Hurt & Comfort

Book 10: Elusive Comfort

© 2020 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 19 - Night of Knights

"Jimmy, your father tells me that you're quite the journalist and that you will be attending tonight's event in that capacity." Professor Xavier said seriously.

"Yes, Professor." Jimmy confirmed.

"Would it be possible for you to maintain a set of unedited recordings that we could submit as evidence of the attack? In the event that unfavorable propaganda about the event begins to be spread, raw footage could prove to be invaluable."

"Yes, of course, Professor." Jimmy said professionally, then added, "Clark and I will also be submitting a summary of the incident incorporating our observations to the school newspaper, for those who wish to share in the experience vicariously."

"I will look forward to reading it." Professor Xavier said warmly, immediately won over by the young boy's charm.

"Thank you, Professor." Jimmy said before walking away to rejoin his siblings.

* * * * *

"Xander? I'm sorry I'm late. I got tied up with Rome ironing out about a thousand and one niggling little details regarding the Wagner Institute. What's going on?" Warren asked quickly.

"Nothing to do with the college. This has to do with the investigation you did on my company. Remy went undercover and found out that they're planning something for tonight. That's why he's back so soon." Xander said seriously.

"I'd guess it's not something good, from the look of your guest list." Warren said cautiously.

"They're sending giant robots to the Westchester Mall for a field test. Supposedly, these robots can detect and somehow neutralize mutant abilities. The test will include capturing mutants while leaving non-mutants unharmed. We're gathering a group of non-mutants to stand against them." Xander said frankly.

"Are you planning to go?" Warren asked with a glance at the axe in Xander's hand.

"I've been fighting alongside the Slayer for most of the past seven years. Standing up for what's right and defending the disadvantaged has become a way of life to me. I wouldn't be able to look at myself in the mirror if I stood back and let other people fight when I was capable of doing it myself." Xander said seriously.

"If you didn't already have your own company, I'd hire you in a second. That's the attitude that I'm looking for in my upper level management." Warren said firmly, then smiled when a small pair of arms wrapped around his waist.

"It would have been nice to have a boss who appreciated my extracurricular activities." Xander said with a grin at the thought.

"How are you doing today, Jimmy?" Warren gently asked the boy at his side.

"I'm doing fine. But if you have something for me to do, I've already promised to do another job tonight." Jimmy said solemnly.

"No. I don't have a job for you. I'm just here because I received word that Xander needed me for something." Warren said frankly as he returned the hug.

"I wanted for you to be here when things got interesting in case you can spot something that the rest of us wouldn't know to look for. If the people in charge of this project say or do anything that will help us shut them down I want to make sure that we don't miss it." Xander said firmly.

"I'm sure the professor would probably catch anything like that, but then again, he might not be in a position to do much about it in the heat of the moment. He might have other priorities. I'll be sure to keep my eyes and ears open." Warren promised as he continued to hold Jimmy at his side with one arm.

"Is Uncle Kurt going to be here?" Jimmy asked hopefully.

"No. He and Julia have quite a bit of work to do. But I happen to know that he's planning to have dinner at your house tomorrow." Warren said warmly.

"You're not here for the battle, are you?" Jimmy asked with concern.

"Only to observe it. I'll be here to witness what was done and said. While I may not be using my mutant abilities, I will be using my knowledge of the law and accepted business practices."

"I will also be observing from a distance. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to watch my video feed." Jimmy said hopefully.

"I don't know where the command center is going to be, but once it's set up, I imagine that we'll probably all be watching your feed." Warren said frankly.

//Likely, yes. But we will access a variety of security cameras around the mall as well.// Professor Xavier interjected into their conversation.

"Where do we need to be right now, Professor?" Warren asked curiously.

//We're waiting for the last few people to arrive, then I will let everyone in on the plan all at once.// Professor Xavier said professionally.

"Then I should take the opportunity to visit with a few people before we all start going in different directions."

"Can I go with you?" Jimmy asked hopefully.

"Of course you may." Warren answered warmly.

* * * * *

"Everyone! May I have your attention?!" Professor Xavier called from the front of the dining room.

It took a moment, but a quiet anticipation finally swept over the gathering.

"Most of you are aware of the operation we are embarking upon. According to information we were able to acquire, giant robots, known as Sentinels, will invade the Westchester Mall tonight in an attempt to subdue and abduct only the mutants from amongst the mall shoppers. Should their test prove successful, I imagine that we will be contending with these troublesome things for years to come. Therefore, I am looking at this as our best, and perhaps only, opportunity to discredit these things so that no attempt will be made to deploy them against the population again." Professor Xavier said to the gathering.

"All we need to know is when and where. We'll handle the rest." Buffy said firmly.

"We will be driving a number of vehicles to the mall to prepare for the event. Since we don't want to announce our presence, I would suggest that you break into small groups and, if you are so inclined, do some light shopping until the excitement begins." Professor Xavier answered professionally.

"Light shopping?" Buffy asked incredulously.

"Forgive me. The degree of shopping is entirely at your discretion. I simply wouldn't want you weighed down with bags at an inopportune moment."

"I'll trust you to do what you do best. Trust us to do the same." Buffy said grimly.

"Agreed." Professor Xavier said seriously, then continued, "For those of you who don't know them, Marie, Evan, and Matt are going to be the only mutants that we will be bringing with us. Raise your hands so everyone will know who you are."

Evan thrust his hand into the air, looking almost like he'd won an award. Marie and Matt were a bit more reluctant, but did eventually raise their hands.

"We don't know what methods these robots will employ to neutralize their intended victims, so if you see one of these three in trouble, I'm asking that you help them." Professor Xavier said firmly.

Matt was obviously uncomfortable with the statement, but was able to hold his tongue.

"The younger members of our team are all non-mutants with a skill set that we may find especially useful in this battle. If you notice a change in circumstances that suggests that they might be in danger, I would ask that you take a moment to get them out of harm's way.

"While I will be monitoring the situation telepathically from a distance, Scott will be establishing a command center in the parking lot of the mall. Hopefully that will provide us the best vantage point to coordinate things. Or, in a worst-case scenario, it will allow us to provide aid as needed and facilitate an evacuation." Professor Xavier said seriously.

"What are you going to do if there are any mutants mixed in with the regular shoppers at the mall?" Willow asked cautiously.

"Good question, Ms. Rosenberg. Given what we know of the programming of these machines, the best thing we can do for any mutant in their path is to help them to escape. You can ask that they be brought to the command center in the parking lot if you feel that there is a need for us to shelter them. Otherwise, we would do best to get them out of harm's way and explain to them that the robots are after them and that they should get as far away as possible." Professor Xavier explained to the crowd.

"Since the Borg were invited, may we assume that you plan for us to take some particular action against the robots?" Trey asked seriously.

"You're being invited to evaluate the situation and let us know what action you might be able to realistically take. Once we have that information, we will decide on a plan of action which may or may not include your recommendations, depending on how practical they are." Professor Xavier carefully explained.

"We intend to go covertly, Icheb with Marie and me with Clark. It would be helpful if William had someone to accompany him so that they can work in tandem." Trey said seriously.

"Yeah. All my friends here are mutants." William timidly added.

"Evan? Would you mind?" Professor Xavier asked cautiously.

After a moment for the surprise to wear off, Evan looked at William and cautiously asked, "Can you fight?"

"Oy, that boy's my namesake. Believe you me, he can fight well enough." Spike proudly declared.

"And of the two of us, I likely won't be their target." William added in his own defense.

"About that, I think each mutant should have a Slayer assigned to them." Buffy said firmly.

"Yes. That sounds like a reasonable precaution. I will trust you to see to it." Professor Xavier said simply.

Buffy seemed to be pleased with the arrangement.

"It might be most productive if the remainder of our fighters were to form such partnerships. That will make it that much less likely that we'll misplace someone in the fray." Professor Xavier said seriously.

"I wish to be partnered with Angel!" A strikingly handsome man with unusual eyes immediately announced.

"Of course. I will be honored to fight at your side, Groo." Angel said diplomatically.

"What do you say, Buffy? For old time's sake?" Riley quickly asked.

"Sure... as long as you don't get in the way of my shopping. I wouldn't want for you to get hurt." Buffy cautioned him.

"Mind if I tag along with you?" Robin cautiously asked Faith.

"I've just been waiting for you to be healed up enough." Faith said happily, then added, "This is gonna be great."

"Scott is going to be handing out communication devices." Professor Xavier announced as he nodded in Scott's direction, then he continued, "Just tap them to activate them, then speak. If you want to talk to one person, say their name first thing. Otherwise you'll be speaking to the whole team."

"I don't know about anyone else, but a lot of times in the middle of a battle I can't stop and go digging through my purse for my phone." Buffy said frankly.

"As I said before, I will be monitoring the situation telepathically. If you're in trouble, or you need to make me aware of some new fact, you can call out to me, either mentally or aloud, and I will respond." Professor Xavier said seriously.

"There are some of us who can't use telepathy." Angel reminded the professor.

"That's another reason for us to have the communicators." Professor Xavier said frankly, then thought to add, "But keep in mind that it is possible for others to access our frequencies, please remember that when disclosing sensitive information electronically."

//Besides, since our first meeting, I have discovered a method of speaking telepathically to vampires. However, I would prefer that this development not become common knowledge.// Professor Xavier sent directly to Angel.

"You don't have to worry about Peaches givin up any valuable info. He's not very chatty." Spike announced.

//Agreed.// Angel internally responded.

There were a few chuckles at Spike's choice of nickname.

"We don't know exactly when this event is going to take place, so those who aren't familiar with the area can select vehicles from our garage and follow Matt, when you're ready to go to the mall."

"A mall in a parallel dimension. This is the payoff for all that we do." Buffy announced to her Slayers.

"Excuse me, but I'd like to visit with Matt for a moment, if I may." A voice called from the back of the room.

"Ken? I didn't see you come in." Professor Xavier said with pleasant surprise.

"You were busy. I let myself in. May I speak with Matthew Logan for a moment?" Mr. Howlett asked anxiously.

"Yes. Of course. In fact, take as long as you please. Scott can conduct our guests to the mall once everyone has secured transportation." Professor Xavier said pleasantly.

"Thank you, Charles." Mr. Howlett said with relief.

"If no one has anything else, all of us will get into position and await further developments." Professor Xavier announced to the crowd.

A low murmur spread across the room, assuring him that no one had any further questions.

* * * * *

"What's got you so quiet, Andy? Is something wrong?" Xander asked with concern from Remy's side.

"When I went to Slayer Central, Willow gave me a message." Andrew said quietly.

"Bad news?" Xander guessed, based solely on Andrew's pained expression.

"It's a message from a hospital in California. It's about my mom." Andrew said uncomfortably.

"The one who stole your stuff and abandoned you when you were fifteen?" Xander asked to confirm.

"Yeah. That's the one. But she's the only mom I've got... in our dimension anyway." Andrew said uncomfortably.

"So, what? She's sick and wants you to visit her? Is that it?" Xander asked as he snaked an arm around Remy and held him firmly.

"I don't know. Maybe. But the thing the letter said was that as her closest relative, that they need for me to make some decisions on her behalf." Andrew finished quietly.

"Dat not soun good." Remy said in a low voice.

"Are you going to do it?" Xander asked uncomfortably.

"I don't know yet. I'll need to think about it... talk to Alan. Talk to Dad. I just... I don't know. I kinda wish I was going into battle with everyone else. This feels like one of those things that gratuitous violence might actually be good for." Andrew finished with weak humor.

"Just let us know if there's anything we can do. Remember that me and Dawn are both from there too. We'll be there to stand with you whenever you need us." Xander promised.

"Thanks, Xan. It helps to know that." Andrew said with a pained smile.

* * * * *

"If this is about that land deed, I didn't mean for you to drive all the way down here to talk to me about it." Matt said frankly.

"Do you have the original of that deed?" Mr. Howlett asked cautiously.

"Yeah. It's up in the room I've been using. Why?"

"May I see it?"

"Sure." Matt said as he led the way to the nearest elevator.

"Tell me again, what is the significance of the deed?" Ken asked curiously.

"I was told that I deeded the land to myself when I changed identities. Something happened a few years back that I lost my memory, so I was hoping that this could give me a clue of who I really am."

"If that were true, that would make you over a hundred years old." Ken said in a leading tone as they got off the elevator.

"Yeah. I've seen a picture that I'm pretty sure was me back in 1864, so I've been figurin that I'm at least 140." Matt said seriously as he guided Ken down the hall to the proper room.

"Actually, that would fit in just about right with what I was able to uncover in regard to the named individuals in the title search." Ken said thoughtfully.

"So does that mean that you found something? Do you know my real name?" Matt asked hopefully.

"Let me see the original document. Once I've determined that it's genuine, I might have some news for you." Ken said cautiously.

Matt was uncharacteristically nervous and fumbled with his keys to unlock his bedroom door.

* * * * *

"So you have this Winnebago full of tech and stuff just waiting around to be used?" Willow asked as she followed Scott aboard.

"We don't use it often, but when we do, we're thankful to have it." Scott said as he pulled the RV forward and stopped, allowing the others to queue up behind him.

"How do you turn this thing on? There aren't any buttons." An indistinct voice called from Scott's communicator.

"Tap once, then speak. Tap it once again when you're finished speaking." Cyclops patiently instructed.

"Yeah. But where's the button that you're supposed to tap? I need a button. I can't tap without a button." The voice said with obvious frustration.

"Tap the 'X'. That is the button." A voice responded before Scott could. Scott recognized the voice and tapped his own communicator before cautiously asking, "Alex? Is that you?"

"Havok, and yeah, it's me. I decided that since I wasn't invited along that I might just go and kill some time at the mall, you know, like a person does on a Friday night when he's been ditched by his friends and family. Is that alright with you?" Alex defiantly asked.

"Not really, but I guess I can understand. Just be careful. We really don't know what these things are capable of. Call me if you need anything. Okay?" Scott quietly responded.

"I think I found it! Hello? Hello? Can anyone hear me?" A female voice interrupted.

Scott just shook his head and checked his mirror as he tried to account for all those who were supposed to be following him.

He naturally assumed that Remy and Xander would be riding together. Andrew would almost certainly be driving a bus, to accommodate all his children. And Matt appeared to have other business to attend to and would most likely be catching up to them later.

That being the case, Scott finally asked, "Willow? How would you feel about handling communications with the Slayers while I'm driving?"

"I was hoping that you'd ask. Listening to that was kinda painful. Do you have a standard multi-frequency communications hub?" Willow asked cautiously.

"Yes. You can access it through the TRFQ program on any of our computers." Scott said as he slowly pulled away from the garage, having determined that everyone was as ready as they were going to get.

"Can I access it with a guest account?" Willow cautiously asked.

//Not to worry, Ms. Rosenberg, I have taken the liberty of granting you team member level computer access. Your username is Willow and your password is misskittyfantastico... all one word.// Professor Xavier sent to her seriously.

"Thank you. That'll make it a lot easier for me to get things done." Willow said honestly.

//We appreciate your help.// Professor Xavier responded fondly.

"I think I got it turned on now, but how do I turn it off?" The voice on all the radios asked in frustration.

"Do you happen to have any plain old walkie-talkies around here? I'm thinking that this high-tech communicator thing isn't going to work out for a few of the Slayers." Willow asked hopefully.

"Check the cabinet under the left bench seat, I seem to recall there being a few old-style walkie-talkies in there. Batteries are behind me on the charging station. Once you have them powered up, you'll need to key the mic on each one to log it into the system." Scott said as he fought to maintain his focus on his driving.

"Don't worry. This is something that I'm very familiar with from back home." Willow assured him.

* * * * *

"How are you feeling, Clark? Do you think you're ready for this?" Andrew asked as he slowly followed the procession of vehicles down the drive.

"Why are you asking me? I'm not the only one who's going to fight." Clark asked defensively.

"The Borg tend to have a certain pragmatic outlook about things that I understand for the most part. I know that something like this won't stress them out. But to know how you're doing, I have to ask." Andrew said seriously.

"I'm worried that I don't know how to use my ability well enough. All I can really do is light beams." Clark said anxiously.

"That's the main thing Scott and Alan have to work with and they seem to do alright." Andrew said frankly, then thought to add, "But keep in mind that they also have teammates that they know they can count on to back them up. If you fall short, remember to let your team take up the slack. It can mean the difference between being a hero or a glory hog."

"Clark, if you can use your optic blasts to provide cover so that I may deeply scan our opponents, then we can retreat until the information from the scans can be analyzed." Trey said seriously.

"Is your holo-camouflage going to interfere with your scanning ability?" Andrew asked with concern.

"No. The level of precision that I anticipate needing will necessitate the use of my arm unit." Trey said as he held up his left arm covered to the elbow with an electronic device.

"There's not going to be any way to hide that, is there?" Andrew slowly asked.

"No. None that I can think of." Trey quietly admitted.

"We'll just have to hope that no one will think it's a weapon." Andrew said weakly.

"That had not occurred to me. Had I thought to do so, I could have attempted to make it look less threatening." Trey said with concern.

"Yeah. Next time we'll make sure to put some feathers on it before we leave the house." Clark said with a barely restrained grin.

Trey slowly looked askance at him, but didn't dignify the suggestion with a response.

* * * * *

"How have you been doing, Dawn? We don't get to talk nearly enough." Buffy asked with concern.

"I'm pretty sure that you already know about most of what's going on. I mean, it's been pretty calm since we brought the kids back from your dimension so there's not much to tell." Dawn said frankly.

"Except for the part about time-traveling alien kids and Superman." Buffy responded with a grin.

"What about Superman?" Riley asked with undisguised interest.

"Yeah. He exists for real here. But don't get all freaked out about it. He's a sweet guy who tries really hard to do what's right. So far as I know, his only special ability is optic blasts." Dawn said seriously.

"You live on a world where Superman is real? That's awesome!" Riley said with a grin.

"I live and work in a boarding school. No matter how big and flashy and exciting it sounds from the outside, at the end of the day it's a job and a place to live. I mean, don't get me wrong. It's nice and I love working with the kids and being on the team and everything, but it's easy to get the wrong idea and think that it's all adventure and glory." Dawn explained.

"Now tell me, what is it that we're going to be doing tonight?" Buffy asked her sister playfully.

"Okay. Yeah. I guess that every now and then it is just like what you'd expect." Dawn timidly admitted.

* * * * *

"Are you sure that Scott's okay with us not riding with him in the mobile command center?" Xander asked cautiously.

"Scott be a big boy. If he need Remy an Xander to hold his hand, he speak up about it." Remy said casually.

"It's good that we can have a few minutes to speak privately." Warren said from the back seat.

"Did you have something that you needed to talk to us about?" Xander asked with concern.

"No. But it's just nice to be able to talk and not have to be on guard about who might be listening." Warren said frankly.

"What do you think about what we're getting into?" Xander cautiously asked.

"Given the choice, I would probably choose to completely avoid something like this. But since we're here, we might as well do our best to turn this thing to our advantage." Warren said frankly.

"Do you think it's a mistake for me to take part in the fight?"

"I think it would only be a mistake if you were doing something that you didn't believe in. As long as you're standing up for your true beliefs, then if something from this tries to come back to haunt you, you can proudly declare that you were fighting for what is good and right." Warren said seriously.

"You be able to earn respect wit your action instead of being all talk, like some people." Remy interjected.

"He's right. Talk is cheap. If you never do anything, then you stand for nothing. Being seen doing something like this can go a long way toward defining who you are in a lot of peoples' minds." Warren added.

"Got it. Show, don't tell." Xander said simply.

Warren nodded in agreement with his summary.

* * * * *

After a long silent inspection, Ken finally said, "By all indications this deed is authentic."

"So does that mean that you can tell me who I really am now?" Matt asked hopefully.

"Yes. Would you mind getting the large book out of the bag on the back of my chair?" Ken asked seriously.

"Sure." Matt said slowly as he moved behind Ken.

"When I received your fax, I had no idea what a rabbit hole it would take me down."

"Is there a reason you're not telling me who I am?" Matt asked as he carefully dislodged the large book from the oversized tote bag.

"Go to the page with the Post-it Note then tell me what you think." Ken said hesitantly.

"What kind of book is this? It looks like it's handwritten." Matt asked as he leafed through the enormous book, gently making his way back to the Post-it Note.

"It is and it isn't. The original pages were written and drawn by various members of my family over the course of many years, each telling their own stories, as well as the oral histories that had been passed down to them. All those original documents were compiled and photocopied, so that each member of the family could have their own copy." Ken said carefully.

"So what does that have to do with me?" Matt slowly asked.

"Have you found the page?"

"Yes."

"Then take a minute to read the story. I think you'll find something of interest to you."

"It's not that I don't want to read this but it's tiny, the handwriting is hard to read and besides that, I've promised to go on a mission with the team. Could you maybe just give me the Reader's Digest version, so I don't have to keep Scott waiting too long?" Matt asked hopefully.

"Since I have some idea of what a mission for Charles entails, I'll go ahead and tell you." Ken relented, then solemnly continued, "Back in the late 1800's one of my ancestors became concerned that a favorite uncle of his seemed to have gone missing, along with his entire family. He did some investigation and wasn't able to find out much more than what he had already deduced. The homestead where they all lived had been abandoned. There were stories going around town about some conflict with a neighbor and a messy love triangle, but no one could give a satisfactory answer to the question about what had happened to any of them."

"Sounds to me like they were probably all killed." Matt said frankly.

"Yes. And that may be the case. The only complication to that theory is the land deed. According to the county clerk, around that same time, the land deed that you have in your possession was legally signed over from my distant cousin to one Jonathan Matthew Logan." Mr. Howlett said seriously.

"You think I killed your cousin?" Matt cautiously asked.

"No. Remember where the deed is supposed to have come from?" Ken hesitantly asked.

Matt slowly nodded as he turned his attention back to the book in his hands.

"I think that maybe you are my cousin." Ken finally explained, so that there was no doubt what he was thinking.

"This cousin of yours, what was his name?" Matt asked as he once again struggled to read the small handwriting.

"James."

"James what?"

"James Howlett."

* * * * *

"You lot alright? You're bein awful quiet." Spike asked the teenagers in the back seat.

"Maybe you're used to stuff like this, but I'm not sure that I'll know what to do when it counts." Evan quietly admitted.

"Listen up. The people in charge think that you're good enough. Remember that. Out of all the X-Men and all the students, they picked you." Spike said simply.

"Yeah. They picked you, and didn't pick me. Chew on that for a minute." Alex said grimly.

"Sometimes I put on a show. I'm just afraid that they might have bought into something I was selling that wasn't real." Evan admitted anxiously.

"Listen, mate. I done more than my share of talkin big and puttin on a good front. Take it from someone who knows, ain't nobody fooled by it. No one who matters, anyway." Spike said frankly.

"So even though I talk a good game, you think they know the truth?" Evan asked uncertainly.

"Yeah. It's their job to judge the skill level of people. I trust the teachers here to be able to see past the bullshit and know who's best for a certain job." Spike said honestly.

"And besides, being able to talk a good game is a good skill to have. A win is a win whether you get there by fighting or bluffing." Alex stated reasonably.

"All I have to do is go there and be bait. When these things attack, just don't let them catch me. Right?" Evan asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Just hang out for a while and be ready to cut and run as soon as things start to go wrong." Alex confirmed.

"What about you, Marie? How you feelin bout things?" Spike asked curiously.

"Me? I'm good. I may not be the fastest or the strongest, but I'm here and I'm ready for a fight. That's just going to have to be good enough." Marie said frankly.

"I can see why they picked you." Spike said with an admiring grin.

"Yeah. She walks the walk and talks the talk." Alex confirmed.

"And she has a lick of good sense, besides. I'm bettin that when these things start to throw down, Marie's gonna have bout twelve ways out already planned." Spike added speculatively.

Evan looked at Marie for a long moment before declaring, "My mutant ability is still a lot cooler than yours."

"Which does you exactly no good in this situation." Marie informed him with a smile.

"She got you there, mate." Spike said with delight.

{Do you see that?} Alex suddenly asked in an awed whisper as he stared out the car window.

"What? What is it?" Evan asked anxiously as he leaned forward and searched the road ahead of them for a threat.

"There. At the mall entrance. That has to be the biggest crow I've ever seen."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Hmmm, is that the same old tale that the crow told me, way down yonder by the sycamore tree? "Johnny Horton"

So many things coming together, it is almost confusing.

I certainly hope it won't be too long till we actually get busy and kick some robot asses.

I can't help but think about the fuzzy mores when mentioning the weapon on the arm.

Can we bring in The Founders?

Can anyone remember the number for the Cliffhanger Police?

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher