see disclaimer chapter 1
Someone else had come into the barn. The strange presence sent Sonja's nerves tripping and snapped her out of a deep sleep. Instantly she was on her feet, her body poised for an attack. She saw a blur of white out of the corner of her eye then everything was still again. Sonja swung around, scanning all the corners of the small space she had shared with Maverick for the night.
Maverick jerked his head away peevishly at her sudden movements, but otherwise nothing else in the stall moved. Sunlight was barely peeping into the building but Sonja could see a small patch of the aisle from inside the stall and whoever had been there had disappeared.
"Come out where I can see you. I know you're around here somewhere," she yelled harshly, breaking the silence and sounding a little too pissed-off even to her own ears. Still there was complete silence.
"You need to calm down first," said a lightly accented woman's voice from farther away in the building.
Sonja hadn't even realized that she had jumped to her feet, fists at the ready and heart racing; she was all worked up. Slowly, Sonja remembered the events from yesterday and knew that she was being unreasonably anxious. She just shook her head.
"I'm okay, just startled," she said back. "I'd like it if you came out now."
Sonja moved to the front of the stall so that she could see the entire hallway and folded her arms across the top of the half door, trying not to look threatening. Slowly a beautiful, dark skinned woman with a long shock of white hair stepped out from behind the stall across from Maverick's.
Sonja looked away from the woman's earnest gaze, embarrassed at her violent response to the simple presence of another person.
"I'm sorry," Sonja said. "Old habits are hard to ignore. I didn't mean to frighten you or anything." The woman looked at Sonja with something close to sympathy.
"It's okay, I can understand that you'd still be wary, but you scared me jumping up like that. I thought you were asleep," the woman said. Her voice was gentle and sing-songy, putting Sonja at ease. "I'm Ororo, but everyone calls me Storm." The woman extended a delicate hand and Sonja grasped it warmly.
"Yes, I know," Storm said, nodding her head slightly. "The Professor told me I might find you here. I'm sorry that there was no one here to help you acclimatize yesterday," Storm said as she looked into the stall to where Sonja had laid her bedroll out in the straw. "Usually, we have bedrooms in the house reserved for biped guests, but then, I guess Logan isn't the greatest welcoming committee a person could hope for." Storm gave a small laugh that erased the last bit of uneasiness in Sonja.
"You could say that again, though it wasn't like I was really willing to be welcomed anyhow," Sonja said, laughing along with the woman. It felt good to be with an amiable person again after the 12 days of traveling with only her horse for company. Suddenly a pang of sorrow hit Sonja in the chest as she remembered her friends back in Pennsylvania.
"Are you a mutant too?" Sonja asked, trying to get her mind off her sorrows.
"Yes, I am. This is a school especially for mutants. If you want to come up to the house, I could explain everything," Storm said. Sonja rubbed the back of her neck and glanced at the bed she had made herself on the floor of Maverick's stall. She looked back over at Storm with a sheepish grin on her face.
"Sure, now seems like as good a time as any, though I probably wouldn't have stayed in the room last night anyhow," Sonja said. "Maverick needs a little time to adjust to new things." Sonja instantly knew she sounded hollow. The real reason was that she just felt more comfortable in the familiar surroundings of the stable. Storm smiled even broader, looking over to the horse that seemed perfectly content in his new surroundings.
"Well, we'll try to make it as easy as possible on him" she said, obviously understanding the undercurrent of Sonja's words. "The children will be by soon to feed the horses. You might want to move your things up to the house before then." Sonja looked at her quizzically.
"How many other people are here? Last night I saw hardly anyone" Again Storm smiled at her like a lost child.
"We have a curfew here, they are children after all, and this is an institution of learning. They were all sleeping because they have classes today," Storm explained patiently.
Sonja nodded her head, again embarrassed at being so imperceptive. The Professor had said this was a school and mentioned something about "youngsters" last night.
Sonja gathered all of her things and shoved them into her backpack and saddle bags. She gave Maverick a final pat before letting herself out into the hallway.
"Here, I'll show you where everything goes, give you a proper tour," Storm said. Sonja nodded silently and followed Storm, stowing all of her equipment in the tack room. Sonja quickly untied the saddlebags and threw them over her shoulder. As they were leaving, she looked back at Maverick worriedly and Storm caught the expression on her face.
"Don't fret about him. Corinne, the stable manager, has already been instructed on the situation and he will receive the best of care," Storm said reassuringly. "Besides, the children love to give treats and lots of attention to new animals. He'll be in heaven." Sonja just nodded silently and followed Storm towards the mansion.
Storm led her into the most beautiful room Sonja had ever seen. Again, the dark wood and rich upholstery decorating was to be found in all the furnishings in the large room. The four-poster bed had green velvet draped over the form and the curtains lining the glorious picture windows matched the bed. There was a smoothly polished and gleaming set of drawers with a large, expensively framed mirror right over it, and a matching full length mirror on the door that led to the bathroom, which gleamed with cleanliness and the glossy finish of marble. The door to the closet was open to reveal a spacious storage area with a few hangars waiting to be occupied.
"Jeez," Sonja said appreciatively. She had expected something grand, but not this elaborate. Storm just smiled at her again, urging Sonja into the room.
"You'll be staying here, so feel free to put your things away," Storm said. Sonja dropped her saddlebags and backpack onto the bed.
"I didn't really bring much." Sonja was at a loss for words. She never intended upon any of this happening; she had been prepared to go on to the next town, not get stuck at some school for mutants, which she hadn't even known had existed until now. She felt completely unprepared and cursed herself for not packing some more clothes; she only had two pairs of jeans, a couple of shirts, and a weeks worth of underwear. All of which had been clean when she left her home, but now were either dirty or had been semi-cleaned when she had dunked them in the river. Sonja suddenly felt like a drowned rat being thrown into a posh hotel. How could she ever fit into a place like this? Storm was quick to speak up, sensing Sonja's uneasiness.
"Here, you go put on the sweat suit that's in the bathroom, and we can go down to the laundry room and wash all your clothes. In fact, while we do that, I can answer any questions you have about the school," Storm said as she moved across the room busily, grabbing a laundry bag out of the closet. Sonja's skin crawled as she pulled on the gray clothes; they had even known what size clothes she would wear and had prepared everything for her. What else did they know? The Professor couldnt possibly have found out anything about her past, Sonja had been too careful. She pushed the thoughts aside and forced herself to focus on dealing with what she had to take care of now, not what had happened in the past.
In a few minutes, Sonja had donned the gray pants and jacket and gathered all her clothes into the bag. Storm led her down a maze of hallways before they arrived at a simple room lined with washers and dryers.
For the next hour and a half while Sonja washed and dried her clothes, Storm explained everything Sonja had wanted to know about the school and Xavier's teachings. Storm also told her how the Professor had managed to find Sonja and guide Maverick to the school because of his advanced telepathic ability and something called Cerebro, which Sonja would see later. Storm also told Sonja about the X-Men, Magneto and the Mutant Brotherhood. When Sonja described her attacker, Storm shook her head sadly.
"That sounds like Sabertooth all right," Storm said, "very big and very dangerous, though not very smart. But I was under the assumption that the Professor had sent Jean and Scott, two other members of X-Men, to help you."
"I don't remember seeing anyone," Sonja said quizzically.
"Well, anyhow, what's important is that you are here now and Magneto didn't get to you first," Storm said thankfully. A loud buzzer went off, indicating that Sonja's last load of clothes were ready to be taken out of the dryer. Storm had told her so much that Sonja wasn't sure she would be able to remember it all, every bit of information was buzzing around her head like a swarm of bees. Suddenly, Storm looked down at her wristwatch and gave a little gasp of surprise.
"Oh no, its 8:00! I didn't realize how much time had passed, I better get going! If I'm late for a single ecology class, those kids won't ever let me forget it," Storm said as she rose from the chair she had been sitting on. "I hate to be rude, but do you think you can find your way back to your room?" Storm asked.
"Oh, sure, no problem," Sonja said confidently even thought she wasn't sure at all. "You do whatever you have too. Thanks for all your help," Sonja added. Storm shook Sonja's hand again warmly.
"It's been my pleasure. I just hope you like it here. If you get lost, just ask one of the children to take you to the guest suites. I'll see you later!" Storm said as she half-walked, half-jogged out of the room. Sonja could hear Storm's heeled shoes clicking rapidly down the hallway, and then she was alone with her thoughts. Might as well go back to my room and get some rest, Sonja thought as she folded the last of her clothes, picked up the basket, and headed out of the room.
As she tried to find her way back to her room, more questions seemed to pop up out of the recesses of her mind. Storm had explained everything Sonja could think of asking, but she never really explained why Sonja was here. Why did they want her? From the descriptions Storm gave her about some of the kids at the school, Sonja's power wasn't entirely special, not when compared to controlling fire or having telekinetic abilities.
Sonja finally, after a few wrong turns, came to a hallway that looked familiar and shortly after found her room. The room was far more majestic than Sonja had ever been exposed to and she felt almost afraid to touch any of the grand looking furniture and antiques. As soon as Storm had led her into the room Sonja knew that she would have belonged more in the stable or the woods than in this exquisitely furnished room. Stop it! she ordered herself. This was no different than any other time she had had to leave one place and move on to another, she just had to adapt.
It took only a few moments to put her clothes away. Sonja decided that what she really needed was a shower and a nap. She shed her clothes and let the warm water wash away all her nagging questions.
The sound of someone's knuckles rapping lightly on her door brought Sonja out of a deep sleep and right to her feet. She whirled around frantically, the panic of not knowing where she was caused her breath to catch in the back of her throat and she felt her heartbeat skyrocket. It was a few seconds before recognition came rushing back to her. She was in her room at the school for mutants and she was safe. Sonja let her breath out with a whoosh and sat back down on the bed, cradling her throbbing head in her hands. After a few moments, again there was a gentle knocking on her door and Sonja realized that was what had woken her up in the first place. Sonja noticed that her bedside clock read 12:00 p.m. as she quickly rose and went to the door, throwing it wide with a jerk.
A tall woman with flaming red hair gave a startled jump at the abruptness of the door opening so quickly.
"I'm sorry, the door is much lighter than it looked," she said, adverting her eyes and trying not to seem so crude. When she looked down she realized she had answered the door with only a pair of shorts and a sports bra on. Oh well, too late to be embarrassed about that, she thought.
Jean cleared her throat and smoothed the front of her shirt trying to alleviate the nervousness that the sudden action had caused in her. Storm had forewarned her that the new woman was a bit jumpy.
"Oh, perfectly alright," Jean said quickly "I just wanted to tell you that lunch is being served now, if you're hungry. I could take you to the dining hall," Jean briefly assessed the woman and became slightly confused; Sonja didn't appear to be anything like the Professor had said she would be like. The words he had used to describe her, (instinctual, tough, quick), didn't seem to match up with the harried and slightly befuddled looking woman before her. She had answered the door in barely anything and looked like she had just woken up from a coma. Jean could plainly see how muscled and athletic the woman was, but other than that she seemed completely unraveled.
"Oh, um...yeah, I could use a meal. Just give me a sec, ok?" Sonja waited for the woman to nod before closing the door and hurriedly pulling on some of her clean clothes. The woman she had opened the door to seemed gentle and polished, refined and looking right at home in the luxurious surroundings. That only served to make Sonja feel even more out of place.
After her shower Sonja had quickly fallen into a deep sleep, not giving a second thought to her hair or clothing . As Sonja glanced into the mirror above the amour, she cringed at her own wild appearance. Now the normally manageable brunette curls were flying all over her head, seemingly with a mind of their own. Great, what a wonderful first impression, she thought. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now.
Sonja quickly gathered up all her hair and attempted to tie it back, a few curls springing out here and there around her face. She checked herself in the mirror one last time. Her jeans were clean and she had donned a functional khaki button-down shirt, tucked it in and tightened the simple black belt she threaded through the waist. Sonja tugged on her boots then rubbed the tops with the shoe polish rag she had found on top of the dresser in a vain attempt to clean off some of the dirt.
She shook her head at the image in the mirror. I look like a farm hand, and these people are in the lap of luxury, she thought. Sonja might have a top-notch medical education, but there was no denying the fact that she just wasn't cut out to live in a place like this. Sonja didn't have any more time to dwell on that thought because her stomach growled, reminding her that she had not eaten since yesterday afternoon. She sighed heavily, then walked out into the hallway being much gentler with the door. When she emerged, Jean stood up from the couch she had been sitting on across the hallway.
"All set?" she asked cheerily. Sonja nodded. Jean turned a little, allowing Sonja to fall in step beside her.
"I'm Jean by the way, Jean Grey, resident scientist and a founding member of the X-Men." Jean held her hand out to Sonja, who shook it lightly.
"Nice to meet you," Sonja said politely. "Storm told me about you." There was something else about Jean that Sonja recognized, and it took a moment for it to dawn on her that it was the woman she had seen in Logan's memory.
Jean smiled at her knowingly, "Oh did she? Only good things I hope," Jean said as she continued walking down the hallway at a quick pace.
"If you have any pressing questions that Storm couldn't get to, I'd be more than happy to answer them for you." Jean touched Sonja's arm affectionately but quickly withdrew when she sensed Sonja tighten up in response. Sonja still felt awkward and unsettled in the school; she couldn't help her uncomfortable response that Jean seemed so put-off by. Sonja grappled with her thoughts, trying to think of a way to change the subject and draw attention away from her reaction.
"Well, Storm did a pretty good job of explaining everything about the school. It seems like such a wonderful place," Sonja said. Jean's countenance lightened a bit, encouraging Sonja to speak again.
"It's so beautiful here. I've never stayed in a room so well decorated, and, well..." Sonja noticed that the more she talked the more Jean's face relaxed, "well, it seems so warm and inviting. It must be great to live here." Now Jean's face had erupted into a full-fledged smile again.
"Yes, it is great. I don't know what would have become of me it I hadn't found the Professor, or more appropriately, if he hadn't found me," Jean said. The way Jean said that caused something to click in Sonja's mind.
"You know, that's something I wanted to..." Sonja had been about to ask Jean some of the questions she had thought of before, when suddenly they turned a corner and were standing in the open doors of what appeared to be the dining hall. There had to be at least fifty people inside, every one of which stopped what they were doing to look up at the two women in the doorway. There were scattered whispers and a few giggles from a host of young children that occupied every seat in the long hall.
Sonja froze. She felt terribly vulnerable, like Jean had led her into the lion's den. All of these children knew she was a mutant, and each was much more comfortable in their surroundings than Sonja was, and every single eye seemed to be staring straight at her, like some crazy new attraction at the zoo. Sonja convinced herself that she, under no circumstance, should let these kids know she was scared stiff, so she did the first thing that came to mind.
"Hi there, everyone! Getting a good look?" Sonja said jauntily, waving at the hushed crowd and forcing a light-hearted look on her face like she had lived there all her life. It wasn't the best response she could have given, but it was better than running scared. A reaction from the crowd was slow in coming. There were a few scattered hellos throughout the hall and many turned their heads in embarrassment. Then, like someone had flipped a switch, everyone went back to what they were doing and the sounds of clinking glasses and chattering children swelled throughout the room once again. Sonja stood, stunned, not sure of what to do next.
"Don't worry, they always gawk at the newcomer," Jean said. "You'll probably get a lot of those looks over the next few weeks. This is a very tight, little family," she said with a smile in her voice.
Next few weeks! Sonja's mind screamed. They think I'm going to stay here that long? No way!
"What do you mean..." Sonja began, but was cut off again as Jean grabbed her shirt sleeve and pulled her towards a smaller adjacent room where the food was being served buffet style.
"Here, take this," Jean said casually, pushing a plate into Sonjas hands. "We're a bit late, so there probably isn't a whole lot left, but the food is pretty good, and as adults," Jean grinned at her mischievously, "we get to have the occasional kitchen raid."
Sonja smiled broadly at Jean, happy that the other woman had decided to loosen up a bit. Jean had been right; the food was just as elegant as the rest of the place and smelled wonderful. As Jean led Sonja out of the small serving room, Storm's shock of white hair was easily recognizable among the students. Storm looked up and waved at the two women, indicating for them to join her at a table on the far side of the hall. Jean and Sonja wove their way through the tables. Occasionally a student would quizzically look up at Sonja, who would return each gaze with a small nod and smile, and got a bright smile back from each one. Well, they certainly seem like happy kids, Sonja thought.
They finally reached the table where Storm was sitting and Sonja gratefully placed her plate on the end of the table, just to the left of Storm and directly across from Jean, who had sat down next to a handsome young man wearing a dazzling pair of red sunglasses. This has got to be the guy with the beam that comes out of his eyes, Sonja thought.
"Sonja, this is Scott, a.k.a. Cyclops, my fiancée, also a member of the X-Men," Jean said. The man stood and leaned across the table, offering his hand. Sonja felt herself choking back a smirk. If this guy only knew what Logan thought about Jean, she thought, mentally shaking her head at her inside joke.
"Pleasure to meet you," Sonja said, taking his hand and shaking it briefly before Scott sat back down and faced his fiancé. Jean and Scott gazed at each other until Sonja directed a question to Jean, bringing her back to reality.
"Is this the entire team then?" Sonja asked.
"There's one other man that works in the labs with me, his name's Hank. You'll get to meet him later," Jean said as she picked through her salad.
"And then there's Logan, whom you've already met," Storm said with an amused smile on her face. "He hasn't officially been inducted, but Logan has been working with us on missions fairly regularly." Sonja felt more than saw Scott start to bristle at the mention of the other man.
"You mean that obnoxious jerk is actually helpful around here?" Sonja asked. The other three laughed at the doubtful tone in her voice.
"Sometimes, but more often than not he's just a pain in the ass," Scott countered quickly. Sonja looked at Scott and knew she had won a place in his heart forever. Storm and Jean gave him withering looks before Scott spoke to Sonja again.
"I hear you had some fairly choice descriptions of him yourself," Scott said, giving Sonja a cheeky grin.
"Yeah, he didn't seem to like it too much when I called him fuzzy boy," Sonja said nonchalantly as she forked a piece of broccoli into her mouth. The three other adults burst out in hysterical laughing.
"You...actually..." Scott was laughing so hard he could barely get the words out, "called him...fuzzy boy?" Again the torrent of laughter refreshed itself. "Man, you must have nerves of steel to insult that loose cannon," Scott said after the laughter subsided into giggles. Sonja gave him a sheepish smile and Scott spoke up again.
"The Professor also said that you managed to drag Logan in from his nightly run at gunpoint...is that really true? I would have paid anything to see Logan marching in front of you like a prisoner." Sonja again felt a touch of embarrassment flame her face.
"How was I supposed to know what was going on?" she said in her defense. "It's not like anybody asked my if I wanted to come here, I just sort of showed up and this Logan guy scared the crap out of me." The other adults only smiled at this, hearing a touch of resentment in Sonja's voice, but the subject was quickly changed.
"Logan'll probably think twice before sneaking up on an armed woman from now on," Scott said with lightheartedness. Jean picked up the conversation, obviously uncomfortable with continuing talk about Logan.
"Was there anything you were trying to ask me before?" Jean asked. "I think I remember you trying to tell me something before we got in line." Sonja thought back, searching her mind for all the questions she had stored.
"Yeah, well, Storm was really helpful, and I understand the whole Sabertooth-Magneto thing, but what I don't understand is why they would want me? It's not like my mutation is that special; I bet half the kids here would be more useful than me. And how in the world did Sabertooth find me? I cover my tracks." When she was finished, she was almost out of breath from rapid-firing so many questions. Sonja's gaze darted between the two people across from her, eyes just short of demanding an answer. Jean cleared her throat before speaking again.
"Magneto sent Sabertooth to basically kidnap you so that they could try to persuade you over to their side. But you're absolutely right about one thing, you cover your tracks very well. In fact, even with our advanced technology, we couldn't find out one thing about you except a company in New York whose systems were sealed up just as tight as ours, which is almost impossible. I would love to talk to you--" Jean was cut short by the annoyed and impatient look on Sonja's face and continued hastily. "Well, we dont know how Sabertooth found you, he could have followed your scent for days, but the Professor used his telepathic ability to locate you and guide Maverick here. It was a good thing he did find you so soon, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to get to you in time."
Sonja had been listening attentively, but she balked at Jean's last statement.
"What do you mean get to me in time?" Sonja demanded. "I don't remember seeing anybody else being around when that thing attacked me." Scott cleared his throat and looked a little embarrassed and Sonja shot him a fierce glare. Her gaze was so intense that he looked away and pretended to play with his food before answering.
"We were there to help you, eventually," Scott said hesitantly. "We just arrived a little late and you never saw us. A couple of gunshots would never have stopped Sabertooth. I can shoot a very powerful optic beam from my eyes, hence the shades, and I used my powers to get him off your tail." Sonja just nodded.
Jean spoke up again. "And I have telekinetic abilities, so I helped you and Maverick over that wall."
"Oh," was all Sonja could mutter, feeling bad for being so demanding. So it had been them making all those noises she had heard, and the thought occurred to her that the monster probably would have caught her if Jean and Scott hadn't shown up. Sonja desperately wanted to change the subject away from herself, but they still hadn't answered her original question.
"What I don't understand is why you would want me? Why, of all the mutants you could find, did you target me? It's not like I go around broadcasting the fact that I'm a mutant, and in fact I'd kept it pretty well hidden until..." Sonja closed her eyes for a second, fighting back all the emotions that welled up in her.
"Until I used them on that one guy, which I suppose you know about. You seem to know everything else." Sonja ducked her head slightly, not wanting to meet the gazes if the people across from her and show the emotion that she knew was rising up in her face. Maybe Sonja shouldn't have blurted out all of that, but she couldn't help saying what was plaguing her mind. Sonja didn't like all these people knowing so much about her. She had been successfully independent for the last fourteen years and she wasn't about to hand over her life to some school and its superheroes.
"Well, of course we know you saved that man, didn't you realize..." Scott was cut off when Jean touched his arm. Sonja looked up when Scott stopped talking and looked over at Jean, who seemed to be nodding her head in agreement with something no one else heard. Sonja was transfixed, what was she doing?
"Yes, Professor," she said, and Sonja finally understood that the Professor must have been talking to Jean telepathically like he had done to her last night. Jean nodded one more time, then stood up from the table.
"Sonja, if you're done with your meal, the Professor would like to see you in his office. I'll take you there," Jean said it not as a request, but more of a command. Sonja looked down at her plate and noticed that she had barely touched her food because she had been too intent upon asking questions, but decided that getting some very important answers from the head honcho was probably more crucial than filling her stomach.
Sonja stood and was about to grab her plate when Scott put his hand on it.
"That's ok ladies, I'll take them in," he said congenially, piling all the plates up into his arms.
"I'll help Scott. You two move along now," Storm said, shifting some of the plates in to her hands.
"Thanks Scott, Storm," Sonja said, happy that the man hadn't been insulted by her rough attitude. Jean leaned towards him and gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek before turning and, with a nod to Sonja, walked out of the dining room.