Hurt & Comfort

Book 9: Preludes to Comfort

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Chapter 1: Seth

"You've got to come out of your room sometime." Junior said through the door.

"No. I don't." Seth said from his bed.

"If you don't come out, I'm coming in." Junior said as an angry tone came into his voice.

"Whatever." Seth said and pulled his blanket tighter around him.

The door opened and the large barrel-chested form of Junior, Seth's older brother, came into the room.

"What's up with you? Mom's really worried. If you don't get out of bed for Thanksgiving tomorrow, she'll freak. She's talking about taking you to a doctor." Junior said with concern.

Seth drew in a deep breath and readied himself. He knew this was coming and braced himself for what he'd have to do.

"Come on. We've always been able to tell each other anything. Remember when you superglued those feathers to your dick? I helped you and never told no one." Junior said with a smile.

"But you haven't been able to let a day pass without mentioning it." Seth said as he tried to sound gruff.

"Well, it was funny..." Junior said as he pulled the chair from Seth's desk and sat beside the bed.

"I guess." Seth said gravely as the reality of his situation came crashing back.

"Will you tell me?" Junior asked in a whisper.

"Yeah, close the door." Seth said in a voice of resignation.

"Why, no one's home. Mom and Dad are both at work." Junior asked, not moving from the chair.

"Just... Just do it." Seth said, trying to work up his nerve.

Junior reluctantly got up and closed the door and found himself in almost complete darkness. Seth had blacked out his windows. Only a sliver of light from under the door shown in the room.

"Your bulb's burnt out." Junior said as he flipped the switch by the door off and on, somehow expecting the result to be different the sixth time from the first.

"I took it out, turn on the desk lamp." Seth said grimly.

Junior felt across the desk in the dark and finally found the switch at the base of the lamp.

As dim light barely lit the room, Junior went back to the chair and waited.

"Before I show you... you've got to promise not to freak out." Seth said, keeping his blanket pulled tight.

"What is it? Did you glue something else to your dick?" Junior asked weakly, feeling the seriousness in his brother's voice.

"I wish..." Seth trailed off.

"Come on, whatever it is, you can tell me." Junior said with assurance.

With shaking hands, Seth turned over and faced his brother.


"What... What the fuck happened?" Junior finally asked in horror.

"I don't know. It started about a week ago, I felt these bumps itching on my temples... I thought they were pimples or something... That's why I was wearing the hat last week." Seth said quietly.

"Um, okay... what are you?" Junior asked as he hesitantly reached up to touch one of the horns protruding two inches from his brother's head.

"A mutant, I think." Seth said in a pained voice.

"Is that... the horns, is that all?" Junior asked as he pulled his hand back slowly.

"No." Seth answered in a whisper, then cleared his throat and continued in a more normal voice. "My skin is changing."

Seth drew in a shaky breath and closed his watery eyes which caused a tear to fall.

"Changing how?" Junior asked with a note of fear.

"It's getting thinner... and you can see through it." Seth said weakly.

Junior looked closely at Seth's face and couldn't see any difference.

Seth fumbled with his blanket and revealed his arm.

Junior looked in wonder as he could see the veins clearly and almost make out the striated muscle tissue in the dim light.

"How?" Was all that Junior could think to say.

"I don't know... but I can't go to school like this. I... I can't do anything." Seth said in agony.

Junior looked at the pain in his brother's face and thought.

Seth recognized the pensive expression on his brother's face and waited.

"Does it hurt?" Junior asked with concern.

"It did when the horns broke through the skin, but now it's just a little tender." Seth said carefully.

Junior nodded and went silent.

"I'm sorry." Seth whispered to his brother.

"For what?" Junior asked as he pulled his distant gaze back to his brother.

"I don't know... For letting you down. For being a freak. I don't know... I just... I'm sorry..." Seth said as the tears freely fell.

Junior looked at his brother and a look of resolve came over his face.

"Mom and Dad will be gone all day. Let me check some things out. We'll come up with something." Junior finally said in a determined voice.

"Something? What?" Seth asked, not really believing anything could be done.

"Let me check some stuff out on my computer... go get something to eat... and take a shower, you smell like cheese." Junior said as he got up from the chair.

Seth stared at his brother, who waited by the door.

"Well?" Junior asked, waiting for a response.

"Yeah." Seth said and started to get out of bed.

"Good. Come to my room when you're done and I'll tell you what I've found." Junior said and walked out of the room.

Seth sat on the edge of the bed and puzzled at his brother's reaction.

Finally he smiled and stood.

* * * * *

Seth walked into the bathroom wearing only a robe. For the first time in days he was confronted by his own image in the mirror.


Two black slender slightly curved horns grew right out of his head.

The bangs of his black hair fell around the horns, hiding the tender flesh where they had forced their way through his skin.

Before he could put himself off the idea, he shucked off the robe and stood naked before the mirror to stare at his new body.

It was hideous. Muscles, tendons, veins and arteries were clearly visible over his entire body. His hands, feet, face and genitals were the only parts of his body where his skin was still opaque.

Seth tore his gaze from the grotesque image before him and got into the shower.

After adjusting the water to the correct temperature, he cleaned himself as his mind drifted.

[Why me? What did I ever do? Why did I have to be a freak of nature?] Seth thought with pain as the water sluiced over his body.

[I was going to be a paramedic, I was going to make a difference... now... there's nothing. I'm nothing. I should die.] He thought and finally turned off the water.

Seth got out of the shower and toweled off his body, making sure not to look in the mirror.

He pulled on his robe and went to his brother's room to find out what he'd found.

* * * * *

"What'd you find?" Seth asked with a spark of hope in his voice.

"One thing." Junior said and pointed at the paper printing out.

"What is it?" Seth asked warily.

"A new school... for mutants. It's called the Wagner Institute and it's in New York." Junior said as Seth read the computer's screen over his shoulder.

"It's opening next Monday." Seth said in surprise.

"Yeah, talk about timing. Huh?" Junior said with a forced smile.

"Do you think... Will Mom and Dad let me?" Seth asked hesitantly.

"Yeah. The horns alone should do it." Junior said weakly.

Seth smiled at his brother and said, "Thanks for not freaking on me. I didn't know what I was going to do. I thought my life was over."

Junior stood and pulled his younger brother into a hug.

"Don't worry. This will be a good place. They say that it will be a 'mutant friendly' environment. You can go and no one will even think twice that you look... horney." Junior said with an impish grin as he pulled out of the hug.

"Oh God. That's going to be my nickname isn't it?" Seth said with horror.

"Probably." Junior said with a smile and a barely suppressed chuckle.

Seth went silent as he reread the information on the school.

"I think I'm going to go ahead and call them now." Seth finally said.

"Don't you want to talk to the 'rents first?" Junior asked hesitantly.

"I won't commit to anything, I just want to get my name on the waiting list if there is one." Seth said seriously.

"Yeah, I hadn't thought of that." Junior said with a nod.

"And you're supposed to be the smart one." Seth said with a touch of his recently absent humor.

"Oh, I am? And what does that make you?" Junior asked with a smile.

"The pretty one." Seth said as he batted his eyelashes garishly.

"Horney." Junior said as he grabbed the printout and walked out of the room.

* * * * *

"Hello? I'd like to talk to someone about registering... What? Um, fourteen... Yes, I'll hold." Seth said and waited nervously.

Junior walked over with a spiral bound notebook and a pencil and sat them beside Seth.

"Thanks." Seth whispered as he waited.

"Yes. I'm here. I'd like to talk to someone about registering at your school." Seth said in his 'telephone courtesy' voice.

"Fourteen." Seth said, his voice beginning to sound impatient.

"Um... no, I'm not having any trouble. I just... I can't go to school... or out in public... or anywhere." Seth fought to say.

"Yeah. I mean, I think so. I'm going to talk to my parents tonight, but I think they'll want me to go where I won't be looked at like a freak." Seth said in thought.

"Oh, okay. Seth... Raphael... Oronokos." Seth said slowly.

"New Philadelphia, Ohio." Seth said, and waited.

"Sure." Seth said then rattled off his phone number.

He wrote some stuff quickly on the paper, then said, "Yeah, I got it."

"No, I'm sure I'm okay." Seth said, then smiled.

"Thank you Dr. Hoffman. If everything goes well, I'll see you Sunday." Seth said in a pleasant voice.

"Goodbye." Seth said and hung up the phone.

"Well?" Junior asked as he read over what Seth had written.

"She said I'm first on the list. They only released the information this morning."

"Dude, your writing really sucks. No one's going to be able to read that." Junior said and sat back.

"No one has to but me. It's directions on how to find the school." Seth said as he stood and picked up the notebook.

* * * * *

The day had been endless. Junior had tried to distract Seth with video games and music, but it wasn't working.

Nothing could hold his interest for more than a few minutes, then he'd start pacing again.

"Is that them?" Seth asked quickly as he looked up from the school's printout for the thousandth time.

Junior looked away from his computer screen and out the window, then said, "It's Mom, that means Dad should be home any minute."

"I'm going to my room to wait. Can you get them in the living room then come and get me?" Seth asked hopefully.

"Yeah. You gonna be alright?" Junior asked with concern as he followed Seth to his room.

"We'll soon find out." Seth said and closed his door.

* * * * *

"How was your day off?" Melanie asked her son as she entered the house.

"Um, fine, I guess. How was work?" Junior asked with distraction.

"I thought it would never end. It wasn't even worth going in. Everyone else in the civilized world was out shopping or cooking and I was sitting at my desk waiting for clients that never came." She said as she settled into the couch.

"Well you didn't miss much here." Junior said and perched on the arm of the other end of the couch.

"I should become a teacher. This in-service day means they get a five day Thanksgiving weekend." Melanie said with a distant look.

"But they get to put up with us the rest of the time. They probably *need* a five day break every now and then." Junior said with a smile.

"Good point. How's Seth? Is he feeling any better?" She asked with concern.

"Um, yeah. When Dad gets home he's going to come out and talk to you." Junior said and looked away.

"What's wrong?" Melanie asked with worry as she started to get up.

"Please wait for Dad. Seth is really... please just wait." Junior said with difficulty.

"You're really worrying me, mister." Melanie said as she settled back into her seat.

"Sorry Mom." Junior said and walked to the front door.

"Is that your Dad?" Melanie asked. She hadn't heard anything.

"Yeah." Junior said and opened the door.

"Hey Sport, what's up?" Nick asked as he walked in the open door.

"Um, not a lot. Would you sit down? Seth needs to talk to you." Junior asked hesitantly.

Nick got a look of surprise but went to the couch and took a seat beside his wife.

"I'll go get him." Junior said in a quiet voice and hurried to Seth's room.

* * * * *

"They're waiting for you." Junior said to the closed door.

"Okay, here I go." Seth said and opened the door.

"Oh, *that's* subtle." Junior said as Seth walked out in a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up to cover his horns.

"Do you have a better idea?" Seth asked as he forced himself to walk.

"Not really... but, face it. you look kinda weird." Junior said seriously.

"So do you." Seth said with a smile.

Junior stopped in his tracks and thumped his brother in the arm as he passed.

"Horney." Junior said and followed Seth into the living room.

* * * * *

"Seth?" Melanie asked hesitantly.

"Yeah Mom. Sorry about the get up, but... um, what do you know about mutants?" Seth asked slowly.

"Not much, just the stuff I heard on the news. And you know I only believe about half of that." Melanie said slowly.

"Well, I am." Seth forced out, feeling his knees trembling.

"You are what?" Nick asked his son, truly confused.

"A mutant." Seth said with a voice of shame.

Melanie got up and pulled Seth into a hug and said, "No sweetie, no you're not."

Seth soaked in the comfort for longer than he felt he should before he pulled away and said, "Yes, I am."

He pulled back the hood of his sweatshirt to reveal his horns.

"Oh my God!" Melanie gasped and took two steps back.

Nick stood and pulled his wife into his arms.

"Dad?" Seth said in a helpless whisper.

Nick looked at his son and tried to speak past the shock he was feeling, "How did... what... how did you?"

"He didn't do anything." Junior said and walked to stand beside his brother.

"How did this happen?" Nick asked with a tremble in his voice.

"I did some research, and..." Junior trailed off, trying to decide how best to explain it.

"And?" Melanie asked in a tearful voice.

"It just happened. It could happen to me too. It's genetic. It's no one's fault." Junior said, trying to make it sound like no big deal.

"Are you going to be a monster like we see on the news?" Melanie asked with wide, fearful eyes.

Before Seth could answer, Junior quickly said, "Those mutants cause destruction, that's why they make the news. There's a doctor, Hank McCoy, who wrote this big paper on the subject. All I could make out of it was... mutants are people. They make choices like everyone else. The ones who make the wrong choices are more likely to get media attention than the ones who try to lead normal, productive lives."

Seth stood straight and announced, "I'll die before I'll become a monster like that."

Junior pulled his brother into a hug and said, "Don't talk like that. There's a place where you can go and no one will care. You'll feel normal there."

"What are you talking about?" Nick asked hesitantly.

"It's called the Wagner Institute, it's a school for mutants." Seth said quietly.

"It's a mutant friendly school. Anyone can go there, it's just that mutants don't have to worry about being harassed." Junior cut in.

"Where? You'd be leaving?" Melanie asked as she looked up from her embrace.

"Yeah, it's in New York." Seth said, watching closely for their reactions.

Melanie looked to her husband and after a moment of thought, he gave a nod.

"Okay, if that's what you want to do, we'll send you there. But I want to know everything about the place we'll be sending you." Melanie said firmly, as she gathered herself back into control.

"I've got a bunch of information. Seth called them this morning and they'll be expecting him on Sunday." Junior said nervously.

"I see you're serious about this. Let me see what you've got and we'll talk about it." Nick said, trying to remain calm.

"Thanks Dad." Seth whispered in a note of relief.

To Be Continued...