Everyone leapt to their feet and Mystique began issuing orders. It was only then that Willow noticed Magneto’s absence. Where was he? Pyro and Magneto were missing and alarm bells were ringing. It reminded Willow of the Stargate tv show that Jubilee had liked so much, with the klaxons sounding and everyone running about in a kind of organised panic.
Willow was jolted from her thoughts by a hand tugging on her sleeve. It was Toad. “Time to go,” he whispered gleefully.
“Time to go where?” wondered Willow as she allowed herself to be dragged along up to the roof. She received no reply but the sound of the helicopter preparing to take off. Strong arms encircled her waist and she squealed a little in surprise as Sabretooth lifted her into the chopper and leapt in beside her.
“Belt up,” commanded Mystique just moments before the chopper lurched into the air.
“What’s happening?” Rogue caught Wolverine’s arm as he rushed past her in the corridor leading to the hangar.
Logan glanced at the ungloved hand resting on his jacketed arm and Rogue, noticing his gaze, removed it quickly. “We’ve been called out. That’s all I know. Go back to your room.” Reaching under his shirt, he pulled out his dog tags and handed them to the worried girl beside him. “Take care of these for me,” he said before rushing off.
Turning, Rogue saw Bobby heading for his room so she called to him. Taking her hand for a moment, he kissed it quickly. “It’s time,” he whispered.
Rogue’s face was filled with fear and anticipation. “It’s time,” she repeated.
“Time for what?” asked Kitty, appearing through the wall beside them.
The fear in Rogue’s face turned to determination and she slipped Logan’s dog tags around her neck. “Time to step up and show them what we are.”
Bobby smiled. “Time to be X-Men.”
The helicopter slowed, rousing Willow from her doze. “Sorry,” she whispered as she sat up from where she had been leaning against Sabretooth’s shoulder. He didn’t even grunt in reply, so intent was he on the rapidly approaching ground.
Willow looked down. Below was a forest and they were headed for what seemed, from this height, to be a very small clearing. As they drew closer, its actual size became clear, as did the two figures standing in it.
As soon as the helicopter landed, Willow leapt out of it and into Pyro’s arms. “I’m sorry,” she said.
At the same time Pyro began, “It’s all my fault…”
They both laughed and hugged again. Pyro pulled back and gazed into Willow’s eyes for a moment, once again being drawn into that spark, before kissing her deeply. Wrapping her arms around his neck, Willow kissed him back. Only the sound of Magneto clearing his throat interrupted them.
“I’m glad to see you are over your differences but it wouldn’t do to start a forest fire, now would it?” asked Magneto in a mock-scolding voice.
Willow blushed and Pyro looked a little sheepish but that didn’t stop either of them from holding hands while Mystique explained the situation.
“Why that piece of land?” Logan asked Scott, interrupting the briefing in the hangar. “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”
Scott looked a little frustrated but nodded. “It’s an ancient Native American site. The Brotherhood believe they have a claim on it.”
“What sort of claim?” asked Storm.
The X-men parted as Professor Xavier came to the front in his wheelchair. “Eric believes that certain artefacts prove that mutants have existed for a lot longer than anyone thinks and that we are,” he paused, feeling slightly uncomfortable with what he was about to say, “the next stage in evolution, that we will replace humans just as the cro-magnon replaced the neanderthals tens of thousands of years ago.”
The Professor paused again, this time to survey the reactions of his people. Although no one at the school agreed with Magneto’s methods, there were many who sympathised with his ideas. All of them had experienced prejudice to varying degrees and many secretly thought that humans would never allow them a place in the world.
While he was gazing out over the X-Men, Xavier noticed a small group sneak into the back of the hangar and conceal themselves behind one of the jet’s wheels.
“So they want some trees and rocks in the middle of nowhere. Why not let them just have it?” Logan wanted to know that this battle was going to be worth something. He wasn’t willing to lose someone else he cared about and he’d come to care about everyone at the school.
As if reading Logan’s mind, Scott looked straight at him. Each knew the other was thinking of Jean. “They’re not just going to occupy the land. They’re going to declare it an independent republic of mutants. The President has asked us to step in and prevent this.”
“I didn’t know that we had become a government agency.” Hank’s voice was perfectly calm and reasonable as always.
“We are merely trying to prevent any further violence between mutants and humans,” explained the Professor. There were nods all around. Every time humans attacked mutants, the humans came out of it looking like innocent victims while the media further demonised mutants. It wasn’t good for any of them.
Seeing that everyone understood, Cyclops began issuing orders. “Everyone suit up, we leave in five.”
Suddenly, Xavier turned to face the jet. “You may come out now.”
A sheepish group consisting of Rogue, Bobby, Kitty, Peter, Jubilee and Remy, all dressed in their X-men uniforms, emerged from behind the wheel. They all began to talk at once.
“We thought we could…”
“We want to help…”
“Vous ne pouvez pas…”
“Enough,” commanded the Professor, silencing the students. “I don’t approve of this sneaking around but you have all proven yourselves in different ways and you may come.”
A glare from Xavier silenced the protests that were about to spill forth from Cyclops and the Wolverine. Rogue and Bobby had to contain their cheers of joy as the jet took off.
Magneto smiled as if satisfied with some secret. Willow shifted uncomfortably in her new clothes. The red leather pants were like something Buffy would wear and, in the chill air, she was grateful for the matching jacket that covered her halter top but she didn’t know how she was supposed to do anything in those boots. The heels were higher than anything she’d worn before.
She did, however, appreciate what Mystique had brought for Pyro. His trouser were black leather and his fitted black t-shirt showed his physique to perfection. They stood to one side, holding hands and waiting.
Waiting for what? They didn’t know. Magneto had announced his idea of a free republic of mutants and explained the significance of the location. He hinted that the government would not be happy and that their new republic, like all free nations, would have defend itself. He didn’t say from whom.
“Scared?” Pyro whispered into Willow’s ear.
Willow shrugged. “A little. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do.”
Pyro embraced her. “Stay with me and we’ll be fine.”
“Take your positions,” commanded Mystique, “they’re almost here.”
“We’re almost there. Prepare for landing.” Scott’s voice rang out through the jet.
Bobby grabbed Rogue’s blue-gloved hand. “It’ll be fine.”
“Vater unser im Himmel…” As they came into land, the roaring engines drowned out the sound of Kurt’s soft prayers.
“If you believe in anything greater than yourself, now would be the time to pray.” Magneto looked directly at Willow and she knew, that like her, he had been born and raised Jewish. He realised that her mother and step-father and this mutant-hating world had killed her faith just as surely as the camps had killed his.
While Willow’s gaze was locked with Magneto’s, Pyro’s was captured by the jet landing in the clearing. It was the X-Jet. Willow looked at it uncomprehendingly. She’d never seen it. He had to warn her before…
The door opened and Cyclops strode out alone. He seemed weary to Pyro. “Terms,” he said half-heartedly to Magneto.
Magneto smiled and put on his helmet. “The terms are as follows. You may join us in our quest to create a free mutant nation or you may leave us to our task. We wish for conflict no more than you.”
Cyclops nodded abruptly and turned, walking back into the jet.
Putting an arm around Willow, Pyro tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “What’s going to happen?” she whispered to him.
She didn’t know. She didn’t recognise him. To her, he was just Scott the science teacher. She had never seen him as Cyclops the X-Man. Pyro didn’t know what to say. “I don’t know,” he replied after a long pause.
The door of the jet opened again and the ramp extended all the way down. Professor X came floating out in his chair and Willow gasped but stood firm. She had been expecting human soldiers or government trained mutants, not her old teachers.
The Professor was followed by Cyclops and Storm, Wolverine and Beast. They paused at the bottom of the ramp. “Eric…” began the Professor but Magneto cut him off.
“The time for speeches is at an end Charles.” With a flick of his hand, the Professor’s chair went flying up and lodged in a tree.
The battle was joined.
Toad leapt at Cyclops, receiving a laser blast to the chest for his trouble. Sabretooth and Wolverine approached each other directly in a way that let everyone know that whatever was between them was personal. Mystique and Storm were fighting hand to hand, Storm’s blasts of lightning being deflected by sudden bursts of flame. In an attempt to prevent the fire hindering her attack, Storm summoned rainclouds that brought a great wind with them.
Soon, the trees surrounding half the clearing were on fire and Pyro was too busy defending his brothers to put them out.
Across the clearing, Willow saw Cyclops put one hand over his heart and speak. In response, the door of the jet opened once again, revealing Kurt, who quickly teleported himself into the midst of the fighting.
Looking up again, Willow saw Rogue and Bobby, Kitty and Peter, Remy and Jubilee all standing there. Her first thought was how very fine they all looked in their uniforms. The second, “I can’t do this.”
“What?” asked Pyro, trying to control the fires now raging in the forest around them.
“I can’t do this,” Willow gestured to the group, now coming down the ramp. “I can’t fight our friends.”
Pyro looked up and caught Bobby’s eye. Ice and fire bore into each other until Pyro looked away. It was then he realised that he couldn’t do it either. Fighting for a cause was one thing, fighting against your friends was another.
Running to the side of the clearing, Pyro and Willow crouched down and held each tightly. “We’ll just have to wait this one out then,” said Pyro, pulling the flames from the trees around them into a dome of fire that covered the two of them completely.
Hours later, the sounds of the battle had died away and only the crackling of flames remained. With a questioning look at Willow, Pyro doused the fiery dome, leaving them exposed to the now empty clearing. The trees around were charred. A piece of fabric fluttered past in the breeze and Pyro reached up and caught it.
THE FREE REPUBLIC OF MUTANTS
Laughing bitterly, Pyro let the singed flag go.
“What now?” asked Willow. “Where do we go from here?”
Without answering, Pyro walked over to a tree and retrieved a back pack from behind it. “There’s no going back,” he said, taking Willow’s hand. “Not to the Brotherhood, not Xavier’s. We can’t agree with the ideals of one or the methods of the other.”
Willow nodded. “In a way, Magneto was right. We have to make our own place in the world.”
Shouldering the bag, Pyro turned to Willow. “C’mon Firefly,” he said. Following the sun, they began to walk west.
Author’s Note: Think it wants a sequel? Well I can’t write it but I’m happy for anyone else to take up the story.