“Yeah, this is the right address,” he mused, “but...”
“Can I help you?”
Brian jumped slightly before turning to see who had spoken to him. A woman with long white hair and dark skin stood before him in a white blouse and dark blue pants with dirt and grass stains on the knees; she was gazing at him with the nicest blue eyes he’d ever seen.
“Uh,” Brian swallowed and adjusted the strap of his bag slung across his shoulder. “I-I’m looking for Professor Xavier. I bumped into one of the nurses at the hospital and she gave me a card that directed me here.”
“A nurse at the hospital?” the woman inquired.
Brian swallowed and looked at the ground. “I almost killed a friend of mine,” he muttered. “And another friend got angry with me and told me to leave. He even called me a freak.”
“Me, too,” Brian whispered. “I didn’t want to believe that I’d tried to kill him. I mean, he’s my best friend after all… But after what AJ said to me, I guess… maybe I did hurt him.”
“Was he the one that got angry with you?”
Brian nodded. “Yeah. He blamed me, thinking that I’d done it just so I could get the attention that Nick got; that I was jealous.”
“But it’s not true.”
“No! I’d never do that to my best friend.”
“I understand that.” She held out her hand. “My name is Ororo Munroe, but I’m called Storm. I can control the weather, which comes in very handy with gardening, one of my favorite hobbies.”
“Wow,” Brian remarked as he shook her hand. “That’s cool. I’m Brian Littrell.”
Storm’s eyes widened in recognition. “Oh, of course. The professor told me to expect you. He’s waiting for you now. I’ll take you to him.”
“He’s waiting for me?” Brian asked.
“Yes,” Storm replied. “Follow me.”
She led Brian through the large halls of the school, past dozens of classrooms filled with students. Brian tried to peek in some of the open doors, but Ororo called him onward. Finally, after three floors, she paused before two large oak doors.
Send him in, Storm.
Brian gasped. The voice had been inside his head. “What was that?”
“Professor Xavier,” Storm explained. “Go on in.”
Brian glanced at her before taking hold of the doorknob, his hand shaking. She just smiled encouragingly. Taking a deep breath, he turned back to the doors and opened them. The room was circular with a fireplace in the center of the wall. A thin, bald man was waiting for him, sitting in a wheelchair by the fireplace. Next to him was an empty velvet chair. In between them was a wheeled tray with a silver teapot and two mugs resting on it.
“Welcome, Brian. I’m Charles Xavier.” He motioned to the chair next to him. “ Sit down, you must be tired.”
Brian said nothing as he closed the door. As he walked over, he saw that Xavier was meeting his gaze with a welcome smile on his face. He sat down in the chair and took the mug of hot chocolate that Professor Xavier offered.
“Thank you, sir.”
Brian jumped and stared at the professor, trying to hide his fear.
“I’m telepathic,” Xavier explained. “You’re in Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning; for mutants, humans that are different from the Homo sapiens. Tell me, how is your friend?”
Brian held the mug on his lap, still trying to digest what this man had just told him. A school for mutants? “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “I never got to see him before I left.”
Xavier stretched his telepathic powers toward the young man's mind, hoping to create a connection. He was surprised to find that a weak barrier was blocking him. Only another telepath could block him like that, other than Magneto… “You can block me. Very impressive. You seem quite advanced for someone that seems to have just discovered his powers.”
“I was … always advanced for someone my age. Except when I got sick. Then I fell behind.”
“What happened to your friend?” Xavier inquired.
Brian’s hands shook and he bit his lip, choosing to remain silent. Xavier waited. He could wait as long as he needed.
The young man took a deep breath. “It was yesterday, early afternoon…”
^ ^ ^ ^
“Nick, can you please come back to the present long enough to learn your place for this concert?” begged their choreographer, Fatima Robinson.
Nick grinned. “Yes, mommy.”
If looks could kill, Nick would have been more than six feet under at that moment because of the glare Fatima gave him.
"Nickolas Gene Carter..."
Uh-oh, the full name.
"You come here right now and get in your spot!"
Nick cringed and hurried to his spot between Brian and Howie. "Yes ma'am."
Normally, Brian would have found that hilarious, but the look on their choreographer’s face stopped him from laughing. They’d tried her patience too often today, he could tell. As she stepped away, a strange feeling wound its way into Brian’s gut. He couldn’t recognize the feeling, but he knew that something bad was going to happen, and soon.
“Is everything all right, Brian?” Kevin inquired.
“I don’t know,” Brian spoke softly, “something isn’t right. But I can’t put my finger on it as to what it is. It’s about Fatima…”
“Well, if it concerns her, chalk it up to PMS,” Kevin remarked.
Brian shook his head. “No. It’s Fatima and Nick. Whatever it is, it worries me.”
The music for ‘Everyone’ started and they counted off until the dance began. Half an hour passed, and the feeling grew steadily within him. It caused him to miss a step in a well-memorized dance routine and bump into Kevin.
“Brian!” Fatima shrieked impatiently. “What is the matter with you? Your heart hasn’t been in your work at all today! Nick has been dancing better than you!”
“I’m sorry, Fatima,” Brian apologized, “I just… well… I’ve just had this weird feeling for a while now, and I’m not sure what it is. It’s been bothering me a lot.”
Fatima shook her head. “Well, whatever it is, try to ignore it and get back into position. We’ll take it from the top.”
As Fatima walked back to the edge of the stage, Brian shivered but turned away to his original position.
“Ready everyone?” Fatima called. “Five, six, seven-“
“Fatima, look out!”
Brian whirled around at the panic in Nick’s voice just in time to see Nick shove Fatima out of the way of a falling light, letting it fall on him instead.
“Nick!” Brian cried, racing to his friend’s side. “Someone call an ambulance!”
Immediately Kevin pulled out his phone and dialed the hospital. Howie, AJ and Fatima joined Brian around Nick. Nick was half on his side, trapped beneath the light, unconscious.
“Stay with us, Frack,” Howie pleaded. “The ambulance is on its way. You’ll get help.”
“Let’s try to move it off of him,” AJ suggested as he stood and walked around to the back. He paused, and appeared to be studying the cords that had held the light up, then bent down and grabbed a portion of it. Howie and Brian joined him. Brian counted to three, and they carefully lifted the light off their friend. Brian was the first to rejoin him.
“Hold on, Nick. Please hold on!”
Brian anxiously paced the waiting room of the hospital. Kevin and Howie were in Nick’s room. The doctor had told them of Nick’s condition and suggested that only two people be with him at one time. At the present, Nick wasn’t awake. AJ sat watching him in silence.
“Brian, if you’re so anxious, why don’t you just go in there and finish the job?” AJ growled.
Brian turned to him in confusion. “Finish the job? What are you talking about, J?”
“I saw the cords that held the lights up. They were perfectly intact.”
“I don’t understand.”
AJ stood and removed his sunglasses. Brian gasped and backed away. AJ was glaring daggers, his eyes burning with hatred.
“The only way they could have stayed like that is if someone with special powers unhooked them.”
Realization dawned. “You think I did that?” Brian demanded, appalled that AJ would even think that. “Give me one good reason why I would!”
“So you could have all the attention at the front. With Nick out of the way, there would be no stopping you from getting the fans’ attention and love.”
“That’s absurd!” Brian cried.
“But it’s a possibility, though, isn’t it?”
Brian stared at AJ in shock. AJ scowled at him, taking the look to mean that he had just spoken a truth.
“Get out, freak,” he snarled.
Brian gasped and began to slowly back away as AJ approached him. AJ took two larger steps and shoved him, knocking him to the floor.
“I said GET OUT!”
Brian fell hard on the hospital floor, but he was on his feet in a second, doing exactly what AJ had told him. He was leaving. He ran blindly down different hallways, not caring where he went. His only destination was to be away from those hate-filled eyes of his friend. Former friend, he supposed. As he turned a corner, he slammed into someone and hit the floor. He sat up quickly to see whom he had hit so he could apologize. It was a nurse. Her nametag read ‘Jean’.
"I'm sorry, miss," he apologized quickly. He held out his hand to help her up. Some of her red hair had fallen out of place.
"It's all right, sir. I can tell you're heading somewhere in a hurry." She held out a card. "You dropped this. I hope your day goes better."
Brian smiled. "Thank you, ma'am. I'll need it."
Jean smiled back and walked away. Brian looked down at the card and realized something.
"Hey, wait a minute, I didn't--" He turned to look for the nurse, but she was no longer in sight. He looked back at the card.
Xavier's Institute for Higher Learning
Westchester County, New York
Ask for Professor Charles Xavier
“Institute for Higher Learning?” Brian wondered. “Professor Charles Xavier? What-“
He shook his head. Whoever that woman had been, she had given him this card so it must have been for a reason. Time to find out.
^ ^ ^ ^
“So you’ve met Jean Grey.”
Brian wiped his eyes. “Is that who she was?”
“Yes. She is one of my X-Men. One of the first I ever taught to strengthen her powers.”
Brian stared into the fire, his empty mug cooling in his hands. “I guess… I’ve always known that I was different. More than just being behind a year in school. There was always something. Now I see what it was.”
“Was that day when you first realized your powers?”
Brian shook his head. “No. I’d discovered it the night before. AJ… was the only one that had seen me. That’s how he knew.”
“It was about two o’clock in the morning and I couldn’t sleep,” he began. “I got some cocoa and sat down on the couch, hoping to see if there was anything interesting on television. AJ had heard me get up and followed me. After an hour or so, AJ got up and tripped over the coffee table. Both of us expected to see our cups on the floor with a cocoa stain on the carpet. To our shock, they were hovering in the air. And somehow, I knew that I was doing it.” Brian shook his head and continued, “After a few minutes of staring, AJ righted the table and somehow… somehow I concentrated on the cups and brought them back to the table. We decided not to say anything and went back to bed. I thought that maybe I was tired and had fallen asleep, but when AJ asked me about it the next morning, that confirmed that it had really happened. I made AJ swear not to tell the others yet, not until I got it under control.”
“And yet,” Xavier said, “he turned against you when Nick got hurt.”
Brian slowly nodded. “I don’t doubt that he’s told Howie and Kevin what I am. They’ll know, and probably hate me for it, too. They’ll know I’m a… a mutant.”
Professor Xavier remained silent, leaving Brian alone with his thoughts. He spoke after several minutes. “You have acknowledged the fact that you are different, that you are not Homo sapiens. That is the first step to controlling your powers. Acceptance is the second.”
Brian frowned. “My powers.”
Xavier could see that all this talk was bothering the young man. “Perhaps we should get you settled in before doing anything else. We have a room on the next floor up that might suit you.”
“Sleep sounds so good right now,” Brian remarked, a small smile coming to his face. “I’d like to see it.”
“Follow me, then.” The professor tapped a button on his chair and led Brian out into the hall.
Brian followed him to an elevator, then past some classrooms just as students began to enter the hall. Several students stopped and stared, then stifled screams upon realizing just who was following their Professor. All of a sudden, Brian was blasted by feelings of shock and confusion. What on earth was this?
“I can feel them,” he murmured, fear beginning to flutter in his chest. He didn’t doubt that the fear was his own.
“Hm. Empathy, the ability to sense others’ emotions; one that many consider to be both blessing and curse. With time and training, you’ll learn to soften the feelings you receive from others.” He looked over his shoulder. "What do you sense from them?"
"Shock and confusion, mostly," Brian replied.
"Considering they see one of their favorite singers their school with a duffel bag, could you blame them?"
Brian thought about that statement. "No, I suppose not."
Charles Xavier stopped in front of an oak door, partially open. “I believe this room should suit you.”
Brian pushed the door open and entered. He smiled when he got his first look. The rug was a soft blue and the walls the color of beach sand, a light white-peach. The four-poster bed was covered in a sky blue comforter and white pillows. Opposite the bed was an oak dresser and full length mirror right next to it.
“Reminds me of home,” Brian observed with a cheerful smile.
“Well, make yourself at home, then, and come back downstairs when you're ready to eat.”
As soon as he was alone, Brian began unpacking his things. He hadn’t brought very many clothes with him, just what he could fit inside his duffel. He checked the other zippers of the bag and found two framed pictures and his Bible and set them on top of the dresser. His family smiled up at him from one picture, from that past Christmas. The other one made him pause. It was a group picture him and his bandmates just a few months before the tour started. They’d had a water fight that day when they were supposed to be washing Kevin’s car. Nick had been the one to start it, splashing AJ with the hose and claiming it was an accident. Brian bit his lip as he thought about yesterday. He couldn’t have hurt his best friend… could he?
Maybe I did, he thought. "I'm sorry, Nick."
He rubbed one eye as it began to water, realizing that he hadn’t had much sleep in the past two days and that bed looked so wonderful. He crossed over and sank down, sighing when he realized how soft the bed really was. Maybe he would wake up tomorrow and find that all this was a nightmare.
^ ^ ^ ^
Brian sat alone at a table in the dining room waiting for Storm while he ate breakfast. He had awakened that morning, momentarily forgetting where he was, but then, as he climbed out of bed and looked around the room, he remembered everything that had happened. Guilt had burned its way into his chest and he had allowed the tears to come, certain that no one would find him crying. Just as he had calmed down, there was a knock on the door. Storm had come to check on him and invite him to breakfast. Deciding that it might be better to just join her now instead of hiding in his room while rumors filled the school, he accepted. But as they got their food, she had glanced around the room and spotted someone. She told him to wait, saying that there was something she needed to take care of before she ate, so he reluctantly went to this table by himself and began to eat. He had just taken another bite of his biscuit when three metal claws slammed into the table on his right, barely missing his shoulder.
“Well, well,” a voice growled in amusement. “Fresh meat.”
Brian’s wide eyes traveled up the hairy arm to see what he first thought was a werewolf grinning back at him.
“Name’s Logan, kid. Better known as Wolverine. What’s yours?”
Brian slowly brought the biscuit back to his plate and tried to swallow. “Brian.”
Logan chuckled. “Sorry I scared you.”
“You didn’t scare me.”
Logan laughed as he sat down. “Kid, your face is completely white. I'm almost surprised that you haven’t wet yourself yet.”
“If someone nearly skewered your shoulder, wouldn’t you be like that?” Brian asked indignantly. "And I did not even come close."
Logan shook his head. “Not if I didn't have my powers. I can heal quickly. Granted, I might be scared if that happened and I didn’t have any powers, but that's not the case.”
“So I see,” Brian replied, his eyes trailing to Logan’s hand where the claws used to show, but had retracted back into his hand. “Does it hurt?”
“Every time, but it heals. Well, Storm told me to show you to the Training Room. We’ll see if we can sharpen these powers of yours and maybe discover a few more in the process.”
Brian’s eyes widened. “But the professor said that it was rare for a mutant to have more than one ability. How many can I have at one time?”
Logan shrugged. “Professor X told Storm and me about the discovery of your empathic power, so who knows? Let’s go, kid.”
“Don’t call me kid.”
Logan just grinned and led Brian away from the dining room to the Training Room. They reached two large metal doors that slid open at their approach. The doors had barely closed behind them when something sailed through the air. Logan pushed Brian to the floor as whatever it was flew over their heads and crashed against the door they had just entered.
“Be careful mon ami,” a voice called from the darkened training room. “That nearly blew your head off.”
Logan growled and leaped to his feet. “Cajun, show yourself! Got us some fresh meat to break in.”
“Would you mind not using that term, Logan?” Brian requested as he climbed back to his feet. “I feel like I'm a deer being hunted whenever you say that.”
“Don’t call me kid.” Now I know how Nick feels when we call him ‘kid’.
The light brightened in the room, but Brian still did not see anyone. He felt a prickling at the back of his neck and he stepped to the right just as something sailed by him. Glancing at it before it exploded, it looked like… an ace of spades.
A card? Dang, what kind of power does this person have?
Brian glanced around the room and finally saw a man walking toward them. He wore silver knee-length boots, black and red leggings and a red shirt with a long brown overcoat. He slipped a pack of playing cards into his pocket.
The man extended a hand. “Welcome. I’m Gambit.”
Brian took his hand, smiling at the Louisiana accent, probably New Orleans or somewhere around that area. “I’m Brian Littrell.”
“It’s good to meet you. Did Wolverine bring you here for training?”
Brian nodded as Logan spoke. “Training, and possibly discovering new powers. Xavier told Storm and me about his telepathy and his discovery of the empathic ability.”
“Well,” Brian said, “if I’m going to be in here, I can certainly hope I’ve got telekinesis.”
The three new friends laughed and spent a few minutes getting to know one another, and then prepared the training room for Brian.
Brian sighed in relief as he flopped onto his bed. Training had gotten tough once they discovered that he did indeed have telekinesis, to the surprise of all three men. They also learned that Brian could create a shield around himself by summoning the energy around him. Once they decided that Brian had had enough, he'd showered and then they headed down together to eat. They introduced him to Cyclops, Jubilee and Beast. Jean Grey approached him, and he recognized her immediately. She introduced him to Rogue, a mutant with the ability to take powers from other mutants and use them as her own for a time. He’d enjoyed their company and gotten to know them quickly and became fast friends with all of them. Now it was late in the evening, well after sunset, and Brian was exhausted. Thinking back, he’d been at this place for two days.
“And tomorrow’s another day,” he murmured before drifting off to sleep on top of the comforter, fully clothed.