Hurt & Comfort

Book 7: From Hurt to Comfort

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Chapter 31: Strictly Business

After the last notes of the music died away, silence filled the room as everyone awaited Marie and Icheb's reaction.

"That's wonderful." Marie said with a dreamy smile.

"Do you think Bobby will like it?" Robert asked with hope.

"Sure. I guess. Why?" Marie asked in confusion.

"Because I wrote it for him." Robert said simply.

"Oh, that is sooooooooooo sweet." Marie said with a tender smile.

"You wrote this music for Bobby?" Icheb asked in stunned fascination.

"I wrote the poem, Uncle Spike recognized that the poem could serve as song lyrics and Uncle Alex provided the music." Robert said happily.

"Uncle Spike?" Marie asked, looking at the unfamiliar man.

"Yes. Marie, may I introduce you to William the Bloody, also known as Spike." Icheb said formally.

"Uncle Spike." Robert said with force.

"What's the difference?" Spike asked Alex.

"It means that they like and respect you enough to make you part of their family." Alex said with pride.

"I've been adopted?" Spike asked with wide eyes.

"Yes Uncle Spike." Robert said happily.

"Back up to the 'William the Bloody' thing. I'm thinking there's got to be a story to go with that name." Marie said carefully.

"There are books of stories. But I'd best not tell them to you in front of the little ones, might give'em nightmares." Spike said with an evil grin that sent a chill up Marie's spine.

"We do not sleep, therefore we do not have nightmares; I want a story." Janine said from beside Spike.

"Tell you what lil bit, later tonight, after it's dark, remind me and I'll tell you a whopper of a story." Spike said gently.

Janine nodded enthusiastically.

* * * * *

The doorbell rang and Jimmy quickly opened it.

Standing in the doorway was an early middle-aged woman with red hair, wearing a modest coat.

"Dr. Hoffman?" Jimmy asked with a smile.

"Yes." She said, surprised by the young boy.

"Please let me take your coat." Jimmy said and moved to help her take it off.

After putting the coat into the closet, Jimmy returned to Dr. Hoffman who was noticing the opulent luxury of the entry hall.

"I will take you to Mr. Worthington, please follow me." Jimmy said with an aire of professionalism.

Dr. Hoffman looked curiously at Jimmy then followed him down the hallway.

* * * * *

"So you mean you got to see the Andrew guy who you thought killed you get bawled out by his dad?" Matt asked with a chuckle.

"Yeah. After him acting so fatherly and know-it-all I got to see his dad rip into him, and that's when I realized that he's just a guy like me. He ain't perfect and he don't know it all. He's just trying to figure it out as he goes along." Ronny said happily.

"That's a good thing to learn kid. I'll tell you a trick. If you ever meet up with someone who's trying to make you think they're better than you. Just picture them taking a dump. I mean a real, Texas chili cook-off dump. If you can get that picture in your head, you won't be able to think of them as anything but human, just like you." Matt said seriously.

Ronny started laughing and nearly fell off his chair.

"Who you picturing kid?" Matt asked with a smile.

"That... guy with the wings, from lunch. He's... he's all starched and pressed... I just... just got the picture of him... with his face all scrunched up... trying to pinch one off..." Ronny said before breaking down into full laughter.

"Warren's a good guy. He dresses like that for his job, but there's a real decent person inside." Matt said seriously.

Ronny stopped laughing immediately and said, "I'm sorry if I was talking bad about one of your friends."

"Naw, you weren't talking bad. I just wanted you to know that there's more to him than the way he looks. If I thought he was an asshole, then that's what I'd tell you." Matt said simply.

"Okay. I just don't want to say the wrong thing and screw this up." Ronny said with worry.

"Don't worry bout that kid. If you say something I don't like, I'll let you know. Then it's done. Got it?" Matt asked as he looked into Ronny's eyes.

"Yeah." Ronny said quietly.

"And it goes both ways. I say something that pisses you off, you gotta tell me. I don't always notice stuff like that." Matt said, looking for understanding.

"Got it." Ronny said seriously.

"What you thinkin bout all this so far? You think we can make it work?" Matt asked curiously.

"Yeah. I mean, we want to make it work. I think we'll be fine." Ronny said with a happy smile.

Silence fell between the two.

"Logan?" Ronny asked quietly.

"Yeah?" Matt responded, noticing the change in Ronny's attitude.

"Why me?" Ronny asked and looked into Matt's eyes.

"Why'd I pick you to live with?" Matt asked to be sure.

"Yeah. I just need to know." Ronny asked and looked away.

"You know I almost died just then, right?" Matt asked carefully.

"Yeah." Ronny whispered.

"You know what the first thing I saw was when I came back?" Matt asked seriously.

"No, what?" Ronny asked and met Matt's eyes again.

"Someone who gave a damn that I'd almost died." Matt said, looking to see if Ronny understood.

"But the others..." Ronny began to say.

"The others had their own reasons for helping me. Mostly cause they're good guys, and they would've done the exact same thing no matter who was in here. There was one person who cared that *I* almost died today... you." Matt said, holding Ronny's gaze.

"So you're taking me in because I was nice to you?" Ronny asked in confusion.

"Naw, it ain't like that. I want you to move in with me cause I care bout you too. If you was in here, I would've been on the other side of that glass, watching out for you." Matt said seriously.

"Yeah... I think I knew that." Ronny said in thought.

"That's good. I'm gonna get me some sleep. Why don't you take a break for a while and get out of that plastic bag?" Matt asked tiredly.

"Yeah. But I'll probably be back before you wake up." Ronny said seriously.

"That's good. I had enough of being alone." Matt said as he drifted off to sleep.

* * * * *

After going through the decontamination sequence the way Dr. McCoy had told him, Ronny took off the biosuit and stepped out into the lab to find Bobby waiting for him.

"How you doing Bro?" Bobby asked with concern.

"I'm good. How about you?" Ronny asked as he thought about Logan.

"I'm fine, just a little worried about you. What were you two talking about in there?" Bobby asked curiously.

"That guy's had it rough. He's been sick and alone for months. We talked about what we're going to do when he can leave that room." Ronny said vaguely.

"We?" Bobby asked, picking up on Ronny's evasive answer.

"Yeah. Bobby, you got your own life here. You're used to it, you've got friends, a family... even an itty bitty boyfriend." Ronny finished with a teasing smile.

"There's room for you too." Bobby said with assurance.

"I know, but what you got, it works for you. I need to get my own, not part of yours. Does that make any sense?" Ronny asked carefully.

"Yeah. I guess it does. So what are you going to do?" Bobby asked and began walking for the door.

"We'll figure that out when he get's out." Ronny said as he followed.

"What's with the 'We'?" Bobby asked, still trying to figure out what Ronny was getting into.

"He's new here. He's alone. He's lost everything... Sound like anyone you know?" Ronny asked as he stopped, waiting for an answer.

"I get it. And good. I don't know Matt, but if he's like our Logan, he's a good guy. He saved my life once when the school was attacked." Bobby said as he began to walk again.

They noticed John and Scott sitting in the conference room, talking as they passed by.

* * * * *

"So where am I going to live?" John asked carefully.

"I guess we'll figure that out after you've chosen which school you'll attend. Do you know which one you want?" Scott asked quietly.

"I don't know. I mean, if I start over at the new school, it'll make it a little easier in some ways. But now that me and Bobby are getting along... I guess it doesn't matter. What's the difference?" John asked with genuine curiosity.

"Well, the main difference is the student population. Here, most of the students are mutants and are fairly high level ones. The college will probably have lower level mutants and be open to non-mutants as well. Plus there might be as many as two thousand students there, if the place fills up. We just have a few dozen." Scott said in a considering voice.

"So it's more like a regular school." John said in thought.

"John. You don't have to decide now. Take some time to think it out. Talk to some people, teachers and other students. Get their ideas and decide what's going to be best for you." Scott said quietly.

"Yeah, thanks Scott. I'll do that." John said in thought.

"And our deal, it's just between us. No one will know that you aren't just another student." Scott said and looked away.

"Thanks for that. It'll be tough for me to think of myself as good as everyone else after..." John trailed off.

"I know. And if you ever need help dealing with that, just come and talk to me. Remember, I've been there. I won't judge you." Scott said, looking out the window.

"I'll remember. If I have a problem with it, I'll let you know." John said quietly.

John noticed movement and saw Ronny and Bobby walking by the window of the conference room.

"Go ahead, we'll talk later." Scott said with a smile.

John nodded and got up to join his friends.

* * * * *

Jimmy led Dr. Hoffman into the library and closed the door behind them.

"Dr. Hoffman, may I introduce Mr. Warren Worthington the Third." Jimmy said professionally.

Warren walked to meet Dr. Hoffman halfway across the room, shook her hand gently and said, "A pleasure to meet you Dr. Hoffman. Please have a seat."

"Dr. Hoffman, would you care for coffee or tea?" Jimmy asked politely.

"No, thank you. Perhaps later." Dr. Hoffman said and took another curious look at Jimmy, noticing his small ocular implant.

"Mr. Worthington?" Jimmy asked professionally.

"Not just yet. Please take your seat so we may begin." Warren said and sat back down at the table.

Dr. Hoffman was surprised that Jimmy was being invited to sit in on their meeting.

"Let me start by saying that our lawyers have worked out the majority of this already. Your people wrote down a number, my people wrote down a number, and they've basically agreed on something we can all live with." Warren said and saw acknowledgment in Dr. Hoffman's expression.

"So this meeting is to discuss our plans for the college and your role in our plans... if any." Warren said matter-of-factly.

Dr. Hoffman fought to maintain a neutral expression at the statement.

Warren pushed a piece of paper to Dr. Hoffman and waited for her to read it.

"I haven't heard about this." She said as she finished reading the law that confirmed the status of mutants.

"Most people haven't, the President signed it at around two this morning and we have an opportunity to use this law to our advantage." Warren said carefully.

"How so?" Dr. Hoffman asked curiously.

"By opening the Wagner Institute for Mutant Education." Warren said, watching for her reaction.

Dr. Hoffman was stunned by the statement and quickly thought about what this meant to her.

"From the financial records my people have been able to secure, we've estimated that your college will have to close it's doors before the end of the year." Warren said simply.

Dr. Hoffman nodded in confirmation.

"What I am proposing is closing the Forestgrove College for Thanksgiving and opening the Wagner Institute in it's place the following Monday." Warren said calmly.

"Monday! You want to open a new college in one week?!" Dr. Hoffman asked in shock.

"Yes. Now I need to know your feelings about mutants. If you have any objection to working with, or for, a mutant, I need to know it now." Warren said steadily.

"Is that why you have this young man in the meeting?" Dr. Hoffman asked, looking at Jimmy.

"Mr. Summers is not a mutant. He is here to serve as my assistant, nothing more." Warren said simply and waited for her to answer the question.

Dr. Hoffman thought for a long minute before saying, "I've been interested in the subject of mutancy for many years, from a purely scientific standpoint. I've read some fascinating work on the subject. The Preeminent Treatise on Mutancy by Dr. Hank McCoy made me consider leaving my position to pursue a career in science full time. But as far as working with or for a mutant... I have to admit that I haven't known any and haven't considered the possibility before."

"Mr. Summers, would you ask Dr. McCoy if he would be available to meet Dr. Hoffman later?" Warren asked Jimmy quietly.

"Right away Mr. Worthington." Jimmy said and left the room at a deliberate pace.

"You know Dr. McCoy? He's here?" Dr. Hoffman asked in wonder.

"Yes. If he's available, you can speak to him after the meeting. For now, do you think that you could work with a mutant?" Warren pressed.

"Yes. I don't see why not." Dr. Hoffman said in a considering tone.

"Good. Then the next thing I need to know is if you would be willing to share your position as Dean of the college." Warren asked firmly.

"How do you mean share?" Dr. Hoffman asked suspiciously.

"Dr. Hoffman, mutants with obvious physical differences are limited in their opportunities. For the college to function most effectively, we need an obvious mutant to have a position of authority, but we also need a non-mutant to hold an equal position to convey the message that we are not holding mutant interests above those of non-mutants. Hopefully in time, there will be sufficient mutants with adequate education that we will be able to hire for the position strictly on the merit of their qualifications. But in this beginning time, the first person to hold this position will be qualified only by the fact that he is a mutant and that he has a desire to see that every person who seeks an education has the opportunity to get it." Warren said seriously.

"So it's a token position." Dr. Hoffman said speculatively.

"That will be up to you if you take the job." Warren said frankly.

"How so?" Dr. Hoffman asked curiously.

"Mr. Wagner is a good, decent, hard-working man. If you take the time to show him what is expected of him, he will be capable of doing a fine job and will grow into the position he is being given. If you would rather, you can do all the work yourself and let him be the token mutant." Warren said simply.

Jimmy returned to the room and quietly took his seat. At Warren's look of question, Jimmy nodded.

"I see. So if I remain, my job will be to train him to replace me." Dr. Hoffman said with a note of resignation.

"No Dr. Hoffman. Take a look at this contract and tell me what you think." Warren said with a smile as he pushed a piece of paper to Dr. Hoffman.

She looked over the contract carefully and finally said, "This is unprecedented. This basically guarantees me the job for life."

"Yes. Assuming that the college remains open, that is correct." Warren said with a smile.

"Why? I mean, why would you offer me a lifetime position?" Dr. Hoffman asked suspiciously.

"My staff did some research. You have a history of effective and sound decision making. The current crisis at Forestgrove has little to do with your administration and much to do with the glut of colleges and the poor economy. That alone qualifies you for the position, add to that the fact that you won't need to be familiarized with the operation of this college and that you are already familiar with the staff... The job is yours if you want it." Warren said simply.

"I would like to meet the person that would be sharing my position." Dr. Hoffman said seriously.

"Of course." Warren said, then turned to Jimmy, "Would you ask Mr. Wagner to join us?"

"Right away." Jimmy said and hurried out of the room.

"And Dr. McCoy will meet with you after we conclude our meeting." Warren said kindly.

"Thank you Mr. Worthington. I never expected to meet him... or you for that matter." Dr. Hoffman said honestly.

"I'm only responsible for half the funding going into this venture. Unfortunately, Mr. Wainwright is unavailable just now or you could meet with him too." Warren said conversationally.

"Wainwright? As in Robert Wainwright?" Dr. Hoffman asked with wide eyes.

"Yes, Robert and Felicity were his parents." Warren said calmly.

"I didn't know they had any children... but that's not a surprise, they kept their personal live so private that I'm surprised I knew Robert had a wife." Dr. Hoffman chuckled.

When the door opened, Warren stood and said, "Dr. Hoffman, I'd like to present Mr. Kurt Wagner."

Dr. Hoffman was stunned as she looked at the blue man with a pointy tail walking toward her.

"A pleasure to meet you Herr Doktor." Kurt said as he gently took her hand.

"Yes... good to meet you." Dr. Hoffman said in shock.

"Would anyone like some coffee?" Jimmy asked, sensing that Dr. Hoffman needed to be distracted.

"Yes, please." Dr. Hoffman said quickly.

"Mr. Wagner?" Jimmy asked politely.

"Yes, thank you." Kurt said with a smile.

Jimmy looked to Warren who nodded.

Jimmy quickly left the room and Warren began to speak again, "Do you still think you'll be able to share your Dean's position?"

Dr. Hoffman paused for a moment, then said, "Yes, yes of course. I'm sorry, I just wasn't prepared."

"No need to be sorry Herr Doktor, I haf seen much worse reactions from many who were much more prepared." Kurt said gently.

Dr. Hoffman smiled at the kind words and looked to Warren for the next topic of conversation.

"Good, now that that's out of the way, we can get down to the conversion plan." Warren said and took his seat again.

* * * * *

"Guys, wait." John said as he hurried out of the conference room.

"Hey John, what's up?" Ronny asked happily.

"Scott just hooked me up with funding. I can go back to school." John said with a radiant smile.

"That's great! Man, he hooked me up too. We get to start together. This is going to be cool." Ronny said with enthusiasm.

"Yeah, except I still gotta figure out which school I'm going to, where I'm going to live, junk like that." John said irritably.

"Yeah, me too." Ronny said and got onto the elevator with the others.

"Bobby, what do you think we should do?" John asked casually.

"I don't know. Do either of you have any reason that you'd like one school over the other?" Bobby asked the pair as they stepped off the elevator.

"Not really. All that junk you said at lunch about forgiving. I bought it. That was my only reason for not wanting to come here. Cause I was such a shit when I got here." Ronny said honestly.

"Yeah, and since I'm not hung up on Bobby anymore, there's no reason that I can't come back." John said and led the way into the kitchen.

"So what are you going to do?" Bobby asked as he pulled some lunchmeat from the refrigerator.

"Why don't we talk to the blue guy about his school and to Mr. Summers about this one. They can each give us their pitch and then we'll decide." Ronny said as he assembled a sandwich.

"Yeah. Good idea. Then, once I know which school I'll be at, I'll get set up for a place to live... Is there any way I can stay here tonight? I don't want to go back there." John finished quietly.

"How would you guys feel about a little campout tonight?" Bobby asked with a smile.

"You know we have to get an adult to supervise something like that." John said seriously.

"I don't have a problem with that. I figured out the wierdest thing this week. They're people like us, just older." Bobby said and took a big bite of his sandwich.

"So who do you want to ask?" John asked before taking a bite of his own sandwich.

"Guys, I'm gonna stay with Logan. I can't leave him alone." Ronny said grimly.

"Then you'll come next time, promise." Bobby said with sympathy.

"As far as who to ask, what about that Xander dude? He seemed pretty cool." Ronny suggested.

"Yeah, we can ask him. Who do we want if he can't do it?" Bobby asked, then went to pour some milk.

"Scott." John said in thought.

"Yeah, he's pretty cool, let's ask Scott first since he's here. I think Xander's in New Jersey right now anyway. Plus Xander's married, so he probably won't want to be away from his husband." Bobby said, then drank half his glass of milk at once.

"Yeah, alright. Do you have all the camping stuff you'll need?" Ronny asked as he finished his sandwich.

"There's enough camping stuff for thirty people in the store room. C'mon, let's ask Scott so we can get started, this'll be cool." Bobby said with excitement.

* * * * *

Scott walked into the BioLab and into the containment foyer to put on a biosuit.

He walked to Matt's side and was surprised to find his eyes open.

"Hey one-eye, you look worried." Matt said and sat up on the table.

"Yeah, I've got some problems. But right now, I want to talk to you about your situation." Scott said seriously.

"Make you a deal, we'll talk bout my stuff, but then you tell me bout yours. I may not be able to help, but sometimes it helps just to put it into words." Matt said with concern.

Scott was surprised by Matt's friendly attitude. He and Logan had never really gotten fully past their rivalry over Jean, and had never been able to talk as friends.

"Okay. Our Logan is gone. He left with Jean and as near as I can tell, they don't plan to come back anytime soon. Before he left he said that all his stuff is yours now and you're welcomed to the names Logan and Wolverine." Scott said seriously.

"Then he means it. Okay, go on." Matt said in thought.

"He was our combat instructor, I need to know if you want to take his position when you're recovered." Scott said seriously.

"Um, yeah, why not." Matt said with a nod.

"Good. That's all the big stuff. The Professor is taking a break, so I'm in charge for a while. We're opening a new school a few miles from here, one that is open to the public." Scott said as he went down his mental list.

"You act like we ain't friends Cyke. What's the story?" Matt asked gruffly.

Scott smiled sadly at Matt and said, "Logan and I were both interested in Jean. That kind of messed up any possibility of us becoming friends."

"Well I never got the hots for him, so you don't have that with me. You're not goin after Orroro are you?" Matt asked carefully.

Scott chuckled and said, "No Matt, I'm not going after anyone at the moment. Okay, you win... friends."

"Good. Now, what's making you all gruff. I mean, I can make it work, but it don't look good on you." Matt said with a teasing smile.

"It's a former student, well a potential student, John. He's been through a lot and I want to help him so bad but there's only so much I can do." Scott said in frustration.

"John, like pyro?" Matt asked carefully.

Scott nodded.

"What's he need?" Mat asked and sat up on the bed.

"I've just barely been able to scrape enough money together to get him enrolled when he's ready, but... I can't see him fitting in with the other kids in the dorms. He's a good kid, he's got potential, but I'm afraid that his time on the streets and him being openly gay are going to cause him problems. It could isolate him, and that's the last thing he needs. If I could do it, I would take him in and let him live with me, but as it stands I'm sharing a room with my brother and there's going to be about sixteen... maybe seventeen people living in the house by the end of the year." Scott said in a ramble.

"Scott, help me out here. Logan said all his stuff is mine, do you know if that includes his money?" Matt asked calmly.

"Yes. I'm sure it does." Scott answered carefully.

"Okay, Do you know of a house nearby that I could buy, lease or rent?" Matt asked quietly.

"Um, yeah, there's a few." Scott said in confusion.

"Okay, then here's what I've got. Me an Ronny are going to be getting a house nearby. If Pyro wants to, he can move in with us. That way it'll be us three, no dorms and no one has to be alone." Matt said seriously.

Scott nodded.

"The other thing is, you need to move into the mansion, at least till the Prof get's back from her break. It ain't just bout you needing the space for yourself. If you're in charge, you need to be here." Matt said and waited for Scott to acknowledge his statement.

Scott nodded in thought, then said, "Just so you know, Jean Grey is female in this universe and our Professor is Professor Xavier. Emma is at the GenX school."

"Oh yeah. Em told me bout that. It's going to be hard to get used to." Logan said seriously.

"Yeah. Well if you have any problems with being homesick or trying to understand the weirdness of this place, Alan and Remy are here." Scott said warmly.

"Thanks Cyke, it helps. I can't wait to get out of here. After being alone for months, all I want to do is be around people. Maybe go out and shoot some pool." Mat said, looking into the distance.

"Why don't we do that when you get out of here? Maybe Remy and Xander could come with us." Scott said with a smile.

"Yeah. Sounds good." Matt said and noticed Ronny, Bobby and John standing outside the containment room, looking in.

"You got enough of those garbage bag suits for everyone? I wanna talk to Ronny, and if he says it's okay, then we'll ask John to move in with us." Matt said with a look of question.

"Yeah, there are plenty of biosuits for everyone." Scott said with a smile.

Scott pushed the microphone control on the suit and said, "Why don't you guys suit up and come in for a visit with Matt?"

All three of them nodded and moved to the foyer.

"Thank's Cyke. If that blue dustmop of a doctor was here, he would'a said they couldn't come in. That they're too young or I'm too tired, or some shit. That guy's really starting to piss me off." Matt said honestly.

"Just get better, then you won't have to deal with Hank anymore." Scott said as he watched the three boys suiting up through the window. Ronny and Bobby were helping John with his suit.

To Be Continued...