The cold huddled figure walked up the long drive and finally saw the mansion in the distance.
[What the fuck?] He thought to himself, but continued to walk.
Turning around was not an option, there was nothing but cold and isolation behind him anyway. And an eight mile walk.
The guy on the phone had said to come here... maybe they wouldn't treat him too bad.
A sudden gust of wind nearly knocked him off his feet, but he turned his body against the wind and kept moving.
That's the secret, the cold won't get you if you keep moving, gotta keep moving.
Finally he reached the door and it opened before he could knock.
"Hello?" the little girl said curiously.
"Hi." The boy said hesitantly.
"Come inside. It's cold." The girl said and grabbed his hand.
[She touched me. No one's touched me since... I can't remember.] Slash thought as he was led into the room that looked like a museum.
"Are you hungry? We're having Thanksgiving dinner." The little girl asked with excitement as she led the way.
Slash was overcome by the question. Hungry? He couldn't remember being anything other than hungry for months.
"Yeah." He said in nearly a whisper.
She led him into a huge room filled with dozens of people.
His first reaction was to turn and run. If he weren't so shocked by his surroundings and being pulled by the little girl, he might have. He felt ashamed. The coat he wore was worn out and second hand before he got it. He knew what he looked like, and didn't feel that he belonged here. These were probably some rich family celebrating their prosperity by eating till they were sick.
"The food's over here. Come on." The little girl said while still pulling his hand.
He couldn't help but follow as he was trying to see if anyone was watching him.
Suddenly he realized that she'd released his hand and he was standing before a serving line of about a hundred different kinds of food.
[Am I dreaming? Did I fall asleep on the bus and now I'm dreaming of food?] He thought in a daze as he carefully picked up a fine china plate and walked to the first pan of food.
"Hey, I don't think we've met." A voice said from behind him that nearly made him drop the plate.
Slash turned around and saw a pleasant looking guy, about his own age.
"Hey." He said hesitantly, then went back to dishing up food.
"I'm Clark." The boy said, sounding a little more hesitant.
"Okay Slash, do you have anyone to sit with?" Clark asked, sounding friendly again.
"No." Slash said in a gruff whisper.
"You probably don't want that. The food on that table is... special." Clark said with difficulty.
Slash turned to look at Clark in question, maybe a little hurt.
"I mean, some of the people here can't eat regular food. It's for them." Clark said hurriedly, not wanting Slash to get the wrong idea... whatever it was.
Slash nodded and moved on down the line.
"That sweet potato stuff is really good, and my mom made the sauerkraut salad." Clark said, pointing out the dishes.
Slash took a small portion of each.
The plate was starting to mound over and Clark noticed.
"You can come back as many times as you want. They said they're going to keep the food out till nine tonight." Clark said softly.
Slash nodded and turned to look around the room.
"Over here, I'll introduce you to the guys." Clark said and led the way without hesitation.
Slash was feeling overwhelmed, but followed and took the seat that was offered to him.
"Guys, this is Slash. Slash, this is John, Trey, Chris, Ronny, Bobby and Robert." Clark said as he pointed to each one.
"Hi." Slash said quickly before taking a big bite of sweet potatoes.
"I can take your coat for you if you'd like." Clark offered helpfully.
Slash froze and thought about that.
If he took off his coat, they'd see, they'd know.
But if he didn't, they might ask questions and figure out he didn't belong here.
"Kay." Slash said and took off his coat.
He tried not to look at their reactions to his appearance as he removed his coat, hat and gloves.
"Be right back." Clark said and took his coat out of the room.
Slash took another bite of food, then tried to casually look around to see if they were staring at him.
To his surprise, Robert, Chris and Bobby were talking with each other while Trey and John were watching Clark walk out of the room.
Slash took another bite of food and nearly choked when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Hi, I don't think we've met." The man said in a friendly voice.
Slash turned around in his chair and saw the man towering over him.
"This is Slash." John said from the other side of the table.
"Nice to meet you Slash. How did you come to be here?" The man asked curiously.
"I talked to this German guy on the phone and he said if I got into town before Sunday, I was supposed to come here." Slash said in a hurried and frightened voice.
"Oh, you must have been talking to Kurt. So are you going to be going to the Wagner school?" the man asked as he took a seat.
"Yeah. Or at least I'm gonna try." Slash said timidly.
Clark sat back down in the seat the other side from the guy who was talking.
"Guys, would you take Slash up to the room across from Bobby's when he's ready? He'll be staying with us a few days." the man said to the group.
"We'll take care of him Mr. Summers." Ronny said firmly.
"Scott. I'm only Mr. Summers in class." Scott said with a genuine smile.
"Okay Scott. We'll help Slash find his way around." Ronny said in a softer voice.
"Thanks, I have to get back to the head table. And Slash, I'll let Warren know you're here." Scott said as he stood.
"Who was that?" Slash asked the group.
"He's kind of the second in charge around here." Ronny said simply.
"And a teacher." Bobby added.
"And my brother." Clark said happily.
"And my Uncle." Trey said with a smile.
"Wow. He sounds really important." Slash said in a thoughtful voice and realized that, somehow, he'd managed to finish off his plate of food.
"Yeah, I guess so. He's really cool though. He took some of us camping last weekend. He's a lot of fun." Bobby said with a smile.
"Cool." Slash said and stood with his empty plate.
"Hey Slash, if you want, we can show you your room, then you can come back for more if you're still hungry." Clark offered quickly.
Slash stopped and thought about it and finally nodded.
"I will take care of your plate." Robert said and took the plate from Slash's hand.
"Mind if we come?" John asked.
Clark looked at Slash and waited.
Slash gave a bewildered shake of his head.
The group of four walked out of the dining room and down the hall.
"It's up this way... oh yeah, and your coat is in that closet over there." Clark said as they walked toward the stairs.
"Thanks." Slash said in an absent voice.
* * * * *
"Who is that?" The Professor asked when Scott returned from talking to the pale boy. No, more than pale, his skin was completely white. The white skin was even more apparent given his deep raven black hair and eyebrows. He was sitting and talking with John and Ronny.
"His name is Slash, he's one of the students for the Wagner Institute. He just got into town... I think." Scott said as he sat down.
"You think?" Professor Xavier questioned.
"He was so nervous, I didn't want to interrogate him any more than necessary. Don't worry, the guys are going to take care of him." Scott said with confidence.
"Please don't take this the wrong way, but since when do you let anyone take care of anything without your direct supervision?" The Professor asked curiously.
"Since I spent some time with the guys and realized that they are all capable, responsible young men. If I try to do everything myself, I only cause more strain on me and take away another chance for them to contribute." Scott said simply.
"A lesson I have yet to learn, apparently." Professor Xavier said seriously.
"You're getting there Charles." Eric said with a smile.
Charles smiled back, then watched as Slash, Clark, Trey and John left the room.
* * * * *
"Hank? Are you in here?" Orroro asked with concern.
"Yes Ro, I'm back here." Hank said from a small room.
"How are you?" Orroro asked, knowing that he was feeling some responsibility for Peter's death.
"Not too well. The incident with Peter has made me question my relationship with the students." Hank said and looked up from his work.
"How so?" Orroro said with interest as she casually leaned against his desk.
"I was taught in residence to maintain a certain detachment from my patients. Not to become involved in their personal lives beyond what is necessary for diagnostic purposes. They said that personal feelings could cloud objectivity." Hank said as he looked deeply into her eyes.
"I have to say that I disagree with that philosophy." Orroro said smoothly.
"I'm beginning to as well. I feel that if I had taken more of an interest in Peter's life, his emotional well being, I would have had some inkling that this was coming."
"Hank, you can't take responsibility for everyone else's actions and choices. Only your own. Come on, you need a break. Come walk with me." Orroro said hopefully.
"Yes, I suppose I do need a break, and a walk in the night air would be refreshing." Hank said with a smile.
"And as I recall, you still owe me a roaring fire and a cup of hot cocoa." Orroro said as she led him from the room.
"That I do." Hank said gently as he took hold of Orroro's hand.
Neither noticed the machine he had been monitoring was still running as they left.
* * * * *
"This place is awesome." Slash said in wonder.
"Yeah, it's really nice." Clark said and stopped in the hall.
"Just so you know, this is our room, Johns and mine... at least for a few more days. So if you need anything, you just come on over... but you'll probably want to knock first." Clark finished in a timid voice.
"We'll be locking the door from now on. Ronny's probably been permanently scarred from what he saw this morning." John said with a chuckle.
Slash looked from one to the other with question.
"Ronny kind of walked in on us while we were..." Clark trailed off helplessly.
"...Fucking." John finished with a chuckle at Clark's tone of voice.
"You two... were... each other?" Slash asked in wonder.
"Three actually." Clark said and pulled Trey into a casual hug.
"Three." Slash said without expression.
"Oh, I didn't ask if that was a problem. Does our being gay bother you?" John asked with concern.
"Um, no. Not at all. It's just that I wasn't expecting... I know a couple gay guys and they're all flamboyant and really... I don't know how to say it without sounding insulting." Slash ended weakly.
"I get it. We're just three guys in love. We don't march in parades, dress in drag, wear bondage gear or any of that stuff. But I figure that since we're having sex, they can't throw us out of the club." John said in a teasing voice.
"Anyway, that's Bobby and Ronny's room. If we're not here or... occupied, Bobby or Ronny should be able to help you." Clark said and started walking to the next door.
"Are they a couple too?" Slash asked hesitantly.
"No, they're brothers. Bobby's boyfriend is Robert, Trey's brother. Ronny isn't with anyone." Clark said as he opened the door.
"Here's your room." Clark said with a smile.
"It's fucking huge." Slash said with wide eyes.
"Yeah, that's about what I said." Clark said with a distant look.
"Except the 'fucking' part, you couldn't even say 'damn' without blushing." John said with a smile.
"I'm getting better." Clark said, then got a devious smile as he turned to John and said, "Let me prove it."
Clark put a hand on each of John's shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes.
"Fucking." He whispered with sultry intensity.
"Don't get the motor running if your not going to take it out for a drive." John said in warning.
"Oh, I'm gonna drive it..."
"Excuse me?" Trey said and glanced at Slash.
"Sorry, we get carried away. Do you have any luggage or anything you need hauled?" Clark asked as he released John.
"Um, no. Got everything here." Slash said and held up his backpack.
"I guess that's the grand tour, you ready to go back to the dining room?" Clark asked with a friendly smile.
"Just a second." John said and walked into the bathroom.
"Actually, I really need a cigarette after that meal." Slash said with intensity.
"Well, there's no smoking in the mansion. But I think the 'unofficial' designated smoking area is the rocks down the hill from the South door. We can show you where." Clark said helpfully.
"No shampoo or soap." John said as he walked back into the room.
"I guess he could borrow ours." Clark said in thought.
"Or Peter's." John said hesitantly.
"Yeah. I guess he won't be needing it." Clark said darkly.
"What's up?" Slash asked curiously at the change in mood.
"A friend of ours, he killed himself... yesterday." John said and looked away.
"Ouch. I know how that is. I've lost a few. Sorry guys." Slash said with sympathy.
Clark nodded as John walked out into the hallway.
"So are you guys all mutants too?" Slash asked hesitantly.
"John is. Trey and I are... something else." Clark said with a helpless look at Trey.
"I'm guessing that's code for 'don't go there'." Slash said without offense.
"It's more like code for 'you probably wouldn't believe me and I don't want you to think I'm nuts'." Clark said honestly.
"Fair enough. Maybe later." Slash said without concern.
"Yeah, I promise." Clark said with a smile.
John walked back into the room carrying soap and shampoo and walked into the bathroom.
"So is your whole mutation being black and white?" Clark asked casually.
"Well, I put the black there. I'm totally white. My hair is almost transparent if I don't color it and my eyebrows and eyelashes, they blend in with my skin color." Slash said uncomfortably.
"Isn't that like, an albino or something?" John asked as he walked out of the bathroom.
"Not really. I'm more white than that, albinos usually have *some* color, it's just very, very pale. I'm totally white, even my eyes. The pupil is black so... honestly, most people get creeped out by them." Slash said honestly.
"I think they're cool. Do you have any mutant abilities?" Clark asked as he absently put an arm loosely around Trey's waist.
"Yeah, let me show you." Slash said and picked up a maroon vase with dried flowers.
"This is my big bad mutant power." Slash said in a self mocking voice and firmly held the vase in his hand.
Slowly, all the color seemed to drain out of the vase and the flowers.
Within a minute, they were both solid black.
"So you can drain color?" Trey asked, seemingly impressed.
"Yeah, that's it. The God's themselves should tremble at my power." Slash said and sat the vase back on the dresser.
"It is one more power than I have." Trey said honestly.
"Except that you could probably kick all our asses if you wanted to." John said frankly.
At Slash's inquiring gaze, Clark clarified, "He's been trained to fight. He's really good."
"Is that how you got that metal thing on your face?" Slash asked.
"Come on, let's go out the South door so you can smoke. We'll talk along the way." John said and headed for the door.
"The metal you see is part of a much larger structure. I have many machines in my body." Trey said simply.
"And this one's my favorite." John said and gave a whisper of a touch to the skin around Trey's occipital implant.
John smiled as Trey gave an involuntary shudder.
Clark couldn't help but join in.
"This one's mine." Clark said and moved his hand under the back of Trey's shirt to give the same feathery touch to the skin surrounding Trey's spinal clamp.
"Guys, you're doing it again." Slash said with a smile as they descended the stairs.
Both John and Clark withdrew their hands and looked apologetic.
"I can't help it, they're so cute." John said helplessly.
"I can see that. To tell you the truth, I've never been around anyone who's as open as you three. I mean, straight couples too. It's really cool that you can be yourselves." Slash said as they walked to the coat closet.
"Well, we're best friends before we're anything else. When the three of us first started talking, we agreed that we'll always tell each other the truth. That kind of opened the honesty floodgates and we've been this way ever since." Clark said as he pulled on his coat.
"This way." John said and led the way down the hallway.
"So if you all aren't mutants, why are you here?" Slash asked curiously, glancing around the hallway.
"Well, I have an ability, a lot like a mutant ability, so I came here to learn how to control it." Clark said frankly.
"That's that stuff I wouldn't believe, huh?" Slash asked curiously.
"Yeah. that stuff." Clark said with a smile.
"My fathers are both mutants and teach here." Trey said into the silence.
"Fathers?" Slash asked hesitantly.
"Yes." Trey confirmed.
"I'm sorry, but... fathers?" Slash asked again.
"Trey's adopted." Clark said as he realized Slash's difficulty.
"Correct, only two of my brothers are the biological children of my fathers, the remainder were adopted." Trey said without emotion.
"Not getting any clearer guys." Slash said as he pushed open the door at the end of the hall.
"I know. Let's try again, story of Trey, take two." John said as he put an arm casually around Trey's waist.
"My fathers adopted my siblings and I, there are six of us. Sunday, my brothers Thomas and Chakotay were born." Trey said with a tone of accomplishment for keeping it brief and understandable.
"I think you're missing the part that I'm confused about. How can two men produce a child?" Slash asked slowly, trying to make Trey understand.
"Oh, of course, my dad had an artificial womb implanted in his abdomen. The doctor took the DNA of one of my parents and put it in a donor egg. The DNA of my other parent was introduced in sperm... then the egg split." Trey said, then stopped.
"Hi guys." Lee said, sitting on a rock and smoking.
"Grandfather, this activity is unhealthy." Trey said in a chastising voice.
"I know Trey. But I probably won't be smoking again for a very long time. I only smoke when I get extremely nervous or upset." Lee said, then closed his eyes as he took a deep drag off his cigarette.
"Of course you are of sufficient age to make such decisions, but I am concerned." Trey said quietly.
"I know Trey, and that means a lot to me." Lee said with a smile.
Slash lit his cigarette, then after enjoying a deep drag, asked, "Grandfather?"
"Let me handle this one Trey?" Clark asked hopefully.
Trey nodded with a smile as John pulled him into a hug.
"Andrew is Trey's father, Lee is Andrew's father. Neither one of them age." Clark said, then looked at Trey with question.
Trey nodded happily, then smiled as John began to kiss his neck.
"Actually, maybe you guys could help me with something. I've been offered a job. Kind of like a go-between for the two schools. Alan said I could pass as a student, I guess so I could see things another adult wouldn't be able to. What do you guys think about that?" Lee asked seriously.
"It would be lying." Trey said immediately.
Everyone was silent for a minute, deciding how they felt about that.
"Yeah, but it could help." John said in thought.
"How so?" Trey asked curiously.
"Lee could watch out for the new guys without being obvious. There are a lot of temptations out there, drinking, drugs, stuff like that. If he was around, he might be able to, I dunno, help them to see reason, or warn them about consequences or something." John said seriously.
"But we can do that as well... without lying." Trey interjected.
"Yeah, but not the same way." John said distantly.
"I do not understand." Trey said, looking lost.
"Lee, please don't get mad at me, but didn't you have a problem with drugs?" John asked timidly.
"Yeah, a big problem. How did you know?" Lee asked quietly.
"I overheard some stuff. Nothing bad. Andrew was saying how proud he was that you're clean now. I was just thinking that if you've been through all that and... bottomed out. You've got a way different point of view than any of us. You can talk about consequences from personal experience instead of third hand accounts." John said with difficulty.
"He's got a point." Slash said distantly.
"I'm sorry, I don't think we've met." Lee said, looking at Slash.
"This is Slash, he's going to be going to the Wagner school." Trey said in introduction.
"Nice to meet you." Lee said quietly and extended a hand.
Slash leaned forward to shake hands, then rested back on the rocks.
"What they're saying, it makes sense. I think I'd be more likely to listen to you than someone who looks adult... I've kind of got used to not listening to them." Slash said with a little smile.
"And since you've been through it... It just brings it home. I mean, makes it real. You wouldn't be talking about a friend of a friend." Slash finished with a shrug.
"Trey, what do you think?" Lee asked in thought.
"I confess that they make valid points, but I still have reservations about lying." Trey said seriously.
Lee nodded again.
"Must you decide this today? Perhaps you could proceed and make the decision on a case by case basis." Trey suggested.
"I guess I could. I usually make things up as I go along, why should this be any different?" Lee asked with a smile.
"Are we all finished? I'm getting cold." Clark said as he hugged himself for warmth.
"Yeah, I'm ready for some dessert." Slash said as he crushed out his cigarette in a can hidden between the rocks.
"Me too." Lee said and followed the group.