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Massachusetts Academy AU

Chapter Text

Everything she needed for school was packed, stowed in the trunk of the Bentley. The chauffeur, silent and blank-faced behind dark glasses, held the door for her as she waved to her parents. They waved back, and disappeared into the house before the car door shut.

Kitty dropped her chin to her hand as she stared out the window at her house, mumbling, “Massachusetts Academy, here I come.”

Kitty was advanced among her peers, to the point she'd graduate high school early if permitted to do so. Her parents advocated against it, insisting she wasn't mature enough for college yet. They did everything they could think of to keep her in school, but when Xavier's school came calling, everything changed. Kitty was pulled from the school she'd been at for years and shuffled from one school to another until her parents finally settled on one. When they interviewed with the head of the Massachusetts Academy, they seemed to be satisfied at last. The school had a curriculum that was both rigorous and interesting, and the headmistress, Emma Frost, had assured her parents Xavier did not have access to the students or their records, and the school had the best security available.

Kitty leaned back in the plush seat and tried to enjoy the ride. Instead, her thoughts kept returning to the strange series of events that had led to her acceptance into the Massachusetts Academy. Early in her eighth grade year, Kitty developed migraines, and one night she woke in the middle of the living room floor with no idea how she got there. She thought she must have sleepwalked, and her mother took her to a doctor, who prescribed some medication. It didn't help. Several nights a week, she'd wake up downstairs, sometimes all the way down in the basement.

One afternoon after an especially bad day at school, she lay down on her bed to rest, one of those headaches beginning again behind her eyes. Suddenly she hit the floor in the living room. In a frenzy, she ran back upstairs and slammed the door shut. She huddled in the closet in panic until her mother came looking for her. Kitty didn't tell her what happened.

That night after dinner, and after she'd calmed down a bit, she did some research online and came to the conclusion that she must be a mutant.

She kept the secret, never telling her parents or anyone else. She was afraid of what they'd do if they knew what she was. Over time, she learned to control her power a little, practicing in the evenings after her homework was done. She had heard of mutants, mainly through a few news pieces her dad had watched during dinner. The X-Men caused a stir when they saved the life of Reverend Stryker at an anti-mutant rally once. More often, though, they caused destruction and created any number of budgeting hassles for the city of New York. Her dad hated them, and Kitty was careful never to let him know what she was.

When the headmaster of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters came calling, her mother threw him out of the house. Kitty stayed in her room, listening to her mother scream that her daughter was not a mutant and how dare he come to her house and spread such lies about her. Kitty held the tears inside. He wasn't wrong about her, but there was nothing she could do—nothing she was willing to do, at least. When they left, she saw the man, whom she later realized was the Professor himself, catch her eye in the window. She didn't like him. He made her feel like he knew too much about her that he had no right to know.

Not long after that, her parents pulled her from the public school and put her in a private school. Her mother claimed Xavier had illegal access to public school records, and that was how he'd found her. The following semester, she was placed in another school, “safer and better.” Now she was going to her fourth school in two years. Her mother liked Ms. Frost, and her father had agreed that the school was good enough to get Kitty into MIT or Harvard or Yale. So here she was.

Sometimes Kitty wondered if her parents had figured out the truth about her, and if that was the real reason they were sending her away. Her mother said the scholarship Ms. Frost offered was nearly impossible to turn down. The distance wasn't too great, no worse than that awful Xavier's school. And Ms. Frost seemed like a kind and nurturing, but strict, headmistress, who put her students' needs first. Her promise to contact several excellent physicians who could help with her sleepwalking had sealed the deal.

 

The ride was dull, mile after mile of trees and open land. The chauffeur said nothing, and the radio was silent. Kitty pulled out a book and stuck her headphones in to try and calm her nerves. She smiled at the idea of maybe being popular and having lots of friends. Maybe a hot boyfriend, too, one who didn't just want to get into her pants. Though, if he was really hot, maybe that wouldn't be so bad.

They stopped overnight at an upscale hotel, where Kitty had her own room. The chauffeur carried her bag up for her, and left his room number before excusing himself. She wished briefly that she had a friend to share the adventure with. Someone who would laugh at her stupid jokes and enjoy bouncing on the super-squishy mattress and talk to her when the lights were out so she wasn't straining to hear sounds of other hotel guests as they passed the room. She turned on the television and left it on all night instead.

They arrived at the Massachusetts Academy the following morning, just before noon. The building looked as friendly as a building can look. There was a green lawn out front with flowering shrubs, and a bright red door. The chauffeur began taking her bags out of the trunk as Kitty slowly ascended the steps. Before she could knock, the door opened, and a real butler ushered her inside.

“Vance will bring your belongings up shortly, Miss Pryde,” said the butler. He escorted her to a study just off the foyer, where Ms. Frost was waiting for her.

“Kitty, how lovely to see you again. How was the drive?”

“Long and boring.”

“I'm sure. I assure you, there will be nothing boring about your days at the Academy. I've arranged a class schedule for you based on what you were taking in Chicago. Please look it over and let me know if anything is in error. I've taken into consideration your advanced classes as well.”

Kitty scanned the schedule, noting the usual lineup of classes. One in particular, however, gave her pause.

“What's Understanding Your Capabilities?” Kitty said as she slid the schedule back to Ms. Frost.

Ms. Frost wore a white suit that hugged her figure and made her look like royalty. “Ah. That's the real reason you're here, Kitty. You're a mutant.”

Kitty felt the color draining from her face as she tried to stammer a response.

“Relax. Everyone here is a mutant, including myself and your instructors. I haven't told your parents. I know you're keeping this a secret for now.”

Kitty relaxed fractionally. “But...how do you know that?”

“I'm a telepath.”

“So you read my mind?” Kitty said, distressed at the idea of someone reaching into her mind without her permission.

“You were projecting your thoughts rather loudly, darling, and I couldn't help but hear them. I have a moral obligation not to read people's minds without their permission, but I can't help it if you throw your thoughts directly into my head.”

Kitty didn't know much about telepathy, but Ms. Frost seemed sincere, and her response reasonable. Kitty sat back down, wondering when she had stood up. “So what's the class about?”

“Exactly what it says. You'll learn more about your abilities and how you might wish to use them.”

“Okay. I guess that sounds all right.”

Ms. Frost stood and extended a gloved hand. “Wonderful. I thought you'd be pleased. Welcome to the Massachusetts Academy, Kitty. Let's get you to your room.”

She didn't have to share, as she'd expected she might. The room was small, but every piece of furniture was high-end, gleaming and polished. The linens on the bed were soft and in the closet were several sets of uniform pieces—blouses and skirts and jackets. There was a brand-new laptop charging on the desk, a flat-screen television mounted on the wall, and passwords to the school's online movie and television show accounts printed on a laminated card on the wall beside it.

“On the weekends, you'll be permitted to wear casual clothing, but during the school day, you will wear the uniform of the Academy.” Ms. Frost went over a few more rules, routines, and expectations. Kitty listened attentively. At last, Ms. Frost gave her a tour of the building. There was a gymnasium large enough to host professional basketball games, though Ms. Frost said only her students played in it. There were halls full of classrooms, some in session, and in the basement was the rec area. Several rooms, connected by large openings held games, a movie room, a kitchen stocked with snacks, and at the far end was an exercise area.

Back upstairs, they concluded the tour at the cafeteria, where Kitty's grade level was eating lunch. Ms. Frost walked among them and introduced Kitty to several groups of students, all of whom greeted her politely. Now that she was among the students, she began to notice that some of them had visible mutations. She tried not to stare, but she'd only seen mutants on television, and she couldn't help but be curious.

Ms. Frost sensed her uncertainty, and assured her she would get along with all of them just fine. “Each of you is individual in every way. You are unique, beautiful, and not a thing about you should be changed. At the Massachusetts Academy, we celebrate your gifts rather than suppress them. We will teach you to be proud of who you are, what you are capable of, and you will learn that your gift can be used to help other mutants who don't have access to schools like ours.”

The other students at the table where they'd stopped were listening, too. The speech seemed familiar to them, because they were smiling, and one was even mouthing the words along with Ms. Frost. For some reason, Kitty found that funny, and she smiled at the girl.

“I'll leave you here to get acquainted with some of your peers in the Sophomore class,” Ms. Frost said, indicating a seat for Kitty at one of the tables. “Please go with Isla when lunch is over. You share an afternoon class.”

Kitty thanked her, and sat quietly next to the tall slim girl, the one who had been moving her lips along with Ms. Frost's speech.

“She says that to every new kid,” Isla said with a smirk. “I'm Isla. Who are you?”

“Kitty Pryde,” she said. “So, uh, where are you from?”

“Pittsburgh,” Isla replied, “But I consider myself a Massachusetts girl now.”

“Soon you will, too,” said another girl, who introduced herself as Kristen. “We love it here, and so will you.”

“So what can you do?” Isla asked.

No one had ever asked Kitty about her powers, but it seemed a logical question for a school full of mutants. Maybe even more logical than 'where are you from.'

“I can move through solid objects.”

“Oh, hey, I've heard of that. I think they call it phasing or something,” Kristen said, leaning forward and holding out her hand. “Do it to me.”

Kitty's eyes widened a little. She'd never used her power with a person before. She had no idea what it would do.

“I, uh, I don't know if I should. I don't have much experience.”

“Ah, it'll be fine. Go ahead.”

Kitty concentrated and passed her hand through Kristen's, as the other girl grinned. “That was amazing. Wait til you start taking classes about your powers. You'll get even better.”

 

Kitty did. The classes were challenging, the other students were friendly, and Kitty soon had a group of friends to hang out with. They studied and worked together, and on the weekends did projects and watched television. She even started dating. Life at this school was better than she imagined it could have been.

Kitty had entered the school midway through the first semester of her Sophomore year, but because she was so advanced already, it didn't affect her much. Ms. Frost accepted her grades from her previous school, and incorporated them into her current Massachusetts Academy class grades. Kitty did have to make up two extra classes. The Freshman year classes specifically for mutants that she missed were, Ms. Frost said, vital to her continued growth as a mutant and a future leader in the mutant community. The first was History of Mutants and the second was Understanding Mutants in Today's Society.

She missed part of the first class, which she took with the Freshmen, but she was able to catch up easily. The second class began after the winter holidays. She found it interesting learning about the different mutant groups around the world, particularly the X-Men. Her father had hated them, and the teacher of the class seemed not to care for them either. He tried to be neutral but it was obvious to anyone that he didn't like them.

The class learned about how each group approached the problem of human-mutant relations, and the class was expected to analyze the pros and cons of each approach. Xavier's group blindly followed one man, without question. They treated him like a father figure or a god, and while his dream of peaceful coexistence was nice, it was unrealistic.

“The X-Men are unarguably the most dangerous of the groups we discuss in this class. Their history of property damage and escalation of conflict provides evidence of this over and over again. Because of their violent and aggressive nature, and the indoctrination of the members, we ask that you memorize some basic information about their core members.” The teacher passed out books to each of them as he spoke. Kitty flipped through hers, noting chapters on the Fantastic Four, the Brotherhood of Mutants, and the X-Men, along with single chapters on other groups. The X-Men chapters were longest and took up more than half the book.

“At the end of this class you'll be tested on the X-Men, and expected to know their names, abilities, and weaknesses. We want you to be safe, and some of these mutants will stop at nothing to recruit innocents to their delusional cause.”

 

Kitty started reading that night and stayed up well past curfew. It was fascinating how many mutants there were and how varied their powers were. She focused on the X-Men, both because she was expected to and because they were the most interesting. Why anyone would believe a madman like Charles Xavier was beyond her comprehension. How could he expect the world to accept mutants when all his team did was destroy property, endanger lives, and scare people? Of course they made mutants look like a threat.

She skimmed some of the chapters. Storm. Delusions of godhood, control of weather, claustrophobic. Wolverine. Insane, adamantium laced skeleton, retractible claws, healing factor, easily angered and exceptionally violent. Nightcrawler. She cringed. He was the creepiest looking mutant she'd seen so far, like a devil or a demon. Teleporter, invisible in shadow, clings to walls, proficient with swords, weakened by overuse of teleportation.

She put the book down and clicked off her lamp, thinking about the X-Men and how glad she was her mother had sent Charles Xavier away.

 

Chapter Text

When Xavier returned from Chicago without his new recruit, the one he'd called 'integral to the future of the team,' Kurt could feel the disappointment sheeting off the man.

“Teresa Pryde nearly took his head off,” Ororo said, ascending the staircase to where Kurt was balanced on the banister. “She sent us away and wouldn't even let us meet Katherine.”

“It's a shame,” Kurt said, wrapping his tail around the spindle. “The Professor says she would have been a real asset to our team.”

“I agree. But there is nothing we can do at this time. We can only hope she won't like Ms. Frost and her Academy and will change her mind.”

“Does the child have any say in her schooling?”

Ororo leaned on the railing beside Kurt. “I doubt it. Her parents seem...stubborn.”

Below, they could hear Scott and the professor talking through the open library door. They were discussing the failed recruitment of both Katherine Pryde and Alison Blaire. Alison had at least taken their business card. Kurt had seen her after the fight in the street outside the music venue. She was a very pretty woman, even with all the stage makeup covering her features. He would have liked to meet her, but she left before Scott and Jean met up with him on the roof.

When the professor turned the conversation to Jean, Scott shut the door, and Kurt and Ororo said good night. Alone in his room, Kurt climbed around on his equipment. The professor had been kind enough to allow him to install metal bars along his ceiling to do light acrobatics at his leisure. It helped him think, pushing himself into old moves. He was no longer an acrobat, but it was part of him, and it helped him feel centered when things were falling apart.

Something was going on with Jean. She was becoming more and more unpredictable, and blacking out. The professor was concerned about her, and Kurt didn't have to be a mind-reader to know that. Scott was even more worried. Kurt had tried to talk to Jean more than once, but she insisted she was fine, and refused to entertain thoughts to the contrary.

When he was tired, Kurt flipped to his bed, bounced a few times, then landed on the floor and stripped his sweaty uniform off. He teleported straight into the shower and back to his room afterwards. He considered calling his girlfriend, Amanda, but it was after eleven, and that would be rude. He thought about her instead. Having a girlfriend was a new experience for Kurt, given his off-putting appearance, so finding a woman who was attracted to him and loved him felt like a real miracle, even more so because she was absolutely gorgeous.

He lay back on the bed and imagined her face, sparkling green eyes and waves of blond hair that blew around her face in the wind. Her body was beautiful too, especially when she wrapped it around his and moaned in his ear.

He thought again about the way she had reacted when he first turned off his image inducer. She was startled, almost more so by the change than by the result of it. She looked him up and down, and smiled mischievously. If anything, she seemed even more attracted to him. That day was the first time he spent the night with her. She felt familiar, comfortable, and easy to talk to. He was sure he was in love with her.

 

Jean's death, and subsequent resurrection as Dark Phoenix shook the team to its core. None of them could seem to come to terms with it, moping about the school or brooding silently in their rooms for weeks. Kurt spent a lot of time praying and alone. Amanda tried to distract him with food or more physical diversions, but he was grieving the loss of a friend and declined more often than not.

For his birthday, she invited him over for lunch, and promised she had a surprise for him. Unfortunately, he was called back to the school in the middle of the meal. He opened the door to the library and gasped at the table full of gifts and food.

Was ist das?”

“Happy birthday,” Amanda said behind him with a knowing smile.

“You knew?”

“I helped plan it, silly.” She smiled at Piotr Rasputin, Kurt's best friend. “Piotr and I did.”

Danke, liebchen, this is wonderful! You know, I wondered what the two of you had been whispering about. This is an incredible surprise!”

Weeks of sorrow seemed to be temporarily forgotten as the team ate cake and ice cream before Kurt opened his gifts. The last one was in a plain black box, with no label.

“Perhaps it's from Scott,” Kurt said as he pulled out a crystal figurine of...himself.

Before he could question it, he collapsed.

 

His next memory was waking up in hell. Some of his teammates had managed to come along with him, and he feared they were all dead now. But why was he in hell? Their final confrontation with his foster mother explained it all. He was grateful Stephen Strange had come along to prove to Margali Sefton that the death of her son Stephan at Kurt's hands had not been intentional.

And returning home, he discovered why Amanda seemed so familiar. She was his foster sister, Jimaine. He was overcome with emotion—joy and relief and understanding.

“It explains why you weren't surprised at my appearance!” he exclaimed as he embraced her.

She kissed him, whispering in his ear things that had no place being said around pleasant company.

 

Happiness was short-lived, as it always is with the X-Men, Kurt was learning.

Christmas Eve, and Amanda, who had decided to keep her new name, was with him at the school. She visited often, stayed over sometimes, and had befriended many of his teammates. Tonight, they cuddled on the couch in front of the fire to watch “It's a Wonderful Life” and eat candy canes. Piotr was with them, and the professor had even mentioned he might join them. A crash from Ororo's room reverberated through the building, and Kurt shot to his feet even before the professor's mental call came to him.

A N'Garai demon had broken through the skylight in Ororo's room and was demolishing its way through the school. Kurt joined the team in battle, but the demon was startlingly powerful. Every time they thought they had it cornered, it escaped, destroying more and more of the school as it chased them down, hunting them like prey. It was hungry, and it meant to eat.

Several times they lost it, always to have it turn up again around the corner or in the next room. Finally they led it into the Blackbird hangar, and Kurt teleported into the jet, frying the demon with the engine flames. Ororo trembled, and Kurt did his best to comfort her. Her whole body shook and she hugged her friend.

“I thought the professor and I sealed them all away,” she said, stepping back and staring at the pile of ashes on the hangar floor. “I never imagined we'd have to face one again.”

Wolverine stalked back into the house to find his girlfriend Mariko, who had been in the study with the professor when the demon broke in. Kurt shook his head at the ruined jet.

“Poor bird,” he said. “I don't know if I'll be able to fix her.”

“Perhaps the professor can send it to the repair-place...what do they call it?”

“Skunkworks.”

“Ah, yes. Perhaps they can repair it there.”

“Perhaps, but if they do—Logan? What is it?” Kurt stopped short when Logan appeared in the hall in front of them.

“Elf...we gotta talk.”

Kurt's gut twisted. Something was wrong. The way Logan was looking at him, and not Ororo, meant something was very wrong. “Was ist, Logan? Tell me now.”

“It's about Amanda,” Logan said, and Kurt bolted. Images of her mangled body flashed through his mind, but when he teleported into the room, she was fine, sitting on the couch next to Piotr. He had his arm around her shoulders and she had been crying.

“What's wrong, Amanda?” he said, rushing to her side. He started to pull her into his arms, but she sat stiff and unmoving, eyes locked on the doorway where Logan stood with arms crossed. He looked ready to kill.

“Tell 'im or I will,” Logan bit out.

Amanda swallowed and moved closer to Piotr. “I, uh, that is, Piotr and I...we, uh...”

“They were kissing,” Logan spat.

Was?”

It was a work of many more minutes before he could understand what had happened. Piotr and Amanda had been having an affair for weeks. It started when they planned his birthday party and spent a lot of time together. She told him it was an accident, she didn't mean to fall in love with his friend, but she couldn't control her heart, and neither could he.

Kurt wasn't prone to fits of anger like Logan. He didn't smash things like Colossus. He retreated into himself and tried to figure out how he had caused whatever the problem was. Logan's best attempts to keep him from wracking himself with guilt usually didn't work. Today, Kurt wasn't even going to entertain them. He rose from the couch, took a step away from his ex-girlfriend and former friend, and tried to think of something to say to them. Something profound and meaningful and thought-provoking. He had nothing. He teleported away.

Logan looked at Piotr and Amanda on the couch. “I think ya better get lost for a while Petey. I ain't likely ta forgive this too soon.”

Piotr automatically went to his metal form, and Logan stepped forward, claws out. “I can still cut you, metal boy. Get out and take your lyin' girlfriend with ya.”

Amanda's sorcery allowed her to create teleportation discs, and she did so, leaving Logan staring at an empty room. He stalked away to find Kurt.

He wasn't in his room, so Logan went to the next logical place, which was the Danger Room. He was there, wrapped up already in some scenario—Logan didn't recognize it.

“Hey Elf, lemme in this.”

Nein, go away, Logan.”

“Aw, come on. I can beat up...whatever those things are.”

“They're ogres, and I don't want you to. I want to be left alone.”

“All right. But when you're ready t'get drunk, come find me. Ain't right to do that alone.”

Danke, Logan. I will do that.”

 

Three hours later, they were well into their sixth beers at Harry's Hideaway in Salem Center. Kurt was holding his own until Logan ordered whiskey to go with their beer. A glass of that on top of the beer and Kurt was on his way to oblivion.

Sie liebte mich nicht. Sie war meine Pflegeschwester1.”

“Not a clue, bub.”

Was?”

“I got no idea why she don't love you. You're all kinds of lovable.”

Kurt laughed, a little too much, but Logan kept drinking.

Anscheinend war ich nicht liebenswert genug für sie.2

“Sounds like her loss to me, Elf.”

Nein, das ist auch mein Verlust.3

“You're gonna be better off without her, though. Get yerself laid and worry about girlfriends later.”

He shook his head. “Das scheint nicht sehr ehrenwert zu sein. Ich hätte lieber eine Freundin4.”

“It ain't about honor. It's about getting' through this shit and bein' okay when it's over. Look, that chick's been starin' at ya all night. Why don't ya see if she'll take ya home.”

Nein, Das interessiert mich heute Abend nicht5.”

“Suit yerself. More beer?”

Ja.”

1She did not love me. She was my foster sister.

2Apparently I was not adorable/lovable enough for her.

3No, that is my loss too.

4That does not seem to be very honorable. I would rather have a girlfriend

5No, I'm not interested in that tonight

Chapter Text

Summer break at the Massachusetts Academy was only three weeks long, and for Kitty, it was two weeks and five days too long. Her parents argued constantly. Kitty spent most of her time at her old dance studio or the Jewish Community Center, and only went home for dinner because her mother insisted that they spend “quality family time” together.

She couldn't wait to get back to school. The summer courses were short and mostly centered around honing their mutant talents. Kitty had discovered that not only could she pass through objects and people, but if she concentrated, she could vary the degree of intangible she became, so that she could walk on molecules of air, or phase part of her body and not the rest, or phase objects with her. After her first summer session ended, she felt proud of what she could do for the first time. She stopped feeling like a freak and began to feel amazing.

 

Kitty started her junior year happy and optimistic. In one of her classes, the teacher taught them a motto: Being a mutant won't keep me from being successful. Success, measured by wealth and power, was the goal for every student at the school. Kitty learned that the school was funded and run by a group called the Hellfire Club. The name intimidated most of the students at first, until Ms. Frost assured her it was simply a timeworn name from years past, and the modern club was philanthropic in nature, dedicated to helping mutants make a place for themselves in a world that despised them.

Ms. Frost held a small seminar class which Kitty found fascinating. They chose a topic and studied it in depth. This semester's topic dealt with mutants and their role in the future. Kitty was enthralled by the discussions about leaders in the world mutant population, people like Charles Xavier, Sebastian Shaw, Erik Lensherr, and others. Some used their influence to help mutants and humans alike, others did not. Kitty learned even more about Xavier's team. The Massachusetts Academy and Hellfire Club both classified the team as a private army, which Xavier used to further his personal causes.

When her junior year began, one of the special classes dealt with a new team the school was forming. The premise was to run counter to the X-Men and right the wrongs they committed, wherever possible. They would be agents of justice, peace, and honor. At the same time, they were developing several lucrative business ventures that would be run entirely by mutants. The thought was that if mutants could deal with humans in the areas they valued most—wealth and power—a relationship could be formed between the two groups.

All the students would be given opportunities to explore both avenues, as well as traditional college and work options. At the start of their senior year, they would make their decision and take a path of classes that would move them toward their selected goal. Kitty was torn for the first time. She wanted to go to college, but the idea of using her powers for good was appealing too.

“We don't have to decide til next year,” Isla said as they sat with ice cream under a tree after class one afternoon. Fall was approaching but it was still warm enough in the afternoon sun to justify a cold treat.

“I wonder if I could do both,” Kitty said.

“Both?”

“Yeah...go to college and be on the team.”

“I don't know. It seems like a lot.”

“I'll talk to Ms. Frost about it. She's always got good advice.” Kitty scraped the bottom of her ice cream bowl for the last of the syrup. “What are you gonna do?”

Isla looked thoughtful and then said, “I'm going to join the team.”

“Really? That's...surprising, actually. If I had to guess, I would have said you'd definitely go the college route.”

“I thought about it, but this seems more important right now, and I figured I can do college later if I want. Or join up one of the mutant-run businesses the school is involved with. We won't need degrees to work there since we're mutants.”

“Good point.”

As they walked back inside, Ms. Frost met them in the foyer. “Kitty, I was just looking for you. Do you have a minute to talk in my office?”

“Sure,” she said, feeling butterflies in her stomach. She hadn't done anything wrong, she was sure of it, so it must be about her parents. What had they done now? Oh, god, were they pulling her from the school?

As soon as Ms. Frost shut the door, Kitty blurted out her fears.

“No, nothing like that, Kitty. This is a good thing.” Kitty sat down while Ms. Frost tapped her manicured hands on a stack of papers. “I know you're unsure about your future, and I have an idea about how to help you make a decision. You see, I think you'll be perfect on our team. I'd like to give you an opportunity to see what it might be like.”

It was always eerie when she seemed to have been reading Kitty's mind, but rather than point that out, Kitty let her headmistress continue.

“We've just gotten word that the X-Men have been slain in Dallas.”

“What?” Kitty, in spite of her ingrained dislike of them, was shocked. “How? What?”

“We were all shocked as well. A terrible adversary slew them, all but two it seems. Rogue and Nightcrawler were injured previously and flown to an island in Scotland called Muir. It's a mutant research center run by a colleague of Charles Xavier's. Moira MacTaggert is as wrapped up in Xavier's cause as the mutants are. They were lovers once, so their connection is very strong.”

“Only two X-Men lived?”

“Yes, it's hard to believe. Xavier himself is not even on this planet. He left some time ago to join his lover in space.”

“Wait—you don't mean Lilandra from the Shi'Ar empire?” Kitty's summer education had included a class on races of aliens the X-Men and other mutant groups had encountered in the past.

“I do. But this works in our favor. With the X-Men gone and Xavier off-world, Moira's research facility has become the last holdout for their dream.”

“It sounds like the dream is as dead as the X-Men.” Kitty thought about all the mutants she'd memorized from her book, and the thought that, of all of them, only Rogue and Nightcrawler remained, was really difficult to grasp.

“That dream never dies, darling. Which is where you come in. I want you to go to Muir Island and download Moira's medical files on the X-Men staying there.”

Kitty stared.

“I know it sounds difficult, even impossible, but trust me, I've got it all worked out. I just need to know if you'll do it.”

“I...I don't know. That sounds a lot like stealing.”

“It is stealing. However, we're doing it for the common good. We need to know how badly these two are injured, and whether or not they might try to resurrect the team, so to speak. Every time that group has a set-back, they manage to round up more gullible, innocent mutants to build their team up again. They are truly insatiable when it comes to their obsession with Xavier's dream.”

Kitty chewed her lip. “So...I just go over there and steal some data?”

“It won't be easy. But with your technological prowess and your gift of intangibility, I think you can manage it. Moira doesn't have guards on her station and I doubt she has much in the way of security measures at this time, either. Once they're asleep in the main house, you will simply sneak into the computer lab, copy data to an external drive, and return.”

“Can I think about it?”

“Certainly. The mission isn't vital, Kitty. If you choose not to go, it won't be a hindrance to us. This trip is meant as a means of...shall we say, giving you a first-person view into what it will be like to work against the enemy for the good of mutant-kind.”

“Okay. I'll think about it,” Kitty said and rose from the chair.

“Take this with you,” Ms. Frost said. She handed Kitty the stack of papers she'd been tapping on earlier. “These are schematics and some other information, including the basic file structure of her computer systems. The best we can determine, anyway.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Kitty wandered up to her room and shut the door. Ms. Frost wanted her to go to Scotland and steal data? She wasn't sure that was ethical, even if it was for a good cause. She pulled out her book on the mutants of the world and flipped to the page with Rogue. She was really powerful. She could absorb other mutants' powers with a touch of her skin, gaining those powers for herself, as well as their memories, and causing the victim to faint or even die. She flipped several pages to the chapter on Nightcrawler. The demonic looking one, she recalled. The first time she saw his picture, she found his appearance creepy, but the more she studied the pictures, the more he became another non-passing mutant, like some of her friends at the Academy.

If she went to Scotland, these two would be there. If they were recovered from their injuries, they could easily kill her if they caught her, intangible or not. She would have to become solid at some point, and in that second, Rogue could absorb her power, or Nightcrawler could gut her with a sword. She had no doubt either of them would do so without hesitation. Xavier's army was ruthless, without compassion, and prepared to die for his cause. As they apparently had.

The news that night was lit up with the deaths of the X-Men in Dallas. A few of the kids cheered, but were silenced by the teachers who watched alongside the students in the rec room. Kitty was somber. She thought it was sad that so many had died. If only they hadn't believed Xavier's lies, they'd still be alive.

“While the loss of the X-Men is beneficial to mutants in the long run, as his army has failed, we should still mourn those innocents who believed the lies of their leader, Charles Xavier,” Emma Frost said as she took her place at the front of the classroom the next day. She opened the class up for discussion.

Isla raised her hand, “Will the Adversary come for us next?”

“We don't think so. The conflict was specifically with Xavier's X-Men. Their misguided efforts to aid mutant-kind led them to make numerous enemies. We do not have that problem.”

“What about the ones that didn't die?” another student asked.

“There are only two members of the team that survived the massacre,” Ms. Frost said. “They both suffered crippling injuries in an earlier battle and were sent to the Muir Island Medical Research Facility. As far as we know, they are still there, under the care of a human doctor, Moira MacTaggert.”

“What happens when they get better?”

“We don't know. Most likely, based on the pattern of behavior Xavier's army exhibits, they will try to recruit a new team and rebuild the army.” Ms. Frost took a few more basic questions before resuming class.

Afterwards, Kitty went to Ms. Frost's office again to give her a decision about the mission.

“I think I'll do it,” she said, “But I have a few questions.”

“Certainly. It's wise of you to want to understand the task at hand.” Ms. Frost's smile seemed only slightly insincere, but Kitty wasn't going to commit a crime without a good enough reason.

“I don't understand why we need information about these two X-Men. Why does it matter how they're injured?”

“That's an excellent question, Kitty, and one I hoped you'd ask.” This smile was genuine, and Kitty tried not to blush with pride.

“Because of the extreme threat the Adversary poses to mutants in general, we'd like you to find out how dire their injuries are. If they are already recovering, or recovered, they may attempt to continue Xavier's plans sooner than later. If the Adversary thinks there are mutant threats remaining among the ranks of the X-Men, he may decide to attack any and all mutants. This is vital to our continued survival, you understand?”

“So will the data tell us if they're going to start up a new team of X-Men?”

“No, it won't. But it will allow us to make some suppositions. You've brought up a good point, though.” Ms. Frost tapped her fingers on her desk again. “Do you have any ideas about how to solve that question?”

“Ideas?”

“Yes, about how we can learn more about their intentions, as well as their state of recovery.”

Kitty hadn't thought about it. Now...was Ms. Frost asking her to come up with a new plan? “I suppose it would require talking to them.”

“I believe you're right. How can we make that happen without revealing who you are, or what your motives are?”

“I'd have to have a reason to be on the island, and a reason to hang around.”

Ms. Frost waited while Kitty thought up a plan.

“I could pose as an injured mutant. I'm a mutant after all.”

“But you have no injuries, and that would be obvious immediately. Keep thinking.”

Kitty bit her lip in thought. “Okay...what if...I was a college student doing study abroad...and one of my assignments was to...hm...report on something from recent news that was controversial in some way? And someone suggested Dr. MacTaggert?”

“That's an interesting idea, Kitty,” Frost said, leaning back and folding her hands. “I'll consider it. I was just going to have you deliver fake medical equipment.”

“Oh,” Kitty said, slumping a little. That sounded much simpler. “But then how would I get to talk to them?”

“That would be the difficult part. I think I like your idea a little better.”

“You—you do?”

“Yes, in fact...” Ms. Frost spun in her chair and started rifling through a filing cabinet behind her. “Yes, here we are. I have college letterhead here I can use to type up a request from your professor.”

Kitty hardly had time to wonder why Ms. Frost had college letterhead in her filing cabinet, she was so excited now about the prospect of her own plan coming to fruition.

“I'll take care of this right away. Oh, but one other thing. I'd like you to leave something behind when you're there. You know what a bug is, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good. It'll stick to whatever you put it on and we'll be able to listen in. The lab or the computer room would be ideal, but anywhere you can put it will work.”

“Okay,” Kitty said, agreeing only because Ms. Frost had been so accommodating about the rest of the plan, and because she no longer had to steal anything.

Ms. Frost beamed at her. “I knew you were the right student for this project. I'll let you know when everything is set up, Kitty. Be ready to leave any day.”

“Oh! My passport! I don't have one.”

“I'll take care of that, darling.”

 

The next day, Ms. Frost informed Kitty the plan had been set in motion, and she was waiting for a response from Dr. MacTaggert. Once received, and she expected the request to be accepted, Kitty would need to leave immediately.

“If you're in school in England, it won't take you days to get there.” Ms. Frost handed Kitty a copy of the letter she'd sent. “The professor's name is Kevin Charles. Those names mean something to the doctor, and should help sway her in your favor if she balks.”

“I understand.” Kitty remembered what she'd read about Moira MacTaggert. She was in the mutant book too, though she wasn't a mutant. Because she was closely associated with Xavier, she was considered a threat as well. And she'd had a son named Kevin who had been, until he was killed, the most dangerous mutant on the planet. Or so said the X-Men before they killed him.

 

The day after that, Ms. Frost told her the request had been accepted, and she was to meet Dr. MacTaggert the next day by taking the morning ferry to the island.

“I have to ask you to be very careful while you're there. Do not make any mention of the Academy or the Hellfire Club. Xavier has turned them all against us, and they believe us a threat. If they even suspect you are affiliated with us, they may do you harm or take you into custody. And while your ability allows you some defense against such attacks, I hate the idea of you going up against such powerful mutants without any real training.”

Kitty nodded in understanding while she shifted on her feet. She was eager to get her things and go.

“While the X-Men may be injured, they are still a threat. He has groomed them from the moment of their recruitment to be soldiers. They will not hesitate to harm you or kill you if they think you are a threat.”

Kitty's eyes widened as Frost continued.

“Don't worry, you're perfectly suited to this job. I thought it best you have an alias as well. Kate Parker. I thought to keep it close to your real name for ease.”

Kitty felt the stirrings of nervousness in her belly. “Are you sure you want me to do this?”

“I am certain. You are special, Kitty. I see you rising in the ranks of your schoolmates. You excel even among the best of them. You're gifted in more than just your mutation, darling, and in time, you will make a place for yourself in the world that no one, not even those biased against us, will be able to deny. Yes, you are the one for this mission. I have faith in you.” Ms. Frost's smile encouraged Kitty enough to accept the assignment for what it was. She had Kitty's best interests in mind, and Kitty would not let her headmistress down.

Kitty spent the trip to the airport reading over her notes. She'd come up with a list of questions that seemed innocuous but would hopefully provide the information Ms. Frost was hoping for. She had her false passport in hand, and one small overnight bag. She kept the bug in her jacket pocket. She had a change of clothes, too, a nice skirt and blouse for the 'interview' so she could play the part of college student. Ms. Frost suggested she say she was a freshman, since she looked so young still.

One of Kitty's questions was about the Legacy Virus. They had an entire class about the Virus at the school, and everyone knew Dr. MacTaggert was leading the field in the research for a cure. According to Xavier, a mutant named Stryfe had released it, but Ms. Frost's people had a different theory. They had evidence that showed Xavier himself had created it in a failed attempt to turn the rest of humanity into mutants, in order to force peace and a higher status for mutants. Kitty was appalled. How could he do something so evil? Even if he thought he was doing it to help mutants, it was wrong to alter an entire population of people against their will. She was secretly a little glad it had backfired on him.

Frost also said she believed he had a cure already, that he held in reserve for his own team and innocent mutants of his personal choosing. He had to allow some of his team to die, only to preserve the illusion that he had nothing to do with the disease. The evil man's first victim had been a child, a little Russian girl named Illyana, who, according to Frost, was considered expendable.

Kitty thought about all of this as she flew across the Atlantic towards Scotland in the Hellfire Club's private jet. When her plane landed, she was met by another driver, who took her to the dock across from the island. She would have to take a ferry across from the mainland and wait for its return several hours later. Kitty shifted her purse under her arms. Her overnight bag would wait in the car. She'd already changed in the airplane when the got close to Scotland. Kitty went over some emergency information she'd memorized as she crossed the channel on the ferry. Frost had covered a number of contingencies, from MacTaggert questioning her school's validity, to an attack on the island from one of the X-Men's enemies. Kitty inhaled the salty air and tried not to be nervous.

Truthfully, Kitty didn't like any of this. The idea of lying so much to these people, even if they were rivals in business, or in society, didn't seem right. Kitty knew that opposing groups in government and society often resorted to forms of spying in order to gain an advantage, but Kitty had never imagined she'd be part of it. And that's exactly what she was doing. Spying. She latched onto the word with a jolt.

She was a spy. A spy. Wasn't that almost like being a soldier? She didn't have time to think about it much more, because the boat pulled up alongside the dock, and Kitty had to make the trek up to the research facility. She squared her shoulders and walked, going over the lies again.

There was a video monitor at the main entrance, and when Kitty pressed the call button, a woman's face appeared on the screen. “State your business,” she said, in a thick Scottish accent.

“I'm Kate Parker from Broadmoor College. I have an appointment.”

“Hello Kate. Someone will let you in momentarily.”

Kitty waited, shifting back and forth from one foot to the other. Finally the door opened, and a woman let her in. She had a streak of white in her hair, and Kitty recognized her as Rogue from the X-Men. Her heart leaped in her chest in agitation.

“Hi there. Come on in and follow me, sugah. Dr. MacTaggert is in her lab.” Rogue's southern accent was a surprise, and Kitty struggled to control her nerves as she followed the woman inside. She seemed healthy enough, Kitty thought. Maybe she was already fully recovered.

Kitty couldn't find her voice. They went up several flights of stairs and down a hall, where Rogue opened a door and ushered her in.

The woman from the screen was bent over a computer doing something. She barely looked up. “Thank you, Rogue.” She raised her head and glanced at Kitty. Then looked again. “So you're the wee college girl. You all get younger every year.”

Kitty cleared her throat. “Yes. I'm Kate—”

“I know who you are. Kate Parker from Broadmoor. We'll talk in the other room where it's more comfortable.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Kitty said, waiting with her hands folded tightly in front of her. Dr. MacTaggert appeared to be in the middle of something fascinating, and didn't take her eyes from the screen. Minutes passed while Kitty stood waiting, not daring to speak from nervousness.

Rogue sat across the room at another computer. Neither woman paid the least bit of attention to Kitty. When Rogue spoke up, Kitty jumped in surprise.

“I'm goin' to New York,” she said.

“Right now?” Moira said, spinning around in her chair, finally moved to take her eyes off the screen.

“Yeah, I need to...” she swallowed and blinked rapidly. “I need to see if he...”

Dr. MacTaggert seemed to understand what Rogue was hinting at, though Kitty did not. The only thing she knew about New York was that it was the base of the X-Men's operations and location of the school. Why Rogue would be going there now, when everyone was dead, was a mystery she didn't have time to dig into. But if she was traveling, it probably meant she was healthy.

“You're taking the plane,” Moira said.

“Of course Ah am,” Rogue replied. “Ah can't make it on my own across the Atlantic.”

“All right. I wish you'd take Kurt with you.”

“He's not in any shape to travel and you know that better'n Ah do. Besides...Ah want t'do this alone.”

Kitty listened, growing more and more curious as they talked. Kurt...she must mean Nightcrawler. She'd read about some of their known given names, and she remembered now that Nightcrawler's name was Kurt Wagner, and he was German.

“At least have him check out the plane first. You'll hurt his feelings if you don't do that.” Moira stood up with Rogue, who nodded in agreement.

“Ah will. Can't have him moping around while Ah'm gone.” She frowned. “Least, not any more'n usual.”

Moira patted her back. “We all heal in our own time, Rogue. He's been through an awful lot.”

“Ah know. Ah'm sorry Ah have to do this...”

“Don't be. Just be safe.”

Rogue turned towards the doorway, then paused. “On second thought, Ah'll wait until after your visitor leaves. She might have a few questions for me.” She laughed a little. “Ah'll be in my room packing if you need me.”

“Thank you, Rogue,” Moira said.

Rogue passed Kitty as she headed out the door. “Good luck with your assignment, Kate.”

“Thank you,” Kitty said, her voice sounding raspy and hoarse. She cleared her throat and repeated herself. “Thank you.” Her hand clutched the bug in her jacket pocket. This room would be a perfect place to hide it. There was a shelf just within reach, if she could get to it without notice...

Dr. MacTaggert now stood in front of Kitty, looking down from her slightly greater height. “Now then, let's go to the kitchen and have some tea and you can ask me all your questions.”

Kitty had a strange feeling about this, but her hand slipped under the shelf to attach the bug as she followed Dr. MacTaggert into the hall. They went down the long hall, and around several corners before going through what looked like a regular living room and from there into a small kitchen. Dr. MacTaggert started water boiling and pulled out two cups and saucers. “How d'ye take your tea, Kate?”

Kitty swallowed. “Uh, milk and sugar, please.”

The doctor rolled her eyes and mumbled, “Americans.” But she took out the sugar and a small container of milk. She said nothing while the water boiled and she fixed the tea, then sat down across from Kitty and stared at her.

“So. Kate. What would you like to know?”

 

Chapter Text

Kitty sat across from Dr. Moira MacTaggert, hands shaking slightly, as she pulled out her list of false interview questions and started at the top. Her voice trembled with nerves. “What influenced you to become a doctor?”

“What are you so nervous about, child?” Dr. MacTaggert said, catching Kitty completely off guard.

“Wha—I—uh...” Kitty looked at her cup and found it empty.

Before she could answer, Dr. MacTaggert spoke again. Her eyes moved to the space above Kitty's head and she said, “Kurt, would you please get Kate another cup of tea? With milk and sugar, since she's a bloody heathen.”

As Kitty turned to see who the new person was, a fuzzy blue hand reached over her shoulder for her cup. Kitty knew immediately who he was, and held her breath, waiting for the inevitable fear to spill into her veins when she saw his demonic features at last. But it didn't happen. He was smiling at her, fangs glinting in the kitchen light, but it wasn't a menacing smile. His ears were pointed, something she knew but couldn't see well in the images from her book, and his eyes without pupils were not simply yellow, they glowed. Behind him, his tail undulated like a separate sentient being.

Moira crossed her legs and leaned back in amusement as she watched Kitty's reaction. “Well, looks like someone's not afraid of our resident demon.”

Kitty's eyes snapped to Moira's, wondering if she'd given something away unintentionally. Should she have been afraid of him? Probably. She looked away from Moira, back to Kurt, who leaned on the table with one hand. When Kitty held up her cup, she smiled uncertainly, and he took it in his free hand.

He moved slowly, like an old man, and she wondered what exactly had happened to him. Everything she'd read said he was a capable acrobat, strong, lean, and agile, skilled with a sword and in hand-to-hand combat. At the moment, he looked like he couldn't knock over a baby.

Kitty realized she was staring again when he turned around with her teacup and cocked his head at her. “Never seen a fuzzy blue demon, fraulein?”

“Not in person, no.” Oops. “I've seen you on television.”

Moira picked up her teacup, still half-full. “Kurt, this is our college interviewer.”

Kitty spared a brief glance at Moira's unreadable face before holding out her hand to shake Kurt's. “Kitty Pr-Parker,” she said, saving it at the last minute.

“I thought your name was Kate?” Moira said, catching another slip.

“It is. Kitty is my nickname,” she said. The longer he stood motionless and silent, the more Kitty's brain seemed to work.

“This young lady is here to interview me for a college class, Kurt,” said Moira, not taking her eyes off Kitty. “She has all the proper paperwork, but for the life of me, I don't think she's telling us the truth.”

Kitty turned back to Dr. MacTaggert in shock. A shrill scraping had her feeling like a tennis ball as she looked again at Nightcrawler, dragging a chair over with his tail. He leaned his elbows on the table and looked at her, those enigmatic golden eyes boring into hers. She stared back, hoping she appeared less afraid than she was. How did Moira know she was lying?

“Uh...are you a—a telepath or something?” she said, pretending not to know as much as she did about him. “Nightcrawler, right?”

He grinned, those white fangs poking at his lower lip when he did. “Ja, I am Nightcrawler. But I am not a telepath. Unfortunately, they are all dead. Or gone.”

Kitty had the sense to look sorry, and was surprised to find she was sorry.

“Rogue and I are the only X-Men left, and we are too injured to do much of anything but help Moira in her lab. Where are you really from, fraulein?”

“Chicago.”

He chuckled, a not-unpleasant sound, and she felt herself relaxing somewhat. His voice was low and warm, with an accent that sent prickles up her spine. “I'm from Winzeldorf, in Germany, but that is not what I meant. Who do you work for?”

“I don't work for anyone. I'm in college. It's my class assignment...”

“I think not, and I cannot help but wonder who would send a slip of a girl like you to Moira's island with a bomb for us.”

Kitty almost fell out of her chair. “A what?” Kitty didn't know what to do now. She and Ms. Frost hadn't covered this contingency. What was he talking about? Did they think the bug was a bomb? Had they found it already? Her mind raced with plausible explanations, even as Ms. Frost's warnings rang in her ears. “They won't hesitate to harm you or take you into custody.”

Nightcrawler spoke again. “The security system discovered it. A lucky thing, too, or Dr. MacTaggert could have been killed, and all her research lost. Do you work for the American government?” He leaned towards her again, narrowing his eyes, and Kitty's heart began to pound as she drew back from him.

“I didn't bring a bomb. I didn't bring anything. I'm in college. There's no bomb. Why would you think that?” She couldn't keep the panic out of her voice, as it rose higher in pitch with each sentence.

“Whoever sent you here did a very poor job of educating you about our security systems. We have surveillance everywhere, and sensors that detect nearly anything. You placed a bomb in the lab. Do you wish to see the footage?”

Kitty stood up, pushing her chair back as she did. Her temper flared. How dare they accuse her of something like this? Ms. Frost was right about the X-Men being crazy. “No. I don't want to see a bomb you planted or a video you faked. I'm done talking to you. God, no wonder everyone hates the X-Men.”

She started out the door, but Nightcrawler was quick, even if he was recovering from injuries. Gone was the old man act as he grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. Kitty panicked and phased free of his grasp, startling him almost as much as he had her. Then she ran.

She ran straight through the walls of the building, towards the dock. She was almost there when a loud popping sound distracted her, and she slammed into Nightcrawler's chest. She screamed and phased again, then kept running. When she got to the dock, she turned. He hadn't moved, or rather, hadn't come after her. He was bent over, hands on his knees, as if he'd just run twenty miles. Kitty hesitated briefly, then dove through the dock as he inclined his head in her direction.

Beneath the dock, she scrambled up onto some rocks to catch her breath. It wasn't long before she heard footsteps touching down on the wooden planks above her. She guessed it was Rogue, and she had flown down to the dock. Dr. MacTaggert must have sent her after her. Why had she run like that? She might as well have admitted to planting a bomb. But she hadn't done that at all! How could they say that about her?

“Where did ya go, ya damn kid?” Definitely Rogue. She stomped along the dock, then Kitty saw her fly along the rocky coastline in both directions before returning to the dock.

She heard Kurt's voice, then the sound of his footsteps, slow now. He still sounded winded, and he coughed now and then. “She dove through the dock. She's either hiding under it, or she's swimming.”

Kitty's head spun. How had this gone so wrong? How had they guessed it was a ruse? Bits of dust and dirt drifted between the cracks as they walked the length.

Any moment now, one or both of them would climb underneath to look for her. Kitty backed up into the rock itself, so they wouldn't find her. They were cold and wet, and some were sharp, but she kept her mouth shut tight, her eyes and nose free, while above her the dock swayed and creaked.

“Ah'm goin' below,” said Rogue.

Ja, she may be hiding. She went through it, like the walls inside. Like ein geist—a ghost.”

“Ah didn't know she was a mutant.”

“None of us did. She failed to mention quite a few things to us. Didn't you, fraulein?” He addressed her as if he knew she was listening. It made her nervous, but she knew he couldn't see her, and they couldn't get through the rocks to find her. You're safe. Relax. They'll leave.

Rogue flew under, landed in the shallow water and walked along the rocks a little. Kitty pulled all the way into the rock and held her breath. When she couldn't hold it any longer, she emerged, ready to run, but Rogue was gone.

From above, she heard her speaking to Kurt. “Ah don't see her. D'ya think she tried to swim?”

Mein Gott, I hope not. She will drown. The water is far too cold and rough.” Kitty eased herself back out of the rocks, taking shaky breaths as quietly as she could. Above, someone walked to the edge and stood. “If I were not so weak, I could have followed her. Verdammt powers...”

“Don't blame yourself, Kurt. Neither of us is in top shape. It'll take time, but we'll heal.”

“Some wounds take longer, Rogue.” Empathy bloomed in Kitty's chest at the pain in his voice. Rogue's sounded just as sad when she replied to him. Kitty wondered what they'd been through, before remembering they were chasing her, and they were her enemies.

“Ah know it, Kurt. Come on back now, an' rest.”

Movement above her sounded like footsteps, then a scraping sound, and Kitty froze as the devilish form of Nightcrawler's head and shoulders lowered itself from one side of the dock and looked around. Kitty slowly moved back towards the rocks, silently praying he couldn't see her. She heard the distant sound of a motor, the ferry on its return trip.

Nightcrawler hefted himself back up onto the dock, and she listened again to their conversation.

“Idiot. Ah already looked under there.” Rogue's sharp steps went down the dock and back, with Kurt's more shuffling steps this time.

Ja, I suppose there's no reason to continue our search. Surely she is either dead or gone by now. Like everyone else,” he added softly. Kitty couldn't hear Rogue's response as their footsteps and voices retreated. Kitty began to breathe more easily and when the ferry docked half an hour later, she phased through the water and onto the boat, sinking into one of the seats belowdeck to calm her shaking nerves. She didn't move until the ferry did, knees still slightly wobbly, but at least she could blame the motion of the boat now.

She took the steps up to the deck and walked towards the front of the boat to feel the wind and salt spray on her face. She almost fell overboard when a husky German voice beside her said, “Hallo, fraulein.”

She jumped away from him, casting her eyes around the deck for somewhere to run.

“Relax. I'm not here to hurt you. I only want to talk to you some more. You seem nervous and upset.”

“Well,” she said, finding her tongue and her temper, “If people accused you of delivering bombs, and then chased you, you'd be upset, too!” She continued backing away while she talked, but he didn't move. He leaned heavily on the railing as if it were supporting all his weight. His tail whipped back and forth, and occasionally wrapped around one of the support poles of the railing.

“People who deliver bombs should expect to be chased.”

“I didn't deliver a bomb!” she shouted, realizing too late that there were other people on board who might hear her. At this point, she hardly cared.

Nightcrawler shook his head. “Tsk, tsk, scaring the ferry captain isn't very nice. It's a twenty minute trip, come sit and talk. I promise I don't bite.”

Kitty shook her head. “I told you everything already. And you just want to accuse me of stuff again!”

He let out a long breath. He looked drained, Kitty realized, as he pushed upright away from the rail. She had backed herself against the captain's box in the center of the ferry. Nightcrawler seemed content simply to talk to her, and intimidate her, and if that's all he was going to do, she could handle that for eighteen more minutes until she got to shore and left in the car. The water was choppy, and becoming more so every minute, slowing their passage.

Nightcrawler glanced over Kitty's shoulder at the dock. “I don't have much time,” he said.

“What, you're gonna die?” She cocked her head at him and crossed her arms, realizing too late how callous a statement that was.

He shook his head sadly, still leaning on the boat railing. “Nein, the dock will be too far for me to teleport back to. And the ferry doesn't run again until morning. Then again, we could have a drink at the pub. It's not far from the dock on the mainland.”

Kitty looked quickly over her shoulder at the slowly retreating dock of Muir Island. “No. You're all liars.”

He laughed. “Then you belong among us, fraulein, for we know you have lied to us about a great many things. I'm only offering you an opportunity to share the truth.”

“I'm not sharing anything with you.” She had stopped backing away, which allowed him to sit down on a bench near the railing. She watched him panting. “What's wrong with you?”

“Oh, you wish to know about me, but you tell me nothing about you?”

“I was trying to be nice.” She scowled and tried to fold her arms, but the motion of the ferry was too rough. She let go to grab the railing again.

“Sounds like nosy to me.”

“Fine. I don't care anyway.” She tipped her chin up defiantly and looked out at the water.

“I believe you when you say you did not bring a bomb,” Kurt said, “By which I mean, I do not think you knew about it. But neither am I lying when I tell you it was there. Whoever you are working for sent you here to kill us, at worst, or destroy years of research at best, and made you an unwitting accomplice to what could have been murder. You could have been killed as well. Does that not bother you? Why don't you tell me who did this to you?”

Kitty felt irrational anger swelling up within her. How dare he act like he knew Ms. Frost? How dare he assume Kitty was an unwilling agent? No matter that she was exactly that, she was furious.

“I'm not telling you anything, you creep.”

He sighed, looked back at the island again, and stood up. “Have it your way,” he said, “But should you change your mind, you know where to find us.” Then he burst into a puff of purple smoke and vanished. Kitty waved the fumes away, choking on the sulfuric odor. She glanced back at the dock, wondering if Rogue would be waiting, but what she saw instead was Nightcrawler tumbling off the end into the sea.

“What the hell?” she said aloud to no one. She glanced back at the captain but he hadn't seen. It took Kitty only a few seconds to process what had just happened. Either he was faking, betting that she'd come to his rescue, or he was really in trouble. She considered what she knew about him. Nightcrawler was a teleporter, but he was clearly not in top form. Based on what happened when he tried to catch her on her way to the dock, she guessed he had exhausted himself already and hadn't made it back to the dock this time. All her considerations lasted only a second, and then there was only one thing to do.

Kitty jumped off the ferry, running towards the dock on the air, rather than swimming. They were quite a ways from it, and when she arrived, she feared she'd never find him. By the time she reached him, he could be dead. As she ran, she reminded herself that Xavier's people were the killers. She and Ms. Frost and the others at the Academy were good people. They were the ones trying to help mutants. That was the only reason she was going to help this mutant.

When she finally reached the dock, she solidified, took a deep breath, and plunged below the gray surface, intangible. She swam straight down and by some small miracle, found him. She guessed he'd tried to reach the surface, but had simply been too weak to manage. Maybe he'd held on to the dock posts. It didn't matter. It only mattered that she get him to the surface.

She had to be solid to grab him, but once she did, she could phase him along with her and get him to the surface. He was heavy and limp, and pulling him onto the dock, even intangible, was hard. She fell onto the wood beside him, and immediately rolled him to his side. He was motionless and not breathing.

She knew First Aid—it was a requirement at the Academy—so she took his pulse first. Weak, but there. No CPR, just mouth-to-mouth then. Scrunching her eyes shut, trying not to think about the fangs and the fuzz and the fact he was a total stranger, she attempted to breathe for him.

After three tries, he vomited water all over her.

She spat and spat as he coughed and coughed, and she stood up. “Don't die. I'm going to get Dr. MacTaggert.” And she took off running up the path. She was exhausted, but no matter who he was, she was not going to abandon someone to die. She pounded on the door, slumping against it. She thought no one would come, and she started yelling. “It's Nightcrawler, you gotta come now, he's hurt.”

When Dr. MacTaggert once again appeared on the video intercom, Kitty shrieked. “He's on the dock.”

The video cut off abruptly, and seconds later, she heard the doctor running, then burst through the door. She didn't pause to speak to Kitty, just headed straight to the dock.

“What did you do to him?” Rogue said, standing over Kitty, who had collapsed in a shivering heap.

Nothing! He was drowning!”

Rogue turned on her heel and flew down to the dock. Kitty couldn't see anything because of the slant of the landscape. At last, their heads and then the rest of them began to appear on the path as they moved closer to her. Rogue supported Nightcrawler, who was dragging his feet, but stubbornly trying to walk. She caught snippets of the doctor scolding him, stopping only when they got close enough for her to turn on Kitty instead.

“Well, look who's still here,” Moira said, still on a roll. “Our little troublemaker. Feeling guilty about what ye did to us at last?”

Kitty shot to her feet, regretted it, but held her ground. “I didn't do anything to anybody! I saved his damn life, but I don't know why I'd expect people like you to care about that.” Kitty pushed away from the wall and started back down the path once again. She'd just sleep on the dock and catch the ferry in the morning, or hell, airwalk across the water tonight.

“Moira,” Nightcrawler said, his voice hoarse and raspy, but somehow still chastising.

Moira growled, then turned to Kitty, who had passed them already. “Fine. Come back, you ornery girl, I know you saved him, and you could probably use some food.”

“No thank you. You'll probably put me in jail or poison me or something.” She kept going.

“Please.” Kitty stopped at the request, made not by Moira, but by Nightcrawler. He coughed again, a harsh barking sound, and she turned around. Why the hell did she care about that creepy guy? She didn't, of course.

She folded her arms and stared at the two of them. Moira put her free hand on her hip and stared right back. “You have to stay now, or this fool will never let me hear the end of it.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at Nightcrawler. “No one's gonna put you in jail.”

“Sure. I bet you tell all the accused criminals you meet the same thing.”

Moira raised a brow. “Actually....you're right.” Kurt coughed again behind her. “Forget it, do what you want girl. Come on, Rogue, let's get Kurt to the infirmary already.” Kitty stood on the path until they were almost in the door, then with a grunt of self-loathing, she followed.

She had no idea what would happen when she showed up with no answers. Ms. Frost might be angry. What if she got kicked out of the school? Kitty was supposed to have met the car on the mainland hours ago, but she had no way of contacting the driver or Ms. Frost or anyone. “We can't let you take a phone in case it gets lost or they take it from you. If they find it, they'll have all our contacts and they'll come after all of us.”

Looking back, Kitty should have been far more suspicious than she was.

She scurried after Nightcrawler and Dr. MacTaggert, following them to the infirmary, where Rogue helped him onto one of the medical beds. He continued hacking and coughing, and Moira hooked him up to some equipment. From the doorway, Kitty watched, chewing her lip and repeating to herself that she didn't care.

“Rogue, take her to the kitchen and give her something to eat,” Moira said as she fussed over Nightcrawler.

Rogue motioned to Kitty, glancing back one last time at her teammate. “Come on.”

Kitty didn't dare disobey. She shivered in her wet clothes, leaving a path of droplets behind her. In the kitchen, Rogue pulled out a jar of peanut butter and dropped it on the table along with a sack of bread.

“May I have a knife?” Kitty asked, hardly daring to look at Rogue's face. She was terrified the woman would reach out and kill her with her deadly touch.

“Ah don't trust you.”

“That's obvious,” Kitty said, waffling between anger and fear.

Rogue dropped a knife onto the table and tossed her a paper plate. “So, where were ya hidin' when we looked for you?”

“Under the dock.”

“We looked there.”

“I know.”

Rogue scowled at her but didn't pursue it any further. She tapped her fingers on the table while Kitty spread peanut butter on the bread and started eating. It made her mouth sticky, and Rogue got up and brought a glass of water.

“Thanks,” Kitty said around the peanut butter.

“He coulda died, y'know.”

“That's not my fault,” Kitty said.

“The hell it ain't. If ya hadn't run off, he wouldn'ta chased ya, and wouldn't've gone 'portin' after ya.”

“It's not my fault he's stupid.”

“Don't you dare!” Rogue lunged to her feet in anger, and Kitty dropped the peanut-buttery knife and jumped up, too.

“You're crazy,” Kitty said, eyes wide now in fear as Rogue clenched her fists and glared at Kitty again. Kitty slipped through the wall and ran.

Moira stepped out of the infirmary as Kitty approached, skidding to a halt just in time to avoid plowing through her. “What's all this?” Moira demanded, looking at Kitty, who spun around to face her attacker.

“Ask your bully back there,” Kitty spat, then phased through Moira and into the infirmary. Nightcrawler had propped himself up on his elbows, looking confused and concerned. She didn't have more than a second before Rogue would be on her. “Hey,” she said to Nightcrawler. “Don't die. You're the nicest one here.” And she dropped through the floor as Rogue flew in, fury on her face.

Ms. Frost was right about the X-Men. They were—mostly—terrible people.

Chapter Text

Rogue had to take the long way out of the building to follow Kitty, who phased out of the research center and streaked down to the dock. There was no ferry, the water was still choppy, but the air itself was fine. Kitty ran across, hoping the car would be waiting for her. It wasn't. She wasted a glance for the island, and was glad she did, because Rogue's vaguely green blurry form was heading her way.

These people never gave up! She was just one kid, not worth anything, so why were they so desperate to catch her? Kitty headed into the woods, staying close to the road so she could follow it. She knew they weren't far from a small town, and she might be able to lose Rogue there. On the island, everything was under surveillance, but here, surely, they would have to look for her the traditional way. The rain began as a soft mist in the air, like dust, and increased until Kitty could hardly see in front of her. Through breaks in the rain, she sometimes saw Rogue above her, and phased mostly into the ground until the woman flew past. Even the rain wasn't slowing her down.

At last Kitty reached the town. Exhausted, soaked, and hungry, Kitty skittered along dark streets until she found an overhang in back of a shop where the light was burned out. She huddled under the awning and hoped Rogue would give up.

It felt like hours had passed, and Kitty remained awake and alert. She couldn't rest, not in this rain and cold, soaking through her clothes and her skin and making even her bones feel cold. As soon as morning came, she'd find a phone and call Ms. Frost on the school's emergency number. The rain ended at last, but Kitty stayed where she was. She didn't have the energy to run anymore.

A few times, people passed the end of the little alleyway where she was huddled, usually with umbrellas, in a hurry, probably heading home from bars or movies. She tried to ignore them, but any of them could be Rogue, still after her. She tried to make herself small. If anyone looked down the alley with a flashlight, they'd see her. In the dark, though, she might be camouflaged enough to read as a shadowy cat on the back porch.

She didn't hear the approach of the dark figure who now stood at the end of the alley. She had glanced away and back, and there he was. She was sure he was staring directly at her. He had a bag in one hand, and a cane or maybe it was a folded umbrella, in the other.

“Please don't run away,” said the man, and she jerked her head up at the sound of his voice. How had Nightcrawler found her?

She uncurled, ready to bolt anyway.

“I brought you some food and clothes,” he said, tossing the bag to her, like she was a stray cat, too skittish to come closer.

“Why can't you all just leave me alone?”

“I suppose it would be redundant to mention the uh, the device you brought us,” he said, avoiding the word bomb in public. Kitty stood up and retrieved the bag. He wasn't lying about what was in it.

“Why did you do this?”

“You saved my life. I thought it only proper to help you out a little. Rogue isn't here, no one is going to come after you anymore.”

“Yeah, right.”

“You have my word.”

“Like I'd believe that,” Kitty spat, pulling out a sandwich and tearing into it.

“Why not? Have I lied to you yet?”

She eyed him. “Doesn't matter. I don't trust you.”

He still stood there, making Kitty nervous. She looked quickly behind her, suspecting a trap.

“It's just me out here.” He let his hands drop to his sides. “I only wanted to thank you and wish you well.”

Kitty snorted. “That's funny.”

She couldn't see his face in the dark, the way he seemed to become one with the shadows. Only the streetlight showed her where he was. She imagined he didn't look very happy though.

“I'm entirely serious. I'm not used to being limited to teleporting only once a day. I keep hoping...never mind. Good bye, Ms. Parker. I hope you find the answers you're seeking.”

Answers? He must mean the interview. He started walking away and just before he disappeared around the corner, she called, “Hey. Thanks for this,” and she held up the bag. “And for...thanks.”

He stopped and came back into the light. “If circumstances were different,” he said, slowly, as if testing the words even as he spoke them, “I think we could have been friends.”

Kitty laughed again. “You know what? Maybe. But here we are.”

Ja, here we are.” He glanced at the sky. “There are a few hours before dawn. We could walk to the square.”

She stopped chewing and squinted at him. He was serious. “You're serious.”

He looked at the ground and shrugged. “Ja.”

“So...pretend we're friends or something, and then part ways at dawn like some overly dramatic movie?”

“Something like that.” She thought she heard him chuckling.

“And I'm just supposed to believe it's not a trap?”

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat. Kitty shivered again at the sight of his warm coat, and remembered how cold and wet her own clothes were. She looked into the bag again. She was either stupid or gullible or maybe both, but for some reason, she wanted to trust him.

“Know anywhere I can change?”

She could see the white of his teeth when he smiled. “Ja, there is a public restroom down the road.”

Remaining intangible, she approached him at the end of the alley, and he stepped away from her, giving her plenty of opportunity to inspect the street and the area around him. “There is no one but me.”

She didn't see anyone, but she knew that didn't mean anything. Hesitantly she followed him, swiveling her head around every few seconds to see if anyone was following her. At the restroom building, she phased through the wall instead of using the door, in case someone lay in wait for her inside. It was empty and blessedly warm.

Finally warmer and dry and not hungry, she carefully surveyed the area before coming out of the restroom. Nightcrawler hadn't moved from the spot where she'd left him, in the shadowy space outside the circle of lamplight, where she could only see him if she was looking for him. Anyone else wouldn't notice a thing.

“Better?” he said when he saw her.

“Yes. Thank you. I don't know why you—”

“Stop. For now, no business. We are two strangers who have just met and at dawn, we will go our separate ways.”

“That's like something from a movie,” she said again.

“Hm, ja, but I do enjoy movies, especially old ones. Do you?”

The guy was serious. He intended to make small talk with her for the next three hours in the middle of the night, in the middle of a small town in Scotland. He was crazy.

“Yeah, uh, yeah I do. Science fiction stuff, action.”

“Excellent choices. Myself, I prefer a good swashbuckling pirate adventure, or nearly any of the versions of Robin Hood that exist. Errol Flynn was my childhood idol.”

“Are you serious? That guy was a shithead.”

“I know,” he hung his head a little as they walked. Kitty stayed far enough away that he couldn't simply reach out and grab her, and he made no move to come closer. She tucked her bag of wet clothes under her arm, adjusting it as the dampness began soaking through the canvas. “But I didn't at the time. Now, I prefer to idolize his characters, not the man himself.”

“I don't think I've seen any of his movies.”

“That's a shame. Some are very good. Do you have a favorite movie?”

“Tons. Star Wars, for one.”

“The original three, or the ones that came after?”

“Oh definitely the first ones.”

They talked movies until they reached the town square. There was a statue in a little green space, surrounded by a low metal fence. Kurt stepped over it to get closer to the statue. It was a little girl with a basket of flowers in her hands. There was a bench on the other side, and Nightcrawler strolled over to it. To Kitty's surprise, he didn't sit down on it, but rather perched on the back, almost like a bird.

“Is that even comfortable?” she said before she could stop herself.

“Not for you, I'm sure. For me, ja.”

Slowly, Kitty approached the bench, went from the rain, and she wiped at it ineffectively with the already wet bag. “I guess it has some benefits, huh?” she said, offering a smile.

“We can keep walking,” he said.

“No, this is fine, I got most of the water off.”

Awkward silence stretched until Nightcrawler, determined to play the roles he'd set for them, asked her where she grew up.

“Deerfield Illinois. It's just outside of Chicago.”

“As I said, I'm from Winzeldorf. I was in a traveling circus.”

“That is probably the craziest childhood I ever heard of from someone I knew.”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Kitty blinked and then laughed at his choice of quotations. Apparently he'd also seen The Princess Bride. Kitty loved that movie.

“Nice quote, Inigo. I don't mean crazy-crazy, more like...unusual. What did you do in the circus?”

He grinned, showing all his fangs, then leaped backwards off the bench, executing a perfect landing. Kitty's eyes went wide as she twisted around to see him. He did a few more flips for her entertainment, then bowed low in front of her. “I was an acrobat. Trapeze, mostly, but I did floor and high-wire as well.”

“Wow. That's pretty amazing. I only did ballet.”

“Don't say 'only' to that. Ballet takes a great deal of strength and stamina. I prefer ballroom dancing, myself.”

“You do not.”

“I do. Dancing, fencing, acrobatics...really, it's all similar if you think about it.”

She did, and decided she agreed.

“I did cotillion, too, but ballet was always my favorite.”

“A shame there is no music now, I would ask you to dance, though I suspect you would decline,” he said, smiling to show he meant no harm.

“If you say so.”

“You wouldn't turn me down?”

She shrugged. “I don't know. You didn't ask me.”

He hesitated, then held out his hand. “Would you care to dance with me, fraulein?”

If Ms. Frost could see her right now, she would definitely get kicked out of the school. “Sure,” she said, and took his hand.

He put his other hand around her waist as she laid one hand on his shoulder and he counted off the beats. They waltzed in the little green space until Kitty started laughing and couldn't stop.

Was ist?” he stopped and backed up.

Kitty looked up, surprised to see hurt on his face. “I'm not laughing at you,” she said quickly. “It's...look, we're in the middle of a...whatever this is with this statue, and we don't know each other and our teams—I mean, it's just...it's funny.”

He offered her his arm then, and escorted her back to the bench, pressing a chaste kiss to her knuckles. “Thank you for the dance, fraulein.”

“You should call me Kitty,” she said.

“Mm?”

“Instead of girl.”

“Oh, it's not meant that way...it is not an insult.”

“I know. But...if we're friends...”

He nodded, taking up his perch on the bench again. He glanced at her and nodded again. “All right. Kätzchen it is.”

“Is that my name in German?”

Nein—no, it is kitten. Like kitty, but...not a name.”

“Say it again.”

“Kätzchen.”

“Okay. I like that better.”

“I'm glad. You may call me Kurt.”

“So you don't get a nickname?”

“That is not up to me.”

“I'll have to think up a good one. For the next...for if we ever meet up again.” She looked away. The first hint of pink was starting to show between the buildings.

“It has been nice getting to know you,” he said, staring at the same growing line of pink.

“Yeah. It has.” She hesitated, afraid of breaking the spell, but wanting now to clear the air. Maybe that was his goal all along, but she didn't care. “I'm sorry about...about what I did. I swear I didn't know. It was supposed to be a bug, not a bomb.”

He didn't look at her. “I believe you.” He hopped off the back of the bench, and sat beside her.

“Oh, it's wet there,” she said, too late.

“It doesn't matter. I have to leave soon. Kätzchen,” he said, watching Kitty try not to smile. He touched her cheek, and she didn't pull away. “Please be careful. The people you are working with...I think they may not be as good as you believe them to be. I'm not saying they're evil, but...please be careful.”

She agreed with him, but she wasn't about to tell him so. “I will. You too. The X-Men aren't as heaven-sent as you think, either.”

He raised a brow. “Is that so? I'm afraid you have an advantage over me here, as I don't know your affiliation.”

“I know.” She considered, before silently berating herself for even falling for this. She was sure now that this was all an elaborate trick of some kind, but she was tired enough to fall for it anyway. “I know what the X-Men do,” she said quietly. “They destroy things and recruit children into their army and claim they're doing it for mutant kind, but all they really do is make enemies who come after you and the rest of us.”

She looked away, fiddling with the bag in her lap. He was probably angry now, and that would be the end of the false friendship game. Frost's warning about their propensity for killing flashed through her memory, but she wasn't afraid of Nightcrawler at all. Odd.

He surprised her with his answer. “There is truth to what you say. But it wasn't like that. We were a family. We do have too many enemies, though I wish we did not. Now, as for recruiting children...” He sighed. “Ja, that is true too, I suppose, but most of them went to school. They didn't fight, and certainly not as an army. That is a bit of an exaggeration.” He scratched the back of his neck and glanced at her. “And I would never send one out with a dangerous device and not tell them. Nor would I send one on her first mission alone, without backup.”

She swallowed. He was smart.

“It's that obvious?”

“Very much.”

“Well...it may be kinda screwed up, but I'm glad I met you anyway.”

“Are you?”

“Yeah. The X-Men may be jerks, but you aren't. You're nice. You could've just kidnapped me or something and instead you talked to me and...and danced with me. And that was nice.”

Danke, I enjoyed it as well.”

“Hey...what happened to you? I mean...why are you at Muir Island?”

“Ah. I wondered when you might ask that. I was injured in an ambush by a hostile group of mutants. One called Riptide shot me through with hundreds of barbs. I nearly bled to death and was in a coma for several months. Rogue was damaged by another, who snuck up behind her and shorted out her powers for a time.”

“What powers?” She already knew, but she was curious what lie he'd tell her.

“She absorbs others' powers. Too much and they die. Her injuries actually allowed her, for the first time since her teen years, to touch another person's skin. Regaining her powers has been harder on her than losing them was. As for me, I've lost most of my teleporting ability. Once a day seems to be my limit right now, and even that is taxing. That is what led to my accident earlier.”

He stood up, stretching, as the first golden rays of sunlight began to light up the town. “I have to go. I'm sure your people will be here soon, to find you.”

Kitty stood up, too. Suddenly this felt too hard to do. It felt like a real friendship, not something they'd been playing at to kill time. “Yeah. Probably. I probably have to call them first, so they can find me.”

He shook his head. “I doubt it. There's a tracker in your clothing.”

“A—what? How do you know?”

“How do you think I found you?”

She was dumbfounded. “Oh.”

“Good-bye, Kätzchen,” he said, bowed once more, and started to walk away. “Be careful. There are groups in the world who have nothing on their mind but death and hatred. Don't fall in with them. It won't end well.”

“You mean like how it didn't end well for the X-Men?”

“Their mistake was always in caring too much. But that's still a better way to go than in hate.” She shifted on her feet as he hunched his shoulders inside his coat and pulled up the hood.

“Hey, Kurt?”

He stopped again, and impulsively she threw her arms around him. “Get better, and be careful, and thanks, and...and bye.”

He teleported away then, probably to get as far away from his crazy enemy as possible.

 

Chapter Text

Ten minutes later, her driver pulled up beside the little green space with the statue. He opened the door for her, without a word, and drove her to the airport. He told her nothing and she asked no questions. It was obvious now that there were many things she wasn't being told. She didn't know if she wanted to, either. Better, probably, to go along with it instead.

She spent the first hour of the flight home trying to imagine what it would take for someone to believe Xavier's lies, to the point they would lay down their lives for his cause. Had he brainwashed those people? Was Nightcrawler suffering from such a delusion? Charles Xavier was a telepath, reportedly the strongest in the world. He could easily manipulate unsuspecting people into believing him. Kitty shuddered and was grateful once again that she had wound up with Ms. Frost instead of Charles Xavier. The rest of the flight, she slept.

 

Back at school, Ms. Frost was eager to speak to her, and seemed greatly concerned at the unexpected delay. “Are you all right?” she asked as Kitty dropped into the chair beside her desk. Sleeping on the plane hadn't been very restful, and she wanted to change and sleep in her own bed. But mission debriefing came first.

“I'm fine. Tired.”

“Tell me what happened. Why were you delayed?”

“I didn't even get through the first question when MacTaggert called me out. She had one of the X-Men in there with her, trying to intimidate me, so I bolted. There was some chasing back and forth involved, and eventually I...I got away.” Kitty had already decided she wouldn't tell Ms. Frost about saving Nightcrawler, and especially not about last night.

Ms. Frost's eyes were wide and she steepled her hands as she listened. “Oh,” Kitty said, watching Frost's face carefully, “And the bug was supposedly a bomb.”

Ms. Frost shot out of her chair, hands flattened on the table. “What?” she cried. If she was acting, she was very good, Kitty thought.

“That's what they said. I didn't believe them, but they were pretty adamant about it.”

“Liars. I'm sure they planted it to trick you. How did they know it was a ruse?”

“I don't know. Dr. MacTaggert seemed to know right away, and Nightcrawler was there, and then Rogue chased me all over.”

“Were you not able to learn anything then, my poor darling?”

“Actually, I did learn some things.” She told Ms. Frost about their injuries, starting with Rogue. She found when it was time to talk about Nightcrawler, it wasn't easy. She wanted to keep his secrets. His little game had worked too well. She thought of him as a friend now, and she had to get that idea out of her head. He was her enemy—no, that was too harsh. He was her opponent.

“The other guy,” she began, referring to him that way to distance herself, “has almost lost his teleportation ability. He said once a day is his limit.”

Ms. Frost was impressed with how much Kitty had learned.

“Nightcrawler is a terrifying fellow, isn't he? Can you imagine working with him?” Ms. Frost shivered visibly. “His tail looks like a giant blue snake.” She made a striking motion with her hand as she grimaced at the image.

“Uh...yeah.” Kitty disagreed, but didn't want to argue. “He admitted Xavier recruits children and wrecks stuff up, and he said it's not really an army, but he also didn't deny they train to fight.”

Ms. Frost seemed pleased overall. “You did so well, Kitty. I'm radiantly proud of you. Even with a few mishaps, you didn't give us away, and you learned a great deal more than I imagined you would. Take today off and relax. You can resume your classes tomorrow.” Ms. Frost beamed at her, and Kitty felt proud, now that she was removed from the situation. The only troubling thing was the question of the bomb. Had she planted a bomb instead of a bug? And if she had, where had it come from?

No. She hadn't. It was a ploy by clever X-Men to trick her and trip her up so she'd reveal more to them than she wanted to. She refused to consider it any more after that.

Returning to the routine of school wasn't as easy as she expected it to be. Her mind kept returning to Scotland, and the people there, questioning everything she was learning at the Massachusetts Academy. She argued with herself every night for a week. Of course the X-Men wanted to make her doubt her team. Of course they wanted her to think she was being lied to. She couldn't let Kurt's—Nightcrawler's kindness influence her like this. He was one of them, he'd always be one of them, and he was as much to blame for the messes Xavier's people made as any of the rest of them.

She couldn't help looking them up again. She had memorized everything in the book about Nightcrawler already, and almost everything about Rogue and Dr. MacTaggert, but seeing it printed in other sources confirmed for her what the Frost-issued book had told her.

Everything she found so far verified what he told her about himself and Rogue. He was German, from Bavaria, no parents, raised in a circus. Rogue was an orphan, raised in Mississippi, unable to touch people. Well, just because that was all true didn't mean anything else he told her was. So far, though, she hadn't caught him in a lie.

One day at lunch, she dared raise a question to her friends about whether or not all of the X-Men were as corrupt as they were being taught.

“Do you think it's possible for someone to believe in a lie, but...but do it right?”

“What do you mean, Kitty?” Isla asked as she picked at her spaghetti and sauce.

“I mean, can someone be a good person even if they follow a villain?”

“Who are you asking about?” Isla said.

Kitty twirled her own spaghetti, wondering if she should have brought this up at all. “Y'know, hypothetically...like, take the X-Men for—”

“Oh god, no, they're all horrible,” Isla declared. She stabbed into her spaghetti. “They should be in jail, every one of them.”

“You really think so?”

Gunther joined them, his plate piled high with two servings. “You got enough there?” Isla teased. “Do you think any of the X-Men could be good people?”

“Hell no, they follow that ass Xavier.”

“See?” Isla said, as if that was proof enough.

“Yeah,” Kitty said, hoping to end the discussion. “I guess you're right.”

“Of course we are. I mean, maybe there are people in other groups who could be okay, but the X-Men? They're all brain warped by that insane telepath who thinks he's a friggin' god. None of them can think for themselves. That's blind loyalty right there. You know that, Kitty, we were in the same class.” Isla tucked her hair behind her ear and gave Kitty a wake-up look.

“I know, I know, it was just a thought.” She scooped up another forkful and changed the subject, “So what are your plans for this weekend?”

As the weeks dragged by, Kitty couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling that followed her. It settled in her gut and kept her up nights. During the day she ignored it, but at night it was harder. She kept thinking about her mission, and more specifically, someone from her mission. She tried not to, tried to think about anything else, anyone else, but more often than not it was his face that she woke up to in her mind's eye.

She tried to research deeper into the information available to her about Xavier's army, but there were only a few websites that had anything on the school or the man, and once she had scoured those, there was little else available. Xavier certainly knew how to keep his people out of the news. Probably he used his mind powers for that, too. Even so, she found several personal stories, and a few more biographies of the team, but the feeling of having forgotten something important, or not realizing something important, nagged at her still.

 

Emma Frost's phone rang, the number on the screen alerting her to the caller's identity. She braced herself. “Hello, this is Ms. Frost.”

“Report.”

“The mission was a success. She was able to make contact with the remaining members and bring back data on their injuries and power losses.”

“And?”

“The bomb failed.”

“Fuck.”

“I'm continuing with our long-range plan. In fact, I think one important player has just arrived.” She clicked the video monitor to her outer office and said, “I'll be right with you.” To her boss, she said, “I have to go.”

“Don't fail us.”

“I won't.” She hung up and buzzed her office door open.

Kitty was on her way to class one morning, passing Ms. Frost's office as she did. From within came voices, Ms. Frost and someone Kitty didn't know. She slowed her pace, wondering who it was. A new student? The door opened, and Ms. Frost stepped out.

“Ah, Kitty, just who I was hoping to see. Would you come in for a moment?”

Kitty stepped into the office. There was a young man there, tall and handsome, with dark hair and eyes and a wide smile. He stood up when she came in.

“Kitty, this is Nicholas Kensington. He's a new student in your class. I was hoping you'd be able to show him around today. He'll be in most of your classes.”

“Sure, Ms. Frost. I'm on my way to Physics right now.” She shifted her books to shake Nicholas's hand.

“Wonderful,” Ms. Frost said. “Nicholas, I'm sure you'll enjoy your time here. I'm so pleased you've chosen the Massachusetts Academy.”

“Thank you, Ms. Frost,” he said with a slight bow. “Nice to meet you, Kitty.”

“Nice to meet you, Nicholas.”

“You can call me Nick,” he said with a gleaming smile. Kitty's heart flipped. He was really cute.

She led him down the hall, and he sat beside her in all her classes that day, and ate lunch with her friends. He was funny, and smart, and the longer she spent in his company, the more she liked him. By the end of the week, she had a raging crush on him.

He met her in the hallway after her last class that Friday. “Hey, Kitty. You wanna go into town and see a movie with me tonight?”

Kitty felt her cheeks warm in a glowing blush. “Yeah. That sounds great, Nick.”

“Cool.” He grinned, then waved and ran off.

Nick told her when he met her at her dorm that he'd gotten permission from Ms. Frost to take one of the school cars for their date. Kitty blushed again at the word 'date.' He took her to dinner first, then to the movies. Kitty barely watched the movie. It was hard when her face was buried in the side of Nick's face as they kissed.

He ate lunch with her the next day, and they decided to go out again later that week, if Ms. Frost allowed it. She did, and this time, when they returned to the school, he invited her to his room. They sat on his bed and kissed some more, and Kitty thought this was exactly what she'd dreamed of having in a boyfriend. In the middle of kissing, Nick suddenly moved his hand to her breast, and Kitty pulled her mouth away in a soft gasp of surprise.

He backed up, stammering an apology, but she stopped him with another kiss and put his hand under her shirt. That led to her own hand sliding under his shirt, until they were both shirtless and squirming on the bed. From there it was short work to finish undressing.

Kitty was happy. Her life seemed to finally be moving in the right direction. When her junior year finished, she chose not to go home, but to stay at the school and assist with some of the freshman summer classes. Over time, the incident on Muir Island became a memory she thought of only occasionally, usually when a blue demon featured in her nightmares.

Chapter Text

When Kurt teleported away from Kitty Parker in the little Scottish town square, he didn't go far. He retreated to the shadows between the buildings behind her, and watched. He already had his suspicions about who she was working for, based on their conversation, but he wanted to be certain. He didn't have to wait long. A car pulled up not long after he left, leaving him wondering if they'd been watching as well, and Kitty got in. He didn't see anyone inside, but Rogue was ready to follow the vehicle from the air.

“When they get to the airport, place this tracker on their plane. We should be able to get a good idea of who she's working for based on where it lands.”

Kurt expected to come close to confirming his suspicions that Kitty was working with Emma Frost within the next eight hours.

As soon as Rogue took off to follow the car, Kurt headed back towards the ferry. He didn't like deceiving the girl, but she was obviously lying, and he needed to know if someone was after them. With the X-Men dead, he and Rogue were all that remained of the team, and Moira was also a target. He wasn't going to take a chance on someone killing the rest of them off.

Fortunately, the bomb Kitty had planted hadn't been very powerful. It couldn't be, in order to be small enough to fool her into thinking it was a bug. He shook his head as he trudged along the road. She was an innocent in all of this. He was convinced she was being manipulated, and it made him wish he had more time to talk to her. It felt like he had reached her on some level, though she could have been merely playing a part.

He reached the ferry just before it departed the mainland, and sat on the upper deck, watching Muir Island come closer and closer. He tried not to think about what might happen to Kitty if she disappointed her boss. Emma Frost, if that's who she was working for, was not known for her forgiveness.

Of course Frost and the Massachusetts Academy made the most sense. Kitty was young, smart, and had a modicum of training. She didn't have experience, though, and had made rookie mistakes. Surely Frost would have accounted for that? Maybe she had. The woman was devious for sure, and nothing would surprise him coming from her. Maybe Kitty's mission had been more about sending a message than doing actual damage.

Back at the research station, he keyed in the security code and went to the computer lab to see if Rogue had planted the tracking device yet. It was online, so she'd be back soon. Moira joined him to see how the plan was going, and check on him.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, listening to his heart and lungs while he tracked the plane across the Atlantic. He heard Rogue come in downstairs.

“Fine,” he said. Moira scowled at him.

“It was a daft plan, staying out all night like that in your state. Nearly drowned, weak, not out of your coma three weeks even.”

“It worked. She talked.”

“Well, at least there's that. What do you care so much about a wee girl anyway?”

“I think she's working for Emma Frost, and if she is, we may have trouble coming our way sooner than we'd like. I want to be prepared.” He spun the chair around and faced Moira, as Rogue walked in. “And I think she's being lied to, and manipulated, and you know how I feel about that.”

“Ah put the tracker on, and it looks like it's workin,” Rogue said. “East coast heading, looks like.”

Ja, which makes me think it's Frost.” Kurt rubbed his chin. “Who else could it be? I don't think Magneto is up to much these days. Do we even know where he is?”

“No, not since we destroyed his volcano lair. He's been pretty silent. Besides, the girl sounded like one of Frost's t'me.”

“We'll find out soon enough, I do believe.” Kurt set the tracker to signal his phone when the plane began its initial descent for landing, then went to his room to nap.

Several hours later, the beeping woke him and he dragged himself down to the computer lab. The plane was landing at Logan International Airport in Massachusetts. He smiled to himself. Then a long-forgotten memory resurfaced and he went looking for Rogue. She was in the living room, looking miserable. She'd canceled her trip to the States after the attack, unwilling to leave Moira and Kurt virtually defenseless.

He perched on the arm of the chair. “You wouldn't remember this, it was before you joined our team,” he said, and Rogue lifted unhappy eyes to him. “We once tried to recruit two new mutants in one night. One in New York, the other in Chicago. Her name was Katherine Pryde and she ended up enrolling in the Massachusetts Academy.”

“Oh, god, d'you think this is her? The name's different...”

“Names are easily changed. I think it's likely it's the same girl. The world is full of coincidences, ja?”

“And I say there ain't no such thing.”

Now he only had to wonder what in the world the Hellfire Club wanted with Moira MacTaggert and two useless X-Men, and why they had sent a teenager to deliver them a bomb.

Chapter Text

The first day of school at the Massachusetts Academy, everyone gathered for a welcome speech in the auditorium. Every year, Ms. Frost welcomed them back, then dismissed the classes one at a time, from Freshman to Seniors last. When only the seniors remained, she resumed her place at the podium.

“This is a turning point in your lives,” she began, smiling out at all forty-three of them. “Today you will make the decision that will determine the course of your life from here out, and after you leave the Academy. Last year, you were given opportunities to experience each option and given the summer to come to a decision. I hope you have all—or at least most of you—made the choice that is right for you.”

Two assistants began passing out papers to them, and Ms. Frost continued. “Please fill out these forms so we can insure you receive the proper training after classes. Your school day will be slightly shorter than the other classes' in order to accommodate your additional training.”

Kitty looked at the form in her hand and filled out her name and pertinent information. She glanced around at her classmates, some filling theirs in eagerly and excitedly, some with more trepidation. Kitty looked back at hers and filled in the bubble next to 'college.'

Ms. Frost called her to her office after the meeting.

“You're sure this is what you want to do?”

Kitty didn't know what to say. She'd marked college, didn't that mean it was what she wanted? “Yes.”

“I admit, I'm surprised. After your mission in Scotland, I thought you would surely choose the team.”

Kitty fidgeted with her hands in her lap. “I'm sure you remember how poorly that mission went.”

“It did not go as poorly as you think. Despite setbacks, which are inevitable to any mission, you still managed to accomplish the main goal—acquisition of information vital to our school and the mutant community. Because of you, we learned that neither former X-Man was a threat to us at this time, and that close monitoring was all that was necessary to keep ourselves safe.”

That was a bit of a relief. Kitty hadn't wanted to think about what Ms. Frost's plan was. She hadn't mentioned anything, and Kitty hadn't asked.

“You have real potential on a team. You're smart, strong, good at improvising, and you don't break under pressure. You'd make a good leader—a role model, and you could use all those skills to help other mutants. We can help protect them from those who would recruit them for evil, especially the X-Men.”

“But the X-Men are dead.”

Frost leaned forward. “They aren't dead.”

“What?” Kitty gripped the arm of her chair in surprise. “Not...not dead? How are they not dead?”

Ms. Frost shifted in her seat to reach underneath her desk. A screen descended behind her, and with the click of a remote, a video began to play. WNN news was running a story about the X-Men, discovered alive and well in Australia. Kitty stared, transfixed, and shocked.

“They lied about their deaths?”

“That they did. You see the kind of people we are working against?” Ms. Frost said, shaking her head in dismay.

Kitty recalled Nightcrawler talking about losing his found family, his best friend, Rogue's lover. It had all been a lie? Those friends had let them go along thinking for over a year that they were dead when they were hanging out in Australia? Kitty was dumbfounded and angry on their behalf.

“Those assholes,” she muttered, then clapped a hand over her mouth as Ms. Frost raised a brow. “Sorry.”

“No need. It's a good descriptor.”

“I can't believe they'd do that...Nightcrawler and Rogue and Dr. MacTaggert all thought they were dead, and they weren't. That's the worst, who does that to their friends?”

“The X-Men, darling.”

“All right, sign me up for the team,” Kitty said.

 

Kitty still went to regular classes, but in addition, she had training every day afterwards for three hours. The routine was similar to her ballet classes from middle school, only longer. Learning about the X-Men's deceit made her determined to lead a team that would never lie like that to their teammates, would never be so hurtful to them, or to anyone. She trained hard, relentlessly pushing herself to be better and better. Training included defense, offense, and a variety of martial arts techniques. Kitty excelled in each.

There were also classes on various tactics, such as negotiations, planning, conflict resolution, and working with local authorities. Their classes on rival mutant groups were more in-depth and intensive, and included villains they hadn't covered in the basic class. There was also a class on technology and its application to the mutant world, specifically as it pertained to the team. Power dampening technology had become more accurate and reliable, and was a vital part of controlling dangerous mutants. They also learned about holographic imagers, communications devices, and GPS location tech. The technology class was Kitty's favorite.

 

After the winter break, she was assigned to a team. Ms. Frost called her into her office one day after classes, along with Nick, Isla, Gunther, and Kristen. There was a man in the office with her, burly and while not very tall, he looked menacing. He rang all of Kitty's internal alarms, and she tried subtly to put distance between herself and the glowering man.

“Thank you all for meeting with us today,” Ms. Frost said, her usual smile in place. “I'd like to introduce Mr. Sebastian Shaw, the head of the New York Hellfire Club, which as you know, supports our school in numerous ways. We're very grateful to their support.” Frost gave him a placating smile. Kitty found it nauseating.

“Thank you, sir,” said Isla, and the others nodded along. Isla stared at Shaw as if he were made of gold. Kitty found that even more nauseating.

Shaw tipped his head to them, and his smile was a leer. Kitty thought it made him look like a wild boar. She suppressed a shiver and shifted slightly closer to Nick.

“I'm here with an important job for all of you,” said Shaw, as he paced in front of them, hands clasped behind his back. “We've identified a new threat to mutantkind, coming out of Great Britain. It seems there's a 'hero' group there, calling themselves Excalibur, of all the pompous names. Seem to think they can be Britain's version of the X-Men.”

Kitty felt her stomach sinking slowly. They were going to send her team to fight Nightcrawler.

Shaw continued. “They've been out of the picture for some time, but they're back. Word is they plan to infiltrate the London branch of the Hellfire Club to steal some top-secret data. We store a great deal of classified information there, and if they should get their hands on it, mutants will be at risk around the globe.”

“What kind of information?” Isla said, eyes wide.

Shaw took a dramatic stance. “DNA.”

There was shocked silence.

“It's an impressive collection,” he said, resuming his pacing, “which we use to help injured mutants and those who have been depowered through outside sources. For instance, when Wanda Maximoff released her version of a cure, we were able to reinstate the powers of hundreds of mutants. But if Excalibur gets their hands on it, they'll use it in their Legacy Virus research.” He punctuated his statements with a jabbing finger and a snarl. His teeth were crooked and one was gold. “Most likely, they'll use it to pinpoint and attack specific types of mutants, maybe even individuals they see as threats. I'm asking you to stop them.”

“Mr. Shaw, Kitty Pryde has already met two of the members of Excalibur, and has some knowledge of their abilities and weaknesses already. I think she would be well placed as their team leader.”

“Excellent!” He reached out and Kitty was forced to shake his hand. His grip was like iron and his eyes seemed to bore into her brain.

Kitty felt flushed, and she wasn't sure if it was pride or fear. Ms. Frost reached across her desk and brought over a stack of shirt boxes. “Stopping Excalibur will be your first official team assignment. I took the liberty of ordering these uniforms for you,” she said, handing out the boxes.

Each of them opened their box eagerly, beaming as they pulled out uniforms that, while unique to each member, were also cohesive enough to mark them as a team. A black base uniform was highlighted in a different color for each of them, along with markings to symbolize their power or code-name in some way. Kitty's was blue, with wavy lines to coordinate with her code-name, Ghost.

“You'll leave next Friday after we go over some supplemental training in the meantime,” Shaw said, puffing his chest in anticipation. “However, I've observed each of you, and I feel you are all more than ready to take on this new challenge.”

“Why are we waiting so long?” Kristen asked, fingering the yellow stripe on her uniform. She could create blinding arcs of light by waving her hands.

Shaw seemed pleased with her question. “The data is always there. But the team is awaiting the return of one of its members. We expect her arrival by next Friday, and for them to initiate the mission at that time. But we will be monitoring them closely and we'll keep you informed if anything should change.”

“What kind of supplemental training is it?” Kristen asked, her face bright and eager.

“It will be specific to the talents and powers of the Excalibur team members,” said Ms. Frost seriously. “Since it's your first mission, you'll also be using this.” She reached behind the desk again, and held out an electronic object. Kitty knew what it was before Frost explained.

“This is a pulse inhibitor,” Frost said, “It prevents specific mutants from accessing their powers, so it means you will all have yours, while Excalibur will not. You'll ambush them at the London branch of the Hellfire Club. Reason with them first, of course,” Ms. Frost said, emphasizing the point a little too much, “and then if necessary, stop them with force.” Frost smiled. “Hopefully it won't come to that. Kitty has informed us that Nightcrawler might be capable of seeing reason. If you can reach him, perhaps you can convince the rest of them of the error of their ways. If not, do what you must to stop them. We cannot allow them to access the DNA.”

“Any other questions?” Shaw said, eyeing them all like candy. “Excellent. Meet Ms. Frost and myself in the gym in half an hour. Wear your uniforms. Oh, Nick, a word please before you leave?”

Kitty waited for him in the hall, on a bench across from a window overlooking the garden. She wondered what they were talking about. Maybe he had a mission of his own, too.

 

Frost shut the door when the rest of the team left. Nick crossed his arms and waited. He seemed older already, the high school boy facade dropping away the minute the door shut.

“Keep a close eye on her. This mission is vital. She must be made to fight Excalibur, and to win. She must be made to see that they are the enemy. Can you insure that happens?” Shaw said, lighting a cigar.

Frost scowled, but said nothing as the curls of smoke filled her office.

“Yeah, I can do that. If she fails?”

“Bring her back in chains and we will take a more...severe approach to insuring her loyalty.”

“Got it. Anything else?”

“Yes, Nicholas. Tell her we were giving you a message from your family.”

He nodded and opened the door, looking again like the fresh-faced boy he was meant to be.

 

Kitty hopped up when Nick came out, and they walked the hall hand in hand. Again, the uneasy feeling settled in the back of her mind, the feeling that this was not quite right. Nick seemed excited though, swinging her hand and kissing her cheek.

“My parents called,” he said. “They're super proud and said they really want to meet you and the team after we come back. I can't believe we're going up against a real team on our very first mission. I can't wait to use this power to help people. We're going to stop a real crime, Kitty, just think!”

Kitty let him talk, her thoughts going back to the odd night with Nightcrawler so long ago, and the questions it brought up that she had abandoned until today.

The training lasted all afternoon. Each day that week, they had extra sessions after their regularly scheduled workouts. By the end of the week, Kitty's nerves were frayed. She was determined to guide her team through a peaceful mission, using reason and negotiation rather than combat skills to convince Excalibur to leave the DNA behind. Her teammates seemed less enthusiastic about that approach, though aloud they all claimed to be in agreement with her. Kitty hoped she hadn't made a terrible mistake.

Ms. Frost met with them in her office once again after their last training that Thursday.

“You've all done so well with your training, and I am exceedingly proud of you. However, I know some of you are uncertain about the...efficacy of the training, since you've only been working six months, and Excalibur has been honing their skills for years. And it's a good point. How can a handful of amateurs possibly take on three former X-Men, who spent the bulk of the last four or five years training daily? Not to mention the addition of their British friends, a man chosen by Roma herself to be defender of Britain and enhanced with powers beyond our comprehension, and his girlfriend, a shapeshifting empath capable of making herself into anything she desires? Most intimidating of all, the Phoenix force, hosted by Rachel Grey, with the power of the universe at her disposal.” Frost took a moment to let this sink in as she rose from her chair and came around the front of her desk. “I'm going to help you,” she said.

“As you know, I am also a mutant, a telepath. And a rather powerful one, if I may say so. With that ability, I will implant in your brains the knowledge you need to fight them and win. Now relax and sit back. This won't hurt.”

Kitty didn't even have time to protest, if she could have formed the words, before she was bombarded with so much information she blacked out for a full minute. When she opened her eyes, her friends looked as dazed as she felt.

“What the hell was that?” Gunther said, his hands forming fists at his sides.

“A side-effect of the transfer of information. My apologies. I did not anticipate that so much information would overwhelm you to such a degree.”

Nick huffed, but seemed appeased.

“So do you use that power on us a lot?” Isla asked as she rubbed her temples. She looked suspicious.

Frost's eyes went wide. “No! Never. I only did so now because it was necessary to keep you as safe as possible.”

Frost handed out some papers. “Read these,” she said, “While you've been told about your opponents, these papers will allow you to read up on them in more detail. Kitty, stay here a moment, I have something to share with you.” The others filed out, and Kitty remained, glancing nervously from Mr. Shaw to Ms. Frost and back.

“Kitty,” Ms. Frost began, “I have some rather upsetting news for you. I'm sorry to share this with you now, but your parents have been implicated in an embezzlement scheme. Your father has made a plea bargain and he and your mother have gone into Witness Protection.” She handed Kitty a newspaper article from Chicago. Her father's photo was at the top of the article.

Kitty sat down hard in a chair. She was shocked, but not as upset as she thought she ought to be. Her father, a banker, had always held late night meetings with unusual groups of investors, but Kitty hadn't paid too much attention to it. She was busy with her own problems. This explained a lot, though.

“Thank you for telling me,” she said.

“Are you all right? Do you still want to complete the mission?”

Kitty nodded, numb. “Yeah. Of course. Why shouldn't I? There isn't anything I can do about them right now.”

“That's unfortunately true, dear. Remember, we are here for you. We'll do whatever we can to support you.” Frost reached across and touched Kitty's hand as she smiled sympathetically. Her hand was chilly.

 

Kitty sat on her bed, reading the papers and wondering how she'd gotten herself into such a mess. All she ever wanted was a diploma and a college education. She wanted to earn a degree and get an amazing tech job and maybe get married some day, and maybe even have some kids. She wasn't sure about that yet, but she figured she had time to decide. She was only eighteen. There was no rush. Her parents...that was another mess, but that was theirs, not hers. The last few years she'd grown so far apart from them, argued more than talked, been shuttled from school to school for odd reasons, or no reasons. She thought she should be upset, but she wasn't.

Her head ached from Frost's information overload, but it was more than that. This was exactly what she hadn't wanted. This was exactly like what Xavier did to his students. He made them soldiers against their will, and while Frost railed against him for that, she had done the same thing to them just now in her office. She thought about what Nightcrawler had told her, that some of what she knew about Xavier was true, but some was not. And she remembered his warning before they parted ways. But Ms. Frost wasn't like that. She only wanted the best for all of them. Didn't she?

Kitty forced herself to think about the mutants she was about to save by preventing the theft of DNA from the Hellfire Club. Stopping Excalibur would mean a victory not only for her small, new team, but for innocent mutants around the world who would be safe—at least for now—from the schemes of the X-Men and their counterparts. If only she could be as confident as the words in her head made her sound.

Nick knocked on Kitty's door and came in, taking a seat beside her on the bed.

“What's up, Kitty? You look nervous.” He stroked the back of her neck and kissed her cheek.

“I'm not, just studying this information. Did you read up?” She leaned against him.

“Yeah, of course. They sound like a pretty bad group. That Captain Britain flies off the handle all day long.”

“I saw.”

“They've got a telepath, too.”

“She's also telekinetic, and uses the Phoenix force. I don't know that we can beat her if she comes after us, even with all this new stuff in our heads.”

“Nah, we just have to distract her. Isla can do that no problem.”

Kitty smiled instead of agreeing. “Psych Out.”

He chuckled. “I wonder if she'll change her code name later.”

“Gunther's a heavy hitter, and with all of us working together, I think we can take them.” He slid his hand under her jaw, tipping it towards him. “And with you as our leader, how can we go wrong?”

Kitty smiled again, but she wasn't nearly as confident as Nick. What if they were wrong about Excalibur and the X-Men? What if it was nothing more than a series of misunderstandings? Surely it couldn't be, though. Even Nightcrawler had admitted to the atrocities the X-Men committed, and he hadn't seemed sorry at all. This was definitely the right thing to do. She let Nick's hands lull her into distraction instead, as she closed her eyes and leaned into his kiss.

Chapter Text

Kitty was still nervous and uncertain when they boarded the plane, but she was also determined. She wasn't a baby anymore, nor was she inexperienced. At least, not entirely. The simulations they used in the Massachusetts Academy Dream Room had been realistic and felt like being in the heat of a battle. She trusted her friends to have her back if things went wrong. She imagined meeting Excalibur and talking them down from a fight. She imagined looking Rogue in the face and telling her she wasn't going to be taking anything from the vaults of the Hellfire Club today. She smiled to herself as she imagined sending Rogue away empty handed.

Nick's hand on her arm startled her from her daydream. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I'm fine. I was just thinking.” She smiled and kissed his cheek.

He leaned closer. “About what?”

Kitty giggled as his hand moved over her thigh. “Not about that, I assure you.”

“Too bad. We could join the mile-high club.”

“Oh my god, Nick, no way! We're on a mission. This is a business trip.”

“Maybe on the way home?”

She gave him a wicked grin. “Maybe.”

She leaned against his shoulder and let her thoughts drift again. She was glad Nick was with her. He was going over the papers again, trying to memorize every detail. Kitty didn't know the new team members at all—Captain Britain, Meggan, and Phoenix—but she knew Rogue and she knew Nightcrawler. She wondered if he would fight her or listen to reason.

“This guy, Captain Britain, he sounds like a real ass,” Nick said, and Kitty sat up. He was looking over the strengths and weaknesses sheet. “Alcoholic, violent temper, abusive...even says he once broke his teammate's leg in a jealous rage.”

“Yeah, I read that, too,” Kitty said. It was Nightcrawler's leg he'd broken, thinking he was hitting on Captain Britain's girlfriend Meggan. “I guess they made up.”

Nick laughed. “Yeah, I guess. Can you imagine? These guys are no better than the X-Men. How do you trust a guy who breaks your damn femur?”

Kitty shook her head. “I don't know.”

Nick couldn't let it rest. “Like damn, the guy flirts with his girlfriend and his first reaction is to beat the shit out of him?”

Kitty nodded along, no longer listening fully as Nick continued to rail against the captain. Finally Kitty said, “What about Meggan? She stays with him.”

And Nick was off, just as incredulous that she would stay with the man as he was that teammates would beat one another up. Kitty squeezed Nick's hand. “At least we don't have to worry about that, right?”

Nick smiled and kissed her. “We sure don't.”

 

They were chauffeured to the London Hellfire Club building, where a butler escorted them to a parlor room near the entrance. According to Mr. Shaw's informant, the team would definitely come here looking for the DNA samples. Kitty wondered exactly how the informant knew this. Was it someone on their team? Someone like Nightcrawler, maybe, skillfully spinning lies to his teammates and to her? Or was all of it a lie and they'd been sent here on a wild goose chase?

Kitty and Nick chose hiding places for each of their teammates, then sat in wait for Excalibur to show up and be ambushed. Kitty's chin dipped into her hand as she waited, boredom increasing, and doubt creeping in. Would they even show up? What if the intel had been wrong?

Creaking floors alerted her to movement in the hall, and she peeked out from the parlor where she'd stayed. She saw Nightcrawler and a redheaded woman in the hall—that must be Phoenix, though she didn't fit the description in anything other than hair color—and he was waving towards the other end. Kitty slid through the particles of the door and tapped Nightcrawler's shoulder.

He whirled as the redhead melted into a wolf-woman. Kitty backed up in surprise. Not Phoenix, apparently.

“Ms. Parker?” Nightcrawler said, shaking his head in confusion and surprise. He held his hand up and the wolf-woman backed off.

He remembered her?

Kitty nodded. “Tell your team to leave,” she said, as the rest of her own team emerged. Two more of Excalibur's group came in from the other end of the hall, but Gunther was behind them, and he was Kitty's strongman. She wasn't concerned.

“Psych Out, now, please,” Kitty said as calmly as she could, and Isla activated the pulse inhibitor. At once, most of Excalibur looked startled. Only the redhead, who was new to the team, and who was not programmed into the device, retained her abilities. Nightcrawler said nothing, just looked at Kitty in disappointment. She avoided his gaze.

Gunther stepped towards Rogue, eager for the fight to begin, but Kitty stopped him barely, with a hand on his shoulder. “We talk first,” she said. “Remember?”

Nightcrawler's face was more anger than disappointment when he spoke. “What is going on? Where is Douglock?” Nightcrawler said. “What are you doing here?” He looked like she'd betrayed him, but she had never been on his team, so how could he feel that way? She hadn't even seen him in over a year.

“I have no idea what a douglock is, but we won't let you have the DNA,” she said. “Please leave. Go back and forget about it and leave it alone. We don't want to fight anyone.”

I do,” Gunther grumbled, but Kitty ignored him.

“DNA?” Nightcrawler said. He stepped closer to her, hands outstretched in a plea. “Kätzchen, we are not looking for DNA. We're looking for our friend Douglock. He was taken from the island by Black Air, and we have information that says he's being held here.”

“Don't call me that,” she said, trying to sound strong and confident, and coming out pleading instead. “Look, I don't care what you're doing here, you need to leave.” Please, she thought. Please. Don't make this happen.

“I will gladly leave once we retrieve our friend. Kindly show us where he is, and there is no need for confrontation.”

Kitty shook her head. This wasn't going well. She didn't know anything about this Douglock person, or a kidnapping, or people being held prisoner. She decided Douglock must be code for the DNA, and she would stand her ground.

“I can't do that. We have orders.”

Nightcrawler straightened, his wiry frame seeming small in comparison to Kitty's teammate Gunther. “I'm not in the mood to argue about this, especially not with you.”

“What's that supposed to mean? You don't know me,” Kitty snapped.

Nightcrawler shook his head sadly and drew his sword. “I am very sorry that it comes to this.”

Within seconds chaos broke out. The redhead lunged for Kitty, and as she did, Nick stepped up and blasted the woman with his weapon. Kitty realized with a shock that it was a standard gun. Where had he been hiding it? The redhead was knocked back by a shot to her shoulder, and hit her head hard on the banister as she went down. Kitty spun, hands out in a desperate bid to keep her team from attacking. They were beyond listening. Behind her, Gunther ran towards Rogue, who seemed more than ready to take him on.

Nick was closest and Kitty grabbed his arm. “Nick, what are you doing? Stop this!”

“No, Ghost,” he said, emphasizing her code name, “we came to do a job, and we're going to do it. We have to stop them.” He looked so angry, Kitty had never seen that look on his face before. She let go of his arm and spun around, hoping to talk sense to one of her other teammates.

Kitty found her self standing in the middle of the fight as if she were invisible. The blond woman, whom Kitty identified as Captain Britain's fiancee Meggan, leaped at Isla, who easily confused her, causing Meggan to fall heavily to the ground.

“This isn't necessary,” Kitty tried to say over the din, but she was ignored. She phased herself and ran through the chaos, towards Kristen, who was in a hand-to-hand fight with Nightcrawler. He was winning easily, in spite of her light attack.

“Kristen, back off!” Kitty yelled, desperate to make them all stop fighting. “Nightcrawler, tell your team to stop!”

Nightcrawler halted his attack and lowered his swords. Kristen grinned at Kitty, as if this was part of a plan, and smashed her fist into Nightcrawler's face with a sickening crack. Blood spurted from his nose as he fell back, but he used his tail to grab Kristen's leg and pull her down with him. They grappled until Nightcrawler tossed her over his head towards the main door. Kristen managed to land and roll, then came back at a run. Nick pointed his gun at Nightcrawler's back. Kitty didn't think, she just leaped, shoving Nick to the ground as he fired. Nick screamed at her in anger as the shot went wide.

“Goddammit, what the fuck are you doing?” he yelled at her.

“Stop fighting! Stop!” she yelled back, still holding him. Kristen had regained her feet, leaping over Nightcrawler, who lay dazed on the floor. She grabbed Kitty and pulled her off Nick.

“What are you doing? Whose side are you even on?” Kristen screamed.

“We don't have to do this!” she cried, trying to appeal to them, but Kristen dropped her to the floor again.

“What's wrong with you, Kitty? We came here to stop them, and you're taking their side!” Nick screamed in her face as Kitty got to her feet. The redhead had regained consciousness, and now, in spite of her wound, leaped at Kitty, teeth bared and claws extended.

Kitty phased again, dodging the blows from the wolf-woman, who melted back to her human state. She was younger than Kitty, and furious. She got as close to Kitty's face as she could. “I mean to get Dougie back whether you try to stop us or not. I won't stop, not til we find him!”

Nick aimed at Rogue, but with Gunther brawling, he didn't have a clear shot. Nightcrawler leaped to the ceiling and dropped onto Nick, scrabbling for his gun. Nick fired again, and again, then pulled out a second weapon, and Kitty knew if she didn't do something to stop all the fighting, someone was going to die. She had to sabotage the pulse inhibitor. If she did that, Excalibur would overwhelm her own team, but it meant the fighting would stop.

She ran towards Isla. “Isla, Psych Out, we have to end this or people are going to die.”

“Well maybe you should help then! Why the hell did Frost make you team leader anyway?”

Kitty had reached her limit. She punched Isla in the jaw, then phased her hand through the inhibitor, permanently shorting it out. Isla shrieked, and Kristen lunged at Kitty. Kitty flipped her over her shoulder, and she grunted as the wind was knocked out of her. Gunther came at Kitty, too, aiming a punch at her gut. Kitty phased and instead, he hit the metal security door, howling in pain. Nick seemed to take Kitty's place as leader, striding over to her where she stood leaning against the wall. Kitty raised her fists to fight him if necessary, but he stood out of reach, arms folded across his chest.

They hated her, but at least the fighting had stopped. Once Kitty's team stopped attacking, Excalibur ceased their return assault. The redhead and blond both shifted into wolf forms and Rogue followed, shoving Hellfire guards away from different doors when they fired at her.

“I didn't want to fight,” she said to Nick, ignoring the others

Nick glared at her, hatred in his eyes now instead of love.

“You're a traitor, Ghost. Frost and Shaw are gonna know about this and they're going to deal with you. When Excalibur gets hold of that DNA and starts destroying the world with it, you'll see how wrong you were.” Kitty didn't move while he spoke.

“You're wrong, Nick. You're all wrong. We've all been lied to.”

Her former teammates roused themselves, rubbing at aching arms and heads, and ready to attack Kitty again. Nick stopped them, huddling together, while Nightcrawler ushered Excalibur out of the Hellfire building. Meggan, Rogue, and the other girl joined them shortly, and Kitty heard them say they hadn't found Douglock. Who was Douglock and what did he have to do with DNA?

Kitty waited to see what Nick did about her. Maybe they'd take her home in chains. She didn't care. She'd tell Frost what happened, that her team ignored her commands. Nick broke up the group conference and glared at her. “I thought you were on our side. I thought you were special. But you aren't. You're one of them. So we're taking you back with us in a collar, as a traitor.” Before she realized what he was doing, he'd locked the collar around her neck.

He didn't even smirk at her.

Kitty's entire future withered. No graduation. Not even a shot at college now. Nothing. The news about her parents hit home suddenly, as Kitty realized she had literally nowhere to go.

“Wait here,” Nick said, and strode down the hall to gather his team once more. Their ride was pulling up outside.

She had seconds to decide what to do. If she waited, she'd go back to Frost a failure, branded a traitor, and she'd be punished. She thought of Shaw and knew that wasn't an option. Her parents were gone, so Chicago wasn't a choice, either. But she couldn't stay here. She bolted for the front door before Nick turned back for her.

Outside, Excalibur hadn't left at all. They were discussing what the two shapeshifters had found, and not found, in the building. The redhead was crying and holding her arm as she talked about 'Dougie.' Kitty skidded to a halt when she saw them, making a split decision to run down the street.

She didn't expect to get far, but she also didn't expect to run face-first into Nightcrawler's chest. Again. He grabbed her arms as she squirmed.

“Let go,” she said.

“I think not.” He tapped the collar with his tail. “Trouble in paradise?”

“It isn't funny,” she said, and tried again to pull her arms free.

“Doesn't feel too good to have your powers gone, does it, Kätzchen?”

His use of the name he had called her a year ago was more upsetting than the collar or her defeat, and she didn't know why. She couldn't respond for long seconds as she watched little drops of red staining the sidewalk beneath their feet. Too slowly her brain recognized that it was blood. That it was coming from Nightcrawler, but not his nose.

“You're bleeding,” she said stupidly.

Ja, I was shot. Come on now. We can't allow you to stay behind, I'm afraid.” She stopped struggling and let him lead her back to his team. She feared their punishment less than she did Shaw's. Maybe Nightcrawler would listen to her. After all, she hadn't tried to fight them.

Kitty followed him, numb and uncaring that she was essentially being taken into custody by her enemy. Nick stood in the door of the Club and glared at her, but he didn't move to take her back.

“Looks like she's our prisoner now,” Nightcrawler said to him. Nick didn't reply. He gave Kitty one last glare and walked back inside.

“At least the man knows when he is beaten,” Nightcrawler said. “Let's get to the plane.”

She took a few steps and stopped, looking from one person to another. They all looked upset. Panic set in, making her want to flee from these powerful people who stared at her, angry and ready to fight her if she tried anything. She took a step back, and another, until Nightcrawler's hand around her arm stopped her.

“Unfortunately that is not an option. You've acted directly against us more than once, and that means we can't let you leave.” he said, though his grip wasn't strong, and she could probably have gotten away. Blood dripped down his leg still, and there was more blood in the fur on his face from his nose.

She shook her head. “Couldn't I just stay here? I know I came with the others but...I didn't want to fight. The Hellfire Club is all about helping mutants, so maybe... Why are you laughing?”

All of them except Nightcrawler were laughing, or trying to suppress laughter. Kitty felt her cheeks heating up, angry because they were laughing and because she didn't understand why. She tried to break free of Nightcrawler's grip again, but he only wrapped his tail around her arm when she jerked his hand loose.

He put his hands on his hips and shifted his weight to his uninjured leg. “I don't know who told you that, but the Hellfire Club is not one iota about helping mutants, unless those mutants happen to be filthy rich.”

Kitty shook her head. “But...but they fund the school.”

“Ah, yes, the infamous Massachusetts Academy.” His tone was mocking. “Run by one Emma Frost, White Queen of the Hellfire Club. We know. The school is the pipeline through which they launder their money, among other things.” He watched shock and anger pass over her face in waves. “And prisoners don't generally get to choose where they're taken.”

She didn't say anything else as she wrapped her arms around her stomach.

Nightcrawler adjusted his grip on her arm and pushed her forward. “You cannot stay here. Even if I were inclined to let you go, I would not let you stay here. You'll be in our custody, but it won't be that bad. Come with me,” he said. “We're heading back to the island to figure out a lot of things. You are simply next on the list.”

“I can't,” she said, suddenly terrified at the prospect of living in one of Moira MacTaggert's cells. She tried again to pull away. She looked at his team and back to his outstretched hand. “I'm not a criminal. I didn't fight you. I was only doing my job.”

Rogue had grown tired of Nightcrawler's seemingly infinite patience. She strode over to Kitty and stood face to face with her.

“Sugar, Ah don't know what lies they spun at that school, but if Nightcrawler says you're coming with us, then you are.” She took hold of Kitty's other arm, her grip much stronger than his, and dragged her forward.

“No more lies than your stupid professor told you!” Kitty countered. Rogue had chased her, scared her, and now stood in front of her as if she was superior to her.

Rogue's mouth turned down in an angry frown, and her free hand clenched at her side. “Don't you dare—”

“Go to the jet,” Nightcrawler said, and they all obeyed, though Rogue shot him an irritated look before releasing Kitty to him.

“We can't trust you right now,” he said. “Surely you understand that?”

“All the more reason you should leave me here.”

He stepped closer so she had to tilt her head up to see him. “I told you, I will not do that. You've no idea what they would do to you, but I guarantee it would make our empty cells look like a four-star hotel.”

Kitty knew he could just fling her over his shoulder or drag her along to the jet, but he was trying to get her to come willingly. Just as he'd once tried to get her to talk willingly. She finally gave in and followed him.

She sat alone, cuffed to a seat, staring out the window of the jet. Before they took off, Nightcrawler wrapped a gauze strip around his leg, immediately staining it red. Kitty imagined his team staring at her, full of blame and judgment. She was confused and scared and sad, not knowing who or what to believe anymore. She'd never felt so alone.

Chapter Text

It was a short flight to Muir Island, and once there, Nightcrawler sent the team to eat and rest. “Meet in the living room in an hour and we'll discuss our next step.” To Kitty, he said, “You and I will sit and talk first.”

He took her to the kitchen, where he fell into a chair and pushed a bowl of fruit across to her. “Why were you at the Hellfire Club today?” he said, propping his injured leg up on a vacant chair. Pain flickered in his eyes, but he was very good at hiding it.

“Should you see a doctor?”

“I'm all right. I'll see Moira soon enough.” He repeated his question.

“I told you. To stop your team from taking the DNA.”

“We weren't there for DNA of any kind. We were told by an anonymous informant that our missing teammate Douglock was being held there.”

“I don't even know what a douglock is. They told us you were going to steal DNA and use it with the Legacy Virus.” She shouldn't tell him anything, but then she wasn't part of that team anymore. She wasn't part of any team, and she'd have to do whatever she could to keep herself safe. “They said you'd use it to target mutants to infect them with the Legacy Virus.”

Mein Gott, that is what they told you? And you believed them?”

She picked at her fingers and didn't answer him. She hated feeling stupid and foolish more than anything, and right now, she was full to the brim with feeling both. She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes.

She heard him sigh, then laugh in disbelief. “We don't do that, Ms. Parker. Moira has been working almost non-stop to find a cure for this virus. We don't want to spread it to other mutants.”

“But Xavier invented it.”

Nightcrawler's eyes went wide. “Was?”

“He invented it and killed his own students to make everyone believe it came from the other guy. Stryfe.”

Heiliger Strohsack1...” He ran his hands over his face. Kitty started to think perhaps this was another lie. “What else?”

“Um...I don't know. They told us to stop you, and I tried, but nobody would listen to me. I wanted to negotiate but you wouldn't listen.”

He laughed, but it seemed more out of shock and disbelief than at her expense. “Oh, Ms. Parker, you have no idea what mess you have fallen into, but I think perhaps there is hope for you yet.”

She ignored the insult. “That's not my real name. It's Kitty Pryde.”

“I was waiting for you to tell me that.”

“You knew?”

“Mm, ja,” he said, rubbing his injured leg. “I figured out who you were working for a year ago, and from there I recalled that our professor tried to recruit a Katherine Pryde, who declined and enrolled at the Massachusetts Academy.”

Kitty let that sink in. “Wouldn't Ms. Frost have known that, too?”

Nightcrawler patted her hand. “I'm so sorry you've been put through this, liebling. Why don't you start at the beginning? I think it's time you told me what's going on, don't you?”

She didn't completely trust him but she decided to tell him anyway. “Yeah. Okay.” And she told him about her powers manifesting, her parents moving her from school to school and how she wound up at the Massachusetts Academy. She told him about her mission with posing as a college student from their previous meeting, and finished up with the encounter from today.

He didn't interrupt or stop her, though he did bring her a glass of water. When she was finished, he ran a hand through his hair, making the curls stick up in wild bits all over.

Mein Gott you have been fed so many lies, I hardly know which one to begin with.”

“How do I know you're not lying?”

He looked at her evenly. “I can prove nearly everything I've told you. But I think...” he rubbed his chin as he regarded her, “I think you probably already know the truth.”

“I don't know anything right now.” She folded her arms and set her mouth.

Nightcrawler relented. “First of all, you can look up information about Xavier's school online. Most of it is public domain at this point, especially since the team was discovered alive.”

She interrupted him. “I never see any news about the X-Men, and I watch every night. The only piece I saw was the WNN report on their discovery in Australia.”

He gave her a quizzical look. “Was? It's been nothing but X-Men headlines for months.”

“No, it...it hasn't...”

He leaned back and flipped on a small television. “Go ahead and find a channel. Whatever you want. Then wait. You'll see soon enough.”

They left it on in the background, and he continued, rubbing his chin again. Kitty wondered if it was hard having only three fingers. “The Hellfire Club is a bit trickier because most of their information is secret. They have their hands in so many illegal schemes, I doubt even they can keep track. And if you look online, you won't find much. But I can ask you this—what philanthropic organization has armed guards on the premises at all times?”

One by one, Nightcrawler picked apart everything she'd believed. Kitty listened as he told her, as gently as he could, that nearly everything she'd known for the past two and a half years was false, orchestrated to use her for some unknown purpose of the White Queen and her Hellfire Club.

Kitty was overwhelmed, and focused on a detail she could handle. “What does it mean, White Queen?”

“The Club operates like so, there is both a Black and White king and queen, and they run the club from behind closed doors. There are others, all separated into Black and White. Although here in London, they have gone from white to red, for some reason. Brian, that is, Captain Britain, he has gone there to investigate.”

“So he was there?”

Ja, he was monitoring things from his room.”

Another failure. “And...who's Sebastian Shaw?”

Nightcrawler sat very still. “How do you know him?”

“He came to the school to tell us about this mission.”

“He is the Black King of the New York branch and an extremely dangerous man. He's a mutant, and nearly impossible to beat physically, as each blow brings him more strength.”

Behind Nightcrawler, the evening news came on at last, with the lead story about chaos in London. The city was experiencing a wave of crimes and assaults the likes of which they had never seen. The following story highlighted climate change and deforestation, and following that was a short piece about a wedding.

The newscaster said, “And now for something uplifting. Two of Charles Xavier's most famous students were married today in a private ceremony at his estate in Westchester, New York...” Kitty was riveted.

“If only we had been able to attend,” Nightcrawler said wistfully. “But duty called here, and we cannot forsake our missing teammate.”

Kitty's hands began to tremble as the weight of a new reality descended on her. Lies upon lies, and now she could prove it. All those nagging feelings that something wasn't quite right, that sense she had ignored over and over, had been telling her something all along.

Her head spun, she didn't know where to turn, and images swam in her vision. She pushed back from the table. “I need—I need to go, I need to get up or something...” she stood and almost immediately her knees collapsed. She would have hit her head, but Nightcrawler had wicked fast reflexes, and he caught her.

She must have passed out, she thought when she opened her eyes and found herself halfway under the kitchen table with her head on his good leg. She blinked and started to sit up. A gentle hand pressed against her shoulder. “Easy, Kätzchen, you fainted. Give yourself a moment.”

She covered her face with her hands. “Oh my god, my whole life is over,” she said. “Literally over. All because of her...no, because of me...oh god, what am I gonna do?”

Thick fingers stroked her shoulder where his hand rested. “Your life is not over. It is only changing course unexpectedly. What will you do? I don't know, but there are plenty of options for you. Perhaps you will go home to, where was it? Chicago? See your family, take some time off...”

“I don't have family there.”

“Ah. That was part of the story, then?”

“No, I used to, but my parents are in Witness Protection. My dad's a criminal. Or...at least...you know what, I don't even know if that's true. Ms. Frost told me he was part of an embezzlement scheme and copped a plea.” She sat up. “I should call them. I should call them right now.”

He helped her up, insuring she didn't bump her head on the table, and handed her a phone. “Go ahead, we have an International calling plan.” He grinned.

The three familiar tones indicating a number no longer in use assaulted her ears. She dialed both of their cell phones and got the same message. She thought she might pass out again as she sat down. His hand was warm on her back.

“You do not look well. Drink some water.”

She took it, drinking robotically. The rest of his team began to assemble in the living room, just outside the kitchen. She could hear their casual banter, sometimes laughter, and for a moment she was filled with anger and jealousy that she was alone and they were not. Nightcrawler crouched in front of her chair and she noticed the fresh blood seeping through his bandage again. He held up a finger and told her to follow it with her eyes, and she did. He stood and patted her head.

“You're going to be all right, Kleine. Come sit in the other room while we discuss Douglock.”

“What's a douglock?”

“Not what, who. He is our teammate, and he's missing.”

“Oh.” She stood up slowly, holding the chair, and when the room didn't fall apart, she followed him out.

At first she only listened, eyes focused on the ground and following the wavy blue line of her boots as Nightcrawler's team listened and talked. When she was brave enough to look up, he was at the front of the room, half perched on the arm of a chair. His injured leg was stretched in front of him and he leaned on the other.

“We tracked Douglock's signal to the Hellfire Club's main house, but as we now know, he was never there. Fortunately, Meggan and Rahne were able to find some useful information in their search.” He held up a slip of paper with writing on it. “A man named 'Scratch' has taken Douglock to the Black Air Headquarters in the center of London. It's a huge building, according to Brian. He says we can't miss it. This is going to require some finesse, though. We don't want to go in looking like terrorists. The building will be full of people, most of whom are probably unaware of what Black Air is really doing. We need to make sure they aren't harmed.”

Nightcrawler outlined the team's plan of action for the morning, and then gestured to Kitty, who immediately blushed hot when they all turned to look at her. “We have another item of business to address now. That of the former Massachusetts Academy student, Kitty Pryde. Not Parker, as we were previously told,” he said, a hint of a smile aimed at her. “She's, er, had a rough day, so I would ask you to be patient. Suffice it to say she has been quite misled by one Emma Frost.”

“We can't trust any of Frost's kids.” Rogue's crossed arms and furrowed brow made Kitty want to agree with her and leave. Unfortunately, she couldn't do that with the inhibitor collar around her neck. She stayed where she was and looked back at her boots.

“Normally I would agree with you. However, circumstances have changed.”

“You want us to trust her? You want us to make her part of our team?” Rahne looked from Kitty, shaking her head vigorously, to Nightcrawler and back.

“Why would we do that? She attacked us! You yourself are still bleeding, even as we sit here,” Rogue agreed, throwing her hands in the air.

Nightcrawler stood up, and doing so stopped all the talking. Kitty was impressed. Either he was much more powerful than they were or they respected him.

“I didn't say make her part of the team. And she didn't attack us. She's going to stay here, in our custody, until we come up with a suitable arrangement. I am asking you to remember that all of us have, at some time or another, been lied to, cheated on, mistreated, or otherwise dealt a raw blow, and to remember how that felt.”

Meggan spoke up. “I can feel her emotions. She's upset right now, and scared, but there is nothing evil about her. And Kurt's right, she wasn't the one who attacked us.”

“I drew my sword first,” Kurt said, surprising Kitty. She looked up to find his face turned in her direction.

The rest of them were still looking at her, but they had gone quiet. She was sure they must hate her. Maybe hate was too strong a word, but they certainly didn't trust her. And why should they? She was a liar as much as Frost was. “I don't belong here,” she said quietly.

“That is not your choice at the moment,” he said, dismissing her. He was all business right now, addressing his team like a real leader, not the kind Kitty had tried to be. He drew them back to the issue at hand. “For now, team, let's focus on getting Douglock back, and if you'd show patience and understanding to our guest, I would appreciate it.”

“Why do you care so much?” Rogue demanded. “She's one of our enemies.”

Nightcrawler shrugged. “I've explained that already. Everyone deserves a second chance. Right, Mein Freund?” Kitty saw a look pass between them that seemed tense, but Rogue said no more.

“Tomorrow we will fly to London and attempt to get our friend back,” he said. “So get some sleep, all of you.”

The team gradually dispersed, until Kitty was alone with Nightcrawler once again. “You should eat something,” he said, limping back to the kitchen. She trailed after him, unsure of what else to do, and he began taking food out of the refrigerator. “I'm going to have something myself. I've been neglectful lately, worrying about Douglock.”

“You should see a doctor.”

“Eventually. Team business was pressing. Douglock could be dead.”

“He's really important to you.”

“He is our friend and teammate, and an innocent in many ways. He was kidnapped from the shore of Muir days ago, and we've had no sign of him since. Then we received intel from an anonymous source saying he was being held at the London Hellfire Club headquarters. There was even a signal, which we now know was false.”

She locked eyes with him. This was the second or third time he'd mentioned an anonymous source. It suddenly dawned on Kitty how odd it was. “An anonymous person sent you secret intel...to go to the same place we were sent by another anonymous person, at the same time?”

“The coincidence is not lost on me. It was clearly a setup.”

“Why would someone do that?”

He sighed as he turned the stove on to brown some meat. “Ultimately I don't know, but what I do know of Frost isn't good. She's as wicked as they come, known for manipulating people with her telepathic prowess, and has hated Xavier and the X-Men since I joined that team when I was nineteen.”

“Do you think she was manipulating us? I mean, my friends—my classmates and me?”

Ja, I would count on it. She doesn't know any other way.” He threw vegetables in with the meat, and Kitty's stomach growled loudly. “It's probably why you didn't realize the truth about her sooner.”

She dropped her head to the table, forehead resting on her arms. Only then did she let the tears fall, silently as she could. It was bad enough to cry without being obnoxious about it.

“Are you all right?” he said.

“No.”

She felt his hand on her shoulder briefly. “I know it's a lot to take in. If it helps, I don't blame you.”

“It doesn't, but thanks anyway.”

“Maybe later it will mean something.”

She sniffed, keeping her head down, but peeking over her arms when she heard him limp back to the stove. The meat was beginning to brown and the smell made her stomach grumble. “Why are you so nice?”

“Why am I nice? Why not? You prefer someone who is cruel?”

“No, I just meant...why are you being nice to me? Even before, last year, everyone wanted to kill me and you just wanted to feed me.”

He chuckled. “And as I told you then, we were under a bit of stress. And they didn't want to kill you.”

“They sure acted like it. Anyway, you weren't mean, even when you knew I was lying to you.”

He stirred the beef and turned off the burner to drain it. “When you look like me, people tend to assume you are a certain way—that is, they assume because I look like a devil, I must have the temperament of one. I like to disappoint them.”

“That must suck.”

He shrugged and stirred the meat. “Mm-hm, sometimes. But you would be surprised. My circus friends were very understanding and welcoming. I never felt outcast there. It was not until I went to the city, or the American circus, that I ever felt prejudice.”

“Were you with Ringling?” She laid her chin on her arms.

“The circus company? No,” he laughed, but it was a mirthless sound. “It was not. It was a small circus based in Florida, and run by a terrible man who thought I belonged in the freak show rather than with the aerialists.”

“Oh. That's horrible.”

He shrugged. “No matter. I don't work there any longer.” He set the food on the table and Kitty suddenly realized she should be helping. She wasn't here to be waited on.

“Plates?”

He pointed, and she set them out, along with utensils and napkins. “Do the others eat with you?”

“Sometimes. Rogue might join us.”

“Rogue is the one without a real name, isn't she?”

“She has a name, she just doesn't like to use it. I should have introduced everyone. I will next time.”

“It's okay. I read up on you before we came over. We had a whole book—oh. I guess all my stuff's gone now.” Kitty groaned. One more thing to add to the list of problems in her life right now. She set the plates on the table and said, “So...where's Phoenix?”

His easy manner disappeared. “Unfortunately, she is lost to us. We don't know where she is. She sacrificed herself to bring Brian back from the time stream. We have had so many losses.”

She didn't know what a time stream was, or what he meant about sacrificing herself. She didn't need to to understand the loss. “I'm so sorry.”

“It has not been easy.”

“No, I imagine it hasn't. I really am sorry.”

“Thank you. Go on now and eat.”

1Holy smokes

Chapter Text

Kitty was surprised when instead of Rogue, Moira joined her and Kurt for dinner. She heard her before she saw her, her lab shoes making a dull slapping sound on the tile floor.

“Aha, the troublemaker returns.”

“She's in need of our help, Moira. She's been through a lot.”

“I'll bet. Try to blow anyone up lately?”

Moira. She's lost her entire team, her friends, and her family. She's as lost as any of us right now. And she saved me again today.”

“You're getting careless in your old age, Kurt Wagner.”

“Careful, I'm still ten years younger than you.”

“Aye, a baby, you are.”

“Well, Ms. Parker, what have you got yourself into this time?”

Kitty swallowed the last bite of her taco and sat up straighter. “Hello, Dr. MacTaggert,” she said politely. “My name is actually Kitty Pryde.”

“I figured the name was fake. Hello then, Kitty Pryde. What's happened to you?”

“Well. In a nutshell, I learned that everything I thought I knew was a lie, I'm not going to graduate from high school, I've lost my scholarship to Chicago's School of Engineering, my parents are in Witness Protection, and literally everyone hates me.”

Moira huffed. “Bah, the last part's not true. Chicago School of Engineering, huh? What part?”

“Computers.”

“You apply anywhere else?”

“MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, and Cornell.”

“How many accepted you?”

“All of them.”

The room fell silent as Dr. MacTaggert looked over Kitty's head at Nightcrawler. She remembered she was allowed to call him Kurt now. He still felt like Nightcrawler to her.

“Is that so?” Moira said, lowering her glasses.

“I've been in advanced classes since I was nine.”

“D'you know anything about techno-organic circuitry?”

“I've heard of it.”

“It's what Douglock is,” Kurt said, pressing a thumb to his chin and regarding her with narrowed eyes. “Would you, perhaps, consider coming with us tomorrow?”

“No way.” She leaned back from the table as if to escape the request.

“Why not?”

“Are you kidding? I'm your enemy, remember? Everyone else seems to understand that. I should be in one of your jail cells or something, not eating dinner with you and talking strategy.”

He and Moira both stopped eating and stared at her.

Nightcrawler's wry smile crept up slowly, pulling one corner of his mouth up so that only one fang showed. “I can arrange that.”

She poked at her food. “I just don't think your team appreciates you letting me walk around.”

“It isn't their choice.”

“But...don't you get it?”

“Do you know of Rogue's history? She was once our enemy. She fought with us on numerous occasions, and did great damage to many of us. She worked with Magneto, and nearly killed Carol Danvers. Yet here she is.”

“Well. You still haven't had enough time to know anything about me.”

He returned to his dinner, and the three of them ate in silence until Moira took their plates away.

“Our teammate and friend Douglock was brutally kidnapped by a group called Black Air. We've dealt with them in the past, and they are worse than your Emma Frost. Douglock may well be dead, but until we know that for sure, we will keep trying to find him. I will accept any help in finding him. If you refuse, I can't make you.”

Kitty put her head in her hands. “I don't know.”

“He's techno-organic, which means part of his body is from the Phalanx. Do you know anything about them?”

“A little, from one of my classes. Aren't they a hive mind?”

Ja, they are. He was once part of them, but he has been trying to become an individual since breaking free. Because of the technological aspect of his nature, it would be beneficial to have someone on the team with computer skills. I have some, but I would certainly not gain acceptance to the universities you mentioned.”

“You don't think I'll just run off?”

“If you do, we'll be where we were before you came along. No worse off, but no better. We'll manage.”

“So you don't care?”

“Of course I care. But I can't control it, can I?”

“I guess not.”

“There is no point wasting time on things I can't control. Either you will help us, or you won't. I won't hold it against you either way.”

Moira came through on her way to her lab.

Kitty called to her. “Excuse me, Dr. MacTaggert?”

“Och, what is it, child, I'm in a hurry.”

“Could you look at his leg, please?”

“What? Did he get himself injured again?”

“He was shot.”

“An' how long've you been out here, you bloody wee bampot, bleeding half to death?” Dr. MacTaggert continued mumbling and cursing, to herself and Kurt, while Kitty giggled at the faces he made. She poked and prodded under the bandage, then grabbed him by the pointy ear and hauled him away to the infirmary.

Kitty stayed in the kitchen. She washed all the dishes and sat back down to wait. When Moira finally came back in, she seemed surprised to find Kitty still there.

“I didn't know what else to do. I'm kind of your prisoner and—”

“You're no prisoner. Kurt doesn't play that game. The collar is temporary. Once he decides you're not gonna try to kill us all, he'll have Rogue take it off. If not for her, I doubt he'd have it on you at all. He's too soft sometimes.”

“If I'm not allowed to leave, then I'm a prisoner.”

“An' just where would you go?”

She had no answer, and Moira nodded.

“See? Take some advice, girl, and thank your lucky stars you ran into Kurt Wagner instead of the Avengers or one of them others from New York. He's a good man who's seen enough to sour anyone, but he makes his way through this world with his head high and a smile ready.”

“Yeah, he's nice. I liked him better than—well, I like him.”

“Come on, I'll give you a room. We'll have to keep it locked, now, but it'll be a place to sleep.” She led Kitty down a hall to a stairwell, and up to the second floor. At the top was another long hall, similar to the one below, but lined with more doors. “This is the dorm hall. I think this one,” she said and pushed open a door, “Yes, this one's empty.”

“Thank you,” Kitty said. She wasn't sure what to do now, since she had no things to unpack. Not even pajamas. Moira noticed, and made a face as she thought.

“I'll bring you something.” Once again, Kitty was left alone. She went into the room, which was sparsely furnished with a bed, dresser, and desk. There was a small wardrobe in the corner. The bed was bare, and Kitty opened the wardrobe to look for linens. She found some on a top shelf and started to make the bed.

She wondered if she should go with Kurt's team in the morning. She'd be more of a liability to them than a benefit. She didn't know anything about techno-organic circuits. And what if this Douglock guy was dead? She'd be no use at all then.

Moira returned with a pile of clothes and some basic toiletries. Kitty thanked her.

“So you're a bit of a computer whiz, eh?” Moira said, shoving her hands in the pockets of her lab coat.

“I guess.”

“Would you like to see some techno-organic circuitry before tomorrow?”

“I don't know if I'm going.”

“Of course you are.”

“Well, I don't know—”

Moira stared her down.

“Yeah, I'm gonna go.”

“I know it. You can't tell him no, either.”

“You mean Nightcrawler? Yeah. It's not easy.”

“He's got a raw lot in life, girl, and he bears that burden like a man who has everything. It's hard not to love him. Everyone does.”

“So I can see some of the circuitry?”

Moira pulled something out of her coat pocket and handed it to Kitty. She turned it over in her hands, inspecting the wiring and metal bits.

“It's inert, dead, but better to have something, right?” Moira stuffed her hands in her lab coat pockets while Kitty turned the circuitry over and over.

“Yeah. This helps a lot, actually.” Kitty said. “Do you know if it's like a computer? I mean, does it work that way, or is it like a person? Is there a port to access the data?”

“Slow down. He's like, half computer half man. I don't think there's a port, per se. I've only seen him stick his odd tendrils into things to access them.”

She cocked her head, still turning the piece over in her hands. “So...if I wanted to share information with it, er, him, would I just talk to him or have to upload it, like with a disc or something?”

“I believe you can do both, but I'm not an expert. Douglock is, and of course, he's not here.” Moira looked sad at the mention of him. “Och, I hope Kurt can find him.”

Kitty didn't say anything for a while while she inspected the dead circuitry. “Could I possibly keep this with me for a little while? I'll bring it back, but I—”

“It's fine. I don't need it, and if it helps get our Dougie back...” She wandered out, leaving Kitty alone again.

“Thanks.”

Kitty sat on the end of the bed, digging into the piece of circuitry. She wondered how she would connect to it, if his brain was a human brain or a computer brain. She wished she had more information. Maybe there was a computer she could use. Kitty went to the hallway, trying to remember which way she'd come. She found the stairwell and followed the hall back, emerging in the living room. The wolf-woman was there watching television.

“Excuse me,” Kitty said, feeling the heat rising in her cheeks.

The woman didn't look up.

“I'm sorry to bother you,” Kitty tried again. Finally the girl looked over.

“What is it?”

Kitty fumbled for an explanation. “Moira let me look at this, and I wondered if there's a computer I can use...”

“There's a lab.”

“Okay, um, could you show me?”

She sighed and got up. “Follow me,” she said.

“Thank you so much.”

The lab was one of the doors on the hallway she'd just come through.

“Oh, okay, thanks.”

“You're the one tried to blow up my mum.”

“No. I mean, well, yes, technically, but not really—”

She leaned forward. “An' you got me shot today. I don't trust you. An' I'll be watchin' you. Stay away from my mum.”

“Uh...okay. I'm really sorry about—”

“Save it. I'll trust you when you prove you can be trusted.”

“I didn't know it was a bomb,” she said, temper flaring.

“Still woulda killed her.”

She was right. The girl left, and Kitty sat down at one of the computers. It required an access code. She put the circuit down and rubbed her eyes. She could probably hack it, but that wouldn't endear her to the team. She didn't want to ask the girl again—she wished she knew her name. She was still trying to decide what to do when someone tapped her shoulder. She jumped and shrieked as she turned.

“Sorry,” Nightcrawler said. “Moira said you've agreed to join us tomorrow?”

“Yeah.”

“Thank you. We're meeting again. Update on the mission.”

She followed him out, bringing the circuitry with her. She was afraid to leave it anywhere lest she lose it and upset Moira. The whole team had assembled in the living area again, and Kitty sat down on the floor beside the couch, where she could listen but not be noticeable.

“As you know, Brian has been monitoring the state of things in London for the last several days. Two days ago they began reporting an uptick in crimes, and overnight it has exploded. He said the city is on fire—literally. Violent crime has also increased exponentially. People are killing indiscriminately. What this means for us is we now have two reasons to go to the city, and another reason to use caution.”

“What's causing all the crime?” Rahne said.

“We don't know yet. Meggan may be able to sense something when we get close to the city tomorrow.”

“You think it's magic?” Rogue said.

“Again, we don't know, nor does Brian. People report feeling a compulsion to do evil.”

“It could be elemental,” Meggan said. “Should I fly there now?”

Kurt rubbed his chin in thought. “No. I think it better if we all stay together. We'll leave early in the morning, before sunrise. I have something else to discuss with you.”

Kitty's stomach flipped over. It was about her again.

“Kitty—Kitty Pryde, our...guest...is a computer expert. I've asked her to come with us tomorrow and use her expertise to help us retrieve Douglock. We don't know what they've done with him, and as incredible as I may be at repairing Blackbirds, I'm not so good with computers. Since she'll be coming with us, I thought you should all introduce yourselves to her.”

He looked over at her, and when she didn't move, he walked over and hauled her up by the arm. Kitty's face was hot and she shifted from foot to foot as she stared back at these people who didn't want her here, and didn't want her coming with them tomorrow. She focused on Meggan's face, smiling and friendly, and decided she liked her.

“I'm Meggan. Brian's in London, but he's my fiance and he's Captain Britain.”

Kitty didn't know what to do, so she waggled her fingers in a sort of wave and said, “Hi.”

“You know me. Ah'm Rogue.”

The redheaded wolf-woman was next. “I'm Rahne Sinclair. Moira's my mum.”

Kitty figured she should say something, so she cleared her throat and fidgeted a little. “I, uh, I'm really sorry about everything that happened today. Really I didn't want anyone to get hurt, I didn't want to fight, I—”

“It's all right, Kätzchen,” Nightcrawler said, patting her shoulder. “I think there is not one of us here who can say they never needed a second chance.” He looked out at them. “Including myself.”

“As long as you don't betray us, you'll have a new team now,” Rogue said, and Kitty was surprised to find her eyes feeling watery.

“Aye, we'll let you stay,” Rahne said, though she looked like it was said begrudgingly.

Kitty wiped her eyes. “Thanks. Really, thank you.”

Moira came in then, and laughed. “Kurt you look like you're meetin' with your harem.”

Kitty stared at the doctor, but everyone laughed, and Kitty realized it did sort of look that way. Beside her, he bowed. “It's my honor to work with such marvelous women.”

The meeting ended, and Kitty took the opportunity to ask about the computer access. “Excuse me, Nightcrawler—”

“Kurt, remember?”

“ Okay. Kurt. Can I get access to one of the computers?” She held up the circuitry again. “Moira let me see this, and—”

“Of course.” He headed to the lab again and typed something into the computer. “You're logged in as me, so if you download any illegal movies, I'll know.”

Kitty choked back a laugh. “Okay, I'll remember that.”

He didn't leave, but watched as she started searching for information, clicking through sites and then into the sites, digging for information that wasn't public knowledge. The government sites were far too easy to hack, and she did it with practiced ease.

“Did you just...?”

“Yeah.”

He sat down to watch, shaking his head now and then, sometimes asking what she had just done. She navigated the government sites quickly, downloading and printing everything she could find on the techno-organic Phalanx group.

“Did you ever hack...our system?”

“No, I never needed to. Why, should I?” She smirked.

“No, no, that won't be necessary.” He patted her shoulder again. “This is impressive, really. Thank you again for agreeing to help.”

She stopped typing and looked up at his face, slightly above hers from the way he was crouched in the chair beside her instead of sitting.

“You don't need to thank me for anything and I wish you wouldn't. I did bad things. I may not have known, but...after I left here, I tried to find out things and I couldn't. I let it go, even when I knew, deep down, that something wasn't adding up. I should've done things differently. I'm sorry you and Rahne got hurt. It's my fault.”

“I won't tell you again. We all need a second chance sometimes.”

Chapter Text

Perched beside Kitty on the chair, Kurt couldn't decide what was more fascinating to watch, her progress on the computer screen, or her face as she hacked her way through the website. When she was here over a year ago, she was a skinny little kid trying to pass as a college student and failing miserably. Now, in a short time, she had grown up, grown into features that were both sweet and womanly. He knew that finding her attractive meant he'd have to be even more careful about trusting her—much more careful—but he decided there was nothing wrong with admiring God's handiwork.

Her computer skills were boggling to him. He began to consider projects he never had before, now that she was here. They could finally finish their failed Cerebro unit. They could upgrade a lot of their technology in Moira's lab, and in their holo-gym.

“You didn't need my access code, did you?” he said.

She finished typing and flicked her eyes his way, a tiny smile hinting at the corner of her mouth. “No, but it would have been rude to break in.”

“I'll get you a code tomorrow...or maybe the next day.”

She printed the last of the pages she wanted and closed the open windows. “Where are we going tomorrow?”

“The Black Air building.”

She stared at him, brows raising in question, and he realized she had no idea what the mission even was. Before she could log him out, he reached across and pulled up the security feed on the monitor. “This is what happened.”

He played the video of Douglock, smiling and curious about the approaching plane, until its spear pierced his heart. Kitty jerked back, covering her mouth in shock. “What the hell...”

“They took him away like that,” Kurt said. “We had no idea where, until we got the anonymous message that he was in London.”

Something about that was off to Kitty and she furrowed her brow in concentration. “So...you didn't know—or think—he was there until the morning we fought? But then how....They said you were waiting for a teammate to return, and that was almost two weeks earlier...”

“More lies, Kätzchen, I'm afraid. It was clearly a set-up.”

“Right, but I think...Shaw must have done it.”

“Probably.”

“But why? Why would he want us to confront you about something that wasn't even true?”

“We may never know.”

Kitty rubbed her head. “I think I should go to bed. My head hurts.”

Kurt got up and walked out of the lab with her. “We'll leave early,” he said.

 

The general alarm went off at four a.m. and Kitty jolted upright. Oh. The mission. She felt like she'd only just gone to sleep. Mindlessly, she got ready, putting on her Hellfire Club uniform because it was all she had. She went to the hangar where the jet was already warming up.

“Good grief,” she said, “How long have you been up?” she said to Kurt, who jumped down from the jet to greet her and the others.

He grinned. “About an hour? I think you need a new uniform,” he said, noting her black and blue Hellfire suit. He couldn't complain about the skintight black, but the wavy blue lines looked stupid. “And a code-name. What was it before?”

“Ghost.”

“Fitting. You can keep it if you want. Or take a new one, it's up to you.”

“You gave me the idea for it.”

“How's that?”

“On the dock that day. You said I went through it like a ghost.”

“That you did,” he chuckled. “Then you stayed there until the ferry came.”

“But you didn't find me.”

He stopped what he was doing and leaned one shoulder against the hull of the ship. “I saw you. You looked terrified, and I decided it would be better to confront you on the ship with other people around.”

Kitty didn't have a chance to respond after that surprise as the others banged the hangar door open, talking and eating.

Meggan was as bright as ever. Rahne looked tired. Kurt hoped she hadn't stayed awake too long. She tended to wait up for Moira, who stayed in the lab until the wee hours of morning sometimes.

They boarded the jet and headed towards London. They weren't far out when Meggan gasped and they all stared out the windows at the city below, burning.

“I feel the remains of the evil,” Meggan said closing her eyes and sending her elemental powers out. “The initial burst is over, but they've all been affected by it. Look at them, they're still attacking each other!”

“And that is another reason we're here. There's the Blackwall,” Kurt said, pointing to the massive black building towering over the city.

“That's definitely the source,” Meggan said.

Kurt gathered his team around him once more. “This is a fool's errand,” he said, “But we can't fail these people. Be careful, try not to hurt anyone, and let's find Douglock.”

Kitty watched as he moved around the interior of the plane with purpose, no longer the hobbling, weak man she'd met last year, now he was all strength and determination. She found herself staring at the muscles in his sides as he moved around the cabin, securing things and checking on his team. He crouched in front of Kitty's seat. She hadn't dared move from it since they took off. “Please don't try to kill any of us,” he said with a wry smile as he unlocked the inhibitor collar.

She couldn't believe the trust he was placing in her. He had exactly zero reasons to believe she wouldn't run, or turn on them, and yet he was willing to give her a chance on a mission this important. Was this why the X-Men loved each other so much?

They followed him into the building, Rogue immediately breaking off to hold back some temporarily insane guards who wanted to kill everyone they saw. Meggan was lost next, keeping mutant aliens at bay. It was down to Kurt, Rahne, and Kitty when they met the Red King at the door behind which they believed the source of the evil, and possibly Douglock, lay.

“Kitty, take Rahne inside. I'll deal with the King.” He hoped he'd done the right thing, bringing her along, and taking the inhibitor collar off as well. If she planned to double-cross them, this would be the best time to do it.

Kitty didn't question his order, or take time to think about what might be behind that door. They all knew it was something so evil it had corrupted an entire city, and he was sending her and Rahne to deal with it alone. Yet she didn't hesitate. Kurt saw her grab Rahne's hand and pull her through the door before she could say a word.

Kurt unsheathed his swords and parried with the Red King, who insisted he was in love and would kill for it. The sword fight felt good, stretching the muscles that wielded his swords with ease, and when the king was properly dispatched, he kicked open the door and dashed inside. Many times he'd gone into a fight or through a door, not knowing what lay in wait. Many times he'd been surprised or even astounded. What he saw in the chamber past the Red King had nothing on those other experiences.

His foster mother Margali was melting into Douglock's head, Rahne was crying in front of his blank face, and Kitty was on the floor with a laptop, jabbing wires into pieces of Douglock's unraveled body. It took him far too long to get his brain back online to realize Rahne was talking to him.

“...unraveled him, Kurt.”

“I see it, Rahne. Kitty, what's going on?” He stumbled to her side and dropped to one knee beside her. The intent look in her eyes settled his mind and refocused his concentration. She wasn't panicking, she was working. He felt pride swelling up within him, pride he didn't have time to address right now, so he laid a hand on her shoulder instead.

“Looks like they have him hooked up to something underground, some power source, not sure what it is yet. I'm trying to connect him to the laptop so I can see what's going on in his head. Gimme another sec...” She bit her lip as she jabbed the wires into the techno-organic flesh. “Come on....get in there,” she muttered. “Aha!”

While Kitty worked, Kurt and Rahne inspected Douglock's wiring.

“Looks like it goes down this way,” Kurt said, as a flash of light illuminated the entire room. When it cleared, Kurt could hardly believe who was standing there. Too many surprises in one day were wearing him out.

She was a wreck, not that he cared. Not much, anyway. “What are you doing here, Amanda?”

“Mother, oh shit, look at her. Idiot. I told her—look, there's a demon down there, and we have to stop it before it gets out.”

“A demon?” Kurt repeated. He and Amanda had not split on good terms, and salt in the wound was she was still with Piotr. He crossed his arms.

“Yes, she was trying to drain its power for herself.”

Douglock began to speak at that moment, as a triumphant whoop from Kitty echoed around the chamber.

“The demon is located directly below this chamber,” Douglock said, spitting out coordinates for Kurt.

“Oh Dougie! You're gonna be okay, we're gonna get you home, okay?” Rahne patted his face, avoiding the melted parts of Margali Szardos.

“Yes, please, I would like to go home.”

“How do we get you free?” Rahne asked, inspecting the way he'd been unraveled and the way the woman's hands seemed to drip down into his brain cavity.

“You will have to cut me free of the demon.”

Rahne vowed to get him free and take him home. Now that Kitty's work was done, she wasn't sure what to do, so she sat with the computer in her lap and scrolled through the programs they'd uploaded into him. There appeared to be only one offending program, and once deleted, he regained his self-control immediately.

“All right. Let's get down to the chamber and cut him free,” Kurt said. Unfortunately, he had to bring Amanda with him to contain the demon once the connection was severed. There was no telling what would happen. He took Rahne's hand.

“See you down there,” he said to Amanda.

Kitty could hear the demon roar in the chamber below them when Rahne sliced through Douglock's cables. He reported to Kitty everything he could sense happening—Amanda sealing the hole in its chamber, Rahne severing his techno-organic cables, Kitty discovering that there were no more offending programs hidden in his data banks.

The three of them returned to the main chamber, where Douglock chattered away to Kitty as she wound him up and helped him reform his body. Rahne leaped over to help, too, and in a few minutes, Douglock was his humanoid self again. Kitty picked up the laptop, closing the lid and gathering up the wires. Kurt tried not to look at Amanda too much, as she hovered on the outskirts of the work area. It hurt to see her, all the memories rushing back that he usually kept repressed. Damn her for showing up, and yet, without her, the demon might have escaped.

“Where's Margali?” Kurt said, moving closer to Kitty again.

“She disappeared when you severed the connection,” Kitty said.

“You're keeping the computer?” he said when she picked it up.

“There might be stuff on here you can use.”

“Good thinking,” he said, smiling at her, and scratching his chin. “So she just disappeared?” He turned to Rahne. “Any trace of her?”

Rahne let go of Douglock's hand and went to full wolf form to sniff around. “Nothing, Kurt. I'm sorry.” She turned back to Douglock, “So Black Air was trying to use you to funnel power from this devil? But...why?”

“They believed they could channel it. They didn't expect this to happen,” Amanda answered for him. “Mother stole the Soul Sword from Piotr and used it to kill all the magicians ahead of her on the Winding Way. But she wasn't satisfied. She wanted more power. She thought she could take the demon's power.”

“But what use is that to the Hellfire Club? Why would they help her?” Kurt asked, his voice icy.

“They thought that once she siphoned off enough power, they could use the demon to control governments across the world. They thought they'd be major players in world domination.” Amanda held her chin high and behaved as if she had single-handedly saved the world. Kurt wondered why he'd never noticed her conceit before.

“And why, might I ask, do you know all of this?” Kurt said, arms crossed and tail flicking.

“She told me.”

“I'm sure.”

“Look,” she said. “I know you hate me. I understand. But I came to help, not start a fight. I actually like helping. Piotr thinks—”

“Oh does he?”

She sighed. Kurt was vaguely aware of Kitty moving around behind him, gathering up the rest of the electronics she wanted, and winding up the cords. Then she stood next to him, staring at him until he looked at her. She smiled.

Something heavy lifted and he knew he was in trouble. He managed to smile back at her, and the tension went out of his shoulders. He put his hand on her back and addressed Amanda again. “What did Piotr say?”

Amanda seemed confused for a second, then continued. “He said we should ask to join Excalibur.”

“I'll think about it.”

“That's fair. Thank you.”

The group made their way back through the halls, collecting their teammates as they went, and emerging onto a now-crowded street. Military and police vehicles were everywhere, and an army representative arrived, looking for Kurt. Kitty watched the man shake Kurt's hand and thank him and his team for saving London. Kitty began to see that Ms. Frost was wrong about the X-Men. They weren't killers or soldiers, but people the same as any others, just trying to live their lives and keep other people safe. The destruction around them hadn't been caused by the X-Men, or rather Excalibur, but by the villains they had set out to stop.

Chapter Text

Moira met them on the tarmac when they returned from London, her face drawn and arms wrapped around her stomach as the wind whipped hair into her eyes. She didn't bother to move it. Even Kitty could tell something was wrong.

“Moira?” Kurt hurried over to her, but she brushed his hands aside and stepped past him.

“Look at you. Do you even bother to wash your wounds, Meggan? Och, you brought our Dougie back! Let's get you covered up,” she said, ignoring Kurt for the moment as she tended to Douglock.

“Thank you, Moira,” he said as she draped a blanket over his shoulders. “What is wrong?”

“Am I that transparent?”

Ja. What's happened?”

Moira took her glasses off and wiped at the lenses. “Oh god, Kurt. It's Charles Xavier. He's gone insane. He's killed...he's killed...it's so awful.” She put a hand to her eyes, and even Kitty wanted to comfort her.

“Then let's get outta here and go help 'em,” Rogue said, ready to go.

“We can be there in a couple hours,” Rahne said.

“I'll help, too,” Kitty said, but she didn't think anyone heard her.

“No!” Moira yelled, then lowered her voice. “No, please. It's too dangerous. Come inside first, and eat and get cleaned up.” She looked across the tarmac again in surprise. “Is that...” She blinked. “Is that Amanda?”

“Yes,” Kurt said, and went inside.

No one wanted to explain to Moira what was going on or why Amanda was with them, but Kitty, who didn't know their history, stopped to tell her. “Amanda showed up and helped us contain the demon. Nightcrawler—Kurt—he's been on edge since. She asked to be on the team. Her and a guy named Piotr.”

“Och, really? That can't end well.”

“Why? Who are they?”

Moira scratched her head and took Kitty's hand. “Let's go inside and get everyone cleaned up, and you and I will talk about it in private later.”

“Okay,” Kitty said, wondering what was so secret about this strange woman.

They went inside, where the team had scattered themselves around the living room, watching the news. Kurt was on the couch, trying not to fidget, while across the room, Amanda sat stiffly in a chair, carefully avoiding looking at him. Rahne and Douglock were next to Kurt on the couch, Rahne trying to distract Kurt while reuniting with her friend. Meggan and Brian were on the loveseat. Kitty and Moira stood behind the couch.

The news reported first on the London tragedy, over half a million people dead there. It was almost too shocking to process. Meggan cried quietly while Brian comforted her. The next story was about Onslaught and the deaths of super teams in the States. There were numerous heroes missing, including the entire Fantastic Four team and some of the Avengers.

Kurt twisted around to talk to Moira. “We could easily fly over and lend a hand.”

Across the room, Meggan agreed. “I'd be happy to go if there's anything we can do. Maybe provide medical support? Brian's Moonlight Flit is a medical transport...”

“No, you all don't understand,” Moira said, clenching her fists. “If you leave, and something happens to you, who's left to care for the rest of the world? There are mutants all over the world, not just in New York. What happens to them if you're killed? There won't be anyone left to fight for them. You're staying here!”

She slammed her hand on the back of the couch, and Kurt turned back to the television. “Kitty,” Moira said, “Come with me please.”

Kitty followed quietly, still holding the laptop she'd taken from the chamber in London. Moira went upstairs to a small study at the end of the dorm hall. She left the door open, and when Kitty would have shut it, she stopped her.

“No, leave it. If he comes up here, I want to know. I'm gonna tell you about Amanda. She's his foster sister. Her mother, Margali raised him from a baby, until he left her circus and went to Florida. He'll have to tell you about that, it isn't my place. Anyway, he was already in love with Amanda by then, and when she joined him in the States, they dated for a while. She cheated on him with his good friend, Piotr Rasputin. I don't know if he's seen much of either of them since then.”

“Um...” Kitty wasn't sure how to proceed. “She's his...sister? And his ex?”

“Foster sister. He was never legally adopted. I know,” Moira said, nodding at Kitty's look of disbelief, “It's highly unusual. Best not to think too hard on it.”

“Thanks for telling me. It all makes a lot more sense now.”

“You're welcome. Now d'you want me to take that computer?”

“I guess. It's from London, the one they were using to control Douglock.”

“Oh, you brought it back? What for?”

“To see what other files they have on it. I didn't really have time to search it yet.”

“That's a good idea. I'll put it down in the computer lab for you. Oh, and I overnighted some basic clothes for you. I put the box in your room. Just a few things to get you by til you can get out and shop.”

“Wow. Thanks Dr. MacTaggert, that was really kind of you.”

“It's Moira. Unless I'm mad at you,” she said with a slight laugh. “Och, this day. What I wouldn't give for a drink. Well, back to work, I suppose.”

Kitty wandered down the hall to the room she was using—her room, if she stayed—she'd stay. If they let her, of course...

The box was on the bed, and contained half a dozen basic t-shirts in various colors, two pairs of sweatpants, and two pairs of drawstring shorts, a pack of socks, and a pair of sneakers, one size too big. The rest would work. She could wear her uniform boots if she had to.

She changed and went downstairs, where there was a heated argument going on in the living room about what had happened in America and London. Kitty wasn't interested in arguing with anyone, and she hadn't been with the team long enough to have a routine to fall back on. No one paid much attention to her, and she hesitated at the doorway before bypassing everyone on her way to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Maybe she could find popcorn, too.

“Make enough for two,” Kurt said, taking the tea from the cupboard and handing it to her. “Please.”

She didn't really know what to say about anything—Douglock's rescue, commendations turned condemnations, Onslaught, London deaths, Amanda. So she stayed silent and studied the tea kettle.

“It will never boil if you stare at it.”

“Moira must be rubbing off on you, quoting tea sayings like that.”

“She should be, we've been here long enough.” He was perched on the edge of the counter when she moved away to get the cups. “I suppose we need to take you shopping.”

She looked down at the clothes Moira had gotten her. “Yeah, eventually. The shoes didn't fit. The rest will do.”

“You look like you're drowning.”

Kitty chuckled. “It's fine.”

He rubbed his temple and sighed softly. The kettle whistled, and she poured the water. “See?” Kurt said as he hopped down.

They took the tea to the table and Kurt brought over a basket of cookies and chips. He dug through the bags and boxes until he found what he was looking for, a tin of shortbread cookies. He handed one to her. “Ever have shortbread?”

“A few times. Thanks.”

They snacked in silence, and Kitty relaxed a little at last, after more than a day of tense anxiety and fear. She rubbed her neck.

“It isn't always like this,” Kurt said.

“Like what?”

“Chaos. We aren't always running form one disaster to the next, but it feels that way right now. Moira is adamant that we not go to New York, so that takes the Onslaught issue off our plate, at least for now. London is over, whether they're happy about it or not. Hopefully, tomorrow will be an easy day. I'll give you the tour of the center, so you can find your way around, and maybe Meggan will take you into town to get whatever things you need.”

Kitty nodded as he spoke. “Can I ask you something?”

“You can always ask, but I can't promise I'll answer.”

“Okay. This thing with Onslaught...he's really your Professor Xavier?”

Kurt scratched his head. “As far as the reports have indicated, yes.”

She chewed her lip and he waited, sensing there was more to her question. “And he killed some people?”

“That's what the reports indicate.”

“What...I mean, why? What happened?”

“I don't know. Moira said when Jean and Scott came to tell her about it, he'd gone mad. And...” Kurt decided not to tell her about the Xavier Protocols yet. She didn't need to know the man had a crypt full of kill plans for his students. Then again, maybe she did. “I owe him my life, but that doesn't mean he's a saint. I think it's possible to appreciate the good someone has done while condemning what they've done wrong. Do you agree?”

She thought about it. Could she appreciate the good Ms. Frost had done for her, while condemning the lies and deceit and manipulation? Maybe...after all, Kitty was here now. “I guess so.”

“It is like that with Xavier. I would be dead were it not for him. There is no doubt of that. I will always be indebted to him for my life. But he has done some things I can't condone, and some things I'll never understand. I've never believed anyone could be perfect, but I loved him for the things he did right.”

“I can understand that. Like with Ms. Frost. She did some rotten stuff, but she also gave me a good education, got me away from my parents, taught me to be proud of what I am, and then I met you guys because of her, too.”

Kurt didn't say that she would have met them without Emma Frost if she'd gone with Xavier, but it didn't seem important. “You count taking you away from your parents a good thing?”

“Yeah, it was awful. They fought all the time. I got shuffled from one school to another after Xavier tried to recruit me and told my mother I was a mutant. She was furious. My dad hates the X-Men, and mutants, and my mom, too. I never told them.”

“I'm sorry. That must have been very hard.”

“It doesn't matter any more.”

Kurt picked his head up, attending to the sounds from the living room. “I think they've stopped arguing. The news must be over. Care to watch a movie?”

He had so many movies she had never seen, old black and whites, swashbuckling adventures, comedies, and a collection of Robin Hood. They sat on the couch, with the popcorn between them. Kitty nodded off and almost landed face-first in the popcorn bowl, saved by Kurt's hand on her cheek and another at her shoulder. She rubbed her eyes and yawned, apologizing, and Kurt turned the movie off.

“It's been a long day, and sleep is a good idea. See you tomorrow, Kätzchen.”

“Good night, Kurt.” She stumbled up the stairs and left him to take care of the popcorn and the movie.

 

No one put the collar back on her. No one locked her door. She slept later than she usually did, and everyone else was awake when she came downstairs.

“We thought you left in the night,” Rahne said with a sly smirk.

“I was tired,” Kitty said, and she hated that she felt guilty about it. Meggan breezed in and stopped when she saw Kitty.

“Shopping today?”

“Okay.”

“We'll go before lunch and we can eat in town.”

“Okay.”

She didn't see Kurt until almost noon. Kitty was in the living room with Douglock, watching him watch television. He imitated everything the people did, as if he was trying to learn to be human.

“Kitty.”

She tipped her head back to see Kurt coming into the room. He was shirtless, covered in sweat, and had a towel draped across his shoulders. She tried not to stare, but he was all toned muscle and it was impossible not to notice.

“After I shower I'll give you the tour. Meggan said she'd love to take you shopping.”

“She already mentioned it.”

Wunderbar. See you in a few minutes.”

The grand tour wasn't much. She was already familiar with the main living area, and she'd been to Moira's lab on her first visit, so that was familiar. She had never seen the holo-gym, and she didn't know there was a library. After that, there wasn't much left. Basement storage and empty rooms and the cell block. Moira sometimes housed mutant prisoners who required medical attention or treatment that could not be gotten elsewhere.

“I'll show you how to program the holo-gym another day,” he said when they wandered back into the living room.

Meggan flew in, cheerfully waving to Kurt as she took Kitty's arm. “Ready to go?”

“Sure. No! No, I don't—” she realized suddenly that she couldn't buy anything. Embarrassment colored her cheeks as she admitted, “I don't have any money.”

“Silly, you don't need it. We all get a stipend from the team funds.”

“I don't have a stipend...I'm not on the team.”

“Yes you are,” Kurt said. “Hold on.”

He teleported away and was back a minute later with cash. “It's more than enough to get you whatever you need, and I'll have Brian add you to the account at the bank next time he's in town.”

Kitty shook her head at the wad of bills in his hand, and clasped hers behind her back. “I can't take this.” She felt guilty and ashamed at taking his money.

Ja, you can, and you must,” he said, pulling one hand out and pressing the bills into it. “You need clothes, toiletries. Go get what you need. It's not my money, it's team money.”

Reluctantly, she shoved the bills into her pocket. She didn't even have a purse. Meggan grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the room then, and Kitty had to skip to keep up.

 

In the Midnight Runner Meggan told her that Brian had funded the team at the start, but they had invested in some lucrative stocks and that's where most of the team money came from now. Meggan was sweet and cheery and easy to be around, and Kitty enjoyed the trip. Meggan took her all the way to Edinburgh, so she could have her choice of shops and eateries. They spent the afternoon shopping, and when they were finished, Kitty had her own clothes again, sneakers that fit, a simple purse, and a good, warm coat.

“I had fun today, Meggan,” Kitty said as they headed back to Muir. “Thanks for doing this.”

“I had fun, too. I love shopping. It's like changing who you are without really changing who you are.”

Kitty grinned. “That's funny coming from a shapeshifter.”

“I know.” She giggled, enjoying her own joke.

They picked up pizza on their way back, the smell of which drew all of Excalibur into the kitchen. Kitty learned later that Meggan usually brought pizza back when she went out, so they knew to expect it, but at the time, it seemed almost like magic the way everyone suddenly congregated in the kitchen, all talking and laughing and getting along. It was like a family dinner, and Kitty stood at the doorway watching for a moment before running upstairs to put her bags away. She didn't want to miss these moments, or the pizza.

She shouldn't have worried, as Meggan had bought six larges. Kurt refused to take any of the money back, insisting it was Kitty's now. Amanda came in last, and not long afterwards, Kurt left, taking his pizza with him. Kitty wanted to go after him, but she already felt like a tag-along, so she stayed where she was.

The team told stories and inside jokes that Kitty didn't understand. Her pizza finished, she went into the living room. It was dark out already, and she went through to the small back patio, and from there wandered onto the hillside to think. When she was younger, she'd been at the same elementary school and the same middle school without a change. Then, in high school when they started shuffling her about, she suffered from a constant feeling of being left out. She hadn't felt that way at the Massachusetts Academy, but she felt it again now.

The team had history. They knew each other, even Amanda. Kitty was an outsider, not privy to the inside jokes or familiar with the retold-for-the-tenth-time stories. She wasn't ungrateful for a new opportunity, but she was lonely. She longed to fit in, but no matter how kind Meggan was, or how tolerant Rogue became, she feared she would always be the odd one out.

She sat down on the cold ground and lay back, gazing up at the millions of stars. There were so many, and as the sun continued to sink lower, she could see more and more of them. It was beautiful, and she was so caught up in gazing at them that she jumped nearly out of her skin when Nightcrawler's signature bamf sounded behind her head.

“Are you thinking of running away to the stars?” he said, peering down at her.

She tipped her head farther back but she couldn't find exactly where he was. Finally she said to the open sky, “No, I was looking at them.”

“Lovely, aren't they?” he said and sat down beside her. He was a dark shadow, mostly an outline, but his eyes shone and she focused on them.

“There are so many,” she said. “It was never like this in Chicago, or even Deerfield. Or Massachusetts. I've never seen the night sky like this.”

He looked up and agreed. “It was like this in Winzeldorf, outside the village. So many you could understand the phrase 'blanket of stars.' Here, we're so busy, we rarely take the time to notice them.”

The sun finished its descent, and as full darkness covered them, Kitty realized she couldn't see more than a vague outline of Kurt beside her.

“You're almost invisible,” she said.

Ja, that happens in the dark. The theory is that it has to do with my teleportation.”

“How's that?”

“I don't actually disappear, you know. I travel through another dimension, very briefly, but the dimension is always...” she had the impression that he was waving his arms around. “...around me. Very convenient for Hide and Seek. I can see everyone else, but they can't see me.”

“Well, no one else disappears in the dark, so I guess that's quite an advantage.”

“I can also see in the dark.”

“Like a cat?”

“Better.”

“That's useful.”

Ja.”

He lay back beside her, and Kitty looked for the big and little dippers. She didn't try to find his face or the shape of his body beside her, just listened to the sounds he made as he leaned back on his elbows or moved his tail through the heather. The silence between them was comfortable, and Kitty wondered that she could feel so at ease with a man she barely knew, who had been, days earlier, one of her sworn enemies, but now she turned to for guidance and leadership and—dare she think it—friendship.

“Xavier has a data file in a room under the research center. It tells how to kill all the X-Men.”

Kitty sat straight up. “What?” In shock, she tried to find his face again, strained to see any part of him, finally reaching out to locate him. Her hand touched his chest. “You're impossible to see,” she explained, feeling a blush rise in her cheeks at having touched him so familiarly. She drew her hand back and tucked it in her lap, trying to keep her eyes where her hand had been.

“I know, I'm sorry. This is where you were.” He indicated the hillside and paused. “I wasn't going to tell you. I probably shouldn't have.”

“Okay, so wait, go back. He has files on how to kill all his own students? What the hell is wrong with this guy?” She rocked up onto her knees, hands waving in the air as she processed this shocking news.

“I don't know, Kätzchen, I don't know. He was the closest thing to a father I ever had and...” His voice caught and he stopped talking.

“That's the worst thing I ever heard. I can't believe he'd do this. Are you sure it's his stuff?”

Ja, it's his.” His voice cracked, and she wished she could comfort him, but she did not have the right to touch him. For all that she felt a friendship growing, she was still their former enemy, walking a shaky proving ground.

“God, Kurt...I'm so sorry.” She dropped her hands in her lap, still shaking her head.

“Frost seems all right in comparison,” he said, trying to be funny.

“You don't believe that.”

“No. It's shocking, though, to realize he's had this data all this time, and thought about it so much.” He sighed, and then chuckled softly. “You should see your face.”

“I wish I could see yours.”

“We can go back inside.”

“Nah. It's nice out.” She stopped trying to see his features again and put her head back down on the ground. She heard him move closer so his head was almost touching hers.

“I should not have burdened you with that information.”

“You mean you shouldn't have told me in case I go spilling it all to Frost later.”

“No—”

“It's okay. If I were you, I'd be wary of me, too.” She paused. “I'm not gonna do that, though.”

He sat up and touched her hand briefly. “Thank you.”

“I'm going to put on a movie if you want to join me.”

“Maybe. What movie? Not the one I fell asleep in the middle of, I hope.”

“I wouldn't want a repeat of the popcorn bowl incident,” he said. “I don't know which one yet. Probably the Crimson Pirates or some other good swashbuckling adventure. You can help me pick.”

“I've never heard of the Crimson Pirates.”

“It's old. Errol Flynn stars as a pirate. It's the movie that got me interested in sword fighting when I was younger.”

“Circus performer and secret pirate wannabe. You're the most interesting person.”

“Doesn't everyone dream of doing something amazing? What did you want to do when you were little?” She heard the heather rustle, felt his arm brush hers momentarily, and from the change in his voice, she guessed he had rolled over. When his tail snaked across her knees, her suspicion was confirmed.

“Be a ballerina president. I took dance for a long time. Until I moved to Massachusetts, actually.”

“That's impressive. Do you miss it?”

“Sometimes. Did you ever take fencing lessons? In your quest to be a pirate?” She rolled over too, moving just close enough that she could feel him beside her. It was utterly unnerving to know he was there and be unable to see him.

“No, not formal ones. I copied what I saw on film. One year a man joined our circus who had taken fencing, and he showed me what he knew. I would go to his wagon every night and beg him to teach me more. He was very kind, and tolerated my pestering him, until he left us.”

“And what about now? Do you still take lessons?”

“No. But I practice in the holo-gym, or in the Danger Room when I was at Xavier's.”

“You can practice fencing in there? How?”

“You write a program for it. I have many pirate scenarios, even some here. As I said, I can show you how to write the programs. You won't have any trouble, and you can do just about anything. I imagine you could even write a ballerina president scenario.”

“Sounds like the Academy's Dream Room. I don't know about the ballerina president thing anymore, but I'd love to watch you fight pirates.”

“Oh, no,” he said, and chuckled. “There's no watching, there is only helping defeat them. You can join me. It's fun.”

Kitty laughed loudly. “I'm sure. Fun getting my ass kicked by a holographic pirate. What happens when he runs me through?”

“Nothing at all. It's a hologram.”

She laughed again. “Okay, sure. Why not? Next time you run one of the programs, I'll do it with you.”

Wunderbar. Now, shall we watch a movie so you know what to expect?”

“Probably. Otherwise I'm just going to be fish food.”

“As if I would allow that to happen. You underestimate my skill.”

“I've never seen you fight pirates. It's not underestimating if I have no basis for judgment.”

“You have my word. I'm quite good.” His teeth glinted briefly in the floodlights from the station when he moved.

“Okay, Nightcrawler. Whatever you say.”

“You should really call me Kurt. We're friends now.”

She sat up and leaned forward, squinting to see his face, to see if he was serious. She still couldn't see him, and again she reached out to find him. This time, he caught her hand in his and pressed it to his cheek. “Does that help?” he said, his voice soft in the night.

“Yeah,” she murmured. “Thanks.” He was so soft, she wanted to keep stroking his cheek all night. “You...you really think of me as a friend?”

“I really do.” He wished she'd never take her hand away. It felt so good to be touched in affection. It had been a long time since anyone had cared to be close to him.

“Not just that game we played.”

He understood. “It wasn't a game.”

She smiled warmly at him. “It's nice to have a friend again.”

Ja, it is. Do you like popcorn?” he asked as he sat up.

“I love popcorn.”

Most of the team was still in the living room, and when Kurt announced that it was movie time, Meggan and Brian left. Kurt rubbed his hands together while he deliberated over which movie to show her. At last he made up his mind and started it, while Kitty wondered where to sit. Kurt shooed Rahne and Douglock down the couch to make room, and waved Kitty over.

She sat by the arm of the couch, happy to be included, but afraid of intruding on Rahne's time with her friend.

“I can sit on the floor,” Kitty said.

Nein, don't be silly.” He hopped up onto the arm of the couch instead of the seat beside her.

It was odd to have Kurt crouching beside her as he was, but she soon understood why. As soon as the sword fighting scenes began, he leaped up, brandishing an invisible sword, and acting out the scenes perfectly.

Kitty stared at him. The others ignored him. Rogue sighed dramatically from her chair across the room and rolled her eyes. Kitty wanted to say something to Kurt about his acting skills, and the way he so perfectly imitated the swordsmen on screen, but Rogue beat her to it.

“You look—” Kitty began.

Rogue interrupted. “Like an idiot.”

Kitty snapped her mouth shut.

Kurt didn't seem to care. “You wouldn't say that if I had a real sword in my hand. Avast! I would have you walk the plank for such careless words!” He kept right on acting out the scenes, all the way to the end of the movie. His accuracy was remarkable, and Kitty wondered how many times he'd seen this movie.

“I wasn't going to say that,” Kitty said when the movie went off and everyone had gone to their rooms.

“To say what?” Kurt said, as he put the movie back in its case.

“What Rogue said. That you looked like an idiot. You didn't. I thought it was amazing.”

“Ah, danke, schatz.” He chuckled and patted her shoulder. “Not to worry. I'm used to her wicked tongue.”

Chapter Text

The next day after breakfast, Kitty went to the computer lab. Now that she knew Frost had altered the news and controlled students' access to the internet, she was eager to learn everything she'd been denied before. She spent several hours in the lab, and just before noon, she stumbled across an article that contained an interview with Sebastian Shaw.

It was a news headline about the London disaster, that mentioned the Hellfire Club. Shaw claimed Excalibur had framed them. “This Club has a long, prestigious history of philanthropic work, of which we are exceedingly proud. To suggest we would be involved in a crime of this magnitude, of such blatant evil, is ridiculous. Clearly someone wants to bring the Hellfire Club into disrepute. We won't stand for it. We take slander and liable seriously.”

Another article later in the same paper indicated that Shaw Industries was involved in the reconstruction of London. And a third article, an opinion piece, implicated Excalibur rather than the Hellfire Club in the deaths during the London Incident.

Kitty printed it all out and left it with a little note for Kurt to read later. He wasn't around when she went to get lunch, so she ate with Meggan and Brian. They chatted amiably about a lighthouse, and wondered if they should rebuild someday, perhaps a different location.

“Why would you want to build a lighthouse?” Kitty asked.

“We used to live in one,” Brian said. “It was destroyed during a fight with Necrom.”

“Necrom?”

“Long story. Suffice it to say, he's gone, and so is the lighthouse.”

Meggan said, “But I liked it, and we liked living there. I think we should rebuild it after we get married. Can you imagine raising children there? How fun!”

“I agree. The real question is where to build. I don't think we should risk rebuilding in the exact location as before.”

“Maybe nearby,” Meggan said.

Kurt teleported in, and Brian waved a hand under his nose. Kitty agreed that the purple smoke didn't smell good, but she didn't like to be rude. Apparently Brian didn't feel the same trepidation.

Must you do that in the kitchen?” Brian said, coughing for emphasis.

“Apologies, Herr Braddock, I was in a hurry.”

“What is it?” Meggan asked.

He grinned wide and tipped his head in Kitty's direction. “Kitty agreed to play pirates with me and I just finished setting it up.”

Brian rolled his eyes. “Oh boy,” he said, but he looked amused, not annoyed. “You're in for something... interesting, Kitty. Kurt loves his pirate programs. He gets really involved in them.”

Kurt fixed a sandwich, unconcerned about Brian's opinion of his hobby. “Life is short, Mein Freund. Why not enjoy it when we can?”

“I never said you shouldn't,” Brian agreed with a laugh. He and Meggan had finished eating. “Meggan and I are going to be out of town a few days.”

“I remember. Enjoy your vacation,” Kurt said.

Kitty said good-bye as well, though she wished they weren't leaving. She was getting to know Meggan at last, and she liked both of them.

While they ate, Kurt kept listing off different things about the program he'd picked. “Captain Crawler versus the Pirates of the Caribbean was the original name,” he said, “I hope you don't mind, but I just called you Pirate Kitty. I thought we'd team up for this one, rather than pitting you against me.” He grinned wickedly. “You wouldn't stand a chance.”

“In that case you should just make me your damsel in distress,” she said.

“No, that's not any fun for you. Besides, as smart as you are, I'm sure you'd figure a way out, even if you did get caught.”

“Thanks. So, uh, we just swashbuckle Jack Sparrow and friends?”

“Yes, there's no real plot. We start the program and Barbossa and Davy Jones and Edward Teach leap out, among others, and together we'll buckle their swashes.” Kurt's enthusiasm was contagious, and by the end of lunch, she was eager to see what the program was really like. Kurt warned her that although it was holograms, they were a Shaskofrugnon solid light version, so she would feel sensations when they attacked her.

“So they can run me through for real?” she said, appalled.

Nein, the safeties are set as high as they'll go for your first time. Normally I set them a bit lower, but never mind. You can't be hurt. If they stab you, you have to play along. You'll just feel the sword touch you. It won't hurt.”

Kitty was a little nervous after that, but she trusted Kurt. If he said she couldn't be hurt, she couldn't. At the door of the chamber, he handed her a bandanna and a sword.

“This is real!” she cried, hefting the sword. It was lighter than she expected.

Kurt grabbed her arm and lowered it. “Hold it like this,” he said, and helped her grip it properly. He scratched his head and said, “On second thought, we should probably go over some of the basics first...”

“Aw, you got me all excited about fighting pirates and now we can't? Come on, show me what to do, I'm a fast learner.”

He hesitated, but gave in, as eager as she was to play. “All right. Hold it like so,” he said, moving behind her to place her arm just so. “Thrust like this, parry like this, block like this.” He angled her arm for each move, then had her repeat the movements back until he was satisfied. His chest was warm at her back, and his voice was in her ear, low and warm.

“Good enough for now,” he declared, satisfied that she wouldn't kill him. He led her into the hologram chamber and commenced the program. Instantly the room transformed from a bare metal box to a high seas adventure, complete with a pirate ship in the middle of the room. Kitty squealed when she realized the water pouring in to fill the bottom of the room was real.

Kurt had already leaped onto the ship, and he held out his hand over the side. “Jump,” he shouted, and she did. He caught her and hauled her up, and she was a little surprised at how easily he did so. He grinned, looking like a child on Christmas morning who just got a Red Rider BB gun. “Ready?”

Kitty nodded, still recovering from the casual display of strength. Nick could never have done that.

Kurt was oblivious to her thoughts. “Good, because...” he lunged around her and stabbed at something. Kitty spun, and came face to face with the spitting image of Hector Barbossa from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. “...they're here.”

The pirate winked at her when she gasped. “Come to ask for parlay missy?” Kitty shrank back. It was so real, and how did a hologram know she was a girl? How could it even see her? She stumbled back, and was lifted off the deck of the ship by strong arms. She kicked, and screamed.

Nightcrawler spared her a glance and called back, “Kick his knees with your heel and when he drops you, stab him!”

She did as he said, falling to the deck gracelessly instead of landing on her feet. The pirate stabbed her in the gut easily. “Well shit,” she said, and called to Kurt. “I'm dead already!”

“A shame, really,” he said. “Program halt. Reset.” He strolled over as she got to her feet. “Try again?”

“Definitely. I had no idea they'd be so...real.”

“I often forget how disarming it is the first time. Imagine fighting sentinels in one of these.”

“Sentinels...those are real?”

“Unfortunately. I've fought them many times.”

“They told us they were fake. That Xavier made them up to get support.”

Kurt put a hand on her shoulder and said, “You were told many things that are not true. That you have found it in yourself to trust someone else after that is remarkable, and humbling.”

“It is?”

“Of course. It took—it takes some people much longer after they've been deceived so thoroughly.” He looked a little forlorn, Kitty thought, but after a second the smile crept back to his face. “Ready to start the game again?”

Kitty smiled back. “Let's go.”

He restarted it, and this time, Kitty looked for the pirate that had captured her. He wasn't where he'd been before, and in fact, neither was Barbossa. Kurt leaped over a canon and back-flipped onto a higher level of deck, where Davy Jones crawled over the side. A hand grabbed Kitty's arm, but this time, instead of panicking, she swung her sword around and got a hit on the villain's other arm. The hologram of Edward Teach yelped, and Kitty scrambled away.

They had to restart the game several more times that afternoon, but Kurt was good-natured about it and seemed to have fun anyway. By the time Kitty asked to stop, they were both sweating and tired. Kitty's arm felt like a lead weight, even though she'd been training at the Academy for months.

“We should start you with the exercise programs, too,” Kurt said. “Brian, Meggan, and Rogue never have to work out, but I do, and you as well. I've been running my programs alone for a long time. It would be nice to have company, if you're agreeable.”

Kitty was. Kurt shut the program down fully, and the room returned to its bare box form. Only a few puddles of water on the floor indicated that there had ever been an epic series of pirate battles inside. On the way out, Kurt grabbed two towels from a stack and handed her one.

Danke for this,” he said. “It's been far too long since anyone was willing to bash pirate skulls with me.”

“Thanks for asking. It was fun. I'll do it again anytime. Well, anytime after my arm recovers. Ouch.”

“Would you? I would enjoy that very much. I'll make a pirate queen of you yet.”

 

Kitty went to her room to shower and change, her sword arm growing more and more achy as the evening went on. She took pain killers, but it was still sore. At dinner, Kurt noticed her trying to eat with her left hand.

“Too much in one day, I suppose,” he said, indicating her arm and giving her an apologetic grin.

“Yeah, it hurts.” She finagled a bite of spaghetti into her mouth.

Kurt fetched an ice pack for her and secured it with a strap of hook and loop he procured from a drawer. Moira came in then, and she stopped when she saw Kitty's arm on ice.

“Oh no. Kurt, you didn't drag her into one of your crazy pirate games?”

“I did. And I think she had a good time. Did you?” he asked Kitty.

“Yeah, it was a lot of fun, once I got used to the holograms.”

“You're in for it now. He's got about twenty programs in there, and that's not including the ones in New York for the Danger Room.”

Kitty giggled.

Kurt merely shrugged. “I like what I like. At least pirates are better than elves.”

Moira looked aghast. “Don't you make fun of my Lord of the Rings simulation! Legolas is quite the elf.”

“I wouldn't dare,” he said, winking at Kitty.

“I like Legolas, too,” Kitty said.

Moira nodded enthusiastically at her. “Och, that Orlando Bloom...he's the only one can do him justice.”

“Wait a minute, Moira, you said my impression of Legolas was wunderbar.”

Moira shrugged. “I lied.”

Rogue sat down with a plate of noodles beside Moira and Kurt. The rest of the team came in, including Amanda, who had been making herself scarce lately. Kurt looked like he wanted to leave, and Kitty thought it was awful that he should feel that way.

“I'd like to see your Legolas,” she said, hoping to stall him. Maybe if he had someone to talk to, he wouldn't be in such a hurry to run off every time Amanda walked in. She wondered why he'd allowed her to join the team when it obviously made him so uncomfortable. When he looked up at Kitty, he didn't look happy as she had expected, but irritated.

“Oh god, are you still doing that?” Amanda said, laughing. “I thought you quit those stupid games.”

Oh.

“What's wrong with them?” Kitty said. She looked at Amanda in utter seriousness, waiting for her response.

Amanda twirled her spaghetti, surprised at being called out. “It's...childish.”

“No it isn't. It's fun. There's a difference. Childish is picking on people for liking something you don't. Fun is enjoying the things that make life worth living.”

The entire table was silent, and Kitty returned to her spaghetti without meeting any of their eyes.

“Sorry, Kurt,” Amanda said quietly.

“It's all right,” he said, sounding somewhat astonished. He couldn't take his eyes off the top of Kitty's head.

 

After dinner, he pulled her aside. “Thank you.”

“What for?”

“For what you said at dinner. It was nice to have a friend.”

She ran a hand through her hair and looked at the kitchen counters, awaiting cleanup. “I...you're welcome.”

He followed her eyes to the messy kitchen. “Want help cleaning?”

While Kitty started loading the dishwasher, Kurt wiped the counters. “I saw the articles you printed.”

“I thought you might like to read them.”

Ja, very much. I think the man is laying the groundwork for something. He's planting seeds of doubt in the general population.”

“That doesn't surprise me. I don't think anything does anymore.” She let her shoulders slump.

“Welcome to the X-Men,” he said, patting her back in congratulation. “Any idea what he might be up to?”

Kitty thought about it. He was obviously trying to make Excalibur look bad, but she didn't know why. “What can they gain from turning people against you?”

“Against us? I suppose casting us in a bad light makes them look better. Perhaps it takes the burden of suspicion off of them? Have you looked through that laptop yet?”

“No, but I can start after we're finished here.”

“That seems like a good first step. I can't imagine they'd be foolish enough to leave much valuable information on it, but it can't hurt to check.”

Kitty started the dishwasher, and Kurt walked out with her as she headed to the computer lab. He stopped inside the door. “I need to discuss a few things with Moira, but first, I realized I never told you that your help rescuing Douglock was invaluable. I don't think he would be with us now if you had not been there.”

“I'm glad I was able to help.”

She set up the laptop and turned it on. Kurt lingered in the doorway as if he had more to say to her, but when she gave him a quizzical look, he only smiled and left.

There was nothing on the laptop.

 

She checked again the next day, to be certain, but when she saw Kurt the next time, she gave him the bad news. He dismissed it with a shrug.

“I didn't expect much, but it was good to try. Are you up for a pirate game today?”

She agreed, changed into a pair of the sweatpants Moira had bought her, and one of the oversized t-shirts, and met him at the holo-gym doors.

“Is it the same one?” she asked as he pulled out the swords.

Nein, it's different. This one is based on Captain Blood.”

“I've never seen that.”

“I'll have to rectify that later. For now, just play along.”

She wasn't as shocked by the holograms this time, but the pirates were different, and behaved differently, and Kurt had to defend her several times before she caught on to the pattern of the program. Once, a pirate tied her to the mast head, and Kurt had to cut her down and carry her to the deck.

“That was humiliating. I think I need a lot more training,” she said as he set her on her feet.

Ja, I agree. You're a fast learner, as you said, but I can see areas where Frost's training is lacking. I'll set up a schedule when we finish this game.”

Kitty was a sweaty mess when they finished, and when she came back downstairs after a shower and change, Kurt was on the phone in the living room. Usually they took calls in the comms suite, but Rahne told her this one had come through on Moira's private line.

Kurt hung up and cursed under his breath. “Where is Rogue?”

“Outside, I think,” Rahne said. Kurt went out to find her, still scowling.

The two came in together a few minutes later, both looking upset. “What's going on?” Rahne asked.

“We're heading to the States for a few days,” Kurt said. “Forge has something we need to deal with...it's complicated.”

Kitty didn't ask questions. She didn't have the right to ask any of them about their missions or private lives. No matter how much she settled in, her conscience wouldn't let her forget she was here because of Kurt's good graces. She wondered what would happen while he was gone.

He called the rest of the team together, Douglock, Moira, and Amanda. “Rogue and I are needed in the States for a few days, maybe as long as a week. Maybe longer, it's hard to say. With Brian and Meggan out of town, it's up to the five of you to handle any emergencies. Rahne, you team up with Kitty. She's not familiar with our routines, so keep her up to speed, please. Moira, you're in charge.”

“Be careful,” Kitty said.

Kurt missed a beat before answering. “Ja, thank you, Kätzchen, I will.”

Chapter Text

The team was down to its supporting members. It made Kitty a little nervous knowing none of them were leaders, but hopefully nothing would go wrong while Kurt and the others were away.

The first morning they were gone, the alarms went off all over the building. Rahne ran for Kitty and grabbed her, hauling her down to the Xavier Protocol room.

“Intruders,” she said. Moira was trying desperately to reinstate the locking mechanism, with no luck.

“We're gonna be breached,” she said. “Keep them away as long as you can. Kitty, help me here.”

Rahne, Amanda, and Douglock went up to fight the intruders, who appeared on screen while Kitty and Moira desperately tried to reseal the Xavier vault. “I need more time, Moira,” Kitty said. She was sure she could do it, but not as fast as she needed to.

“Just keep at it, girl, and we'll do what we can.” Moira did something to the force field, and suddenly called the rest of the team back.

“Rahne and Douglock are out,” Amanda said when she returned. “The intruders are using them as human shields.”

“I can't get this, Moira,” Kitty said, wiping hair out of her eyes.

“Forget it for now. I've got an idea.”

“Do you want Kitty and me to engage them?” Amanda said.

“No, stay here.”

When the intruders arrived outside the vault, they hesitated. On the viewscreen, the team heard them mumbling about a trap, then they hurled Rahne and Douglock into the vault room. Moira jabbed the force field button and the intruders were locked out.

Their leader aborted the mission and Excalibur was left to clean up a ruined station. It took them three days to get it back together. There was water damage, burned and broken pieces of wall and floor, holes everywhere. Kitty had never seen such a mess.

“This is nothing compared to the destruction the N'Garai demon wrought on the school,” Amanda said to Kitty as they worked in the hall.

“What's a N'Garai demon?” she said, and she told her about them. Then she told about the demon attacking the school on Christmas Eve. She looked sad.

“I guess it was hard to see your school get destroyed.”

“Not my school, but yeah. We lost more than the school though.”

“Oh god, did someone die?”

“Not a person. A friendship.”

“Oh.”

“I didn't mean for it to happen. I didn't mean to fall in love with him.”

Now Kitty understood what she was talking about. She didn't know it had happened on Christmas Eve.

“Piotr is just so...gentle and strong...We began to seek each other out, and almost by accident, we had fallen in love. We thought, foolishly, that if we indulged in just one moment of passion, it would be the end of it, but it wasn't. And Kurt found out. It destroyed everything. We destroyed everything”

“Well...” Kitty didn't know how to tell her she deserved it.

“I know. I deserved it. But I would do anything to make it right.”

“You might not be able to.”

“I know. Thanks for listening, Kitty. And maybe...Oh, I don't know.”

“What?”

“Well...Kurt seems to like you, and maybe he'd listen to you. Maybe you could put in a good word for me, if it ever comes up?”

“Sure, Amanda.”

“Thanks, Kitty. Thank you so much. He's the only brother I have left.”

The statement turned Kitty's stomach but she feigned nonchalance. She didn't feel sorry for Amanda, either, but she imagined it must have been hard on Kurt to lose both his friend and girlfriend in one lump like that.

“I can't promise anything.”

“I know.”

 

Brian and Meggan returned first. No one had heard from Rogue or Kurt since they left, and Kitty tried not to worry. But she knew that her acceptance on the team was mainly based on Kurt's acceptance of her, and if anything happened to him, most likely she'd be dropped like the proverbial hot potato. More than that, she was afraid of how afraid she was. She tried to imagine leaving the team, returning to the States and maybe trying to get into the Xavier school. Maybe she could finish high school that way, and go to college. Her future without the team didn't scare her anymore. Her future without Kurt in it was beginning to.

Kitty was glad Brian and Meggan were back, especially when the tiny blue creatures showed up all over the station. They stole, wrecked things, pulled wiring out of the electronics, and wouldn't leave anyone alone. At first, the team tried to shoo them out, but Amanda discovered they were from an alternate dimension. She and Brian and Meggan set up a trap to send them back, but even once they were gone, nobody knew how they'd arrived in the first place. They reminded Kitty a lot of characters in a story she'd written in creative writing one year in middle school, but it wasn't possible for those creatures to be real.

They had done a lot of damage in the two days they were running rampant. Kitty spent long hours repairing computers all over the building. Moira's lab was first, with Legacy Virus research taking precedence over nearly everything else. The comms suite was down for over a day and a half, and they missed the call from Rogue that she and Kurt were on their way back. Brian discovered the creatures had also sabotaged the Flit and Moira's jeep. He worked on those while Kitty dealt with computers. The rest of the team continued the basic cleanup from the earlier attack.

“Mutant Liberation Front,” Moira muttered, inspecting the damage to her lab from them. Fortunately it was all superficial. The blue critters had done more damage in the lab than the MLF had. But Kitty was almost finished with her repairs, and most of her computers were up and running again.

Kitty slid out from under a computer table and sat up, dusting off her hands. “That one's done.”

“Och, Kitty, thank you. I think that's everything in here.”

“Okay, just call me if you find anything else. I'm heading to comms.”

She found the message from Rogue in the voicemail queue when she finished those repairs. She couldn't use the station intercom yet, so she went back to the lab to tell Moira they were on their way home, just as the low rumble of the Midnight Runner's engines reached them.

Kitty returned to the comms suite, then decided the intercom should be next. That required going through every single room and making repairs to every single unit. She sighed and started with the one in the comms suite. She made her way down the hall, stopping for each intercom along the way, then detouring into the computer lab. All the computers were shorted out. She fixed the intercom first, then started on the computers.

 

She was sitting on the floor with computer parts around her when Kurt walked in. “There you are,” he said.

“Hey.”

“I heard about the little infestation,” he said, coming over to crouch beside her while she worked.

“Yeah, stupid little shitters wrecked up everything.”

He laughed. “I'm sorry. At least you haven't been bored, ja?”

Kitty huffed. “How was your trip?”

His good mood evaporated instantly. “Not so good.”

“Oh, I'm sorry. Are you okay?”

Ja, the usual bumps and bruises. Nicely collapsed lung. Nothing serious.”

“A collapsed lung isn't serious?”

He chuckled. “I've been in a coma before.”

“Right. It still seems serious.”

“I was in the hospital for a few days. That's why we're so late getting back. And we picked up Piotr on our way. And then we stopped in London to meet with an associate of ours, Pete Wisdom.”

She wasn't interested in either Peter. “But you're okay now?” She asked again, wanting to be absolutely certain.

“Perfectly fine.” He dropped from his crouch to a cross-legged position.

She released a breath and stopped herself from reaching across to hug him. “I'm glad. I'm glad you're back.”

Ja, it's good to be home.”

Kitty continued working for a while, until Kurt's silence made her set down her tools and the wires and look at him. “What's up?”

“Not a thing.”

“You've been sitting here watching me splice wires back together for the last ten minutes, but nothing is going on?”

“They caught Onslaught.”

She dropped her tools with a clank. “Oh, wow, really? Was it really...was it the professor?”

“Seems like it. He's in Federal custody now.”

“I'm sorry,” she said, and patted his knee.

He pulled his feet in and scooted closer to Kitty, leaning in conspiratorially. His knee touched hers, he was so close, and when he leaned over, she could see the swirls of yellow shades in his eyes. She hadn't realized there was such depth to them. “Do you know who Mystique is?” he said.

“Yeah. Well, I don't know how much of it is really true of course, but they told us she's some kind of mutant terrorist. She's a shapeshifter assassin for hire, worked with Magneto for a while, impersonated a senator. That kind of thing.”

He took a deep breath and said, “She's my mother.”

Kitty clapped a hand to her mouth. “Shit.”

“That's what I said.”

“Is that what you had to go to the States for?”

Ja und nein. Forge said he needed us specifically, but I think he already suspected. She is also Rogue's adoptive mother.”

“So you guys are almost like brother and sister. That's cool.”

“Yes, but I have some other relatives I'd rather not. A half brother with Sabretooth, for one.”

“Geez. Oh, god, is he your dad too?”

“No, and she refused to tell me about mine. Considering she did tell me about Sabretooth, that worries me.”

Kitty wondered why he didn't tell Moira all of this instead. “I'm sure it's not as bad as you think. And, you're still the same person, no matter who your parents are.”

He tipped forward until his head touched hers. Kitty didn't know what to do, so she accepted the affection and told herself he just needed the support.

“Take a break from this?” he said as he sat up straight again.

“I don't think I should. I still have all these computers, all the intercoms, a bunch of stuff in the hangar, and I don't even know what they did to some of those other rooms Moira's got set up.”

“Can I help?”

“I thought you didn't know computers.”

“I don't, not like you do. But I've some familiarity with electronics. Moira and I used to handle all the tech stuff before you joined us.”

“Okay,” she said. “Sure. The intercoms are pretty straightforward.”

“Show me?”

She pushed the computer guts off her lap and showed him the repair she'd made on the one in the lab, and then went over it on the next one. When she sat back down in the lab, she had to take a minute to gather her thoughts and focus on the repairs again.

Chapter Text

That night Kitty found herself lying awake thinking about Kurt's newly discovered family, and wondering again why he would come to her, out of all his teammates, to talk about what was obviously a touchy subject. Admitting one's mother was an international terrorist and murderess couldn't be easy. Kitty had a hard enough time admitting her father had been embezzling money from his bank.

By midnight, she was tired of lying awake, and got up to watch something on TV until her brain would shut off and let her sleep. Maybe there was a home shopping channel she could turn on. That would be mindless and might put her to sleep.

She flipped through the channels until she found just that—every cable company in the world must have a home shopping channel. She giggled to herself as the woman on the screen went on about a spatula that was just the best thing she'd ever seen in her entire life. She laughed as the woman droned on, then picked up a ladle and began praising it, too.

“What is so funny?”

She looked up to find Kurt standing at the end of the hallway in his pajamas. Kitty pulled her nightshirt down as she drew her knees up.

“Listen to this woman,” she said, indicating the television. “You'd think that thing was made of gold or something.”

A smile twitched at his lips and he came into the room and sat beside her. “Can't sleep?”

“Nah. Too much thinking. What about you?”

“I haven't been sleeping much lately.”

“Oh. Did I wake you?”

Nein, I was awake. I heard you laughing.” He wandered in and dropped onto the couch beside her. “Our team was already under some stress, and with this new information...It's a lot to handle, and frankly...”

Kitty chewed her lip, ignoring the program now. She felt vulnerable next to Kurt like this, in their pajamas in the middle of the night. She hadn't expected anyone to be up to see her in her nightshirt. He seemed oblivious to her discomfort.

“How are you doing?” he asked, changing the subject and staring at the television to avoid looking at Kitty in her pajamas. The woman on-screen had moved to describing the spaghetti scoop in intricate detail.

“Fine I guess.”

“You're settling in well? You feel comfortable here?”

“I guess so. I don't need much space, and I have my own room, which is nice.”

“I know it's hard. You must question whether or not you belong with us.”

“How...how did you know that?”

“I remember when Rogue joined the X-Men. She went through the same thing.”

“She used to work for Magneto, right?”

He propped his long feet on the edge of the coffee table and folded his arms. The motion tugged at the fabric of his shirt, and caused it to gape more at the neck than it already was. Kitty caught a glimpse of toned muscle under sleek fuzz. Kurt answered her question. “Yes, she did. But she is now a highly valued member of Excalibur, and before that the X-Men.”

“Yeah, but I delivered a bomb.”

“You didn't know about it, Kätzchen.” So he had believed her all that time.

“No, but I did know I was coming here to tell lies and spy on you and Rogue and Moira.”

“You believed you were doing the right thing. You didn't intend to hurt anyone, but rather to help. Am I correct?”

“Yes.”

“As soon as Moira received the letter, she suspected. We wanted to see who we were up against.”

“You knew all along?”

“We guessed.”

Kitty felt like every day was a new revelation about something she'd once held true. Sometimes she wondered if anything in her life had ever really happened at all.

Kurt continued, not realizing her internal distress. “The X-Men have done the same sorts of things as well. Have you heard of Mr. Sinister? Never mind, that's a story for another night. My point is, you were acting on the belief that what you were doing was helping protect people.”

“Yeah.” She tugged her knees up closer to her chest and pulled the hem of her nightshirt over her feet.

“What do you believe now?”

She dropped her head to her knees, arching her back so he could see her spine pressing against the thin nightshirt. He laid his hand in the center of her back and rubbed back and forth.

“I believe you.”

He smiled. “Thank you. But what about Frost?”

She sat up and he moved his hand away. “Almost everything she said was a lie.”

“Almost?” He raised a brow, but he was still smiling, one corner of his mouth curving up just enough for her to see the fangs on that side. She wondered what happened if he bit his lip. Ouch.

“I think...” She swallowed nervously, hoping he wouldn't hate her for what she was about to say, “I think she had some good points about Xavier. Based on what you found here...I don't like him. I know he's important to you, but I can't appreciate a man who calls himself a teacher and then makes outlines for how to kill his students.”

Kurt sighed. “I admit, I don't understand that. Still, he saved my life, and I will always be in his debt for that.”

“That actually makes it worse to me.”

“It isn't easy, that much is true.”

“Is that why you can't sleep?”

“No. I was thinking about you, actually.”

“Why do you trust me?” she said, striking at the heart of her nagging fear. “How can you sit here with me and be so sure I'm not a traitor?”

His expression went soft, and Kitty felt the blush rising again. “You didn't have to come back for me that day on the ferry. If you had really intended to do us harm, or kill us, you would have let me drown. You knew that if you went back, Moira and Rogue and I might hold you again. You knew you were putting yourself at risk with your superiors at the time as well. That tells me you're a good person at heart.” He leaned back against the couch, folding his arms behind his head. “The day we clashed at the London Club, you didn't want to fight, you wanted to talk. You still believed you were doing the right thing, but you didn't want conflict. You tried to stop it, and you put yourself at risk again to end the fighting. That tells me you genuinely want to work for peace. You don't act like a Hellfire employee. You act like a young woman who was lied to and used. And that,” he concluded, “makes you someone I can very much relate to.”

“I...” She didn't know what to say so she went back to watching the shopping lady again. She was fawning over a stash of plastic bowls now. The best bowls she'd ever seen in the history of bowls.

“It isn't the same as your situation, I know, but I understand how it feels to be used and lied to.”

Kitty turned her head slowly. He said it like a confession.

“I told you I grew up in the Romani circus and then spent some time in an American circus, a bad experience.”

Kitty remembered and nodded along.

“When I took that job, I left my family behind for the promise of an even better life, more performances, a salary, a home. I thought America would be a land of opportunities, even for one who looked as I do. It was nothing like that. The circus owner had spun a web of lies to me and my family. He told me I would be the star of the aerial show. When I arrived, he met me with two strongmen at his side. Naively, I assumed they were there to welcome me. Instead, he drugged me and threw me in a cage and kept me there for months as part of the freak show.” This was the Florida story Moira had refused to tell her. Now she understood why.

Kitty didn't know how to respond. It was a sickening tale, and she felt her stomach knotting up, as she imagined Kurt in a cage.

“I only escaped because of the kindness of a little boy who picked the lock.” Kurt was winding his tail around his leg tighter and tighter as he spoke. “I got free and vowed never again would I be someone's freak show. Never again would someone have that kind of hold over me.”

“Oh Kurt,” she whispered, her voice choked by the lump in her throat. She wanted to reach out to him, touch him in some way to offer comfort, but she didn't dare.

“And yet, that is exactly what happened.”

Kitty felt stinging behind her eyes, unable to believe his story could get worse. “No...”

“I returned to Germany, intending to go back to my own circus. Amanda met me. She said our brother Stephan had disappeared in the night and now one of the townspeople had come looking for Margali, because Stephan was killing children.”

Kitty gasped and put a hand to her mouth. She had never imagined he carried such a heart-wrenching story around with him.

“She sent me to stop him. I found him in the square, near the fountain, he looked...like a monster. I begged him to stop, and for a moment, I thought he would. But then he saw a child move...I lunged at him to keep him from killing her and in our struggle...in the struggle, his neck snapped.” He took a deep breath and leaned forward, away from her. Kitty wanted to offer some comfort, but she didn't know how.

“The people of the town came to stop the killer, and found me surrounded by dead children and my brother's body in my arms. They assumed I had done it. They chased me until I was exhausted, and would have killed me if not for the professor. I was at their mercy until he arrived.”

By this point, Kitty was so upset, she was crying. “Stop,” she said, and he looked at her for the first time. She didn't know if he would let her, but she reached for his hand with both of hers, holding it like it was all of him, like she could somehow protect him from his own past. “You didn't deserve any of that.” His face had gone tense, but when he looked at her, he relaxed and reached up to wipe a tear off her cheek.

“Neither did you.”

He held out his arm, and she hugged him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck like she could save him. It felt good to comfort him and be comforted too. It was friendship, she realized. Unless he shared those stories with everyone he met.

“Thank you for telling me. You didn't have to.”

“I know it, liebling, I wanted to. Thank you for listening.”

She sniffed, and then laughed a little at herself as she let go of his neck and grasped his hand again. “I'm so sorry,” she said. “You probably think I'm awful for being upset about my life...after everything you went through.”

“Not at all. My pain doesn't make yours any less valid.”

She stared at him, at his hand in hers. “I'm so glad we're friends.”

“I am too.”

Kitty leaned back so her shoulder was next to his, and let her head rest against him. He reached for the remote with his tail as he put his arm around her and tucked her up closer. “There has to be something better than this shopping channel.”

Chapter Text

“Kitty, you have mail,” Moira called on the intercom.

It was a large box, and Kitty didn't bother taking it to her room. She knew exactly what was in it and excitedly ripped into the box. She and Kurt had talked about getting her a new uniform so she could stop wearing the one from Frost's team. They'd sat at the computer one evening for over an hour discussing what it should look like. And here it was. If she liked it, she'd get a few spares, but for now, one was better than the old one.

She lifted it out of the box, a one-piece zip-up. Black with purple details and the Excalibur X of swords insignia on the belt.

“That's right nice,” Moira said, admiring the new uniform as Kitty held it up. “Go on and try it on.”

Kitty dashed off to her room in such a hurry she left the boots behind. Moira started up with them.

“What's this?” Kurt said, passing her in the hall.

“Kitty left her boots—her new uniform arrived.”

Above them, Kitty poked her head through the ceiling. “Oh, there they are. Thanks Moira,” she said, as Moira handed them up to her. “Be down in a sec.”

She disappeared again, and Kurt waited with Moira to see the end result. Kitty came down the stairs beaming, her face absolutely lit up.

“Look at me,” she said, “I'm really part of the team now.”

Kurt admired the black and blue uniform, nodding his approval. Moira fussed with this and that, but ultimately declared Kitty looked perfect in it.

“You didn't need a uniform to be on the team, Kätzchen,” Kurt said, “But it does suit you better than the Hellfire one.” He couldn't help grinning though, the way she seemed so thrilled. It didn't show an inch of skin, and didn't need to, she still looked gorgeous in it. Kurt had spent years around female teammates and enemies whose uniforms left little to the imagination, but Kitty in this was making his mind turn in directions that were decidedly not team-related.

“Thanks for helping me,” she said to Kurt, and threw her arms around him. He stood, stunned for a heartbeat, but before he could hug her back, she had jumped away, blushing and stammering continued thanks, before finally racing back upstairs.

 

She had just shut the door when the general alarm sounded, and was back downstairs before she'd pulled off her boots. The rest of the team rushed in, waiting to hear what the emergency was. It was Brian who'd sounded the alert after receiving a call from Dai Thomas in London.

“He's got some kind of alien roaming the streets attacking people,” Brian said. “And more showing up every minute.”

“We'll plan in the air,” Kurt said. “Everyone to the hangar.”

As they approached the city, they could see the large, purple-black beasts crawling down the streets. They seemed to be coming out of a hole in the ground on the south side of London. The streets were devoid of people, but the windows were full of faces pressed to the glass, staring at the terrifying looking creatures scuttling haphazardly down their street.

“Meggan, you and Brian get to the breach, see if you can find where it leads and seal it up. Rogue, Rahne, Amanda, Piotr, and I will corral the ones already on the streets.” He paused to consider Douglock and Kitty. “Douglock, stay with the Runner. Follow Brian and Meggan using the bioscanner. And keep the rest of us posted on their movement—I want to know where these things are coming from.”

Kitty waited for instructions. He didn't seem to know quite what to do with her. “Kitty, go with Brian and Meggan.”

She nodded, unwilling to let her disappointment show, but fully aware that they didn't find her particularly useful on missions like this. Hacking and computers and tech, they put her right on it. Hand-to-hand, though...Kurt was less confident in her abilities, and unwilling to take unnecessary risks with any of his team members.

Meggan grabbed Kitty's hand to fly her down with Brian. Douglock took his place behind the controls as Amanda prepared to teleport the fight team down to the street. Kurt stepped away suddenly, and snagged Kitty's arm just before Meggan jumped out the back. Behind him, Amanda teleported her group down to the street.

“Kitty.”

She turned, still holding Meggan's hand.

“Be careful. Stay with Meggan and Brian. Don't be overconfident. Don't let your guard down.”

She smiled. “I'll be careful.”

Meggan said, “We don't have time for this, Kurt, get down there,” and she leaped out behind Brian, taking Kitty with her. Kurt teleported to the street to help his team take out the aliens.

 

Climbing up from the gaping maw was another alien. Brian knocked it back into the hole, stunning it. Meggan gathered her powers around her, pulling the hole closed as they descended into it. Kitty airwalked down, Brian flew ahead, and Meggan brought up the rear, sealing them in. It was pitch dark once they were sealed inside.

Kitty could hear skittering of claws and hissing sounds, and stayed intangible. Suddenly the passage was illuminated, something Meggan had done to the air.

“That's better,” she said and waved at Kitty to follow her. Brian cleared the way, pounding each alien as he came to it.

“They seem weak,” he said. “They're going down too easily.”

Meggan agreed. “They're new.”

They followed the tunnel until it ended in a large, round chamber full of eggs. “Oh my god,” Kitty said, surveying the hundreds of eggs. “It's like the actual Alien movie.”

“That was in space, this is on Earth, and we have to get rid of them,” Brian said.

Kitty was surprised he was familiar with the movie.

“Brian, we can't kill them all,” Meggan protested.

“Suggestions welcome then, love.”

“Do you have a space-ready ship?” Kitty said. She wasn't a fan of killing a bunch of baby anything either, even aliens.

“We might be able to get one,” Brian said.

“Okay...if we put them on it and send it to space...”

“That's fantastic, but we don't know where they're from, or where to send them, and how do they get off the ship once they arrive? It could crash. There's a host of complications with this plan, and we don't have a ship yet.”

“I can write a program for all the other stuff. We just need the ship,” Kitty said as another alien hatched and Brian knocked it out.

 

Kitty could hear Dai yelling through the phone. But in the end, he got them a ship, something Shi'Ar they'd commandeered ages back and didn't know what to do with. Now the team had to figure out where the aliens were from.

“There's another passage on the other side of the room,” Meggan noted.

They peered into the darkness of the second tunnel, able to see almost nothing. “Kitty and I will see where it leads,” Meggan said.

“Careful sweetheart, there could be more of them.”

They headed down the tunnel, empty and dark, and were surprised to find a large metal door at the end of it. Kitty phased them through. It looked like a lab of some kind, or what had once been a lab. There was no one in it, but all the computers were on.

“Someone left in a hurry,” Meggan said.

“Yeah, their eggs started hatching.” Kitty sat down at one of the computer terminals. “Let's see what we can find out about them.”

Kitty clicked through a few screens, but it was a different project. She was navigating to a main directory when Meggan called to her.

“Oh you have to see this,” she said. Meggan was just in the hallway outside the lab door, and Kitty's mouth dropped when she joined her.

“Oh my god.” In all her life, she never imagined she'd meet actual aliens, much less one this large and frightening.

“I think this is the mother,” Meggan said.

They were face to face with a huge alien, behind bars, but terrifying nonetheless. “Will she fit on the ship?” Kitty wondered aloud.

“I sure hope so.”

Kitty went back to the computer while Meggan stayed with the alien. She wasn't able to communicate with it directly, but she reported to Kitty that she could sense its fear, sadness, and worry. Kitty worked faster.

“Got it!” she cried at last. “They were picked up off an asteroid that is currently...” she pulled up a schematic, “yep, I've got the coordinates.”

“I think I should stay with the mother,” Meggan said when Kitty urged her to leave.

“What about the scientists? What if they come back?”

“I can deal with them. Go get that program written and hurry.”

Kitty ran back through the tunnel, phasing the entire way because she could see nothing. She ran through the egg room, where Brian had knocked out a few more aliens, and quickly told him where Meggan was and why. Then she swam through the dirt to the surface, taking the most direct route.

The ship was waiting in the street, drawing a huge crowd, which Dai's people were keeping at bay. Dai was there, too, and the rest of Excalibur.

“Here she is,” Kurt said when Kitty's head poked above the surface.

“Where's the computer?” she said. Dai pointed to the ship and Kitty climbed in.

She began writing a simple directional program that would take the ship to the current location of the aliens' home asteroid. Landing was trickier, so she had the ship hover above the surface and open its hatch. The aliens should be able to jump out from there.

Outside, she led Amanda, Piotr, Rogue, and Kurt down to the chamber of eggs, where Brian had added a few more alien babies to his pile of unconscious ones.

“All of these have to go on the ship?” Kurt said, looking around in shock. “I don't think I can move enough to make a difference.”

“I can get a lot of them in one teleport,” Amanda said. “But I don't know if I can get all of them.”

“They ain't gonna move themselves,” Rogue said and lifted several in her arms.

“And there's a mother, too,” Kitty said, explaining to Kurt what she and Meggan had found.

“We have to start somewhere,” Kurt said.

“I have an idea,” Kitty said, as Amanda prepared to take her first batch of unhatched eggs to the ship. “ Put some babies on the ship and lead the mother to them. Maybe the other babies will follow her.”

“Worth a shot,” Kurt said, giving Brian a resigned look, then instructed Amanda to take the first batch of still unconscious babies to the ship while he and Kitty went to see about the mother alien.

Kitty showed him the tunnel, then held his hand as he led her through the darkness, which didn't hinder his vision at all. They found Meggan and the mother alien, now free of her cage, apparently communicating, as Meggan's hand was on the alien's...head?

“Meggan, bring her, we've got a way to get them home,” Kurt said.

Meggan did something and the mother alien followed. When they reached the chamber full of eggs, the mother leaped about the room, clicking and clucking and hissing. Meggan finally encouraged her to follow, and they led her to the ship. She seemed to understand enough, and Amanda continued bringing eggs to her. Kurt brought a few, but his teleportation was physical, not mystical, and he tired too soon to do much. Brian, Rogue, and Piotr began hauling eggs up a few at a time, and the rest joined in as well. After half an hour, all the babies and unhatched eggs were on board.

Kitty climbed back into the ship and set the program to start in sixty seconds. Then she rejoined the team and backed away to a safe distance with the rest of the onlookers.

The ship lifted off with almost no sound, rising above the buildings and then shooting into the distance. Excalibur watched it until it was no longer visible. Dai Thomas trudged over and thanked them begrudgingly.

“We had plans for that Shi'Ar vessel, Captain,” Dai said to Brian.

“I think your plans changed, sir,” he replied.

Kitty ignored the two posturing men. Instead, she watched the crowd. They had begun to disperse, but a few lingered to see the team, and especially Captain Britain. Some of them were pointing and staring, and Kitty realized that it was Kurt they were pointing at. It made her irrationally—or perhaps rationally—angry. She strode over to one of the small huddled groups of people whispering and peeking now and then at the group.

“Hi,” Kitty said. “Can I help you with anything?”

“No,” said the man.

“What is that creature doing?” said a woman holding the man's hand.

“Where?”

“The blue one, with Captain Britain. What is that?”

That is our team leader, Kurt Wagner. He's a mutant.”

“He looks like a demon.”

“Yes, he does.” She stood waiting, as if expecting them to have something to add.

“Well...is that a costume?” said the man.

“No. That's how he looks.”

“It's creepy.”

“It's too bad you think that, because he's actually really nice.”

“Oh. You aren't afraid of him?” said the woman.

“Not even a little. You know who's really scary though?” Kitty said, leaning in conspiratorially. She pointed back to the team. “See that pretty blond lady?”

“Yes...” the woman said, holding the man's hand tighter.

“She can kill you with her mind.” Kitty silently thanked her favorite sci-fi series, Firefly, for that beautiful line.

The woman and man both gasped and hastily fled the scene as Kitty straightened.

Kitty grinned mischievously as she sauntered back to the team, who were still listening intently to Dai Thomas's complaints about the Shi'Ar jet. Kurt sidled over to her and leaned down to whisper in her ear, casually draping one arm over her shoulder.

“What was that all about?”

“Just some fans.”

“I'm sure.” He patted her back. “You did well today.”

“Thanks.” She patted his back. “So did you.”

 

Finally they escaped from Dai's criticisms and headed towards the Runner.

“We should eat out before we go home,” Rogue suggested. “Ah could really go for a steak.”

“I know a great place for steak,” Brian said. “Gaucho at Tower Bridge. They have private rooms and a great menu.”

“It's expensive,” Amanda said.

“It's fine,” Brian said, looking at the rest of them. “Although...we probably are a bit under-dressed.” He scratched his head. “Still, I think for London's premier superhero group, they could make an exception. I'll call them.”

Ten minutes later, they were on their way to the steak restaurant. Brian made all the arrangements, including a private dining room with view, so they could enjoy themselves without worrying about prying eyes or what they were wearing.

Kitty and Rahne both gawked at the place, especially at some of the people formally dressed early in the evening. “Look at that lady's dress,” Kitty whispered as quietly as she could. Rahne's heightened hearing made it possible. “It's gorgeous.”

Rahne nodded. “So classy.”

The hostess seated them in a room behind a set of carved wooden doors, where a long table was set. Kitty and Rahne sat down together, and Kurt sat across from them beside Douglock and Brian. Kitty opened the menu and stared. This was the fanciest restaurant she'd ever been to. She looked up and waited for Kurt to lift his head so she could catch his eye.

Brian stood up. “The meal is my treat. We rarely celebrate our victories, and we never officially welcomed our new teammates, so this seems like as good a time as any to do that.”

“Thank you, Brian,” Kurt said. “That's very kind of you.”

“I only wish my mum could be here,” Rahne said.

“I called her, Rahne, she'll be here shortly. And here she is,” Brian said as Moira joined them. Rahne rose and hugged her, and Moira thanked Brian for inviting her. “Just choose whatever you want.”

The waitress came to take their drink orders, and while she eyed Kurt speculatively, she said nothing. Of course, he turned on the charm for her, and even made her laugh. Gradually, they all loosened up and began to relax.

“How were you able to program the flight so easily on a Shi'Ar computer?” Brian asked Kitty when the most recent mission came up in conversation.

“I took a class on Shi'Ar at the Academy.”

“They...teach Shi'Ar?” Moira said, setting her fork down for a moment.

“Yeah. Do you guys not?” Kitty felt suddenly very conspicuous.

Nein. Usually if we need to learn a new language, the professor psychically shoves it into our heads. That's how I learned English.”

“Oh. That sounds painful.”

Kurt and Rogue laughed. “It does sound painful, but it ain't too bad,” Rogue said. “Beats spendin' hours studying.”

“But I like learning new things,” Kitty said quietly.

Rahne leaned towards her, “So do I.”

 

Back at the research center, everyone headed to their rooms for the evening. Kitty had developed a routine of going back to the living room to watch television for another hour or so before heading to bed to read and then sleep. Kurt was usually up, and she enjoyed his company. He seemed to be waiting for her when she arrived.

“There she is, our Shi'Ar techie.”

Kitty smiled as she sat down beside him. Kurt had already started a movie, not Errol Flynn, but something black and white.

“What is this?” she asked.

“Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain. A classic. Have you seen it?”

She shook her head. “Did the professor really do that to you, to make you learn English?”

Kurt stretched his arm along the back of the couch. “Ja, he did. We—let me start at the beginning.”

Kitty tucked her feet up and got comfortable. He had so many stories about his days in the circus or with the X-Men, and she loved hearing them.

“The original team of X-Men numbered only five, and they had been captured by a living island...” Kurt began. Kitty listened in rapt attention as he told the convoluted story of the professor's recruitment of him and his friends, and how they managed to save the original team from Krakoa. “And that is why he forced English into all our heads. Otherwise, can you imagine trying to coordinate a team? I speak numerous languages, but not a single African language, nor Japanese, nor Russian. It would have been a nightmare.”

“How many languages do you speak?” Kitty asked.

“Fluently? Three or four. Marginally, several more than that.”

“Really? I can only speak English fluently, but I did take several years of French.”

Je parle un peu Français,” he said with a grin.

“That's probably more than me,” Kitty said, giggling. “Uh, Je me suis cassé la jambe?”

“Well, if you happen to go to France and break your leg, at least you can ask someone for help, ja?”

“So what languages do you speak? Besides German of course, and French.”

“Fluently I speak German, English, and Romani, and my French is fairly good. I also speak some Latin and Italian, and a little Russian that I picked up mostly from Piotr, back when...when we were friends.”

“Good grief, how do you keep it all straight?” Kitty gaped at him.

“The same way you understand technology, I suppose. Coding and such, that was never my strong suit.”

“Oh,” Kitty said, “Does binary count as a language? Because I do understand that.”

“If not, it should. You understand binary? That's impressive. It's all ones and zeros.”

They settled back to watch the movie, which Kitty enjoyed, especially the iconic singing in the rain scene.

“That just looks miserable to me,” Kitty said.

“I suppose it depends on one's state of mind.”

“Don't tell me, you've done this?”

“No, I've never had cause to be so happy.”

“That's kind of sad. Really? You've never been that happy?”

He shrugged. “Maybe, but not when it was raining.”

“I was happy when I was a kid, I think. Mostly. Til my parents started fighting all the time. And... I was happy for a while in Massachusetts. I had a lot of friends, a boyfriend...I was never popular before.”

“Why not? You're a lovely person.”

“Thanks. Not everyone thought that. I'm...” she sighed. “I'm really smart, Kurt, and I just stuck out. So I didn't have a lot of friends. They didn't understand me.”

“That explains a lot about why you stayed with Frost, even after you began to doubt her.”

“I guess. Yeah. Friendship is really important.”

“I agree. Important, but fragile.”

“Did you have many friends growing up? Or was it hard moving around all the time?”

“Moving around wasn't the issue, I was, at least outside the circus.” He gestured to himself. “But I did have a friend for a while, a boy named Christian, who would meet me every time we were in town. Then his father discovered him playing with me and beat him for it.”

“Oh god...”

“Until then, I never really understood what it meant to be different from everyone else. I had always been accepted.”

“Did you ever see him again?”

“I did, actually. He brought his son to see me.”

“So your story has a happy ending?”

Ja, this one does.”

“You say that like most of them don't.”

“Many of them don't.”

“Those people were talking about you. The ones in the crowd, that I sent away.”

“I figured.”

“You knew?”

“It's pretty common, Kätzchen, when you look the way I do. People notice, they talk, sometimes they are kind and sometimes they are not.”

“I told them you weren't scary.”

Danke.”

“I told them Amanda could kill them with her brain.”

He turned his head slowly and silently until he could look her in the eye. “I knew I liked you for a reason.”

Chapter Text

Two nights later it rained. Not the misty, almost daily rain, but a real rainstorm. It poured down in thundering sheets, pounding on the roof and streaking the windows. Rain on the Scottish Island wasn't uncommon, but a downpour like this wasn't an everyday occurrence, either.

Kitty was engrossed in a book when the rain started, and it wasn't long before Kurt teleported into the room with two umbrellas to stand in front of her with a wild look on his face.

She looked at the umbrellas and at his face and shook her head adamantly. “No way.”

“Oh, come on, it's only rain.”

“It's freezing!”

“No it isn't, or it would be sleet.” He smiled beseechingly. “Please?”

“I can't believe I'm going to let you talk me into this,” Kitty said, looking at her clothes to make sure she wouldn't regret it later. Dark blue top and leggings—she'd be cold but decent.

Kurt handed her an umbrella and a thin raincoat. Then he held the door as they went out into the deluge.

The umbrella was a wasted effort. “This is why Gene Kelly gave his away,” Kitty said, hugging herself as she stood in the rain.

Kurt grabbed her hand and pulled her off the patio. “What dance do you recommend for rain and mud?”

“None?”

He laughed. “Swing? Tango? Foxtrot? I don't think a waltz would work.”

“I don't know,” she muttered. Finally he grabbed her hands and started some wild, random twirling and swinging and spinning her around until she laughed.

“See, it's fun,” he said as the rain made odd rivulets in his fur and plastered his curls onto his head.

After fifteen minutes, they went back inside, dripping everywhere because he hadn't thought to bring towels down. “Hold your breath,” he said and teleported them to his room. “At least we are not dripping in Moira's living room.” He grabbed some towels and handed her one.

Kitty patted herself as dry as she could. “Okay, I admit, that was kind of fun. Not that I'd want to do it every day or anything.”

Kurt's hair stood on end from the towel and he looked like a wild man. He tugged his shirt off while he answered her. “Neither would I, but it was worth it.”

“I'm gonna go down to my room,” she said, wondering if he planned to keep stripping in front of her, and unwilling to find out. Not that she wasn't interested...

Images of Kurt, soaking wet and half naked haunted her the rest of the night.

 

Chapter Text

“That's the third mission in a month that's gone wrong,” Brian complained at dinner. The whole team was seated together at the big table for dinner. “It feels like our enemies are always one step ahead of us.”

“Some of them are from the future, Brian,” Meggan said, touching his arm. He smiled at her, then kissed her.

“True, but it's still odd.”

“It is odd,” Kurt said around a mouth of Moira's meatloaf. “But we've dealt with many odd things. I don't think this even ranks.”

“I don't think it's odd at all,” Amanda said. “I think they're spying on us.”

Da,” Piotr said. “They must be.”

Kitty had been on the team for four months, and in that time she had slowly found her place and gained their trust. She was still careful not to assume her role, always following Kurt's leadership, or whoever was in charge otherwise. She had found friends in Kurt, Rahne, and Meggan, and Moira was like family. Rogue was still a bit stand-offish, and Piotr and Amanda were tolerable. Douglock was something else entirely, but Kitty liked him, and he liked her.

Kurt had followed through on the training schedule, and she'd become much better at both offense and defense. Now, when they played pirates or Star Wars in the holo-gym, they rarely had to restart unless they simply wanted to. He taught her sword-fighting, too, and every week the whole team trained together and then went to the mainland on Saturday night. Sometimes they went for dinner, sometimes to the pub. Moira's distant family ran the pub, and the whole team was welcome there. Annie and Jack knew them and ran a tab for them.

Several times they had run into agents from Black Air when they were out. Black Air was the government's branch handling extraterrestrial, supernatural, and otherwise inexplicable phenomenon. They were also corrupt and power hungry, and likely in league with the Hellfire Club, though they had not been able to prove anything yet. “They” always meant Black Air.

“What do you think, Kitty?” Rogue said. “Are they spying?”

“Probably. It's Black Air, they're always up to no good, right?”

“Always,” Piotr agreed.

“It still doesn't explain how they've stayed one step ahead of us. There was the guy who contacted us and then died of some mysterious disease, the weirdness in London after that devil was dealt with, and now this,” Brian said. Scotland Yard's Dai Thomas had called Brian to request help with a series of thefts, but the team couldn't catch the thief. In the end, it was a group of Hellfire employees who caught him and delivered him to Dai. The team was embarrassed and dejected.

Meggan looked up from her dinner and said, “Maybe it isn't Black Air at all. Maybe it's the Hellfire Club.”

“That's possible,” Kurt agreed. “Those articles Kitty found several months back led us to believe Shaw was planning something, but we had no clue what. Perhaps this is it—to simply discredit us until we are forced out of existence.”

“But they've stayed one step ahead of us the whole time. Every move we make seems to be too little too late,” Rahne said.

“Right so, yeah, they're probably spying on us,” Kitty said.

“How? We've got state of the art security, we're isolated, and we monitor everyone who comes in and out of the station,” Brian said.

“Well, they must have figured something out,” Meggan said. “It can't be coincidence, right? Can it?”

“It seems unlikely,” Kurt said. “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action. Henry A. Wallace, I believe.”

“Lots of groups spy on each other. They could have some kind of distance surveillance, or hacked into the phone lines, or the data stream or something. It's not like they could have someone on the inside,” Kitty said.

When she stopped talking, the room was silent and every one of them was looking at her. It took Kitty a minute to realize what had happened, and her cheeks heated up in shame. She had forgotten her place, and after all this time, they were still ready to think she was secretly working with Frost. She tried to eat, but she'd lost her appetite and now pushed food around her plate. Minutes passed and no one spoke.

Finally Kurt got up and said, “Kitty, could I have a word?”

“Yeah,” she said. She was pretty sure this was it. She was getting kicked off the team if she was lucky. Put in a cell if she wasn't. Either way, her heart shattered thinking Kurt didn't trust her. She followed him into the other room, adrenaline kicking everything into high gear.

“You brought up a good point,” he said. “It is possible, even likely, that Frost or Black Air have someone working among us who is not...to be trusted.” He didn't look at her as he rubbed his chin.

She didn't say anything.

“I think there are a few obvious possibilities, but one in particular stands out to me. Do you agree?”

“Yeah.” She thought she might vomit.

“I'd like to discuss it with the team and then we'll all meet.”

“Okay.” She watched him walk down the hall. She realized it was probably the last time she'd see him, maybe ever. She phased up to her room, threw the essentials in a bag, and wrote a hasty note.

“Dear Kurt, I'm not going to take the blame for something I didn't do. I'd rather never see you again than to sit there while you break my heart.”

She slipped it under his door and left, never noticing the shadow that watched her.

She had let herself believe she could be part of their team. Their family. No matter how many times she worked with them, saved their lives, fixed their equipment, protected them, and helped them, there was still a seed of doubt in their minds. No matter how Kurt vouched for her, or how Meggan enjoyed shopping with her, the truth was ultimately, they didn't trust her. Not even Kurt. Not when it mattered.

Kitty decided the best thing would be to quit the team before they could make their accusations. She didn't think she could bear to hear Kurt say aloud that he believed she was betraying them. Even if she stayed, they'd never believe she was one of them. Hadn't Kurt once said her life was only changing course? Maybe it wasn't done with those course corrections yet.

 

Elsewhere a phone rang. “What is it?”

“She's leaving. Alone.”

“Excellent. We'll be waiting.”

 

Chapter Text

Kurt stood in the kitchen doorway and addressed his team. “I've come to a conclusion about this spy business. I think it's possible someone might be working against us, and I have a good suspicion who it is. I think Kitty agrees.”

The team stared. He looked at each of them in turn, from Moira's shocked face, Meggan's fearful expression, Piotr's anger. “I'd like for all of us to gather in the living room. Moira, wait here please, I'd like to speak to you.”

“You think you know who it is?” Moira said. “Amanda?”

“No, actually. I think it's Douglock. Calm down, I don't think it's his fault, though. I suspect when Black Air and the Hellfire Club collaborated and picked him apart, they did something to him. I think he doesn't even know he's spying.”

“Oh my god!”

“I think Kitty agrees.”

“She said so?”

“Not directly, but it seems the most logical answer.”

“I don't know, Kurt. I really thought it was Amanda. I know she's your sister but I don't trust her.”

“If only,” he said, with a huffing laugh. “I don't think she's smart enough, to be blunt.”

“You don't think it could be Kitty, do you?”

“No, absolutely not. They took her future, Moira. She wanted to go to college, and she lost that when they betrayed her. No, it can't be her. It has to be Douglock. Let's go talk to the rest of them.”

Kurt positioned himself between Douglock and Amanda, just in case, and laid out all the evidence. Botched missions, an opponent always one step ahead of them, even the false intel that had led them to the fight with Kitty's team months before. He was halfway through his thoughts when he realized Kitty wasn't with them.

“Let me call her down.”

He went to the intercom and requested her location. “Kitty Pryde is not on Muir Island.”

He scratched his head, but confusion became disbelief, then shock, fear, and anger in turn. The warring emotions coursed through him and turned his limbs numb. Without a word, he went to the comms suite and pulled up the surveillance. He felt sick.

Kitty was the spy.

Why else would she leave?

“Kurt?” He turned to see Moira in the doorway.

“She's gone.”

“I know it.”

He shook his head, not sure what he was feeling. Moira pulled a chair over. “What happened?” she said.

“I...I don't know. I told her I thought I knew who it was, I thought it was obvious. Isn't it obvious? They did all that work on Douglock...”

“What did she say about that? She went through all the programs they put in him.”

“She didn't say anything about it. I don't think I mentioned his name...” He put his face in his hands. “She thinks we think it's her, that's why she left. It has to be.”

“It might be.”

“Why else would she leave? That only makes her look guilty. Mein Gott, Moira, it must be her.” His thoughts were a jumble of back and forth uncertainty, flashing from her guilt to her innocence and every shade of gray in between.

“I don't know, Kurt,” Moira said.

“I have to find out.” He stood up, roughly pushing the chair back. He started to leave, then stopped. “Tell them...never mind, I'll do it. I'm going to keep this to myself for now. Until I find out the truth about her, I don't want the real spy—if it isn't Kitty—to do anything drastic. Like leave.”

He returned to the living room. “Kitty is gone. I don't know what this means for her guilt, but either way, I'm going to find her and bring her back. Either she'll account for her actions and face the consequences, or she'll rejoin this team with our full support. Are we agreed?”

No one objected.

Sehr gut. All of you are confined to station until I return, unless you receive a direct order from me or Moira. And that order will be public.”

He teleported directly to the hangar and brought the Runner online. He turned on the bioscanner as soon as he was in the air, and headed towards the signal. She hadn't gone far, just across to the mainland. It looked like she might have gone to the pub. He set the Runner to hover and 'ported down. Inside, the pub was crowded on a Friday night, but he went straight to Annie behind the bar.

“Have you seen Kitty?”

“Aye, she was here a few minutes ago. Took her dinner to the corner.”

“Thanks.”

He wove through the tables, the few curious eyes taking in his unusual appearance easily ignored. She wasn't in the corner. He knocked on the ladies' room door, and sent Annie in, but she wasn't there. With her phasing ability, she could be anywhere.

“Annie, listen, if you see her, please tell her I want to talk to her. Things aren't what she thinks.”

Annie gave him a funny look but agreed to tell her. Kurt went back to the Runner, and as he was about to teleport inside, he spotted a distinctive looking limousine pulling away from the pub. A Hellfire Club limousine. As much as he wanted to believe she hadn't betrayed them, the evidence was piling up against her in the worst way. He felt like a fool. He'd brought her onto his team, no, insisted she join. He'd befriended her, he thought, Gott, how she must have laughed at him. She played the part well, the rookie mistakes, the naive assumptions, the expressions of unwarranted guilt. She was good, he had to admit.

Too many deceptions had made him guarded, but she had ghosted through his walls as she did the most substantial real-world walls. He'd let her in without hesitation, ignoring everything he'd learned from everyone who came before. And he was paying the price again.

He didn't know what it was about Kitty that had drawn him to her, but he wanted to know all about her. From the first day, when she barely flinched when she met him, he had been intrigued by her. Running into her again had seemed like fate. He had tried to make her feel welcome, to include her and appreciate her.

She had played him perfectly.

He kept the Runner in stealth mode and followed the limo through the winding country roads.

Chapter Text

It was only dumb luck that the ferry had been docked when Kitty left. She stepped off not knowing where she'd go or how she'd get there. She had her bank card from Excalibur, and some cash, but it felt wrong to use it. Still, she hadn't finished dinner, so she stopped at the pub for a meal. She left it on their tab, since she might need her cash later.

Annie greeted her cheerfully, and Kitty forced a smile as she ordered. She sat in the corner, half-hidden by the jukebox, and picked at her meal, trying to stay out of sight. She heard the jet before she saw it, and panicked. They were probably looking for her. She patted her clothes down, wondering if she had a tracker like the Hellfire Club had used. She abandoned the rest of her meal and phased through the wall, ready to run. Behind the pub, she peered out, waiting to see what the team did.

It was only Kurt. He looked determined, and it made her heart ache knowing he thought she had betrayed them. Not that she could blame him. After all, he'd been there when she turned on her first team. She held back tears as she considered what he must think of her now—a traitor and liar, planted by the Hellfire Club to send intel to them for whatever devious purpose they had come up with. She had not, until then, considered that there could still be someone in the ranks of the team who was a real spy, but it no longer mattered. And if she went back, it wouldn't matter, because they would still think it was her, and the Club would agree that it was, to protect their real spy. Excalibur would hand her over to them and who knew what they'd do to her?

Kurt was alone, which was how he'd found her last time. She expected he thought it would work a second time. She shook her head and slipped through the shadows behind the pub. It didn't matter why he was alone, or why he was here. He hated her, didn't trust her, didn't believe her. He probably never had. The space behind her sternum felt empty and aching. She wanted to talk to him one last time, and she paused, waffling with indecision. She turned around to go back inside, but instead of the dumpster she'd just passed, she was face to face with two huge burly men, one of whom immediately slapped an inhibitor collar on her neck.

Stupid mistake, she thought as she pulled back, kicking as the second man grabbed her arm. His grip was like a vise, and his fingers dug into the flesh of her arm. She swung her legs out, trying to dislodge the grip on her arm, but when he let go, it was only so his partner could attack, landing a blow to her ribs that caused her to double over and vomit up the meal she'd just eaten. The second thug kicked her in the thigh and she almost fell into it.

“Really boys, was all that necessary? Such a tiny girl,” said Emma Frost. Kitty's skin crawled when she heard her voice. It was eerie, the way she spoke, so unlike Ms. Frost from the Academy, all sweetness and concern, now hard and as icy as her name.

Kitty didn't have the energy to glare up at her, but the first thug hauled her to her feet. Sharp pain shot through her side where she'd been hit, and her eyes watered. “Now, Davis, there was no need to hit her so hard. She's been disobedient, but you know better.”

“I apologize, Queen.”

So it was true. She was the White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Kurt hadn't been lying. She realized she'd always believed him, even before she had proof. It made her sad to know she'd been able to put such trust in him with nothing to go on, but he couldn't believe in her after months of working by his side.

Kitty didn't argue with Frost. If the woman had expected it, she must have been quite disappointed. Frost made a gesture to the thugs and they followed her farther into the shadows to the waiting car. It was a long white limousine, with the Hellfire Logo on the back. She realized it was almost the same logo from the car that had driven her from Chicago to Massachusetts years ago. This one was from the London Club.

Kitty wanted to scream for Kurt, but every breath she took sent spikes of pain through her side. The first thug, Davis, threw her into the backseat and she was shoved roughly between him and the other huge man. Another man waited behind the wheel, while Frost reclined in the front. Kitty focused on her, trying to think through the pain. She wasn't going willingly with these people, but she needed a plan. Her hands were pinned awkwardly behind her back, and her side hurt so badly she saw stars if she breathed too deeply. If she acted resigned, as if she'd given up, maybe she could run when they stopped the car and let her out.

Frost continued speaking, and Kitty eyed her. Gone was her headmistress's suit, replaced by something Kitty could only call lingerie. Why would anyone go around in public like that?

“You are a difficult girl to find,” Frost said. “Even when we knew you were with Excalibur, they didn't leave you alone much. That demon has taken a bit of a liking to you, the poor sad thing.”

Talking was out of the question for Kitty, though she desperately wanted to tell her off. Kurt wasn't a thing, he was a man, a very kind and gentle man who cared about her more than nearly anyone she'd ever known. That thought surprised her, and she held on to it until she realized it was stupid. It hit her that Kurt had probably gone to the bar to drink, not to look for her. He wouldn't even know she'd been there unless Annie said something to him.

Kitty stared out the window as the car navigated the back roads and pulled into a private garage at Heathrow Airport. Frost's men dragged her out of the car, making her vision go white with pain more than once as they heaved her into the waiting aircraft. So much for her plan to run.

“If she dies because you've manhandled her, it'll be your hides to pay,” Frost growled. Kitty was trapped, wounded, and now airborne. She needed a new plan. Her hands were still locked behind her, and while she could probably bend her knees high enough to slip her arms around front, she certainly couldn't do it with ribs that were possibly broken. Which meant the idea of parachuting out was also not a good one—fainting before the chute opened would be bad. Plus she was pretty certain they were over the Atlantic ocean.

Frost poured something strong enough Kitty could smell it from across the aisle where she leaned against the side of the plane's interior trying to breathe shallowly so it didn't hurt.

“Davis, Devin, search her,” Frost said, a slight smile curving her red lips. Kitty tried uselessly to back into the wall of the plane, but Davis yanked her to her feet and pain shot through her side again. Devin ripped at her shirt, and she blacked out completely.

She woke in her underwear, hands bound behind her, on the floor of the plane. She couldn't see anything but the feet of one of the thugs in his seat.

Frost spoke to her. “You've finally come to. A shame you missed the fun.” Kitty made a sound of frustration and Frost said, “Don't worry, darling, I didn't allow them to take any liberties with you. Not yet. Put her in the seat, Devin.”

She was hauled upright again, and this time she cried out. He dumped her unceremoniously into the seat, slamming her elbow against the arm of the seat and her head against the wall. Tears streamed down her cheeks against her will.

“I don't like traitors. I had plans for you, Miss Pryde. I would have made you powerful. Now...” she laughed. “You're just going to be mine.”

A plan. She needed a plan and she needed it now. Maybe Kurt's assumption that she was a traitor could save her after all.

“You're...an idiot,” Kitty breathed.

Frost's hand shot out and slapped her hard enough to knock her head to the side. Kitty's vision swam but she held on to consciousness.

“How dare you!”

Listen,” Kitty gritted out. “Spied on them.”

Frost gave her an appraising look, not trusting her at all. “Explain yourself.”

“Hard. Hurts to...breathe.”

Frost shrugged. “Deal with it.”

Kitty squeezed her eyes shut. Her life could be on the line. She had to convince this woman, this telepath, that she had been spying on her behalf the whole time. She had to convince herself, too, or Frost would know it. “Like before.” Kitty tried to get more comfortable in the seat—impossible with her hands tied behind her back. “They're gullible...told me everything.”

Frost was starting to come around. At least, Kitty hoped so.

“When we arrive, you'll tell me everything you've learned and then I'll decide if I believe you or not. If I don't...you'll be quite sorry.”

“I won't...be sorry then.”

“Confident. That's interesting.”

Frost stopped talking to her then, and when they landed, Kitty discovered she'd dozed off, or passed out. They were back in the US, but this wasn't Massachusetts. They were at La Guardia airport in New York, according to the signs.

Frost said, “You didn't think I'd take you back to the school, did you? As far as they're concerned, you don't exist anymore. Nick has a new girlfriend. Lovely thing, too. I think he's much happier now.”

Kitty didn't care. If Frost thought that would bother her, she obviously hadn't been reading Kitty's mind lately. The thugs carried her off the plane, shoving her into the back of another limousine, still in her underwear. It was cold out, too, late fall, and the car had been sitting in the private garage for a while. Kitty shivered, which hurt.

From La Guardia, they were chauffeured through the city past the infamous front gates of the New York Hellfire Club building and around to the back. There was a huge garage there, connected to the main building. Even the garage was stately. Kitty took in the ornate architecture that spoke of wealth, noting the security system sensors on the windows, and the well-hidden electric current control for the metal fence. This place was probably a real challenge to get into or out of.

She was made to walk now, pressed between the two thugs and following Frost. They entered through the back, which opened onto a long hallway that ran from front to back of the shotgun style building. The carpet beneath her feet was like walking on a velvet pillow, it was so thick and lush. Frost opened one of the doors and went inside an opulent room. The fabrics were expensive and lush, the trims ornate, and the fixtures looked like real gold. Frost took a seat in a plush chair behind an antique mahogany desk and gestured to the guards to deposit Kitty in a chair. Then they left, probably taking up stations outside the door in case Kitty tried anything.

“Convince me.”

Kitty swallowed and put on her most confident air. “Like before...I let them think...I didn't tell the team...or it would be...too easy. Thought they had...Phoenix. Without her, much easier.”

“So...you didn't tell your own team about your plan?

“No. Course not. Would've...failed.” She leaned to the side, where she assumed her ribs were broken, or at least badly cracked and bruised, trying to manage the pain. “Had to look...real. Remember? They saw through...last time.”

Frost pressed a button on her desk and a guard came in. “This is ridiculous. I can't talk to her when she's like this. Get her out of the cuffs but leave the collar on. And for god's sake bring a hypo of painkillers.”

As soon as her hands were released, she pressed against her ribs, wincing but feeling a little relief at last. She didn't see the other guard bring the syringe, and jerked as it went in, sending her into another dizzy spell.

“Dammit,” Frost muttered. “Why do we hire such imbeciles?”

When Kitty could think again, she realized that whatever was in the hypo was working, fast and strong, and she was determined to get the rest of her concocted story out as fast as she could. “I knew if I told them—my team—either Phoenix or someone else on Excalibur would figure it out. They'd never fall for it. It was already a risk, but since Phoenix didn't show up, it worked. They believed I was left behind, because I was, they believed I had betrayed my team and you, and god, Nightcrawler especially fell for it. That freak has got to be the most gullible jackass I've ever met. I have information about Phoenix's location, the Legacy Virus research, and their next project.” It hurt to call him that, but she had to convince Frost.

Frost eyed her. “Why were you at the pub then?”

“The team was getting suspicious and Nightcrawler was making blind guesses. With all their recent missions failing spectacularly, they began to suspect me. I decided to leave while I had the chance, and share what I knew already. If I had stayed, they may have learned the truth, or at least stopped me from getting the information to you.”

“Mm. You helped them free Douglock, and caused the London Club to lose their Red Queen.”

“I know, I had to so they'd trust me.”

“You ruined a plan we had been working on for quite some time. Our informant is distracted because of you, searching for her queen.”

“I didn't know. I'm sorry. I was trying to do the right thing. I obviously failed.” Kitty looked as contrite as she could, and cast her eyes downward.

Frost sat silently for a long time, and Kitty could feel her picking away in her brain. She concentrated on Kurt's distrust and the way he'd told her he knew it was her, and for now at least, Frost was appeased. “You're a very stupid girl,” Frost said. “But I find your story believable. You'll continue to wear the collar and be escorted by our guards. I'll meet with the Royalty tonight and decide what your fate will be.” She called one of the guards over. “Take her to a room and lock her in. But feed her.”

Kitty followed, thanking Frost for giving her a chance to explain. She wondered how much time she'd bought herself. Probably not much.

The room was spartan but clean, obviously a room where guests of no import were taken. That suited her fine. She just wanted to lie down and rest—not sleep. She didn't trust anyone here, but she'd need her strength if she was going to survive. A guard brought a tray of food in and set it on a small table at the side of the bed. Kitty had pulled the sheets around her shoulders, not moving until the guard was gone. She ate everything, and only afterwards did she think to wonder if it was poisoned. If it was, it was too late to do anything about it now.

Her ribs were already beginning to ache again, and she lay back on the bed to rest some more, and scheme. No one was coming for her. She'd have to think quickly to stay alive long enough to escape. Her story was thin, and if Frost believed her, it'd be a miracle. It dawned on her that since she wasn't the real spy, if someone else was, then her story might not work. Unless they believed she didn't know...It was another chance she'd have to take. Everything hinged on too many 'ifs' and 'maybes' but Kitty wasn't going to give up.

She was startled awake by someone banging her door against the wall. She had to roll off the bed to stand up when the guard informed her she was required for an audience with the royalty.

The room was dimly lit, with a long table to one side full of food, and another table across the room where the members of Hellfire Royalty sat. She spotted Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw. She swallowed thickly and prayed that when they killed her, it was quick. Kitty believed Kurt had told her the truth about Shaw, and he frightened her far more than Emma Frost did. He could tell, and he liked it.

“I see they finally found our wayward 'daughter',” he said with a wicked grin. “You say you were spying on Excalibur for us? Yet you neglected to tell Ms. Frost or myself your plan.” He grinned as he stood up and came around the table, pleased that she was trembling. Kitty tried valiantly not to, but fear and pain won out. He shook his head and stepped closer to her. Intimidation was one of his many tactics in controlling other people, but even knowing that, Kitty was afraid of him. He laid his hands on her bare shoulders and ran them down her arms, studying her body like it was on a test.

Then he grabbed the back of her head, his thumb digging in behind her ear so hard she cried out and sank to her knees. He let her fall and walked away from her.

“I don't believe your story,” he said, turning back and grabbing her hair to force her to look at him. He pulled her to her feet as tears fell from her eyes. “Unfortunately, Ms. Frost does, so you won't die today. But you will be punished.” He shoved her at a guard and snapped, “Take her to room B.”

The guard pushed her ahead of him down the hallway, around a corner, and farther down until they stopped at a room labeled “B.” Torture chamber?

Inside it looked like a plush hotel room. In the center of the room was a huge bed. Yes. A torture chamber. Kitty couldn't swallow, her mouth was too dry.

The guard left her standing at the foot of the bed and locked the door. Only then did Kitty notice another woman sitting at a small vanity. “Sit down. Call me Charity. Do as I say or I slice you,” she said, brandishing a knife she pulled from a hip holster. Charity leaned forward. “Shaw's watching you,” she said, her smile wicked and soulless.

Kitty did as she was told, watching all the while for chances to escape and finding none. Charity pulled several things from drawers and the closet and tossed them at Kitty. “See what fits.”

Kitty looked at the flimsy pieces and realized it was all lingerie. With trembling hands she looked for anything that might cover her, knowing all the while it didn't really matter. She knew what her punishment was going to be now. Maybe she should refuse and let them kill her. But they might torture her to death, and that would be worse.

“Hurry up and put it on,” Charity snapped. “You can't stay in that shitty dime store underwear, it's filthy.”

Kitty couldn't get her bra off. “My ribs are broken,” she said to Charity, who grabbed scissors from the desk and cut it off. Charity picked up the blue corset and started doing up the eye hooks while Kitty tried not to pass out from the pain. The pain from under her ear radiated along her jaw and down her neck, and she was sure it was bruised, too.

When Kitty was 'dressed,' a term she used loosely, Charity showed her a mirror. Kitty could see the bruised ribs through the mesh on the side of the corset, and the back half of her jaw was purple. Her cheek was pink and slightly swollen as well, from Frost's earlier slap. The woman could hit hard.

“Shoes,” Charity said, snapping her fingers. Kitty gave her size and Charity pulled out a pair of spike heels Kitty was sure she'd fall over in. “Makeup,” Charity said, ordering Kitty to sit on a stool while Charity applied heavy makeup, covering the bruise along her jaw and the slight swelling and discoloration of her cheekbone. She also applied makeup to Kitty's ribs, arm, and hip, anywhere she found a bruise or blemish. Dark lipstick and heavy eye makeup were next, and then Charity pulled her hair up into a loose chignon.

“There. Now you're presentable. Out you go,” she said and opened the door. The guard was waiting. He looked her up and down with a nasty smirk on his face, and licked his lips, but said nothing. He escorted her back to the meeting room, where the royalty were waiting.

Shaw turned when the door opened. His face looked like pure evil, and he moved like a serpent towards her. “That's better. We're going to have guests tonight,” he said. “You'll serve them with a smile and be gracious and maybe you'll live to see the morning.” He touched her cheek, and when she tried to shrink away he hit her. “If you're not lying, then you want to serve us, don't you? So serve us.”

Shaw sent her out yet again. “Have Charity fix your makeup. You've ruined it.” Kitty left with the guard again, and she waited in the first room. Now that she was back in the States, if she could get away, she might have a chance. If she could get to Xavier's, they might be willing to hear her out. It all came back to escape though, and right now, Kitty's body was battered and bruised, she had no clothes, and she was powerless.

She considered numerous plans for escape, but all of them inevitably involved being chased (which meant heavy breathing she wasn't capable of with her messed up ribs) or fighting (also not feasible) or sneaking out in the night. That was her only hope, but for now, she had no way of getting out unseen, much less getting off the grounds. Shaw was almost definitely monitoring everything, too. Kitty lay on her back, afraid of smudging the rest of her makeup or ruining her hair. She pulled the covers up to her shoulders and tried to let her body rest. It didn't matter. She was screwed.

Running like that had been stupid. She should have talked to him first. She could have made him wait before telling the others. Maybe he would have listened to her if she reasoned with him. Maybe he didn't really believe she was a traitor after all. She was furious with herself, and all her arguments circled round to Kurt thinks I'm the traitor. She thought about what Kurt, blissfully ignorant of her situation, maybe even happy, was probably doing now. Watching old black and white movies or fighting pirates in the holo-chamber alone, perhaps. The double agent, or so he believed, was gone and he hadn't had to do the work of exposing her.

 

Long after they had delivered her dinner Charity came to get her and touched up the makeup Shaw had smeared when he hit her. Kitty's getup was humiliating, and she was supposed to walk around in it in a crowd of people? Or maybe only a few? She had no idea.

She was led down the stairs to a small prep room off the kitchen. A butler began handing out trays of hors' doeuvres to Kitty and several other similarly-clad young women with blank faces. Kitty was grateful not to be the only one dressed as she was, until the butler opened the door and thrust her and the others into the crowded room.

She didn't dare try to escape. She didn't dare run, she couldn't. But she could take note of possible escape routes, exits, security camera locations, and the like. She held the tray closely in front of her to spare her ribs, trying not to drop it. Her ribs hurt, and her face hurt and she wandered the room silently, pausing only when a hand reached for one of the treats on the tray. It was no surprise, though no less welcome, to find that the treats on the tray were not the only things those hands reached for. She lost count of how many times someone patted or pinched her butt, or tried to do the same elsewhere. At least she could fend those off by turning away.

Kitty leaned against the wall, desperately trying to rest her feet and side, and within seconds, Charity was there. She got close to Kitty's face and snarled in her ear. “Stand up straight and keep working or me gutting you becomes tonight's entertainment.” Kitty shot painfully to her feet, gritting her teeth to fight back the pain.

The party seemed endless. She returned again and again to the kitchen, only to be sent out with more food, or wine, or brandy, or desserts. She had no idea what time it was, or how long the party had been going on, only that she was exhausted, her feet were killing her, and her side throbbed with every step. She knew she was limping, and though she tried not to, she couldn't help it. She couldn't remember when she'd last slept, real sleep, more than an hour. It made her mind foggy and her reflexes slower, and she hated feeling that way. She prayed the party would end soon so they'd either kill her or let her sleep.

She didn't get her wish. She had assumed, when the party was over, that the guests would leave. She had assumed that would be the end of it. It wasn't. The party was more of a prelude to the rest of the night's entertainment.

Some of the guests left, some didn't. The ones that didn't leave began milling about with the other servers, touching their arms and faces and bodies, making their intentions for the evening perfectly clear. When a handsome, dark haired man approached her, she realized that her job for the night was far from over. This was what Shaw really wanted to see her do. This was his test. She'd seen him off and on throughout the night, sometimes taking things from her tray, sometimes following her with his eyes. He was watching her with the man now, and she forced a smile.

Her heart beat wildly as she desperately tried to think of a way out of this. She remembered Shaw's words, to be gracious and she'd live. She had to live through this. She would do what she had to do to survive until morning, and the next morning, and however many it took before she could escape.

The man strolled along beside her, sipping at a brandy and eating one of the chocolate covered strawberries she last had on her tray. He didn't say a word to her, and that made him even more frightening. When Kitty excused herself to return the tray to the kitchen, the butler sent her back out empty-handed. The dark-haired man was waiting. He watched her, eyes moving over her body like a hungry animal. He still didn't say a word to her, but it wasn't necessary.

One by one the other servers left with their 'dates' and the tall man put his hand on the back of her neck possessively. She didn't know what else to do, so she went quietly in the direction he guided her.

Shaw stood at the doorway, telling his guests good night. When Kitty and the man approached him, Shaw stopped them. “Kitty, I know you will make Mr. Price a very happy guest tonight, won't you?”

“Yes.”

He scowled at her.

“Yes, Mr. Shaw.”

“Have a pleasant evening, Mr. Price,” Shaw said, and the man nodded at Shaw, a delighted grin on his face.

Kitty blinked rapidly. She would not cry. It would surely only make things worse. She hoped this man wasn't a brute. She hoped he wouldn't make her do anything painful or disgusting. All those thoughts brought the tears back to the surface, and in spite of her efforts, several slipped down her cheek.

Chapter Text

Earlier...

At the pub in Scotland, Kurt set the Runner to follow the Hellfire Club limousine. At the airport, it pulled into a hangar and he couldn't see the transfer of occupants. His bioscanner indicated Kitty was with them, so he continued following.

Why had the Hellfire Club been at the pub and why was Kitty with them? Had she contacted them, or had they tracked her? She must have called them from Muir, but when? How had they gotten to her so quickly? He had thought, at first, that it was the London branch that had picked her up, but when they arrived at the airport, he realized this was the New York branch. It would have taken them hours to arrive from the US. Now they were taking her back there, probably to New York, judging by the route. They must have been in England, probably to intercept her intel more easily. Or perhaps they were about to spring a trap on Excalibur.

Every new discovery convinced him more and more that Kitty was nothing but a manipulative traitor determined to help Emma Frost bring down his team. It made him sick and angry, but mostly it hurt. Until he arrived at the pub and found her with them, he had believed she was innocent, that it was all some sort of bizarre misunderstanding. Now, he wasn't so sure.

He followed the jet, using the time to formulate a plan. He probably should have returned for the rest of the team, but truthfully, he didn't want to involve them. On the off chance Kitty wasn't the traitor, it meant one of them was, and he didn't want to risk putting the team in more danger.

He wasn't in uniform, but there were always spares in the jet, and a spare image inducer or three as well. He had food, comlinks, and emergency supplies. If need be, the jet had an auto-return function as well. He called up Muir Island.

“Moira MacTaggert for Muir Island,” came the answer.

“Moira, it's Kurt. I've got a lead. How are things?”

“Fine here. Did you find her?”

“Sort of. It's a bit complicated. I'm on my way to the US right now.”

“The United States? What about the rest of them, what if it's not Kitty, you're just leaving—”

Moira. Did Kitty make any calls before she left?”

Moira took a few minutes to look up the information. “No, nothing from Kitty. She never makes phone calls.”

“Emails? Transmissions of any kind?”

“No, Kurt, nothing.”

“All right, keep your eye on the others.” Kurt cut the connection before she could start arguing. If she wasn't sending messages to them from Muir, then how? Did she have some kind of hidden tech? He hadn't bothered to search her or her old uniform when he brought her to the island. Now he kicked himself for falling for her innocent act. Those big dark eyes looking up at him, full of fear and uncertainty. She was a good actress. Better even than his sister. And he was a bigger fool than ever.

Following the Hellfire Club to New York was crazy and he knew it. He didn't need to follow her to prove anything, he already had a mountain of evidence against her. He'd be astronomically outnumbered and might even be playing directly into their hands. In fact, he considered that she might have suspected he'd follow, that it was all an elaborate setup, but he'd never been one to run from a challenge. He didn't turn around.

He spent part of the long trip—long because he had to fly at their jet's speed, which meant almost six hours instead of the two he had grown accustomed to—trying to figure out Kitty. Their first meeting years ago she had obviously been an amateur, scared, and confused, but brave, too, he thought. She was convinced she was doing the right thing at the time, and he believed her when she said she didn't bring the bomb—at least, she didn't know about it. He had suspected Frost even then, but there were others she could have been working with at the time.

The second time he met her, when the fight broke out, she'd looked more determined, but just as scared. Scared for other people this time. She didn't want to fight, and had prevented him from being shot at least once during the course of it, even when it meant her team turned on her and left her behind. He considered that it could have been their plan all along, to make her look like she was a traitor, so he would feel sorry for her and take her in, as he'd done.

She already knew him, and of course Frost knew that. She would have told them everything. Up until the point she went to Muir with them, he could see a plan at work. It was after that things seemed to get muddy. Why would she help Douglock? She could have easily sabotaged that and killed him, or “failed” to make him work. They monitored data transfers to and from the center closely, and Moira and Douglock had not found even one email going out from her account, or any other anonymous one, at that. There was simply nothing to indicate she had been lying to them. She had been at his side for nearly every mission, and nothing had gone wrong until recently.

Or maybe he just didn't want to admit it because he had been fooled into thinking she cared about him.

Kurt was weary of betrayals. The X-Men's false deaths had left his spirit broken for a long time. Amanda's and Piotr's deceptions too, had hurt. Margali was another. His foster mother had denied knowing who his biological parents were, but Mystique had laughed at that and told him he was stupid for believing that. One of them was lying, and Mystique had nothing to gain from it, which meant it was probably Margali. Even on other worlds, as they traveled the sidereal stream, he'd encountered people whose only goal in life it seemed was to fool others. Anjulie always came to mind. Cerise. Now, he'd let himself believe once more that someone could be trusted, only to be fooled again.

The argument went round and round in his head, making him angry and confused. He toyed with the idea of joining the priesthood just so he'd be done with the whole mess of dating and falling in love. That would never work, though.

By the time he landed in New York, he was angry and frustrated, either with Kitty for betraying him—for betraying the team, he corrected, or with the Hellfire Club. What he found in New York would have to sway him one way or the other.

 

He followed the Hellfire limo to their New York location, though he already knew where their building was. He left the Runner parked in stealth and followed the limo the last block on foot, clinging to walls and running along rooftops. The car pulled around back after circling the building, but he couldn't see anything after they pulled into the garage.

Avoiding the security systems wasn't easy, but he had done it numerous times before. The X-Men had years of practice spying on the Hellfire Club. He found Frost's window easily, but the curtain was drawn. There was only a thin crack between the curtains to see in, and what he could see was very little.

Very little clothing on her body. This was standard Hellfire Club procedure for captives, which meant they didn't trust her. That was interesting. He watched her through the crack, and under nearly any other circumstances, he would have enjoyed watching her. Kitty told Frost she'd been spying on the team, but she wasn't giving a report. She claimed to have knowledge of Phoenix's location (how could she know that when he didn't even know where she was?) and about the Legacy Virus, and a new project (what was that?). She sounded like she was trying to convince Frost that she hadn't betrayed them. She was either very clever, or she had really done these things and knew more about his team than he did. That didn't seem likely, though. And she sounded like she was in pain.

Kitty was sent away and he tried to follow her progress through the building, but she disappeared down the hall and out of view. He gave up and perched outside the window of the Royal Chamber to wait. Even if Kitty didn't appear before them, he was sure to hear something useful.

The only window to their chamber was high above the street, narrow and difficult to access, but Kurt had the benefit of being able to cling to vertical surfaces. He could hear them if he put his ear to the window, and he could see them all perfectly when he wasn't listening. Shaw was there. Kurt couldn't see the man's face, but he could see Kitty's when they brought her in. She looked terrified. When Shaw touched her, Kurt wanted to leap down and defend her. That would have been nearly pointless, and before he could do anything, she was sent away again. He waited again while the Hellfire Royalty strutted like peacocks for one another.

So far, he wasn't convinced Kitty was working with them. It looked more like she had been captured by them, in spite of her tale of spying on Excalibur. Kurt listened to the conversation, a party, guests, talk of trading secrets. The door opened and a scantily clad woman came in. Kitty was dressed in Hellfire Club women's garb now, the tasteless lingerie such as Emma Frost often wore. Shaw appraised her like a piece of meat, hit her, then sent her away again. Kurt heard him tell her if she did well, she'd live to see the morning.

Whatever was going on, she was in danger. Traitor or not, and he was now inclined towards not, he had to offer her an escape. He had to find a way to get to her, without attracting attention, and talk to her. If Shaw came after them, Kurt was smart enough to recognize that he could not beat the man on his own, and Kitty was obviously injured. The Royalty's conversation gave him an idea about how to contact her. He'd use the image inducer to crash the party.

 

He waited across the street and watched as limousines and fancy cars pulled up to the front door of the Club and then pulled away. All had drivers. Suit-clad men and women in glittery gowns emerged and went up to the front door, where they were checked off a guest list. Kurt watched for the perfect opportunity. At last, a man got out on the street side, and Kurt was able to teleport him away before he was seen. Unconscious behind the bushes, and trussed up with his own necktie, Kurt adjusted the image inducer so he looked just like him, and strode up to the Club.

The door guard glanced at his face, did not ask for identification, and checked him off. Kurt looked carefully at the list and learned his name was Elmer Price. Kurt recognized the name. The man owned Price Westhouse Bank. All he had to do now was find Kitty and get her out. Maybe he could get her alone under some devious premise—the Hellfire Club was known for that type of behavior.

Once inside, he realized getting her alone was going to be almost impossible. There were so many people in the room, all mingling, talking, and taking food from women in underwear. There were numerous Hellfire guards—he could take them—but Shaw was also here. He saw Kitty, her face set like stone as she moved through the crowd. She scanned the room, and he wondered what she was looking for. Or who.

She was also wearing an inhibitor collar. That was more bad news. Hellfire collars were notorious for exploding outside the premises, or when one of the Royalty was tired of the person wearing it.

People approached him, greeting their friend and colleague, Elmer. Kurt feigned laryngitis to avoid giving himself away with his accent, and spent the evening pretending to be entertained by other rich men's stories of misuse and mistreatment of their staff, jokes at the expense of the poor, and plans for general world domination. Being so noticeable meant he had no opportunities to reach out to Kitty, even when he took crab dip from her tray. He tried to catch her eye, but she was stoically avoiding looking at anyone.

A few times he saw men take liberties, and each time she jumped away from them, he wanted to elbow them in the throat. He was more and more convinced she didn't want to be here, and he became more desperate to get her out. The hour grew later, and as the party wound down, lesser guests began to leave. The more important guests, including himself, thankfully, began seeking out the ladies who'd been serving them all night. Kurt scanned the room for Kitty, almost shoving another man out of his way to get to her. The man recognized Kurt's masquerade personality though, and backed off. Elmer Price must have outranked him.

Kitty was stiff and limping, and Kurt wanted to scoop her up in his arms and carry her out. She went into the kitchen with her tray, and he waited for her to return. Her tray was gone now, her face ashen and her eyes wide and shiny. If he spoke to her now, she'd certainly give him away by her reaction. He'd have to wait until they were alone.

The others were heading for the hallway, so Kurt put his hand on her neck, hoping she might notice the unique shape of it and recognize him. She remained stiff and resigned and moved towards the door where he guided her. They were stalled by Shaw temporarily, then moved down the hall to the next available room. Kurt shut the door and locked it.

Chapter Text

The man locked the door and released her neck with a leering smile. He hadn't said a single word to her, and Kitty couldn't decide if that was good or bad. At least he hadn't pinched her butt or tried to grab her breasts. Yet. Now he stood between the door and the end of the bed, as if waiting for her to do something. Oh god, was she supposed to start this? She surmised there were probably cameras, and scanned the room for them. She found what she guessed was the camera, and could imagine Shaw watching with a perverted smile on his face, waiting for her to fail so he could take this man's place and kill her when he was done. She trembled at the thought, and winced in pain. The man cocked an eyebrow at her but said nothing.

He looked around, too, and then before she could react, he caught hold of her wrists and pushed her against the wall below the camera. Kitty's knees buckled, and she cried out in pain as her back hit the wall, jarring her ribs. The man tried to hold her up, pressing one hip against hers, and preventing her from slipping down to the floor.

“Kätzchen?”

Her head snapped up, but he wasn't Kurt, he was someone else, using Kurt's voice, his nickname for her. He even had the same concerned look in his eyes as he appraised her. It was so unfair. She kicked and pushed against him, but he was too strong.

“Calm down, and stop kicking me,” he said, shifting the way he held her so his thigh made a humiliating seat. “I forgot you've never seen the image inducer in action.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.” He sounded like Kurt, and her brain struggled to make the voice and the stranger's face mesh. She tried again to push away, but he held her fast.

He raised a hand, noting the way she flinched, and brought it slowly to her face, stroking gently along her cheek with the backs of his fingers. Her eyes widened, and he brought her hand to his face next.

“It's me, schatz, see?” The gentle tone she remembered from the first time she met him was back, and she stopped fighting him. There was no denying he felt fuzzy, like Kurt. He moved her hand up to his ear, the point concealed by the false image.

Kitty blinked and stammered. “I—I—I—Kurt?

Ja, it's me. If I turn off the inducer, Shaw will undoubtedly know what's going on. And right now, liebling, I do not think we want his company. Can you play along until we figure out how to get out of here without triggering the collar?”

She nodded vigorously, but didn't move. He kept whispering in her ear as his hands went to the collar at her neck. “Why did you run, Kätzchen?”

“I...” she swallowed. It was too much—she was exhausted, drained, in pain. And he was here, he'd come for her after all.

“I know there's a catch to these verdammt collars, but I can't find it.” He leaned back and looked into her eyes, confused, scared, and completely trusting. He put his hand to her face. “Kätzchen, Kitty, listen, you have to play his game or Shaw will do who knows what. He's been watching you all night.” He shifted his weight off her a little and pulled off the outer coat. The rest was part of the hologram.

She nodded at last, and put her hands on his back, but she looked ashen, and he was more worried with each passing minute. They had to get out of there.

“You really think I betrayed your team?” she said, surprising him with her question.

“I didn't until you ran.”

“What do you think now?”

“I think I want to take you from this place as soon as possible.”

“You still don't believe me.”

Nein...I believe you, liebling.” He gathered her into his arms briefly, pressing his face against her neck. “I can't get this collar off. The alternative...I don't know if I can do it. We'll have to try to sneak out instead.”

She tipped her cheek away to look around, and he noticed the slightly visible bruise along her jaw where the makeup was fading.

“Oh, liebchen,” he murmured, skimming over the purpling skin with a tenderness she never expected from someone as skilled in combat as he was.

He inspected the bruise, his false face so close to hers she could feel his breath against her skin. “I don't like this thing,” she said, reaching up for his cheek again. “I like your real face better.”

He glanced up, a brief flicker of shock in his features that he quickly hid. “Danke,” he said. “Let's see if we can get down the hall unnoticed. Maybe we can find some tools to get this off.”

As Kurt stepped away from her, the door flew open, smashing a hole into the drywall as it slammed into it. Shaw. Too late.

Kitty didn't even move. If he wanted her dead, he'd press a button and the collar would blow her head off.

“So, you thought you were clever, little girl? Those lies didn't fool me. And you,” he said, turning to Kurt, “Do you honestly think I don't know my own people?”

Kurt clicked off the image inducer.

“She's been spinning lies for years, haven't you sweetheart?”

Kitty stood up straight. “I only lied to you, asshole,” she said.

Kurt drew one of his swords and pointed it at Shaw's neck.

“You know that's pointless, right?” He chuckled at his own stupid joke, then pulled something out of his pocket, ignoring the sword tips at his throat. Any move Kurt made that could actually hurt Shaw would be enough to give him the kinetic energy to strike back with even more power. “Do you know what this is?” He held up the device.

Kurt said nothing.

“It's what kills me,” Kitty said quietly.

“That's right, Ms. Pryde. So, Nightcrawler, if you don't want her to die, I suggest you lower your weapon.”

Kitty watched in horror as he refused. Didn't he understand? Kurt's hand grabbed for hers, as Shaw laughed. “Have it your way, mutant. You can both die.” Shaw pressed the button.

 

Kitty heard the explosion, but it seemed far away and not connected to her. She blinked through the sulfuric smoke, staring at the outside of the Club, coughing and queasy. She put her hands to her neck, but the collar was gone. Kitty shivered, and god, she was tired of hurting. She made no move to get up.

Kurt sheathed his sword and dropped down beside her. “We have to go once more. Ready?”

She nodded, and they appeared in the team plane. Kitty tried not to heave, pressing her hand to her side. Her guts twisted up and she coughed. That hurt and she cried out. Kurt's arm went around her and she realized he was wrapping her in a blanket and cradling her against him.

“I'll admit, I don't know what to do with you,” he said at last.

“Nothing. You don't have to do anything with me.”

“I certainly didn't rescue you to leave you behind.”

Her arms were shaking as she tried to push upright from the floor. She was suddenly so tired she could hardly move. Only the stabbing pain in her side kept her awake.

“Why do you keep doing that?”

“Doing what? Rescuing you?” He said it like it hurt.

“You came after me the first time when you knew I was a spy. Then you took me with you when my own team left me behind. And now...”

“I never thought you were lying until you left, and then only until I caught up with you again.”

“But you said it was obvious, only one person. It has to be me.” She rubbed her temples until he took her hands away and gently pulled her towards him. She didn't fight, she had no fight left in her. Her side protested, and she shifted until it didn't hurt. His arms were strong and he was so warm. She let him hold her.

“Douglock, of course.”

“Douglock...why Douglock?” She pulled the blanket closer and he pulled the dangling ends up and over her, closing up any spaces he could see.

“After everything he went through with Black Air and the Hellfire Club, I assume they put something into his programming.”

“Kurt...I saw all his programming, remember? There was nothing obvious like that.”

“It could be hidden.”

“Tech is my specialty. Computers are basically my life. If it's in there, I'll be shocked.”

Sitting on the floor in the cloaked Midnight Runner was pleasant, but they needed to get away or the Hellfire Club would eventually find them. He shifted so he could lift her, and set her in the seat closest. He set the Runner on auto and headed towards London.

On the seat, she had begun shivering, and he was afraid she was going into shock. He sat down in the seat next to her, and slid her deftly onto his lap, rubbing gently at her back to warm her.

Her head fit against his shoulder and he kissed her softly. “We'll be in London soon. We're going to Brian's London townhouse.”

“Why?”

“I can't take you home without a plan first. Too many unanswered questions. We'll discuss it in the morning, after you've slept. For now, just rest. You're safe now.”

Kitty was so tired, but the worst of it was over. She let her eyes drift closed, warm and safe now, with Kurt holding her. There was still the matter of the spy, though, and that thought bursting into her drifting-off fantasies jerked her awake.

“So you think Douglock is the spy?” she said, startling him.

“Yes, but not intentionally.”

“I really don't think he is, Kurt. Have there been any unusual outgoing messages from him?”

“I don't know, I don't think so. Moira never mentioned anything.”

“Me either, because there aren't any. It's not Douglock. It's someone else. Someone who can get messages to their colleagues without a phone or internet. Someone who has connections with the Hellfire Club, a motive to work with them, and a motive to shut us down.”

“It's Amanda,” he said.

“I think so.”

She could feel him tensing up beneath her cheek and she felt awful for saying it.

“You aren't going to go to sleep, are you?” he said.

“Too much to think about.”

“And all of it will still be there in the morning.”

 

Chapter Text

Kurt didn't need a key to get into the townhouse where his team had first been headquartered years ago. The place was locked up, but Brian had a maid service that came through bi-weekly when he was away to keep it livable. He teleported in and unlocked the door from inside, and Kitty, still wrapped in the blanket, stumbled in.

Everything hurt. She was exhausted, drained emotionally and mentally, homesick, and confused. Kurt led the way through the townhouse to one of the bedrooms, formerly used by one of the women. Kitty went straight to the bed and sat, almost asleep sitting up. She kept the blanket wrapped around her while Kurt dug through bureau drawers until he found a t-shirt and some shorts.

“If you need me, I'll be in the next room,” he said, and she nodded. As soon as he shut the door, she let the blanket fall and tried to take off the bustier. She discovered to her dismay that it laced up the back, and when she tried to phase it off, she was so tired, she couldn't concentrate enough to make it work. She tried again and again, desperate to get it off, the boning was uncomfortable and it was itchy and she just wanted to sleep. Finally she forced herself to her feet, dragged the blanket haphazardly around her shoulders and knocked on Kurt's door.

He answered in his own pajamas, a pair he had presumably left behind in one of their moves. “Was ist es?”

“I can't get this off,” she said, leaning her head against the wall. “Stupid ribs are broken and I'm too tired and...” she sniffed. “I can't do it.”

“I'll help you, Kätzchen,” he said, wondering how he was going to do it without making himself crazy.

“I didn't want to ask you,” she said. She sounded miserable, and he reassured her that it was fine.

“I understand. Come, let's go back to your room.” He led her into the room and she held the blanket in front of her while he unlaced the back. “There you go,” he said, pulling the blanket around her shoulders. She turned around and leaned on his chest.

“Thanks.”

He touched her hair. “I'm happy to be of assistance. In the morning I'll take a look at your injuries.”

“But you're not a doctor.”

“No, but I have some medical training and we may not be back on Muir for a few days.”

She nodded but didn't move away.

“Kätzchen?”

“Hm?”

He turned her around and guided her towards the bed, trying not to look at the expanse of bare flesh that showed behind her with every step. She stood, swaying slightly, at the edge of the bed, and he grabbed the shirt and pulled it over her head. She dropped the blanket to thread her arms through the sleeves, and Kurt was grateful the shirt was far too big for her. He looked at the shorts, and guessed they'd be too big too, but it didn't matter because she was already climbing onto the bed.

He pulled the covers over her and turned out the lights when he left.

 

If there had ever been an exercise in self-restraint, he thought he had just passed it. He hoped she wouldn't be too embarrassed in the morning when she remembered what she'd done. He woke once in the middle of the night to sounds from her room, and when he checked on her, she had shifted so her arm was under her side. He gently eased it out and put a pillow under her to support her ribs, and she made no more distressing sounds. She hadn't even woken up.

In the morning, he let her sleep while he took notes and exercised and made breakfast. If the traitor among them was not Kitty or Douglock, or himself, then it was most likely Amanda. He wrote down everything he could remember about what she'd been doing since she was back with the team. Hopefully Kitty would remember more things as well.

She didn't get up until almost noon. He was beginning to worry when he heard her moving around. He warmed up the remains of the breakfast he'd made and saved for her, and set it out as she came shyly into the kitchen.

Guten Morgen, or should I say Abend?” he said as she slid into the chair.

“Hi,” she said and dropped her head into her hand.

“Did you sleep well?”

She yawned. “I guess as well as could be expected. Thanks for your help last night,” she said, cheeks bright pink and averting her gaze.

“No problem. Sorry the eggs are dry. I made them earlier and warmed them up, but they didn't do too well.”

“Tell me these weren't in the house?”

He laughed. “No, I went out this morning.”

She took a bite, and while they were less than stellar, she didn't care too much and ate them all. She still wouldn't look at him.

He sat down across from her and folded his hands on the table. “I'm sorry if I made things worse,” he said.

“Huh?”

“I didn't look at you.”

She finally raised her eyes to his. “I know that.”

“Okay.”

He let her be until she'd eaten. “Why don't you take a shower and give yourself time to wake up,” he suggested. She was acting strange and he wasn't sure if it was because of the trauma, or the pain, or the situation, or something else entirely.

She looked away again. “Where can I look to borrow some clothes?”

“Anywhere. Anything that's here that fits, go ahead.”

“Okay.” She got up and started for the door, then turned back and hugged him. “Thank you for coming for me.”

“You're welcome,” he said, instead of all the other things he wanted to say.

She went upstairs and he heard the shower running a few minutes later. He took his notes to the living room and sat down to read over them and think about how to catch Amanda in the act and prove that she was the spy. Then there was what to do with her. They could turn her over to Dai Thomas, but he probably wasn't the right jurisdiction. He considered Alistaire Stuart, but this wasn't a weird happening, so again, probably not his jurisdiction. It was something else to ask Kitty about.

She came downstairs a little later, with wet hair and a different oversized t-shirt on. He flipped to the front of his notes as she sat down beside him and rested her head against his shoulder. He was surprised at first. She was rarely affectionate with him.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah.”

“Feel better after your shower?”

“Yeah.”

“You don't sound all right.”

She sat up, to his disappointment, and said, “I kind of ache all over, and I'm still tired, and I'm so confused.”

“The achiness is to be expected after what happened, and the fatigue as well. The confusion...I admit I share in that and I hope together we can clear that up. How are your bruises?”

“They've made themselves at home,” she said, moving her jaw a little to test the pain there.

In the light of day, with the makeup washed off, he could see the purple bruise extending from just below her ear forward halfway along her jaw. He caught glimpses of the marks of someone's fingers on her arm when she reached for the napkins. He knew from the previous night that there was a large bruise on her thigh as well, that makeup hadn't completely hidden. It was awful, all of it, but he considered it was not as bad as it could have been.

Kitty touched her leg, lines creasing the space between her brows as she gently prodded. “This one has a knot,” she said. “But it's my side that hurts most. I never had broken ribs before.”

Ja, it is not much fun.”

“You have, too?”

“A few times.” He dared pick up her hand and hold it, and when she held on, he was surprised. “I think it's time to clear the air, Kätzchen.”

She took her hand away to hold her side. “Yeah. Time for me to stop assuming you hate me.”

“I've never hated you,” he said softly as he folded his hands on the table, when he wanted to be tangling them in her hair and proving how much he did not hate her.

There was no comfortable position for her to sit or lie in, but being close to Kurt seemed to make her feel better. Probably it was all in her head, but she leaned close to him and nudged his shoulder until he put his arm around her with an exhale that seemed to come from his whole body.

“I honestly thought you knew what was going on,” he said. “I wanted to talk to you as my teammate, not because I was going to accuse you. Then you disappeared without a word, and I didn't know what to think, except the worst.”

“I left you a note,” she said.

“I did not see any note.”

“Why did you follow me?” Kitty asked when he paused and seemed unsure how to proceed with the story. The truth was he didn't really know. He told himself it was for more proof, that he needed to know for sure that she was working with them, but deep down, that wasn't the whole truth. It was what he told her, though.

“I am so sorry I doubted you, even for a brief time.”

“No, it's okay. It's understandable. I did run off. I guess I should learn to stop doing that, huh?”

He leaned in close and said, “If you do, who will I give chase to?”

“Thinking you didn't believe me was the worst I've ever felt. It was worse than Nick turning on me, worse than my parents fighting.”

In the quiet peace of the room, Kurt could imagine he heard the blood racing in his veins as he whispered against her hair, “It broke my heart to think you had betrayed me. All of us,” he added, courage faltering.

They sat in silence, both thinking, until Kitty said, “How do you think they knew I was at the pub?”

“At first, I thought you called them,” he said, relieved that she hadn't reacted to his near-confession. “But how could they arrive so quickly from New York?”

“They must not have been in New York. Which begs the question, why were they in Scotland?”

There were a million reasons, and in the end they left it as a question they couldn't answer. Kitty remembered something she'd thought of the night before but couldn't articulate. “Frost mentioned the London Red Queen. She said their informant was distracted by looking for her.”

“Hm. Interesting. Margali was the Red Queen. That's Amanda's mother. She's been trying to find her since she disappeared after the fiasco in London.”

“But why spy on Excalibur?”

“Resources? Blame? The Cerebro unit, maybe?”

“You mean the broken one?” The first hint of a smile came to her face.

Kurt chuckled. “Ja, the very one.”

“I thought it could only locate mutants?”

“No, the original can locate anyone, it just depends on the settings. Ours is not so fancy, but she might not have known that.”

“Or she's not looking for her mother with it.”

“Also possible, but Margali is a sorceress, not a mutant.”

They made lunch and ate quietly, thinking over all the past events. Kitty set her sandwich down and stared at it. “I'm sorry I caused you so much trouble.”

“No more than anyone else.”

She ignored him. “I don't know why you keep taking me back.”

He grabbed her hand and squeezed. “You're part of my team. And...you are my friend.”

“Some friend.”

Ja, some friend—the best kind. The kind I've been looking for my whole life.”

She scoffed.

“You will have to trust me when I say you are one of the only people I've ever known who never judged me by my appearance. And I can count on one hand,” he held up his three fingers for emphasis, “how many times I've been told my real face is more appealing than that of the image inducer.”

She didn't know what to say, but she could feel the warmth in her cheeks. She vaguely remembered saying something like that to him last night. “I didn't think you'd come for me.”

“As if I could consider anything else.”

“I thought you'd be glad I was gone.”

“Never, schatz. I was so afraid you wouldn't want to come back.”

“I thought you hated me.”  

He got up then, the table between them too much of a barrier, and pulled her carefully into his arms again. “No, Kätzchen, I told you, I don't hate you. Far from it.”

She leaned into him, solid and warm, and curled her arms around his waist. She could feel his heart beneath her cheek, a steady beat. “I think you're my best friend,” she said.

He kissed the top of her head and said, “And you are mine.”

 

She could have stood in his arms forever, but they had business to deal with, namely a spy among their ranks. They went back to the living room where Kurt had left his notes, and he let her read them. She added in the part about Frost's mention of the Red Queen and her informant.

“I think it's obviously Amanda,” she said, tapping her chin with the end of the pen. She lay propped on the couch on a pile of pillows with her knees pulled up and her feet tucked under Kurt's leg. He was using her knee as a chin rest, and she found it amusing to wiggle her knee back and forth to see if she could knock him off. “We just need some real evidence, not just speculation.”

“I agree.”

She chewed her lip.

Kurt's eyes lit up. “She's looking for her mother, ja? So if we find her first...”

“Maybe we can lure her out? Shit, we don't even need to find her for real, just convince her we have.”

As they discussed the plan, something began to nag at Kitty.

“There's something about this that isn't right,” she said. “She's looking for her mother, right? So...why's she spying on us? That doesn't get her anywhere.”

“Unless she believes the Hellfire Club knows where her mother is. Could they be bribing her?”

“Maybe. But I still don't know...it's not enough. Those people broke in looking for Legacy Virus research and the Xavier Protocols after you and Rogue and Brian and Meggan were all gone, Moira thinks they were actually working with Black Air. But Amanda didn't seem like she was working with them.”

“I see what you mean. Her motive is missing.”

“Yeah.”

“So that leaves us with the same unanswered question: who is the spy?”

She sighed and dropped the notebook on the floor, untucking her feet and stretching her legs out.

“Perhaps we should go home and see if we can figure it out there.”

“What are you going to tell them about me?”

“The truth.”

 

Moira practically ran onto the tarmac when they touched down that evening. She dragged Kitty to the infirmary before Kurt could register any dissension, so he gathered the team together in the living room and explained what had happened the past few days.

“So she ran for no reason?” Rogue said, giving him an incredulous look.

“No, she thought none of us would believe the truth.”

“So she ran, to make herself look less guilty?”

“No, Rogue.” He sighed, fumbling this already. “She thought it would make it easier on us if she was gone. That we'd no longer have to constantly question her loyalty if she left.”

“Well that's idiotic.”

“Sometimes we do things that make sense at the time, but in the long run might not have been the best choice.” He folded his arms. “Other questions?”

“If she's not the spy, then who is?” Amanda said. Bold, he thought, since it is still most likely you. But what better way to deflect attention?

“We don't know yet. Maybe there isn't one at all. For now, we'll continue operating as usual.”

“In that case, Ah'd like to pay a visit to the States,” Rogue said.

“That's fine. Will you need a plane?”

“No, Ah'm fine on my own now.” She looked at the floor, flushing pink in her cheeks. “Remy...”

“No need to explain,” Kurt said. “Go and enjoy yourself.”

When the team dispersed, he met Kitty and Moira returning from the medlab. Moira began scolding Kurt for not bringing her home immediately. She had her own clothes on now, and a wry smile playing at the corners of her mouth as Moira went on.

“Lucky for her they aren't broken clean through,” Moira said. “Fractured three of them, though, and—”

“Moira,” he said at last, “Have there been any communications from the island since I left?”

“No, nothing I saw.”

“Thank you,” he said, took Kitty's hand, and led her back to the living room. “Movie requests?” he asked her.

“Surprise me.”

In the middle of the movie, Amanda went into the kitchen, and when she came out, she stood behind them for a few minutes. Kurt tensed up, not knowing what to expect from her.

“I can probably help with your broken ribs,” she said to Kitty at last.

Kitty glanced first at Kurt, then turned awkwardly to look at Amanda.

“What?”

“I looked it up. Magic can do almost anything, and I thought...” Kitty realized Amanda was talking to Kurt more than her, and this was her asking forgiveness. Or setting them up to trust her. Or about to do something terrible to her and maybe kill her.

“You can heal broken bones now?” Kurt said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice, as there almost always was when he spoke to her.

“Yeah.”

He didn't trust her. Not with Kitty, not for a split second. “I don't know, Amanda. What if it goes wrong?”

“It's really simple. I practiced, too.”

“On what?”

“Not people. Just sticks. It works on them, too.”

Kurt was about to tell her hell no, when Kitty spoke up. “Okay. You can try it.”

“Kätzchen, are you sure?”

She nodded, but she didn't meet his eyes.

Amanda didn't hesitate. As soon as Kitty gave her the clearance, she sent fingers of magic out and into Kitty's side, and within seconds, Kitty could breathe without pain, and move and stretch.

“Oh shit, you really did it!” she said, touching her ribs and then grinning at Amanda. She stood up and hugged her, while Kurt looked on in shock. “Thanks, Amanda. Thank you so much. Having a teammate like you is just the best.”

Amanda stammered something and then left, and Kitty sat down again, watching Amanda's departure from the corner of her eye.

“What just happened?” Kurt said.

“I decided to trust her and see what happened. And I thought, if she is the spy, maybe a little guilt couldn't hurt.”

“She could have killed you.”

“I know.”

She could see a muscle twitching in his jaw as he clenched his teeth. “Don't ever take such a chance again.”

Kitty pulled her hand away. “You don't get to tell me what risks I can take.”

“Yes I can. I'm your team leader, I'm—” He stood up and paced to the window, tapping his tail against his leg. When he walked back, he looked calmer. “You're right. I don't get to tell you that.”

“We all take risks on this team. I figured it would be pretty stupid of her to kill me right in front of you.”

He nodded and made his way back to the couch, but didn't sit down. “It's very hard for me to trust her in anything.”

Kitty reached up for his hand and he let her take it. She tugged until he sat down again. “I know. That you have found it in yourself to trust anyone else is remarkable.”

He jerked his head around when she quoted him, and finally gave a short laugh. She gave him a little squeeze, and he turned the movie back on.

 

Days went by as they kept a close watch on their friends, and nothing seemed to stand out. After a week, Kitty was beginning to wonder if they had a spy at all. And then Kurt answered a call from one of their former colleagues, their former spy friend, Pete Wisdom. He'd worked for Black Air until he uncovered some of their more heinous plans and shady dealings at one of their facilities. Now he worked with Alistaire Stuart and Rory Campbell.

Kitty was in her room reading when Kurt strolled past and poked his head in.

“Hey,” she said as he leaned against the door frame.

“I just got a call from Pete Wisdom,” he said. “Remember him?” He eased into her room, wandering over to the window, not really looking out.

“Yeah, I remember you telling me about him. Former spy, right? Smokes like a chimney?”

“That's the one. He thinks Black Air is up to something in Germany, so I'm going to meet him and see what we can learn.”

Kitty put her book down. “Oh. Okay. When?”

“I'll have to leave in about an hour.” He joined her on the bed, sitting on the edge near her crossed knees.

“That's soon,” she said lamely, stifling the desire to pull him to her.

“Sometimes we don't get any notice. At least I had time to stop by and tell you.”

“I wish I could go with you,” she said, more for something to say than because she actually thought it was a good idea.

“Another time, Kätzchen. When it's not a mission and we can enjoy ourselves.”

“I'd like that. Living over here now, there's a lot I'd like to see.”

“We don't get around to many real vacations, and they usually end up going awry, but we can try.”

He was talking about the two of them going on vacation together, as if it were perfectly natural. She could feel her cheeks warming.

“Well, I'll do some thorough digging while you're gone and see if I can turn up anything on our mystery maybe-spy. Maybe you'll have a big surprise when you get back.”

“It would be nice,” he said with a grin. “I thought we'd have some answers by now.”

“Me too.” She studied him, black t-shirt and jeans that looked so good on his body that she wanted to take them off. She blushed even more at the thought.

“I probably should go get ready,” he said, noticing her blush but not commenting.

Kitty scooted closer and hugged him. “Tell me before you go?”

“I will,” he promised, then kissed her forehead and left.

In his room as he changed from civvies to uniform, he debated telling her the truth. She was in the hallway to the hangar with a forced smile when he came through. He stopped in front of her, and she wished him well, and told him to be careful, and all he could do was watch the way her lips formed the words. He leaned in. He could almost taste her, feel the softness of those lips on his, imagine the sigh as she invited more. He touched his forehead to hers and then hugged her. “I'll be careful,” he said, and teleported onto the ship.

Kitty went back to her room, disappointed and wondering if he'd ever be able to trust her.

Chapter Text

Kurt met Pete in Hamburg, Germany, in a dark, back-alley club. The music was too loud, the room was too hot, and the drinks were too strong. Women danced in clothes that were too revealing and men danced too close to them. Kurt sipped his drink while he waited for Pete to rejoin him. He'd spotted his contact in a corner, hands all over a couple of women those scantily-clad women.

Kurt was grateful for the dark, to be able to blend in. He didn't want any attention tonight. Pete slid into the seat beside him again. “Why're you so glum, Wagner? Some bird dump you?”

“Not glum at all, Herr Wisdom. So what did your contact say?”

“Something's up all right. A setup.”

“Do tell.”

“Nah, better t'go find her on my own. Unless you wanna come along.”

“That's why I'm here,” Kurt said, leaving his almost full drink on the table to follow Wisdom out the back. “Looking for a distraction.”

“I thought you were here to help out?”

“That too.”

They arrived at an art museum, and as Wisdom started explaining who they were likely going to find inside, a spotlight chunked on, blinding and disorienting them long enough for someone to start shooting at them. Kurt felt the sting of at least two bullets hitting him as he dove for the ground.

 

Two days after Kurt left, they got a call from Pete Wisdom. Brian answered, and shared the news with the team that Kurt was missing and Pete presumed him dead.

Kitty stared at Brian, numb with shock, as he relayed everything Wisdom had told him. A former colleague had ambushed them and intended to deliver Pete to Black Air. He'd escaped after a few hours, though, and when he looked for Kurt, he was gone. Pete had checked the local safe houses, but there was no sign of him. The only thing he knew was that his former colleague said Black Air had plans to kill the team, as revenge for them meddling in recent affairs.

“I can only assume they are referring to the damned Devil under London,” Brian said. “Kitty? Can you get Cerebro working if I lend you a hand?”

She nodded.

“All of you, see what you can do about locating Kurt, any way you can. As soon as Kitty and I get Cerebro up and running, we'll use that. Until then, it's foot work. Oh, and Douglock, see what you can find out about this Black Air threat.”

Kitty went to the Cerebro room with Brian and surveyed the exposed wiring and open circuits and cables everywhere. Brian put a hand on her shoulder. “Pete's a real pessimist, Kitty. Kurt probably isn't dead.”

“Okay.” She looked at the control panel. “Can you get the top off so I can access everything under it?”

Brian pulled off the console and set it aside, and Kitty started her repairs while Brian flew up to the top of the dome to start there.

 

Be careful,” Kitty had said to him, and now here he was, shot up and bloody and beaten, without a clue where he was or who his assailants were. Every motion sent stabbing pain through his leg and side, but Kurt crawled on anyway, praying to find an exit of any kind. He wouldn't sit still and wait to be die. He was afraid to teleport lest he arrive inside a post or beam and kill himself, so he stuck to the shadows and the ceiling.

Laughter and eerie voices chased him until he was almost running through the dark. A web of stinging fluid adhered him to the wall, and he tried not to scream. An evil Spider-Man? The clicking of footsteps on metal floors came closer and he strained to turn his head and see his adversaries. Aliens. Huge, purple, beetle-like things that seemed familiar, but which he was certain he'd never seen before. They seemed to know him, though, and taunted him with things they dared him to remember.

And then he did. Years ago, he'd been with the Starjammers, fighting the Brood with the X-Men. Before they had “died.” The Sidri aliens had attacked and then been hurt. The team wanted to help them, but Captain Corsair had turned a blind eye to them. He and Piotr had gone to the infirmary and released what they believed was a rejuvenation serum.

“The rejuvenation serum did this to you? But how?” Kurt said, breathing heavily through the pain.

“We don't know, and we do not care! We care only that we are outcast and you will pay for what you did to us.”

“We didn't know,” Kurt said. But there was no mercy at the hands of the Sidri.

 

Kitty and Brian worked for hours non-stop, until at last it was working well enough to test it out. Douglock hooked himself up and started tapping the keys, then simply shoved his techno-organic self into the unit. They all waited, holding their breath and hoping. Nothing. Douglock worked tirelessly, his techno-organic body not requiring sleep. Kitty fell asleep on the floor of the room the first night, and after that she stayed away. She couldn't stand to keep seeing the constant flashing “no contact” signal on the screen.

“Aha!” Douglock shouted to no one. He pressed the intercom and notified them all. Kurt was in Italy. Venice, to be precise.

“Meggan, Douglock, Piotr—to the Runner,” Brian said.

Kitty stepped forward and touched Brian's arm. “I want to come.”

He stared her down, then acquiesced. “All right, suit up and let's go.”

They were in the air within ten minutes, and with Rogue in the States, only Amanda and Rahne were left at the research center with Moira.

Douglock followed the signal, inputting data into the flight plan as it updated. His signal was steady now, located in the heart of Venice below the Grand Canal.

“He's underwater?” Meggan said. “Does that mean he's dead?”

“No,” Douglock replied. “The signal indicates he is alive.”

Brian set the Midnight Runner down in amphibious mode, but they were no longer cloaked. Beneath the water lay an alien vessel that resembled a giant stingray. Kitty had never seen a real alien ship before and she was amazed at the size and shape of it.

“That is a Sidri vessel,” Douglock announced, and Piotr whirled on Brian.

Bozhe Moi, Brian take evasive action, they are hostile!”

Too late, Brian tried to steer away. The back half of his beloved plane was blasted open, water rushing in and overpowering Meggan before she could use her elemental powers to hold it back. She fell, hitting her head and falling to the floor unconscious. Piotr abandoned them, his metal form making him impervious to the water and no longer in need of oxygen. He stormed out of the ship as water poured in. Kitty took a deep breath and swam out the back, dragging Meggan up with her. Brian swam beside her with Douglock and deposited both of them on the surface. Once alert again, they dove back in to assist Piotr.

 

Inside the alien ship, Piotr confronted the aliens. “Where is he?” Piotr demanded, his metal form impervious to their Gelatinet.

“We've taken good care of him as you requested.”

“Then why are you still here? My 'teammates' will arrive shortly and most likely carry out a successful rescue.”

Piotr jumped back when Nightcrawler teleported in, landing at his feet. He struggled upright and brandished his swords, determined to go down fighting.

“You are alive?” Piotr said, unable to keep the astonishment from his voice. “Douglock said you were, but when I saw the Sidri vessel, I did not think it possible.”

Ja, it's been rough,” Kurt replied as the Sidri began morphing from three into one, a huge beast of a creature that towered over Colossus. Kurt turned on Piotr, brandishing a sword at his throat. “Call off the aliens.”

Piotr's smile was slow and insidious, and he began to laugh. “I do not think so.” He grabbed the sword-tip in his metal hand and used it to fling Nightcrawler across the room. Nightcrawler looked up at the giant alien and his former friend, both looming over him. He was weak and tired, but he would not go down without a fight.

“It was you all along,” Kurt said. “The traitor. How could you, Piotr?”

Piotr punched the space where Kurt had been lying but met only purple smoke and the wall. He whirled, searching the room for his nemesis. “Easily, tovarisch,” he said, the word dripping with sarcasm. “You are in league with Xavier, and no better than him. You are as responsible for my family's deaths as he is.”

“Responsible? Piotr, I had nothing to do with that!”

“So you say. The way I see it, the X-Men are all responsible. And so you will all fall!”

Nightcrawler and Colossus dodged each others' blows back and forth while the aliens looked on in amusement. They soon grew bored and shoved Piotr aside.

“You said he was ours, and now you try to take our prize. Back off, human, or you become ours as well.”

“Have him, then,” Piotr said, “ But go quickly before the others arrive.”

A Sidri claw snatched Kurt into the air and dangled him in front of their teammates. He bamfed away, but he was too weak and missed his mark, falling into the water again. The giant Sidri loomed above him. The water covering the floor began to drain away rapidly and without explanation, surprising even the Sidri, who stared at its feet.

“More enemies,” it muttered, and the plating of the ship was ripped away by Brian and Meggan. “Wait, that one is of the Phalanx.”

Kurt lifted his head in time to see Brian fly towards the huge alien conglomeration. He was knocked back easily, but Meggan caught him. Kitty phased through the aliens and grabbed Kurt by the arm, helping him to his feet.

“Kätzchen, it's Piotr,” he said. “The traitor.”

She looked up in time to see Piotr barreling down on them, but she phased them both, and he smashed into the wall instead. Enraged, he turned on them and roared.

“You will die!” he screamed.

The rest of the team was stunned at Piotr's outburst, and in their momentary distraction, the Sidri saw its chance. It grabbed at Kurt again, yanking both him and Kitty off their feet before she phased once more.

“Heat, Meggan,” Kurt yelled, pulling Kitty towards the team and away from the alien and Piotr, who came after them.

Brian met Piotr head-on, was knocked back, but flew at him once again, this time knocking Piotr back a pace.

“Heat they shall have,” Meggan said, drawing on her powers again. From below the canal, lava rose up, swirling in the air. “Get everyone out,” she said.

The team raced for the exit. Behind them, Douglock screamed. Brian grabbed him, pulling him free of the Sidri's grip, and threw him into the canal with the rest of the team. Meggan and Brian remained, and as the lava began to pour in, Brian held Piotr back.

Above the canal, Kitty and Kurt climbed onto the steep bank, dragging Douglock, unconscious, behind them. They all dripped with foul canal water, and Kurt collapsed on the side of the canal to rest while Kitty tried to rouse Douglock. He wasn't moving at all. He didn't breathe, so basic First Aid was no good. Meggan and Brian flew out of the water as an explosion rocked the canal, spraying everything.

Meggan dropped to her knees beside Douglock, about to electro-shock him when he sputtered some binary and then began speaking again.

“I am an individual! I am unique!”

Kitty sat back, relieved, then turned to Kurt, who was lying on his back with his eyes closed. She bent over his face. “Kurt?”

Ja?” he said, not opening his eyes.

“Thank god. Are you all right?”

“I've been better, but I'll be all right.”

There was goop in his fuzz and his uniform was in shreds. She started to pick out some of the goop, inert now from the water. She made a small pile of it beside him on the bank while the rest of the team listened to Douglock's tale of success.

“They removed part of me that was left over from the Phalanx and I allowed them to take it. It will return them to their natural state and I am now fully separate from the Phalanx!”

After all the pain of the Gelatinet and the alien's attacks, having Kitty picking the goo out of his fur with tender touches was heavenly. Kurt didn't move except to wipe the dirty canal water away from his eyes so he could watch her. “Danke, Kätzchen,” he said. Dirty canal water made rivulets down her neck when she leaned over, lines that danced across her uniform. He wanted to trace those lines, take the black leather off and see how the water would flow over her skin.

“What about Piotr?” Kitty said, looking over her shoulder at Meggan and Brian.

“He escaped. Amanda teleported him away. I don't know how she knew...”

“They've been in league all along,” Kurt said.

“I don't understand,” Meggan said. “Why? Why would he want to hurt you or ruin our team?”

“He blames the X-Men for his family's deaths,” Kurt replied with a sigh as Kitty pulled goop off the back of his legs. “As for Amanda...I don't know yet.”

“The Runner is destroyed,” Brian said with dismay as he knelt down beside Kurt. “I don't know how we'll get home. If Rogue was here, we could fly. Remember the trip to New York for Inferno, Kurt?”

“Ach, how could I forget?”

“We can reminisce about that later,” Brian said. “For now, I'll get us a hotel for the night and see if I can make some calls. Maybe we can get someone to raise the Runner from the canal and haul it back to Muir for us.”

Their rooms at the Bauer Hotel were like nothing Kitty had ever seen. One was a suite, with two bedrooms and the other was a single room for Brian and Meggan. As soon as they arrived, it was a mad dash for the showers. Kitty and Kurt got first dibs on the two showers in the double suite. Kitty didn't think she'd ever get the stench of the canal water out of her hair. Kurt, too, took a long time.

“I was starting to wonder if you were ever coming out,” she said when he fell onto the sofa beside her.

“It's the Gelatinet. There's still a lot of it stuck in my fur. And I had to wash the bullet wounds and some cuts pretty thoroughly since we were in that canal water. In fact, I should see if there's any antiseptic around...” He got up again and wandered into the guys' suite, then came out and called down to the front desk. A few minutes later, a First Aid kit was delivered. Kitty answered the door and took it to Kurt.

Brian and Meggan joined them, and Brian had their clothes sent down to the hotel laundry. Then he called down for room service and they sat around talking and trying to relax.

Kurt fidgeted beside Kitty, and even while they ate he squirmed.

“What's wrong?” she finally asked.

“The Gelatinet. It's itchy now.”

“Oh. You want help getting it out?”

He sighed his response, “Oh, Gott yes if you don't mind, it's driving me mad.”

“Let me get a trash can,” and she brought one over and settled behind him, sideways on the couch. Kurt pulled the top half of his robe down and she could see immediately where the sticky stuff had not come out in the shower. “Good grief,” she muttered and began pulling the bits off.

Kurt could not have moved if the building collapsed. She scratched lightly at his skin when she finished a section, and by the time she had worked her way down to his waist, he was leaning limply against the back of the couch. Brian and Meggan had gone back to their suite, and even Douglock had gone off to bed.

Chapter Text

She and Kurt were alone in the living area of the suite.

Kitty had removed all the bits of itchy, dried Gelatinet from his back that she could see, and a few stray pieces on his arms. She laid her hand flat and stroked down along his spine, relishing the softness of his fur. “Did I get it all?” she said, leaning forward to press her cheek against his shoulder.

“I think so,” he said, and his voice was low and rumbly, a vibration against her cheek. He turned around, and she didn't move away.

She put her hand on his chest. “Good.” She tilted her chin up to find his eyes on hers.

Danke,” he whispered as he leaned closer.

Her eyes fluttered closed as his lips brushed hers, and she reached for him to pull him closer, as his fingers twined in her damp hair. Desire rushed through her veins like a dam opening up, and she crushed his lips to hers as she parted for him. He lifted her onto his lap and kissed along the side of her neck to the fluffy collar of her robe. She ran her fingers along the back of his neck, into his hair and over his ears, teasing the points to make him gasp.

There was too much between them, and she yanked the hem of her robe out from under her, and paused at the pile of white cotton that was his own bunched up robe. She hesitated, her hands grasping thick bunches of it while his tongue flicked at the base of her throat.

“Kurt,” she whispered.

“Hm?” he didn't stop kissing her, or moving his hands up and down her back.

“Can I...”

Ja. Yes. If it is what you want.” He stopped kissing long enough to lean back and look at her, one hand cupping her face.

He watched the blush rise in her cheeks as she reached between them and untied the knot around his waist. And then the knot of her own robe, which fell away enough to give him a glimpse of soft skin all the way to her waist.

“Oh, Kätzchen,” he said as he leaned in to kiss that skin.

He stopped when he felt her hands at his waist, sliding down, pushing the robe open and away, until there was nothing between them. She looked down at him, resting her forehead on his chest, her fingers moving down his abdomen as he tried to stay still.

“Are you...are you sure?” he said.

“I'm so sure.” She kissed him, licking along the inside of his lip as he reached inside her robe. Soft breasts fit perfectly in his hand and her hips rocked gently.

“We should go in the bedroom then,” he said, collecting his wits enough to realize the couch was not the place for this, not with Douglock in the next room.

She agreed, kissing his neck and murmuring “mm-hmm.” Slowly she got up, the robe loose and exposing the center of her to him. He carried his, following her naked to the room that would have been her own for the night. She shut the door and let everything fall away. He didn't know when he dropped his own, only that his body was pressed against hers, while he kissed her passionately, trying at the same time to get to the bed without letting go of her.

He was soft and hard in all the right places, and her body screamed for him, molded to the shape of him, drew him into her. He moved over her, hands skimming sensitive skin until she arched her back and begged for him. He was more than happy to oblige her everything she wanted, would gladly do so the entire night if she wanted.

Her last thought before she fell asleep was that she was going to need another shower.

Chapter Text

He was still there when she woke up, sore in all the best ways. He was awake, his hand resting on her back. She lifted her head from the mattress and snuggled closer to him, draping her leg over his thigh.

He kissed her head. “Did you sleep well?”

“The best. You?”

“Mm, ja. If only I could sleep so well every night.”

“That could be arranged.”

He growled playfully and bent to kiss her neck, nudging her with his nose until she laughed. Knocking at the door made her groan and then start reaching for the covers.

“What?” she called out.

“Kurt is missing,” Douglock said.

“No he isn't, he's right here,” she replied loudly, and to Kurt more softly, “where I want him.” She ran her hand over his hip and pulled him closer.

“I need to speak with him.”

Kitty sighed and dropped her hand to the sheet.

“I'll be right out, Douglock,” Kurt said.

Kitty watched him shamelessly as he walked to the end of the bed to retrieve his robe and toss hers to her. He gave her a sly grin before ducking out of the room.

 

“Here are some clothes Brian sent you,” Douglock said, handing Kurt a small pile of white fabric.

“If you dragged me out of there for this, I won't be responsible for my actions,” he said.

“Brian and Meggan want to meet for breakfast and discuss Piotr and Amanda. They said they would return in fifteen minutes, which is thirteen minutes from now.”

“Thanks, Douglock, we'll be ready.”

The door opened again, and Kitty came out, wrapped in the robe again. She flushed when he looked at her, looking through the robe and remembering. His grin was positively wicked.

“Brian and Meggan are on their way, but they sent breakfast for us,” Kurt said, wrapping his arms around her because he could not get enough of her.

The suite door clicked open and Meggan flew in, followed by Brian with the newspaper. “You'll want to see this,” he said, tossing the paper at Kurt.

He read the headline aloud. “'Charles Xavier Cleared of All Charges.' What?” Kurt skimmed the article, Kitty and Douglock reading over each of his shoulders. “He wasn't Onslaught?”

“It was someone else,” Kitty said, pointing to the place in the article. Something clicked in her memory. “When did Piotr join us?”

Kurt sat back and thought. Douglock answered. “He joined us after Rogue and Kurt returned from their trip to the United States to work with Forge.”

Kurt sat up straighter. “After Onslaught was stopped,” he said.

“Do you think...” Kitty said.

“He was Onslaught?” Kurt finished. “I don't know.”

Kurt's comlink beeped, and Moira's familiar voice greeted them. “Amanda's gone,” she said. “And Rogue is home early.”

“We know about Amanda. She's with Piotr,” Kurt said. “Can you send Rogue in the Flit to pick us up? The Runner is...unavailable at the moment.”

“Aye, give me a minute. Do you know what happened to Piotr and Amanda?”

“Sort of,” Brian said, leaning in. “We'll explain when we get back. See you soon, Moira.”

 

Home at last, Moira tended Kurt's wounds and the team cozied up around a fire. “So what we know for sure is that Piotr blames Xavier and the X-Men and wants revenge, and Amanda's working with him,” he said.

“One of them must have called the Hellfire Club when I left,” Kitty said. “And Black Air when you went to Germany, Kurt.”

Ja. I agree. If they're working with both of them, it explains a lot.”

“We'll have to be on high alert until we catch them,” Moira said. “I've already got the station defenses set.”

Kurt put his arm around Kitty's shoulders, content in spite of everything. “There will always be a threat, Moira.”

“We can deal with it in the morning,” Brian agreed.

“Along with our new teammate,” Kurt said, nodding at Remy LeBeau, across the room with Rogue. “For now, we celebrate the little things that matter most. Friendship and family.”

Kurt was right. This was her new family, and these people were her friends. Even when things went wrong, they came through for each other. For the first time, the nagging feelings of uneasiness and uncertainty seemed to vanish. Kurt pulled her in to kiss her cheek, and she was happy.