"Hey Slash! Matt sent me down to get you. We're ready to go when you are." Clark said as he walked into the MedLab, with Beau unobtrusively following him in.
"Did they say if I can go too?" Gar asked hopefully as he sat up in bed.
Clark walked to Gar's bedside and gave him a firm hug before saying, "Sorry Gar. We're going to the Wagner school and when you get out of here, you'll be going to Xavier's."
"But that's not fair! Why can't I go to school with you?" Gar whined.
"It's not that we don't want to include you in what we'll be doing, but I've talked with Dr. McCoy about it and he believes that you're too powerful to go to the Wagner school and be around regular people without some training first." Clark gently explained.
"I wouldn't use my mutant thing in front of them if he told me not to." Gar said defensively.
"Take it from someone who knows, it's not always that easy. The whole reason that I'm here at all is because someone slammed into me while I was at school and before I knew what happened, I had let loose an optic blast." Clark said seriously, then quietly added, "I could have killed someone."
"But then why don't you have to go to the Xavier school like I do?" Gar asked seriously.
"I did. But because I've been working really hard since then and learning how to control my ability, I think I've proven that I can keep calm and solve more problems than I cause. But if it turns out that it isn't safe for me to be around regular people for some reason, then they won't let me keep going to Wagner's. I think it's that way for all of us." Clark said frankly.
"I want to go to the Wagner school with Louie, but they said that I have to stay at the Xavier Institute." Quaid interjected.
"But if I learn how to use my ability, they'll let me go to the Wagner school, too?" Gar asked hopefully.
"If you can show that you're able to use your ability in the right situations and use it safely, then maybe you'll be allowed to choose which school you go to." Clark said honestly.
"Me too?" Quaid asked hopefully.
"It's not up to me, but if you can prove to people that you can be a benefit, they're more likely to want to include you in things." Clark patiently explained.
"I learned to do something different since the last time I saw you. Do you want to see it?" Gar asked hopefully.
"Matt's waiting for us, so we can't take long." Clark gently answered.
"This'll just take a second." Gar assured him, then turned toward Louie and asked, "Jesus, can you get up here beside me so we can show Clark?"
//Yes. I'm still trying to figure out how you do it.// Jesus said as he smoothly dropped onto the bed at Gar's side.
"What are you..." Clark began to ask, then fell silent as Gar began to shrink until he disappeared under the covers.
Clark was further astonished when a green rat emerged from under the blanket where Gar had been a moment before and stopped at Jesus' side to look up at Clark inquisitively.
//I never really thought about what it would be like to have a twin before. I'm still not sure how I feel about it.// Jesus said playfully.
"I thought you could only become different kinds of monkeys." Clark told Gar thoughtfully.
"I'm not an expert or anything, but it looks to me like he's got pretty good control." Slash said frankly.
Once Gar had returned to his humanoid form, he quickly asked, "How'd you like that? Wasn't it something?"
"Yeah, Gar. That was really amazing... and a little scary, to be honest. This means that you might be able to turn into just about anything... any animal that's ever lived." Clark said slowly as his mind raced.
"Matt told me to tell you that he's leaving in five minutes, with or without us." Ronny said as he walked into the MedLab.
"Um, yeah." Clark said distractedly, then looked around and asked, "Is everyone ready to go?"
"I think so. As far as I know, since it's our first day, we're not expected to be bringing anything with us." Seth said uncertainly as he looked around at the others, for confirmation.
"Well, I have some work that I'm supposed to be turning in this morning, but I'm hoping that the whole 'getting shot at' thing will be a good enough excuse to get me an extension." Beau said frankly.
"Lisa? Are you going to be okay?" Slash asked with concern.
She looked over at Marc, who was still asleep, and quietly said, "Yeah. I've got to make a place for us."'
"If I've got to stay here anyway, I might as well do something that'll help. Don't worry about Marc, I'll make sure that he's alright." Gar said sincerely.
"Okay. I'll trust you to call Dr. McCoy if Marc's having any trouble at all." Lisa told Gar firmly.
"I bet Tara's going to be in here with us the whole time you're gone. But either way, I'll be right here if Marc needs anything." Gar confirmed.
"Let's get going. I want to hear all about what was on the news last night." Ronny said from the doorway.
"Then I guess Slash had better lead the way." Beau said to Slash with a cheeky grin.
* * * * *
Once the elevator doors closed, Ronny finally asked, "So? What happened last night to get you on the news?"
"It wasn't anything we did. I guess that someone thought it would be a real kick to shoot some mutants last night and they picked our dorm as their hunting ground." Slash said grimly.
"Then, to make the night absolutely perfect, the local news thought it would be a really good idea to put us on display for the whole world to stare and point at... look at the silly mutants." Seth spat bitterly.
"I had to talk to Marc's parents last night." Lisa wearily announced.
"Ouch! You win! That sucks a whole lot worse than anything we went through." Beau said honestly.
"Are they on their way here to be with him while he's recovering?" Seth asked cautiously.
"Or do you think that they'll take him away?" Louie asked anxiously.
"As far as I know, neither. I mean, if there was something that they could do that would make a difference, they'd probably do it. If Marc needed money or a private nurse or a kidney or something, they'd see to it that he got it. But as far as the hand-holding and bedside care thing... it's not really their style. I think they just assume that that's what I'm here for." Lisa said as the elevator doors opened.
"So are his parents really strict or demanding or just plain old evil?" Ronny asked curiously.
"Not that I've ever seen. The few times I've met them, they seemed nice enough... kind of distant. They never were very involved in Marc's life. Past a certain age, they left him to pretty much take care of himself with the understanding that if he screwed up, he'd be on his own to dig himself out of it." Lisa said frankly as they walked across the massive entry hall.
"Do you think it had anything to do with him dating a mutant?" Ronny asked curiously.
Lisa seemed to be surprised by the question, but after a moment to consider, she finally responded, "I really don't think so. It's not just how they reacted to me or anything that they said. I just think that if they'd felt that way there would have been, like, tension in the air or something. If I had to sum up their thoughts about me being Marc's girlfriend, it'd have to be something more along the lines of... 'Fine. Whatever.'"
"If that's what Marc grew up with, then I guess it's up to us to make sure that he knows that the people he lives with care about him and will make sure that he has everything that he needs." Seth said firmly.
"Marc and I are kind of used to only having each other." Lisa said frankly, then hurried to add, "My mom and my aunt have always been mostly supportive of us, but that's about it."
"Is that the way that you'd like things to be for you? Having only each other?" Ronny asked curiously as they passed through the side door into the garage.
"No. It's just what we've gotten used to." Lisa quietly admitted.
Clark opened the door to the outside and held it open as everyone passed.
The side door of the large stylish minibus slid open as John stood aside to usher everyone into the vehicle.
As Clark brought up the rear, John quickly asked, "Did you ask him?"
"We ended up going off topic." Clark reluctantly responded.
"Ask who what?" Beau asked suspiciously.
"Well, if that thing we saw you do on the news last night is what it looks like, then we were going to talk to Slash about maybe thinking about trying out for the X-Men. His ability looks like it could come in handy for us."
After finding a place to sit, Slash quietly said, "Aren't you supposed to not talk about this kind of stuff with people outside the team?"
"You've got an ability. You're going to have to train to use it. It won't take long before everyone here knows anyway, so we might as well let them in on it now." John said frankly.
"All of you are going to train." Matt announced as he began to back the minibus out of the driveway.
"Train to do what? Not all of us have special abilities." Beau asked cautiously.
"Think about what happened last night and what could have happened. Anyone who has a mutant ability needs to know how to use it. Everyone else needs to develop effective strategies for dealing with various threat scenarios. No matter how things end up shaking out, there may come a time when you'll have only yourselves to depend on. You need to be able to make the most out of what you have." Matt explained while maintaining the majority of his concentration on his driving.
"We didn't sign up for this." Lisa said quietly.
"Yeah. Welcome to the world, kid." Matt finished with a weary chuckle.
"When Marc gets better, how's he going to be able to handle it if some mutant haters show up and want to start some trouble?" Slash asked cautiously.
"If we're going to do this, then we need for all of us to do it." Seth said seriously, then looked directly at Slash and said, "We can't be running off, joining other teams."
"I'm not the only one of us who could be recruited away. How sure are you that you won't run off the first time someone tells you how wonderful your mutant ability is?" Slash asked seriously.
"I need for this to be real. I probably need it worse than anyone. Don't worry about me. I'll stick with it." Seth said confidently.
"Beau?" Slash asked firmly.
"Are you sure you want plain old humans in your group?" Beau asked frankly.
"Our team won't be made of the strongest and best of everyone we can find to recruit. It's us. Rich and poor, weak and strong, cowardly and brave, we're what we have to work with. We're not asking you to be something that you're not, we're just asking you to stand with us and do as much as you can." Seth said passionately.
"Well, I may not be a mutant, but I know a thing or two that might end up being of use. For as long as we can keep this thing going, you can count me in." Beau finished confidently.
"Louie? What about you? Do you understand what we're talking about?" Seth asked cautiously.
"I dream about being a hero, you know, wearing a cape and flying and being someone that everyone thinks is important and strong and special. Doing something like this is probably as close as I'm ever going to get to doing something like that." Louie said frankly.
There was a long moment of stunned silence before Seth finally said, "We're not talking about being superheroes. We're talking about training together so that we can protect ourselves and each other."
"But, can I wear a cape while I'm doing that?" Louie asked hopefully.
Before Seth could reply, Slash said, "You know what? Sure. Why not? If it makes you feel like a part of the team and motivates you to learn to protect yourself, then you can wear a cape if you want to."
"I can help you find a really good cape if you want." Quaid said with an affectionate grin at Louie.
"Yeah!" Louie said with a grand, triumphant smile in return.
"Jesus? What do you say? Are you with us?" Seth asked hopefully.
//Can I be teamed up with Louie?// Jesus asked seriously.
"It's not really up to me. But as far as I'm concerned, there's no problem with it." Seth said frankly.
"It is up to me." Matt said from the driver's seat, then continued, "And yeah, I think you teaming with Louie sounds right."
//I'm in.// Jesus said firmly.
"Lisa?" Slash asked in a leading tone.
"Before I answer, there's something you should know."
"What's that?" Slash asked cautiously.
"For the last few years I've been living in my mom's basement, kinda hiding from the world." Lisa shyly admitted.
"Don't beat yourself up about it, kid. People do what they have to do to deal. Don't try to read more meaning into it than there is." Matt said seriously.
"Thanks." Lisa said with an actual note of relief, then continued, "I've never told anyone. I mean, I think Marc knows, but he also knows that I don't want to think about it..."
"Did I miss the part where she told us what she's talking about?" Seth slowly asked.
"Shhh. I think she's about to get to it." Beau whispered.
"I'm strong." Lisa said simply.
"How strong?" Seth asked cautiously.
"I don't know. I'm just... I know that I'm stronger than most people." Lisa quietly admitted.
"That's not a bad thing. One of the things we'll be working on as you learn to work together is how to depend on each other's strengths." Matt said seriously.
"There's also this." Lisa reluctantly said as she raised one of her furry paw-like hands.
Everyone watched silently as her sheathed claws revealed themselves.
"Looks like I know who I'll be training." Matt said as he mimicked her motion and extended his own claws.
"Um, okay. I didn't see that coming." Seth muttered under his breath.
After a moment for the surprise to sink in, Lisa imploringly asked, "Will you help me learn how to protect Marc?"
"Yeah. In fact, that's exactly what we're doin' here, kid."
"Should we go ahead and get started? I mean, since we're here?" Clark asked as he pointed out the front window.
"I think I was supposed to stay with Grandpa Lee. Should I go with you now?" Quaid asked uncertainly.
"As far as I know, your grandpa should be hooking up with us sometime before lunch so he can find out if you guys need anything from the Xavier school. Stick with me and I'm pretty sure we'll run into him sooner or later." Matt said frankly.
"Maybe you can help us set up our team." Louie said hopefully.
"Actually, it might be best not to talk about that too much until we're sure of who all needs to be in on it and who for sure doesn't." Matt said seriously.
"What should we call you?" John asked curiously, directing his question mostly at Slash and Seth.
"How do you mean?" Matt asked cautiously, on their behalf.
"When we talk about the X-Men you know exactly who we're talking about and what they're all about. Shouldn't you guys have a name like that so that we can talk about you as a group without having to define exactly who and what we mean each time?" John asked reasonably.
"Something like X-Men Junior or Y-Men?" Ronny asked jokingly.
"Probably not. You're the first generation at this new school, so it would make sense if you created something new that's all your own." Matt quietly explained, taking Ronny's comment far more seriously than any of them had expected.
"From what I was told, the X-Men were named that because all of them have the X gene that gives them special abilities." Ronny said slowly, following Matt's lead.
"But now they have a variety of people with different talents from various sources." Clark interjected.
"Maybe you can try thinking about what all of you have in common. That might be a good place to start." John suggested.
"Just don't make the mistake of naming yourselves after your objective. If you do that you'll end up regretting it." Matt said frankly.
"So don't call ourselves 'Revengers' or something like that?" Seth asked to confirm his understanding.
"Right. Let's say you get your revenge... then what? You disband? Rename yourselves? Continue on using a name that has become meaningless?" Matt asked before opening the driver side door and getting out.
The others followed suit and climbed out of the minibus to assemble at its side.
"Louie should come up with your name. He's the one who cares the most about things like that." Quaid announced to the group.
"I won't automatically agree to whatever he says, but I'll be willing to listen." Slash said frankly.
"Yeah. He is as close to an expert as we have on the subject, so we'll consider what he has to say about it." Beau agreed.
"Go ahead Louie. Tell them what you think." Quaid urgently encouraged.
"What are we going to be doing?" Louie asked timidly.
"We're trying to come up with a name for our group." Seth gently informed him.
"I know that. I mean, what is our group going to be doing?" Louie asked more slowly.
"No matter what else we do, school has to come first. We're here to learn, so we need to be sure that we're doing that. Even if everything else falls apart, we've got to keep that going." Slash said firmly.
"Yeah. If we let them drive us away, they've won." Seth added.
"That's assuming that we understand their motives." Beau interjected.
"Some anti-mutant bigots are shooting at us and trying to scare us away. What other motive could they have?" Seth asked curiously.
"For us as a group, I don't know. But it could be something more personal." Beau cautiously suggested.
"Group name?" Ronny asked into their conversation.
"You know, why don't we just call ourselves some stupid random thing like the 'Meerkats' for now?" Slash asked with a quick smile at Seth, then explained, "That's something you can visualize, but it doesn't really say anything too important about us. And if we come up with something more meaningful later on, no one would blame us for changing it."
"It might be fun to watch people tie themselves into knots trying to figure out what it means." Beau said with a grin.
"But if we call ourselves the 'Meerkats' or something else weird like that, people will think that there's something wrong with us." Louie said anxiously.
"Yeah. They might. And they'd probably be right." Seth finished with a grin.
"I doubt that you're going to get it any more settled than this. Let's head in and see what Kurt and Julia have in store for you." Matt said as he led the group toward one of the side buildings.
* * * * *
"Are you sure we're in the right place?" Seth asked, then winced at the horrible echo in the massive decrepit gymnasium.
"This is where Julia said that we were supposed to meet." Matt said uncertainly as he surreptitiously surveyed their surroundings.
"Is everyone here?" A man's voice asked as he slowly stepped out of a darkened doorway.
"Detective Kowalski?" Seth asked uncertainly.
"It's Ray, remember?" The detective asked with a disarming grin.
"Right. Um, everyone's here but Marc... you know, who was shot last night." Seth stammered.
"And was already released from the hospital, from what I've been told." Ray added seriously.
"Yeah. But he'll be okay. He's got a really good doctor looking after him." Slash assured him.
"Good to know." Detective Kowalski said absently as he glanced upward.
"Have you found who was shooting at the kids?" Matt asked firmly.
"And you are?" Ray asked in a leading tone.
"Matthew Logan, their bus driver."
"I asked Dr. Hoffman to give me a few minutes to talk to the kids. She should be here before long."
"You didn't answer my question." Matt said informatively.
"No. We haven't found who was shooting at your kids." Ray slowly admitted, then added, "But we are reasonably certain that we know who didn't shoot at them."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Matt asked in a tone of voice which revealed that his reservoir of patience was not infinite.
"I think he's saying that the shooter wasn't Beau's old roommate." Slash said with a questioning look at Detective Kowalski.
"Why do you think that?" Ray asked curiously.
"It just wasn't adding up. A person can only be so stupid before it becomes too far-fetched. The chances of someone actually being that stupid are far less than the chances of framing someone to look like they're that stupid." Slash said thoughtfully.
"Good call." Ray said with a slow nod.
"And I know Josh. He might be a lot of horrible things, but he's not a murderer." Beau quietly added.
"You might be surprised..." Ray began to say, but instead shook his head and said, "Let's just say that Mr. Metcalf is no longer a person of interest in this investigation."
"What happened?" Beau asked curiously.
"Sorry. We're in the middle of an investigation, so I can't tell you much. But I thought you'd like to know that Metcalf has been cleared and is expected to be okay." Ray said carefully.
"Wait, why wouldn't he be okay? What happened to him?" Beau asked with concern.
"I've said too much already." Ray said firmly, then continued, "What I need to know now is if any of you know who else might want to disrupt your life at this school or, you know, kill you."
"I'm pretty sure that there are a few hundred people scattered around who'd really like for us to not be here in this school... or town... they'd really rather we weren't in this state, either." Seth said honestly.
"I know just who you're talking about. They like to whine and cry about things, but any of them who had the balls to do anything would have done it before now. No... I have a feeling that this is something else." Ray finished speculatively.
"We're all new here. No one knows any of us." Seth said seriously.
"Not all of us are new here." Slash said as he gave Beau a significant look.
"It sounds like if it's something personal, that it most likely has to do with you." Ray said as he looked directly at Beau.
"How much do you already know about me?" Beau asked cautiously.
"Not much. Your past is unusually cloudy for someone your age." Ray said frankly.
"My family has money. The lawyers like to muddy our identities just to make things difficult for any private investigators who might want to cause us trouble someday." Beau said resignedly.
"You know, that actually makes sense to me. I've seen a few cases of wealthy people who didn't take precautions with their personal information and ended up being royally screwed because of it. But that doesn't tell me what the shooting had to do with you."
"I was probably the target." Beau said simply.
"Do you know who's after you?" Ray asked more quietly.
"No. I don't know for sure if anyone is." Beau said seriously, then explained, "But if they are, it wouldn't surprise me a bit to find out that whoever's at the bottom of it has the last name of Collins."
"Why would your family want to kill you?" Ray asked with evident concern.
"Too many mouths at the trough, I think. There they are, gorging on their own slop and all they can do is look at mine and imagine how much better it must be than theirs."
"Are you that rich?" Seth asked curiously.
"I'm not rich at all. But if the family fortune was divvied up today, everyone would get a slice of the pie. One less heir means everyone else's slice gets that much bigger. As far as I know, that's all there is to it." Beau finished wearily.
"Do you really think that the gunman could have been aiming for you?" Lisa quietly asked.
"I really don't know. But if he were, Marc and I are about the same height and weight. I could see someone at a distance not being able to tell us apart." Beau said frankly.
"But you didn't know that someone was after you?" Lisa asked to verify her understanding.
"I still don't know. It's just something that's been hanging over my head for a few years now. I thought that sooner or later someone would decide that it's time to prune the family tree." Beau said wearily.
"Ray. The lab technicians were very helpful in expediting the results." Constable Fraser said as he hurried into the gymnasium with Dr. Hoffman following a step behind.
"What'd you get?" Ray asked with interest.
"A significant amount of Rohypnol was detected in his beer." Constable Fraser announced.
"You called it." Ray said in an impressed tone.
"Has your questioning yielded any favorable results?" Constable Fraser asked curiously.
"Nothing solid, but Beau here might be in line to inherit some money one of these days; so it's possible that some of his relatives wouldn't mind it too much if he were to suddenly become ineligible, for whatever reason." Ray said in a bored matter-of-fact tone.
"If that turned out to be true, this case would no longer fall within the purview of our mandate." Constable Fraser cautioned.
"I know. I know. I was just saying that while we're looking at all the local anti-mutant activity and checking out the most vocal people on social media, that we might devote a few minutes to checking on this guy's family... you know, just to be thorough." Ray said in a leading tone.
"Tying up the loose ends as we go along, so to speak." Constable Fraser added thoughtfully.
"You know I'm all about crossing those T's and dotting those I's." Ray finished with an impish grin.
The arch of an eyebrow was Constable Fraser's only response to Ray's assertion.
"Beau, just so you know, I'm going to be talking to Barnabas later this morning." Julia said quietly as she stepped to his side.
"Not many people would feel free to call him... I know my mom wouldn't. She'd call my great-aunt and have her do it." Beau said honestly.
"He and I are dear friends from a time that's long since past. I just didn't want for you to feel that you have to call your mother to warn Barnabas about the forces at play. I'll fill him in." Julia assured him.
"Thanks Dr. Hoffman. I didn't know when I came here that there would be someone on my side." Beau said timidly.
"Just do your best in your classes and leave the rest to me." Julia assured him.
"I'll try." Beau quietly promised.
Julia smiled warmly at him, then looked toward Detective Kowalski and Constable Fraser and asked, "So what do we still need to do for you so that you can be on your way?"
"I think you've done it. We have a few things that we need to check on, then we'll get back to you." Ray said in realization.
"Would you like for us to arrange for some of the local constabulary to monitor the property?" Constable Fraser asked seriously.
"Now that our security is aware of the possibility of another such incident, they are on alert. They have my complete confidence. On the other hand, I wouldn't object if the local police wanted to stop by and look around now and then, just for their own peace of mind." Julia responded.
"We will inform them that they will be welcomed if they happen to choose to visit." Constable Fraser assured her.
After a few steps, Ray turned back and asked, "Dief? You coming?"
"He's deaf, Ray." Constable Fraser reminded him.
"Since when has that ever made a difference?" Ray chuckled.
//So, Diefenbaker, how do you feel about the whole cross-species relations' taboo?// Jesus asked nervously.
"Diefenbaker can be looked upon as quite the rebel in some regards." Constable Fraser said proudly.
//Oh. Goody.// Jesus said flatly.
"Don't worry, you two. We'll be sure to visit again soon." Constable Fraser assured them both as he motioned toward the door.
//I'll be counting the minutes.// Jesus said uneasily as he watched them go.
* * * * *
Dr. Hoffman waited for a long moment after hearing the door of the gymnasium slam before saying, "Now that they're on their way, we can move on to the next order of business."
"Quaid and I could leave now, if that would be best." Matt quietly offered.
"If I understood correctly, the plan is for you to conduct the pre-college physical training regimen." Julia said, seeking confirmation.
"Starting out, yeah. Once we've tested everyone, we'll see that they each get the best possible teacher for them." Matt said seriously.
"Excuse me, but I'm supposed to be in class in about ten minutes. Do you need for me to stay here for anything?" Beau asked cautiously.
"From the sound of it, Matt's testing is probably going to take some time. I don't know of any reason why you would need to stay behind for that." Julia said, then looked to Matt for confirmation.
"Beau could be wearing a target. It might be best if he stayed with the group." Matt said seriously.
"If I don't go to class, then we'll be giving whoever's trying to stop me a win. I don't want to do that." Beau said frankly.
"I can call security to escort..." Julia began to say, but was interrupted.
"We can take care of it." Seth hurried to volunteer as he looked to Slash for confirmation.
After a moment to consider, Slash finally said, "Yeah. Between the two of us, we can be sure that Beau gets to his class safely."
"While we're doing that, you guys can get started testing. Beau's already earned his spot on the team with what he's done for Marc, so he doesn't need to be here anyway." Seth finished with a grin at Beau.
"What do you say, Doc? Is that enough security?" Matt asked curiously.
Julia smiled, then said, "Just enough, I think."
"We'll be back as soon as Beau is in his class." Seth promised as he followed Beau and Slash toward the door of the gymnasium.
Before they could get there, the door suddenly opened.
"Hi." Slash said hesitantly as the relative stranger veered slightly to the left to walk around them.
"Can I help you?" Julia asked uncertainly.
"My schedule said that I'm supposed to be here." The young man said simply.
"Wait. I remember you." Slash said slowly, as he started walking back toward the gathering.
The young man looked at him vacantly for a moment, then turned his attention back to the group and forced the slightest, most superficial smile onto his face.
"I didn't realize you were included in this group... I completely forgot you... now isn't that diabolical?" Julia puzzled uncomfortably.
"Who are you, kid?" Matt asked sternly.
"My name is Brian, but I guess you and the Meerkats can call me Chesser."
To Be Continued...
Oh, now isn't that interesting?
He knew about the name Meerkats. I am not exactly sure if this is a case for the cliffhanger police, but we do seem to be stopping at a point where something important is about to happen. I hope we don't have to wait very long.
Darryl AKA Radio Rancher