Hurt & Comfort

Book 10: Elusive Comfort

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Chapter 25 - Unfair Life

"Doctor McCoy?" Marie asked cautiously from the door to his office.

"Please come on back. I'll be ready for you in just a moment." Doctor McCoy called from one of the treatment rooms.

Clark smiled with anticipation, recognizing where they were going.

"One more minute and I'll be right with you." Doctor McCoy muttered in concentration as he worked to record Gar's vitals.

"How are you doing, Gar?" Clark asked gently as he led Marie, Jimmy and Icheb into the room.

"He woke me up to give me something to make me sleep." Gar complained.

"Just hurry up and get better, then you won't have to put up with it anymore." Clark said gently.

"Let's see if you're still saying that when it's you in here feeling like crap and it's me visiting, able to come and go whenever I feel like it." Gar challenged.

"I don't get sick." Clark timidly retorted.

Gar looked at him with surprise for a moment, then loudly proclaimed, "You suck!"

Clark laughed at Gar's reaction but didn't dispute his words.

"You appear to be recovering nicely. Lie back and get some sleep now." Doctor McCoy said gently.

"You know what? I'm going to become a doctor so that someday, when you're old and sick, I can wake you up to give you something to make you sleep." Gar said grumpily.

Doctor McCoy seemed surprised by the declaration, but after a moment to get past it, he quietly said, "I'll look forward to it."

* * * * *

"How are things going here?" Alan asked as he hurried into the living room, noticing the television showing some familiar video feeds.

"Everything's fine. Just grab a baby and have a seat." Andrew said quietly.

"Where is everyone? I expected a houseful." Alan asked as he looked around.

"John and Quaid are in the kitchen, fixing bottles. Everyone else is either in an alcove or visiting with someone who is." Andrew answered simply, then looked around curiously before asking, "Speaking of expectations, weren't you driving a busload of kids back with you?"

"Yeah. Well, William asked to spend the night with Ronny and Chris. The 'Briefing with Neelix' team wanted to stay at the mansion and wait for Hank to check Marie's power levels. They're planning to come back here to work on their news report as soon as they're done with that." Alan said seriously.

"I'm sure Janine will see to it that they're here for the presentation." Andrew said confidently.

"Do you think the boys need help preparing the bottles?" Alan asked as he looked toward the kitchen with concern.

"No. Let them figure it out. I think it's important that John be allowed to do things to help so that he can really feel included. Besides, it's good for Quaid to get used to the process. I plan on asking for his help from time to time." Andrew said frankly, then thought to add, "Right now, I'd rather you take Thomas and get a bib on him."

"I guess I've been trying to do everything all by myself. It doesn't even occur to me to ask for help." Alan said introspectively as he absently picked up a bib and a towel.

"Yeah. But that's your nature. I wouldn't ask you to try to change it." Andrew said lovingly.

"Maybe. But, to be honest, I won't mind knowing that there are a few more people that I can count on when I need something done." Alan said frankly.

"Have you finished everything for the mission?" Andrew asked cautiously.

"I think so. We've done everything that we needed to at the mall although, I'm still not clear on what Janine has going on with the Sentinels." Alan said frankly.

"Please just reserve judgement until the kids have given their presentation." Andrew said with a grin.

In a defeated whisper, Alan looked askance at his beloved and quietly asked, "We're adopting the Sentinels, aren't we?"

"I guess it all comes down to how you define the word 'adopt'." Andrew said carefully.

"I suppose that if anyone were going to redefine adoption, it would be us." Alan said resignedly.

"Listen to what the kids have to say, then make a decision. As long as you do what you believe is right, you'll have no regrets." Andrew urged him to understand.

"As nice a sentiment as that is, I'm not sure that's how it really works." Alan said cautiously.

"Okay. Probably not. But in a perfect world, that's how it should work. I suppose that in this world, we'll just have to settle for doing the best we can."

"Yeah. That sounds about right."

* * * * *

"So what kind of things are we looking for?" Wilkey asked loudly as the trio waded into the sea of people.

"We'll get things like beds and dressers as we need them. What I'm looking for is stuff for the shared rooms that we'll all be using. I can go ahead and get things like that without having to worry too much about individual tastes." Matt said frankly.

"Do you have any kind of theme in mind?" Wilkey asked curiously.

"I don't really think we need for all the stuff to be matching and coordinated... If we did that, it wouldn't feel like a place that I would live in... or at least be comfortable living in." Matt said honestly.

"I get that we don't have to make everything have stripes, all pointing the same direction. But we could still go into this thinking about... Southwestern style or maybe something like a Maine B&B." Wilkey slowly explained.

"I don't like either of those styles that much, but I can see what you're getting at. Something a little 'cowboy' or 'woodsy' might feel more like a home to me." Matt said thoughtfully.

"Will you want to decorate the walls of your home with the exsanguinated carcasases of disemboweled fauna?" Trey asked curiously.

"Never really had much of a use for elk heads and the like. Pictures are just fine with me." Matt said frankly.

"Good. Knowing that, I might come and visit you sometime." Wilkey said with a smile.

"Trey? You know where the new place is, don't you?" Matt asked curiously.

"Of course, I went with you to evaluate its merits. I can give you exact coordinates, if you like." Trey said quickly, then turned to Wilkey and asked. "Would longitude and latitude be sufficient?"

"Actually, I think I might do better with the street address." Wilkey said as he fought down a chuckle.

Before he could ask if Trey needed a pen, Trey was handing him a piece of paper.

"Thanks." Wilkey said with surprise at Trey's speed and efficiency.

"What dy'all think about those couches?" Matt asked as he pointed at the store they were approaching.

"The gray ones?" Wilkey asked cautiously.

"Yeah. They look kind of overstuffed and comfortable, plus, gray goes with just about anything, right?" Matt asked as the group got closer to the showroom window.

"Have you ever been to the beach?" Wilkey asked curiously.

"Yeah. A few times." Matt said simply.

"Have you ever seen a whale?"


"Have you ever seen a whale that's been beached?"

"Not in person, but I've seen pictures."

"What about a few days after it's died and it's all bloated and gnarly and about to explode? Have you seen pictures of that?" Wilkey persisted.

"No. I can't say that I have."

Wilkey gestured toward the couches in front of them and waited for a reaction.

There was a moment of relative silence as Wilkey waited for a response.

"I have found photographic evidence in my data node which appears to corroborate Wilkey's assertion." Trey said as a statement of fact.

"If you really like them, just forget that I said anything." Wilkey said quickly.

"Nah. I've forgotten enough things in my life. Let's go look at something else." Matt said as he started walking again.

* * * * *

"A teacher's paycheck don't stretch very far, but if you find something that catches your eye, be sure to let me know. Christmas is coming up, so we'll find us a way to make it happen." Spike said as they walked.

"I guess we can look at the Hawaiian shirts if you want to, but I don't think I really need anything else." Alex said simply.

"What about those whingeing lesbians that you're always listening to? Don't they have a shop that sells that sort of thing around here?" Spike asked curiously.

Alex laughed, then said, "First of all, they're not lesbians, they're teenage boys. Secondly, I know that you can't stand my boyband music, just the same as I can't tolerate your Sex Pistols."

"Maybe there's a middle ground." Spike cautiously suggested.

"You mean, something that neither one of us likes?" Alex asked playfully.

"No, you cheeky little bastard, I'm talking about something that's got enough grit that I can listen to it and enough 'foo-foo-whatever it is that you like' so that you won't have to run away with your hands over your ears." Spike finished with an encouraging smile.

"I guess there wouldn't be any harm in looking." Alex finally relented.

Taking that as a victory, Spike guided them into the onslaught of holiday shoppers in search of a music store.

* * * * *

"Here's the bottles, we did just like you said, so they should be just right." Quaid said as he carried three prepared baby bottles into the living room.

"Thank you, Quaid. That was perfect timing. I think all the babies are ready for their dinner." Andrew said appreciatively, then looked past Quaid and asked, "Where's John?"

"He's not feeling too good. He's in the bathroom, in case he gets sick." Quaid said quietly.

"I'll go check on him." Alan said as he began to shift Thomas off his lap.

"Why don't you ask Quaid to do that for you? Your children need to be fed and if John's having any serious trouble, he or Quaid can come and get us." Andrew asked reasonably.

Alan froze in mid-motion, then reluctantly moved Thomas back into place.

"Quaid, would you go and ask John if he's okay and see if he needs anything?" Andrew asked hopefully.

"Yeah. But if you'll wait for a few seconds, I'd like to feed Marguerite when I get back." Quaid said hopefully.

"That sounds good to me. Go on ahead." Andrew said decisively.

"Every now and then you'll say something that strikes me as being such a 'parent' thing to say." Alan said as he got everything placed to start feeding Thomas.

"What did I say?" Andrew asked cautiously as he shifted Chakotay and Marguerite in his arms.

"'Go on ahead'. I've never heard anyone but a parent use that phrase." Alan said warmly.

"I don't know where I picked it up... it certainly wasn't from my own parents." Andrew said frankly.

"I know it still hurts, but just think about it; your dad's here now. He can't make up for what was lost, but he's here. You can work on letting it go whenever you feel that you're ready." Alan said gently.

"You're probably right. But now might not be the right time." Andrew said hesitantly, then slowly explained, "When I went to get the Slayers, I got a message from my mom."

"What did she have to say?" Alan asked cautiously.

"It wasn't exactly from her. It was more about her." Andrew said frankly, then reluctantly continued, "There are some doctors who'd like for me to stop by and make some decisions on her behalf."

Alan sat stunned for a moment, then quietly said, "I don't know if I could objectively determine right from wrong in that situation."

"As Anya and Hallie would say, sometimes it's a thin line between vengeance and justice." Andrew said distantly, then thought to add, "I still haven't decided if I'm going to go."

"He said he's feeling better, but he's going to stay in there for a few more minutes, just in case." Quaid said as he hurried to the couch and automatically snuggled in beside Andrew.

"Be careful to support her head." Andrew cautioned as he gently placed Marguerite into Quaid's waiting arms.

"Don't worry. Robert showed me how." Quaid assured him as he settled Marguerite into place.

"You're doing fine." Alan said as he handed the smaller of the prepared bottles to Quaid.

"When's Itchy coming back?" Quaid asked quietly as he slowly and gently touched the nipple of the bottle to the baby's lips.

It seemed to take a moment for Marguerite to notice what was happening, but once she did, she accepted the bottle and began to suckle in an 'interested' yet ladylike manner.

"Doctor McCoy needs to check Clark and Marie, then the whole group should be coming back here... except for William, maybe. I don't think he said if he was planning to be here or not." Alan finished uncertainly.

"Are Clark and Marie okay?" Quaid asked with concern, while keeping the majority of his attention on the baby in his arms.

"I'm sure they are. It just seems that Marie's absorbing ability reacted to Clark's non-human physiology in an unexpected way, so Doctor McCoy wants to be sure that neither of them are going to have some sort of a problem down the line because of it." Alan carefully explained.

"I wonder what would happen if Marie absorbed my abilities?" Quaid asked speculatively as he took the bottle away and used a conveniently placed towel to wipe a slight amount of leakage from around the baby's mouth.

"I thought you didn't have any abilities." Andrew said cautiously.

"I may not have." Quaid easily admitted then cautiously added, "Or they might have just blocked me from using them."

"Well, that's a little... horrifying to think about." Alan said frankly.

Andrew nodded his agreement, then cautiously said, "I tell you what, until we find out for sure, why don't you make a point of avoiding Marie as much as you possibly can? Considering what just happened with Clark, I really don't want to find out what kind of powers she might be able to draw out of you."

"Yeah. And besides that, the Q get all kinds of pissy when anyone who's not one of them gets access to their power." Quaid said frankly.

"I bet." Andrew easily agreed.

"I wonder how Jean got away with it." Alan asked curiously.

"She got her power the right way, she grew into it. The Q see it like a fish creature walking on land for the first time or like a flower blooming... I don't know the right words, but they think it's a good thing and the way that the multiverse was meant to work." Quaid explained.

"But an absorber stealing a Q's power would be a wrong way to gain the power and they might react badly to it.?" Alan said speculatively.

"I was one of them and look at what they did to me. My parents created me, then after I was made, they decided that I was a mistake; too dangerous to be allowed to exist. If it wasn't for Aunt Jean fighting for me, the Q continuum would have allowed them to get rid of me, unmake me, for being created Q instead of ascending to it. I don't want to think about what they would do to an outsider who 'stole' their power." Quaid said honestly, then adjusted the towel on his lap so that he could turn Marguerite over and begin the process of burping her.

"I think you ended up in the right place. It's best if you're not involved in any of that." Andrew said as he used the edge of a towel to do a little clean-up on Chakotay's face.

"I can't think of anyplace in the multiverse that I'd rather be." Quaid said as he gently rubbed Marguerite's back.

* * * * *

"I'm guessing from the way you're floating that the abilities you've absorbed haven't subsided as of yet." Doctor McCoy said as he performed a preliminary examination.

"Some of them have. For a while I could see everything around me about twelve different ways. It was like having night vision, X-ray vision and every other kind of vision you can think of all at once." Marie said frankly.

"But your vision has returned to normal now?" Doctor McCoy asked curiously.

"Yeah. In fact, the main reason I touched Clark to begin with was so that I could get his optic blasts to use against the Sentinels. That's completely gone too." Marie said in realization.

"So, you obviously have the ability to defy gravity. Have you noticed any other lingering effects?" Doctor McCoy asked as he stepped away to gather some other testing supplies.

"I think I could probably still lift a bus and throw it two or three miles, if I wanted to." Marie said honestly.

"We may test that out after the exam. Anything else?" Doctor McCoy asked hesitantly.

"I think if you took that same bus and picked it up and dropped it on top of me, that I probably wouldn't even feel it. I feel kind of... invincible." Marie timidly admitted.

"Let me try something." Doctor McCoy said as he picked up a hypodermic needle from the supply tray.

"Be careful not to touch me. I know for sure that I haven't lost my draining ability." Marie cautioned him.

"Yes. Thank you. I appreciate the reminder." Hank said as he quickly and efficiently swabbed Marie's arm.

"For some reason, doctors seem to think that just because they know how to keep from getting diseases that they're somehow immune from my touch." Marie said honestly.

"I'm sure it's an arrogance born out of necessity." Doctor McCoy said as he attempted to insert the hypodermic to draw a blood sample.

When the needle broke, Doctor McCoy glanced at Clark, then back to Marie before saying, "It appears that you've absorbed yet another of Clark's abilities."

"Do we need to call Andrew for his special futuristic spray needle thing?" Clark asked cautiously.

"I don't think that will be necessary. I was just going to do a comparison against Marie's baseline blood work. I wouldn't expect it to reveal anything significant." Hank said seriously.

Clark, Jimmy, Icheb, and Marie were all silent, waiting to see what revelation Doctor McCoy would impart to them next.

"Are the defiance of gravity, strength and invulnerability the only abilities of Clark's that you are aware of still having?" Doctor McCoy asked slowly.

"I... don't know." Marie said uncertainly, then hurried to add, "I don't think I've noticed anything else."

"Clark, are you aware of Marie demonstrating any of your other abilities?" Doctor McCoy asked cautiously.

"No. But I doubt that I would notice. She's already done more with my abilities than I ever did." Clark said frankly.

"I have been able to detect a slight field of energy surrounding Marie." Icheb interjected.

"What type of energy?" Doctor McCoy asked curiously.

"I cannot determine that with any degree of certainty with my current scanning equipment, but I believe it to be psionic in nature." Icheb said uncomfortably.

"Can you speculate as to its purpose?" Doctor McCoy asked as he walked to a nearby cabinet to get another piece of test equipment.

"From what I have observed, I would guess that it's part of Marie's invulnerability. I would suppose that in the event of an attack, it would prevent damage to her clothing. It might also contribute, in part or in whole, to her ability to defy gravity." Icheb said slowly and speculatively.

"Yes. I have seen psionics used that way before. Professor? Do you have any insights into Marie's newfound abilities?" Doctor McCoy asked into the air.

//Marie has always been slightly telepathic, requiring touch to read another's thoughts. That would normally suggest that she would have an increased potential to develop telekinesis... and even though I can't detect any telekinetic ability at the moment, when dealing with non-human derived abilities, the dynamics could be drastically different.//

"Which tells us pretty much nothing." Clark said thoughtfully.

//Perhaps it would be more productive to investigate the attack that the Sentinel used which may have caused Marie to retain Clark's abilities.// Professor Xavier said reasonably.

"It might not have anything to do with the Sentinel. It could just be how my ability reacts to Clark's... species." Marie finished awkwardly, not knowing a less offensive way of making her point.

"Marie can touch me and not have any reaction at all." Icheb said informatively, then explained, "That would suggest that the species of a person can play some role in Marie's ability to drain them or not."

//Since Marie hasn't touched Clark before, we can't dismiss that possibility.//

"Did the team make recordings of the video evidence of the fight with the Sentinels?" Jimmy asked timidly.

"Yes. Despite what they chose to view on their monitors, the feeds from all the mall cameras as well as any other video feeds that they had access to would have automatically been recorded for later evaluation." Doctor McCoy said as he appeared to be scanning Marie with a handheld device.

"If you look at the video, at Marie's fight, it might give you some idea of what the Sentinel did, or tried to do to Marie." Jimmy said seriously, then thought to add, "Which in turn might help you sort out how Clark's abilities became dyed into the fabric of Marie's physical essence."

"That's an interesting choice of words." Doctor McCoy said cautiously.

"As I understand it, the use of memorable words and phrases can be beneficial for journalists." Jimmy said frankly.

//I believe that it can be overdone. How you say a thing becomes more important than what you say.// Professor Xavier said sagely, then continued, //Regardless, in this case your choice of words provides us with an interesting context in which to view Marie's condition.//

Before anyone could respond, Jimmy and Icheb froze in place and had equal, distant looks in their eyes.

"Incoming message." Marie said simply, in case Doctor McCoy wasn't aware of what was going on.

Clark moved in front of Jimmy and waved as he said, "Hi Andrew. Hi Alan. We'll be over as soon as we're done with Marie's exam."

* * * * *

"You boys want another round?" The waitress asked as she rushed by their table.

"I'm sure we'll be ready by the time you get back." Angel called after her.

"You got a deal." The waitress said before disappearing around the corner into the dining room.

"While I have visited many a pub and tavern in my time, I believe that I can say without reservation that this place you have chosen has an atmosphere that one can truly appreciate." Groo said confidently.

"I'm glad you like it, but Matt was the one who found this place. The only part I played in it was to ask for his recommendation." Angel said frankly.

"Perhaps it is so. This friend of yours, Matt, seems like another being of strong will and good character. I would feel secure with him fighting by my side. That cannot be said of many. I am certain that he would do well in Pylea." Groo said thoughtfully.

"Yeah. He seems like a good guy, but you probably shouldn't be talking about Pylea in here." Angel said as he looked around to see who might be listening to them.

"No one here cares." Groo said simply, then yelled to the crowded room, "I am the king of the demon realm of Pylea!"

"Yeah. Me too!" A man said from the bar.

"This is where all us kings meet up." Said a man from another table as he raised his beer in a toast.

"Do you see? Even if they make such proclamations in jest, they are kindred spirits. Such beings are to be respected." Groo explained.

"They're a bunch of drunks." Angel said as he looked around cautiously.

"That's the man in you speaking. Look with your demonic eyes and you'll see them for who they really are." Groo said seriously.

Although Angel didn't go so far as to go through his complete demonic transformation, he did follow Groo's recommendation insofar as he looked at the patrons of McNalley's from the point of view of a literal demon.

"They have seen war. They have seen death. They know loss. Not only is it 'why' they drink, but it's also why they continue to live. We have the honor to be amongst survivors." Groo said confidently.

While Angel had no doubt that each and every one of the people surrounding them were human, he did see evidence of Groo's claims.

The men and women of McNalley's weren't a randomized group of strangers. They were 'of a sort'.

Angelus could detect the war weariness that Groo had picked up on immediately. Be it called PTSD or simply having seen too much, it was the thread that bound the group together. Also, as Groo had rightly detected, the two half-demons fit right in amongst them.

"What has y'all so happy over here?" A woman, by all appearances a few decades their senior, asked as she sidled up to their table.

"Our enemies have been vanquished, yet we survive." Groo proudly proclaimed.

"Well, ain't you the sweetest thing?" The woman asked with amusement, then looked at Groo and firmly said, "Soak it in, honey. Enjoy it while it lasts. Hold onto it and let it carry you through those times when you aren't quite so... victorious."

"Wise words! Come, sit with us! Let me buy you a drink!" Groo said gregariously.

"That's so sweet of you, but I'm here with my husband. He's at the bar, getting our drinks for us." The woman said, sounding to be flustered and girlishly giddy at the offer.

"Invite him over then. If he's your husband, he must be a man of great wisdom and bravery." Groo said confidently.

"Merle! We're sittin over here." The woman called loudly as she waved at a man just stepping away from the bar.

"What is your name, good lady?" Groo asked with interest.

"Me? I'm Molly. This here's my husband, Merle." The woman said as she gestured for her husband to join her at the table.

"It is a pleasure and an honor to meet you both. Please join us and be welcome." Groo said as he made a show of pulling out a chair for Molly.

Merle looked at Angel with question, silently asking with his eyes if they were for real.

"Please join us. Groo's here on vacation and I think it'd be nice if he got to meet some people outside my circle of friends." Angel said as he gestured toward the vacant chair at their table to offer it to Merle.

"Sounds like you're the right kind of friend to have. Thanks." Merle said as he took the offered chair.

* * * * *

"Who is it?" An uncertain voice cautiously asked.

"It is William." He said simply.

The door suddenly opened and he was ushered inside.

"From what they were saying to my dad, there's some big X-Men mission going on right now. Have you heard anything about it? Matt was called in for it. Were your parents called in too?" Chris asked excitedly.

"Yes. Both my fathers were called in." William confirmed, then cautiously added, "As were me and my siblings, Icheb, Trey, and Jimmy."

"Your whole family got called into battle and I got left out?!" Ronny asked loudly.

"Not all. Icheb, Trey, and I were called upon to participate and Jimmy was asked to document the event. The rest functioned as support for us, using the boathouse as a command center." William said seriously.

"But why did you get called out on a mission when you're not even a mutant?" Ronny asked belligerently.

"That is why. Our opponents were robots programmed to incapacitate and subdue mutants. Uncle Angel and my family, along with many other non mutants, were called upon to take up the fight where you and other mutants would have been severely disadvantaged." William explained firmly, at a deliberate pace.

"Do you know? Is my dad okay?" Chris quietly asked into the silence that followed.

"He's fine. Him and Groo walked with me to the bus where Dad was waiting to drive us home." William easily explained, then thought to add, "He asked me to tell you that he loves you very much."

"What about Matt?" Ronny asked cautiously.

"He looked like he had sustained injuries in physical combat, but he didn't seem to be in pain when I saw him. He was with Trey and they looked like they were going to go do something in the mall... I don't know if it was related to the mission or not." William finished uncertainly, then thought to add, "No personal message was given."

"That's okay." Ronny said with a smile, then explained, "If he was looking beat up but not in pain, it sounds like he's probably having a pretty good time. From what I've seen, most of the stuff he enjoys doing makes him end up looking like that."

"Have there been any new developments in regard to purchasing the house?" William asked curiously.

"Matt made some calls and checked on some things, but as far as I know, we're waiting for other people to make their decisions and get back to us." Ronny said frankly.

"Do you think you're going to get the house?" Chris asked cautiously.

"From the way Matt explained it, they'd have to be stupid not to take his offer. All they've got to do is say 'yes' and they'll get cash... all of it. Not in payments or anything like that." Ronny said seriously.

"I don't know anything about it, but it sounds like a sweet deal to me." Chris said honestly.

"From my limited understanding of how the real estate and banking industries work, I believe this would be an equitable arrangement for the seller. They would indeed be stupid not to accept the offer with all due haste." William said honestly.

As Ronny was about to respond, he noticed an uncomprehending vacant expression that had taken over William's features.

"William?" Chris cautiously ventured, but received no response.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes: Oh boy, looks as though William is receiving a message.

I wouldn't worry too much about that.

I love the way that people from multiple Verses can co-exist side by side and work together for the common good.

Of course, it helps to have an author who can feel the vibrations from many storylines and once, and blend them together into a coherent whole that is much more than the sum of its parts.

I can't help but think of the possibilities that could happen if there were appearances from folks from other stories lying about in Multimapper's imagination.

Just saying!

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher