Hurt & Comfort

Book 10: Elusive Comfort

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Chapter 24 - A Little Damn

//Marie, if you would agree to it, I would like very much for you and Clark to stop by the MedLab as soon as you return to the school. Doctor McCoy needs to have a look at you both.// Professor Xavier said seriously.

"Let me ask Clark. That way I can tell him how important it is so that we can leave right away. This is driving me crazy! I can see inside, outside, around and through everything here. It's nearly impossible for me to keep my feet on the ground and I keep trying to float away. And even though I'd really like to be able to look around and shop for a little bit, I can't take the chance with my powers being like this. I'm so overpowered right now I'm scared to be around people. Not only could I bump someone through a wall without meaning to, but even my sight and my breath are deadly weapons." Marie said with evident frustration.

//Very well. While you're contacting Clark, I'll arrange a ride back for you.//

"It shouldn't take me long. I don't think that he'll wander too far away. He's not like that. Give me a minute."

//I'll get back with you momentarily.// Professor Xavier promised.

* * * * *

"What's wrong, Jimmy?" Xander asked with concern at the boy's pensive expression.

"I feel that I should be doing something more... meaningful. We walked into a dangerous situation, took decisive action and now we're shopping... for sports bras?" Jimmy said weakly as he looked at the sign over the area where the Slayers were meticulously inspecting every available selection.

"You fight through the exciting times so that you can enjoy the quiet ones." Xander said sagely, then added with a smile, "I think we've accomplished enough for one day. Why don't I take you back to your dad so that you can get away from the bra shopping for a while?"

"Yes. I would like to get to work on my report as soon as possible. I believe that we have everything needed to create an outstanding story for our viewers. If we're able to find the right words, people watching our report will gain the sense of what it feels like to encounter a Sentinel." Jimmy said happily.

"I can't wait to see it. I bet that's going to be something else." Xander said with a smile.

"Look at these shoes! They don't have this style back home!" Ashley A. said excitedly, drawing the other Slayers to surround her.

"It looks like this could take a while. Let's go." Xander said quietly as he guided Jimmy to walk with him.

* * * * *

As the group entered the mall they were on guard for any sign of attack.

The chaotic hustle and bustle of shopping stood in stark contrast to the smoking debris in the mostly desolate parking lot.

A mall security officer made eye contact with Matt for an instant, but only slightly nodded in their direction before continuing on, apparently unconcerned by their presence.

As they approached the food court, Rona cautiously asked, "Don't they know about all the destruction outside?"

"It's hard to tell, actually. Even though it kinda looks like a riot in here, I'm pretty sure it's just the typical chaos that you'd expect to see on the first official day of Christmas shopping." Wilkey observed.

"It looks like there's some action over there by the Orange Julius." Ramona said quickly.

After a moment, Matt said, "Nah. Don't worry about that. The blond with the skateboard is Evan. The emo beside him is William, they're another team like ours."

Wilkey turned to Trey and cautiously asked, "So is William like you?"

"William is my brother." Trey said simply.

"Does that mean that the guy with the skateboard is like Matt and the girl with the scowl is like Rona?" Wilkey asked to confirm his understanding.

"Pretty much, yeah. But don't expect to see me doing any skateboard tricks anytime soon. I'm not that vivacious." Matt finished with a smile.

"What you've done so far has been impressive enough. You don't need to do any tricks on my account." Wilkey assured him.

"How are you doing, Ramona?" Matt asked gently.

"I'm... okay. I think I'm going to look around and see if I can calm myself down." Ramona said consideringly.

"There's a couple more teams like ours running around. You should be able to spot them without too much trouble. If something happens that you need help, just go to any of them and mention that you're a friend of Wolverine's and they'll take good care of you."

"Wolverine?" Ramona asked with a timid smile.

"We have code names." Matt said with a slight shrug.

"I'll remember. Thanks for helping me out. From all the things you hear on the news I was almost as scared of you as I was of the robot." Ramona said honestly.

"Remember that if there's no drama, newspapers don't sell and viewers don't tune in. They need strife and controversy to keep their numbers up. Hate sells." Matt quietly confided.

"So none of it's true?" Ramona asked cautiously.

"I'm sure some of it is, but sometimes they'll pick one or two 'true' things and make a big deal out of them. At the same time, they'll overlook other things because they don't inspire the necessary reaction. If you think about it, reality is usually a lot less exciting than what the news is telling you. Not every day is a triumph over the forces of evil. Most days are just days." Matt finished with a smirk.

"What about today?" Ramona asked curiously.

"I guess that all depends on who you ask. It's probably best if you decide for yourself." Matt said frankly.

"They're going to try and make all of this your fault, aren't they?" Ramona asked in a pained voice.

"They might, but I doubt that they recorded us doing much more than helping people. Most likely, since they didn't get the result that they wanted when they staged all of this, the whole thing is just going to be swept under the rug. It might not even be mentioned on the news." Matt said seriously.

"Okay. I'm gonna go now. Thanks again for helping me." Ramona finished timidly.

Matt solemnly nodded his acceptance of her sincere thanks.

"I'm going to hang with you guys for a little bit longer, if that's okay." Wilkey said tentatively.

"Sure. Hang around as long as you want." Matt said easily, then leaned in to confide, "I think you're a good influence on Trey."

* * * * *

"Is that it? Is this evening's battle concluded?" Groo asked no one in particular.

"Yeah. Unless there's something going on that I haven't heard about." Angel said tentatively.

"Our enemies have been vanquished and we live to tell the tale. A celebration is in order!" Groo declared.

"I don't know where you'd go for something like that. I'm not from here and I haven't really had the chance to get out too much." Angel said weakly as he cast around for some sort of inspiration.

As much as Angel didn't want to disappoint the man who had become his dear, if unlikely, friend, he was nonetheless at a loss when it came to any sort of party preparations.

Just as he was preparing himself to break the news to Groo, he spotted Matt and his team looking back at them.

"I may not know where to go to celebrate an occasion like this, but Matt probably does. Let's go see if he knows of someplace nearby." Angel said with renewed enthusiasm.

"Yes. This is good. This is how it should be." Groo said confidently.

* * * * *

//Alan, I would like to have Doctor McCoy look at Marie and Clark as soon as possible. Would you be able to drive them back to the mansion?// Professor Xavier asked Alan hopefully.

"Would I have enough time to gather the rest of the kids, or is this an emergency?" Alan asked cautiously.

//Not an emergency as such, however I suspect that the more time that passes, the less Doctor McCoy will be able to discover regarding Marie's absorption of Clark's abilities.// Professor Xavier said honestly.

"Scott, you don't need me to hang around here for anything, do you?" Alan asked to be sure.

"No. The rest of us can handle what's left. Go ahead." Scott said encouragingly.

"Willow, can you patch a call through to my kids, plus Marie and Clark?" Alan asked hopefully.

"Yeah. Give me a sec." Willow said as she clicked away on the keyboard like the professional that she was.

Alan watched her work and was impressed by her speed and skill with the communications equipment.

"Go ahead. Whenever you're ready." Willow said as she indicated a microphone located between two monitors.

"Clark, Marie, and Summers' kids, I'm going to be driving the bus back to home base. Anyone who wants to go home right away can go with me. Anyone who wants to stay and shop, be sure that you arrange for a dependable ride home before I leave." Alan said firmly into the microphone.

"If you tap your badge and say 'Alan's kids', it will automatically route the call to the same group." Willow said informatively.

"Thanks Willow. You're really making this a whole lot easier on us." Alan said gratefully.

"I love being able to do something that really helps." Willow said honestly.

"I hope you won't mind if we consider calling on your expertise in future operations. Of course, you'll always be free to say no, but having you here really does make everything run more smoothly." Scott said seriously.

After a long moment of consideration, Willow slowly said, "The Slayers have to come first, but if they don't need me for anything and you have a job for me, I'd be interested in helping out."

"Excellent." Scott said happily.

"Excuse me, but do either of you know where Andrew parked?" Alan asked cautiously.

* * * * *

"Matt! Groo wants to celebrate our victory. Do you know if there's a good place around for something like that?" Angel asked quickly, as he and Groo approached.

"I guess that depends on how hard you like to party. If you're going to be raising hell... even figuratively, then you'll need to keep it on the property of the mansion. There's a few out-buildings where you can let loose without havin to worry about settin a bad example for the kids.

"But if you're not going to be using any magic or mutant powers, then McNalley's would probably be a good place for you. It's about eight blocks from here, right by the interstate on-ramp. It's the place with all the motorcycles out front. Me and Cyke went there last night. Seems like decent enough folks; live and let live types. Good pool tables." Matt finished consideringly.

"That sounds nice. Would you like to come with us?" Angel quickly offered.

"Nah. I put a bid in on a house and I thought the guys here could help me do a little window shopping. I noticed a couple really good deals that might be worth looking into."

"Do you want for me to contact Clark for you so that he may join us?" Trey quietly offered.

"No. Since your dad called him on the radio by name, I'm guessing that they already have something planned for him." Matt said frankly.

"You can go on ahead if you want to. We'll hang around here for a few more minutes and if nothing else turns up for us to do, we'll head on out to the bar for our victory celebration." Angel said with a quick smile in Groo's direction.

"Just remember that our radios have a pretty good range. If you two run into any trouble, you can still call for help." Matt said seriously.

"We're just going to have a few drinks to celebrate a successful campaign. I don't know what you're worried about." Angel said with an uncharacteristic impish grin.

"There's not enough time to explain everything wrong with that, so I'll just tell you guys to have a good time and go about my business." Matt said with a weary chuckle under his words.

"You're a good man! I see that you have things to do, but I would like to sit down with you for a drink when I next visit." Groo firmly declared.

"Yeah. Sounds good. Let's do that." Matt said with a grin flashed in Groo's direction before indicating to Wilkey and Trey that he was ready to leave.

Trey and Wilkey exchanged uncertain looks before following.

Groo and Angel watched them go, then turned as one to return to the remainder of their group.

* * * * *

"Is Trey leaving to meet with Dad?" William quickly asked Angel as he approached with Groo at his side.

"No. Matt said that they were going to do some shopping." Angel explained, then asked, "Why? Did you need to get back?"

"I feel like I should. I've done what I came here to do and I feel like if I stay, that I'll end up doing something to mess up the way things turned out." William fought to explain.

"I actually know how that feels; you want to end on a high note. I've found that it's usually best to listen to your instincts when you're feeling like that. Groo and I are leaving, if you want to walk out with us. We're parked just a few spaces over from the bus you arrived on." Angel politely offered.

"Thank you Uncle Angel. I feel like I should take the time to process the events of the day before I will be ready to proceed with other things." William quietly explained.

"Yeah. Actually, I think that Groo and I are going to be doing the same thing, we're just going to be processing our stuff a different way." Angel said with a smile.

"Are we going to the celebration now?" Groo asked anxiously.

"Yeah." Angel said to Groo, then said to the rest of his team, "Groo and William and I are going to be leaving now. We'll be swinging by Andrew's bus if anyone else is ready to leave."

"Can one of you give me a ride back when we're done? I'm not ready to go yet." Evan asked Caridad, Rona and Ashley B. hopefully.

"Yeah. We got you covered." Caridad assured him.

"Good. We've all got radios. Call us if any of you need anything." Angel said seriously.

"Will do." Caridad soberly confirmed.

With that said, Angel led Groo and William away.

* * * * *

"This is the right place, isn't it?" Xander asked as they approached the bus.

"Yes. This is the vehicle we arrived on." Jimmy confirmed.

"Your dad said to meet him here, so we shouldn't have to wait too long." Xander said thoughtfully.

"How are you guys doing?" Clark asked as he led a group approaching from the north entrance of the mall.

"I believe that I have recorded some inspirational video and still images for our report." Jimmy said happily.

"I can't wait to check them out." Clark said with sincere interest.

"Is there going to be anything I can do to help you in preparing your report?" Icheb asked cautiously.

"Yes. Discussing the event with you helps me put my experiences into words." Jimmy explained.

"Is there anything Marie can do to help us?" Icheb asked hopefully.

"Sure! She can pull us back when we start wandering away from the point." Clark helpfully suggested.

"It looks like I'm going to need that super strength I borrowed from you." Marie said to Clark playfully.

"How are you feeling?" Clark asked cautiously.

"I feel fine. I think some of the powers are finally starting to wear off." Marie said frankly.

Clark looked to the ground to confirm that Marie was still floating, then asked, "Like what?"

"The vision thing is finally letting up. That was the freakiest thing of all of it. I never want to go through that again." Marie said honestly.

"I kinda wish I knew what that was like. As far as I know, I see things just like everyone else." Clark said honestly.

"I'm pretty sure that it's there if you want to use it. Maybe you have to 'unlock' it or 'turn it on' or something." Marie cautiously suggested.

"I like the sound of 'unlocking'. It sounds like leveling up in a video game, like I'm improving and that maybe I'm ready to handle the responsibility of whatever it is." Clark said frankly.

"Tell me which ability you'd like to be able to use and maybe I can help you unlock it, since I already know how it works and what it feels like." Marie quietly offered.

"I just used my optic blasts for real for the first time. Even though I was one of the few people who could hurt the Sentinels, on a scale of one to ten, I'd rate my performance at about a three. I think I'd like to put in the work and get that up to about a seven before I try to learn something else." Clark said honestly.

"Sorry. I didn't know where Andrew parked the bus. It took me a few minutes to find you." Alan said as he rushed up to the casually chatting group.

"It's fine. We've only been waiting a minute." Xander assured him.

"Let me get the bus open, then I'll give a 'last call' before we leave." Alan said as he took out the set of keys that Andrew had given him.

"What's the rush?" Xander asked curiously.

"Professor Xavier wants for Doctor McCoy to check out Marie and Clark as soon as possible to see what's going on with their abilities." Alan said as he gestured for those waiting outside the bus to board.

Xander glanced in Marie's direction and took note that she was floating about a foot off the ground before simply nodding his acceptance of Alan's explanation.

After tapping his badge twice, Alan calmly said, "All team members, the Summers family bus will be leaving the north parking lot in a few minutes. Call me now if you want to ride with us, otherwise we'll be trusting you to make your own arrangements."

"You don't need me here for anything do you?" Xander asked cautiously.

"No. I think everything's fine." Alan assured him.

"Then I'm going to see if I can catch up to the Cajun before he starts making too many plans." Xander said frankly.

"The command center's parked that way, right by the street entrance." Alan said as he pointed.

"Thanks. We'll see you back at the house." Xander said before hurrying away.

* * * * *

Alan looked into the back of the bus where Jimmy, Icheb, Clark, and Marie were talking together seriously, comparing their experiences and observations regarding the Sentinels.

He just about jumped out of his seat at the sound of a knock on the door of the bus. Alan smiled in relief at the sight of William looking back at him.

Alan opened the door as he asked Angel, "Were you guys wanting to ride back with us in the bus?"

"No. We were just heading this way and thought we'd walk William out." Angel said casually.

"Thank you for that. You didn't happen to run into Trey in your travels, did you?" Alan asked cautiously.

"As a matter of fact, we did. He seems to be tagging along with Matt and someone else I didn't recognize. Matt said something about shopping for things for his new house." Angel finished with an unconcerned shrug.

"Trey's a good one to have along with you for something like that. Not only does he have an architect's sensibilities, but also an artist's eye." Alan said proudly.

"He can also make exact measurements by sight." William helpfully added.

Alan hugged William around the shoulders to acknowledge his contribution to the conversation.

"Anyway, if anyone asks, Groo and I are going out to celebrate our victory tonight. We'll try to be back by morning." Angel finished with a smile.

"Is Chris going to be alright with you out all night?" Alan asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Him and Ronny are trying the 'camping out' thing again in his room tonight. The last thing he needs is me, disrupting the illusion of isolation that he's trying to create." Angel said with a fond smile at the thought of his son.

"Do you think they'll be alright without supervision?" Alan asked cautiously.

"I think so, they're both fairly responsible. But if something does come up, the professor's right there. I'm pretty sure he'll call me if he needs anything."

"I guess so. I suppose that it's different for us. We have so many kids and they're not familiar with societal norms. We're not as worried that they'll misbehave as we are that they'll find themselves in a situation that we haven't thought to prepare them for." Alan said seriously.

"Would there be any way that I could join Chris and Ronny for their 'campout'?" William asked cautiously.

Alan seemed to be about to answer, then looked to Angel with question.

"I've got no problem with it." Angel said immediately.

"I guess you guys can look at this like a do-over since last night's campout got interrupted." Alan said with a grin, then thought to ask, "Will you be alright on your regenerations?"

"My energy reserves are adequate and my homeostasis is nominal." William said confidently.

"I'm sure Chris and Ronny will be relieved to hear that." Alan said with an uncertain glance at Angel.

"On that note, we'll be leaving for our celebration. William, when you see Chris, tell him that I love him very much and for him to plan on the two of us spending some time together tomorrow afternoon." Angel said seriously.

"I will be sure to tell him." William promised.

"Alright then, if you need us for anything, we'll be at a place called McNalley's just down the street. Have a good night and remember... we won."

Alan smiled at Angel's declaration and said, "Thanks Angel. I will remember that."

After a nod of confirmation, Angel and Groo walked away, leaving Alan and William at the door of the bus.

* * * * *

"William! Tell us of your experience combatting the Sentinels." Jimmy said excitedly.

"I completed my mission. What else is there to tell?" William slowly asked.

"Working together, Clark, Icheb, and I would like to allow our viewers to vicariously experience what it was like to face an opponent, such as a Sentinel, and defeat it." Jimmy said seriously.

"I can answer your questions to the best of my ability, but I don't think that I express myself in a way that is inspirational or at all colorful, as you seem to be intending." William cautiously explained.

"Perhaps not, but we can try. Did your teammates provide support while you were assimilating the Sentinel?" Jimmy asked curiously.

"Yes. My team expended maximum effort to provide me ample opportunity to complete my task. I can't think of any other team that I would want supporting me in such a situation." William said seriously.

"Is there anything that happened that you'd like for us to include in our story about tonight?" Clark asked curiously.

After a moment to consider, William slowly said, "I met someone. She said that she knows when she's being lied to and she knows who the good guys are. I think that maybe your viewers should be aware that not everyone watching the broadcast news reports are believing everything that they are being told. There are astute people out there who see through the misinformation."

"That's kind of a whole different thing from what our report is about." Jimmy said uncertainly.

"Then again, this might end up being the story." Clark said seriously.

"Listen to him, Jimmy. I've been out in the world around all the hate. I know how easy it is to start believing that they're all against you and that it's us against them. Every now and then we need a reminder that there are good people in the world, and they're not always where you expect to find them." Marie passionately explained.

"Let's go through everything and follow each thing to its natural conclusion. We'll decide what we'll pursue once we've taken stock of what we actually have." Clark suggested earnestly.

"We should also interview Janine and Robert to get their points of view. Knowing more about the Sentinels' original programming might provide us additional insights to how things developed and ended up working out." Jimmy said thoughtfully.

"If you will do the interviewing, I could collate the collected information." Icheb volunteered.

"And I could take what you've collected and try to make a story out of it." Clark said happily.

"What am I gonna do?" Marie asked cautiously.

"Tell us when we're getting too focused on details and keep us on track to get the job done." Clark answered without hesitation.

"I can do that." Marie said confidently, accepting that she was going to be considered a valued member of the team.

* * * * *

Having determined that sufficient time had passed for anyone interested to contact them, Alan started the bus and headed toward the nearest exit from the mall parking lot.

Emergency vehicles were swarming the parking lot behind them, but didn't seem to be doing all that much. They appeared to be putting out fires and helping injured people, but were in no hurry to go into the mall itself.

Fortunately for Alan, they also didn't seem to have any desire to impede their departure.

As he pulled onto the city streets, everything seemed to be freakishly normal. Alan expected there to be police lying in wait, ready to pounce on the mutants fleeing the scene of the mutant roundup at the mall.

In reality, it was a regular Friday night. Perhaps with a little more traffic than usual, but that could easily be explained by the start of the holiday season.

"Alan. I think something's wrong." Marie said loudly from the back of the bus.

When Alan looked into his mirror, he immediately took notice of the frozen expressions that Icheb, William, and Jimmy were wearing.

"I've seen this before. It looks like they're accessing the collective. It's probably not anything to worry about." Alan said unconvincingly.

Icheb slowly blinked, then quietly said, "Janine had a message for us."

"She wanted us to know that the Sentinels are no longer a threat to you or to us." William slowly added.

"They now follow the one voice." Jimmy said, completing the thought.

"I don't know if that reassures me or worries me even more." Alan said honestly.

"Don't worry, Dad. Janine couldn't control us, even if she wanted to. That function has been disallowed in all of our individual systems." William said confidently.

"She just recognized that she could use our dormant communication nodes to inform all of us at once of relevant information in a timely manner." Icheb further explained.

"She wanted for us to be able to make the best decisions based on the most current information." Jimmy said informatively, and finished with a smile at his dad.

After a moment to consider, Alan hesitantly asked, "Do you have any idea of what those decisions might be?"

"Well, even though the Sentinels don't belong to us, they have our nanoprobes in them, so we shouldn't let them out of our possession." Icheb cautiously explained.

"I suppose that I can see that." Alan hesitantly allowed.

"Janine and Robert were thinking that it would be wrong of us to waste such valuable resources." William interjected.

"That sounds like they're being very conscientious." Alan commented, then slowly prompted, "Go on."

"Janine said that she'll work to improve them and make sure that they have everything they need and that she'll make it right if they accidently break something..." Jimmy hurried to say before he was interrupted.

"I think I've got the idea. This sounds like something that I'll need to discuss with your father..."

"He already said it's okay!" Jimmy hurriedly injected.

"He did?" Alan asked suspiciously.

"He said that it would be okay with him if it was okay with you." Jimmy quickly explained.

"I guess that settles it... we're officially parents now." Alan said resignedly, then looked in the mirror at his three Borg children waiting expectantly and patiently said, "When we get home, I'll sit down with your father and we'll listen to your proposal before giving you a final answer."

"Robert is drafting the prospectus as we speak. He expects to be done with it before we get home." William said excitedly.

"Can they hear what we're saying?" Alan cautiously asked.

"Janine has access to my ocular implant and is relaying our conversation to all the Borg kids plus John, Quaid, and Father by way of the video screen in the living room." Jimmy said informatively.

"Oh!" Alan said with surprise, then smiled at Jimmy in the mirror before saying, "Hi Pumpkin, hi love, we'll be home in a few minutes. I love you all. Bye."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes: This was another cool chapter.

Marie seems to be calming down a bit from her experience using Clark's powers.

Clark still hasn't really considered just what his powers might actually involve.

He has barely tapped the surface, so to speak, of his optic blasts, let alone his other abilities that Marie borrowed from him. I seriously doubt that she comes close to understanding the various abilities that Clark has. She was able to utilize various powers and abilities, because she needed them in her quest to subdue the Sentinels. I doubt that she even realized she had used his abilities to combat the various projectile and energy weapons the Sentinels used toward her.

She used her own fighting skills, and they were amplified immeasurably by Clark's powers.

Clark still has no idea of his potential. Clark may have been informed that he is, in fact, Superman, but he was totally unaware of the legend he may become in this world, not having read any of the comic books or seen the movies or TV series portraying his achievements.

I am pretty sure that Clark is a level headed person and he will be able to keep up with the challenges ahead of him, in due time.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher