"Huh?" Scott replied blankly. Magneto sighed.
"Imbeciles." He turned to the three girls. "Come along now, young ladies - nothing to fear from Uncle Eric." He noticed Willow's stare and tapped his helmet knowingly. "Now, now. No poking in other people's heads without permission - not at all polite."
"Magneto-" Jean began.
"Time for talk is over, X-Men. Turn them over, or I'll kill everyone on this plane."
"I can stop you," Jean insisted defiantly.
"Of course you can, my dear. Charles and I knew back when we recruited you that you were more powerful than either of us. But can you stop me from crashing the plane and keep the girls safe at the same time?"
"Of course I can - there's only one of-" a familiar sound interrupted her as Nightcrawler suddenly appeared and wrapped an arm around all three of the girls.
"Kurt? What the hell are you doing?"
"I am sorry," the blue-skinned mutant apologized in his thick German accent. But there is more going on than you realize - and this is the only way."
As Jean readied herself to keep him from teleporting, Magneto heaved the plane upward and dropped it. As soon as her concentration was ripped from him, Nightcrawler disappeared - but only Tara went with him. Kitty, holding Willow's hand, had instinctively phased both of them out of his grasp, and they fell heavily back into their seats, frantically looking around for their friend.
"Tara?" Willow cried. "Tara?" She looked to Scott tearfully. "Where is she?"
Scott turned to Jean, who wore an expression of intense concentration as she lowered the plane to the ground. "Gone..." she forced out between her teeth as the plane touched down. "Too far for me to feel her..." she gasped as she leaned back in her seat, her dark red hair plastered to her forehead with sweat. "Scott - we lost her."
Willow and Kitty burst into tears.
"W-What do you want with me?" The question was the first words she'd uttered since appearing on the craft in Nightcrawler's grasp.
Magneto, helmet now removed, sat down beside the quivering Tara and patted her hand gently. His face betrayed an almost grandfatherly concern for the girl.
"My dear, no-one here will harm you. You have my word."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Eric. I am also called Magneto. I am a mutant like you, Tara."
"What...um, I mean, what's your...what can you do?"
"My power?" she nodded. "I can manipulate metal. All kinds of metal." He pulled a loose bolt from the floor of the small helicopter they occupied and folded it into a flower shape. He handed it to her. In spite of herself, she took it with a small grin.
"Neat..." her expression turned thoughtful. "Are you a bad guy?"
Rising from his seat, Magneto knelt in front of her. "No, young lady. I am most certainly not a bad guy."
"You kidnapped me."
"I did. But I wanted to save you - all three of you - from what the X-Men had planned for you."
"The two mutants who were taking you to New York - they're called X-Men."
"But..." Tara frowned. "W-What was there to save us from? They were taking us to school. To learn to control our powers."
"No, my darling girl. They were going to limit your power - to tell you why you musn't ever use the talents you possess, unless it is in service of their own interests. They would couch it in pretty words, of course, and eventually you would believe them. But your gifts should not be controlled by others - you should learn to use them as you see fit. And that's why I wanted you, and your two friends, to come with me - because that's what I can teach you."
The doubtful expression on her face made him smile. "Tara, you're a smart girl. I know you don't believe me, so I'll make you a deal. Stay a week with me. I'll teach you how to use your power, and anything else you want to know. If, after the week, you'd rather go back to the X-Men, you can go. No tricks. Deal?"
She studied his face for a long moment, and finally extended her hand. He shook it, and took his seat. "You won't regret it, Tara," he insisted.
Scott drove through the gates of the mansion as Jean sat in the backseat trying to console the Rosenberg sisters. Kitty, in particular, was beside herself with grief, knowing that she'd saved her sister and failed her friend.
"Kitty..." she whispered, stroking her black hair. "It's not your fault. You acted on instinct, and there was no way for you to know that if you weren't touching Tara you couldn't phase her. If you had really been thinking, you probably wouldn't have been able to phase yourself and Willow, either - you don't have enough control yet. You couldn't have saved her."
Kitty raised her head from Jean's shoulder and looked at her with fresh tears falling from her sad eyes and drying on her pale cheeks. "Is that supposed to make it better?"
Jean struggled to keep her voice level. "No, Kitty, it's not. But we'll get her back - I swear."
"Professor!" Scott shouted as he pushed through the doors of Xavier's office. The professor dismissed the students waiting for his lecture on ethics to begin and waited for the door to close behind them before replying.
"What the hell didn't you tell us before we went to get those girls?"
"Don't play games with me - I'm not in the mood. First of all, why didn't you tell us about the other two girls? We'd have missed them completely if Jean hadn't read them. Second, why wouldn't you warn us that Magneto would be after them? If we'd had some warning, maybe we wouldn't have lost one!"
"Scott...if I'd told you what was going on, the girls would have sensed it, and they may not have trusted you. As far as Magneto, I have no idea how he could have discovered them so quickly, and the fact that he not only knew they were on their way here but the exact flight does not speak well of the security of the mansion. We may have a leak."
"Fine, we have a leak. Now what the hell is going on? What's so important about these girls?"
"Not now, Scott. Bring the other two girls to me, and then you need to take Jean and Storm and find the third. We cannot allow any of the three to remain in Magneto's clutches. Here are the coordinates of their destination. When you return, I'll brief you."
Scott stared distustfully for a moment before pulling the office door open and emerging into the hallway, slamming it behind him.
Downstairs, Jean led Willow and Kitty around the mansion, introducing them to people as they walked. The girls' frantic tears had subsided, and the expression they wore was one of stunned disbelief. They hardly reacted as they entered new rooms and were introduced, and it was hard to tell how much they were taking in.
"This is Peter Rasputin," Jean announced, bringing the girls forward to shake his hand. "Also called Colossus. Peter, this is Willow and Kitty Rosenberg - our two newest students."
Stepping toward them, he extended his hand and shook Willow's firmly. He turned to Kitty and knelt down to look in her eyes. "Prevyet, krasnaya Koshka."
"Hello," he replied in heavily accented English, smiling at her.
The conversation might have gone on longer had Scott not strode through the door behind them. "Jean," he announced. "Bring the girls to the Professor, and then meet me downstairs. We're going hunting."
"Hello, girls," Xavier smiled. "I know that you probably don't feel very much like talking right now, but I wanted to welcome you to the school. Your classes will begin tommorrow morning at 9:00 in this room. We'll have someone bring you here, of course, as it will take you a few days to learn the layout of the mansion." He looked at Willow. "What are you looking for, Miss Rosenberg?"
Willow jumped and flushed guiltily. "I was trying to find out if you think Tara's okay, and why that guy took her." She stared defiantly at him, mentally challenging him to scold her.
"Believe me when I say that it would be easier just to ask me."
"Because I am a more powerful psychic than you are, Willow. I don't say that to brag or show off, just to tell you that attempting to read me won't accomplish much."
"Then how about you just tell me - is Tara okay?"
"Yes. Magneto wouldn't harm her. I've sent three of the instructors to find her."
"Instructors? Professor, Kitty and I might be kids, but that doesn't make us stupid. This place is much more than a school, isn't it?"
"Yes. Most, if not all of your instructors, will be members of a group I call the X-Men. They were some of my first students, and now they help to stop crimes by mutants and keep the world safe."
"And who's Magneto, then?"
"Well, that's sort of a long story..."
As Xavier explained who he was, Magneto was leading Tara into a heavily fortified camp. "Welcome, my dear," he intoned, "to the home of the Brotherhood of Mutants."
"We're a group of mutants dedicated to a single cause - mutant equality."
"Surely you of all people, Tara, understand that the world isn't a safe place for mutants. We're met everywhere with hostility, hate, and fear."
"Well, maybe by some people, but there are people out there who don't hate mutants."
"Can you really say that to me, knowing what your father did to your brother?"
"Donny? How do you know about Donny?"
"How do you think? We rescued him from the government branch to which your father turned him over."
"WHAT? Is he here?"
Magneto gestured, and a tall figure appeared from inside one of the compound's buildings. Tara squinted into the sun until he grew close enough for her to recognize his features. She took off at full speed toward him, throwing herself into his arms.
"Donny? Oh my god, Donny! You're okay!"
He stroked her head gently with one hand. "I'm okay, Tara. I'm so glad Magneto found you before the X-Men could take you away from us."
She looked up at him with tears in her eyes, her expression a mix of relief and confusion. "Donny - why didn't you ever get in touch with me?"
"I couldn't, Tare. If Dad had found out I was still alive, the government would have come for me again."
"What did they do to you, Donny?"
"It doesn't matter right now. I'll tell you all about it later, Tare. For now, we need to get you someplace safe."
She pulled away and looked up at him. "Someplace safe? Why?"
"Because the X-Men aren't just going to let you go. They're very determined that every mutant should follow their way of thinking, and they're not going to be happy that Magneto is going to teach you the truth. They'll come for you, and they'll try to take you back."
Tara became frantic. "Where do we go? I won't let them take me away from you, Donny."
"Me neither, sis. We're going to go underground, and let some of the more powerful members of the Brotherhood keep us safe, okay?" She nodded, and he led her inside one of the buildings to a tunnel entrance covered by a bookcase. He pulled the bookcase aside and she climbed down into the tunnel. He followed behind her, pulling the bookcase back over them before he descended the ladder.
The X-Jet was painted by radar before they got within fifty miles of Magneto's compound, and Scott cursed.
"Okay, so much for the element of surprise, now what?"
"Storm, can you disrupt their equipment with lightening?"
"I can, but they already know we're coming."
"I know, I'm just thinking if we can jam their radar for a few minutes then Scott and I can jump out over the compound."
"They know we're coming, Jean, and I'm sure they've got more than radar looking for us."
"Then what? We need to help her!"
With the familiar sound that accompanied his teleportation, Nightcrawler appeared in the middle of the cockpit. Without a word, he attached a small device to the control panel of the jet and teleported back into the aircraft that had been flying beside them, invisible to radar. The aircraft streaked away, and Storm banked the controls to follow - only to find them unresponsive. Magneto's voice suddenly filled the cockpit.
"Hello, X-Men. As you've probably gathered, the device Mr. Wagner attached to your controls has locked out your control of the jet. Now, before any of you think of something intelligent, like prying it off or burning it with an optic blast, say, know this - if the device is tampered with in any way, it will explode. Such an explosion would take your controls with it, and land your jet rather badly."
"What the hell are you up to, Magneto?"
"Well, since you asked so nicely, Mr. Summers, I'll tell you. I'm going to fly you back to Charles, where you can tell him that the girl belongs to me and that if he's smart, he'll leave well enough alone - oh, and that if he doesn't give the other two over to me, I shall have to do something rash."