Professor Xavier opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling of his bedroom. Moonlight spilled through his open window, a faint breeze stirring his drapes.
Carefully, he reconstructed the conversation he had overhead between Logan and Gambit. Recalling their exact words and the depth of emotion behind them, he could not help but be filled with surprise. The black sheep of the X-Men, he had never been able to truly draw them into the team, to make them trust anyone but themselves. How, in under two days, had this woman—Anne—earned the respect and devotion of Logan and Gambit?
He recalled his unexpected encounter with Anne. How he had entered the kitchen to find her standing over Emma, the White Queen holding her head in obvious pain. His first reaction had been shock, which was quickly overcome by a need to gain control of the situation. He just had not anticipated Anne's forceful response. Nor had he predicted the uniqueness of her shields.
Experimentally, Xavier probed the Mansion for Anne's presence. Nothing. There was no indication that she was anywhere within a ten mile radius. He sighed, perplexed. He had been drawn to the kitchen by the mental turbulence he felt emanating from that part of the house. But he had only sensed five people, and was shocked to see he had been wrong.
If she can hide her existence from a telepath of my strength, and turn Emma Frost's attack back on herself, what else is she capable of? And her shields—I had to pull the words from her mouth, but even Emma admitted that she had never seen anything like them in her life.
Foolish Emma. Attacking a stranger for no real good reason.
He agreed with Logan; the woman deserved it. She was still however, one of the most powerful telepaths in the world, and a good head mistress. Besides, he was quite certain that the White Queen had learned her lesson. At least for the time being.
You needn't worry, my X-Men. I will not ask Anne to leave. Her mutant powers and her friendship with the two of you is a puzzle that I cannot afford to ignore.
It turned out that Anne's fears about training Jubilee in the art of 'forest talk' were unfounded. Emma left with her students early the next morning, the teenagers protesting at the top of their lungs. Especially Jubilee.
Anne entered the kitchen while the morning was still dark. Logan and Storm were seated at the table, while Jean bustled around the stove.
"Did I hear shrieking not long ago?"
Jean nodded, dividing her attention between Anne and a pan of heating oil. "Emma took her students home this morning, and there were some...protests."
"Jubilee didn't want to go." Logan added. His hair was rumpled and his flannel shirt looked like he had slept in it. Anne turned her attention to the black woman across from him. Her perfect, dusky features were composed regally beneath an artfully wild mane of white hair.
"You must be Storm." Anne greeted her.
She smiled back. "And you are Anne? I heard you created quite a stir last night."
Anne laughed, though Logan could hear the strain in her voice. "I'm here for only one night, and I already have a reputation. That must be a record."
"Hardly." Jean snorted. "Yours was probably one of the more civilized introductions to the X-Men. Usually there are more explosions and screaming. Besides, what happened last night was not entirely your fault. Emma, to put it bluntly—"
"Is an egomaniacal bitch." Logan growled, and then buried his face in his coffee.
"Thank you, Logan." Jean stared at him sternly, before turning back to the oven.
"Do you need any help cooking?" Anne walked over to Jean.
She shook her head. "I think I've got it under control, but if you want to make something for yourself, feel free."
"You don't mind?" Anne asked, a gleam entering her eyes.
"Not at all."
Jean showed her where they kept all of their pans, and before long Anne was making herself at home, much to Logan's secret satisfaction.
She diced up several bunches of green onions, adding them to a mixing bowl of flour, water and eggs. She grabbed a gigantic frying pan from the cupboard and filled it until the bottom was completely covered in cooking oil.
Anne proceeded to dip the batter, the hot oil sizzling and popping as she spread the mixture out into thin pancakes. A heavenly aroma arose from where she was working, and several bodies were drawn into the kitchen from the rest of the house.
"I love the smell of grease in the morning." Bobby quipped, jauntily walking into the kitchen.
"Indeed," Beast agreed, following in his footsteps. "The scent does stimulate one's hunger."
"Thank Anne." Jean laughed. "I'm about to forget the omelet I'd planned, and copy whatever she's making."
Beast and Bobby turned to scrutinize the petite stranger.
Anne smiled wryly beneath their gazes but did not introduce herself. She removed one of the pancakes and filled the pan with ever more oil. "Chinese pancakes are an old recipe of my dad's. I can make enough for everyone."
Logan grunted. "You just found the way to their hearts, darlin'."
Anne threw him a quick grin, and then turned to Beast.
"Dr. Henry McCoy, I presume?"
Beast looked at her quizzically.
Anne smiled and stuck out her hand, which Beast took cordially enough, though he still looked puzzled.
"Anne O'Hanrahan. It's an honor to finally meet you in person. I attended a lecture you gave at Harvard, around five years ago."
His eyes lit up. "Ah, I remember! My hypothesis that certain biochemical stimuli are capable of advancing mutations, even those that have been stable for years. I am delighted to meet someone who attended the lecture."
"It was fascinating. I was enrolled in the Medical School at the time, and you had my professors in an uproar, especially with your implication that it would one day be possible for mutants and non-mutants to essentially engineer themselves into whatever form they desired. Secretly, I think they were excited by the prospect, but you know Harvard...everyone condemns any idea not their own as a matter of habit."
Beast chuckled, his eyes sparkling.
"Indeed. I remember only too well. Tell me, is that where you earned your undergraduate degree?"
"Oh, no. I graduated from MIT with a BS in Geoscience."
"But you are a doctor?"
Anne shook her head, smiling ruefully. "I left after a year."
"Still, your credentials are impressive. Perhaps we could discuss my research at some later time." He sighed mournfully. "There is no one but myself with the necessary scientific background to fully understand the technicalities of my work. I often wish I could unburden myself on another."
Anne laughed with delight, but quickly sobered.
"I would love to, Dr. McCoy, but I don't know how long I'll be staying."
"Please, call me Hank. Now, why would you not stay with us? You are a mutant, I presume?"
"Yes, but I'm afraid I didn't make the best of impressions last night when I met the Professor."
"Wouldn't worry 'bout that, darlin'." Logan called from the kitchen table. His eyes glinted smugly.
Anne narrowed her eyes, noticing the expression on his face.
"How can you be so sure, Logan?"
He shrugged. "Chuck's a lot o' things, but he ain't vindictive. 'Sides, there ain't many mutants out there who can surprise him, an' I think ya' did that twice last night. First, when ya' gave Frostie a taste o' her own medicine, and second, when he got a look at yer shields."
Beast stared down at Anne. "You attacked the White Queen, and succeeded?"
"It was purely defensive, I can assure you. Nor is it something I want to repeat. I'm curious though, why everyone acts like defending myself against this Emma Frost, or whatever you call her, is such a big deal."
"She's just one of the most powerful telepaths in the world." Bobby called, snatching up several of her pancakes.
"Hey!" Anne growled. Bobby paused guiltily, but relaxed when he saw the twinkle in her eyes.
"So, how did you wind up here, Anne?" Bobby changed subjects as he leaned back against a countertop, hungrily stuffing his face.
Anne looked at Logan. "Maybe you should tell the story."
Everyone glanced at each other, and then turned to stare at Logan.
Several hours later, The Professor called Anne to his study. He tried probing for her, but it was not until she entered the room that he could be assured she was coming to the meeting. Gambit and Logan came with her, hovering behind her back.
Xavier noted the comfortable way the three stood together, as though they had been friends for life. It served to reinforce the discussion he had overhead the previous night. He wondered if Anne realized the depth of their feelings for her.
"Anne, please sit down." The woman nodded, taking the proffered seat. The two men quickly found chairs by her and lounged comfortably, Gambit shuffling some cards.
"First of all," the Professor began, "I would like to apologize for what occurred last night. I spoke with Emma at great length, and she expressed her...regret that the incident took place." Xavier ignored the derisive snort from Logan, and continued. "Furthermore, I thought long and hard about the...conversation we both had. You had every right to say what you did. You have incredible potential for one untrained, and I would be most pleased if you remained with the X-Men."
Anne narrowed her eyes. "What exactly will I do here if I decide to stay, Professor?"
Xavier blinked. Most mutants snatched up the chance to live with the X-Men, no questions asked. He studied the determined set of her jaw, the quick intelligence behind her dark eyes. No, he decided. Anne was not a woman to run blindly into any situation.
"You will be expected to train with the X-Men, and if you so choose, eventually join them."
"I see." She glanced at Logan and Gambit, who watched her quietly, expectantly.
"It's your choice, darlin'. Just remember that we'll stick with ya' no matter what ya' decide" Logan responded, Gambit nodding his agreement.
Anne swallowed heavily, and stared at the floor. After a long moment, she lifted her eyes and met Xavier's gaze.
"I'll stay," she spoke firmly.
"Excellent." Xavier clasped his hands together. "Now, if you don't mind, I have a few questions for you. First of all, who trained you to construct your shields? I must confess, they have been a puzzlement to me from the start."
Anne smiled wryly. "Don't you remember what I said about the trees?"
Xavier frowned, scanning his memories. "Yes." He responded slowly. "But I did not really think that you were serious."
"I'm very serious. Everything I learned about defending my mind, I learned from observing trees. That's why my shields look so foreign to you, and that's why Emma would not have been able to penetrate them. Let me ask you a question, Professor. Do you ever probe trees?"
"Of course not. There is nothing to probe."
"But there is. Do you sense me, Professor? If you closed your eyes and probed the room, would you know that I was sitting in front of you? Would you even be able to pick up the essence of my mind?"
"No," he said quietly. "It is as though you do not exist."
"Trees don't think like us, but they are alive, and part of that life consists of a natural urge to shield. Their ability is a product of Nature, and she is very good at defending herself, physically and...mentally."
"But what you do requires a huge amount of energy, both of the mind and body."
Anne shrugged. "Like I said, I'm anchored well. A tree draws strength from the earth, doesn't it? I do the same. Of course, I also have to eat a lot, but I usually don't have any trouble maintaining myself." Anne pursed her lips, and leaned forward in her chair.
"Professor, I've been hearing voices since I was five years old. Luckily, my parents were good people, and accepted the fact that I was a mutant. They let me run in the woods, because that was where I could find the most peace. But I heard voices there too, except these were coming from the earth and the trees themselves. I touched them with my mind, and they responded to me. I don't know why, but they did. I learned how to shield myself at all times of the day, no matter what I am doing. Following their example, I suppose. Though I have to admit that I didn't learn much else."
The professor sat back, hands clasped. His eyes were lost in thought for a long moment. "Fascinating," he whispered finally. "A whole new world as of yet undiscovered. Can anyone communicate with this...presence?"
Anne frowned, and the three men could sense her discomfort.
"I suppose. Everyone is connected to the planet, and can 'talk' with it, can 'commune'. But not everyone gets the same response." She frowned in consternation.
"That is quite all right, my dear. That is something we can discuss at a later time. Right now though, I would like to assess the strength of your mutant abilities. With your permission?"
"Please," she responded.
"Gambit and Logan, will you two please escort Anne to the Danger Room?"
"Danger Room?" Anne whispered as they left.
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