Xavier Institute – Westchester New York

Charles Xavier sat in his office, reading the latest incident report that lay before him on his desk. “You’ve seen this?” he asked Ororo.

“Yes Charles….it’s horrifying…” she muttered.

“Horrifying doesn’t begin to describe it….” he sighed as he closed the folder and pushed it away in disgust. The folder contained a police report detailing the latest in a series of brutal hate crimes against mutants. This time the perpetrator was a group known as The Reavers…a group who had made their voice heard by abducting and crucifying several young mutants.

“So what are we going to do about it?” Logan growled as he walked in and sat down.

“Those who were immediately responsible for the attack have already been arrested….our goal should be to find out who’s responsible for organizing and funding these groups and deal with them appropriately.”

“Good….cause you can rest assured nobody else is going to do anything about it….arresting these lackeys is like putting a band-aid on cancer.” he snorted as he tossed the folder aside.

“Logan, I share your anger….but I’m going to ask all of you to use the utmost discretion in dealing with this situation. It’s our job to protect the innocent, both human and mutant, but in doing that we don’t want to provoke more violence if we can help it.”

“Fine Chuck….if that’s how its gotta be, but we better get to work, cause I gotta tell ya….I don’t enjoy sittin here on my ass while kids are gettin killed and I could be doin somethin about it….and I a’int the only one.” He said as he lit a cigar and left the room.

“Regrettably, he’s right.” Xavier said gravely. “Atrocities like this only make Eric right….and his actions do the same for the humans….if either side succeeds, millions more could be killed.”

“Which is why we’re all behind you…we have to learn to live together….we’ll make your vision a reality.” Ororo reassured him.

“Thank you…without your support…we would have been at war years ago…” He said.

“There have been times when I thought about giving up…” she admitted. “All this anger and violence can poison your soul if you let it….but every time was ready to give up and go home, I stopped and looked at the kids and realized I had to keep on fighting if they were going to have a future.” “They believe in you Charles…I believe in you…you could have done so many things with your fortune, but you chose to help a handful of children that no one wanted…we’d lost hope before you took us in and showed us what good we could do with our lives…”

“Don’t make me out to be a saint….” Xavier interrupted.

“You never forced any of us to fight…we chose this life because we share your dream and your respect for life…and we’re not alone.” she said as Sophia and Megan flew past the window, chasing Warren. The new students were all adjusting well and most of them were delighted to be able to attend the institute and learn from the X-Men. They reminded her so much of the New Mutants when they had first arrived, but those happy memories were soon marred by regret. It was never Xavier’s intention to turn them into a fighting team; he wanted to offer them a sanctuary free from abuse and violence to learn to use their powers for the greater good. Unfortunately, they often found themselves in harms way and despite their heroic intentions, their lives had been filled with sorrow and suffering.

“I don’t want them to end up like the New Mutants.” Xavier said grimly. “I don’t want these children exposed to violence….”

“Charles, they chose to fight to protect the innocent……they suffered for it, but so have we all.” She said emphatically. “They’re strong, just like the X-Men and while we may not agree with everything they do……they still believe in your dream……we need to believe in them.”

Ororo excused herself, she didn’t like seeing her mentor so depressed, but she certainly understood his feelings. The past few years had been extremely difficult for all of them, but especially for Xavier; his health was deteriorating, Danielle had been depowered by the Purifiers and the New Mutants had become more angry and militaristic as a result. He held himself responsible for putting them in harms way, but if they hadn’t intervened, the mutant race might not exist today.

The battle with Apocalypse had almost destroyed everything Xavier had spent his whole life working for and it had taken the life of his most cherished student, Jean Grey. Her loss had shaken the team to its core and even now, a year later, they had yet to fully recover. Scott and Emma’s relationship certainly didn’t help matters and Ororo had to admit, she was shocked by Scott’s behavior; everyone else was still grieving for Jean, but he seemed completely indifferent now that he was with Emma. His daughter Rachel was so hurt that she’d left and no one had heard from her in months and while Scott and Nathan had never been particularly close, they weren’t speaking to each other at all now.

So much had changed and not for the better she thought as she paused and looked out the window. The whole world still hated and feared them and it seemed like everything they’d done had all been for nothing, but then she saw Sam and Tabitha walking through the institute’s garden and she felt her hope restored. That poor girl had come from a terrible home, almost as bad as Rahne’s but she’d grown into a fine young woman, a true hero and Ororo was proud of all she’d accomplished. Changing the life of a poor, abused, unloved teen might not seem like much, but it was the first step toward healing a broken and suffering world.

‘I’m so proud of all of you…’ she thought as she noticed Rahne sitting on the bench under the oak tree on the far side of the garden, studying for her classes. She and Tabitha were the youngest at eighteen, but they had graduated and now Rahne was studying to become a teacher. Danielle was twenty-one, a college graduate and the newest instructor now that Josh Foley had restored her powers. Sam had become the leader of X-Force now that Cable had set up another team on Muir Isle. Roberto would be taking over as head of X-Corp. Los Angeles office with Amara as his second, while Theresa was second in command of X-Force and James was serving on the team as well. She didn’t know much about the newest addition, Michael Holmes, other than the fact that he’d been trained by SHIELD since he was fourteen and he’d fought with the Avengers against Apocalypse in the battle for New York a year earlier. She had to admit that she didn’t agree with everything X-Force was doing, but she trusted them to make the right decisions and not endanger the peace the X-Men were working to preserve.

————————————————————————————————-

Meanwhile at Harry’s Hideaway

“To Dani.” Sam said as everyone raised a bottle. “Welcome home.” He added. The years hadn’t been kind and so much had changed, but Danielle felt good to be back sharing a drink with her friends. Sam, Rahne and Theresa were all that was left of the original team and James and Tabitha were all that was left of the new students. It would have been wonderful to have Richter, Illyana and Roberto there as well, but Danielle was just happy to have anyone after everything that had happened to her.

“You know…..I didn’t think it was possible, but this place has gotten even worse.” Danielle said as she looked around the bar.

“Aye….it really has….there was a fight in here th’ other night.” Rahne said as she took a sip of her beer. The bar might be rough sometimes, but it was mutant friendly and Harry didn’t look too hard at their fake IDs as long as they didn’t get drunk and cause trouble.

“I can’t believe how much you’ve changed furtop….there was a time when you wouldn’t come within a mile of the place.” Danielle said. She’d left the team after being tortured by the Purifiers resulting in the loss of her powers and while she and Rahne had stayed in touch, she’d missed out on a lot. Rahne had grown her hair really long, gotten as many piercings as her roommate Tabitha and she’d started dressing more like her too. Danielle had to admit she liked Rahne’s new ‘biker’ look and her more outgoing personality, but she was jealous over her close friendship with Tabitha.

“Yea, when I was fourteen…..” Rahne said sarcastically.

“Did you corrupt my sweet little sister?!” Danielle asked Tabitha with mock indignation.

“I tried, but she’s still a saint compared to the rest of us.” Tabitha said as she downed her beer and reached for another. ‘Wow’ Danielle thought. ‘She could drink Logan under the table…..’

“How did you two get to be friends?” Danielle asked, making both Rahne and Tabitha laugh. “Did I say something funny?” she asked.

“Aye….” Rahne laughed. “Tabitha couldn’t stand me when she first moved in….we used tae fight all th time.”

“Yeah…..I was really awful to her.” Tabitha admitted. “I was going through a really bad time in my life…..”

“Go on.” Danielle said. “Long teary-eyed stories are part of being a New Mutant…..I’ll buy your next beer if you tell me.” She was dying to know, she’d been back a few weeks, but between her duties as a teacher and being Josh’s guardian, she hadn’t had much time to catch up with Rahne and the others.

“We’re X-Force now Dani.” Sam reminded her as he put his arm around Tabitha, making Danielle a little jealous. She’d been attracted to Sam before she’d lost her powers and while she didn’t expect him to still be single, let alone waiting for her, she was still a little sad. It seemed like Tabitha had filled the void she’d left behind and she wondered if the others really missed her.

“What the hell…..we’re all friends right?” Tabitha said as she finished off her beer.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Two Years Earlier

Xavier Institute – Westchester New York

‘She’s so lucky to have him….’ Rahne thought as Sam parked his truck in the garage and leaned over to give Tabitha a quick kiss on the cheek. Tabitha had arrived at the institute about two months ago and they’d instantly been attracted to each other. Tabitha was her roommate and she’d become really close to both of them, even taking Sam to church with her. Part of her wished that their relationship had become more serious that just a strong friendship. She was ashamed to admit that she was a little jealous of her roommate, but she couldn’t help it, Sam was a really great guy. He was kind and patient, he was strong, honest and a really hard worker…he was also really good-looking too, the kind of guy she’d always hoped to have a relationship with. Unfortunately, he treated her more like a little sister than anything else, so Rahne made up her mind she wasn’t going to be jealous anymore, that was just selfish and wrong. It was Sam’s choice and he’d chosen Tabitha; she loved her roommate and she felt like she was betraying her by even having thoughts like these. ‘I’m happy for you, and I promise I won’t come between the two of you.’ she thought as they got out and started walking back up the driveway to the institute.

After everything she’d learned about her roommate, she realized Tabitha needed Sam more than she did, she felt that God had brought the two of them together for a reason and she trusted him to lead her to the right man for her. Rahne didn’t know all the details, but she knew Tabitha had a horrible relationship with her parents, especially her father, so it was pretty obvious to her why she was so attracted to Sam. Rahne hated her father and she knew exactly what Tabitha was going through and really wanted to help her. Despite their blossoming friendship, Tabitha wasn’t really eager to talk about her past and Rahne tried to respect her privacy, but she was really worried about her.

Tabitha didn’t really fit in well and some of the instructors regarded her as a slacker and a bad influence on the others. Fortunately Jean and Professor Xavier seemed to be on her side and they kept trying to work with her even though she was given to blowing off Danger Room training and sneaking out to go get drunk at parties with the kids from town. Rahne could see that all Tabitha’s drinking, partying and flirting was just a cover for her own self-doubt and the pain she felt from being abandoned and unloved. She tried to talk to her about it when she first moved in, but Tabitha couldn’t stand Rahne’s wholesome attitude and thought she was being holier than thou. Rahne was offended, but she refused to give up on her and started following her to make sure nothing bad happened to her and no one tried to take advantage of her.

At first Tabitha had been annoyed by Rahne tagging along with her, but after the last party they went too, she was glad she had. Rahne had caught a guy putting GHB in her drink and stopped him and his friends from taking advantage of her or any of the other girls at the party. Rahne was one of Logan’s best students in self-defense class and she wiped the floor with him without even using her powers. His friends freaked out and bailed on him before anyone could call the police, but she wasn’t about to spend one more second at that party. Rahne grabbed her inebriated roommate and got a ride from one of the girls from her church before the police arrived, but they’d still gotten caught by Logan.

Rahne pleaded with him not to punish Tabitha or tell the others what had happened, to let her handle it when she sobered up. Logan would have refused such a request from anyone else, but he had a soft spot for Rahne and he knew he could trust her to always do the right thing. He gave Rahne his word and even carried Tabitha back to their room for her. Tabitha was sick most of the night and Rahne stayed up with her and took care of her until she was well enough to talk about what had almost happened. Tabitha was so ashamed of herself she didn’t know what to say to Rahne, she knew how dangerous the world really was and she couldn’t believe she’d gotten so drunk she’d fallen for that. She realized Rahne really did care about her and wanted to be the first real friend she’d ever had. She thanked Rahne and Logan and promised both of them she’d never do anything so reckless and self-destructive again.

So far, she’d been as good as her word, the thought that she’d nearly been raped by five guys made Tabitha reconsider her idea of a good time and she’d stopped drinking so much and hanging out at those kind of parties. She knew Rahne wasn’t going to stop following her and for the first time in her life, she stopped to consider what effect her actions were having on other people. Tabitha would never forgive herself if something happened to her, she was beginning to truly understand how special Rahne was, she respected her now and she was glad they were friends.

“Tha’ new haircut looks really good on ye Tabby.” Rahne said, trying to clear her mind of the awful memory of that night.

“Yeah, Ah thought ya were hot before, but….damn, yer’re beautiful.” Sam said as he put his arm around her. Tabitha loved clothes and shopping so he’d taken both of them and while he’d been bored out of his mind, he was still glad to be with her. He wasn’t sure how she felt yet, but he knew he was in love with her, he could never get her off his mind now and he spent every free second he had with her.

“Thanks, I thought it was time for a change.” she said as she leaned over and kissed him. Her hair had been really long, but now she’d gotten it cut short and it looked great on her.

“Yeah and ya helped some poor kid with cancer too.” Sam reminded her.

“That’s really what made me go through with it…..and I’m really glad I did.” she said as she put her arm around Rahne. Rahne had told her she could donate it and she was glad she could help someone and look good doing it.

“Tabitha, you’ve got a visitor.” Jean-Paul said as he greeted them at the door. “He’s in the old sitting room.” he added, nodding toward the door.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

“Why are you here?! You know you’re not supposed to have any contact with me!” Tabitha snapped as she walked in and saw her father. ‘What the hell was Northstar thinking?!’ she wondered. She thought she’d made it clear to the instructors she never wanted to see either of her parents ever again, especially not her father, she had a restraining order against him.

“You’re my daughter, I just wanted to see you again.” Martin Smith answered as he held out his arms. The insincerity was evident in his voice and he wasn’t fooling anyone, let alone her.

“You’re just here because you’re broke.” Tabitha said bluntly as she took a step back from him. There was no way she was going to hug him after everything he’d done. Sam and Rahne both took a step toward him and gave him looks that could have melted steel.

“What the hell is your problem boy?!” he snapped as he turned to Sam. His real personality was on full display now and he was every bit as hateful as Rahne had imagined he’d be. Sam didn’t know anything about Tabitha’s life before the institute, he’d only known her about two months, but he knew she didn’t get along with parents. Now that he met her father it was easy to see why, he was short, ugly and bad-tempered, it was almost impossible to believe Tabitha could be related to someone so pathetic. If this guy thought he was going to intimidate Sam Guthrie, he was sadly mistaken, one look in his eyes and Sam knew he was a coward, he’d seen his kind before and he hated guys like him.

“Ya try t’ put yer hands on her again and you’ll find out.” he said coldly as Martin Smith took a step back. “You damn well better back up.” Sam hissed. It was obvious from her father’s attitude and from what she’d said about no contact with her that he must have abused her and Sam wanted to beat the hell out of him. Rahne was having similar thoughts, but she reached over and put her hand on Sam’s arm, she could sense his anger and while she shared his contempt for the man, it would be better if this confrontation ended peacefully.

“I don’t have anything for you! Get out and leave me alone! I never want to see you again!” Tabitha yelled. She was ashamed of her father and ashamed of her past, she didn’t want anyone to find out what she’d done or where she’d come from, especially not Sam and Rahne. They both treated her with respect and dignity and she didn’t want them to know the truth about how he’d forced her to use her powers to help him steal and she didn’t want to have to admit she was white-trash from a trailer park.

“So now you think you’re too good for me?!” her dad yelled. “You’re a thief! You’re nothin but a white-trash whore just like your mom and….” He never got a chance to finish as Sam slammed his fist into his face and started beating him mercilessly. Rahne let him go for a few moments before she pulled him away, she abhorred violence but knew it was sometimes necessary, especially in this case. This horrible man reminded her of her own father, who she loathed, and she felt terrible that he’d said that to Tabitha in front of the others. They’d heard them yelling at each other and had arrived in time to hear everything. It was obvious from the look on Tabitha’s face that she was beyond humiliated, she was completely destroyed. Tabitha broke down crying and pushed her way past the others, followed by Rahne and Sam. The X-Men and other students were shocked, Tabitha always seemed so happy and cheerful, they never would have guessed she had such a horrible life before she came to live with them.

Logan grabbed Martin Smith and dragged him, beaten and bloody, to the front door to throw him out. Logan hurled him down in the driveway and stood over him like an animal about to go in for the kill. “You piece of shit!” he growled as he kicked him as hard as he could. “You think you’re tough beating up little girls, lets see how big your balls are now!” Martin rolled over and vomited from the force of the blow, if he got out of this alive, there was no way he was ever coming back to this place.

Logan walked over and put his boot on his throat. “Now you listen to me and you listen good, you’re gonna get up and you’re gonna get outta here and you’re never gonna hurt her again, or they won’t find your body…..I promise you that Bub.” he said as his claws burst out.

“Asshole.” he muttered as he watched him drive away. ‘Poor kid, she didn’t deserve this….’Logan thought as he turned and walked back to the house. Tabitha could be a nuisance sometimes, blowing off training, sneaking out and he hated it when she called him “badger” but he’d seen enough to know she was a good kid despite all the clowning around she did.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

“Tabitha! Wait!” Sam pleaded as he and Rahne followed her upstairs. They’d only been going out for a short time, but he really wanted their relationship to become serious. He knew Tabitha had her faults and was obviously running from her past, it didn’t take a genius to figure that out, but he didn’t care. He didn’t believe anything her father had said about her, but even if it was all true, he still didn’t care, he respected Tabitha because she hadn’t allowed herself to give in to anger or self pity. He respected her because she didn’t take things for granted like a lot of the others did, she was one of the few students who didn’t rely completely on the professor’s generosity.

“Leave me alone Sam…..please just go away….” Tabitha sobbed as she headed for her room.

“Ah don’t care if everything he said is true! It doesn’t matter to me, but you do!” he said in utter desperation.

“Leave me alone!” she cried as she slammed the door and locked it.

“Damn it….” he cursed as he turned around and leaned against her door. Rahne came to his side and listened at the door for a moment. She still had the senses of a wolf even in her normal form and there was very little that escaped her notice.

“Let her be….” Rahne sighed as she heard Tabitha sobbing. “I’ll come back later when she’s calmed down.” she said as they walked back down the hall to Sam’s room. Sam had split the skin on his knuckles punching Tabitha’s father and Rahne cleaned his wound and bandaged his hand before they both sat down on his bed to talk.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

“Is she mad at me because Ah hit him?” Sam asked as kicked off his boots and lay back on his bed.

“She’s nae mad at ye.” Rahne said as she tossed her shoes beside his bed and sat there facing him. “She’s humiliated…worse than tha’ really…..and I know jus’ how she feels.” She sighed. She knew Tabitha had family problems and she’d been trying to talk to her about it, but Tabitha had been avoiding the subject. Rahne knew she should have been more direct and forthcoming about her own past and she felt like she’d failed Tabitha.

“He beat ya too?!” Sam asked. This day was turning into nightmare, he just found out both his friend and his girlfriend had been abused and treated like garbage and there was nothing he could really do to make it any better. He didn’t know what to say to either of them, he came from a big family that loved each other, what did he know about what they were going through?

“Aye….he did…..” Rahne said, as a thousand horrible memories flooded back to her. “Tha’s why ye ha’ tae let me be th’ first one tae talk tae her…..I know wha’ she’s feeling, be glad ye ne’er will.” she added.

“Ah am.” he said as he reached over and held Rahne’s hand. She’d told them Reverend Craig treated her badly, she could be moody sometimes and she had emotional outbursts now and then, but Sam hadn’t wanted to believe anyone could beat someone like Rahne. She was so sweet and innocent and it really hurt him to know she’d been abused and treated so horribly. He was absolutely sick over what had happened to Tabitha and he couldn’t get the image of her beaten, bruised, lonely, unloved and crying in pain and fear out of his mind. It was sickening and he was glad Rahne was there to talk with him and help him deal with it; this level of cruelty was completely alien to him.

They must have talked for an hour before Rahne finally got up and went to check on her roommate. She didn’t get any answer when she knocked and she could tell there was no one in the room even though the door was still locked, it smelled like the window was open, she could smell grass and pollen. A horrible thought flashed through Rahne’s mind and she kicked the door open, ran to the window and jumped out. She morphed to her transitional form on the way down and hit the ground running, she had to find her friend and she had to find her fast. It didn’t take her long to pick up Tabitha’s scent and she raced off through the woods toward the cliffs overlooking the lake. Her worst fear was realized as she came to the edge of the forest and saw Tabitha standing at the edge of the cliff overlooking Breakstone Lake and Rahne ran faster than she ever had in her life.

“No! Don’t do it Tabby!” Rahne screamed as she ran up and grabbed Tabitha from behind. She’d been so quick Tabitha hadn’t even heard her, much less had any time to react. “Ha’ ye lost yuir mind?! Ye’ll go tae hell if ye kill yuirself…..ye’ll be damned fer ever! She cried as she wrestled her away from the edge of the cliff. “Yuir father’s nae worth it! Nothin’s worth it! N’ body’s going tae believe him! It disnae matter if they do! Ye cannae do this tae yuirself!” Rahne locked her arms around Tabitha in a vice-like grip and held her back form the edge, there was no way she was going to lose anyone else she cared about to suicide….if Tabitha jumped, she’d have to take her with her.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Xavier’s Office

“Oh thank God!” Xavier gasped as he leaned back in his chair. He’d sensed Tabitha’s anguish and desperation too late and he wouldn’t have been able to stop her from jumping. Rahne had her now and he knew she wouldn’t let her go through with it; still he kept his focus on both of them in case Rahne needed help. He cared for all his students, but he felt a special connection to both of them after the way he and his step-brother had been treated by their father. He’d assigned Tabitha to be Rahne’s roommate because while they’d experienced similar traumatic childhoods, they were different enough in their personalities to help each other cope with their pain without adding to each others misery. Progress had been slow, especially for Tabitha, but prior to this incident with her father, she had started to become more responsible and Rahne seemed to have become a little more outgoing.

“Do you need me to go bring them home?” Jean asked as she walked up to the window to better sense the two girls. She felt a little sick to her stomach, she’d sensed Tabitha’s pain as well and it was a horrible feeling of despair and loneliness. This agony had been building up for years and this last assault on her dignity was all it took to finally push Tabitha over the edge.

“No……we need to let Rahne talk to her now….she understands her better than we ever will.” Xavier said with a deep sense of relief. Jean was relieved as well, Tabitha had been a difficult student and often got on her last nerve, but Jean wasn’t about to give up on her. She wanted to help both Tabitha and Rahne find peace in their lives. She wished everyone could have had the loving family she did growing up and she felt terrible that they’d been treated so badly by the people who were supposed to love and protect them.

“You were right to put them together professor, they really seem to even each other out…….I just hope this situation with her father doesn’t put us back to square one.” Jean said. “I’m going to go talk to Jean-Paul if you don’t need me.” She said. He was new and he didn’t know about Tabitha’s father, but he still felt terrible about what had happened and she knew he could use a kind word right now.

“No Jean, you can go……but please, keep your mind clear if I need you.” Xavier answered as he continued to focus on Rahne and Tabitha.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

The Cliff

“Everything he said is true! I’m a thief, I’m white-trash, just like him!” Tabitha cried. “Let me go! I don’t matter to anyone! My own mother told me I was an accident!”

“Yui’re nothin like him!” Rahne yelled. “Yui’re nae an accident! Yuir life is nae a mistake Tabby! Ye were born fer a purpose! Jesus died tae save ye from hell and he loves ye ne matter wha’ ye’ve done. Ye matter tae God and ye matter tae me! Yui’re muh friend and I love ye!” Rahne sobbed as the tears poured down her cheeks. Tabitha had given up on God a long time ago and had tried to pretend she didn’t believe, but Rahne sincerity and her genuine love and compassion for her moved Tabitha in a way nothing else in her life ever had and she opened her heart to the truth. The truth that she wasn’t an accident, that God didn’t make mistakes and that her life did have meaning and she’d never be alone again. She had absolutely hit rock-bottom, she couldn’t get any lower than she was right now, she didn’t know why she was alive and she would have killed herself if Rahne hadn’t stopped her. She thought no one loved her, she thought no one ever would and that she’d end up like her mom, but now she had a chance for a new life.

“What do you want with a friend like me?” Tabitha asked, trying not to cry. Her life was a total train wreck and nobody ever stayed close to her long, but one look in Rahne’s eyes told her she was dead serious. She’d always been there for her and Tabitha realized she really did care about her and wanted to be the first real friend she’d ever had.

“Yui’re th only one who understands me……” Rahne whispered as she changed back to her natural form.

“Muh father hurt me tae….”

“I’m sorry….oh God, I’m sorry….all this time you’ve been trying to help me, but I wouldn’t listen….I’ve been so selfish….” she said, realizing Rahne was also suffering and she could help.

“Ye were jus’ lost and hurt…..I know, I’ve been there.” Rahne said as she let Tabitha go and they both sank to the knees facing each other. Tabitha was so touched by Rahne’s love and concern for her that she started to cry herself. “Let it out Tabby…I know ye dinnae want tae, but its jus’ th two of us and I know how much it hurts….” Tabitha turned away for a moment, she knew Rahne was telling her the truth, it was like God himself was speaking through her and it was obvious that she was only hurting herself with her rebellious behavior; her parents didn’t care, they never had and they wouldn’t care if she was dead either. She didn’t know where to even begin, she wasn’t exactly a model of virtue and she’d always thought of Christians as a bunch of pompous hypocrites, but she couldn’t deny what she was feeling. God loved her, he was calling her and she couldn’t ignore it, she knew it was time to give her life to him and stop destroying herself.

Tabitha told her about her dad, about his drinking and criminal record, and how badly he’d beaten her when her powers manifested, and every other time she’d made him angry. About how he’d forced her to help him steal by using her powers, about how he’d finally gotten arrested and about how her step mother had rejected her and she’d lived on the street, about how her mom had refused to take her in and abandoned her at the institute. Finally, Tabitha began to cry again, her tears had been suppressed by beatings and insults for too long and now that she had finally found someone who understood her, she couldn’t pretend it didn’t hurt any longer.

Rahne knew exactly how Tabitha felt and she was glad she could help her new friend, she held her and tried to comfort her, but it wasn’t long before she was crying as well. She had come a long way toward getting her life straightened out since Moira had saved her, but she still carried emotional scars from her past life and she knew she always would. Rahne also told Tabitha about her life, about how her mother had killed herself when she was four. She told her about how Reverend Craig, who she later discovered was her father, had taken her in and abused her for years before she finally became desperate enough to run away one night when she was nine. It was a miracle she’d survived the freezing night on the moor to be found by Moira MacTaggert the next morning. Craig had been arrested and exposed as the monster he really was, but justice had come too late as it often does.

It took years to undo the damage he did to her; she was so shy and insecure and so utterly convinced she was worthless and evil when she first came to live with her, that Moira wondered if she’d ever be able to have a normal life. Reverend Craig had raised her to be extremely intolerant and judgmental and filled her head with all kinds of blasphemous lies. Reverend MacLaren, who’d come to replace Craig was horrified by what had happened to Rahne and he devoted himself to leading her back to Christ and teaching her the truth. With Moira’s love and his guidance, she’d come to truly understand God’s word and had left all the lies behind for the most part. Rahne was now a strong and dedicated Christian, who tried to love everyone, but she wouldn’t compromise her beliefs to be accepted and she wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself or her faith.

“Come on Tabby, let’s go home.” Rahne said as they got to their feet. Tabitha looked into Rahne’s beautiful green eyes and held her close, no one had ever really cared about her before.

“I was really going to do it……I owe you my life and I’ll always stand by you no matter what.” Tabitha promised her as Rahne wrapped her arms around her and held her close. As strong as Rahne was and as much as she’d done to help, she still wrestled with her own demons and Tabitha knew she could help her face them. They’d never been alone again, they had each other to lean on and things would be better. No matter what happened they’d always be there for one another.

‘I don’t deserve a friend as good as you…..all I’ve ever done is look out for myself and all you do is look out for me….’ Tabitha thought as she and Rahne started to walk back through the woods to the house. Sam was waiting for them on the back patio when they got home and Rahne left Tabitha to talk things over with him.

“Listen, Ah know we’ve only been together a little while, but Ah can see how special ya really are. Anybody else would be bitter and selfish, but yer’re always tryin to help th others and make ‘em happy……..even though yer’re hurtin so bad inside.” Sam said as they sat down at one of the tables. “Tabitha, Ah wanna be a part of yer life if you’ll still have me, but ya don’t have t’ hide things like this from me………..Ah love ya fer who ya are, Ah don’t care what ya did or who ya used to be.” Sam said. He knew she’d probably had to do a lot of things she wasn’t proud of, but all that matter to him was the person she’d become. He’d never felt like this about anyone and he’d been through enough to know what love really was and what it really meant. He wasn’t so naive as to think he was doing her any kind of favor and he damn sure wasn’t attracted to her because he felt sorry for her and thought she needed protecting. He did want to protect her, that was just the kind of man he was, but he was attracted to her strength, her independence and her character, he just hoped she felt something real for him.

“You’re sure about this? ……you don’t really know me Sam….” Tabitha said, trying to control her emotions. She was so thankful to have found someone as kind, loving and patient as Sam, for a long time she didn’t think men like him really existed and after what her father had said, she still couldn’t quite believe he’d want anything to do with her. His family wasn’t well off, but they were decent and hardworking; they had nothing in common with her awful, dysfunctional family of criminals and drunks.

“Ah know enough.” he said emphatically as he reached over and took her hand. “Ah know Ah can’t get ma mind off ya, Ah know Ah’m a better man when Ah’m around ya…..and Ah know Ah felt th same way Ah did when ma dad died when Ah realized you were gone.” he told her as he looked into her eyes. She had the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen and he could see how sad and beaten down she was, but there was still a spark of hope and defiance in them. Sam wished he could wipe away all the pain and misery of Tabitha’s abusive childhood, but he knew that was impossible, all he could do was treat her with the respect and dignity she deserved and he was going to love her and stand by her no matter what she was going through.

“I love you Sam……and I promise there won’t be anymore secrets between us.” she said as he got up and held her in his arms and the tears started to run down her cheeks again. “I’m not as good as you think I am.” she whispered. “….I am selfish and….”

“Ah know, yer’re not perfect and it should be obvious by now that Ah’m not either.” he said as he stopped her. “This is gonna be hard sometimes and a lotta work fer both of us, but yer’re worth it.” he said as he kissed her. They’d kissed before, but never like this and she knew how much he loved her and how much she loved him.

“You’re worth it too.” she told him as they continued to hold each other. Sam offered a silent prayer of thanks as he tried to comfort her, she loved him and he couldn’t ask for more than the wisdom to be the man she needed him to be. He promised her he’d never yell at her, hit her, insult her or even be too busy to spend time with her as they committed to each other.

————————————————————————————————–

The Present

Danielle understood now why Tabitha cared so deeply for Rahne and she was ashamed she’d been jealous of their friendship. She’d hurt Rahne deeply when she’d left and she knew she had no business being upset or jealous that Rahne had another best friend. She was happy that Rahne was finally free of her past and her old ways of thinking and she was grateful to Tabitha for helping her overcome her traumatic childhood.

Danielle also had to accept the fact that she hadn’t been forced to leave the school; that she’d only done it because she felt so lost and confused. She could have stayed and asked her friends for help and they would have accepted her even without her powers. She knew she didn’t have any right to be upset with Sam or Tabitha; they were truly in love and she should be happy for them. Tabitha was wild sometimes, but she had a good heart and Danielle was beginning to see why Sam loved her. She might not be nearly as devout as Rahne, but she was trying to live a better life and Danielle respected her for being strong and not becoming like her parents.

“Well…..that’s how we got to be friends…..” Tabitha said as Sam held her a little closer and they both looked at Rahne appreciatively.

“You’ll never find a better one.” Danielle said.

“After everything we went through……we’re more than friends…..she’s my sister too.” Tabitha said defensively. She was jealous of Danielle and she’d picked up on her attraction to Sam as well. Tabitha trusted Sam, but she still felt insecure, Danielle was beautiful and she was a smart, capable leader as well. Tabitha’s life had been filled with disappointment and heartache for so long and Sam and Rahne were the first people who ever believed in her and didn’t treat her like a lost cause; they were the closest thing to family she had.

“Did I tell ye I heard from Ric th other day?” Theresa said, quickly changing the subject. Neither of them had a pleasant childhood and Theresa understood her feelings, but she didn’t want things to turn ugly.

“No, how’s he doin?” Sam asked.

“Nae so good….seems his family has gotten on th bad side of th cartels down there and he’s havin’ tae deal wit’ all tha’ now.” She said. Richter had left because he was tired of all the fighting, but it seemed that he just couldn’t escape it and he was caught up in another war. She felt better knowing he had Shatterstar with him, but she was concerned for his safety, they all were.

“I hope he’s alright….” Rahne sighed.

“What happened between you two?” Danielle asked as she turned to Rahne. She’d gotten a letter from Rahne shortly before the war, telling her they had started dating and Danielle was really happy for her. Richter had always seemed like a nice guy even though he could be a little immature sometimes and Rahne seemed happy. Later, she’d learned that Rahne had broken things off before their relationship became serious, but she’d never understood why.

“I dinnae want tae talk about it.” Rahne said as she reached for her beer. Danielle let it drop, she didn’t want to make Rahne angry and she could see it was still a sore subject for her.

“What happened to the rest of X-Force?” Danielle asked. “Where are Tessa and Bishop?”

“They’re all on Muir Isle.” Sam said. “After th war, Cable discovered an Askani cult tryin to resurrect Apocalypse so he took Domino, Sage, Bishop, Blink and that nut Deadpool with him to stop them.” He explained. “We wanted to go to, but he told me that we had to tackle the threats out there right now or it wouldn’t matter if Apocalypse was reborn….”

“Losing Ric and Star was bad enough, but losing Roberto and Amara has really put us behind the eight ball.” James said grimly.

“We want ye tae come and fight wit’ us Dani…..we want ye on X-Force.” Theresa said as everyone looked at her expectantly. Danielle suddenly felt very uncomfortable, she’d been putting this off as long as she could, telling them she’d think about it, but now she had to make a decision and they weren’t going to like it.

“I don’t think I’m ready….” Danielle stammered. “I just got my powers back…..I need time to readjust.”

“We’re not rushing you.” James said reassuringly. “But we know it won’t take you long to get your edge back and we could really use your help….we don’t have anyone with psychic powers now that the boss is gone.” He explained.

“Aye, and yui’re one of us Dani….we’ve all missed ye so.” Theresa said. “Ye willnae ha’ tae go on every mission….Rahne’s a teacher tae and work it out wit’ both of ye.”

“Dani, wha’s wrong?” Rahne asked, sensing her apprehension.

“They’re calling you guys terrorists.” Danielle said. “Part of me knows what you’re doing is right, but part of me agrees with Scott and Emma that you’re endangering the school by attacking Trask Industries….I don’t think I’m quite cut out for this new team.” She said as an awkward silence descended. Trask Industries’ government contracts and status as a “legitimate” business made attacking them a far different matter than attacking Reavers, Purifiers, RIGHT, or the Sapien League and Danielle was worried X-Force might bring down the wrath of SHIELD on the school. Professor Xavier was trying to handle the matter of Trask Industries and their sentinels legally, but after the death of sixteen million people, Sam and his team weren’t willing to trust the courts or the government.

“Terrorists?” Sam said after a moment, hardly believing Danielle had just said that.

“Am I drunk?” Theresa asked sarcastically. “Or is this wha’ ye learned in college?”

“I know better.” Danielle said defensively as even Rahne gave her a disdainful look. “But the world hates us and the school is the last safe place left for mutants. If the government ever positively identifies you guys, they could shut the whole school down and then where would all the kids go?”

“We’re trying to prevent another Genosha Dani!” James said indignantly. “I’d say it’s an acceptable risk.”

“Everybody calm down.” Sam said. “Her argument ain’t without merit….its somethin I’ve thought about a lot.” He admitted. “But complacency led to Genosha and that led to th war and now Jean’s dead because of it.” He said emphatically. “We can’t just sit on our asses and react to a crisis once its blown up all over us…..we have to be proactive now and hit them before they hit us, before they burn th school like they burned Genosha.”

“What we’re doing is no different from the government sending SEALS after real terrorists.” Tabitha said.

“Exactly, that’s why we’re going after Trask, the Reavers and whoever has been kidnapping kids left and right.” Sam said.

“Aye, Cyclops wants th X-Men tae be a superhero team again…..tha’s fine, but they cannae do wha’ needs tae be done sometimes….tha’s wha’ X-Force is fer.” Theresa said.

“Why don’t ya come see fer yerself what we’re about Dani?” Sam asked. “If ya don’t feel comfortable after a mission or two, you can leave, no guilt, no judgment.” He told her.

“Fair enough Sam.” Danielle said as she reached for another beer and wondered what she’d just gotten herself into. Sam was glad Danielle was still open-minded enough to give them a chance even though he thought she probably wouldn’t stay. He really needed a psychic to balance out the team and he had a back up plan just in case Danielle didn’t work out. He was the leader, James was the tank, Rahne was the tracker and medic, Theresa and Tabitha could level buildings and he’d just recruited his friend Michael Holmes to be the team’s psychic. The former SHIELD agent was trained in everything from demolitions to data manipulation and his “jack of all trades” skill set was a huge bonus to the team.

“Why don’ ye tell them about yuir new guy?” Theresa asked as she gave James a mischievous look.

“You didn’t…..” he groaned as he looked at Sam.

“I did.” Sam said, grinning like a jackass eating saw-briars.

“I wish I could drink.” James said with mock indignation. Theresa was a recovering alcoholic and James had stopped drinking to support her. “I miss Cable too, but that doesn’t mean I want his short, smart-ass clone running around.” James said. He and Holmes really didn’t dislike each other, but they had constantly antagonized each other on their joint missions during the war.

“Too bad, he’ll be here tomorrow.” Sam said.

“Who?” Danielle asked. “Who’ll be here tomorrow?”

“Kill Switch.” James said. “His real name is Mike Holmes…..he’s a SHIELD agent, or at least he was…..he went on two missions with me and Sam back during the war.” He explained.

“His names Wrath now.” Sam told him.

“That sounds like a super villain.” Danielle said.

“Don’t get the wrong idea Dani…..he might be as mean as Wolverine in a fight, but he’s a good guy.” James said. “He’s just wound too tight.”

“Yer’re jealous because he does th whole “grim and brooding” act better than you do.” Sam said, half serious. “We wouldn’t have been able to get Cable’s psimatar without him, he’s a good fighter and a good friend…he didn’t think twice about risking his life for us.”

“Yeah, I give him a hard time, but I trust him.” James said.

“Why did he quit SHIELD? Did he say?” Danielle asked.

“He told th me he wasn’t fightin th battles he needed to be fightin.” Sam said. “Said th Avengers and SHIELD don’t really care about mutants….”

“He’s got that right…” Tabitha muttered as she took a drink.

“Yeah, but th thing is…..he’s not a mutant…” Sam said. “Nobody knows why he has th power he does….he doesn’t have an X-gene…..every genetic test done on him comes back as baseline human.”

“That’s ……unnatural…..” Danielle said, hardly believing what she’d just heard.

“So are we.” Rahne reminded her. “He’s no different than we are.”

“Yes he is Rahne.” Danielle said. “I know this sounds awful, but why would a human….or whatever he is, care so much about mutants?” she asked incredulously. “People have always hated us….they hate us even more because of Apocalypse, but he wants to fight for us?”

“Give him a break Dani.” Tabitha said curtly. “Why does it matter that he’s human? He’s a good person and he wants to help us…..we’ve lost over half the team, we need all the help we can get….even if it’s a human.” Tabitha said with a hint of sarcasm. She’d gone with Sam to meet Holmes after he’d contacted them about joining and she’d been impressed with him. He reminded her of Cable and she thought he really needed to lighten up, but it was obvious he truly wanted to help them and it didn’t matter to her that he wasn’t a mutant.

“It’s not up fer debate, Ah said he could come t’ X-Force now that his tours done and he’s not re-enlisting.” Sam said, happy that Holmes had expressed such interest in joining his team. Richter and Shatterstar had both quit, Roberto would soon be leaving to manage X-Corp. Los Angeles office and Amara was going with him. Danielle was a fulltime instructor and Rahne had never wanted to fight in the first place, she was serving as a teaching assistant while she got her degree and neither of them would be going on many missions anymore. James, Theresa, Tabitha and Holmes would be his main team now that Cable, Domino and Sage had left to pursue other goals.

“I’ll help ye as much as I can Sam.” Rahne said quietly, “But I ne’re really wanted tae fight, I did it because I had tae, but now I know wha’ I’m supposed tae do, I’m going tae be a teacher and help these kids th way Jean and th others helped me.”

“Rahne, you were always th strongest and th bravest, ya got nothin t’ prove….you kept us together when even Ah wanted to give up and you’ll always have a place in X-Force.” He said. “The schools gonna go public soon and we need good teachers. Ah can’t think of a better one than you…..what yer’re doin is every bit as important as th missions.” He reminded her. “Ah know this is what ya really want….what’ll make ya happy and Ah’m proud of ya, we all are.” He said as they finished their beers. Danielle got up and walked outside and Rahne could see something was troubling her.

“Wha’s wrong Dani?” Rahne asked as she stepped out onto the street.

“I’m alright.” Danielle said, looking up into the night sky.

“We’ve been friends tae long.” Rahne said as she put her arm around her. “Now wha’s goin on?”

“I feel like I don’t belong anymore.” She sighed. “I’ve been gone too long….”

“This is still yuir home and we’re still yuir family.” She said, trying to comfort her. The past two years had been terrible for her, she’d lost her powers and with them her sense of identity. She’d been depressed and angry for a long time, but she’d put her life back together and she’d continued to work to help others. Xavier had convinced her to stay when she’d brought Sofia to him and Sam had offered her a place on the team once her powers were restored by her ward, Josh. Danielle had her powers and her life back, she had a purpose but the team had changed so much since she’d been away that she felt like an outsider.

“Thanks Rahne….but I feel guilty I couldn’t fight with you in the war.” Danielle admitted. “I lost my powers and I just forgot who I was for a while…..I ran off and left all of you behind….”

“Dinnae do this tae yuirself Danielle, I’m glad ye were nae a part of tha’…….it changed all of us….and nae fer th better.” Rahne told her. “I know things are different now, but I still love ye.” She whispered. She’d tried to keep Danielle from leaving and she’d cried for a month after she had; she was the big sister she’d never had and it nearly killed Rahne to lose her. She’d been there to comfort her so many times when she was sad and battling the demons Reverend Craig had cursed her with, but now it was Rahne’s turn to offer love and support to Danielle and she held her close and told her how special she was to her.

————————————————————————————————-

Later that Night

‘I didn’t take anything from her and I won’t let her take anything from me…’ Tabitha thought as she lay there in bed. She knew it was foolish to feel so threatened by Danielle, after all, Sam loved her and he’d never do anything to hurt her and neither would Rahne. Still, they were the first people to ever treat her with respect and dignity and the thought that they might be taken away from her was the only thing that really frightened her anymore.

“I love you.” Sam said as he lay down next to her and kissed her on the cheek. Tabitha rolled over facing him as he put his arm around her and snuggled next to her.

“I love you too.” She said as she gently rubbed her hand across his bare chest.

“Yer’re not worried about Dani coming back to th team are ya?” Sam asked.

“No.”

“Good.” He said as he held her a little closer. “Ah know she’s been through hell these last two years, but Ah swear, Ah don’t know her anymore…..” he sighed. “Ah was hoping she’d be our voice to th X-Men….somebody who could walk in both worlds, but she sounded just like Scott and Emma tonight….”

“Rahne can do that.” Tabitha told him.

“They don’t respect Rahne.” He said bluntly. “If Jean was still alive, she’d listen to her, but…..damn Ah miss Jean.” He said.

“I do too” Tabitha sighed. “She wasn’t that much older than me, but she was the only thing close to a mother I’ve ever had.”

“Ah don’t know what’s gonna happen when Xavier finally steps down.” Sam said. “Ah don’t think Scott will let us stay at th institute…..ah’m working out some plans with Terry, but……Ah don’t know….”

“You’ll make the right decision.” Tabitha told him. “I’ll support you…..we’ll do this together.” She said as she kissed him again and they settled in for the night.

————————————————————————————————-

Earth 730 Historical Context

*The battle for Genosha occurred ten years earlier and did not involve any of the New Mutants.

*Magneto took control of Genosha and built the tiny nation into a superpower.

*Genosha was destroyed three years ago by an army of Nimrod’s sentinels from the future after Magneto was defeated and incarcerated by the X-Men.

*Apocalypse launched a devastating surprise attack two years ago in the aftermath of the Genoshan purge.

*Apocalypse was defeated and utterly destroyed by Cable’s X-Force and his sister Rachel from an alternate timeline.

*The Original New Mutants: Sam, Danielle, Rahne, Roberto and Theresa. They were later joined by Richter, James, Illyana and finally Tabitha.