you for reminding me of the time, fraulein.” He beamed as Rogue. “I must not keep my lady waiting…later…” He disappeared in a flash of light and a puff of smoke.

Rogue waved her hand in front of her face to dissipate the smell that accompanied his departure. “Man…Ah wish they made an air freshener that covered the stench of brimstone…”

~~~~~~

Kurt pulled up outside Amanda’s house. He smiled innocently at Rogue. She rolled her eyes and groaned as she relinquished the front seat for his date. He blew her a kiss as he leapt over his door and headed for the front door.

“Shove over, Kitty cat.” She said as she pulled open the back door.

“This is like so unfair!” Kitty protested. “Why does she get the front seat?”

“You wanna cram her in the back seat with a girl that absorbs minds at the slightest touch and a guy who sprouts sharp bone spikes at inopportune moments?” Evan asked. “We’re supposed to keep a low profile.”

“I thought she already knew about us…” Kitty frowned.

“She knows about Kurt.” Rogue said. “Ah don’t think she knows ‘bout the rest of us.”

~~~~~~

The door opened before Kurt could even ring the bell. Amanda beamed at him, chuckling to herself as Kurt suddenly found something intriguingly interesting about his shoes. He looked at her through his dark bangs, smiling shyly.

“I have something for you.” She said, holding out her hand. She let a small, flat stone, attached to a thin leather strap fall from her fingers.

Kurt looked at it as it dangled from her fingers. He took hold of the stone. It was highly polished, pale in colour, and had some kind of rune scratched into it. Kurt had seen similar pendants before, back home in Germany. The gypsies made them, selling them to tourists, claiming they had magically properties. It was all a ruse of course, but the visitors snapped them up. They were still quite an attractive keepsake.

She smiled, holding up either end of strap as she tied it around his neck. “But you have to keep it hidden.” She said, slipping it beneath his shirt, giggling as her fingers brushed against the velvet of his chest. She instinctively knew he was blushing, even though she couldn’t see it. The holographic projection that protected his secret, marvel of technology that it was, was still unable to imitate such spontaneous emotional responses.

“Our second date and you’re already buying me presents…” He smiled.

“I figure it’s cheaper than offering to buy you ice cream.”

~~~~~~

Rogue still couldn’t believe she had been talked into this. Of course it had taken Risty to really talk her into it. That girl just somehow managed to talk Rogue into anything. She had been crammed into the backseat with Kitty and Evan ever since they’d picked up Amanda.

Kurt would glance at Amanda from time to time, but was more concerned with keeping his eyes on the road as he drove. The pair where extremely quite. It was obvious that they where both very new to whatever it was they felt for each other. Rogue was sure there was something there. Kurt was usually such a big flirt, but with Amanda he was totally tongue-tied. And it wasn’t because he was worried what she’d think when she found out what he was really like. She already knew that. She’d known it even before she’d approached him, Rogue had recently found out.

Amanda had been extremely curious about them when Kurt had first brought her out to the car. She was delighted to find out that they all had gifts, just like Kurt, who obviously hadn’t shared their secret with her. It wasn’t his secret to tell, he had said. Somehow Rogue knew their secrets were completely safe with this girl.

“HI!” Risty waved as the group all but fell out of the car. She sidled up to Rogue. “Looks like you’ve found a couple of cute boys.” She smiled. Then she eyed Kitty and Amanda. “Or are they taken?”

Amanda arched a brow at the comment and very deliberately hooked her arm through Kurt’s. Kurt looked at her a little sheepishly. He was still very new to the whole dating thing, and he and Amanda hadn’t actually been painting the town red. He had already classified tonight as their second date.

Risty’s eyes narrowed as she surveyed the pair. She wasn’t jealous of course, but she couldn’t reveal why she was so suspicious of the girl. It was just her completely normal maternal instincts kicking in. Like any mother she didn’t think any girl was good enough for her son. That feeling only intensified by the fact of who and what her son was.

“So…” She flicked her hair out of her eyes as she looked at Rogue. “Are you going to make the introductions, or do they all just answer to ‘hey you’?”

“Ah thought you knew ‘em.” Rogue frowned. “What with the party we had and all…”

“Well…I’ve seen them all in passing…” Risty admitted. “But I wouldn’t say I actually KNOW them…”

“Oh…right…” Rogue looked at her friends. “Kitty and Evan you kinda met at the dance…”

“Right…with the guy with the ray gun…” Risty smiled warmly.

“And this is Kurt…and his friend Amanda.”

Risty smirked at Kurt as she leaned in to have a good look at him. He instinctively backed up. He wasn’t sure if it was possible to see anything through the holographic projection if somebody got close enough, so he wasn’t willing to take any chances. And of course he just naturally felt uncomfortable. Amanda’s eyes narrow as she took a tighter grip on Kurt’s arm.

“You are quite the cutie.” She smiled at him. Kurt could feel his cheeks burn, and was thankful that the hologram was unable to display his reaction. “You must come from some pretty good stock.”

“I beg your pardon?” Kurt frowned at the comment.

“Ooohhh…” Risty cooed, her smile deepening even more so. “I just love that accent! But any way…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, sweetie.” She cocked her head to one side. “Your parents must be pretty fabulous…”

“I would not know…” He said softly. “I do not really know them…”

Risty frowned for a moment. “You’re an orphan?”

“I thought I was…” He admitted. “I know nothing of my father…but my mother…she is…” He looked away, obviously not at all comfortable with the subject.

“C’mon guys!” Evan cut in. “Lighten up! Tonight’s about fun!”

“Yeah…” Kitty agreed. “And believe me…you do so like not wanna know about the root rot in Kurt’s family tree…”

Inwardly, she growled at the girl’s flippant comment. She knew exactly what she was talking about. But she just smiled. “Sound’s intriguing.” She winked at Kurt. “Maybe some other time?”

“I…guess…” Kurt said uncertainly.

~~~~~~

Kitty sighed as she watched Kurt and Amanda. They’re interactions were sweetly innocent, but their body language spoke volumes.

‘I wish Lance was here…’ She sighed.

She frowned to herself as she thought about him. She had often wondered why she even liked him. Back at her old school he had tried to get her to help him steal examination papers so he could sell them to the highest bidder. And when the whole operation had gone sour, his actions would have gotten her and her parents killed if it hadn’t been for her gift.

That all seemed so long ago now. And wasn’t it human nature to make mistakes? Didn’t he deserve a second chance? All of the so-called Brotherhood, now without a leader, had become less and less of a problem. True, they weren’t what she’d actually call friends, but they weren’t enemies anymore.

So why did she feel so damn weird when she saw Kurt with Amanda? Did some part of her consider him to be hers because he’d been interested in her first? She didn’t know for sure, but she had the feeling he hadn’t even kissed her yet. Heck, they weren’t even holding hands or anything. He’d always been so forward with her, but with Amanda he was a perfect gentleman.

She heard Amanda’s bell-like laugh as a stall operator handed her the prize Kurt had just won for her. Kurt laughed too at the soft blue bunny rabbit.

‘Like what is so funny about a stuffed rabbit?’ She wondered.

“Man…” Evan sighed. “I’m glad I’m not diabetic…”

“What do you mean?” Kitty asked with a frown.

“Those two…” He indicated Kurt and Amanda. “If they were any sweeter I’d get cavities.”

“It’s kinda refreshin’ to see a boy take his time.” Rogue smiled.

Risty was getting bored. She was no longer concerned that this girl was any threat to the boy…unless she was planning to bore him to death. She’d spent the past few moments surveying the crowd and the many stalls that surrounded them. Her eyes brightened when she noticed a garishly decorated tent. An old-fashioned fortune teller, complete with multi-scarfed gypsy.

She grabbed Rogue’s arm. “What say we get our fortunes told?” She pointed to the gypsy.

“That stuff’s a load of hooey.” Rogue said.

“Oh, c’mon.” Risty needled. “It’ll be a lark.”

She began dragging Rogue towards the woman. Noticing, the others trailed behind. They had more or less been ordered not to get separated from each other. Something about safety in numbers, especially now that they knew Magneto was still about. Not to mention Mystique.

Of course none of them were aware she was already in their midst…

Kurt let out a low gasp and did something of a double take when he saw where they were headed. Something about the woman, sitting there quietly, head bowed, had set his fur on edge. Kitty noticed his trepidation.

“What’s wrong?” She asked him.

“I am not sure.” He admitted. “Something does not feel right…”

The gypsy sat up a little straighter when she heard his voice.

“C’mon, Kurt…” Evan teased. “It’s just a gypsy…I thought you used to hang out with these guys…”

“Kurt?” The gypsy intoned in a thickly accented voice. “Kurt…Vaugner…?”

“How the hell did she know your name?” Evan asked, feeling a little creeped out himself now.

“Oh…” She continued. “I know far more about Kurt Vaugner than his name…” She raised her head and smiled at him wickedly. “You have lead my a merry dance, boy…but it is over now…”

Amanda took a tight grip on Kurt’s arm and tried to drag him away from the strange woman, but Kurt was frozen to the spot.

“You vant to know your fortune, Kurt Vaugner?” She asked as she rose slowly, majestically, to her feet. “It is bleak…VERY bleak!”

Light flared around her and her gypsy raiment feel away. Her skin was now a soft teal green. A wave of emerald hair fell down her back. A pair of horns, like those of a ram, curled back from either temple. Her eyes, which she now turned on the young, German born mutant, where the colour of ice, and just as cold.

A fierce wind sprang up, seemingly for nowhere. A bright globe of light surrounded the woman, arching with blue lightening as she began to laugh manically. The lightening stabbed into the crowd, sending people scattering in all directions as the howling wind threatened to knock them off their feet.

Kurt didn’t notice the screams around him as carnival patrons ran from this sudden and horrifying apparition. He just stared at her, trying desperately to keep his own terror in check.

“Margali…” He said softly. She just laughed even more.

His months of training kicked in. He shoved Amanda at Kitty. “Get her out of here!” He barked. Kitty didn’t even think to question being ordered by him, she just grabbed Amanda’s hand and began to run, dragging the other girl behind her.

“Wait!” Amanda protested, but the pair had already been swallowed up by the panicking crowd.

“What’s the plan?” Evan asked, dropping into a fighting stance beside his friend. “We can’t use our powers with all these people around…”

“No plan.” Kurt shook his head. “Just go.”

“You’re not thinkin’ about facing this witch alone are ya?” Rogue said incredulously as she took up position on his other side.

“I am the only one she is interested in.” He said firmly. “I vill not let you get hurt because of me.”

“We’re a team, buddy.” Evan smiled. “We won’t let you go through this alone.”

“You got backbone, cutie.” Risty smiled at him. “But…”

“No buts…just go!” Kurt said angrily.

The woman’s hand flashed forward so quickly even the super agile Kurt couldn’t dodge it. She tore the holo-watch from his wrist, digging several deep trenches in his arm as she did so. “Do you really think this toy could hide you from me?” She snarled, holding up her trophy with one hand while she tightened her grip on his wrist with the other.

A new chorus of screams broke at the sudden arrival of a blue-furred demon.

“That woman just turned that guy into…into…into I don’t know what!” Someone cried out.

“She’s a witch!” Another said.

“You do not know the half of it.” She smiled at them. “Say good bye to your friends, boy. You vill not be seeing them again.” She squeezed his arm, making him wince at the pain it brought. Any tighter and she’d have crushed the bones.

“Let him go!” Rogue demanded.

“You assume to order me, child?” She arched a brow.

“If you plan on hurtin’ my friend Ah do.” She growled.

The woman smiled. She looked at Kurt. He was trying to break free of her grasp. He didn’t want to risk a teleport. Her grip was so tight he’d probably just end up taking her with him.

“Perhaps ve should take this to another playing field, hmmm?” She cooed at him. He looked up sharply. He knew what she was capable of. The ball of light began to shift and change, tightening around them. The wind tore at them both as the portal began to swallow it up.

“Uh-oh…” Evan began.

“We gotta stop her…” Rogue said as she began to run towards them.

“Right!” Evan agreed, following her lead.

The woman cackled as they approached, and completed her spell. The intense light blinked out so suddenly Rogue and Evan where temporarily blinded by its absence. They had screeched to a halt, exchanging a terrified glance.

Both the woman and their friend were gone.

~~~~~~

It took a moment for what had just happened to sink in. It was only when Kitty’s voice echoed in their ears that they managed to snap out of their stupor.

“Like, where the heck is Kurt?” She asked. “And the wicked witch of the west?”

“They’re gone…” Rogue managed.

“Gone?” Kitty echoed. “Whatta ya mean GONE?”

“That weird woman…” Evan shook his head, still in shock. “She…just…sorta…took him away…”

Rogue looked at her. “Where’s Amanda?”

“She gave me the slip.” Kitty admitted. “She was adamant about helping Kurt…that’s why I circled back…I figured she’d be here…”

Rogue glanced about. “Risty’s gone too…”

“An eight-foot tall, green-skinned witch woman, screeching at the top of her lungs can have that effect on you…” Evan said matter-of-factly.

“We gotta get home…” Kitty said. “Get the others…maybe the professor or Jean can get some kind of mental lock on him or something…”

“What about Amanda and Risty?” Rogue asked.

“They’re big girls, Rogue…” Kitty said with a sigh. “I think Kurt’s our priority right now.”

“You’re right…” Rogue sighed. “Ah guess they can take care of themselves…”

~~~~~~

Not far away, the Bayville student known as Risty Wilde sank slowly to the ground. In her hand she grasped what looked like a broken sports watch. Its face was cracked, the band torn and stained with blood. She swallowed the impossibly large lump in her throat.

She fought the tears that burned her eyes. She was stronger than that. And if anybody she knew saw her, how could she possibly explain them? How could she tell them that, once again, she’d failed to save her son?

Sixteen years ago she had awoken to find he had been stolen from his crib. Though she had managed to snatch him away before Magneto could finish whatever it was he’d started, she had lost him that night. Now aware of his intentions, she felt it best to leave the boy with the couple that had found him. Magneto didn’t know where he was, and she would never tell him. He would be safe, cared for…

Only recently she had revealed the truth to the boy. He had taken it as well as she had expected. She couldn’t blame him for being angry. She’d been angry with herself for sixteen years…

And now, once again, he’d been taken from her. And once again she’d been powerless to stop it. Even if she’d revealed her true self she never would have been able to stand against that woman. Was she truly a witch?

She squeezed her eyes shut, the tears still refusing to leave her be. Finally, she decided not to fight them any longer. After all…what greater pain was their than that of a mother who has lost her child?

~~~~~~

“Oh man…” Evan groaned as they reached the car. “Kurt had the keys…”

“Is that all you can think about?” Kitty asked in horror. “Our friend has been abducted and you’re upset because we have to walk home?”

“I’m trying not to think about it!” He countered. “I’m trying to keep a level head on my shoulders! I’m trying not to break down into a useless pile of…”

“Alright you two!” Rogue broke in. “ENOUGH!” She turned on Kitty. “This isn’t helpin’ anyone!” She looked sternly at Evan. “You’re from New York…can’t ya hotwire it or somethin’?”

HEY!” Evan protested. “Just because I’m from New York that does NOT make me a juvenile delinquent!”

“Hmmm…” A smug voiced intoned. “Look’s like the X-Babies got trouble.”

The trio turned to see the smug face of Pietro, flanked by the rest of his so-called posse. Normally, any of them would quite happily hand the annoying speedster his teeth. But not tonight. They had greater concerns.

Lance frowned at the expressions on their faces. Slightly more sensitive than the others, not to mention a little closer to the rival team having spent some time with all of them, he could tell something was wrong.

He stepped towards Kitty, ignoring the kissy-kissy noises Todd was making. She was obviously extremely upset. He lay a gentle hand on her arm. “What happened?” He asked looking at her through his spiky bangs in the way he knew made her melt.

“Some weird woman like totally put the grab on Kurt…”

The Brotherhood exchanged a glance…none of them completely understanding what she’d just said.

“Somebody snatched Kurt?” Lance translated for their benefit and his own clarification.

“Blue boy…?” Tabitha breathed in a fearful whisper.

“Why would anybody wanna grab the fuzz ball?” Todd frowned. “He’s harmless…”

“And hardly powerful…” Pietro added. “I mean, why grab a dinky teleporter when you could go after someone who can punch holes in walls just by looking at them…or a babe who can read minds and stop trains with her thoughts…or…”

“Margali…” Evan said thoughtfully.

“Hey…” Todd growled. “No need for name calling.”

“I’m not…that’s what Kurt said when he saw her…I guess it must mean something in German…”

“If it is…” Pietro frowned. “It’s gotta be some weird kind of dialect…I’m not familiar with it…”

“You know German?” Rogue arched a brow.

“Well…duh!” He huffed. “You think with a name like Pietro Maximoff I’m a local boy?”

“Give it a rest, Pietro.” Lance sighed.

Tabitha had moved quietly towards their car. “You guys are lucky some of us have lived a miss-spent youth.” She said. They couldn’t see what she was doing, but she soon had the locked door open and was fiddling under the dashboard. Moments later the engine roared to life.

She looked at the others, a deadly serious expression on her face. “You go do what you gotta do to save Blue’s fuzzy butt…” She told them. “But remember…you…” She smirked wickedly. “And HIM…owe me…big time!”

~~~~~~

They drove back to the Institute in silence, Rogue very careful behind the wheel. There was a reason why Kurt always drove when the quartet went out together…he was the only one licensed to do so. Rogue had been elected because she’d started driver’s ed, and though she was super cautious, at least she knew what to do.

After what seemed the longest car ride of their lives, they piled out of the car and flew into the house.

“Ah, man…” Evan moaned. “Where the hell is everybody?”

“You know I don’t like to hear such language from you, young man.” A stern voice said from behind him.

“Aunty O?” He visibly relaxed when he saw the tall, dusty-skinned woman. “Am I glad to see you!”

“What are you…?” She began glancing around at their anxious faces. Noticing the absence of Kurt, she easily put two and two together…

~~~~~~

“I can’t sense him anywhere…” The professor admitted sadly. “Even with Cerebro enhancing my abilities…”

“Is there anything more you three can tell us about this woman?” Logan asked. “Besides the eight-foot tall, green skinned with horns bit…”

The trio exchanged a look. “What was that word you said he said?” Kitty looked at Evan.

“Margali…” He said softly.

“Ma what?” Scott asked.

“Margali…” Evan repeated. “Kurt said it when he saw her…I guess it must be something in German…’witch’ maybe?”

“Perhaps…” The professor frowned.

“Maybe his parents know something?” Jean suggested. “Maybe we should call them…”

“And tell ‘em we misplaced their son?” Logan arched a brow. “I’m sure that’ll go over REAL well…”

“It IS the only clue we have…” The professor sighed. “As much as I am loath to be the barer of bad news…they may just be able to tell us something that can help…”

“It is her name.” A voice spoke softly from the shadows.

Most jumped at the sound of the voice. Logan prepared to face the intruder.

“Okay…” he warned. “I don’t know how you managed to get past our security…but whoever you are…you’ll come out of the shadows REAL slow…if you know what’s good for you.”

“I come here to help you and you meet me with threats? Charming…”

A hooded figure in a robe of forest green velvet stepped forward. Graceful hands gently pushed the hood back to reveal the face of a beautiful young girl. Her face was framed with strawberry-blonde curls. There was a somewhat mischievous glint to her emerald eyes. She was young…she couldn’t be more than seventeen…but the way she held herself, she seemed so much older.

“Who are you?” Charles asked quietly.

“I am Jimaine Szardaos.” She bowed her head as she introduced herself. “I am a very old friend of Kurt Vaugner…”

“You from Germany too?” Kitty asked. “You said his name like he does…”

“Yes…” She smiled. “Ve have been friends for many years.”

“And how exactly are YOU gonna help us?” Logan asked suspiciously.

“Do you think you mutants are the only ones with gifts?” She held up a finger, smiling as a spout of blue flame alighted on her fingertip. She looked around at the somewhat aghast X-Men. “Kurt vas stolen by magic…it vill take magic to bring him back.”

“And how exactly do you figure yer gonna help?” Logan repeated his question, still highly suspicious of the young woman. “You gonna wriggle yer nose or something?”

She smiled slightly. “No…I have something else in mind.” She looked at the professor, as if sensing he was the one in charge. “But ve vill heed to locate him first…”

“We have already tried that.” He reminded her. “My powers can’t…”

“I know…but MINE can…” She assured him. “But I will need a few things…”

“Like what?” Kitty asked.

~~~~~~

The X-Men had all left to change into uniform while Jimaine found what she needed. She was raiding the kitchen and had found a large aluminium bowl. She set it on the table along with a large jug of water. Reaching into her voluminous robe, she pulled out a small vile.

Professor Xavier watched intently as she prepared herself. He’d never before met her like. She wasn’t a mutant, of that he was sure, but power shone brightly within and about her. And he didn’t doubt that she knew how to use it. She had gotten past the mansion’s sophisticated security system, walked straight into their midst, with none being the wiser. Even Logan’s heightened senses had been unable to detect her presence…

She was just filling the bowl with water when the others returned. She looked up at them, smiling briefly. “Quite the fashion statement…” She commented. “Vas there a sale on black spandex?”

“Oh, yeah…” Spyke chuckled. “I can see why she and Kurt hung out…”

“Speaking of vhich…” She opened the vial and sprinkled its contents on the water’s surface. “Let us find out vhere he is…” She circled her hand above the bowl, the water below her palm imitating her movements even though her hand didn’t even come in contact with it.

“Like…what IS that?” Shadowcat asked.

“A makeshift scrying pool…” Jimaine told her. “Basically, a mystical location device…it vill tell us vhere Margali took Kurt…”

The X-Men leaned in to get a better look. An odourless vapour began to rise from the swirling water as it began to bubble. Jimaine frowned, concern obvious in her face as she gazed into the water.

“A most unpleasant place…” She mumbled. The others exchanged various glances. They could see nothing.

“Ve know vhere he is…” She said, looking at the faces around her. “And I know enough to know that you vill raise hell of high vater to rescue him…you are ready then?”

“Ah…” Cyclops looked to his teammates. He could see the concern in their faces. There was no one present who didn’t care greatly for the furry little goofball. He could also see the determination.

“We’re ready!” He said with more confidence than he really felt.

“Ve vill need some space…”

~~~~~~

“This place is quite amazing…” Jimaine admitted as she took in the size of the Danger Room.

“This’ll do?” Wolverine asked.

“It vill be fine.” She smiled at the Canadian. She knew he didn’t trust her. She could tell he didn’t trust anyone easily. “Alright then…” She began making a series of elaborate movements with her hands. The air was filled with the sudden tinkling of a thousand harps.

“Very pretty…” Spyke said quietly. “Wonder if she does parties…”

“Can it, porcupine.” Wolverine growled.

The wind picked up in a sickeningly familiar howl. Storm had to fight her instincts to quell its rising fury. Above Jimaine’s outstretched palms a bright ball of light began to form.

“Ah remember that…” Rogue said softly as blue lightening began to arch across its surface.

The light began to grow in size and intensity, enveloping them all in its warmth. Above in the Control Room, Professor Xavier watched with a mixture of awe and concern. The girl was displaying an amazing amount of power. Charles had never contemplated the existence of magic, but could think of no other way to describe what was happening.

“Take care, my children…” He said softly as the light suddenly blinked out.

~~~~~~

“Well…that was a hell of a thing…” Spyke said as they arrived at their destination.

“I have already warned you about using such language…” Storm began.

“I don’t know…” Wolverine frowned. “I think hell is probably a pretty fitting description…”

Nobody had any idea just where it was that Jimaine had brought them. But none of them liked it. It was a dark, desolate place, of sheer cliff faces and jagged rock. Twisted, leaf-less trees reached for a heavy, scarlet sky. Oily black clouds hovered above them like great birds, waiting to swoop down on their unsuspecting prey.

Shadowcat jumped as something black and shiny scuttled past her foot. “This place is so disgusting!” She shrieked. “Can we just find Kurt and get out of here?”

“I cannot sense Margali…” Jimaine admitted with a frown. “I had thought he would be vith her…and she would be easy to sense…”

“Maybe he gave her the slip?” Shadowcat suggested.

“Then she vill be looking for him too…”

“Perfect…” Wolverine growled.

“Well, let’s find him first.” Spyke said. “Snatch him right back from under her nose!”

Wolverine began to sniff the air, trying to catch a scent. Jean closed her eyes and put her index fingers to her temples hoping to pick up on his thoughts. Both frowned as they concentrated their particular abilities.

“Anything?” Cyclops asked after several moments.

“I can’t pick up anything.” Jean admitted. “But this place is huge…he may just be out of my range…”

“He’s here…” Wolverine said. “Or at least he was…scent’s awfully faint…” He began to scan the surrounding cliffs. “Not the only scent, either…it’s hard to isolate him…”

“Perhaps we should split up to search?” Storm suggested.

“Dunno if I like the idea of separatin’ in this place…” Wolverine signed. “But it could take forever to find the squirrel in this…”

“I can link us telepathically.” Jean suggested.

“And we have our communicators.” Cyclops pointed out.

“Okay…Cyclops, you take Jean and Rogue…I’ll take the teenaged witch and the kids…Storm…”

“I will search from above.” She finished for him. “And join Cyclops and the girls when I am done.”

“It’s not gonna be easy to find him in this place.” Wolverine told them. “It’s big and it’s dark…there’s plenty of places for him to be hiding. And if he has managed to get away from this Margali woman he’s not gonna want to be found…but with my tracking skills and Jean’s telepathy, I’d say we’ve got the edge…”

~~~~~~

Storm shuddered as she flew over the arid landscape. Even this high up, out in the open, she felt smothered. She’d only been here a few moments and she felt the despair of the place. Kurt had been here for several hours. Dragged here against his will by a strange woman who probably didn’t have his safety in mind.

The place was vast, true enough. But things lived here. Unidentifiable, horrid things they may be, but they survived here. She noticed a flat black area not too far from where she’d left the others. Water perhaps? Kurt had been through enough of Wolverine’s survival sessions to know that finding water was the most important thing for continued existence. It was the logical place to start looking.

~~~~~~

“You know…” Cyclops said absently. “If he weren’t in such danger, Kurt would probably love this place.”

“Are you crazy?” Jean frowned.

“I’m serious.” He replied. “There’s plenty of places for him to climb…shadows to hide in…things to swing off…he’d have a ball here…”

“Nah…” Rogue shook her head. “Yer crazy…”

~~~~~~

“Tell me about this Margali.” Wolverine looked at Jimaine. “What’s she want with the Elf?”

Jimaine lowered her head. “Some secrets are not mine to tell…” She said softly. “If you do not know it is something he does not vish for you to know…”

“Look, girly…” Wolverine growled at her. “We followed you here…pretty much blindly…I wanna know what we’re up against…and why!”

“Margali is powerful…far more so than I…” Jimaine told him. “But she is not evil…I do not think she vill harm any of you…she is not out for vengeance…”

“Vengeance for what?” Shadowcat asked, picking up on the word. “Did Kurt do something to her?”

“Oh, c’mon!” Spyke rolled his eyes. “Kurt’s a harmless prankster! What could he have possibly done?” All three looked at the young sorceress, but it was obvious that she wasn’t going to tell them anything.

They walked in silence for a few moments. Then Wolverine stopped suddenly.

“We got company.” He announced grimly.

“Kurt?” Shadowcat asked hopefully, despite his tone.

“On your guards, people.” Wolverine warned as he popped his claws. “Whatever it is…it’s closing in…”

“Oh, man…” Spyke mumbled, sprouting a set of spurs himself.

The ground beneath Wolverine’s feet opened up and swallowed him, as if it had a mind of it’s own, and was aware of just which of the quartet was the greatest threat. Mounds of earth rose up around them, taking roughly human form.

“Gross!” Shadowcat yelled as one lunged for her. Phased, it passed right through her.

Spyke hurled several bone spikes at another. They tore through it, the wounds sealing behind them. The creature kept coming. “This is not good…” He commented as he dodged it.

Jimaine threw some sort of hex bolt at another, neatly slicing off its arm. It simply grew a new one. But it would seem it didn’t care for her magic as it went to join its siblings who were concentrating their efforts on the young mutants.

“Definitely NOT good!” Spyke repeated.

Though Jimaine wanted to help them, she moved to where Wolverine had disappeared, tearing at the ground with both her magic and her hands in hopes of finding the older mutant. Though they could use his help, she was more concerned with him suffocating underground.

“How do we beat these things?” Shadowcat asked as she backed up against Spyke.

“Beats me.” He admitted. “These things heal quicker than Wolverine…”

There was a sound above their heads, like the crack of a whip. Then a soft thud as something landed just beyond the creatures. The things turned to the sound, apparently more interested in whatever had made it than the two youngest X-Men. They shambled towards it, which proved to be a mistake.

There was another sound…a metallic hiss. Then a flash amongst the silent, hulking monoliths. Light on metal. Heads flew from the creatures’ bodies. They made no sound as metal pierced their breasts. What was left of them sank back into the ground, revealing their would-be saviour.

It too was roughly human in shape. Its golden eyes, glowing softly, bore into them. It gripped a sword in its hands, held at the ready in case they too were to attack. It watched them cautiously, keeping to the shadows. But the darkness didn’t completely hide the tail that slashed slowly back and forth behind it. A thin, dark tail with a barb at its end…

“Kurt?” Shadowcat whispered hopefully.

The creature snorted, tightening the grip on its sword.

“C’mon, man.” Spyke smiled. “Relax…it’s us!”

“Prove it…” He growled softly. The voice was Kurt’s, but there was a hardness to it that was almost frightening. All the usually playfulness was gone.

Spyke and Shadowcat exchanged a glance. “Uh…” Shadowcat began. “How exactly are we gonna do that?”

“Tell me something…” Kurt’s iron-edged voice spoke from the shadows. “Something only you and I vould know…”

“You and me?” She swallowed. “Well…um…how about that time when we were on the Blackbird when Wolverine took off for Canada…and he almost skewered you…and you said you couldn’t teleport us out ‘cos we were too high up and going too fast…and then we had to face off against Wolverine AND Sabretooth…and you had to fly the Blackbird home ‘cos Wolverine was like totally out of it…and you’d never actually had to take off before…or land…and…”

“Okay, okay.” He sheathed the sword in the scabbard on his back and held out his hands in a placating manner in order to stop her babbling. “I’m convinced.” He stepped forward out of the shadows.

Spyke and Shadowcat let out a collective gasp. What was left of his clothes were in tatters. In fact his shirt was completely gone. His already rather lengthy hair was noticeably longer, his bangs now brushing against his chest. He was also a little more muscled than when they’d last seen him…two hours ago!

“Vhat is the matter vith you two?” He asked, a little confused.

“Well…” Spyke began. “You’re kinda…not how we expected to find you…”

“And how vas that?” He quirked an eyebrow.

“I dunno…” Shadowcat admitted. “I guess I thought we’d like find you stripped naked and chained to a wall or something.”

“I can imagine your disappointment.” Kurt smirked, a mischievous glint in his amber eyes.

KURT!” Shadowcat’s jaw dropped as her cheeks burned bright red.

“Now that is the Kurt Vaugner I remember.”

Kurt turned at the sound of the voice. “Jimaine?” The pair stood stock-still for a moment, each getting used to the presence of the other. Then they enfolded each other in a warm embrace, like old friends should. Once again, Kitty felt a little strange when she saw Kurt hugging someone who wasn’t her, even though there was absolutely nothing romantic about their embrace. They were just happy, relieved, to see each other.

Wolverine, who Jimaine had managed to dig out of the earth, arched a brow beneath his hood. He pulled out his communicator and thumbed the switch. “Cyclops?” He said curtly.

“You found him?” The teen’s voice replied almost immediately. Wolverine could hear the tension in his voice. He could have smelled it too if the boy had been closer.

“Actually…” Wolverine sighed. “He found us…”

“He’s okay?” There was still a high degree of anxiousness in the youth’s voice. All the mansion’s residents had grown fond of the exotic-looking European, but the bond between Kurt and Scott was more akin to brothers than friends.

“Looks okay.” Wolverine frowned. He didn’t think it was quite the time or place to mention that the blue-furred mutant appeared to have aged quite a bit in the past few hours. It was hard to judge just how much, but the obviously longer hair indicated several months’ growth.

“We’ll follow your communicator’s signal…” Cyclops said, suddenly all business now that he knew his friend was all right. “We’ll be with you shortly.”

“I have missed you.” Jimaine smiled warmly at Kurt.

“And I you.” He admitted. Then he frowned. “But vhy…and how…are you here?”

“You did not think I vould let you face Margali alone, did you?” She smiled at him. He looked away with a pained expression.

“Where’d you get the sword?” Spyke asked.

“There is much to be scavenged around here…” Kurt shrugged. “It is finding food that is the hard part.”

“Vhip?” Kurt frowned.

“Just before you started decapitating those mud monsters…” She said. “I’m sure I heard a whip…”

“Yeah…” Spyke nodded. “I heard it too…”

“Oh…” Kurt nodded slowly as he realised what they were talking about. “You mean this…” He swung his tail lazily to one side then flicked it so quickly to the other it made a snap in the air. The sound was very reminiscent to the crack of a whip.

“Neat trick.” Spyke admitted.

“It has its uses.” Kurt agreed. “Also comes in handy as a fishing lure…”

“I DO not wanna know…”

“Oh my stars…” Rogue’s incredulous voice startled them.

“Kurt?” Jean questioned as she dropped the telekinetic bubble she’d used to carry the three of them.

“What the hell happened to you?” Cyclops all but demanded.

“Cyclops! Language!” Storm warned as she landed beside them.

“Vhy is everybody so surprised about the vay I look?” Kurt frowned, looking down at himself. He had to admit, his clothes were little more than rags, his fur was a little matted, and his hair was a little ratty…but he hadn’t changed that much.

“He’s just been playing around with his image inducer again.” Shadowcat smiled.

“Yeah.” Spyke agreed. “With all the nasties around here…I’d wanna look bigger and meaner too.”

“Ah…guys…” Kurt held up his left arm in such a way as to show he wasn’t even wearing the image inducer.

“Of course!” Spyke slapped his forehead. “That woman ripped it off!”

“You mean that’s all you?” Shadowcat queried as she took a firm grip on his bicep, testing its firmness for herself. She frowned as she looked him in the face. “But…how…?”

Wolverine frowned as he contemplated the way Kurt looked, some of the things he’d said…about scavenging, the difficulty of finding food…

“Exactly how long have you been here, Elf?” He asked.

“It is difficult to say for sure…” He admitted with a frown. “There is no vay to really judge the passage of time…there is no difference between day and night here. And I don’t have a vatch or anything…” He shrugged as he looked at Wolverine. “Five…six months, maybe…”

SIX MONTHS!?” The youngsters said in unison.

“I guess I could be wrong…” He frowned.

“It’s only been like a couple of hours!” Shadowcat said. “We got home from the carnival…Jimaine showed up…we got in costume…and she transported us here!”

Kurt was silent as he absorbed this information.

“It vould seem time travels more sviftly in this vorld…” Jimaine mused.

“All the more reason to get home.” Spyke pointed out.

“We’ve got what we came for.” Wolverine nodded his agreement. He looked at Jimaine. “If you’d do the honours…?”

“Of course.” She smiled.

“Leaving so soon?” A new voice queried. “But you just got here…”

“Uh-oh…” Shadowcat whispered as they all turned towards the sound of the voice.

“Margali, I assume?” Storm questioned her nephew as she took in the form of the green-skinned woman. There were few women that Storm actually had to look up to, but they hadn’t been exaggerating about this woman’s height. She very clearly was eight-feet tall.

“Uh-huh.” Spyke nodded.

“You should have kept to yourself, Kurt.” She looked at him with her icy eyes. “For some reason you are invisible to my magics…but your friends shine as bright as stars…” She frowned when she noticed the strawberry-blonde beside him.

“Jimaine?” She questioned. She let out a snort of a sigh. “I should have known it vas you who vas protecting him!” Her face grew even colder. “He is not vorth it!”

“That remains to be seen.” The girl replied haughtily.

Wolverine moved stealthily towards his blue-furred charge. “I think you should tell us just what this woman want with you.” He growled softly.

“I vant justice, Volverine.” Margali answered for him. “A life for a life.”

Everyone looked at Kurt in stunned silence. The young German simply hung his head.

“No way, lady!” Cyclops said.

“Are you calling me a liar, boy?” She asked.

“If you’re telling us Kurt killed somebody, then yes!” He shot back.

“Cyclops…” Kurt said quietly.

Cyclops didn’t hear him. “There is no way on Earth…” He looked about him as he remembered where they were. “This one or any other…that Kurt could possibly kill anyone!”

“Scott!” Kurt said, loudly.

Cyclops looked at his friend. He could see something in those golden eyes. Sadness. Shame…

Guilt…

Kurt looked away when he saw the realisation dawn on his friend’s face.

“There’s gotta be more to it!” Shadowcat came to Kurt’s defence when it seemed Cyclops was no longer able to.

“Yeah!” Spyke agreed. “It had to be an accident or something!”

“I know vhat he did!” Margali shot back. “HE knows vhat he did. It is time for him to pay for his crime.”

“No way are we gonna let you play judge, jury and executioner!” Wolverine growled at her. “HIT HER!” He lunged at her, his claws biting deep into her arm. She just laughed.

Reacting more on instinct than intellect, the others joined him.

Lightening danced about her as Storm attacked. Cyclops’ optic bean hit her full in the chest. Spyke racked her leg with a dozen bony barbs. Jean slammed her with her mind.

But still…she just laughed. She threw her arms out, her magic hurling them all back painfully against the surrounding landscape.

“I can take vhatever you throw at me…” She chuckled. “But vhat about your furry little friend?”

They turned to find Kurt slumped against Jimaine, his breath hissing through his teeth. There were three deep gashes on his left arm, half a dozen puncture wounds in his leg. A burnt patch of fur smouldered on his chest and wisps of smoke rose from his hair.

“What in the name of…” Cyclops began.

“Transference spell…” Jimaine explained. “Vhatever you hit her vith, Kurt vill suffer…”

“Then how the hell do we beat this bitch?” Wolverine growled.

“You don’t.” Kurt rasped as he somehow managed to drag himself to his feet. “Ve just give her vhat she vants…” He limped towards her.

“You have courage, boy.” Margali said, obviously impressed. “I vill grant you a quick death.”

MOTHER! NO!” Jimaine cried out, running to put herself between the two, protecting the already injured Kurt.

“Mother?” several of the X-Men echoed.

“Child…” Margali said quietly to the young sorceress. “Look at him…” She gestured to the repentant looking Kurt. “He has admitted his guilt…he is prepared for his punishment…”

“He has admitted nothing!” Jimaine protested. “He only vishes to protect his friends!”

“Do not vex me, child!” Margali warned.

“I vill not stand idly by vhile you destroy somebody ve both care about!” Jimaine shot back.

“Ve both know vhat he has done!” Margali countered.

“Do ve?” Jimaine challenged. “Neither of us vitnessed it…” Margali’s expression softened slightly. “Mother…do you really vant to risk your immortal soul by slaying an innocent?”

“Very vell, child…” Margali relented. “Ve vill ascertain his guilt…”

Jimaine nodded to her mother before turning to Kurt. “I am sorry…”

“For vhat?” He asked.

“This vill not be pleasant…”

Margali gestured at him. Kurt froze, his eyes wide, his back arched. He let out a strangled gasp as Margali’s magic began to ferret about inside his mind.

“What is she doing to him?” Cyclops ran forward only to be halted by Jean.

“She’s probing his mind.” She told him. “Not unlike the professor…”

“But he’s in pain…” Cyclops protested.

“She wants him dead, Scott.” Jean pointed out. “She’s probably not interested in being subtle. Who knows what damage it might cause if we interrupt her?”

“Ah…” Margali cooed. “Here ve go…” She cast her gaze on the X-Men. “You did not vant me to be judge, jury and executioner…so I leave it to you to pass judgement…”

Kurt’s head lolled back as Margali pulled the appropriate memories from his mind. She conjured up an image above his head. The X-Men moved in closer, in awe of the apparition of rolling hills and snow covered mountains. Margali’s eyes were closed as she absorbed Kurt’s memories like a sponge. She seemed completely unaware of anything that was going on around her.

“That where you grew up?” Shadowcat asked Jimaine. It was pretty obvious that Kurt was in no condition to answer.

“Yes.” She confirmed.

“Why do I get the feeling that Julie Andrews is gonna come spinning over the hill and start singing?” Spyke asked.

“That vas Austria…” Jimaine pointed out. “This is Germany.”

“Close enough.” Spyke shrugged.

“Oh?” Jimaine arched a brow. “And how vas your childhood in Canada?”

“Hey!” Spyke protested. “I’m American!”

“Close enough.” She smirked.

“Okay…you made your point…”

The image changed to show a younger Kurt, probably about seven or eight. Along with a younger Jimaine and a dark-haired, serious-faced, slightly older boy.

“Who’s that?” Jean asked.

“My brother…” Jimaine said softly, sadly. “Stefan.”

“Stefan?” Cyclops echoed.

“Yes, Stefan…”

“So…do we get sound with this movie?” Spyke asked.

“You vant some popcorn too?” Jimaine asked, an angry edge to her voice.

“Memories aren’t like that, Evan.” Jean pointed out. “They’re just a bunch of images…feelings…we can’t remember things EXACTLY how they happened…just how we felt at the time…the further back they go…the fuzzier things get.”

“You three were pretty close, huh?” Shadowcat asked Jimaine.

“Kurt vas as much a brother to me as Stefan vas…”

“Was?” Wolverine arched a brow.

“So THAT’S what this is about?” Cyclops asked. “Something happen to Stefan…and your mother blames Kurt for it…”

“Stefan died, yes…” Jimaine confirmed. “But I cannot believe Kurt was deliberately responsible.”

Margali’s expression was a perfect mirror of Kurt’s as she felt everything he felt as she continued to shift through his memories. She felt his sadness as he discussed something with Jimaine…

“What were you two talking about?” Shadowcat asked as she noticed the somewhat pained expressions on both of them.

“That vas vhen he told me he’s parents vere considering sending him to school in America…I did not vant to lose my best friend…”

“Doesn’t look like he wanted to go either…” Cyclops noted.

“Can’t say I really blame him…” Shadowcat sighed. “I was pretty upset when I thought of how far I was moving from home…but it’s nothing compared to how far he has…”

Stefan, his face like thunder, was confronting Kurt now. Though nobody knew what he was saying, the expression on Kurt’s face, mirrored on Margali’s, spoke volumes. Kurt seemed to flinch at every one of Stefan’s unheard words. He backed up as Stefan approached him. His movements, his expressions, every little nuance of his body language conveyed accusation. Though what he was accusing Kurt of they could only guess at.

Margali began to cry silently as Stefan’s unspoken words stung her, striking to the core. Jean concentrated, trying to subtly pick up from her mind what she was thinking, how she was translating Kurt’s memories.

“I don’t know how I could have been so blind as to not see you for what you are…you wear your evil so openly and yet they still can’t see it! But I see it now!” She picked from Margali’s mind. It was in German, but somehow she understood every word. “You have used the dark arts to charm my mother…my sister…turn them against me…”

“Stefan…” Kurt’s familiar voice echoed in her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about…I don’t know any magic…”

“Don’t try your spells on me, freak!” Stefan’s voice was as cruel as his expression. “I will free them…by getting rid of you!”

Shadowcat shrieked as the image of Stefan drew a wicked looking knife on the image of the terrified Kurt. It was enough to break Jean’s concentration. She watched along with the others as Kurt backed up…quickly running out of room as his misshapen toes found the edge of a cliff. He looked about frantically for some means of escape.

Jean closed her eyes, her fingers to her temples as she once again tried to link with Margali’s mind. The powerful sorceress seemed capable of hearing as well as seeing Kurt’s memories…and, as painful as it was, she wanted to know more. Cyclops noticed her concentrating.

“Jean…?” He whispered.

“Later, Scott…” She stopped him as she reconnected with Margali.

“Stefan…” Kurt tried to reason with the knife-wielding youth. “You don’t want to do this…you don’t want to damn yourself…”

Stefan laughed. “Destroying the spawn of Satan will have no effect on my immortal soul, monster!” He smirked at the terrified Kurt. “It will be more likely to assure my entrance to Eternal Bliss than to deny it!”

“My God…” Kurt whispered to himself, unconsciously crossing himself as his faith had taught him.

Stefan took this as an insult. “You mock my faith, demon! It’s time for you to return to the pit that spawned you!”

He lunged at Kurt, blade glinting wickedly. Kurt’s innate abilities fired. He instinctively called upon his mutant powers…powers that, at the time, he didn’t even know he possessed…to save his life.

Stefan’s eyes widened as his quarry suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke. The smell of brimstone that accompanied Kurt’s teleportation no doubt would have added to his conviction. Unfortunately, Kurt had been barely balancing on the edge of a precipice, Stefan couldn’t stop himself.

Kurt hadn’t gone far, but he was obviously groggy, even nauseous, from what was possibly his first ever teleport. He lunged at Stefan, managing to grab the back of his shirt, trying desperately to pull him back. Stefan saw it as an attack rather than the rescue it was. He spun, dragging the tip of his blade across the blue-furred arm that would have saved his life. Kurt’s mouth opened in a silent scream, his reflexes pulling his arm back from the danger. Stefan realised his fatal mistake a moment too late…

Margali broke the connection with a heartfelt sob. She didn’t want to see her son die. Kurt slumped forward as he was freed from her mental grip. He was exhausted, overwhelmed by memories he’d tried to suppress for so long. He felt a gentle hand touch his arm, parting the fur to reveal the scar that lay there, where Stefan’s blade had rent his flesh. The hand moved to his chin, gently tilting his head upwards.

Margali’s eyes were soft now, filled with pain from the loss of her son, and regret from what she’d done to the innocent Kurt. The young mutant had blamed himself for what had happened, and she had picked up on that, believing him guilty as well. He had, she thought, fled to America to escape her wrath.

She smiled at him, and leant forward to kiss him gently on the forehead. As she did so, the wind picked up, surrounding all present. Bright light blinded them all, and when they could see again, they were back in the Danger Room. All present and accounted for, except for Margali and Jimaine.

~~~~~~

The professor was startled to see them return so quickly. They had been gone less than a minute. He also saw the condition Kurt was in, his arm and leg still bleeding from the damage inflicted by the transferred attack of Wolverine and Spyke.

He jabbed a button on the console. “Henry…prepare the infirmary…Kurt needs medical attention.”

“You got it.” Hank’s disembodied voice replied.

~~~~~~

Kurt lay quietly as Hank worked on his injured leg. He had stitched up his arm first, it had been bleeding quite profusely. The boy’s quietness disturbed him though. Kurt was usually quite vivacious, he was acting so out of character. One look at his face told him why.

He was sound asleep.

“How’s the…” Charles began as he entered with Logan and Ororo, only to be shushed by the mansion’s larger blue-furred resident.

“He’s asleep.” He whispered.

“You’re poking around in an open wound and he’s asleep?” Logan asked incredulously.

“From what you’ve told me, he’s been on his guard for six months…” Charles said as he smiled at Kurt’s peaceful face. “He must be exhausted…physically…mentally…and emotionally. He feels safe now…so he’s just…let go…”

“For someone who so resembles a demon…he looks so angelic when he’s sleeping.” Ororo commented with a smile. She gently brushed an extremely long lock of indigo hair from his eyes. “I think he’s going to need a hair-cut though…”

“Yes…” Charles agreed. “People are going to question how it grew so fast…he was only missing for a matter of hours…”

“And you know he’s gonna eat everything in the house when he wakes up.” Logan added. Kurt’s appetite was almost legendary. “God knows what he survived on in that place…”

“You should be proud, Logan.” Charles looked up at him. “Your survival training obviously sunk in.”

“He got enough of it…” Logan huffed. “How many times did you punish him with it?” He glanced at Kurt as a frown creased his forehead. “Still…” He sighed. “The kid’s gonna be a while recovering from this.”

“Yes…” Charles agreed sadly as he continued to study the young mutant’s face.

~~~~~~

Logan and Ororo emerged to a sea of expectant faces. The professor had ordered Logan to take the very groggy Kurt to the infirmary as soon as he managed to regain his composure after their sudden return. None of his friends knew how he was…and all were concerned.

“Is he…like…okay?” Kitty asked quietly, hoping for the best, fearing the worst.

“He’s fine, Half-Pint.” Logan assured him. “Truth is…most of the damage was done by us…”

“You mean by Margali’s transference spell.” Scott countered, his tone quite surly.

“Yeah…” Logan agreed. “Still…he’s gonna be out of action for a while…mostly because of me and the porcupine.”

Evan looked up at the apparent accusation. He knew he wasn’t directly responsible, but the knowledge didn’t make him feel any better.

“Can we see him?” Jean asked.

“Hank’s still patching him up.” Logan said.

“And he is asleep.” Ororo added.

“Asleep?” Rogue arched a brow. “How the heck can he be asleep?”

“He’s exhausted.” Logan shrugged. “He’ll probably sleep, on and off, for a couple of days.”

“And school?” Scott asked.

“He can’t go back until he’s had some time to heal…” Ororo said. “But…we can’t let him get behind in his studies either…” She looked at Rogue. “You are in the same classes…”

“Mostly…” She admitted.

“You can collect his homework for him.”

“Oh…he’s just gonna love that.” Evan chuckled.

“And it’s gonna take some time to get him a new holo-watch.” Logan added. “Unless somebody thought to pick it up…?”

Evan, Kitty and Rogue exchanged a glance.

“Well…” Rogue started.

“You see…” Evan added.

“We were kinda…” Kitty continued.

“It was a stressful situation.” Logan sighed. “It’s understandable that it was overlooked…been easier if we had it…but we can do without it. It’ll just take longer.”

“Maybe Forge can come up with something?” Scott suggested.

Logan stroked his chin thoughtfully. It wasn’t something he’d even thought about. “Maybe…kid’s got quite a knack…probably be more reliable too…”

“I’ll give him a call.” Scott offered.

~~~~~~

Sunday morning dawned quietly over the mansion. The students were understandably rather subdued. By a unanimous decision, somebody was always at Kurt’s side, to reassure him when he awoke that he was home and safe, and surrounded by those who cared about him.

But he didn’t stir. He remained curled up in a near foetal position, or as close to it as he could with his heavily bandaged arm and leg. Only his quiet snoring indicative that he was even alive. His tail, or a pointed ear would twitch occasionally, in a very cat-like manner, but such movements never led to anything more.

Kitty had been rather upset when she’d first seen him. He was hooked up to all manner of machines. Monitors keeping track of his heart rate, his respiratory functions, his brain wave activity. All precautionary she had been assured, but it didn’t make her any more comfortable.

“I can barely sense his consciousness.” Jean admitted. She looked at Hank. “You’re sure he’s okay?”

“He’s just in a deep sleep.” He pointed out. “His brain’s pretty much shut down while it recharges. He’ll be up bouncing off the walls and generally annoying the heck out of us in no time.”

~~~~~~

It was hard going back to school on Monday. Even though it had only been two days…for most of them any way…so much had happened. And there was so much to explain. Especially to a handful of certain interested parties…

Risty barged up to Rogue as soon as she walked through the door. She looked as anxious as they had the day before. Rogue found it a little disconcerting. She hardly even knew the guy…

“How’s your friend?” She asked quickly. “That strange woman didn’t hurt him or anything, did she? You got him back, right? And he’s in one piece?”

“Calm down, Risty.” Rogue tried to settle her friend. “He’s okay…he should be back at school in a couple of days…”

“Why?” Risty demanded. “What happened to him?”

“He’s got a busted leg…and some stitches…” Rogue explained. “Nothing too major though…he just needs some rest.”

Risty seemed to visibly relax at the news. “Oh…” She said suddenly, rummaging through her bag. “That reminds me…” She pulled something out from its depths. “I found this…I think it’s his…”

She handed Rogue the damaged holo-watch.

“Yeah…” Rogue almost flinched when she looked at it. It was a well-constructed device, sturdily constructed, and yet it was quite mangled. Margali had seriously trashed it. “I’ll see he gets it back…”

“I don’t think it’s working any more, though.” Risty admitted.

“Yeah…” Rogue agreed as she squinted through the cracked glass. There was no digital readout, and she wasn’t about to try any of its other…options… “But it’s got some sentimental value to him…it was a gift from his favourite…uh…uncle…”

“Maybe he can get it fixed or something?” Risty suggested.

“Maybe…” Rogue agreed. “I’ll see he gets it. Thanks…”

“No problem.” Risty smiled. “I’m just glad he’s okay.”

“You and me both.” Rogue sighed. “He’s like a brother to me…”

‘More than you know…’ Risty thought as she glanced at her friend…

~~~~~~

“Hey, Kitty cat!” A voice called out in the crowded hallway. Kitty turned to see Tabitha approaching, alone for once.

“Hello, Tabitha.” She sighed as the vivacious blonde leaned against the neighbouring locker.

“I take the fact that you guys are all back at school today is a good sign?” She arched a brow.

“Yeah.” Kitty nodded. “He’s okay…”

“Then let him know he owes me one…” Tabitha smirked. “See ya!”

Kitty shook her head as she flounced off down the corridor. What did Kurt ever see in that girl?

‘You know what he saw…’ Her inner voice chided her. ‘She showed an interest when you wouldn’t give him the time of day…’

“She also, like totally used him…” She whispered under her breath.

“You started talking to yourself?” Evan asked as he walked up.

“No…” she said haughtily. “I was just thinking aloud.” She glanced around at the many students milling about the corridor. She had expected Tabitha to be looking for answers. But there was another she had expected to see first.

“Have you seen Amanda?” She asked.

“No.” He admitted. “I don’t think she’s even here today…I saw her friends before and she wasn’t with them…maybe she’s so upset about Kurt she made herself sick or something…?”

“Oh puh-lease…” Kitty rolled her eyes. “He hasn’t even kissed her or anything. They don’t even hold hands!”

“C’mon, Kitty…” Evan countered. “Those two are tight… wouldn’t you be worried sick if something happened to Lance?”

Kitty’s jaw dropped. But she had to admit, she’d feel pretty wretched if she’d seen some weird looking woman snatch her guy away…

“Don’t you think that’d make her more anxious to find out he was okay?” Kitty asked.

Evan shrugged. “Maybe she called the mansion?”

“I guess…”

~~~~~~

‘Hank?’

Charles Xavier’s voice in his head broke his concentration. “Yes, professor?”

‘Are you still with Kurt?’

“I’m in the next room…” Hank suddenly felt nervous. “Is something wrong?” He made his way towards the infirmary.

‘I can sense brain activity…’ Charles continued. ‘I think he’s finally waking up…’

Hank entered the room to find Kurt clawing at the tube pinching his nose. “Hang on there…” Hank said, taking the boy’s hand away and removing the tube expertly himself. As soon as he was free of it, Kurt sneezed loudly.

“How are you feeling?” Hank asked as Kurt pulled himself into a sitting position.

“Pretty awful.” He had to admit, glancing at the think bandage around his arm. “Not a dream then…” he said absently. He looked around. He had expected a more crowded reception. “Vhere is everyone?”

“At school.” Hank smiled. “It’s 11:37 AM…Monday morning.”

“Monday?” Kurt’s eyebrows quirked. “I have been asleep for some time…”

“Twenty two hours and forty three minutes…” Hank announced. “Give or take a few seconds…”

“It’s good to see you’re feeling better.” The professor smiled as he entered the room.

Kurt ran a hand over his face, picking a grain of something out of his fur. “Actually…I feel like I’ve spent the night in a dumpster. I need a shower…BAD!” He slipped out of bed and almost fell over. “Or perhaps a long soak in a nice varm bath…” He looked at the bandage that encircled his calf. “Or can I not get these vet?”

“No…” Hank smiled. “That’s fine. I need to change the dressings any way…”

“I will contact Jean…” Charles said, placing his fingers to his temples. “Let her know that you’re awake…she can pass the message on to the others…”

~~~~~~

“So…you are all right my little one…” Margali smiled as she watched through the swirling waters of her scrying pool. “No thanks to me…”

“Mother…” Jimaine touched her shoulder.

“I have done him a great wrong, child…” She sighed. “I knew of Stefan’s dark nature…that he was emotionally unstable…I should have been better prepared…I should have realised…to think of vhat I put that poor boy through…”

“He vill survive…” Jimaine smiled. “He is far tougher than he appears…”

Margali smiled slightly. “I am glad he is innocent. It vas very hard to hate him…”

“I know vhat you mean…” Jimaine smiled as she too gazed into the swirling waters. Margali noticed the look on her daughter’s face as Kurt tested the water of his bath. Smirking, she cancelled the spell. The scrying pool went dark.

“Sorry to disappoint you, Jimaine…” She looked at her daughter. “But vhat kind of mother vould I be if I let you vatch such a thing?”

“A very generous one?” Jimaine suggested, a twinkle in her emerald eyes. Margali chuckled.

“He deserves a little privacy, child.”

“Yes…I know…” Jimaine sighed. She decided to change the subject. “So…vhat are you going to do now…?”

“It is time I returned home…” Margali sighed. “My pointless endeavour has caused me to neglect my studies for far too long…” She glanced at her daughter. “And vhat of you, child?”

“I think I vill remain here…” She said softly, gazing wistfully into the darkened waters of the scrying pool.

Margali smiled. Even without her sorcery she would have been able to sense what was behind that look. She knew full well how her daughter felt about the blue-furred youth. She’d known it before her daughter had…

“If you vish to pursue this…and him…you have my blessing, daughter…” She smiled. “But I feel I should varn you. He is involved vith a pretty young thing named…”

“Amanda?” Jimaine finished for her with a rather wicked smile.

Margali returned it.

“I see…”

~~~~~~

“Kurt…?” Ororo admonished. “Will you please sit still? I don’t want to jab you in the neck!”

Kurt sat back, gnawing on the sweet roll he’d grabbed off the plate in front of him. Wolverine had been right, the boy had been eating more or less continuously since he’d emerged from his two-hour bath.

“Sorry.” He said sheepishly. “But vhen you have lived on barbequed lizard on a stick for the past few months…you kind of crave something a little sveet…”

“Barbequed lizard on a stick?” She echoed, a somewhat disgusted look on her face at the thought. She put the image out of her mind as she ran a comb through his long, wet hair, lifting it up and snipping a sizable length off the end.

Kurt sighed as he picked up the severed lock of indigo hair. “And I vas just getting used to the Fabio look…”

“I’m sorry if you wanted to keep it, Kurt.” She said. “But it would be a little difficult to explain how it had grown so long over a weekend…”

“I vas not intending to keep it, Ororo…” He said softly. “I do not vish to remember that place…”

She sighed. He held himself well, but she knew there must be lasting repercussions from his experience. “Kurt…” She began. “If you want to talk…”

He shook his head. “Not now…not yet…” He said. “Maybe later…vhen I can better come to terms vith it…”

She smiled a little sadly at the top of his head. He seemed to have grown up quite a bit during the time he’d spent alone. But then, he’d had to, considering he had no one to rely on but himself. She had seen how suspicious he’d been when they’d found him. He’d shown great courage, willing to sacrifice himself for them all. She wondered what he’d been through, as they all did, to have brought about such a change in him. But she could tell he wasn’t ready to talk about it. She had given him the option, and he had not refused it. He had basically taken a rain check.

He would talk when he was ready, and she, for one, was willing to wait.

~~~~~~

Amanda had never been to the mansion before, but as she rang the doorbell a tall, African-American woman greeted her warmly, as if she was an old friend.

“You must be Amanda.” She smiled.

“Uh…yeah…” She managed. “I was wondering if I could maybe see Kurt?” She hefted a large bunch of flowers…suddenly feeling very silly to have brought them. She knew he’d appreciate the chocolates though.

“I called…” She went on as the woman ushered her inside. “The guy on the phone said it’d be all right…”

“Indeed it is…” The friendly faced man in the wheelchair beamed at her. He offered his hand. “I’m Professor Charles Xavier…we spoke on the phone.”

“Ah…right…” she juggled the flowers in order to take his hand. “I’m Amanda…”

“We have heard much about you.” His smile deepened. “Ororo…” He looked to the woman. “If you would take Amanda to Kurt’s room?”

“Of course, Charles.” She smiled. She gestured with her hand. “This way…”

Amanda was amazed at the sheer size of the place. The grand staircase swept up majestically to the upper level. There had to be a lift somewhere she realised, but it was well hidden, no doubt to retain the historical elegance of the place.

They turned into what looked like an endless hallway, with an equally endless number of identical doors. They passed priceless works of art that adorned the walls. Past equally priceless pieces of antique furniture. She couldn’t imagine Kurt, or the other teens she’d met, living in this place.

The woman, Ororo, stopped and knocked gently on one of the doors. There was a muffled response from within. Ororo opened the door just enough to poke her head inside.

“Kurt.” She said warmly. “You have a visitor.” She opened the door to reveal Amanda.

She was amazed at the vastness of the room. A pair of large French doors opened up onto a decent sized balcony that offered a spectacular view.

“Hi…” She said shyly as she finally located him, lying fully clothed on top of the covers of his bed. He looked at her with a strangely blank expression.

“I will put these in water.” Ororo smiled as she took Amanda’s armful of flowers, exiting quickly to leave the young couple alone.

He continued to look at her with that strange expressionless expression for a few more moments. She felt extremely awkward.

Finally he sat up, moved towards her with a slight limp. He leaned in closely studying her face. Amanda was beginning to feel very uncomfortable.

“Hello…” He said finally. She relaxed, until he added…”Jimaine.”

Her eyes widened. “Wh-What did you call me?” She stuttered.

“Come on…” His eyes narrowed. “I may act the fool, but I am not stupid.” He held up the talisman she had given him. “AMANDA gave me this…” He said. “I know vhat it is…it is part of a protection spell…and Margali said it was JIMAINE who was protecting me…”

She looked away from him. “Kurt…” She began. She looked back at him with shining eyes. She didn’t know what to say.

“I guess this explains why AMANDA was never afraid of my true appearance…” He said softly as he turned and walked slowly out onto the balcony. He leapt up onto the balustrade…which he always did whenever he was feeling down.

She looked at him out there, his tail swinging slowly back and forth, shoulders slumped. She hated seeing him like that. She hated it even more when she was the cause. She tossed the box of chocolates on the bed and joined him on the balcony. He was resting his chin on his arms, which were resting, in turn, on his knees. ‘Balled up…protecting himself from the inevitable pain,’ she thought.

She sat on the balustrade beside him. He glanced at her, but didn’t move.

“Kurt…” She said softly. “Jimaine or Amanda…it doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

“And how is that?” He asked in little more than a whisper. He looked at her when she didn’t answer, lowering his legs over the side of the balustrade when he saw the look on her face.

She took a deep breath as she moved a little closer to him. “I travelled half way around the world…” She said. “I created a whole new identity for myself.” She swung one leg over the balustrade so she could face him. “I risked my mother’s wrath…all so I could be with you…”

He blinked, moving to mirror her. She leaned even closer, feeling him flinch as she placed her hands gently on his shoulders. She looked into his eyes. He could see fear there, but not due to the way he looked. He knew that look all too well.

The fear of being rejected.

“What do you think?” She finished, a slight crack in her voice.

She closed her eyes as she felt the velveteen brush of his hand against her face, opening them to see the tender glow in his eyes. He leaned closer. She could feel the brush of his hair against her face, his breath on her lips when he spoke.

“I think there is no more need for words…”

His eyelids suddenly felt incredibly heavy. Her lips parted slightly, expectantly, as her own eyes slowly closed. He swallowed. He knew what she wanted…what he wanted. But he’d never done anything like that before. Sure he’d tried to, wanted to…but no one had ever wanted him to actually do it before. She frowned, leaning forward when she felt nothing, her mouth now searching for his. He swallowed again, then thought…‘Vhat the hell…’

He felt her body tremble as his lips brushed hers, and in that moment he knew she was as inexperienced as he was. He decided to let instinct take over. After all…the heart knows what it wants…

Kitty chose that moment to phase through the door. Jean had told them all at lunch that Kurt was awake, and though not exactly full of beans, was feeling much like his old self. She couldn’t wait for school to be over, to see him, and had decided to surprise him…

Of course she hadn’t been expecting this.

She was frozen to the spot, unable to move. Kurt and Amanda were too wrapped up in each other to even notice she was there. Kitty could feel her spine melt. Kurt’s kiss looked so soft…so tender…so wonderful…

He was saying so much without saying a word. He was offering his heart in that kiss, and it was being totally accepted, and returned in full…

She sighed dreamily…then realised it wasn’t hers…

She phased quickly back outside, feeling suddenly like a total pervert. Though she’d never seen it from the same angle, Lance’s kiss had never made her feel like that…and she hadn’t just WATCHED them! She didn’t doubt that Lance had feelings for her…but he could never give himself to her the way Kurt had just given himself to Amanda…

‘And it could have been mine!’ She wailed inside her head. ‘He was, like, chasing me for months and I just pushed him away! And he’s, like, so totally wonderful and giving…’ She let out a quite sob. ‘Why is it you never notice what you’ve got until it’s gone?’

~~~~~~

“Wow…” Amanda gasped as the pair finally parted, reluctantly, due to lack of oxygen. She brushed his lips with her thumb, smiling as he sighed blissfully at her touch.

“You’re lips aren’t furry…” She commented.

“A good thing, too.” He said. “Or I vould be forever coughing up furballs.”

Amanda pulled a face at the mental picture. “You sure know how to spoil a mood…you know that?” A mischievous smirk curled her lips. She arched a brow as she studied him.

“So…” She looked at him wickedly. “Is there any other parts of you that aren’t fuzzy?”

“You are just going to have to vait and see…” He said, baring his fangs in a wicked smirk of his own.