The cleanup crews from the CIA had their hands full; the base was half-demolished, ruins peppered with bodies. There was a lot of back-and-forth over whether to just bulldoze the whole thing or try to rebuild, salvage the sections that were still standing. In the meantime, people cleared rubble and retrieved fallen agents.
One pile of dust and ashes was pushed into a corner of a courtyard and forgotten, until it rained a little and the newly-made mud began to push itself upward into a lump. It gathered more debris from the wreckage in a swirling little dust devil and shortly the lump of mud was a golem the size of a man, huddled on a broken paving stone. In a few more minutes, he had human skin, and he stood up, naked. Armando looked around at the empty square, up at the dark sky and found that he was alone and it was the middle of the night, and he didn't know what day it was.
He coughed into his fist, spitting out some stray dust. First order of business, he needed some damn pants.
"Who the fuck are you?" said the cleaner who found him in the morning. He was stretched out on the remains of a couch, sleeping, wearing a jumpsuit he'd found in a storage closet full of new cleaning supplies.
"I," he started, but the cleaner had a radio and then three guys in suits were asking him for identification.
Armando blinked, tried to arrange his thoughts. "What day is it?" he asked.
They stared at him, and then one said, "Tuesday. It's November 2nd."
A month. Damn. That was a record. He rubbed at his head tiredly. "A month ago," he said, "I was here with some other people. We were part of a project with a Professor Xavier. I was... Um. I don't know what happened. Where are they?"
They hauled him off for questioning.
"They took off, son," said the guy in the black suit at Langley. "Vanished. We don't know where. Look, we'll help you find your parents."
Armando didn't have parents. "I remember Moira. She was an agent. Let me talk to her."
But Moira just said, "I'm sorry. I don't remember. I can't... I don't remember." And her eyes welled up with tears and Armando felt like shit.
"It's okay," he said. "I'll, I'll find them. They're still alive, right?"
"Last I saw them," she agreed. His chest unclutched with relief and she said, "Wait. I can remember trees. There were trees, definitely. Lots."
She blinked, her eyes glazing, and then she shook her head. "Where they went." She shrugged. "Sorry I can't help more."
"It's okay," he said. "Thank you."
"They want to keep you here," she ventured.
Armando stood up straighter. "They can try."
He was going to leave, because if he could find them again, he wasn't going to be alone anymore. Not ever again. He figured it couldn't be so hard to find a telepath. Or a guy who spun out energy from his body like a hula hoop. Couldn't be too hard at all. And he could make it till then. Armando knew how to look after himself.
It was June and Armando was in Boston, living in a homeless shelter. He had walked all over the eastern seaboard, sticking to places where he knew there would be trees. He'd kept his ear to the ground and occasionally he'd written to Moira, to the post office box she'd told him about. Because she'd wanted to know he was okay. She'd told him if he found Professor Xavier and the others that he should tell her so, but not where they were, because she couldn't know. It was sad to hear but he respected her a little more for the way she stood tall when she said it, the resolve and sadness on her face, and he'd hugged her quickly before slipping out of the building. Rough scales on his feet had carried him along for months without pain and he'd stopped in Boston wiry, muscular and tired, glad to stop and sit and eat and wait a little.
He stayed in Boston for a month and was getting the itch to leave again, maybe see New York at least, when he felt it: a little tickle in the back of his brain.
He froze, stopped walking in the middle of the street and made for a bus shelter bench to sit and figure out what had just happened. It had seemed like a thought, but not his own thought.
Armando. There it was again, more assured this time.
Hope bubbled up. Was it? It had to be.
Yes, it's me. He felt a whisper of a smile. Are you looking for us? You are. I'm sorry we left you. We didn't know. And with a touch of sadness, Armando suddenly knew where he needed to go. He wasn't far, at least. A few days, on foot. Upstate New York. Yep, there were lots of trees, he thought with a grin.
He thought his gratitude as hard as he could, but he didn't think Professor Xavier was in his head anymore. He could say it in person soon enough.
He hadn't been thinking about it, really, but when he finally set foot on the estate, at the newly-minted Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, he was looking for someone. Not Professor Xavier, although Armando knew there was no way the professor didn't know he was there. But he scanned the grounds, his vision sharpening a little to help, and there, off on a lawn to the west, was a small group of people firing clay pigeons into the sky. When one of them exploded a pigeon with a burst of red light, Armando nearly fell to his knees. He staggered closer and saw a girl point at him.
He stopped on the edge of the grass as Alex ran over to him, trailed by three other people--Sean and another boy and the girl who'd pointed, neither of whom he recognized.
"Jesus fucking Christ," shouted Sean, and Alex followed that with an, "Oh my God!" before running straight into Armando and tackling him onto the ground.
"Get off, you'll kill me," he joked, and Alex rolled off of him, laughing. He hauled himself up on his elbows.
"You were dead. We thought you were," said Alex, and his eyes darted all around as he said it, not looking directly at him.
"I'm tough," Armando reminded him. "Sometimes it takes a while to adapt, that's all." He looked around, skipping over the unfamiliar faces. He couldn't handle that right at the moment. "Where are--" he started, and Sean shook his head.
"Raven and Angel are both gone. With Erik. Hank's inside, though," he said. "He doesn't look the same."
"He looks cooler," Alex interjected.
Gone with Erik? Didn't sound like they were gone on an errand. Armando picked himself up off the ground. "I should go say hi to the professor," he said.
"I'll go with you," said Alex immediately. "Or you might get lost," he added awkwardly. "Big house."
Armando craned his neck to look up at the spires. "No kidding."
He had to say he didn't mind the way their shoulders and arms would occasionally bump as they walked inside, moving through wide, echoing corridors. His personal space had shrunk to nothing again, just like that first game of pinball, months and months ago. He remembered that night like it was yesterday. Alex stayed quiet, let Armando gawk at the place mostly. It was swanky. He was filled with a warm hope that he could stay, maybe forever, and be comfortable and not alone. Walk down hallways with shoulders brushing every damn day of his life.
"I'm really glad you're here," said Alex. There was a rough note in his voice that made Armando raise a hand to sling around his shoulders, yank him in even closer.
"Me too," he said, and his voice was just as rough.
Alex's arm slid around his waist, slow and tentative, and pulled him in until there was no space between them. Armando kept letting his eyes wander around the house. Some things were just so easy to adapt to.