Author: Lucinda <lucindasiverling[at]>

Rating: PG/PG-13

Main character: Xander

Pairing: sort of Xander/Jubilee, mention of Bobby/Marie(Rogue) and past-tense BtVS relationships and crushes.

Disclaimer: I do not own any characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or X-Men: the Movie, nor do I hold any legal rights to the comic sources for some of the additional background information for Movie characters.

Distribution: TNL, Twisting the Hellmouth, Cat if she wants it. Anyone else ask.

Note: going rather AU after Becoming for Buffy (yes, all the way back to season 2!), post X-Men the Movie (Sequel? what sequel?).

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Buffy had vanished, Cordelia was gone for the summer, somewhere in Mexico with her parents, and Willow... for once, her parents had taken her with them somewhere. She'd told him before they'd left, in a state of worried bewilderment, apparently, some of the people that they intended to encounter at this lecture were firm believers in families, and family bonding. All of which meant that Xander was alone over the hellmouth.

Which might have been some of the explanation why Xander was feeling so... miserable. He felt lonely, and bored, and he missed his friends. But that didn't quite explain why every muscle in his body felt achy, sort of like a bruise, or why his bones itched, surely the most miserable torment imaginable, or why his stomach kept feeling like it was doing the twist, trying to become a pretzel. He felt almost sick, but he didn't have a fever. Xander wanted to think it was just that he was missing everyone, but a part of him didn't think it was something that simple.

Not caring that he was alone, nor that the sun was setting, he wandered through the park, muttering to himself. "Maybe it's a side effect of some sort of demon slime and I'm dying. Maybe my insides are trying to turn to goo and that's why it hurts. Maybe I've been infected by some fatal to humans but only annoying to demons virus and..."

His monolog was interrupted by a pair of vampires attacking him, carrying the peculiar scent of dirt, old blood and something almost like decay that proclaimed them as minions. He tried to fight, but he didn't have the strength to keep two vampires away for long. The lighter haired one bit into his shoulder, a ripping tearing sensation that sent waves of pain down to his toes. He gasped at the pain, certain that he was going to die.

Heat seemed to claw at his insides, almost like the reverse of eating some of Uncle Rory's chili. It burned, the waves of heat reversing the trail of the pain, and it exploded out of him. He couldn't see around the green fire that was everywhere, could only hear the brief scream of the vampires as they combusted, the roar of the flames... the crackling scorching of the grass and the desperate nearly shrieking squeal of green leaves incinerating. He was in the middle of a sea of fire, and it was green. Then, everything went dark.

It couldn't have been more than a few moments later that he opened his eyes, collapsed in the middle of ashes, a large, almost spiraled pattern of ashes and char radiating from the center. He felt a bit lightheaded, and his muscles seemed to think they had become the jelly filling from his earlier donut. His shoulder felt bruised and almost burned, but not like there was an open wound. But this time, as he looked around, he understood that he shouldn't be wandering around alone at night, especially if he wasn't paying attention to his surroundings.

As Xander Harris trudged slowly home, he wished that Willow was here. She would be able to help figure out what was happening to him. To learn why everything felt achy and where the green fire had come from. A small part of him knew though, knew that it had been from HIM, that he had caused the flames, that they were another symptom of the cause of the aches, the itching bones, the churning stomach. Something was changing in him, for him, and nothing would be quite the same again.

It was no more than two days later that the flames came back, this time in response to his father. Harris senior was drunk, again, and taking it out on his wife, and decided to take it out on his son as well. No sooner had his fist sent Xander into the wall, slamming his still sore shoulder into the wall with a painful popping sensation that Xander felt the heat again. The green fire spilled out of him, licking towards his father, towards the man who had terrorized his mother and Xander for years, filling the room with the stench of burning carpet. Xander scrambled to his feet, helping his mother up and they bolted from the house. His father was shouting curses at Xander, foul vile things as he fought to put out the fire.

Xander insisted on taking his mother to the hospital, fearful that this time, his father had gone to far, that he'd broken something this time. She had so many bruises, and some small cuts on her face and arms... His mother turned out to have cracks in her arm bone, cracked ribs, and so many bruises... including internal bruising. They wanted to keep her in the hospital, and this time, oh thank god for some tiny shred of goodness, this time she was willing to speak out, to report her husband's violence, to press charges against him.

He wasn't surprised to find his few belongings thrown out onto the lawn when he'd returned from the hospital. Honestly, he'd half expected it. Xander gathered them up, forming an awkward bundle as he trudged towards the only place that he considerd 'safety' at the moment. Willow's house. Even if she wasn't there, it would be safe. He let himself in with the key she'd given him in fourth grade, dropping his things on the dining room floor, collapsing onto the couch as exhaustion claimed him.

Morning brought clarity, and he understood a little bit. He was a mutant, and the fire was his difference, his power or curse, depending on how he choose to view it. He couldn't stay here, he would have to leave, to go far away from his father, from all his father's friends. Concentrating, he remembered something that Willow had found on the internet, he wasn't quite certain how. There was a place in New York, a special school for mutants. A place called Xavier's School. He would go there. He went to Willow's room, finding the pages that she'd printed out about this strange school, opening the box where she kept 'emergency money' from her parents. He didn't want to, but he took out a few hundred dollars, knowing that it cost money to travel across the country. He left her a note in it's place, explaining what had happened, why he'd taken the money, and what he intended to do. How she would always be his friend, but Sunnydale wasn't safe for him anymore.

His trip from California to New York, on a series of busses, was long, boring, and left him feeling stiff and achy, or maybe the achy was still from being... a mutant. He ended up taking a taxi to the address of the school, a sense of desperation filling him. If this didn't work, if they wouldn't take him in, where could he go? The money was gone, he had no family here... Swallowing, he made his way across the lawn, something far bigger and more impressive than anything else he'd seen.

Xander knocked at the door, and it was opened, revealing a girl about his age, not quite as tall as Buffy, with short black hair, wearing a bright swirling yellow and orange shirt. She had the brightest blue eyes... "Hey... can I help you?"

For a moment, he was speechless. She was pretty, not as stunning as Cordelia, but definitely pretty, and there was this feeling of energy and enthusiasm to her... He almost thought he could see fireworks, gold and pink and orange and white, dancing around her. Trying to speak with a suddenly dry tongue, his words were... rather unimpressive. "I need to talk to someone... to come here to stay. I haven't got anywhere else..."

She smiled, looking impossibly cheerful. "Sure, right this way. I'm Jubilee, and you're...?"

"Xander Harris... from California." He moved after her, part of him noticing the expensive and elegant furnishings, part of him noticing the way she seemed so confident, so comfortable here.

With a charming grin, she gave a thumbs up. "Great. It'll be good to have another Californian around."

Something inside Xander sort of... pulsed, and he had an uncomfortable but almost familiar feeling. This girl, Jubilee was... wonderful. He could feel the crush forming now... and he could only hope that it went better than the last few he'd had. Miss French, Ampata, Cordelia... even his thing for Buffy hadn't gone well. She probably had a boyfriend already... and he knew that that wouldn't stop him. He would try his best to win Jubilee, to get her to notice him.

She took him to an office, where a man that reminded him an awfully lot of Captain Picard sat behind a desk, looking not at all surprised by the situation. Jubilee gave him a quick smile and ducked out, leaving him alone with this guy. Xander struggled with the urge to say 'reporting to the bridge, captain.'

"This isn't a starship, and I'm not a captain. Please, sit down. You're quite safe here." His voice was a calm baritone, mellow and with the suggestion of an accent. It reminded him almost of Giles. "I am Professor Charles Xavier. Perhaps... you could tell me why you came here?"

"How did you know... umm. Right. I'm Xander Harris, and I'm... I guess I'm a mutant. It's the only explanation. My friend found out about this school, she said it was a place for mutants. And I don't have anywhere else to go." Xander collapsed into one of the chairs, still feeling exhausted from his trip.

"As for how I knew you were thinking about a starship, I'm a telepath. I've seen that show actually, quite a handsome man, that Captain Picard." His lips twitched in an amused smile. "While I'm not sure how your friend found out, she's absolutely right that this is a place for mutants. A place to be safe, and to learn to control their abilities. Do you know what your mutation is?"

"Some sort of funky green fire. It's showed up twice... both times immediately after I'd been hurt. I have no idea how to control it, why it's green, why me, how big the fire could get, or why it showed up when I was hurt." Xander shrugged, wincing as the motion sent his shoulder into another wave of agony. It hadn't felt right since he'd hit the wall at his parents house.

"I think... you should see Doctor Jean Grey, she might be able to do something about your shoulder. The fire was probably an instinctive defensive reaction, and we will be able to try to figure out how big later, in a controlled environment." The Professor seemed so calm, as if he'd heard things like this all the time. Maybe he did.

"Controlled environment... don't see very many of those. So, I can stay?" Xander felt hope stir inside of him. He could stay, they would help him learn to control this fire, and a doctor would look at his shoulder. Maybe... since he was staying, maybe he'd see more of the delightful Jubilee?

So, Xander went to see the doctor, a calm redhead that made him think of Willow. After a few moments, she told him that his shoulder was dislocated, and there was some sort of injury that looked to have been cauterized, to have been burned closed. The pain from her fixing his shoulder made his head spin, even with the nice pain-killers she'd given him.

He found himself in a room with a guy named Bobby Drake, someone who could make ice. He seemed to be an okay guy, with a crush on some girl named Marie. Xander listened while carefully putting his few things away, thinking that the only thing that would make things better would be Willow. Life was looking better.

Especially since Jubilee was only three rooms down the hall.

Chapter 2

A lot of things had changed in Jubilee's life, from her parents death to her brief unhappy period of homelessness to her discovery that she was a mutant to ending up here, at Xavier's. Now, it looked like things were almost settling down. Even the arrival of the new guy, someone else from California, probably wouldn't cause too many changes. Except that a little part of her said there would be something different, a hint of foreboding.

But she couldn't quite figure out why he would cause that much of a change. Yeah, he was sort of cute, and he seemed like a nice guy, but... that was hardly something to cause a major change. Even the fact that when Jean had given him a checkout and he showed signs of having a lot of violence, probably from abuse, in his past, that idn't sound like it would make any major changes here. Ii was sad and terrible, but... there were abused kids all over, and a lot of mutants got it if they were found out.

Xander... sort of an interesting nickname. He seemed to be settling in okay, and while he did look pretty startled by some of the more unusual looking students, he didn't freak out at all. They'd put him in the room with Bobby, and that might be a good thing. Bobby was one of her friends, and pretty much a sweetheart.

He seemed a bit afraid of his power though. He'd said something about it being green fire, and it hurt to use... Maybe it was just that it was still new? She could hardly remember how it felt when her abilities had first shown themselves, but... she seemed to recall her hands feeling all prickly before her fireworks emerged. Maybe... maybe he needed someone to help him feel more confident, less afraid of his gift? Maybe someone like her, that could appreciate a good laugh, that could rest and relax. Yeah, she could help Xander adjust to being here. He was a nice guy, after all.

"So... Xander. Want to go with me to the mall? They've got this place that does chili-cheese-fries..." She leaned in the doorway, looking in as Xander and Bobby looked over something... a collection of videos?

He grinned, looking far more enthused about the idea than she'd expected. "Chili-cheese-fries? Sounds good. And... ummm... wait, I.... I haven't got any money." His face nearly fell, and he looked... miserable. "Maybe... you'll need someone else to go?"

Bobby sighed, looking dismayed about something. "Forget that! Here, take some money and go... I've been her pack beast before, it's something I'm willing to pay not to repeat. The Professor will help out, they don't let us starve or have no clothing here."

Xander took the money, his eyes lighting up. "Thanks, man. I owe you... and Willow... ugh, I gotta see about getting a job or something."

She laughed, dragging him off with her. "Who's Willow? I didn't think any of the students..."

"No, Willow's... not here. She's my best friend, has been since kindergarten. I... sort of borrowed some of her money to come here." He looked sad all of a sudden.

"Why so sad? She didn't... she didn't freak out on you, did she?" She felt oddly defensive, as if... well, she was imagining how she would have felt if her closest friends had turned against her.

"I hope she wouldn't... but she wasn't there when I found out. Her parents dragged her off to Atlanta for some convention or other... I have a key to her house though. I left her a note. I've sent her an email, but she hasn't got back to me yet. I have faith in her though." Xander sounded... well, he sounded like he wanted to hide his worry with confidence. Like if he said he had faith and didn't mention any possible problems, there wouldn't be any problems.

Jubilee felt an odd emotion at the way he was smiling when he mentioned this Willow. It was sort of tight, and hot. Almost like... but she couldn't be jealous. Really. "So, you and Willow are pretty close? Close enough that you have a key to your house? Sure she's not your girlfriend?"

"Nah.. She's not... she... Wills has been my friend forever, she's like family. We always used to be there for each other, especially when her parents were gone or mine were..." Xander's face darkened, and his words cut off. Like he didn't want to think about his parents.

She felt something almost loosen a bit inside of her. But he'd caught her curiosity, which she'd actually been told was a fault. If he wouldn't talk about his parents and family, maybe he'd talk about his friend, and she could pick out some between the lines? "So, sort of like a sister then? What do her parents do?"

"Her parents are shrinks, and they worry a lot about their careers. Way more than they worry about Wills, their only begotten child. We've figured that she was either some sort of experiment of reproduction that they tried once or an unplanned accident. I lean more towards experiment, she leans more towards accident, on account of they never seem to have any idea what to do with a daughter... And, what about your family?" He looked almost as if he was slipping into memories.

"My folks had a pretty nice set up in LA, and I was their only darling spoiled daughter... until they died in this horrible car accident. Then... there was some awkwardness... and I ended up here." She really didn't want to go into that mess. The time between her parents death and her acceptance to Xavier's had been... miserable. Maybe... maybe she could get a little more information from Xander. "So... how'd you end up here by yourself?

"I'd had a pretty miserable week... all my friends were away, y'know? Then Dad... it just... green fire everywhere. I pulled mom out, and took her to the hospital. When I got back, my stuff had been thrown onto the lawn. I took the hint. Here I am." He looked a bit uncomfortable, rather awkward in the sort of way that said he didn't want to talk about it.

"Oh..." She was starting to get a few ideas. It sounded like Willow was almost the only person that had been there for Xander, and without her he'd felt adrift. Trapped by a horrible father, with an abused mother... yeah, no wonder he didn't want to talk about things. Impulsively, she leaned over, kissing his cheek. "Don't worry, things will be better here. Promise."

"Wait, didn't you say something about the mall? There isn't any decent chili in there. And... if it's really okay, I could use a few more things. Maybe something that doesn't feel like a school advertisement?" Xander had a goofy smile, but it didn't quite go to his eyes. He was definitely trying to change the subject.

She looked at him, deciding that this time, she'd let it slide. After all, she had been being incredibly nosey anyhow. "Yeah, the mall. And we can get you all sorts of things. I swiped Scott's credit card."

Xander made this odd face, like he wasn't quite sure if he wanted to be impressed, shocked, or concerned. "Where... won't he notice? Will he get mad?"

"From his wallet, I'll have to put it back, and it's the school card not his, so he should just relax." She was grinning, wondering how Xander would sort things out.

Apparently, he followed all of that. "Right. Clothing, and some new shoes... these are just about dead. And... I guess I can carry all your stuff. Maybe I shoud hope I mutated some super strength..."

All she could do was giggle as she dragged him off to the mall.

Chapter 3
Fear the flames

"You seem to be getting used to the whole mutant thing pretty easy." Bobby's comment was accompanied by him dropping onto the floor next to Xander. "I mean, most of us that stay here over the summer either don't have anywhere to go or aren't welcome at home... or it might be too dangerous."

Xander looked over at his room-mate and new friend. "So which is it for you and Marie? Or is the real reason that your here over the summer to make with the eyes at each other?"

"Well..." Bobby fidgeted a little. "Marie ran away after her parents flipped... long story. As for me... my folks don't approve. They'd like me to just stop being a mutant."

"YOu can't just stop. And I still have those moments where I'm thinking that this can't be happening, I'll wake up and it's all been some wild dream caused by too much pizza." Xander sighed, rubbing his finger over a dark spot on his new jeans.

"Still coping better than I did. No screaming, no hiding in the corner whimpering... Although there was the running away from home part." Jubilee was in the doorway, her eyes filled with humor.

"Yeah, well... I already had an 'oh god please no' moment about mutation. But it wasn't quite like this." Xander smiled, feeling glad and hopeful at the sight of Jubilee. She was cute, and so cheerful and... alive. Which was good, alive was always a bonus.

"What was that about then?" Bobby looked curious.

Xander gave a half smile, remembering the swim team. Remembering the way they'd... changed. "Actually... the high school swim team. Turned out that the coach wanted to win at any price, and he... well... I guess the only way to put it is that he mutated the swim team."

He remembered the fear they'd had while trying to figure out what was leaving the skins of the swim team, and how that fear hadn't lessened with the discovery that it wasn't some monster eating them, but the team actually shedding their old skins... The panic he'd felt when it had occurred to him that his 'undercover investigation' might cause him to mutate.

"How do you mutate a whole swim team?" Jubilee sounded curious and appalled.

"Wills was the one who did most of the research into how it worked and why... that's when she found out about this place. But the coach... he was getting them injected with some blend of hormones, steroids and weird DNA." Xander decided not to go into all the gory details. "It made them change. But they did swim a lot faster."

"What happened to them?" Bobby sounded very quiet.

Xander shrugged. "Last anyone saw of them, they were headed out to sea. But that was when I had my whole blind panic."

"So... why did you leave?" Bobby's question almost overlapped with Jubilee's. "How did Willow know that Xavier's was for mutants?"

"Not sure how she learned, her computer skills leaves me choking in the dust. But... Wills wasn't there, and my Dad's opinion of mutants..." Xander tried to find the words to explain about his father. "I think he's a member of the Friends of Humanity. He doesn't like mutants. Or much of anyone, actually. He's violent, drinks too much, and has big, violent friends."

Jubilee looked at him, as if trying to make him fit into some pattern. "You really think that your dad..."

"But if you're his son, shouldn't that make things better? I mean, if he's your dad..." Bobby looked as if he was trying to understand.

"My dad's the reason my shoulder was dislocated when I got here. He threw me into a wall, and I didn't roll right this time. That was before he found out... right before, actually. I figure, if I went back now... He'd probably be willing to try to kill me." Xander frowned, remembering home.

Remembering the hellmouth, now undefended. Remembering all the vampires and demons. A sudden surge of guilt filled him, guilt that he'd left, that there was nobody there to protect Sunnydale. But... if he'd stayed and gotten himself killed, wouldn't the result be the same, only more painful? Maybe... maybe he'd have to go back when he had a bit more control. Like any control at all.

Bobby shivered, apparently thinking about Xander's words. "You didn't have anyone else to go to? No friends to crash with?"

"Nope. I have... there's a pretty small circle of friends. Buffy... she ran away after..." Xander felt guilt again, and fear and anger all tangled up as he remembered the mess that was Buffy and Angel/Angelus. "There was some serious problems with her boyfriend and she ran away. Her mom's still having the hysterical shock part. My... well, up until recently, i had a girlfriend, but we broke up... again, and she went to Mexico with her parents for the summer. That only leaves Wills, and not only was she for once away with her parents, but... If my dad showed up with a mob, Wills would try her best and get beat down into a pulp right there with me."

"That's it? Nobody else at all?" Bobby sounded outraged.

Xander thought about it, considering the chances that he might have been able to try to stay with Uncle Rory. Who had the infamous Harris temper. "Maybe but I didn't want to risk it. I have no idea where Uncle Rory stands on mutants. The only other even remote chance... he's off trying to find Buffy. I could have tried to stay with Jesse if this had happened a few years ago... but Jesse died and his parent moved away."

"Sounds pretty lonely." Jubilee sat down beside him, one hand resting beside his in what he desperately hoped was an offer of comfort.

Maybe an offer of something else? If God would be so kind... please? "Hey, things are sort of improving. I'm here now, and nobody's tried to kill me, and I have... well, I was hoping I could make new friends here."

"Of course you will, silly. You have us." Jubilee smiled, eyes sparkling.

Xander smiled back, thinking that maybe things would work out. Maybe things would be okay after all. "Yeah, I have you two."


Willow sighed, shoulders aching from the weight of her backpack that she'd taken as a carry-on for the flight home. Away with her parents... it had been... something. Two weeks in Atlanta with no internet, and she hadn't been able to get a hold of Xander. She'd got his dad, who had screamed and yelled when she'd asked about Xander, something about unnatural ways and freaks. It hadn't made any sense, and she'd been worried.

Her room was a very welcome sight... and the jewelry box that she used to keep a stash of emergency money was sitting beside her computer. That was NOT where she'd left it. Had someone broken in and stolen her money? What had happened?

Darting over, aches forgotten, she opened the box. There was a page from her message pad, folded in half on top of her emergency money, which looked a bit less than it had been before. She was struck with a feeling of foreboding, a sense of trouble and wrongness. Her hand shook as she lifted the page, opening it to read the words. It was Xander's familiar writing, all jagged lines that looked almost squashed together.


I don't know how to explain this - it's weird and confusing. Something freaky happened - Dad threw me into a wall (yeah, again, gotta work on rolling) and then there was this green fire. From me. I'm freaking out over this, Wills.

He'll kill me if I stay here. He didn't say it, but... we both know that he would. Call me a coward, but... I don't want to die, Wills. I don't want my dad and his FoH buddies to beat me to death.

That's why I'm running. On you're money - God, I'm sorry about that.

I'm hoping to get to that place you found - Xavier's. Hoping they'll take me in, teach me to control this thing. I'm scared, and this is the best chance I see.

You're my friend, Wills. My very best friend, and you always will be. I'll try to get in touch when I get there.


Her eyes swam in tears, and she felt as if something inside had been ripped away. Xander wasn't here anymore... Xander was gone. Not dead... he wasn't dead. She had to look at the bright side. Xander was alive, just... somewhere else.

A moment's thought and she had to agree, Xander was most likely right about his father. That made the shouted words make a bit more sense. The only possible benefit was that anywhere had to be safer than over the Hellmouth.

"Please be safe, Xander. I love you too much for you to die." Her soft whisper was a plea for his safety.

Chapter 4
Warming Up

Xander was almost starting to feel like it was safe at Xavier's. He was making a few friends, Bobby, Jubilee, and another guy named John that preferred to be called Pyro. He was also getting to know Bobby's girlfriend Marie fairly well, but they weren't precisely friends. And nobody picked on him for being too weird, to klutzy, not strong enough, not cool enough. He'd got an email from Willow, who had told him that he was being silly to think something like that would change the fact that she was his friend. That had made him feel a lot better.

He had real clothing again, things that felt comfortable, especially after Willow had the rest of his things shipped over to him. She'd also said that she and Giles were 'keeping a lid on things' at home. Yes, things seemed to be going well.

Based on that, he really should have expected some sort of catastrophic event to happen any day now. But when it happened, it wasn't anything like he'd expected.

It started innocently enough. He'd gone to the mall with a group of other students, and naturally enough, they'd ended up separating into their groups. Jubilee had been leading Marie and Bobby towards this shop that was supposed to have the cutest boots, and they'd somehow missed all the other Xavier's people leaving. Which left them stranded at the mall. Jubilee and John had both thought that was pretty cool, and they'd kept looking, browsing through all sorts of things. But it must not have been their day for travel, because they managed to miss the last bus headed towards Xavier's, not that it had a regular bus stop.

"We missed the bus." Marie pointed out the obvious, her lip quivering just a bit with dismay.

Bobby moved closer, his hand rubbing circles over her back, trying to soothe his girlfriend. "We'll manage to get home.

"Security tossed us out, or else we could call someone to come get us from the pay phone." Jubilee sounded annoyed. "Why the mall has to close at nine anyhow..."

Xander got a prickly feeling, the street feeling rather empty. It reminded him of home. "I think there's a pay phone down that way. Let's all head over and check."

"It doesn't take five people to hunt down a single defenseless pay phone, Xand-man." Pyro looked almost amused, playing with his lighter.

"Humor me, okay? Something's just... not right. It's too quiet, you know?" He had the feeling that if anyone went off alone, they wouldn't come back. Not as themself anyhow.

They began to move that way, and Xander kept feeling the same prickly sensation. Like he was back in Sunnydale, where his skin always felt prickly and there really was something lurking in the shadows to try to eat you. There was a noise, like someone crunching their foot onto an abandoned bottle, sort of a dull popping sound.

"Look at this... a five course meal. What do you say, boys? Dinner is served." The speaker was a guy dressed in a leather jacket that reminded Xander of Michael Jackson's from the whole moon-walk craze, only it was darker, almost maroon. He also had the same light brown complexion and semi curled dark hair. Of course, the yellow eyes and vampire fangs sort of took away from the whole look.

"Oh god, I'm being attacked by Michael Jackson and his minions. Someone must have a really bad sense of humor..." Xander groaned at the sight.

"What in the hell's going on here... what's up with their faces?" Bobby sounded a bit nervous.

Pyro glanced over at Xander, his face pale. "Sorry, Xand. Not going to argue with your weird feelings anymore."

The vampires attacked, and one of the first things that happened was Pyro's lighter being knocked out of his hand, skidding across the pavement. Bags were dropped in an effort to fight, and things were getting frighteningly chaotic. Bobby kept trying to freeze them, which wasn't working very well. Marie was panicking because one of the vampires had ripped her sleeve and grabbed her arm, trying to drag her in for a bite. He hadn't let go until she'd kneed him in the groin. Jubilee's fireworks were sending up a noisy distress signal, even though she kept missing the vampires. Xander found himself wishing that he could control that fire stuff, or even if he just had a stake...

It was almost as if someone had heard his prayer. A crossbow bolt narrowly missed his arm, embedding itself in the chest of the nearest minion. With a delighted smile, Xander yanked it out before the bolt could turn to dust along with the vampire. "Yes!"

He staked the one that was about to bite Marie, and scooped up Pyro's lighter, glimmering on the ground just behind her. With a shout, he flicked the lighter, sending a small flame into the air. "John! Heads up!"

"Yes!" Pyro was delighted, and the flicker of fire became a flaming bat-like shape, charging at the vampire in front of him, flame wings closing over the vampires head, the whole body igniting and turning to ash.

After that, the vampires were quickly eliminated. None of them had worse that a few scrapes and bruises, although the lighter was scuffed pretty badly. Marie was sobbing into Bobby's chest. There was also another girl, dressed in leather pants and this clingy tank top holding a crossbow. She had dark eyes and dark hair, and a little smile.

Pyro looked from her to Xander, and finally demanded 'What in the hell were those? Those... mutants don't burst into flame like that, and they all matched."

"Well, you see, that's sort of a funny story..." The dark haired girl was smirking a bit, moving closer to Pyro with a sensual sway to her hips.

Xander shook his head. "Those were vampires. The whole undead blood sucking fiend thing? It's real. But not quite like the movies."

"Okay, maybe not such a story. What he said, those were vamps. And you guys are mutants. Still doesn't mean you're all safe out after dark." She seemed to relax a bit, smiling at them. "I'm Faith, the Vampire Slayer. Who are all of you?"

Xander felt like he'd just been punched in the stomach at her words. If Faith was the Slayer, did that mean that Buffy was... Dimly, he registered that introductions were going on. He tried to drag his mind back to here and now. He also noticed that the whole prickly, edgy feeling was gone now.

"So, how did you know that something wasn't right, Xander?" Faith was looking at him, one hand on her hip even as Pyro tried to stand closer to her.

Great, she would ask the thing that he couldn't explain. "It's sort of... I can't quite explain. But... it felt like home out here, so I was worried."

"What's so bad about home?" She looked at him, as if he was a puzzle.

"We've been trying to put that together for a while now." Bobby's mutter seemed oddly loud.

Marie peeked out at him, her face tear streaked. "I bet things like this never happened at home for him."

Xander shrugged. "Actually, the only new part other than the whole frost and fireworks of flaming death was the Michael Jackson clone. Home's right over the bad ol' Hellmouth, demon magnet of the world."

"Ouch. Heard about those." Faith winced in apparent sympathy.

"This sort of thing happens a lot where you come from?" Jubilee was looking at him with a strange mix of emotions in her eyes. There was also the oddest feeling, like she was reevaluating her opinion of him.

"Yeah. Why do you think I didn't want to talk about it? Start mentioning vampires and people start thinking about giving you some special medication. Mention demons and they think you just flipped over a weird looking mutant." Xander felt awkward about the whole thing. What if everything was ruined now?

"Jubilee! Bobby! Is everyone all right?" The voice of Jean Grey rang into the parking area.

"What do you know, we finally get a ride home. Just when things were getting interesting." Pyro's voice held a bit of sarcasm.

Xander turned and looked at Faith, giving her a smile even though he felt like crying. Faith being the Slayer meant Buffy was dead, right? Unless... maybe she'd been Called by Kendra's death instead? "Hey, maybe Faith can drop over and hang out sometime?"

"Is everything okay here?" Scott sounded so serious, glancing over the parking area with a frown.

Faith glanced at some of the other students, smiling when nobody looked opposed to the idea. "Sounds cool. Maybe I'll take you up on that. See you all later."

On the way back tot he large, somewhat modified van, Jubilee leaned over to Xander, her voice intensely curious, and whispered "Just why did you invite Faith to visit anyhow?"

Xander suddenly found himself wondering if Jubilee might be jealous. "Did you see the way Pyro was looking at her? How's he supposed to get a girlfriend if she never comes back? And oh God, I need more friends that are guys. I've just started trying to set up my friends..."

She made this happy squealing noise and hugged him. "Xander, you're the best."

He wasn't quite certain what was so great, but he rather liked Jubilee hugging him. He just smiled, savoring the moment. And thinking that it would be awfully convenient to get that green fire stuff when he wanted it, not just when something hurt him first. He hoped this whole trying to set up Pyro and Faith didn't end badly...

Chapter 5
Stirring Things Up

Xander sat outside, leaning against a tree. He'd just got a letter from Sunnydale, from Willow. He was half afraid to open it, worried about what dreadful thing would be revealed. So, he leaned against the tree, running his finger around the top of the letter as he let his mind wander. If he looked, he could see some of the students messing around at the pond, some in swim suits, others just in shorts. Faith was there, playing sort of frisbee half in the pool with John, and Bobby and Kitty and a big, quiet guy named Pete.

Well, no point in postponing things… He opened the envelope, pulling out three pages of Willow's neat writing. She read about how Buffy's mom had been freaking out, and demanding answers from Giles. About how his parents were now in the midst of a messy divorce, and his father was making a royal ass of himself, not that Willow had used those exact words. Her parents had been offering some psychological proverbs about his 'inexplicable running away' and had initially thought that he'd over-reacted to whatever had caused it.

That was before his father had started spewing nasty things about mutants being a taint on the blood, a line of filth carried by Xander's mom, and something that deserved to be stamped out. That had lead to an attack on his mom that had left him in jail for assault and dropped charges of attempted murder, and the very public outing of Xander as a mutant. Her parents had shifted their words then, offering sympathy to 'young Alex' for having such a 'sensitive problem' and for having such a violently prejudiced father. They'd made it sound like some sort of handicap, or maybe an incurable disease, which had bothered Willow.

Willow had also written that Giles had left to pursue a lead on Buffy beig in Texas, and that most likely, there would be a new Slayer called by Kendra's death. It made him feel a bit guilty, but he was glad to know that it had probably been Kendra's death instead of Buffy that had activated Faith. He didn't like the idea of Buffy dying.

Then there was the part about her parents trying to push her into thinking about colleges already. About how 'it was never to early to consider the future' and that picking the right college could make a huge difference in her future. Something about networking for connections, the social aspects of college, meeting useful people… It was starting to get to Willow. She was going to have helped save the world, only to be driven crazy by her parents worrying about her college career.

She'd done a little bit of research, checking for anything that she could find that might give her a clue about my mutation, that funky green fire. She'd said that most of them were either far too technical, or to vague too be any use, but she'd been picking up a lot of biology and genetics while searching, and a bit on physics as well, which should be helpful if she made it to college.

That simple phrase was just about to set him to tears. "If I make it to college…' Willow was the smart one, the one that was supposed to go to some Ivy League school and dazzle the world, become a famous doctor or scientist and do great things… And she was referring to the chance that she wouldn't even survive high school. A chance that was all to real in Sunnydale.

If only she could come here and be safe…

Wait, why couldn't she? If nothing else, the Professor had to know people that could show her some of the local colleges, and he'd like to introduce her to Jubilee. And Willow would probably be able to talk to Jean about the whole Xander's mutation thing and follow the Doctor's conversation, something that Xander couldn't always manage. All he'd have to do would be talk to the Professor about it…

"Hey, deep thinker. Are you being all freaked out about the other day?" Jubilee's voice pulled him from his contemplation of Willow and her future.

He grinned at her, delighted that he could definitely count her as a friend, and if he was lucky, that might edge over to dating. "I got a letter from Willow. I was thinking about asking the Prof if she could come visit. And the other night was no biggie for me… been there, done that, seen worse."

Jubilee shuddered, her eyes clenching shut. "Please tell me that's an exaggeration?"

"Sorry, can't do that. Sunnydale is the place of nightmares. Well, more like the mouth of hell, but that's close enough. I've seen bigger nasties, demons that dripped slime, dead bodies… although if that one guy had started to break-dance, that would definitely have gone right to the top of my list of freaky things." He stood up, his hand going to hers, fingers threading together.

"You are just strange sometimes, you know that don't you?" Jubilee smiled, right before leaning over and kissing his cheek. "It's cute. And Faith's just a scream… She almost yanked John's shorts off going after the Frisbee… at least, she claimed that she was going for the Frisbee when he yelped. I think she's just moving a bit faster than he'd expected."

Xander grinned, his fingers going to his cheek. She'd kissed him. Things were definitely looking hopeful for love. "Well, John needs someone willing to be daring, otherwise he'd frighten her away."

"Faith doesn't seem like the type to scare easily." Jubilee grinned, their entwined fingers just barely brushing against her hip.

"No… she's a Slayer. Courage tends to be part of the package. But maybe he'll behave and they'll be good together… or at least have a lot of fun and not get anybody killed that shouldn't be." Xander grinned, almost amused at the idea of John being good for someone. He was always getting into something, full of pranks and mischief, all around a pretty fun guy unless he got into one of his funks over the whole Mutant issue. "But I can't see her letting him do the whole 'poor mutants' thing, or being all cranky."

"No, I can't see that either." Jubilee was quiet for a moment, before looking at him with a teasing smile. "Now, that's enough about Faith. I don't want to get all jealous about my boyfriend talking about some other hot chick when I'm right here."

What… did she just say her boyfriend? "Uhhh… boyfriend?" Xander felt as if he'd missed something important for a moment. Then, it was as if he'd gone all light and floaty inside, and he smiled, looking into her eyes. "You really mean that? Like… dates and everything?"

"Well, yeah. Unless you don't want…" She leaned closer, her body almost touching him.

"I want. I definitely want." With that, Xander leaned down and kissed her, his lips meshing almost perfectly with her own.

He definitely saw fireworks with that kiss. Gold and green and pink and white sparks and streamers all around them as she kissed back, tasting like strawberry bubblegum and Pepsi. The height almost felt awkward, but… well, he could get used to it. Apparently, so could Jubilee, to judge by her contented sigh.

Chapter 6
Different Kinds of Heat

Xander had thought that things were looking up just because nobody was trying to kill him or beat him up. Now that he and Jubileee... well, now that there was a him and Jubilee, things were just amazing. The teachers seemed less annoying, the workouts less exhausting, even the tests with Dr. Jean to figure out what that green fire stuff was seemed more bearable.

Especially since he hadn't had to deal with that fire just exploding out again. Not that he would dare think that it was gone... Xander shivered a little. He thought that he could feel it sometimes, something hot and wild bubbling inside him, not heartburn, but fire. It almost felt like it was just waiting for the chance... But it hadn't come out yet. Maybe it needed a trigger, maybe it took fear and pain, maybe it just had mind of it's own.

Just as long as the fire didn't come out to play while he was trying to be with Jubilee. She had... well, they hadn't done much besides a few kisses, but those kisses had held a very different much more pleasant fire. That sort of fire, he'd love to let consume him... Although it still made him a bit nervous. He was falling for her, hard. If there was ever a more perfect time for the Harris family jinx to act up, he had no clue what it could be. Unless it was something like... the day of his supposed to be marriage or something.

They made their way towards the woods, enjoying the quiet. Her hand was nestled into his, and it felt wonderful there, all warm and dainty and... yeah, it was official. He was turning into a sap. Grinning, he looked at her, wondering how she'd react if he told her. "Jube... you have any idea what you're doing to me?"

She smiled, leaning forward just enough to place a tiny kiss on his nose. "I keep things interesting?"

"There is that. But it's a good, safer sort of interesting, with warmth and flowers and... thank God there's been no lame Xander poetry so far, but..." Xander smiled, hoping that he didn't sound like an utter idiot.

That was right when something made a popping noise, and there was a sudden pain in his arm, and she gasped, her own arm having scarlet ribbons running down the side of it as her face went pale. Xander gasped, feeling that bubbling turn to burning, and he spun around, looking for the source of the bullet. His wound wasn't seeping blood anymore, but green fire, and it was spilling to the ground, spiraling out as small leaves started to burn green all around him. Green sparks danced in the air. All Xander could feel was heat and pain and worry for Jubilee's safety.

"Damn mutie brats..." There was a man, dressed in green clothing, his face smeared with brown and gray paint. He held a pistol in his hands, and seemed to be taking aim.

Xander caught sight of the yellow FoH armband and his vision was blurred by green flames. He could hear Jubilee's voice, as if across a crowded room, through a dull roar, and she sounded worried. That was the last straw, and everything drowned in shades of green light and fire.

The next thing he was aware of, the scent of ashes filled his awareness. Ashes, and Jubilee's voice, oddly soft, worried. He could feel her hand on his arm, oddly cool after the fire's touch. "...have to get up, I can't carry you. And Jean haas the gunman, they're going to take care of him. Please, we need to get to the mansion."

"jube? You're okay?" Xander barely managed to get the question out. He felt like his throat was completely dry, and his head was spinning. He managed to look at her, his vision still blurred by the afterimages of flames everywhere that he looked. "I didn't burn the forest down, I hope?"

"Well, there's sort of a scorched spot, but nothing serious. And considering that we got shot..." Her voice had started soothing, but was now almost indignant and afraid. "We were shot... he was trying to kill us. Oh, God, we could have been killed!"

Xander shivered, uncertain if it was from fear, Jubilee's worry, or the fact that the air felt so much colder now. "Let's head back then. This wasn't how things were supposed to go."

But on a reassuring note, Jubilee held his hand the whole way back. Not the grip of someone that was afraid to fall, but the grip of someone deeply worried for him, someone who cared. That made things better all by itself.

Chapter 7
Smoldering Fears

Jubilee had been shot by some 'Friends of Humanity' goon. How had that guy even gotten onto the property? Weren't there supposed to be security measures? Why had he been at Xavier's anyhow? The whole thing was a mess, and he didn't like any of it. It just felt... off, somehow.

The good news was that neither he nor Jubilee had been badly hurt. The bullet had just grazed his arm, and had hit Jubilee's arm, sort of getting lodged beside the bone. Fortunately, the arm bone hadn't been broken, although Xander wasn't quite certain how that had been avoided. The gunmen was in the medlabs now, with the Professor trying to sift through his mind for clues as to how and why he was here. Xander half hoped they'd throw the guy into a deep dark hole and leave him there.

He had the feeling that it wouldn't happen. They were supposed to be the good guys, and good guys didn't do that sort of thing. Good guys also weren't supposed to half char-broil their attackers, he'd been told. Apparently, they weren't supposed to maim or kill their enemies. Scott had given him this big lecture on why they didn't kill people. Logan had sat in the background, cowling around a cigar, looking pretty furious about the whole thing, although he didn't say a word during the lecture. Not until Scott had left the room, promising to check on Jubilee in the medlabs, where her arm was being checked out. Xander wasn't certain if Scott had believed his statement that he hadn't done it on purpose, that he couldn't control the green fire, but it had shifted the lecture's tone a bit.

He'd been left in the room with Logan, who had looked at him, passing him a bottle of Pepsi before speaking. "How much of that excuse was true?"

"I can't control it. This was only the third time it's come. Maybe I have to get hurt for it to work." Xander had shrugged, sitting in his chair, feeling like his mind and stomach were tied in knots.

Logan had nodded, and sipped at a beer. His question seemed entirely calm when he spoke again. "Would you have char-broiled him that badly if you could control it?"

"What sort of question is that? I'm not some freak who enjoys hurting people... I would have either just made him stop or killed him, not this halfway mess. And if he's dead, how are we supposed to find out why he's here and how he found us?" Xander felt almost angry, and he couldn't figure out what was behind Logan's question.

"So finding out why and how are more important than killing him." Logan looked as if he was making mental notes. "How would you feel if he had died? Or died in the labs? Would you get all torn up inside? Or would you take the view that it was him or you?"

"Damn it, it WAS him or me! Well, me and Jubilee, but that's pretty much the same thing." Xander glared at Logan, wishing that he had some clue what was going on in the other man's head. "There are times when you can't talk your way out of a situation, you have to fight. To push, maybe kill. Of course, I've only been there with vampires and demons before... But there are humans who can be just as vile. It wouldn't make me happy if he dies, but I'd still feel a bit upset, and I'm already worried about this power that I can't control. Scott's right about one thing - it's not good to do that sort of thing by accident."

"How much do you know about vampires and demons?" There was an odd note to Logan's voice, and it wasn't one that said doubt.

"More than I ever wanted. Before I came here… I lived over a Hellmouth. I found out two years ago what it was, that all those things in legends and old myths are real. Well, a lot of them anyhow. The new girl was a Slayer, if that means anything, and we… me and Willow, ended up helping her. Learned a lot about nasty things… and we started helping her fight them." Xander sighed, wondering how everything was in Sunnydale. If his mother and Willow were safe, if Giles had found Buffy. "It makes you think about things differently. The biggest difference though… this guy wasn't trying to eat us, he just wanted us dead. And the local cops might care if he's dead or gone."

Logan just looked at him, sipping from his beer. "And?"

Xander felt like he needed to sit down, except that he already was. "Oh man… I hadn't even thought about legal things. There are laws, and lawyers, and jail…"

"Xavier will take care of that. You do need to try to learn more control over the fire, but… It's good to see that someone around here thinks sensibly on a few things." Logan's eyes got this sort of distant look, as if he was contemplating some memory, rather than the room. "Sometimes, the only way to prevent trouble later is to kill the bastard now. It shouldn't have to be done here and now, but… shouldn't doesn't always hold much weight with the way things are, if you follow."

Xander nodded, and got up from his chair, realizing that now that the danger and lecture was over, his whole body felt shaky, and almost rubbery. "I… think I'm going to go check on Jubilee."

At the door to the medlab, he paused, wondering how Jubilee would be feeling. She'd been shot, and that would be pretty upsetting. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open, offering a slight smile towards his girlfriend. Those two words felt wonderful, even if only in his mind – his girlfriend. "Hey, Jube."

She looked rather pale, and her hair was sticking up in funny directions. There was a bandage over her arm, and she looked… scared. Jean was looking at something on the table, her back to the door. Jubilee offered a small wave with her uninjured arm. "Xander. Are you alright?"

"I'm pretty good. Glad that you're okay, glad the lecture's over and the danger past." He gave her a gentle hug, not wanting to hurt her already injured arm.

"That might be a bit hasty." Jean's voice sounded worried. "This… it isn't a bullet."

"What else would it be? It came out of a gun, and into my arm… good painkillers, by the way. If it's not a bullet, what is it?" Jubilee was frowning, and had sort of moved closer to Xander, almost hiding inside his over-shirt.

"Some sort of electronic device. It sort of reminds me of… of the tracking tags that the wildlife department uses." Jean looked very worried now.

Jubilee made a little whimper, and hid her face against Xander's chest. He looked at Jean, and whispered the big question. "Who's picking up the signal?"

"I wish that we could answer that. Something like this… it's not good, or comforting, or legal, for that matter. I hope the professor has found something." Jean's voice was filled with worry.

Chapter 8
Spark of Hope

Xander wasn't happy about the whole tracking device thing. While it was great that Jubilee hadn't been seriously injured when she was shot, the whole thing just... set his nerves on edge. The shooter had died, partly from the burns, and partly from something else - he'd gone into some sort of convulsions as soon as Xavier'd tried to read his mind, as if there had been some sort of triggered reaction. That had left the Professor somewhere between sleeping and unconscious, and he'd been told that telepaths should never ever, ever try to read someone's mind as they die. Apparently, they could get dragged along, and never come back. Which left them with the device and any scraps that Xavier may have found in the hunter's mind before he self destructed.

People shouldn't self-destruct. He'd thought it sounded creepy and wrong when he'd heard about spies fitted with poison capsules shaped like teeth, so they could kill themselves before talking, but... this was something else, something worse. Had someone deliberately made the person's mind unreadable, or was it something else, something tragic but coincidental? Xander wasn't a firm believer in coincidence anymore.

"Xander? You have a phone call, someone named Willow?" Ororo's voice pulled him from his thoughts.

The idea of talking to Willow made him feel much better, and Xander practically bounded to the phone. "Wills? How are you?"

:There's the good, the not so good, and the rather scary not so good. The good news is that I can come out to visit you.: Willow sounded like she was trying to stay calm, but panicking inside.

"What's wrong, Willow?" Xander felt worry claw at him, and everything felt warmer.

:My parents got attacked - the usual Sunnydale type of thing. Dad's in the hospital for observation, he... he lost a lot of blood. Mom's not too injured, but she's freaking out over the whole thing. The bright spot is that they've decided to send me out to visit you for a while. I think... I think they might be considering sending me away to a boarding school or something.: Willow sounded as if she was fighting off tears.

"Well, that would just... not be too fun. But hey, they survived. Is there... anything on Buffy?" Xander had to ask. The matter of Faith kept bothering him - a Slayer was called when the previous one was killed. Kendra had died, was that what had activated Faith? Or was it... had Buffy...?

:Apparently, there's another Watcher in Los Angeles, and they think that Buffy might be there. Something about suspicious changes in behavior from some of the locals… He didn't explain a whole lot. But if she's alive, then… well, that's good, right?: Willow's voice sounded uncertain, as if maybe it wouldn't be alright if Buffy were alive. As if she wasn't quite certain she wanted Buffy alive. Alive Buffy meant that she'd just… ran away, abandoned them all to the non-mercy of Sunnydale, left them all to be killed or worse. :There was a new Slayer Called after Kendra, she's apparently somewhere on the east coast, the information I could get wasn't very specific. I think they saw the Highlander evil-Watcher arc and improved the security of their records.:

Xander almost managed not to laugh. "Well, if you can't find the information, then the bad guys shouldn't be able to either. And I'm really glad that you're coming out here. We've… there's been a rather weird and bad thing happen, and we're trying to figure out the why's and the what's and the complicated how's. You and your smarts could be a big help."

:More details when I get there?: Willow sounded like she was trying to smile. :I'm being put on a plane tomorrow, so if someone could pick me up, then I won't have to fight to get my luggage and a taxi… And I want to meet your new girlfriend.:

Xander swallowed, feeling an entirely new sort of nervousness form inside the pit of his stomach. "Sure. I'll talk to someone and see if we can pick you up. There will have to be a sign with your name on it." He paused, trying to think of what else he could say, what else would be safe to say over the phone. "Be safe, Wills. Just… be safe."

:I'll try… There's a lot more bothering you. We'll have to talk when I get there. I had the flight details on a paper, I'll email them to you. I got to go now, things to pack. Take care, Xander.: Her voice was soft as the connection was ended.

He was smiling as walked away from the phone. "This is good, we'll be able to get answers. And Willow's coming to visit."

"Are you certain that she can help get answers? You mentioned that she was your age…" Ororo's question was gentle, as if she was afraid that he was teetering on an emotional edge.

"Willow has always been able to find answers. She's the one who found out about this place. She's… she's the smart one. She might be able to look at that thing and tell us who made it, and if we know who made it, we might be able to figure out who bought it." Xander offered a little smile. "And she wants to meet Jubilee."

Ororo nodded, although her eyes were twinkling with amusement. "It's good to know that someone has friends from before that will not abandon them. And if she can help with figuring out who was responsible for that… thing, then we will be making progress."

"Yeah… Let's just hope we can make enough progress fast enough not to get munched… or mauled, or in some other form of badness." Xander sighed, running his hand through his hair. "I'm… gonna go sit with Jubilee some more."

It didn't change any of the problems they were having, but it felt good to cuddle up with Jubilee. To put an arm carefully around her, and feel her arm around him. "We're going to find out who's responsible for this."

"I hope so." She whispered, leaning against his chest. "I really hope so."

Chapter 9
Collecting Friends

After considerable discussion, things were resolved so that Jean took Xander to the airport to pick up Willow. Xander was the only one who'd recognize her, so he managed to defeat the argument that he might have been a deliberate target for the Friends of Humanity gunman. Jean went for several reasons, the least of which was that she was a licensed driver, which Xander was not. She could blend in a crowd fairly easily, and as a telepath should be harder to surprise. There was also little more that she could do for either Jubilee or the Professor, and Scott might make a little better progress on the tracking device without her there to distract him with one of those smiles of hers. And there was enough resemblance that once they got Willow, they might be able to pass of as a family group.

Xander made his way towards the area where he could wait for passengers disembarking from flight 416 from Chicago, exiting at Gate 12. He held a sign, written in dark green letters that read 'Willow - Best Bud', which had caused Jean to snicker. But it wasn't about looking formal, or like something out of a movie, it was about finding Willow. She'd know that it was his sign.

And there she was, his bestest red haired pal in all the world, hugging him as if she was drowning. She felt too thin in his arms, and when he finally got a look at her, she looked pale, and her cheeks were too thin, almost hollowed. Her lip had been split, and there was a bruise almost covered by makeup over her cheekbone and spreading into her hair. Despite the fact that it was the beginning of July, she had long sleeves on. Was that a hint of bruise under the cuff?

"God, Will... I missed you." Xander blinked back the tears, knowing that this was not the place to ask any of the questions now screaming in his mind. "Let's go get your luggage, okay?"

Jean rubbed at her temple, wincing slightly. Was she hearing his questions and worries? Did the crowds of people press at her mind? "Yes, the sooner we get the luggage, the sooner we can leave."

On the way back out of the airport, towing the pair of slightly faded orange bags that had once been a match for her favorite smiley faced backpack, Willow chattered about the flight, about the splendid views from the window, and about the assortment of in flight movies offered. None of it really required too much input to maintain, and it made their little group look all the more normal as they went back to Jean's bland looking gray car.

Xander managed to wait until they were in the car and out of the mess that was the airport parking lot before the first question emerged. "Wills, what happened to your face? I mean, your lip's split, and there's that huge bruise... and the sleeves? More bruises?"

Sighing, she sort of leaned back against the seat. "We went out to watch the meteor shower. Only... well... Sunnydale, after dark. There was a vampire, and he thought that we would be a pretty solid meal. Mom was just standing there, screaming fit to.. well, she was screaming a lot. He tried to go for me, and grabbed my wrist, and that's when Dad attacked him with the telescope. So the vamp threw me at a tree and tried to kill Dad first. Between me and Dad, we managed... barely... to make him let go... Holy water down the back makes them really mad. That's when he backhanded me to the ground..." Willow's hand raised, almost touching the bruise over her cheek. "I managed to stake him when he turned back to Dad."

"Oh my God... does that happen a lot in the place where you and Xander are from?" Jean sounded horrified.

Xander just glanced at her. "That's Sunnydale... home of evil. You don't want to visit. It doesn't surprise me at all."

"Dad hasn't really woke up much. Between the blood loss and the painkillers and sedatives the hospital gave him..." Willow sighed, turning to look out the window. "Mom's trying to convince herself that it was just a guy on drugs. Really bad drugs."

"There aren't any drugs that can make that much of a change in appearance and behavior." Jean sounded disturbed. After a short pause, she glanced at Willow's reflection in the mirror. "You have very strong and clear images. That was... disturbing."

Willow blinked, as if startled. "That's right... you're a telepath and telekinetic. Xander mentioned that...

"I suppose that you do realize it's not supposed to become common knowledge?" Jean sounded worried all of a sudden,

One hand waved in the air. "Of course. But... I'm not the general public, I'm Willow."

Xander blinked, trying not to laugh. "Well, I'm not sure that would mean too much for Jean. But it makes sense to me. After all, if we could help Buffy, why not keep mutants secret?"

"So... what new and disturbing thing happened that you didn't want to bring up on the phone?" Willow looked right at him, worry in her eyes.

"I..." Xander faltered, not quite certain how to explain things. "We had a gunman?"

"A gunman." Jean snorted. "He and Jubilee went out for a walk and someone decided to shoot at them. Unfortunately for the idiot, Xander's powers aren't under control, and there was a small fire. Jubilee's arm needed stitches, and I removed what we thought was a bullet but turned out to be some sort of tracking device."

Xander winced, hoping that Willow wouldn't freak out at the mention of his ability running amuck. "Yeah, that sort of sums it up. I was hoping with your brains, we could get a lead on the device?"

Her eyes were wide as Willow looked at him. "Fire? That would have been handy on patrol... I can see what I can do, but... I don't know how much oomph my laptop will have with that sort of research."

Xander leaned closer, his eyes twinkling as he made the offer. "You can use the Professor's computer... more gadgets than I can even name, and it's so far ahead that it's still ahead of state of the art. It's like.. sci-fi."

Giggling, Willow swatted his arm lightly. "That's bribery."

"Is it working? We've also got coffee and chocolate." Xander grinned at her.

Laughing, Willow gave him a hug. "I missed you, Xan. Everything's been going crazy back there. Giles has been too busy trying to find Buffy, there's been nobody trying to keep things under control, and... It's good to see you. I'll try to figure out this tracking device. And I'm supposed to stay here indefinitely."

"Well, at least there's something good about this." Xander sighed, still holding Willow. "You're safe now. You're with me, with all of us."

"Is that really safe?" Jean's question was quiet enough that it could have passed unheard.

Xander considered answering, but looked back at the frail seeming redhead in his arms. Apparently, things had been hard on Willow recently. If she hadn't heard Jean's doubts, there was no need to bring them up again. Instead, he focused on Jean, and tried to form the thoughts. 'It's safer than Sunnydale. Even with the gunmen, even with the lobbyists in New York... it's safer. Nobody's trying to et us here.'

As the car drove on, Jean shuddered in the front seat. Xander just held Willow, hoping that he could somehow help things be okay for his friend.

Chapter 10
Burning Questions

Xander had just smiled as Willow looked in awe at the mansion and grounds. She'd looked this way and that, her lips parted in wonder, trying to take everything in at the same time. "This is a school? But it... wow."

Laughing, he'd just gripped her fingers, not wanting to let go for fear that it would be a dream. "Yeah, this is my new school. Big step up from Sunnydale, isn't it? So... now that I've let you get jealous over the fact that my school's prettier than yours, can you help out?"

"Silly, of course I'll try to help." Willow had been laughing, and it had gradually seeped back into her eyes.

Jean chuckled, and rested one hand on Willow's shoulder. "Why don't you go talk to Jubilee, and I'll take Willow to the lab and explain what we do know about the device?"

Xander leaned over, winking at his friend. "Don't worry, she doesn't bite, and since she's a telepath, willow-babble should be okay for her to understand."

Xander made his way quickly to the back yard, where he figured that Jubilee would be, probably hanging out with Bobby and Marie. John had gone to spend the day with Faith. Sure enough, Jubilee was there, her bright pink tank top showing the bandages on her arm nicely. Walking over, he placed a kiss on her head. Hey. We got back, and the redheads are off to the lab, where they will communicate in the arcane language of science. Which means I get to be here.

You just let Jean drag your best friend off to the lab to talk about science stuff? Shell be going on about genetic mutation and the biological changes Maybe talking about that device Marie shuddered, and leaned against the towel that shed placed over Bobbys arm. Are you sure that you like her?

Xander blinked, and just started to laugh. You think no, this is Willow. Shes all science-loving. Shes the one who found out about this place, and Im hoping thats he can help figure some stuff out about that device.

Maybe you should go down there and say hi anyhow? Maybe be there to referee between your friend and your girlfriend? Bobby was smiling, and running his hand carefully over Maries hair.

But then theyll babble at me in science talk. Xander mock-pouted, one arm wrapped around Jubilee as he sat in the sunshine.

You cant hide from the science forever, Xander. Especially not when one of them came all the way out here just to see you. Marie dipped her fingers into Bobbys glass of water, the only one that still had any ice, and flicked a few drops towards him. Shoo, go save her from the labs.

Jubilee stayed with him as Xander went to the elevator, descending to the medlabs. Even if Willow didnt need rescued from Dr. Grey, Marie had made a very good point. He could feel his stomach tensing as he let his mind return to the gunman and the not-a-bullet that had been used to shoot Jubilee. He felt almost light headed, and his pulse felt loud in his ears as they left the elevator. Xander wondered if their footsteps were really loud, or if it just seemed that way to him. Peeking into one of the room, he discovered that theyd left the room with the tracking device, and had apparently gone to the computer room.

Jean was in a chair, frowning at a stack of papers, and Willow was at the computer, her back to the door. She had a few papers of her own, and the screen was currently showing some sort of electronics diagram. Every few moments, Jeans eyes would flicker over to Willow, and her frown would intensify for just a moment. Apparently, they were both deep in their work.

Hey there, ladies. Have either of you brilliant red heads found anything useful? Xander grinned, hoping that if he acted like he wasnt a nervous wreck, the almost but not quite sick feeling inside of him would go away.

mmmm. The Professor is recovering, and he should wake up fairly soon. There will be a terrible headache, but all of the tests show that there was no neural damage. Jean looked worried, as if something was still bothering her in spite of the good news. Is she supposed to be able to go to those sites?

I asked her something like that once. Will told me that if she could get to it, obviously they had left it accessible. Xander shrugged, still feeling like hot snakes were squirming in his stomach.

Jubilee giggled, and looked over at Willow. If she can get there, its obviously allowed?

Ive back-traced the design, and I know what company and factory made that device. Willow hadnt even turned around, and sounded as if she was concentrating on something. Im trying to check who the manufacturer thinks bought it.

How are you going to do that? Jubilee blinked, looking at Willow with curiosity.

I wrote down the serial number. Its the same sort as the wildlife tracking units, not the bird ones, more like what they use on wolves. Anyhow, they need the serial number so they can keep track of each individual with their satellite relays, it lets them track movements, hunting patterns, migration routes all that good stuff. Anyhow, depending on who the company thinks bought that unit, we may have some answers, or a lot more questions. Willow turned around, looking at them with a bright smile.

Thats wow, I was hoping that you could find some answers, but this is faster than I expected. Xander shook his head, leaning against the doorway.

This computer is so wonderful its faster, and its got lots of memory I mean, wow. Its making this so much faster than it would be at home. Just slips right past. But knowing who made this isnt the big point, the big question is who arranged for it to get put into Jubilee? Willow looked serious again.

Yeah thats the biggie. Jubilee leaned closer to Xander, shivering at the memories. And, umm hi.

Hi. Willow walked over, holding her hand out towards Jubilee. umm Its good to meet you. Should I get to the... no, the questions should definitely wait, but I am curious how you and Xander met, got together, everything.

What, no threats of how shed better not break my heart? Xander teased Willow just a little, giving Jubilee a quick hug.

Ill give those out later, when Im not trying to wiggle information out of someone elses computer system. Followed by the interrogation. Willow had turned back to the computer, her fingers practically flying over the keyboard. oh, Xander? When did you start getting bright green flecks in your eyes anyhow? They sort of look like sparks.

What sort of threats? Jubilee snickered, glancing at Willow thoughtfully. Jubilee was shorter than Willow, but looked to be in much better shape.

My uncle used one that I always liked. It goes like this break his heart and I will beat you to death with a shovel. Willow looked at Jubilee, her eyes unexpectedly serious. A vague disclaimer is nobodys friend, and Xander is one of the few friends that I have. I want him to be happy.

A shovel? Jubilee blinked, her eyes wider as she glanced from Xander to Willow. Is she serious?

Why a shovel? Jeans question was soft, filled with curiosity and worry.

Shrugging, Willow turned back to the computer. I asked him about that once. He said that not only could you find a shovel just about anywhere, but you can either use the flat side so that its a blunt surface, or if its been used, theres a sharp edge. Maybe we should mention that to Bu. never mind.

Remind me not to make your Uncle Owen mad. Xander shook his head, remembering the serious eyed relative, and the way that hed always watching everything so carefully. Now, he wondered if maybe Uncle Owen had known something about what was out there, if maybe he knew that Sunnydale wasnt safe. And what had Willow meant by green flecks in his eyes anyhow? He didn't have green spots in his eyes.. at least, he'd never had them before...

Hes a sweetie most of the time. Willow dismissed the concern. Umm Jean? Dr. Grey whichever you want me to call you. Anybody know anything about Essex Biomedical Foundation? Its listed here as some sort of research foundation, but

But what? Xander asked, not liking the way Willow was sort of twitching.

The name doesnt sound familiar Does it have anything about their area of specialization? Jean was frowning now, either picking up Willows worries or having a few of her own.

Not listed. But they ordered and received a batch of three hundred of those tracing units. That one was in the middle of the numbers. Willow was definitely not happy. Umm how do I tell this to print out the information? Ive found the shipping address, and the billing information on Essex, but Something about it just I dont know, but I think theres something off about it. Other than one of them ended up in Jubilees arm. Let me see if I can get their purchasing history with this company

Jean was frowning, the pages now placed to the side. I dont think that Ive ever run across a paper or research report from this Essex Biomedical Foundation.

Well, whoever they are, theyve certainly ordered enough to have some very well equipped labs. Willow spoke, her words filled with uncertainty. I just what are they researching?

Maybe we can figure that out from the listing of their equipment? Jeans voice wasnt very optimistic. Unfortunately, it sounded like the best lead they had right now.


Chapter 11
Craving the Sunshine

"Answers to all of this would be good, but..." Jubilee's voice trailed of as they shuffled slowly down the hall. "Would it sound crazy to say I'm not sure that I'll want to hear them?"

Xander rubbed his thumb over her hand, wanting to pull her into a tight hug. "No. If you don't know, then a part of you can try to think that it isn't real, that it isn't happening. When you have the answers, you have to face up to what they mean."

"When did you get so smart?" She had a half smile, and stopped walking, turning to face him, her hands coming to rest on his arms.

"It's what I went through when I learned that vampires are real. But the denial... it didn't really help." He hugged her, wrapping his arms around her and closing his eyes as he wished that he could keep her safe, that they could all be safe.

"I feel like sunshine. Right up near the mansion, so it feels like nothing can touch us." Her words were sad, and there was a slight damp spot on his shoulder where her face was resting.

Xander just held her for a few moments, feeling his throat get tight as his eyes had that watery feel. He didn't want to cry, but he knew just what she meant. After managing to be certain that he wouldn't start crying, he nodded. "That sounds good. Time out of the med-lab, around Bobby and Marie, and maybe listening to lighter-boy talk about Faith."

They didn't talk the rest of the way up and out, but her fingers were gripping his firmly enough that all of the knuckles were white, and he couldn't quite feel his fingertips anymore. But he didn't say anything, wanting to give her any comfort that he could.

"Hey. How did the lab rescue go?" Marie's voice was cheerful.

"Must not have gone that well." Pyro was smirking, his hand flipping the top of his lighter open and closed. "His friend's still down in the labs. Did the pair of you fail to pry her away from Dr. Grey?"

"More like we failed to pry her away from the Professor's computer set up." Xander smiled, settling into a chair and smiling as Jubilee curled on his lap. "She's currently doing her research thing."

"Do we all need to rescue your friend from Dr. Grey's questions?" Bobby didn't sound like he was teasing.

"Nahhh, it's Willow researching now." Xander shook his head, remembering the way her eyes had lit up in delight at the computer.

"Guys… the gunman? It wasn't a bullet that he shot me with." Jubilee's voice was small, her fear and worry showing through. "It was some sort of tracking device. Willow's trying to find information on the labs that bought it."

Bobby and Marie just gasped, looking shocked and appalled and other unhappy things that Xander couldn't put into words. Marie wrapped her arms around herself, looking suddenly small and afraid as the words slipped out "maybe he was right to be afraid of humans and scientists after all."

"Tracking device?" John's voice shook, anger almost hiding the fear. "Who in the hell shoots people with a tracking device?"

Xander sighed, hugging Jubilee closer. "The device was part of a batch purchased by Essex Biomedical, whoever they are. Willow and Jean… Dr. Grey are trying to learn who runs Essex and what they do."

Unnoticed by Xander, a small weed that had managed to sprout between two stones on the back patio began to burn, the leaves shriveling beneath green fire.

"We aren't going to like the answers, are we?" Marie's voice sounded almost old, with defeated and depressed tones that shouldn't emerge from the mouth of a teenager. "About Essex, an' what they do?"

"Probably not." Xander closed his eyes, leaning his head against Jubilee. He had a bad feeling about the whole Essex thing. A suspicion that no matter how bad it looked that there was some strange research group buying lots of equipment and not publishing papers, the whole truth would be far worse. That this would be something dark and ugly. He just hoped that it wasn't as lethal and horrendous as the stupid loophole in Angel's soul.

After that, none of them really wanted to leave the comforting warmth of the sunlight. Rationally, they knew that it wouldn't keep them safe, but it just seemed to somehow feel better. And in that moment, they were willing to grab even that illusory comfort.

Chapter 12
Burning Higher

"Xander." Scott's voice sounded slightly disapproving. "Come on, you need a session in the training room."

With a slight groan of dismay, Xander stood up, leaning over to give Jubilee a hug. "I guess I get to go do some training. So... does that mean sparring, jogging, or... staring at things and hoping something happens?"

Jubilee kissed his cheek, and snickered. "Yeah. And then you get to keep staring at things until you figure out how to make your power work. Mine went from dull, dull, dull to ka-boom."

"Well, that's something to look forward to." Shaking his head, Xander turned to Scott. "Alright, alright... lead on to the training."

Scott turned towards the building, leaving Xander to wonder if he was frowning in disapproval or trying not to laugh. Scott wasn't very good at the whole emotion thing, leaving Pyro to speculate that they needed to have Jean remove the stick that was clearly... well, he thought Scott had issues. And to an extent, he did, but the guy had some reasons.

"Umm, where are these training sessions held anyhow?" Xander asked, realizing that they were headed towards the elevator.

"Things like sparring and jogging are usually outside." His back was still to Xander, but it sounded as if Scott had a bit of a smile. "When we're trying to work with potentially dangerous abilities, we start down here. There's a special room that we use, it's very durable, and any possible explosions are contained."

"Explosions." Xander sighed, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "I suppose fire goes with that too, doesn't it?"

"Fire and various blasts. Like eyebeams." There was a definite in Scott's voice.

"I don't know if I can make the fire come. Every time... it was never deliberate." Xander offered, feeling worried. The fire scared him, if he were honest.

"Where's Willow? I expected you to be showing her around." Scott asked, sounding as if he was trying to change the subject.

"With Jean, the last I saw them." Xander shrugged. "She'd found out where the tracking device came from, and who bought it, but they were trying to figure out who the heck that was. Why don't we ask them before we go watch me stare at things?"

"You're just trying to delay training." Scott had a half smile.

"Well, there is a bit of that, but... I want to know who's sending people out to shoot at my girlfriend." Xander protested.

Scott just shook his head again, this time definitely fighting a smile. "Jean? Have you and Willow found anything useful?"

Willow's voice called back, "Define useful."

"The device was bought by Essex Biomedical Foundation. We're currently trying to figure out who they are and what they do." Jean sounded unhappy. "I don't recognize the name, so I was wondering if they might be in drug research."

"Dumb question - why would a company that does drug research be trying to track mutants?" Xander asked, wondering if there could be a good answer for that question.

"Ha!" Willow exclaimed, her hand pointing at the screen. "I love this computer. Anyhow, I found the name of the guy running and owning the place. I've got a search running to get more information, but... umm, either of you recognize the name Nathaniel Essex?"

Xander blinked, wondering what kind of cruel parent named their son 'Nathaniel' before remembering his own name of 'Alexander Lavelle'. The name thing was always... yeah. Then, he realized that Scott had just sort of frozen, staring at Willow, or possibly the computer screen in horror. "I'm going to guess that Scott recognizes the name."

Scott nodded, swallowing hard. "I recognize the name. He's... trouble. I can't find the words to explain how much trouble... You won't find any publications. He's not the sort to worry about publication or legal niceties, and his preferred test subjects are mutants."

Jean glanced at Willow, and then looked at Xander. "Talk to Willow. I'll take you in for your practice later."

Watching as she moved to Scott's side and then disappeared with him down the hall, Xander leaned against the doorway. He felt a sour mix of anger and fear as he considered the implications. "I guess he knows how bad. Somehow, it isn't very comforting to know that life can suck just as much away from the Hellmouth."

"I know." Willow moved closer, but didn't put her hand on his arm. "Xander? You've got little green sparks dancing on your skin."

"huh?" Glancing at his arm, Xander saw them too. Willow's description was right - he didn't just feel hot and prickly, there were green sparks dancing over him, some falling away towards the floor just like from a sparkler. "I guess I don't have to be hurt after all..."

A spark landed on her hand, and she jumped, eyes wide. "Oh!"

"Willow, are you okay?" He tried to look at her hand, hoping that he hadn't hurt his friend.

"It startled me." Then, her fingers reached out, hovering near his arm, not quite touching the others. "The one that fell away wasn't that hot, but the ones over your arm feel hotter. How come your clothing isn't catching fire?"

"Jeez, thanks for the concern." He teased, feeling better now that he knew she wasn't hurt.

"I didn't mean it like that!" She protested, and then smiled. "But, why aren't they?"

"Maybe they make the school uniforms fire resistant?" Xander offered, never having thought about it before. He was just glad about it.

"Maybe." Willow murmured, not arguing for the moment. But questions were dancing in her eyes. "First, I should see what the computer finds on Essex, and then I can try to figure out that green fire thing you can do now."

"Just remember, when you figure out what I can do, explain it in small words." Xander smiled.

"Xander." She's smiling again, back in that whole you-could-be-smart-if-you-try thing.

Who knows, maybe she was right. Maybe it's time to start thinking more, to pay attention. Xander had the feeling that this school would be covering things a lot more important than the principal exports of Brazil, the history of the Cold War, and prepositional clauses. And if this Essex guy was bad enough to shake Scott up so much, he might need to be able to think fast, and figure out this fire.