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The battle was over and the hellmouth was closed.
Andrew sat on the bus and thought over the events of the previous day. Anya was dead, she died defending him. Spike sacrificed himself to close the hellmouth forever. Robin was seriously injured. Caridad was in bad shape too. Something had happened to Rona, she wouldn't talk to anyone and just sat holding on to herself and quietly crying.
Then he thought further back to more distant events. Xander had lost an eye to Caleb. Kennedy was dead. Willow was barely functioning because of her grief.
He thought about Warren who had turned evil and killed Tara and subsequently been killed by Willow... and Jonathan whom he, himself had killed while under the control of the first evil.
The pain of losing so many people he considered friends tore into his soul and he began to consider the nature of friendship. These people, that he was traveling toward Cleveland with, seemed on the surface to be his friends but not too long ago he was their enemy. They had held him captive, tied to a chair. Finally they trusted him enough to let him loose and let him fight along-side them. But were they his friends? Anya was his friend; they were both outsiders to the core group and had begun to develop a real friendship... before she died.
But what about the rest? Were they really his friends? He was aware of their condescending attitude toward him. Just because he tended to use metaphors that contained Star Wars and Lord of the Rings scenes, his thoughts were dismissed as childish. He was the same age as Buffy, Xander, and Willow. He was older than Caridad and the rest. Yet everyone in the group treated him as if he were the youngest of them... even Dawn.
All of a sudden Andrew was shocked out of his remembrances. He felt like something was about to erupt within him and he was scared. They were on a bus on the open highway.
He knew what was going to happen next. He was about to have one of his attacks. If he allowed it to happen, he wouldn't be able to distinguish between reality and his hallucinations. He had felt the attacks coming on and had been able to suppress them up to now but this one was so powerful that he knew that it would get away from him.
Normally he would sit through his hallucination alone, very quietly and when it passed, he would feel better, like it had been exhausted, and he would be normal again.
He had been hiding the hallucinations for years, it had been his only secret, his hidden shame. Even Warren and Jonathan didn't know about it and now it was about to happen in front of all these people. He didn't know what to expect really. He had never been around anyone when it happened before and had no idea of how to suppress it when it was this powerful.
He heard a scream in the distance as the bus swerved and spun and finally came to a screeching halt. Moments later he realized that the scream had been his own and that a swirling vortex of energy had formed right beside the bus. He knew instinctively that this vortex was the physical manifestation of the hallucination and therefore his responsibility to close. He didn't understand how one of his hallucinations could become real like this, but Buffy and the others could obviously see it.
People started pouring out of the bus to inspect the swirling bluish twist in reality.
Buffy whirled on him and screamed, "What did you do? You made this didn't you? How many times have we told you not to fool around with magic, you could have gotten us all killed!"
Andrew made his way past Buffy and, focusing his thought and power, he raised his hands and drew the energy powering the vortex back into himself.
The others watched in shock as Andrew commanded such power and dissipated the vortex without incantation or ritual.
"What did you do?" Buffy repeated, assuming her intimidation stance. (Huffy Buffy angry arms #4)
"I... I don't know. It just slipped out..." Andrew said with wide-terrified eyes.
"Slipped out?!" Buffy squeaked. Then after a moment to calm herself she continued in a quieter tone, "Do you think you can keep it from slipping out again till we get to Phoenix?"
Andrew just nodded his head. Buffy took command as she was wont to do and got everyone back on the bus. Everyone stayed away from him and not another word was said.
The bus continued on and Andrew began to think to himself, [They saw it. It wasn't just in my mind. All these years I've been thinking I was going insane and it really was happening. What does it mean? What have I been seeing?]
* * * * *
//Cyclops, Storm, Bobby. Go to the Blackbird immediately. I've just detected an Alpha level mutant in Arizona. For some reason I can't focus fully on him but he is giving off waves of grief and fear. I'm using Cerebro to ascertain his exact position. Scott, you're team leader. Ororo, you can pilot and provide backup in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Bobby, even though you aren't an official member of the team, I was hoping that you might be closer to this boy's age and would be able to put him at ease.//
//Yes Professor.// Storm and Cyclops replied as Bobby responded, //Thank you Professor.//
Within minutes the X-Men had assembled themselves at the jet and were underway to Arizona.
* * * * *
The Blackbird landed in the Superstition Wilderness outside Mesa Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. Storm waited with the jet as Bobby and Scott made their way to the forest's campground. With a little telepathic nudge from the professor, a cab met them at the campground and they made their way into town. Guided telepathically by the professor they made their way through Mesa and into Tempe and eventually found themselves in front of a door in a seedy motel.
//He's inside. Be careful. He is despondent and quite powerful.// The professor telepathically sent to the pair.
Cyclops knocked on the door. When the door opened, the teenage boy's face was alight with hope, then suddenly fell when he saw that these weren't his friends come back to reclaim him.
"May we come in? We'd like to talk to you for a minute if you don't mind." Cyclops said kindly. He didn't need to be a telepath to feel the disappointment pouring off the boy.
"If you're here to sell me something, you can save your pitch for someone with money. And if you're here to discuss the state of my immortal soul, that one's been pretty much decided." Andrew said, withdrawing into the room.
Cyclops entered the dingy little room, followed by Bobby. "I'm Scott Summers, this is Bobby Drake. We aren't here to sell you anything or try to convert your beliefs. We came because we detected a large discharge of power in the area that traced back to you. We wanted to know if you would like some help learning how to control that power. There is no pressure here. If you say yes, we can take you with us to a school for people who need to learn to control gifts like yours. If you say no, we'll leave and not bother you again."
"A school? For people like me?" Andrew questioned in disbelief.
"Yes, the general public isn't aware of how many people like you... like us, there are. By receiving training, we can use our gifts responsibly and not be a threat to the general population." Scott said quietly.
Andrew thought for a moment, [Why not? Buffy dumped me here to fend for myself. I have three more days in this motel room, then I'm out on the street. I have thirteen dollars in my pocket. I have no place to go. No one to give a damn if I live or die. Why not take a chance?]
"Okay, I... I'll give it a try." Andrew said haltingly.
"What is your name?" Scott asked awkwardly.
"Andrew. Lee Andrew Wells." Andrew said with a big geeky smile and extended his hand.
Scott took Andrew's hand and shook it firmly. "Well Andrew, if you'll gather your things, we can go right now." Scott said with a smile of his own.
* * * * *
They made their way to the forest by way of a cab, then started walking.
"Guys, is this school in the middle of the forest?" Andrew asked while hefting a suitcase for a better grip.
"No, we came in a jet that is parked just ahead. Would you like some help with one of those bags?" Bobby asked with a smile.
"Sure, uh, that would be great." Andrew answered, surprised that these total strangers could be so friendly and inviting.
Bobby took the suitcase from Andrew and five minutes later they came upon Storm in the forest.
"Andrew, this is Ororo Munroe. Ororo, this is Andrew." Scott said formally.
"A pleasure to meet you Andrew." Ororo said and extended an elegant hand.
Andrew took her hand and shook it gently. "Nice to meet you Ororo." Andrew said with a timid smile.
"The Blackbird is right this way." Ororo said and led the way.
"This thing is awesome! It's like something out of Star Wars! We're actually gonna fly in it?!" Andrew said, so excited he was one step from hyperventilating.
Storm got an indulgent smile on her face as she nodded and led the way into the jet.
"Yes, put on your seat belt and enjoy the ride." She said, enjoying the boy's excitement.
//I think his mutation makes him invulnerable to telepathic scans. I can get flashes of emotion from him but no thoughts.// The professor sent to Scott.
//He seems to feel all his emotions to the extreme. From what little I've seen, when he's sad, he's in the depths of despair and when he's happy, he's on top of the world.// Scott responded.
//Such a thing can be a blessing and a curse. When you arrive, bring him to the dining room to meet with me, my study can be a bit intimidating and I'd like to make him as comfortable as possible.// The professor sent before he let the link go quiet.
* * * * *
Andrew followed the others off the jet and through the hallways of the enormous mansion. He had seen the building from the outside and couldn't believe such a large and beautiful place existed outside the movies. His mind focused back on the present as they entered a large dining room.
"Welcome Andrew, I'm Professor Charles Xavier, I run this school for the gifted." The professor said, extending a hand.
"Wow, this is so cool. I mean, I've never been anyplace so beautiful before. My whole house could fit into this room!" Andrew said, then came to an abrupt stop as he realized that he was babbling.
Professor Xavier let the verbal barrage go without comment and replied, "Thank you, I'm glad you like my home. If you choose to stay, you would be living here."
Andrew's eyes got big as he thought about living in a mansion in the country like the rich people he had seen on TV.
"Scott, would you take Andrew to his room so he can get settled in?" The professor said verbally while mentally he said, //If you don't object, I'd like for him to have Jean's old room. I get the feeling that he may need to have someone close for a while that he can depend on for help, and if you are willing to serve I would like that person to be you.//
"Of course Professor, come on Andrew and I'll show you the way." Scott said verbally and in his mind he said, //I would have volunteered if you didn't ask. Someone's done a number on this kid, he looks like he's expecting to get slapped down every time he says something.//
//Listen to him, let him tell you his story in his own time. For now just get him settled in and we'll introduce him to the other students at dinner.// The professor responded as Scott and Andrew left the room.
"I just want to hold him close and protect him from the world." Storm said with uncharacteristic emotion.
"No one had better give him a hard time while I'm around." Bobby said with venom.
"I understand and share in your protective feelings for Andrew. I think it best if, for now we let him know that we are available to him if he should need us for anything and leave the next move to him. I am worried that he might feel crowded or bullied if we all push for him to stay." The professor said as he put the pieces together in his own mind.
"Of course, Charles. But it wouldn't hurt if I found out what his favorite meal is and had it for dinner tonight. Would it?" Ororo asked with a gentle smile.
"No, it wouldn't hurt a thing." Charles said with an answering smile.
* * * * *
"This will be your room." Scott said as he opened the door for Andrew.
"Gods above and below us, I've never imagined a room like this. It's huge! You mean I get this room all to myself?" Andrew asked, on the verge of hyperventilating with excitement.
"Yes, it's all yours. Mine is right over there." Scott said from the doorway, pointing.
Andrew saw the movement and stepped back into the hall to be sure he knew where Scott was pointing.
Scott said seriously, "If you need anything, just ask." And made as if to walk away.
Andrew nodded in acceptance and turned to walk back into his room.
Scott put his hand on Andrew's shoulder and gently turned him back to face him.
"Andrew, I'm not just saying the words to be kind. I mean it, if you need anything... to find your way to somewhere in the mansion, or to the phone, or if you just feel like talking, I'll be here for you. I know it can be scary to be in a new place with new people. Everyone here has been in the same place as you are right now and knows how it feels." Scott said, letting caring show through his voice.
"Thank you, Scott. I don't think I've had a chance to be scared yet. I'm still too freaked out by how big and wonderful this place is." Andrew said with excitement.
Scott tilted his head, as if listening to something only he could hear then asked, "What's your favorite meal?"
"What do you mean? Like all time ever or everyday food?" Andrew asked confused by the seeming non sequitur.
"Either. What foods do you enjoy the most?" Scott said, not wanting to get into a discussion about telepathy at the moment.
"Well Whoppers are my favorite burger, KFC's Original Recipe is my favorite chicken, and Domino's thin crust, light sauce, cheese only is my favorite pizza..." Andrew said before Scott could interrupt.
"Sorry, I meant home cooked foods."
"About the only foods I've had that were cooked at home were mac & cheese, beanie weenies, and soup. I guess the beanie weenies were my favorite. Why did you want to know?" Andrew asked suspiciously.
Scott considered the question and finally decided that he'd better come clean. Enough facts were being glossed over without a bald-faced lie. "The professor is a telepath, Ororo asked him if she could cook your favorite meal tonight so that you would feel welcomed. The professor just asked me to ask you what your favorite meal is."
Andrew nodded seriously then asked, "Why didn't he just ask me himself?"
"He didn't want to scare you by speaking to your mind all of a sudden. Besides that, you seem to be resistant to telepathy, he might not be able to speak to your mind anyway." Scott answered honestly.
"Yeah, I would have probably freaked if I started hearing voices in my head... If you know that I'm resistant to telepathy, does that mean he already tried to read my mind and couldn't?" Andrew asked without anger or accusation.
Scott nodded and said, "Yes, but that was before we met you. He just wanted to know who you were, if you needed help..."
"...If I had an automatic weapon pointing at the door you were about to knock on." Andrew finished, understanding that the scan was for Scott and Bobby's protection.
"Yeah, that's the type of thing we like to know in advance." Scott said with a timid smile, still standing in the doorway.
"Where are my manners, come in and sit down... unless you have somewhere else you need to be... I mean you don't have to... but if you wanted..." Andrew stammered.
Scott decided to put Andrew out of his misery and said, "Andrew, I would enjoy sitting and talking with you and I don't need to be anywhere else before dinner. The only reason I was going to leave earlier was to give you time to unpack and rest up after all the things that have happened today."
"I can unpack later and I'm way too excited to rest, so come in." Andrew said nearly vibrating with energy.
Moving into the room, Andrew led Scott to the small table with two chairs just inside the door and took a seat. "What should we talk about?" Andrew asked, truly at a loss.
"Well, why don't we start by telling a little about ourselves and we'll see where the conversation takes us?" Scott asked and received a nod of agreement from Andrew.
"Well, you already know that my name is Scott Summers. Let's see... I'm twenty-three years old and I have one surviving relative, my brother Alex. My mutant ability is an optic blast of energy, which is why I always wear these glasses. I was one of Professor Xavier's first students. I am a qualified teacher and teach some classes here at the school. I also take some classes taught by the professor, so I'm still a student too." Scott said, then thought all of that might have been a little intimidating.
Andrew processed that information for a moment then said, "My name is Lee Andrew Wells. I'm also twenty-three but most people think I'm about sixteen. I don't know if I have any relatives left alive. Dad left us when I was about five and Mom bailed out when I turned fifteen. I took turns staying at my friends, Warren and Jonathan's houses till I graduated high school. Their parents never figured out I was living with them, ain't that something? Jonathan and Warren and me, we made some bad choices. Warren killed this girl, and the girl's lover killed Warren. And Jonathan... is dead too."
Scott noticed the shrouded look that came over Andrew's face and heeded the professor's words earlier, 'in his own time.'
Thinking to divert the conversation from becoming too serious Scott finally said, "We have a pretty good video library here at the mansion. What types of movies do you enjoy?"
* * * * *
The topics of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and various action/adventure movies were introduced and discussed in due time.
When the discussion of movies had been exhausted, an uncomfortable silence fell between them and Scott decided to ask a question that was nagging at his mind. "So, what kind of ability do you have? I mean we know that it was powerful, but we don't know exactly what it is."
"Honestly, I don't know what it is either. Until this morning... Gods was it only this morning? It seems like days ago... Anyway, I always thought that I was hallucinating when it happened. I would feel this... build up... and I would have to let it loose. When I did, I would see things that I didn't think were real." Andrew said haltingly, having difficulty finding words to describe it. Then he said in a lost tragic voice, "I thought I was going crazy."
Andrew sat in silence for a moment then came back to himself. "I went for a few days without... using up my power, I suppose... and so it built-up in me... the power was too much for me and it slipped out. It made this swirly thing, it seemed like a portal, or vortex. I don't know where the thing led to, but it would have been big enough to fit our entire bus into." Andrew said, remembering the morning.
"Did it go away on its own or did you close it?" Scott asked with genuine curiosity.
"I took back the power that made it open. It didn't feel like I closed it as much as pulled the plug on it." Andrew answered.
Scott thought for a moment and said, "We have a student here that can teleport himself. He might be able to help us figure out how to focus and control your power... from the way you describe it, it's similar to his in some ways. His name is Kurt, you should be meeting him at dinner. Speaking of which, we should be getting there now. Dinner will be served in a few minutes."
Andrew got up from his chair and walked over to a mirror, fussing with his hair for a minute before turning to leave.
"You look fine. It might be a little scary to meet all the students at once like this but just remember that each and every one of them has had to go through the same thing and were just as scared as you." Scott said with reassurance.
"Okay, I can do this." Andrew said, bracing himself.
"I'll be right there with you. Bobby, Ororo, and the professor will be there too. If it gets to be too much, just tell one of us and we'll get you out of there." Scott said, worried about the frightened look on Andrew's face.
Andrew took in a breath and nodded.
"Then, let's go." Scott said, leading the way out of the room.
* * * * *
They entered the dining room to find nearly two dozen people milling around, finding places to sit.
"We can sit over here if you like." Scott said quietly as he led Andrew to a table by the wall.
"Students... may I have your attention." Professor Xavier said in a full voice, quieting everyone in an instant.
"This is Lee Andrew Wells. He is visiting our school today and may decide to join us. Please make him feel welcomed." The professor said as he motioned to a suddenly dumbstruck Andrew.
"Say Hi." Scott said quietly.
"Hi." Andrew said to the room.
Some general murmuring commenced, then Ororo entered the room. "Bobby, Scott, and Andrew, would you help me carry in dinner?" She asked with her ever-present dignity and grace.
"Of course." Scott said, speaking for the group.
Andrew followed blindly along behind Scott into the next room.
"Andrew looked as though he could use a moment away from the spotlight." Ororo said kindly to Scott.
"Thanks." Andrew said shyly.
"Ororo, have you seen Kurt today? I wanted to introduce him to Andrew." Scott said, as Ororo passed him a large bowl of salad.
"No, I believe that he and Hank went to Boston to gather some of his things, they should be back in the morning." Ororo answered and handed Andrew a platter of assorted breads.
"I guess you'll get to meet him tomorrow." Scott said as he walked out of the kitchen, closely followed by Andrew.
"Why do I always get the heavy one?" Bobby asked with strain in his voice as he followed more slowly.
They made their way into the dining room and sat their pans on the center table.
* * * * *
The beanie weenies had been a great success with all the students. The accompanying side-dishes made up for any nutritional deficiencies in the main course. Salads and multi-grain breads plus a dish that Ororo insisted was a squash puree but most at the table believed to be a form of algae and decided to pass.
After the meal, Scott led Andrew to the common room where the students could enjoy television, Ping Pong, and other assorted games.
"Would you like to hang around here or do something else?" Scott asked Andrew carefully.
"What are you going to do?" Andrew asked quietly.
"I think I'm going to put on a movie... that is if I can get the group to agree on one." Scott said loudly enough to catch the attention of the others in the room.
"Sweet Home Alabama." Marie said quickly.
Several groans and hisses ensued.
"Terminator 3." Scott said next.
"Watched it last week... I liked 2 better... I'd rather read a book." Were the comments from the group although the book comment from Bobby was an obvious exaggeration.
"Star Wars Trilogy." Bobby said with enthusiasm.
Andrew perked up at that suggestion and said, "I'd like to see Star Wars."
Scott thought about it and even though he normally wouldn't watch it, it might be fun to watch it with Andrew. "I could go for Star Wars." He said to the group.
"Okay." Marie said, not really caring.
"Yeah." Piotr said and took a seat.
Someone's shadow passed quickly by the doorway and Scott called out, "Logan, would you like to watch Star Wars with us?"
Logan poked his head into the room and asked, "The real Star Wars or that Amidala, Anakin crap?"
"The real Star Wars. We're just about to start the first movie." Scott said hopefully.
"Yeah, thanks One-Eye... who's tha kid?" Logan asked when he noticed Andrew.
"Logan, this is Andrew. Andrew this is Logan, don't take him personally... he's just like that." Scott said with a smile to forestall any offense.
"Nice to meet you. You like Star Wars?" Andrew asked with apparent disbelief.
"Yeah. Good action, good story." Logan said gruffly.
Marie turned off the light as Bobby started the movie and silence fell over the room as the words 'Episode IV: A New Hope' scrolled up the screen.
* * * * *
Andrew laid down on his bed and thought about the past two days. Yesterday he knew that he was going to die fighting the first evil. This morning he was sure that he was going to be living on the Cleveland hellmouth with the Slayers. This afternoon he thought he was going to be alone and living on the street, he had no friends, no home, no hope of any escape. Now he was in a new home with people who seemed to really like him.
The professor had welcomed him into his home without knowing anything about him except that he needed help. Ororo had cared enough to prepare beanie weenies for dinner, and everyone seemed to enjoy them as much as he did. He had found that Bobby shared his love of all things Star Wars and didn't think he was a geek or nerd for knowing trivia about the movies.
Then there were the others who he had met during the movies and between tapes. Marie had been friendly but what really caught his attention was when he caught her smiling at him while he was talking Star Wars trivia with Bobby. It wasn't an eye-rolling 'he's such a stupid kid' smile like Willow would have given. Her smile seemed to be happy for her friend Bobby finding someone to share in his Star Wars talk. Piotr hadn't really spoken to him until the end, but when he did Andrew couldn't doubt that the large Russian was completely honest when he said, "I hope you decide to stay with us." These people didn't want anything from him but to help him learn to use his powers and to be his friend.
Finally, there was Scott. Andrew wasn't blind or stupid. He knew that the professor had asked Scott to look after him... but it wasn't like that. Scott could have accomplished that by taking him to his room and leaving him there or leaving him with the kids to watch the movie. But Scott had stayed with him through all three Star Wars movies and seemed to enjoy his company. In the morning he was going to give his answer. He thought he might like to stay here. This was what he had been looking for his entire life... a place where he belonged.