Act of Passion and Justice

Summary: A young mutant runs to the Mansion seeking help, and while he's there he finds that life can turn upside down sooner than thought. Also with Jubilee and Jono.

Rating: R, probably (language and violence)

Disclaimer: Kelly's mine, Anne belongs to Ascian , and everyone else belongs to Marvel.

(Part 1)

I looked at the clock through burning eyes. One thirty in the afternoon. I groaned and rolled over in my bed, wrestling the sheets back into some kind of order. I'd woken up with the dream and the stabbing pain in my eyes again, for the second time this week. I rubbed at my eyes furiously, but that only made them start to water and the discomfort didn't stop. I stared blankly into the darkness of my bedroom, all sunlight blocked by thick woolen curtains over the windows, and heard the gentle sound of the dog's breathing at the foot of my bed. I rubbed my eyes again and closed them.

I laid there for what seemed eons before I sat up and groped for the switch to the lamp above my bed. The soft light made my eyes water again, but I wiped the back of my hand across them and got out of bed, shuffling across the floor to stand in front of my dresser mirror. I squinted at my reflection, and then opened my eyes all the way. My pupils adjusted slightly to the light, and I startled slightly. They had changed again.

Instead of the round pupils that were normal, mine had elongated vertically, like the pupils of a cat, or a rattlesnake. The ice blue irises hadn't changed, but the pupils were more than a small cause for worry. I climbed back into bed and shivered, involuntarily.

The pain abruptly stopped, and the imaginary daggers were removed from the backs of my eyeballs. I looked at the clock. Only fifteen minutes had passed since I had awakened. Usually the spells lasted a good two hours, during which my pupils would gradually elongate and then resume the normal roundness, my vision staying accurate throughout. I quickly got out of bed and looked in the mirror - they were still long. Panic rose in my throat. Was this time permanent? I looked frantically through the layers of junk on my dresser and released a partial sigh of relief when I found a small package of contacts. My parents had somehow obtained them, and when I wore them you couldn't tell that my eyes were abnormal. I had confirmed the worst fears of my parents - well, foster parents - when I turned 14 and my eyes changed for the first time.

The world is not a friendly place for the handful of mutants born each year. The lucky mutants found shelter from the world by hiding their powers or abnormalities, and the really lucky ones made their way to Professor Charles Xavier. Unfortunately, the X-Men were only a handful of the several thousands of mutants.

I'm one of the lucky mutants, my DNA not changing until I was two. It was then that my parents started noticing that little Kelly Thrahtan, adopted from a center in London, England, was not like the other toddlers, who were easily enraptured by blocks or crayons or simple-minded television shows. Instead, I somehow taught myself to read by flipping through books and was working my way through the encyclopedia set by the time I was three and was working math problems and equations faster than a calculator by the end of the same year. I developed odd bumps on my hands. My parents kept me in the house most of the day, but at night let me learn the world for myself. This didn't turn out too badly though, considering that I was for some reason nocturnal.

My parents knew that sending me to school would be a surefire way to have me identified and turned in as a mutant, so my mother quit her job as a computer programmer to home school me during the night, when I was awake. She changed her lifestyle to rotate around mine. My father, a chemical engineer for the British government, started quietly advocating for mutant rights protection. I used a computer and went through every book I could get my hands on; by the time I was sixteen I had completed the equivalent of general education plus dual majors in nonlinear mathematics and organic chemistry. No one but my parents and I knew, however. Being advanced in education by such an early age would have set off warning bells everywhere, so I had my education without any diplomas or degrees.

I carried the package of contacts over to my desk chair, where a pair of jeans hung lopsidedly over the top rung. I stuffed the package into a pocket and looked around. I walked over to the lamp and turned it off. A moment of absolute blackness followed . . . and then I could see my room in shades of black, white, and gray. It amazed me, as it always did. My eyes adjusted to the near-absence of light, and thus I could see. It was so cool that it damned near made up for the pain.

I opened my door, waking Bouncer. A shaggy golden retriever with an amiable personality, I had gotten him when I first moved to America and had found him one night while I was wandering around the back streets of town. He was my almost constant companion, keeping the same weird hours that I did. He followed me out into the hallway and into the sunny, bright kitchen. I rummaged and found a box of bran cereal; after I fed Bouncer breakfast I settled in an easy chair to watch TV in the living room and munched on the dry cereal.

After two hours of slapstick comedies and boring news, Mum shuffled out of her room in a blue robe, her hair wildly out of control. She blinked at me for a moment, and then continued to the kitchen.

"You're up awfully early," she said as she came back into the living room, carrying an apple. I usually didn't wake up until five or so in the afternoon. "It was your eyes, huh?"

And I had thought she hadn't noticed. "Yeah," I said, flipping the channel with the remote. Silence for a few moments, and then I said, "I think it's permanent this time."

I could feel her eyes boring through me, waiting for more of an explanation.

"The pain lasted fifteen minutes and then was gone. And they haven't gone back to normal, either." I flicked flakes of cereal at Bouncer, who caught them in midair. I didn't tell her about the dream.

Mum sighed. "Your father is supposed to be home early today. I'm going to go take a shower and get changed." She left with her apple.

I retreated to my room as well, pulling on the baggy black carpenter jeans with the contacts now in a pocket of them, along with my wallet. A plain black T-shirt, tucked in, a big orange Timberland Polarfleece vest. Doc Martens, big, black, and with orange leather flames along the sides. I checked myself in the mirror and ran a cheap comb through my hair. All done.

When I went back out to the front of the house, Dad was walking in the door. He looked haggard and his usually impeccable dress suit was muddy and stained. A bruise was starting to purple his forehead and his neck looked swollen and red."What happened to you?" I asked in surprise.

"Nothing," he said, trying to put it off. His British accent was more prominent than usual, a sign that he was under stress. "I . . . I had some car trouble on the way home, that's all. I better go wash up," he finished, dodging around me and going back towards his room.

I went back into the living room and flipped through the paper he had brought in early this morning, before he left for work and when Mum and I had just fallen asleep. A dead boring paper, considering that we lived on the outskirts of a tiny town with approximately five stoplights and three policemen.

I heard my parents talking, and could barely make out some of what they were saying. First my mother: "Dennis? What - ?"

Dad: "It was nothing, really. Don't worry about it."

Mum: "Don't tell me it 'isn't anything.' What happened?"

Dad: "It was those hellish protestors again. They were waiting outside by my car for me . . . I went out and they ambushed me. One had some sort of a club; maybe it was just a tree branch. I don't know. They got something around my throat and threatened to kill me if I ever endorsed mutant rights again." Silence. "I don't know what to do, Janet. He's our son; I can't just ignore something that's affecting his life."

I tuned out at this point, not wanting to hear anymore. We'd gotten warnings in the mail before, people threatening Dad, but never had they resorted to violence. What made me feel crappy was the point that Dad wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for me.

 I've never been one for thinking through decisions before I made them definite. In that moment I threw the paper down and went quietly to my room, not wanting Mum and Dad to come out. I rooted around on the top shelf of my closet for an old backpack and unzipped it. Extra pair of jeans, a few more shirts and underwear and socks, all the cash I had (more or less five hundred dollars), a Swiss army knife, a roll of gauze. I went to the kitchen and added some fruit and granola bars. I quickly found a notepad and pen by the phone and jotted a few words.

"Mum and Dad: As your only child, I can't let you guys get in any situation that will be dangerous just because of me. I'm leaving, but don't worry. I can take care of myself. You guys know that. I'll contact you as soon as possible. Love always, Kelly."

I pulled the package of contacts from my pocket and put one pair into my eyes. I then grabbed my coat, a knee - length black leather affair with orange flames coming up from the bottom of it - from the hall closet and went silently through the front door, Bouncer squirming out with me. It was a ten-minute walk from our house, set back from a road and close to the forest, to the end of our driveway, and halfway to the road I finally had to stop Bouncer from following me.

"Bounce," I said as firmly as possible, "Go home." I pointed, and he looked at me, his wide mouth open and his tongue lolling out. "Go home," I said again, more forcefully, and he gave me a skeptical look before turning tail and starting to wander towards the house again, unsure. He began to slow and almost turned around again, but I called out "Go home!" and he trotted off. I watched him disappear around a curve and I swallowed my sudden self-doubt. When I was sure he wasn't going to come back, I started walking again.

It was almost six, according to my watch. I'd been walking since I started out, sticking my thumb out occasionally, but most of the cars belonged to people who would never stopped. Eden, the small town near to where I had lived for the past two years, was one of those small New England towns that hadn't changed much since the Puritans arrived. Everyone in the community knew everyone else, and most were upper-middle or higher-class citizens, respectable in every way, attending one of the six churches in the small town every  Sunday. I myself didn't know many people since I didn't have much social contact, but I read the paper and knew that the biggest crime this year was when the mayor caught a bunch of uninvited teenagers in his pool late one night. If that was in the paper for a week, imagine what a stir I would have caused.

Even if no one was willing to pick me up, at least no one was pulling over to stop me. Nothing about me really screamed "mutant," especially when cruising by at fifty plus miles per hour. I was five nine or so, one of those lean but muscular types of people who never gain weight. James Dean-cut black hair (not slicked back and admittantly a bit longer), rolling gait (almost a swagger), squared and upright posture. The only giveaways to what I was were my eyes, because I had taken my contacts out (in dim light the pupils enlarge, looking almost round and normal), and my knuckles. Where Wolverine had his Japanese-knife style claws coming out of his hands, I had small shiny black projections the size and shape of bullets, four on each hand. Almost like built-in brass knuckles. Wolverine, whom I only knew from the rather frequent news features about X-Men, was one step ahead of me though; mine weren't retractable. If someone had pulled over, I would have had to keep my hands more or less out of sight.

It was one of those gorgeous New England spring nights where clouds skitter away when the sun goes down and the stars are like beacons in the cool sky. I pulled my jacket on, letting it swing open, and crunched into an apple as I continued walking. I had only a vague idea as to where I was going. I knew that the Mansion, haven to mutants, was about a hundred miles from Eden, and I knew that walking I could get there within four or five days at the lax speed I was going. The thought of sleeping in the woods didn't appeal much to me, but I couldn't legally drive and being on a bicycle in the dark was more dangerous than walking.

Just after sunset I heard a loud, powerful engine coming up behind me and I turned around, walking backwards, holding out my thumb. The headlights glared down on me and went past, but to my surprise the driver pulled over ahead of me. I jogged easily over to the Jeep, carefully keeping my hands in my pockets and my eyes out of much light.

"Say, sir, can I get a ride?" I asked, glancing cautiously over the SUV. The driver had rolled down his window and looked me up and down. He wore a polo and looked to be no younger than fifty.

"Where ya headed?" he asked in an accent I couldn't quite place. I noticed the two other passengers, one in the passenger seat and the other on the right side of the back bench-seat.

"Just maybe ninety miles or so from here. Wherever you can take me, sir," I said, careful to be polite in hopes it would raise my chances of getting a lift.

Staring hard for a minute or two at the black leather and orange flames, he relented and motioned towards the second door on the left side. "Climb in," he said.

"Thanks," I said, grinning and opening the door. The overhead light came on and I half-closed my eyes, preventing my pupils from narrowing on me. When I shut the door the light went off and I breathed an almost-sigh, holding my backpack on my lap. The man at the other end of the seat nodded politely but in the dark I could see he was wary. His stubbly beard made him look shaggy and possibly dangerous, although he probably would have looked perfectly respectable if I'd met him in a grocery store. I turned to look out the window, and then I heard a click next to my ear. I whipped around to see myself staring at the muzzle of a pistol.

The Beard held it with perfect confidence and fingered the trigger. "Why don't you guys just learn?" he said in a high, nasally voice. "It's as if you little mutie freaks expect us not to notice that you're not normal. Evidently you're trying to run away and stay unnoticed, and yet you turn towards headlights so the whole damn world can see your eyes reflect. Lack of common sense, freako," he said. I couldn't tear my eyes off the gaping black hole that could mean death. "Pull the car over," he said to the driver, who obliged. He then turned back to me. "Out of the car."

I fumbled for the handle, knowing that maybe I had had a chance to convince them they had it all wrong but that I had blown it by letting my hands get into plain view. I slipped out of the vehicle and stood still, since the Beard still had his gun trained at an area between my eyes and was sliding across the bench-seat to get out after me. The engine died and the two men in the front also came out, and the three of them stood around me, daring me to move. The road was deserted, and the forest behind me made its usual night noises. The last bits of light had disappeared, but I knew I had the advantage: they couldn't see in the dark, I could.

"Gimme the bag," the driver said, and I handed it to him, still not taking my eyes off the gun. I heard him rooting around in it.

"So, kid, maybe you should tell us your name so we can notify somebody when we find your poor body laying shot on the side of the road," the Beard said. I shook my head in response, shifting my eyes up to his. He stared stonily at me, and I did the same. If he wanted a test of wills, I'd be happy to oblige.

The driver and the third man had knelt on the ground, the third holding a flashlight while the driver emptied my few possessions on the ground. The Beard glanced down for a moment. "Didn't you know those contacts are illegal?" he said, still looking down.

I made my move, kicking him in the stomach while twisting the gun out of his grasp. He doubled over and I slammed my elbow down into the back of his neck sending him down. With a sure move I shot the flashlight that the third man had been holding; it exploded with a crunch and the man yelped. Without any light, they were defenseless. The driver leapt up though, squinting, coming with fists towards my faint outline in the dark. I saw him coming and buried my fist into his face. He howled with pain and three spots of blood appeared by his right eye, which had turned into a mush that began to dribble down his cheek. The three men were more or less blathering around in the dark, not knowing where I was with certainty but knowing I was able to defend myself. "Everybody stay still," I said, keeping a level tone although adrenaline sped through my body and made my heart knock wildly in my ribcage. "If you move, I don't have a problem shooting. Say, maybe you guys should tell me your names so I can notify somebody with I find your poor dead bodies on the side of the road."

They were frightened. I could see it in the wild way they looked around, indecisive. "I'm serious," I said. "I have no qualms about killing each of you. You guys meant it, now I mean it. Don't move."

They didn't. I collected my belongings and stuffed them back into my backpack, growling threatening words at the third man, who shifted a little as I got close to him to get my knife. When I straightened, I heard a faint noise behind me and turned with plenty of time to slam both fists into the kidneys of the driver, who had attempted to get me from behind. I left him squirming and the other two watching with fear as I climbed into the Jeep's driver's seat and started the engine. I watched them hesitantly move as I sped away, topping the speed limit by thirty mph. I dropped the gun into my jacket pocket. Now I wasn't seeking safety for my family, but I was seeking safety for myself.

(End of Part 1)Slightly more than an hour and a half later, I eased the Jeep onto the grass beside the road and switched off the headlights. For a moment I sat in the vehicle, then I killed the engine and got out, locking the doors before I shut them. I left the keys in the vehicle and warily went to the edge of the forest, scanning the trees for unusual movement. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, so I plunged onto what looked like a deer trail and followed it into the foliage.

I wasn't sure exactly where the Mansion was. All I knew was that something in my gut had told me to stop driving and start walking. And so I did. I didn't know if I was going the right direction, or whether I would even find the place, but I followed my instincts, trying not to think and screw things up. My backpack got caught on low branches a half dozen times, I startled a small band of deer from eating, and I almost stepped on a skunk before I came to a miraculously huge clearing of uniformly-cut lush grass. In the middle of the clearing stood what I had been looking for.

It was so large that an image of the British Parliament building flashed to mind. It was almost as formal looking, but not quite as formidable. I wondered idly if I could climb the wall without being noticed.

I stood at the edge of the lawn for quite some time, not sure what I was going to do. I considered going back to the Jeep and breaking in and driving somewhere else, where I could live in isolation, but it didn't appeal to me. Neither did walking across that lawn and knocking on the massive door either, though. What was I going to say? "Hi, Kelly Thrahtan, mutant. Can I live  here?"

I finally started stalking across the lawn, feeling on edge the entire time. I was almost positive they knew I was there; surely they had some sort of surveillance. I climbed up the stairs to the door and raised my hand to ring the inconspicuous bell when the door flew open. I stumbled backwards in shock, the light pouring out almost blinding me and sending me back down those steps, this time in an ungraceful heap. I caught my balance though, and blinked wildly at the doorway. A short yet solid man in jeans and a flannel shirt glowered at me.

"And?" he said gruffly as I did some more blinking.

"And?" I repeated, incredulously. I get over here and all I'm asked is and? "I'm Kelly," I said, hearing my voice wavering and hating myself. "I, I  need help."

The man shot out a hand and grasped me by the arm, pulling me into the building. Shutting the door softly behind him, he looked at me as I stood slightly dazed on a hallway rug. He stared at me with calculating eyes, taking in my clothing, my stance, my backpack clutched in two knobbly-knuckled hands. My eyes had adjusted and I no longer squinted, so I gave him the same inspection he was giving me.

"Everybody who comes here needs some kind of help," he said at last, no trace of gruffness. He strode down the hall, motioning for me to follow him. I made a point of memorizing the route we took, afraid that I would get lost  in the rambling place if they told me to show myself out. Eventually he stopped in front of a door and rapped a knuckle on its wood a few times before opening it, indicating that I was to go in. I stepped in and he followed me.

It was an office, and a man in a hoverchair had his back turned towards me. I noticed another person in the room, to the right of the man, a tall lady with smooth, striking rich brown features and a shock of white hair. She looked at me appraisingly but with friendly curiosity as I walked towards the desk.

"I knew you were coming," the man behind the desk said, making me jump slightly. He still provided me with an excellent view of the back of his head. "I could feel you about to turn back, but I hoped that you wouldn't. I was glad you decided not to leave." Finally he turned, and his penetrating gaze revealed no emotion. He didn't look me up and down, assessing me; instead he held my gaze with steady eyes, waiting. Waiting for me to speak, I supposed, but I didn't. I simply returned his gaze. "You can remove the gun from your pocket," he said at last. "You won't be needing it while you're here."

"How do I know that?" I challenged. So far I hadn't seen anything that would make me trust any of the house's inhabitants.

A smile appeared on the man's face. "I am Professor Charles Xavier. And you are?"

"Kelly Thrahtan," I said, not trusting even this man. I stood with my right foot a bit behind my left, ready to move quickly if I needed to.

"He was standing on the doorstep, almost came unglued when I opened the door," said the man behind me. I had forgotten he was there.

"Son of Dennis Thrahtan," Xavier mulled, looking at me again. "Advocate for equal rights for all." His smile changed from being reassuring to being truly genuine.

"Dennis Thrahtan?" the lady to his right said with glee. Then her face turned into suspicion. "Why would the son of a leading mutant rights advocate need help?" she asked.

Xavier raised a hand. "Kelly, this is Ororo," he said. I nodded to her, and the man behind me moved around to my side. "I'm Logan," he said, offering me his hand. I shook it, and turned back to Ororo.

"I don't need help as much as my family needs help. I came here because I didn't know where to go but I knew I had to leave home. Fanatics were threatening to kill my father if he continued to campaign; he was campaigning because of me. I couldn't let him get hurt. I figured you guys could at least tell me where I could go."

"You found where you could go," Xavier said with a sweep of his hand to indicate the Mansion. "This, I'm afraid, is one of the few havens for the genetically different. For us. What I can offer you is lodging until you make some decisions, such as where you want to go and what you want with your life. If you decide to stay here, where you will be relatively safe, you can have lodgings as long as you are willing to offer any help you can. I can also offer you," he said, with a twinkle in his eye, "respect and trust. If you have enough trust to come to me, then I have trust also for you."

I looked at him for a long moment, then shifting my glance to Storm and Logan. Logan gave me a small nod, as if to offer his word that he would give respect and trust too. "Thank you," I said at last, drawing the gun from my pocket by the muzzle, indicating I didn't mean to use it as a weapon. I wasn't going to give him the weapon, but I popped the magazine out of it, walking over to Xavier's desk and laying it upon the top. He didn't say a word, he merely folded his hands on top of the desk. I turned and retreated out the door, pocketing the empty weapon. "Come to the Danger Room when you're ready," he called out after me.

Logan was waiting outside the door for me. "I can show ya where you can stay," he said, his voice deep and almost rumbling. I followed him through the hallways again and wondered about him. He was almost without a doubt Wolverine. Even though I had lead what I knew was a semi-sheltered life, the X-Men were the axis of a lot of debate and a lot of talk. I wondered how
old he was. How old Storm and Xavier were. It was impossible to do anything but make a guess as to age; they looked as though they were young but ancient, perhaps because of what they had seen in life.

"This is it," Logan said, coming to an open door and flicking on the lights. The room was medium-sized and airy, a bed, chest of drawers, nightstand, and small desk making up furniture. The carpet was a faint cream, and the sheets and blankets on the bed were rich blue. The walls were bare, but a fan hung from the high ceiling. Two windows were set in the far wall and were covered with blinds. There was a small door in the wall to my right.

"Not much to 'em, but they're comfy, ya know?"

I set my backpack on the bed and walked over to the windows. Logan followed me in and opened the small door. "This leads to a bathroom," he said, and turned in time to see me struggling with the cords that raised and lowered the blinds. I had somehow gotten my knuckle spurs caught in them and was thoroughly entangled. The harder I tried to get loose, the messier
things got.

"Geez," Logan said, coming over and unsheathing a set of long, curved adamantium claws. I stopped struggling at the sight of those. With a quick swipe that I was afraid would take my arms off, the cords were cut and they dropped from around my hands. In a shish sound the claws were gone. "Aren't those damn things retractable? You've gonna get yourself killed with
those," he added, looking pointedly at my hands and then up at me. "What the hell kinda good are those things gonna do you anyhow?"

I clenched my fists, wondering if I could sock him before he could react. He saw me tense and softened. "Hey, I didn't mean that. Calm down. You can prove their worth in a few minutes, if that's what ya want."

He turned on his heel and began towards the door.  "What's the Danger Room?" I asked to his back. He stopped and motioned with his head to follow, and I did so, falling into step beside him.

"I can't place your accent. Where did ya come from?" he asked as we made our way to an elevator.

"Outside of Eden. Small town to the west of here. London, before that."

"Been through Eden. Lots of old money," he commented.

"Yeah. Not an especially accepting community." We rode the elevator down and when the doors slid open I found Xavier by four doors.

"You can change in there," he said, motioning to one door. "Then you will proceed into there." He pointed to a second. "I will watch. Have you ever fought before?"

I shook my head. Hell, I hadn't done anything but roam around with Bouncer and read. This was the first time I had ever met other mutants before. Geez, what a case I am, I thought to myself.

"This is more of a test to assess your skills in stressful situations than anything else. You have only met Ororo, Logan and me, but that's good. Other X-Men will be waiting inside the Danger Room for you. Defend yourself, that's all. A simple task," he said with a trace of irony.

I nodded, wordlessly entering into the first room he had motioned to. It was smaller than my bedroom, and a few benches and shelves were all that it held. On one bench was what looked to be a jumpsuit and a pair of versatile boots. They actually expected me to change? I thought, wonderingly. I couldn't help but wrinkling my nose a bit. They must think you can't fight unless you're in a special uniform or something. I walked back out, still in my black and orange attire, and entered the Danger Room.

(End of Part 2)At first I thought I had somehow stepped out a back door and into a town I didn't know was behind the Mansion, but then I realized it was an illusion. All of it, from the narrow streets to the trashcans and cars parked outside slightly dilapidated brick townhouses. There was little light, and I saw a cat prowling around an old Dodge. Its eyes glinted and reflected the light as it looked towards me, and I remembered what the man in the Jeep had said - my eyes had reflected the light. I closed my eyes slightly, but kept tense. My vision adjusted and I saw everything clearly. Cautiously, I began silently going down the street.

I made careful movements, making sure my clothing wouldn't rustle at all. I was still wearing my jacket on top of my shirt and vest, and I regretted it instantly; the air seemed hot and humid, with only a balmy breeze trying feebly to get the atmosphere moving a bit. I rolled along on the outsides of my soles, making my Martens silent on the asphalt. I realized that by staying on the main road I wasn't especially being cautious, so when a small alley wandered off to my right, I followed it, keeping alert.

I thought I heard a sound behind me and I stopped, tensing and dropping into a half-crouch. The brick wall beside me loomed up smoothly for three stories, offering no hiding place, but I didn't need one. Instead, I bent my knees and balled my hands into fists. With a burst of energy I leapt up as high as possible, launching myself ten feet off the street. At the height of my jump I punched my arms out in front of me, my knuckle spurs punched into the brick securely. I drew my shoes up to the wall and hung there, my shoes gripping the wall and my knees almost at my chin. My mutant knuckles were still buried in the brick, like cleats on a lumberjack's tree-climbing shoes. I was stationary until I was convinced there was no one below me.

Taking my left hand out of the brick, I made a fist and punched into the wall another eighteen inches up. Hand by hand I climbed up the wall until I was almost at the top of the third story, where I stopped again, listening. Then I saw the shadowy figure below me in the alley. I positioned my feet and then abruptly dislodged my spurs from the wall, pushing off with my feet and flipping backwards silently through the air. I landed in a crouch, three feet behind the man in the trenchcoat. He swung around but didn't see me, since I was below his line of vision, and I stood, whipping out with a fist.

He issued a grunt of surprise and I saw that he was caught unawares. I caught him with the side of my fist on the side of his neck, my spurs not catching him at all. I had caught his windpipe, however, and he gagged, trying to get one hand into his pocket, I grabbed his arm and spun behind him, twisting it far up behind his back. He uttered something that sounded foreign and I put my fist to the small of his back, applying pressure with my spurs but not punching. He wriggled and I pressed a little harder. He seemed to give up.

In the back of my mind I felt a tickling sensation and I flinched, sensing someone else was coming. I let go of the man and leaped upwards again, quickly punching my way up the wall. I had barely pulled myself over onto the roof when a small explosion knocked away a portion of the wall where my leg had just been. I didn't look back over to see who it was; I didn't want to risk losing my face.

Large square shapes like swamp cooling units crowded the top of the roof. I straightened to my full height, and opened my eyes all the way, reflection be damned. I wanted to see what I was doing. My breathing had grown quick, but with a bit of control I slowed it, calming myself. I started walking silently again, picking my way along. A slight swish caught my attention and I saw a shadow drop behind a cooling unit. I froze and then approached. In a flash, however, there was a looming shape zipping through the air at my head. I ducked slightly to one side, seeing that it was a person flying at me, and I put out a hand, grabbing her by the leg. She toppled down and I pinned her down on the ground, cupping a hand over her mouth. She struggled and the white streak in her hair glinted. "Stop trying," I hissed at her, and she gave me a murderous look. Finally she rolled her eyes with consent and was still. A growling sound was approaching and she cocked an eyebrow, as if asking "Well now what are you going to do?"

I frowned down at her and made a face. "Don't worry," I said, "I'll get out of here." She gave me a skeptical look and I took one last look at her before letting go and running at break-neck speed across the roof. "Hey!" she yelled after me as I jumped across to another roof and ran across this one. When I reached the edge I jumped down, finding myself face to face with Logan.

In a fraction of a second his claws were out and he was swiping at me. The only thing I could do was to dodge his weaponry, my mind blanking out. How could I fight him off? There was no way. The only option was to run, so I did, ducking out from his onslaught and out of the alleyway I had landed in. A car blocked the alley from the main road, but I jumped on top of the car and then jumped off. I landed running, and set off down the main street. I found what looked like a quiet spot and ducked behind a parked car, catching my breath. I had never imagined that I would be doing something like this. I grinned to myself, but it slipped away when I felt two hands around my throat, pulling me up. I stood, feeling the powerful but small hands but not able to see the attacker, who was behind me. "Found you," said a feminine voice. I gripped my hands together and twirled, bringing my hands up and then down on the arms that had held me in their grasp. She was thrown off, but she retaliated quickly, slamming a fist into my ear. I reeled and she swiped my legs out from under me. I writhed on the sidewalk for a moment, my face pressed against the concrete. I heard her approach me and I turned onto my back, both hands clenched again, and I swiped her legs out from under her, catching her behind the knees with my heavy boots, giving her a taste of her own medicine.

An explosion was set off near my ear, and I lifted my head to see the outline of my first attacker coming at me. I got up and jumped up the storefront that was on the sidewalk. I caught my fists into not brick, however, but glass, which was okay if it was strong, but this stuff wasn't. Spider cracks spread from around my hands and just as it threatened to cave in I jumped to the side, catching myself on the brick wall this time. One of the spurs snapped off on impact, the shiny black thing falling and clattering to the ground. My hand started bleeding and I starting cursing. "Shit shit shit," I said as I punched to the roof again. Once up there I sat still, sticking my bleeding knuckle in my mouth in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Pain like that from a badly skinned knee throbbed in my hand, and after a moment a dulling numbness started tingling in it.

All of the sudden it was daylight, and I blinked, the light momentarily painful. "Game over," said the amused voice of Xavier from the sky. I looked up and saw a high ceiling dotted with lights and speakers. I stood and peered over the roof. A lady with reddish hair looked up at me, the same one who had caught me by the neck. "You'd better come down before the imagery disappears," she called up. I scanned the roof and realized again that it wasn't real. I looked down and jumped, landing on my feet in a crouch in the middle of the street. The lady and my first attacker looked at me from the sidewalk, and then the sidewalk disappeared, along with all the building and the cars and everything. I was in a cavernous room that was empty except of people.

The lady smiled and walked towards me, extending a hand. I stood and shook it. "Jean," she said, looking genuinely pleased to meet me. I nodded, replying, "Kelly."

Jean turned and looked at the man who approached us. His trenchcoat swung open and his long legs had a swagger in their walk. His face was lean and his hair tousled, and he withdrew one hand from a pocket. He held a playing card between his first and second fingers and tossed it at me. It made a small explosion a foot from my face and was gone. He grinned, pleased that he had intimidated me slightly. "Remy LeBeau," he drawled in a Louisiana-French accent. He shook my right hand but kept his red eyes on my left one. "No bleedin' t'death becous o' that, right?" he asked, sounding only mildly interested. I didn't take my eyes from his face. "No," I said, guardedly. He grinned again and thumped me on the shoulder.

"Xavier is over there," Jean gestured, and I looked over to where I had entered the Danger Room. I kept an eye on her and Remy, but sidled over to where Xavier, Ororo, and other unknown persons waited.

"Sugah, you're the fust person to evah catch me like that," said the attractive lady I had pinned on the roof. "An' you're a cutie too," she added, giving me a winning smile. Remy snorted, and I could see that there was something, or had been something, between them.

"Rogue," Xavier said, indicating her with a small hand movement. She inclined her head and put her hand out.

"Glad ta meet ya, honey," she said in her Southern accent. I shook her gloved hand and gave her the best smile I could.

Logan joined the group. "I see how those suckers work now," he said, nodding towards my hands.

Remy rubbed the small of his back. "Very effective."

A youngish girl who had been standing behind Xavier was staring intently at me, and I switched my gaze to her. Her eyes opened wide and delight filled her face. "Hey, those are the coolest eyes I've ever seen!" she said enthusiastically. "You look like a cat or something."

"Incredibly, he moves like one too," Jean added with a note of respect as she fished a Kleenex out of a pocket and handed it to me. "I found you while you had Gambit in that lock of yours. You flinched - do you have any psychic abilities?" she asked.

I shook my head, taking the tissue and pressing it against my hand. "What abilities I know of I showed out there," I said. "You were the one who was invading my mind?" She nodded. "I flinched because I've never experienced that before. It's uncomfortable."

Xavier was watching all of us and quietly interrupted. "You can all go now. I'd just like to have some words with you, Kelly."

No one moved. He raised an eyebrow.

"I don't mind," I said. "They can stay. I don't have anything to hide."

Xavier gave in. "I had Storm pull all information on you off of a database we have," he started. "It seems there's little known about you at all. Born in London, England, moved to the States two years ago. Adopted by the people you call your parents." I flinched at that, it being a sore spot in my mind.  "Gene testing, mandatory for all orphans up for adoption in the United Kingdom, performed when you were born, revealed that your genes were perfectly normal. I assume your genes mutated after this test. Papers also indicate you were schooled at home, by your mother, Janet, who was a computer programmer. You have no educational records aside from that, and the only medical records say that you broke your arm when you were six. You have no driver's license. No diplomas. No anything, so to speak." He stopped, letting me speak. A large blue-fuzzed man-creature standing next to the young girl regarded me with curiosity.

"I'm nocturnal," I said, first off. "Mum quit her job so she could be with me during the night, when I'm awake. Dad kept working. Mum didn't school me so much as guide me, providing me with books and so forth. I taught myself to read when I was two and she didn't really have anything to do with it. I studied and am competent in nonlinear math and organic chemistry. I'm smart, but I don't have the paper to prove it," I shrugged. "My parents and I meant to leave as few records lying around concerning me as possible. They didn't even ask for records concerning who my birth-parents were, although it was implied that I was the illegitimate child of a single woman. I didn't get a license because it would be one more way for someone to track me down."

"Are you old enough to drive?" Gambit asked with a patronizing glare. Logan grumbled at him.

"I drove here," I snapped. "I turn twenty in four days."

"You look younger," the young girl piped up, but she grinned.

Xavier cleared his throat. "Kelly, I consider your performance to be quite impressive, especially for someone as young and who has had no training. I am more than willing to let you stay here, with your cooperation, of course. As for your unusual hours, I believe with some time we can adjust your body to reversing its order. I'm afraid that if you're the only one awake during the night, you'd get awfully bored, considering all of us usually sleep during the night. Doctor McCoy here can help you on that
matter. He can also help you stop that bleeding."

The blue hulk behind Xavier nodded with concern, eyeing the blood-soaked tissue. Drops of blood were spattering on the now-white floor. Xavier said, "I believe that's all for now. Hank, why don't you take care of Kelly?" With that, Xavier made his exit, most of the X-Men following behind him, except the young girl and Dr. McCoy.

"Wow, I was with Chuck, watching you out there," the girl chattered. "By the way, I'm Jubilee. But anyhow, you were really awesome to watch. You really did remind me of a cat. Climbing those walls was totally something else. Have you done it before? Or did you make that up as you went along? You grew up outside a little town, right, so I guess you hadn't climbed a building before." She paused to take a breath and I answered, "Done it before." Hank cleared his throat. "Jubilee, why don't you move your mouth at the same time that you move your legs, so that Kelly can get to the infirmary? Continue talking, by all means, but let's not let him bleed to death here." He smiled warmly and I took a liking to him.

Jubilee walked by me, giving direction in between her animated chatting. The infirmary was a polished clean area with a few beds and complicated medical equipment. Hank went to a cabinet along one wall and rummaged in a drawer while Jubilee ushered me onto a bed, where I sat, letting my legs hang off to one side. Hank pulled a small table on wheels over and had me lay my hand on its stainless steel top. With gentle albeit huge hands, he removed the Kleenex, causing the bleeding to become more profuse.

"Does it hurt much?" he asked kindly. I shook my head and he used a cooling liquid and cotton squares to clean my hand. Where the knob had broken off was a hole the size of a dime that continued to gush blood. "What exactly do you call these?" Hank asked. "It's not as though they're claws, like Logan's."

"Spurs," I said, succinctly but politely. Of everyone I had thus far met, I trusted him the most. He had puffed powder into the wound, and it formed a clot-like blob as blood mixed with it. Soon, the clot hardened like a scab.

"Are they organic?" he asked. "Bone, or flesh?"

"I don't know. I asked my parents once, and they just avoided me. I don't have any sensation in them, except at the root, where they meet my hand." He placed a small cotton square over the clot and used a tape-like gauze to hold it in place. It was nothing but a tidy distraction now, no more blood or gore or anything else. It still throbbed a little, but I knew the pain would subside. "Thank you," I said.

He smiled again; it seemed to be his permanent look. "It's no problem," he said. "Now, tell me, what do you know about organic chemistry?"

Jubilee groaned and proclaimed that she was going where she could understand the talk. After she left, I found myself being quizzed by Hank over things I never thought I'd be able to talk to someone about. We discussed how chemically, one should be able to change shape if the total mass never changed and if the general amounts of chemicals never changed either. If one could just find the right way to trigger molecules into shifting, there would be no problem.

"There are such things as shape-shifters, actually," he said. "Some mutants have the ability to take on other shapes. Chemically, though, they're doing the impossible. They change mass, weighing a little one moment and three hundred pounds the next. I have yet to reach a conclusion as to how this happens."

I looked at him quizzically. "I read in a paper about a shape-shifter once," I said, "But I dismissed it as gibberish. Maybe they can absorb part of their atmosphere, taking in that mass and making it their own."

"That's an interesting theory," Hank mulled. "I'd like to test that sometime, but unfortunately, it's a rare mutation."

We talked some more until I noticed he was stifling yawns. I glanced at a clock that was on the wall and noticed that it was well after midnight. "You're tired," I said. "I should probably go, so that you can sleep. I appreciate you doing this," I said, raising my left hand, "And tomorrow, late afternoon, when I wake up, maybe you can help with my internal clock too," I added with a wry smile.

"I'd be happy to," he answered as I walked out the door and into the hallway. I stalked down the maze of hallways, occasionally opening unlocked doors and peering into the rooms behind. In one room I found a blaring television with several easy chairs around it, and slumped in one of the chairs, chin on chest, short black hair hanging over eyes, Jubilee was sleeping, her breathing easy and light. I stood looking down at her, the quiet state she was in being quite a contradiction to the way she was earlier. I turned off the television and turned off the overhead lights, leaving a lamp on and remembering how I had clicked on my lamp after waking up earlier that day. Home already seemed a long ways off. The dream came briefly to mind, but I dismissed it, leaving Jubilee to slumber.

Heading back towards my room, I passed a large kitchen where Rogue and another lady were talking quietly over cups of coffee. I had planned on simply slinking by, but Rogue caught sight of me. "Hey, Catboy, come ovah here, hon," she said, nodding towards the table. The other lady, with short brown hair framing her delicate features, turned to look at me. "Pour yourself some coffee, if ya want it," Rogue said. I did so, finding mugs in a cabinet above the coffee maker, and went to join the two at the table.

"Kelly, this here is Anne. She's a doll, you'll like her."

"Hi," Anne said calmly, smiling with dignity. "I heard you did pretty well in the Danger Room." I sipped my coffee, not sure exactly how I measured up in terms of the X-Men. "I went through it a couple months ago; quite a
shocker, huh?"

"Yes," I said into my mug. I felt slightly uncomfortable, being around other people. Evidentially I needed to work on my social skills. "Um, I found Jubilee asleep in some room upstairs. I just left her there, is that okay?"

Anne and Rogue both laughed. "Sure, she's not a permanent fixture here anyhow. She's one of the GenXers, a student. She just came ta visit overnight because Emma got so pissed at her that she sent her out of her sight for 24 hours. Naturally, Jubes skeedadled ovah here."

"So there are students here too? Are they training to be X-Men? Do they get some kind of promotion to the real thing or what?" I asked.

"It's to teach them how to control their powers or how to use their powers better. Of course, it's Xavier's way of trying to brainwash them early, too, make them see that it's no use trying to defeat normal humans. Peaceful harmony is what they learn." Anne looked at me, asking with her expression whether the explanation was enough.

I nodded thoughtfully. "So will I end up in the school?"

Rogue and Anne exchanged a look. "I don't know," Rogue said. "You're awfully young ta be part of the X-Men, an' you have no training whatsoever. It'll be ultimately up to Chuck."

"Don't be surprised if you don't get an answer soon, either," Anne chimed in. "He likes to think things over and watch you for quite a while before he does anything." She set her empty mug on the table and glanced at her watch. Sliding her chair back and rising, she said, "I'm afraid I can't pull an all-nighter and keep you company any longer. Sorry, I'd love to talk longer, but I need my beauty sleep." She smiled and I didn't think she needed any. "I'll probably see you tomorrow, or whenever you're up. Good-night." And with that she left, placing her mug in the sink on her way out. "Will your family be missing you?" Rogue asked gently, swishing her coffee around in its mug.

"Probably. I guess I should get in touch with them; I promised I would."

"So did they just let you leave? I can't imagine a mother and father just letting their son go like that."

I grimaced. "They, uh, didn't exactly know. I just left. I didn't feel as though there was much need for explanation. I love them," I said quickly, "but I had to remove the chance they'd be hurt over me."

She stood up and paced over to counter, returning with a cordless phone. "You should call them, hon. Let them know you're okay." She handed me the phone and picked up her mug. "They love you too, so call 'em up." She also left.

I sat for a moment, staring at the phone in my hand, and I hesitantly pressed in my home phone number. An annoying voice came on and said, "We're sorry, but your call cannot go through. Please try again." So I tried again. Same message. After three more tries I gave up, not knowing why I couldn't get through. When I was done with my drink, I left the phone on the table and turned out the lights.

(End of Part 3)I was awakened by a knock at my door, followed by it opening and a head peeking in. "Hey, kid, wake up," said the voice. I wondered who the hell it was and sat up in bed, looking for my alarm clock to tell me what time it was. There was no alarm clock. I remembered that I wasn't in my usual room.

"What time is it?" I demanded, seeing that it was Logan who stood half in, half out of my room.

"Uh, three-thirty in the afternoon. You remember how to get to Chuck's office? He wants to speak to ya right away. I suggest not making him wait," he said, throwing in his advice. He pulled the door shut and I got out of the bed, pulling my jeans over my boxers and trying to remember where I left my backpack with all my shirts. I found it kicked under the bed and pulled one on. Not taking the time for shoes or socks, I emerged from my room and
started through the house, following the corridors in my bare feet. My left hand itched, but as I reached down to scratch it I found the bandage Dr. McCoy had put in place the night before. I rolled my eyes. Nothing was going
as expected.

Remembering how Logan had knocked and then entered yesterday, I did the same. Xavier was in front of his desk this time, looking a bit anxious, as though he had been waiting for me. In his hand was a newspaper.

"We subscribe to a decent number of papers around here. This," he said, raising the paper, "is an afternoon version out of Wagner county."

I eyed him. Eden was in Wagner.

"Please, come over here. I'm afraid I've got a terrible thing to show you."

I went over, searching my mind for what could be wrong. Without any more words he handed me the folded paper, which I unfolded slowly. There, on the front page, the top headline, I saw it. "Mutant-Based Conflict Leads To Fire; 2 Dead."

I'd never believed that a person's heart could actually stop because of something besides death or ventricular fibrillation, but mine did stop momentarily, freezing and seizing up. When I regained enough sense to comprehend what I had just read, I quickly scanned the article under the headline. To the left was a picture of the three of us, Mum, Dad, and I. I had been seventeen when my dad had taken that picture, using the timer and his tripod, and I had to admit that it was a good one. One of the few where my eyes hadn't turned into shining orbs because of the flash.

"(Eden, NY) Last night at approximately eleven PM a fire was reported at 5 Heddengat Street. The smoke cloud was seen by a neighbor a mile off, who called the fire department. When the department arrived, the house and about three acres of woodland surrounding it had been burned to the ground. After the fire was extinguished, firemen searched the area and found evidence that the fire was indeed arson. Dennis Thrahtan and Janet Thrahtan, the couple who owned the house, perished in the fire. There was no sign of their son, Kelly Thrahtan.

"When questioning neighbors, it was discovered that Dennis was an advocate for mutants' rights, which had caused him to be targeted by several extremist groups. An unnamed source reports that Dennis had been harassed by members of the Holy Fire group, a religious group that believes that members of the group should annihilate mutants. They had seen Dennis as a threat and are the most probable suspects for arson. When questioned, W.F. Addling, the president of Holy Fire, said, "The wrath of heaven has come down to punish those who dare to contradict the sacred people. Justice has been served. FOR MORE, SEE PAGE A6."

I finished the blurb that was on the front page and stared at the picture again. It seemed like Mom was staring right at me, and even though she was smiling brightly, her eyes seemed accusing. I didn't know what to do; my mind had left me. I threw the paper on the floor, turned, and ran, slinging the door open.

"Kelly, wait!" Xavier yelled behind me, but I kept running down the halls, almost killing myself by skidding around corners. I threw open the front doors and streaked across the lawn, the short grass cool under my feet. I didn't know where I was going, all that mattered was that I got away. I raced into the woods and slowed only slightly to duck under branches and to weave around trees. I could feel tears along my cheeks and my lungs were retching with each breath, but I kept running. I had gone maybe a mile when I saw a massive tree in front of me, its trunk leading up into the sky, where branches leafed out. I knuckled my way up as far as I thought I could safely go and stopped, panting, on a branch. The sobs came with wracking ferocity and I sat on the branch, back against the trunk, and buried my face in my arms, which I rested on my drawn-up knees.

I stifled back my crying with some effort and rubbed at my eyes, drying them. For a while I sat and gazed across the tops of neighboring trees. The woods seemed to reach out forever, stretching out and encompassing all of the land in New England.

It was well-past midnight and I was stalking the streets of SoHo again. This part of the city never slept; people poured in and out of nightclubs until dawn. I fingered the bank notes and coins in my pocket, wondering where
I could get something to eat. I decided on grilled kabobs from a street vendor and ate as I walked, looking around. When I was done I found myself in front of a notorious hotspot close to Leicester Square. If you stood in the middle of the street, you could see down to the Thames. I entered the club, assaulted by the smell of cigarette smoke and the zigging colors of neon lights. A couple of the regulars know me, I'd been coming for the past year now, stopping in to dance and check out the girls. I weave to the edge of the dance floor and look around when an attractive girl with a red tattoo encompassing her left eye coming towards me. I lead her onto the dance floor, and although I have never seen her before I feel that I can trust her. The music pulsates in the veins; we dance and then she suddenly stops, gesturing for me to lean towards her. I do, and she puts her mouth up close to my ear. "I know," she says, loud enough for me to hear over the techno but soft enough that no one else hears. "Someday you'll choose. There's more of us than you think." She disappears into the crowd of dancers and I stand in the middle of the floor when the lights go out and I find myself swirling in vertigo.

The dream was so real that I almost tumbled off the branch but caught myself before I did. I had actually gone to that nightclub, and the girl with the red tattoo had been there. We had danced, and she had leaned in to say her piece about her knowing and everything else. Until now the dream had been a nightmare. I had left the place scared that she was affiliated with UK, or Unrelenting Killers, a British anti-mutant group, and she was going to turn me in. Now I saw the dream in a new light - she was a mutant herself. Why hadn't I realized that then? I wondered about the girl and how she was able to pick me out.

"I heard what happened," wafted up a voice from the ground. I peered down through the branches to see Anne lightly touching the trunk of the tree I was in. I was pissed that someone had found me when I wanted to be alone.

"I know you want to be alone," she said, her words echoing my thoughts, "but I couldn't help but know you were here and unhappy. I just want to offer whatever compassion I can."

I wondered what Mum would say if she saw me, for the first time, surrounded by people and not worried about being found as different. She would probably tell me to enjoy it because things can always change. I leapt down from my branch, crashing through smaller twigs on the way down, and landed by Anne.

"How did you find me?"

"The trees. They picked up on your emotions, your rage. I simply noticed that they noticed." She gave a small smile.

I frowned at her and walked away. "She's here," she called out at my back. I whirled around. "What did you say?"

"She's here. The girl." She didn't flinch as I narrowed my eyes and stared at her. "I could feel that image, the image of the lady with the red tattoo. She's here. Well, not here now, she's somewhere in Europe, last I heard. But she's one of us. She's one of the X-Men." When I still didn't respond she gave me a hard glare. "Why the hell don't you talk?" she demanded.

"There's nothing to say," I replied, turning to walk off again. This time she let me go, and I weighed what she had said. Evidentially she was telepathic, and probably hadn't meant to pick up on me. When I had left her far behind, a nagging in my mind made me feel guilty. I shouldn't have been so short with her, she hadn't done nything to deserve it. I felt wicked though, my nerves totally shot and my social pretenses gone. The two people who, okay, weren't really my mother and father but were my parents, had just died, leaving me alone in a world that was getting stranger by the minute.

(End of Part 4)I stared at my feet as I shuffled through the woods. I considered going back and finding my shoes, but then I'd probably run into people and that was exactly what I didn't want. I gave up, however, and turned back towards the Mansion, approaching it from the back. A Jeep, not unlike the one I had stolen last night (although it was justified, in my mind), was by the back door and a young man was leaning against the hood. I approached him silently; he could not see me because of the way he was watching the door. When I was only ten feet from him, he picked up my footsteps and turned.

"Holy shit," said two voices in my head at the same time. One of them was not mine.

{{Who the hell are you?}} came the voice that didn't belong to me. The eyes of the man in front of me became very suspicious, and I gathered that he was somehow talking, despite him being bound like a mummy up to his nose.

I was getting tired of introducing myself. I considered getting "Kelly" just tattooed across my forehead. "Kelly. And you?"


There was dead silence while we inspected each other. It wasn't the same as looking in a mirror, per se, but there was a startling enough familiarity about his looks to throw me off. He had the same dark hair, fair complexion, straight nose, tall build, and affinity for leather clothing as I did.

{{Where are you from?}}

"Bloody hell, you're British," I exclaimed. My life had just gone from extremely weird to rating off the meter.

{{So are you.}} The same surprise I was feeling registered on his face as well.

"I was born in London. My family moved to the States after I turned 18."

{{Who are your parents?}}

I swallowed, not knowing how to answer. "I'm adopted. My . . . parents died last night in a fire. I don't know who my mother and father are."

We regarded each other in silence for a few moments. "Why do you look like something out of Egypt's tombs?" I asked at last.

{{Let's just say that a twist of the genes did the trick.}} His eyes didn't look happy at my question. {{Where were you adopted from?}}

It was now my turn to be unhappy about questioning. I named the center for him, however.

His eyebrows registered deep thought. {{You know, my mother's sister got knocked up before she got married. She put the kid up for adoption at that center. It was two years before I was born.}}

"How old are you?"


My gut flipped. "I'm twenty," I said slowly. "Do you think - ?"

His eyes opened wide. {{No way. Couldn't be.}}

"But I bet it is. If I'm your aunt's illegitimate child, that means . . . sonufabitch."

{{No, that's what you are,}} Jono pointed out. {{I didn't much like her.}}

I felt the sudden need to sit down and write this all down and then stare at the paper to see if it made any sense. My mind clicked back. Everything fell into place, everything was logical. "Well, now we know it's your mother's side of the family that has the dysfunctional DNA," I said.

{{Your mother's too,}} he answered.

Just then Jubilee burst out of the door. "Sorry it took me so long, I was in the Danger Room with Wolvie earlier and I lost track of the time . . ." she trailed off, seeing Jono and I and the looks on our faces. "You guys look
as though you've seen ghosts," she said, stopping and coming in between us. She looked back and forth for a moment, and then said, "You know, you guys look a lot alike. Especially since both of your are so pale right now." She furrowed her brow. "What's going on?"

{{Not much,}} Jono said, keeping his eyes on me. {{I was thinking, though. Maybe Kelly should come with us, check out the Academy.}}

I looked at the person who was probably my cousin and didn't see why not. Hell, I had just been orphaned for the second time in my life; what else was left to lose? "I need to get my stuff," I said.

"We'll wait," Jubilee said. She turned to Jono. "Promise me you'll drive really slow on the way back. I don't want to get back until after dinner. Emma's cooking today. Drive through McDonald's, I'll buy."

I entered the Mansion and went up to my room, silent and avoiding everyone. I quickly put on socks and shoes and shoved everything else (except my jacket, which wouldn't fit) into my backpack. Outside I found Jono behind the wheel and Jubilee in the passenger seat, fiddling with the radio. I climbed into the back and Jono took off.

Led Zeppelin was singing about the stairway to heaven when Jubilee asked, "Kelly, do you believe in a heaven? I mean, are you religious or anything?"

I wasn't quite sure how to respond. "I believe in heaven," I said, slowly. I didn't like the thought of Mum and Dad just being gone, poof, like that. Surely that wasn't all there was to it. "I believe in God. But I also believe that He gave us free will, so I'm in control of my life. Kinda. But I don't think He makes me do what I do."

She looked at me in the rearview and smiled. "I like that," she said, digging a pack of gum out of her pocket. "Want some?" she offered, holding it back. I took a stick, as did she. Jono was silent.

"Welcome to the School for the Gifted, as Xavier calls it," Jubilee said, jumping down from the Jeep. She spread her arms wide and breathed a big sigh, the turned dramatic and got a foreboding look on her face. "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." She waggled her eyebrows at me and went inside.

I climbed out, as did Jono, and I looked up at the place. The sun was setting behind it, and rays of light formed a halo around the building. I took a last sip from the McDonald's coke and popped the lid off, dumping the ice onto the ground at my feet. I then pulled on my jacket, since I was starting to feel slightly chilly, and followed Jono.

Upon entering, I could hear Jubilee, not far off, talking to an adult with a Irishman's accent. Jono and I went towards the voices, and we found them in a kitchen. The Mick, with red hair and an amiable face, looked up when he saw us, as did two girls who were seated at the kitchen table.

"Ye must be th' Crashcat, as she was callin' ya." I shook his hand as he introduced himself. "I'm Sean Cassidy, one o' the teachers to these hooligans."

Jubilee giggled. "He's Banshee. Don't make him mad or he starts yelling."

Jono walked over to the table and had a seat by the blonde girl who was seated there. Sean turned to the fridge and I mouthed "Crashcat?" at Jubilee. She just shrugged.

"So how did ye end up at t'Mansion? Yer parents send ye, or were ya runnin' from somethin'?" Sean asked, pulling a soda from the fridge and popping it open. He took a long swig of it and looked at me expectantly.

"My parents were killed last night," I seethed. Rage gripped me again, as it had in the woods. "Holy Fire torched the house because my dad spoke up about mutants."

There was a general gasp from the three girls in the room. "I don't really want to talk about it any more," I said, slinging my backpack on the counter. Jono was still quiet, a look of pain over his face. "Is there a phone I can use? I'd like to call Doctor McCoy, if I could."

Cassidy didn't ask any questions as he pointed towards one hanging from the wall. "The cord's long enough you can take it into the next room," he said. He also told me the number to dial to reach McCoy's office. I dragged
the receiver into the next room, which housed several worn sofas and chairs and a TV on mute. Dialing in the number, I wondered what I was doing, why I was calling at all and why I was here when what I wanted was to escape this reality and find another place and time when I didn't have growths on my hands and my eyes were normal and my parents were in the kitchen trying to decide what to do for dinner.

"Dr. McCoy speaking."

"Um, this is . . . Kelly," I said, feeling my face burn with embarrassment and guilt. "I wanted to call you so that you would know I haven't run away. I'm at the Academy, with Sean and Jubilee and Jono and a bunch of other people."

A sigh of relief drifted over the telephone wires. "Xavier was afraid that you had decided to give up on everything and return to Eden, or worse yet, vent your rage on some unsuspecting victim."

I winced, remembering how I treated Anne. "Why did you call me and not Xavier?" Hank asked.

"I still don't know about him. I don't trust any of you."

"I'll take it as a compliment that you decided to call me, then," he rumbled. "While I've got your attention, however, I'd like to talk to you about a few things."

"Sure," I said, feeling very, very tired.

"I obtained the spur that you ripped off last night in the Danger Room. I was curious about it, and so I ran a few tests. I hope you don't mind?"

"No. Of course not."

"Did you know that they are poisonous?"


"At the root I found blood, yours, of course, and also a substance that is undeniably poisonous. It acts as a paralyzing anticoagulant. There must be small glands at the roots of your spurs, which secrete the substance into the spurs, which are hollow." I had looked down at my hands and held a fist up to my face when he said, "You can't see this with the naked eye, but under observation they are hollow. My theory as to why you bled so much yesterday is that you ruptured the poison sack, and hence the substance oozed onto the tiny ripped blood vessels. The anticoagulant would have caused them to not stop bleeding."

"It did feel a little numb," I remembered.

"Yes, just a little bit, am I correct? Have you ever stuck around and seen what happened to a person who you inflicted wounds upon?"

I laughed, a chuckle tinted with bitterness. "I usually whack 'em and then get out before the cops come 'round."

"My guess is that, depending on the extent on the injury and whether you actually broke the skin or not, the injury would not be likely to clot within a reasonable amount of time and that some type of minor paralysis would take
place." His voice took on a certain gravity. "You could very well kill someone."

"I'll keep that in mind," I replied, looking back through the doorway to the kitchen. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but no doubt, because of the gazes flickering my way, the conversation was revolving around the

"Kelly, I also ran your DNA profile into the computer database we have here. It's what we do with everyone here. It was surprising, but your DNA has many of the same genetical landmarks as does Jono Starsmore's. You've met him, am I correct?"

"Yes, I did, when he came to pick up Jubilee."

"It is probably a fluke and just a coincidence - I haven't done enough research to back any of this up - but your genes are enough alike that you could practically be cousins. Quite an amazing coincidence, wouldn't you say?
Very surprising."

"Indeed," I said. Not that surprising. I promised the doctor that I would call tomorrow afternoon when I could, and then said good-night.

(End of Part 5)Returning to the kitchen, I found that everyone except Jono had vacated the place. "It's official," I said. "You and me, buddy. Same family tree."

{{Is that what Hank said?}}

I opened the fridge and looked at some dubious Tupperware. I went for one that looked like a chicken casserole. "Will anyone miss this?" I asked. I hadn't eaten much since leaving home, and even after a monster burger and extra large fry I was still hungry. He shook his head no, so I found a fork and ate it cold. "Yeah, that's what Hank told me," I said around a mouthful of the stuff, which wasn't half-bad. "He got blood samplings from a spur that broke off and ran it into a computer, I guess. He was assuming it was just coincidence."

{{Sure as hell is weird, though. I mean, your ass ending up here, now? I don't know whether it's divine intervention or what.}} He looked at me while I continued to shovel food into my mouth.

"Want some?" I asked, offering the plastic container to him.

He shook his head. {{My lower face, throat, and torso are all more or less blown away. I can't eat.}}

I stopped chewing for a moment. "I'm sorry," I said.

{{Shitty gene pool,}} he commented dryly. {{What about you?}}

"What you see is what you get," I replied. "Dead giveaway eyes and hands." I made a fist and looked at it, swallowing. "Supposedly poisonous. Beats me."

{{What's the bandage from?}}

"My initiation ceremony, I suppose. I had at least four of them after me last night in the Danger Room, and I was climbing a wall when one broke off in a pane of glass. I was sodding bleeding all over the place, and McCoy
patched it up." I placed the empty Tupperware on the counter. "I could probably take it off now, I guess. It's been close to twenty-four hours." I picked at the edge of the bandage with my nail and finally was able to peel it off. A perfectly round scab was evident, and a small back point, barely discernable, was starting to surface. I was secretly pleased; I'd never broken a spur off before, and was a bit concerned that once it was gone, that was the end. I put my hands into my coat pockets and banged one hand against a smooth metal object. I remembered the firearm I had confiscated.

"Do they keep weapons around here?" I asked, trying to sound nonchalant and merely curious.

{{You're planning on blowing someone's head off?}}

"If I were?" I challenged.

Jon shrugged. {{'Nothing good ever comes of violence.' Martin Luther.}}

"People killed my parents," I said, becoming angry. "Don't you see that? Isn't there something to be said for wanting justice? 'Mere connection with what is known as the superior race will not permanently carry an individual forward unless the individual has worth.' Booker T. Washington," I said, countering with another quote. "Just because these people are normal and consider themselves superior doesn't mean they are, or that they have the right to do something like this." I pulled the gun out of my pocket. He backed up a startled step. "It's not loaded," I said. "Just answer me honestly. Are there any magazines for guns like this in this place? I don't care if you won't get them for me or whatever, just answer me."

He narrowed his eyes. {{You're crazy.}}

"Sure," I said, flippantly. "Who wouldn't be?"

He sighed. {{Sean doesn't have a gun that I know of, but he keeps a massive switchblade in his room. I caught him cleaning it once. Emma has a gun, but I don't think it's the same kind. It looks different; it's not built the same.}}

I tossed the weapon up into the air and caught it, over and over. Finally I stopped. "Okay," I said. "I'm outta here. Tell the gang I send all my affection." I pocketed the weapon and slung my backpack on, pacing towards the door. When it was open, I turned to Jono, who had followed me. "Look at it this way," I pointed out. "At least you can tell your kids a great story about your crazy cousin." I went out into the night.

I stood in the garage, where several vehicles were housed at the Academy. Jono hadn't followed me out, and for that I was thankful: the last thing I wanted was him giving me grief over something. I looked at the cars and
wrinkled my nose. No good, any of them. At least not for what I wanted.

Tucked to one side was an object shrouded with a tan faux-leather cover, and when I lifted the cover I found a very dubious looking dirt bike. Not as good as, say, a Harley, but I inspected it and determined that, hypothetically, it should work. The keys were in the ignition, and I filled the tank with gas from one of those big red containers. I looked at it once again and decided I had better find a helmet - there was no telling what it
would do - and after having done so I wheeled it outside and began walking to the road.

At the road, under a clouded sky that was threatening to start raining, I got on and tried to start the thing. It huffed and puffed and threatened to break down, but finally I got it started. After a few seconds of hacking like it was an old lady with pneumonia, it roared with promise as I revved the engine. I was getting ready to pull the helmet on when I heard footsteps on the gravel.

"Hey, Cat, wait up!" hissed a voice. Jubilee was running over, her coat flapping behind her.

"Bugger off and go back to bed," I growled over the engine.

She stuck her chin out defiantly. "Let me come with you," she said. I shook my head. "You can't just disappear all the time, you know. This is the third time in two days. Yesterday you run away from your parents, today you
ran away from the X-Men and now from us. Come on, let me come with you. You could use some company."

"I'm leaving because I don't want company," I said. "You're staying here."

"You're a bastard," she said, narrowing her eyes.

"You've no idea," I muttered.


"Nothing." I resigned to the fact that I wasn't going anywhere without her raising a screech. I handed the helmet over to her. "If you're coming, you're not to give any protest of any kind. Period."

With a grin of conquest, she pulled on the helmet and swung up behind me. I revved the engine up and pulled out of the driveway, spewing gravel behind us and heading west. "It's going to be a long ride," I yelled backwards. I could feel her nodding and she tightened her arms around my waist.

In two hours I let my speed die down a bit and took a road that, five miles away, became the main drag of Eden. When I could see the outskirts of the small town, I pulled the bike over and cut the engine. The wind had picked up, and thunder had started rolling around in the sky. Kicking down the prop, I got off, as did Jubilee.

"Where are we?" she asked as I pulled the box of contacts from my backpack and carefully inserted a pair into my eyes. I blinked a few times and answered. "This is Eden," I said softly. "Paradise for most, hell for a few."

She gave me a puzzled look, mulling over that as I took my wallet out of my back pocket and checked it. Real ID, false ID, a credit card that my parents had given me and that had an account to it of only one thousand dollars. In case you need it, they had said. Still had the cash, too. I took a roll of gauze from my pack and wrapped it thickly around my knuckles, hiding the spurs under swathes of cloth.

"Come on," I said, and Jubilee and I followed the edge of the road into town. It was rather late, and the two of us walking down the street of a quiet town in our flamboyant clothing was going to cause a stir within a half hour, if my guess was right. I had to get what I needed and get the two of us out.

Two blocks down the main drag was a small pawnshop that was a mom and pop type business. I had walked past a few times, and remembered seeing a small sign in the window that handguns could be purchased within, and this was my destination. I was glad to see that it was still open for another ten minutes or so, and as I held the door open for Jubilee, I whispered into her ear, "My name's Danny now, if anyone needs to know; got it?" She nodded as she entered.

The chime on the door alerted the owner's wife that there were customers. She appeared through a back door, her fifty-ish face creasing into a matronly smile. She did give a bit of a surprised look at our attire and my bandaged hands, but she also seemed happy for business. "Is there anything I can help you with?" she asked.

"Actually, there is," I said, giving her a big, gracious smile and using my accent in an attempt to impress onto her that I was a polite, upstanding citizen. "I recently inherited a cabin and a collection of firearms from my
father, who passed away a few months ago." She nodded sympathetically. "All of the hunting rifles are in tip-top condition, and they're all marvelous. However, I was cleaning out a cabinet and found this little piece of metal."
I laid the empty gun on the glass countertop, and she inspected it, slipping on her glasses, which hung from a chain around her neck. "I can't find any magazines or bullets or even a brochure on this little beauty. I noticed the sign in your doorway, and I was hoping that someone as knowledgeable as yourself could help me in purchasing some magazines for this."

She blushed at the compliment and picked up the gun after asking "May I?" She pushed her glasses up her nose and looked at it closely. "I think we have just what you need," she said at last. She pulled a sealed box from under the counter and used a penknife to slit it open. "These magazines are twenty dollars a piece. Each holds ten rounds, and they'll fit your handgun." She handed one over and I examined it.

"This is exactly what I want," I said, beaming at her. "I've started shooting clay pigeons with small guns, and it's quite challenging. I found this and waned to try it out, see what old Pops invested in."

"Well then," she said, "How many will you be wanting?"

"Five," I said. "That should last me until I get to know this little baby." I caressed the gun and dropped it back into my pocket.

She placed five magazines into a paper bag and started ringing them up. It was only a hair over one hundred dollars, and I started pulling the cash out of my wallet when she said, "I'll need to see some ID too, of course
dear." I didn't bat an eye, handing her a false ID that proclaimed I was twenty-four and named Daniel Rother. A friend of mine in London was a professional thief, as he liked to call himself, but made most of his money
churning out false identification cards. I had bought one from him before we left. My parents had found it once, but I was able to bluff them into believing it was in case I ever got turned in and captured. They were leery,
but figured their son wouldn't get into any trouble.

I tore Jubilee away from a case that held little electronic gadgets and held the door open for her to exit. Before I stepped out I turned and inclined my head, saying "Thank you ever so much for your help" to the blushing owner's wife. The chimes jangled as the door swung shut.

"I have never seen anyone lie like that," Jubilee said in admiration as we headed back towards where I had stowed the bike in the woods. "Geez, I thought Bobby and I were good." She shook her head in amazement. I didn't say anything. When we were close to the bike, she said, "Jono was right. You really are going to kill somebody."

I got onto the bike but didn't start it. "And?"

She bit her bottom lip. "You're a lot like Wolvie," she said, "Only younger and better-looking and not as hairy. But you also seem more dangerous."

"Me, more dangerous than he? Somehow, I find that hard to believe," I snorted in contempt.

"Seriously. He doesn't think things through like you do. You seem more calculating, like a jungle cat that'll come up behind you and rip your throat out - just like that! - and you won't know 'till you're dead. That's why I called you Crashcat." She picked up the helmet. "I just hope you know what you're doing." There was worry in her voice, but if I weren't totally wrong, there was also an element of true affection.

"Yeah." I kick-started the engine and its roar ripped into the night. She pulled on the helmet and swung up behind me, holding on tight as I turned back in the direction of where I had called home until yesterday afternoon.

(End of Part 6)"It's colder here than back at the Academy," she whispered, hugging her jacket close to her small frame. She leaned back against the tree where I was perched twenty feet up, scanning the ash-covered clearing that was in my view. I could see the concrete foundation, where the house had stood. There, in the corner, that had been my bedroom. Piles of ash where my furniture had stood. Small, glittering items littered the floor - must be shards of glass from when the windows exploded. My bathroom was recognizable, the tub blackened with soot but still on one piece. There, that pile of black, that was the La-Z-Boy I had sat in while throwing cereal to Bouncer. My parent's bedroom . . . my throat caught. I hoped the bones of my parents weren't lying there, still in the ash. I hoped investigators had had the decency to take their remains elsewhere, instead of leaving them here in the cold night that had begun to spit drops of rain down.

The place had been marked off with yellow plastic police ribbon, and one armed guard was patrolling the border, making sure no one was tampering with the site of an arson. I popped the magazine out of the gun, then snapped it back in. Out, in, out, in. I sure as hell hoped my gut was right, telling me he'd show up.

Jubilee was uncommonly quiet for the next half hour. I would occasionally look down through the branches to see her silently drumming her fingers or blowing a bubble with the wad of gum in her mouth, but perhaps she realized that this was going to be the turning point in my life. Either I did this now or did it later; either way, she couldn't stop it.

My watch read midnight when I heard a car engine on the road. It stopped, and I could vaguely hear a car door being slammed. I scanned the area, finding the patrol officer, and then from where the long driveway used to be
came a tall, thin man walking in the drizzly rain, guided by a flashlight.

The officer saw him and trained his flashlight onto the person. The person's thin, wax-colored face seemed to glow in the dim night, and the officer called out "You can't come through here."

The policeman walked over to the man and there was a quick conversation, none of which I could hear over the thunder, which had turned from gentle rumblings to ear-splitting booms. The officer finally nodded consent, and the man switched off his electric torch, then bowed his head and folded his hands. The officer moved away a respectful distance. Was Addling praying? Would a man who condoned the murder of people for a so-called religious cause also pray for the souls of those he ordered dead?

The rain became harder, now pummeling me steadily. Addling hadn't moved, and I thought I could see his lips moving, but I was too far away to be sure. Then he turned his head up to the sky and seemed to be yelling up into the clouds, but again I couldn't hear. He spread his hands wide, and carried on for a minute or two, then bowed his head and folded his hands again. Finally, he was done. He walked over to the officer to say something else, and I jumped down from the tree, landing by a wet and miserable Jubilee.

"We're going," I said, and started off into the woods, walking parallel to the driveway. She scrambled up from the wet ground and followed, keeping a respectful distance. When we reached the road, I saw the sleek expensive luxury car Addling had driven over. I peered in the window and saw the keys lying on the driver's seat.

"You know how to drive?" I asked Jubilee. She nodded. "Take this car and drive it until I'm out of sight, then leave it and walk back here. I just want him to not be able to find it, that's all." With only a moment's hesitation, she opened the door and slid her dripping body across the supple leather. The engine purred to life and she glided it down the road. I turned to wait for the thin man.

He came down the driveway, a circle of light from his flashlight preceding him, and stopped when he saw his car was gone. He looked around, not seeing me, clearly bewildered. I walked towards him, a silent predator
with all the advantages, and when he saw me he startled.

"I didn't see you coming," he said, the quiver in his voice quickly hidden. "The weather has turned rotten, hasn't it?" He warily watched as I came to stand five feet in front of him with his flashlight trained on me, although courteously not in my eyes. I didn't say anything, and he turned nervous. "I was down at the site of the fire that happened yesterday . . . I, I felt as though the poor people who died in it deserved some prayer."

He was still trying to rouse a response from me, since he didn't know who I was and what I was doing on a night like this. I glared at him and felt my jaw clench with hate. "I knew the people who died in the fire," I said at
last, low and quiet.

"The Thrahtans?"


A moment of silence.

"You killed them," I said, keeping my voice level.

His eyes turned to stones in a fraction of a second. "That's quite an accusation to fling out," he spat.

"Everyone knows you're the leader of Holy Fire. Everyone knows what you guys do, it's just no one has ever said anything. Now you've met someone who has the balls to say it and you're scared," I replied.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he snapped.

I looked down at my hands, and he shifted his flashlight so that he could watch them. "Do you know what I am?" I asked of him as I started unraveling the gauze from around my hands.

"Probably crazy," he said shortly.

"Not clinically," I answered. The length of soft material fell away from my right hand, and the spurs reflected the light. He drew in a sharp breath as I started unwrapping my other hand. When I was done, I dropped the pieces of gauze to the ground. He watched as I took the contacts out of my eyes.

"You're a mutant," he hissed at me, through the rain. Wet and slick, he looked like a cadaver.

"Smart one, you are," I said. "You must know that you aren't exactly highly-thought of by most of us."

"You are all flukes of nature, mistakes by the Almighty," he said.

"I think you're wrong. If a being is all-mighty, then He doesn't make mistakes," I said.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "He has talked to me; instructed me to destroy the unpure."

I snapped at this, leaping towards him and knocking the flashlight to the ground. I grabbed his collar and pulled him close enough that I could smell his after-shave on those sallow cheeks. "You're one of the unpure ones," I
growled. I could sense his growing panic. "My parents died in that fire. By your orders. They were normal, law-abiding citizens who never harmed anyone in their life. You went after them simply because a 'fluke' of a son caused them to change their perspective on the world."

"You're not the cause. They could have gotten rid of you, had a gene test before you were born and aborted you or put you up for adoption."

"They adopted me! My mother and father put me up for adoption, and so a couple adopted me and raised me. And you think that I will just scare you and then let you go, when they gave their all and you took it away." I let go of him and pushed him roughly, sending him stumbling backwards. I seethed with fury, and kicked him in the gut. He sprawled backwards onto the ground, and I knelt beside him, pinning his down with one hand.

"Let me tell you something. While dying in a fire, a person lives for approximately 13 seconds, burning alive, before they die. That's 13 seconds of hell that my parents didn't deserve. You, to be completely fair, also
deserve 13 seconds of mind-ripping, body-eating pain. You also happen to be a very lucky man, because of the way your victims raised me. I could put you, without any trouble, through that much pain, but I won't." I pulled the gun out of my pocket. A flash of lightening revealed that his eyes had grown wide with the absolute fear of a doomed man and the absolute awareness of what he had done last night. I lowered the gun, very slowly, to the point of his forehead between his eyes. "I won't keep you waiting, but I won't let you get off easy, either. Those were my parents. Because they were everything, I regard you as nothing. Nothing. And so I'm afraid I can't let you do that to anyone else." I closed my own eyes and pulled the trigger.

His body shuddered, and I dropped the gun, leaving it on the muddy grass. I got up slowly, feeling slightly sick, but kept my stomach down and blinked back the tears that had come to my eyes. I imagined my parents, trapped in the house while their lives were smothered away by the hungry fire, and I knew with certainty that their last thoughts probably revolved around me. I knew, however, that they weren't blaming me for anything, but instead trying desperately to think of some way to show how much they loved me. By dying for me, they had done that. I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands, feeling the rain drip down under my collar. I jumped when I felt arms embracing me from behind.

"Hey, Cat, it's me," said the small voice. I turned to find Jubilee looking thoroughly worried. I couldn't smile at her, though. She seemed to understand that I didn't know what I was doing, and she hugged me again. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and drops of water fell off my hair, zinging to the ground. When I straightened, she gave me a small smile. "You did the right thing," she said. "At least, I think you did." She looked over at the body. "Everyone's gonna be pissed, though."

Jubilee was right, everyone was pretty mad. I took up my room at the Mansion again, and spent most of my time looking out the window at night at the woods along the edge of the lawn and watching the people who passed
periodically. I was, as usual, relatively silent. After two days, Hank called me down to his office.

"Have a seat," he said, gesturing. I sat down in a modest yet comfortable chair. "I didn't call you down to reprimand you or to grill you with questions. We are not living in the age of the Inquisition anymore." He toyed with a pencil in his hands, and I examined the new spur that had completely grown out of my left hand. "I have but one question for you, and I'll keep it short.  Joseph Joubert said, 'Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice.' My question is, what was your action?"

I met his level gaze and thought for but a moment. "Both," I answered. "But it was right."

The End