“What am I going to do?”
“Running from something, darlin’?” a female voice inquired.
Brian looked around, but saw no person to connect with the voice.
“Who said that?”
Brian stood and looked around again in bewilderment and still saw no one. The only thing he saw was a raven sitting in a tree a few feet away looking right back at him. His eyes widened and he put his head in his hands as he sat back down.
“Oh, now I’m going crazy,” he muttered. “A raven just spoke to me? This isn’t another one of these weird mutant powers, is it?”
The raven laughed, “No, you’re hearing me like you would another person. You see, I’m not really a raven.”
Brian looked up, eyes narrowed skeptically. “What?”
In response, the raven spread its wings and flew down to the ground. As it did so, however, it changed shape. High-heeled black boots touched the ground, and Brian found himself staring up into the tanned face of a young woman, her rich auburn hair blowing in the breeze. She returned his gaze with her fiery brown eyes. She brushed a twig from her denim skirt and straightened her leather jacket covering a pink shirt.
“My name is Cassidy,” she said. “What’s your name?”
“Can I sit down, Brian?”
“Yeah, sure,” Brian consented, scooting over to give her room on the bench.
Cassidy sat and crossed her legs. “I noticed you were running and you seemed terrified. Why?”
“Some people were after me because of what I am,” Brian murmured.
“And what are you?”
Brian’s eyes flickered in anger. “A mutant. If it was only my occupation as a singer, I’d be able to handle the mob, but… they hate mutants and that’s what I am. They think that I was the one that hurt my friend Nick and put him in the wheelchair.”
“But you weren’t,” Cassidy stated.
Brian shook his head. “No. When it first happened, the five of us thought that it was me. But after last night’s concert, we discovered that it was someone else that… was a mutant, too, but he’d been fired because of his powers, his ability to dismantle things.”
“And what power do you have?”
Brian’s eyes darkened with anger as he replied. “Too many.”
Cassidy lifted her eyebrows in interest. “What do you mean?”
Taking a deep breath, Brian revealed everything that had happened to him. He started with the day Nick got hurt, then went to the discovery his powers; finding out the truth about who and what he was and how it hurt him that he was only brought into the world out of curiosity as an experiment. Finally, Brian told her about the recent events that led him to the park. When he finished, he looked up at Cassidy and saw a thoughtful look on her face.
“You need a place of refuge,” she said, “a place where you would feel like you belong, where others would accept you as you are.”
Brian gazed at her, scarcely daring to hope. “Is there such a place?” he asked.
Cassidy smiled, “Yes. There’s a place with my people.”
“We call ourselves the Enigma Diversity,” Cassidy explained. “We are led by the wise Akela and his mate Kalani Reyna. My people will accept you, and you can keep refuge with us.”
“It sounds too good to be true,” Brian said with a smile. The smile faded as an image of Nick’s face came to his mind. He didn’t want to leave his best friend, but he was afraid that if he stayed, the group would lose a lot of their fan base, the ones that hated mutants. He conveyed all this to Cassidy, and sighed in confusion.
“If you stay, it is possible that your fans might turn away from the group,” Cassidy agreed. “But if you come with me and take refuge with the Diversity, I’m sure that won’t happen.”
“I don’t want that to happen,” Brian announced firmly. “It’s quite a price, but if it means my friends can still have the fans, I’ll do it. They'll be safe, too. They won't have to worry about the fans throwing anything in anger or being caught in the crossfire."
Brian followed Cassidy through the trees, trying hard to keep up with her. "Cassidy! I can't see you, girl!"
Cassidy, in her raven form, ducked down beneath the trees and sped off again. Brian shook his head and followed. Finally, he saw her land on the ground and stare off at the distance. He watched in amazement as Cassidy took on her human form.
"Am I going to be seeing a lot of that?"
"What?" Cassidy asked, turning to him.
"People changing from animal to human and back again."
"Probably," Cassidy replied, then turned back so she was facing forward again.
Brian followed her gaze. "Am I supposed to be seeing something?"
"Just wait," Cassidy replied.
The sun was setting below the horizon, casting a purplish pink glow on the land. They were standing in a clearing surrounded by trees. Cassidy parted her lips and a call sprang forth. She closed her mouth again and listened. Brian strained his hearing, wondering what they were waiting for. A few moments later, Brian got his answer. Coming through the trees, a lone silhouette came. Brian's eyes widened as he saw that it was a wolf. He was even more surprised to see Cassidy kneel on the ground and begin speaking to the wolf.
"Akela, I have brought you one that seeks refuge with our people."
Akela? Brian wondered. A wolf?
"Why does this young one seek refuge, child?" The wolf inquired in an ancient voice full of wisdom.
Brian decided to speak. "I'm a mutant, sir, one of thousands that have been met with hostility because of our differences. I'm still discovering many of my powers, and I need a place where... where I can be out of harm's way and try to be at peace with myself."
The wolf turned to him in interest as he spoke, and Brian watched as he changed and took on a human form. His human form was tall and agile; although he was obviously old, he still possessed great grace and strength and his eyes held wisdom untold. Brian tried to speak again, but the use of his voice was lost at the present.
"You have been lied to," Akela said, "and there is a deep hurt inside you from betrayal."
Brian looked away as the pain began to resurface. Akela stepped closer to him.
"You feel betrayed because you were brought into this world out of curiosity and an experiment rather than the joy of raising a new life."
The tears came unbidden to Brian's eyes; he didn't bother to wipe them away. He felt worn, strong hands settle on his shoulders.
"You can set aside your pain, young one. Take refuge with us."
Brian's tear-filled eyes looked back up at Akela and flickered with happiness. "Thank you."
The four remaining Boys exited the elevator onto their floor in silence, each one lost in thought. Quietly, the boys entered their suite. Storm was sitting cross-legged on the sofa of the main room listening to music meant to calm her. However, it wasn't succeeding. She'd been trying to contact Brian all day, but he hadn't answered her and she was beginning to worry. He'd professed his love to her, and yet he didn't return her calls. Storm looked up to see the solemn, pain filled faces of Brian's comrades.
Nick met her gaze as more tears came to his eyes. His chin trembled and he looked away. Howie squeezed Nick's shoulder in comfort, but he couldn't answer either, nor AJ. Kevin took a deep breath and let it out very slowly. Sitting down beside her, Kevin related the events that Nick had revealed to them in the diner as best he could.
Storm stared at him in disbelief. Brian... gone? But why?
"Why?" she asked, her tone showing she wasn't willing to believe. "Why did he run away instead of back here, to me? I could have helped him. I love him."
Kevin shook his head. "I wish I had the answer for you, Ororo. He was most likely just too terrified of those people that were after him and he wasn't able to think."
Storm looked away, pain tearing at her heart. He really was gone. She left her seat and went to the window. She gazed out into the night sky, seeing the lights of the city glowing brightly against the night.
Where are you, my love? she wondered. Where can you have gone to that will keep you away from me?
Brian laid his weary body on the cot, which felt more comfortable to him than his own bed. He'd felt so overjoyed when Akela granted him refuge with this so-called Enigma Diversity. Despite his fatigue of both body and mind, he could feel the protection and the peace in this place. It almost felt like coming home. Almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, the impact sending up a cloud of some heavenly scent, Brian fell into a sleep that seemed more deep and complete than it had been in a long while.
The sun slowly rose over the hills, changing the sky to a purplish hue. As it rose, the purple reddened until it cast a pink and orange glow on the clouds in the sky and over the landscape.
Brian's eyes flickered open, refreshed and waiting to greet the new day. Instead of the sunlight, Brian found himself looking into very small, round brown eyes. He shot up with a gasp. A rat! However, when he caught sight of the black and white ball of fluff sitting on his legs, staring up at him, he realized it was only a small rabbit. He stared at it for a while, and was a little surprised when it spoke in a young male voice.
"Are you the one Akela says is taking refuge with us?"
"Yes, I am," Brian replied. "My name is Brian. What's yours?"
The rabbit hopped off his lap and onto the floor. It grew larger and longer until it became a human boy kneeling on the floor of Brian's room.
"It's nice to meet you, Tad."
The boy stood. "Akela asked me to get you up and take you to him. You're going to meet Kalani now."
Brian rose and followed Tad, keeping silent as they made their way to a tunnel door. Who was this Kalani person? He recalled that Cassidy had said that Kalani was Akela's mate. Would he see her in her human form first or as an animal? What kind of animal would she be?
It was dark in the tunnel, but Tad seemed to find the way just fine. Brian, on the other hand, kept tripping over his feet trying to keep up. After a few more minutes in darkness, Brian felt the final climb upward, and he saw a greenish-yellow light. The forest, he thought. We're in another part of the forest.
They came up through the end of the tunnel and into the trees. Brian followed Tad a few more feet when the boy stopped suddenly. Brian looked past him. In robes of green, Akela sat at the base of an old tree. Standing beside him was the woman Brian was certain would be Kalani. Tall and slim, she was Asian in appearance, with dark hair and gray, ancient eyes. Like Akela, she was clothed in robes of green, but gold was spun throughout the cloth, sparkling in the sunrise.
Tad bowed, then left them without a word. Brian stood, waiting for something. He didn't know what he was waiting for, but he did not want to make the first move.
Kalani spoke, and her voice was soft like the river, yet full of wisdom. "You are the one that seeks refuge with us?"
"I am," Brian replied.
"Akela has told me of your reasons. We are willing to take you into our fold."
Brian smiled gratefully. "Thank you. When I found out the truth, that my... parents... lied to me... I was brought into this world for some experiment that... It hurt me so badly when I found out. Especially when I found out that my dad was on the team that created me. I can't call them my parents anymore. I'm not their son. I suppose I'm like an orphan now."
He realized then that he had been crying and wiped his tears. He hated crying in front of strangers.
"You don't need to be afraid to cry," Kalani comforted him, stepping closer. "It cleanses you."
Despite her words, he sniffed back the tears. He just couldn't do it. Unbidden, memories of his life—the lie that had been his life, he corrected—surfaced in his mind. The most painful was the memory of the first time he performed The Perfect Fan for Jackie. He turned away from Akela and Kalani and fell to his knees, sobbing into his hands.
Brian felt arms wrap around him and he leaned into them without thinking, without caring. After a long while, he cried himself empty and calmed down. He opened his eyes and saw the gold spun throughout the green of Kalani's robe. He raised his eyes to be met by her gray ones.
"You must relive it all if you are to leave it all behind you," she said.
"I'm not sure I can," Brian replied quietly. "There's so much pain knowing it was all a lie."
"It's the only way, child."
Brian rested his head back on her chest, listening to her heartbeat. "I'm so lost," he whispered.
"Find your sanctuary here, Brian," Akela offered. "Sanctuary and family."
Brian looked up past Kalani at the old one. "F-family?"
"Let us be your parents, Brian," Kalani said. "Consider yourself our son if you desire."
Brian couldn't believe it. They were actually letting him think of them as his parents? Brian's eyes lit up and a small smile crossed his face. He finally had something good happen to him. After all the pain, he needed it.
"I'd love that more than anything."
The sun climbed higher in the sky, filtering down through the trees and dotting the forest floor. Kalani, Akela and Brian stood in a circle surrounded by other members of the Enigma Diversity in their human form in one outer circle; Tad, Cassidy, and a few others Brian had yet to meet. Other members, in their animal forms, waited and watched from beyond, some sitting on the ground, some in the trees.
"Welcome to our family, Brian," Akela said. "No matter where you go, you will always be one of us."
Kalani brought the wooden flute to her lips and began to play. Sweet, beautiful music filled the air as she played. Akela began to sing words of welcome. They were strange words, ones that Brian did not understand, but he echoed them back to Akela in acceptance. All around him he could feel the welcome and the sense of belonging. He felt a change within him, but he wasn't afraid. He had no reason to be afraid of this.
The last echoes of the music faded away as the welcoming ritual ended. Brian sighed, full of joy as the others broke out in cheers as they welcomed their newest member.