Carol of the Bells

By Nichole (Neko-chan) Johnson

Written: May 14, 2003

Rated: PG (may go up)

Pairings: Mainly Kurt/Kitty; canon pairings mentioned (Scott/Jean, Rogue/Remy)

Disclaimer: I don't own either the X-Men: Evolution series or the X-Men in general. Each is the respective property of Warner Bros. and Marvel.

Author's Notes: This being my first X-Men: Evolution fic, or X-Men fic in general, I hope you'll all excuse any continuity errors on my part. I have seen the entire first season—though it's been awhile—and the first several episodes of the 2nd season, but have only read the episode summaries from thereon or seen random season 2 & 3 episodes on Adult Swim, so I'm sure I've made some mistakes. Therefore, I wrote this fic as sort of AU/future-fic, because not only have I not seen the entire series, but I also plan on incorporating elements from the original X-Men comics and animation, as well as the movies. I'll try to note them in further Author Notes at the end of each chapter when I allude to elements not in the Evo series. Anyway, reviews would be greatly appreciated!

Tribute: Inspired by the awesome Nightcrawler fics by Saille, specifically those involving Kitty as well (because I love those two—whether romantically involved, or purely platonic.) This first chapter, as well as the underlying plot of Kitty's return to the Institute is based heavily on her fic, "Cat's Cradle", for which I apologize. It will move in a different direction, I swear! But I would still like to thank her, as well as PallaPlease, the author of "Angel", (a really good Christmas/future fic) which this idea also heavily mirrors. I hope neither author takes offense by the obvious similarities between this fic and there's; I was merely inspired by their respective works!

"Home again, home again, jiggity-jig."

- Mother Goose

She had nearly forgotten how cold New York winters could be. The wind was biting and harsh up here in the Northeast corner of the country, frosting windows and freezing sidewalks into dangerous pathways, and driving its citizens into excessive bundles of faux fur and heavy down jackets against the cold.

Kitty wished she had been as equally prepared, as she shivered uncomfortably in her stylish yet hardly ample coat. She drew her collar up higher, stuffing thinly-gloved fingers into the narrow pockets of the tawny pleather; glad for the relative protection of her mane of thick brown hair that spilled over her shoulders, covering her ears from the cold as she gazed up at the familiar iron gates before her. An expanse of untouched white spread out from beyond the wrought iron bars, sparkling occasionally in the faint gleam of the gate lamps and the welcoming glow that spread out from the great windows of the enormous estate that lay beyond the pristine drifts. It was at once a daunting and hospitable spectacle, as well as an antecedent for a flood of old memories that arose unbidden at the sight.

Kitty Pryde steeled herself, a momentary bout of hesitation nipping at the back of her mind; an irrational nervousness she couldn't seem to place holding her frozen in place at the unopened gates.

Six years. It hadn't felt a longtime at first, but in retrospect—as she stood here now facing old, high school memories on the icy walk—it had been a small forever. In the grand scheme of things, six years was a drop in the bucket… But in six years, so much could change so as to be all but unrecognizable. Even now, little details—the voices of her friends at the Institute, the smell of the halls—had faded from her mind completely, and she struggled now at the resurfacing memories to place them.

It was like her first arrival at the Institute all over again, for she didn't know what to expect. And she found herself afraid to upset those pleasant memories with the reality that had overcome her old home.

The world had begun to change; had begun to change before she had even come to the Institute, newly aware of her mutant powers. At first imperceptible, then sudden and drastic; as she recalled her turbulent freshman and junior years here in Bayville. But things had quieted down for sometime after that, or so she had thought. She hadn't really noticed until her last year at college. She had managed to keep her unusual abilities a secret since leaving the Institute; managed to play the role of the normal college student, to seemingly go about her life in a normal fashion.

But things hadn't been normal. Things had begun happening on the news. Strange occurrences; unexplainable occurrences. The word 'mutant' had begun appearing more and more often on the nightly news, inciting nervous discord amongst the general populace. On the campus, things had remained relatively the same—the students were generally too wrapped up in their studies, their school politics and approaching careers to take stock of news on the outside world.

It was her senior year that the mutant issue truly made its way on campus. That was the year that anti-mutant movements had begun to spring up once again and riots and acts of violence against mutants had become a regular occurrence nationwide. Even after graduation, she had begun to hear stories of anti-mutant violence in Europe, South America, and the Mid-East; where acts of terrorism were daily occurrences ever on the rise.

For the last two years she had begun to feel real fear once again. Even without the rise of anti-mutant sentiments that had been going on around the world, Kitty had been faced with a dilemma upon graduation. She had spent the last two years drifting from one job, from one city to the other, unsure of her direction. To some extent, she had thought that college would give her a direction, a purpose. But though she had graduated with full marks and an impressive degree, she found herself more lost than she had been before she had even left the Institute. She had thought that what she wanted was to lead a normal life. But as the years drifted by, she found she was unsure of just what that was. She felt stifled everywhere she went; in everything she did. Something was not right, and she longed for the freedom and self-satisfaction she had felt as a girl amidst the other students at Xavier's Institute.

She wondered if it had been telepathy; wondered if it had been Cerebro that had made her growing fears and discontent apparent to the Professor. Even so, the call had been both a blessing and a cause for further strife.

She had left the Institute to pursue what she had believed to be normalcy. And she would return there now to discover whether she had been right in doing so.

As she stood there, contemplating all of this amidst a cloud of vapor formed by her breath, the iron gates squealed softly in protest as they swung slowly open as if to some silent bidding, and again Kitty found herself wondering if the Professor had sensed her anxieties. Even after all this time, she knew the action was a sign of open invitation, and she smiled softly in appreciation as she took the hint and strode swiftly through the gates; her gait falling quickly into the familiarity of the path.

She glanced around at the familiar, snow-blanketed grounds as she walked, hearing the faint squeal of metal as the gates closed behind her. She could practically see the shadows of winters' past darting through the pristine drifts; the hollow tinkle of joyful laughter and playful taunts faint in her ears. A tinge of sorrow settled on her soul; a bittersweet smile settling on her lips as memories mingled with the fearful reality of the present and the sense of loneliness that accompanied both. A part of her hadn't wanted to come back, but another part had known she had never truly left. And it hurt to think that things wouldn't be the same.

The entrance hall was just as she remembered it, though a hollowness seemed to echo the great expanse. But even that was strangely familiar; with Christmas more than a week away, and the students more than likely away on winter vacation, she was reminded vaguely of the sense of stillness that befell the great estate during holidays as a teenager. Nostalgia hit her hard as she stood on the threshold, drinking in the welcome heat that greeted her. She half-expected Kurt to swing down from the chandelier and great her in a cloud of sulfurous smoke, white fangs bared in a customary, devilish grin.

But she was greeted only by the continued pall of silence that seemed to hang over the place, and her nostalgic fantasy dissolved as quickly as it had appeared. The young woman took a few cautious steps further into the room, blue eyes darting about the expanse in idle curiosity as she unbuttoned her coat and slipped out of her icy gloves.

"Hello? Professor? Anyone?"

There was the vague sense of a smile in her mind, and then the Professor's warm voice broke through her thoughts. [Hello, Kitty. It has been awhile.]

Despite her doubts, despite the qualms she had had about returning, Kitty smiled with genuine sincerity, hoping his thoughts would sense it. "Yeah, I guess it has," she replied, perhaps unnecessarily aloud, but she knew he could hear her answer regardless; just as she knew he could sense the dark cloud of uncertainty in her mind, but she made no effort to conceal it. To some extent, it had been these fears and doubts that had led him to call her here in the first place. And it was the desire for guidance that had driven her to heed his invitation in the end. She was fully aware that no attempts on her part could conceal such an agenda from Xavier's mind had she wanted to do so.

But concealment had not been part of her agenda for this visit.

[I am sorry I couldn't be there to greet you personally, Kitty, but I am indisposed at the moment. In the meantime, I have sent Jean to receive you in my place,] came Xavier's mental summons once again, breaking Kitty from her thoughts.

The auburn-haired woman frowned slightly at the message. [Professor…]

His thoughts, however, cut off her protest. [I understand that you wish to speak with me, Kitty. But I will have to postpone our conversation for now. I hope you understand.]

There was a frustrated pause on Kitty's part, and then she deferred reluctantly; mentally deflating. [Of course, Professor.]

[Good. In the meantime, Jean and the others are quite enthused to visit with you after all this time, as are you, I'm sure. I believe that a little catching-up is in good order, don't you agree?]

Kitty's smile was faint, though not ill-tempered. [I guess I have been feeling a bit nostalgic as of late...] was her mental reply, hinting of humor. We can save the heavy stuff for later, she added to herself, knowing that the Professor wouldn't listen in on these thoughts.

She had to admit that a reunion of the old 'crew' held a certain allure to it; couldn't deny that she had missed them all greatly over the past six years, each to their own extent. And it would be a good chance for her to calm her nerves a bit about her visit to the old place; to relax and gather her thoughts and wits before confronting Xavier about her directional misgivings. Perhaps all along she had intended for her visit to turn into such a social call.

There were certain old acquaintances she had been longing to see once again; that had occupied her thoughts more often than she was wont to admit in her six-year absence. Perhaps she wouldn't admit to such hopes aloud, but they were what finally decided her as she willingly gave into the Professor's temporary dismissal.

It seemed just as she was coming to this personal conclusion, a familiar, tall redhead appeared suddenly at the top of the staircase, a welcoming smile on her lips. Smiling eagerly in return, Kitty moved swiftly to meet her.