Hurt & Comfort

Book 11: Creating Comfort

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Chapter 28: Due Change

When Lee, Seth, and Jesus could confirm that the B Team had finally left, Seth brought the Meerkats and the table of food back to the dining room.

"You know, once all the craziness is done, maybe we could go on picnics or campouts in the nygo-husk sometimes. It's kinda creepy and cool there. I bet it'd be fun." Louie said happily.

"I might have to camp out there if I can't find another place to stay." Steve said frankly.

"You don't have to worry about that. We have plenty of room at the boathouse. Everyone stayed there last night, so there's no doubt that we can find a place for you." Lee said encouragingly.

"That is, as long as sharing a room with someone who gets turned off and plugged into a charger at night doesn't creep you out." Seth quietly added.

"That's just you. No one else has a problem with it." Lee told him with a grin.

"All joking aside, I'll talk to Julia and make sure that you won't have to stay on couches and in guest rooms for more than a night or two. I will personally see to it that you will have a space that you can call your own." Ms. Mordigan promised.

"And if you think about it, we're all kind of in the same boat with you. We never even got to spend a night in our rooms before the shooting and everything happened." Beau said honestly.

"You don't need to be worryin bout that no more." A voice said from the doorway.

The group turned to see Matt entering the room with his teenage entourage following closely behind.

"Did you find who was shooting at us?" Beau asked hesitantly, not wanting to reveal what he already knew.

"We found some things. Those task force guys ended up with the actual shooter and his weaselly little partner. The one who put them up to it seems to have gotten away." Matt reported emotionlessly.

"So, does that mean that we're going to have to be looking over our shoulders all the time to see if she's got someone else going to shoot us?" Louie asked anxiously.

"Nope. I said that she seems to have gotten away." Matt said simply, obviously not wanting to expound on the subject.

"What should we tell the task force?" Seth asked cautiously.

"There's no reason you should know anything about it. I doubt that they'll ask. But it'd probably be best if you didn't volunteer what you know about her." Matt said with a pointed look at Beau.

"Peter?" Bobby quietly asked from over Matt's shoulder.

"Let it go, Bobby. He's gone." John said sympathetically.

"Perhaps not. The person before us appears to have exactly the same dimensions as Peter." Robert stated as a simple fact.

"This illusion or hologram does not register as having any mass nor does it have a heat signature." Trey said curiously.

"What do you say, Fallen? Are you ready for this?" Steve asked as he moved to Fallen's side.

"No. But that does not negate the need to face it." Fallen said solemnly.

"Damn skippy." Steve said confidently.

"Peter, is that you?" Bobby asked as he stepped around Matt.

"I am sorry. The person you knew as Peter is dead. What I am now was created using what was left of his essence that had been roaming the Earth without purpose." Fallen said in a low, regretful voice.

"It's you. I can see you. I can hear you." Bobby said as he took another step forward to stand directly in front of Fallen.

"Be that as it may, who I am now is not the same person that you remember. As nice as it might be to pretend, it would not be fair to any of us." Fallen insisted.

"Look me in the eyes and tell me that you're not my friend." Bobby dared him.

Before Fallen could respond, Bobby reached forward and pulled on the shroud to reveal what was hiding underneath... which was nothing.

"Where did he go?" Bobby asked as he released the edge of the shroud and looked around to detect where Peter had gone.

After a long moment, the shroud began to rise from the floor, once again appearing to drape loosely over Piotr's body.

"You're not really here? Am I dreaming this?" Bobby asked disjointedly as he stared in wonder, and a bit of fright, at what was happening before him.

"I cannot tell you that you are not my friend, Bobby. I would never wish to say that. I am simply doing my best to navigate my new situation. I would not wish for you to believe that things are as they once were." Fallen fought to explain.

"But you're still my friend?" Bobby asked to confirm.

"Yes, Bobby. But please just try to keep in mind that things are not as they were before. Not only has my situation changed, but so has my physiology. Without particular pains and hungers to drive me, my resulting decisions are bound to be different." Fallen fought to explain.

"Do you want for us to stay away from you?" Clark asked hesitantly.

"No. I simply want for you to understand that I will not be able to pick up where he left off." Fallen said urgently.

"Who did this to you?" John asked darkly.

"I did." Beau said firmly.

"We all helped." Slash quickly added.

"You should have just let him rest in peace." John said with a disturbed look in Fallen's direction.

"If he were at peace, there wouldn't have been anything for me to do." Beau said simply.

"We didn't steal him from heaven, we saved him from becoming nothing." Seth hurried to explain.

"Please don't be angry at them for saving me. They didn't do this simply out of the goodness of their hearts. They had no reason to have anything to do with my spirit. The truth is, a member of their team was lacking the training and skill to effectively use her mutant ability. By giving my spirit a physical form, they have given me the opportunity to perform a unique and valued service. Please allow me the time to adapt to my new circumstance. There is much that is still uncertain for me." Fallen said thoughtfully.

"I am interested to know how you were able to transfer Peter's thought processes into this fabric and further how you are able to animate the fabric to take on Peter's features." Robert said honestly.

"Do you believe in magic?" Beau asked simply.

"I can't say that I understand it, but I've seen the application of it with my own eyes, so yes, I believe." Robert said frankly.

"Then you have your answer. I did all of it by way of magic, plain and simple." Beau said seriously.

//It was neither.// Jesus interjected.

"But the explanation is." Beau countered.

//I suppose.// Jesus relented.

"It doesn't matter what you say, you hurt our friend. We can't let you get away with that." John said as he flicked his lighter and brought forth a small ball of flame into the palm of his hand.

"You don't want to trade fireballs with me. There would be no survivors." Beau quietly warned.

"Robbie, you need to leave now. It looks like we're about to throw down." Bobby said as he shifted to stand in front of Robert and the temperature around him suddenly began to drop.

While Robert took a few steps toward the door, he didn't go so far as to step through.

//If you don't start it, nothing will happen.// Jesus said simply.

"You already started it by yanking Peter out of his grave." Ronny said frankly with his fists balled at his sides.

"Guys, can you hang on just a minute? I think there's something going on here." Steve interrupted.

"This is kind of important, Steve. We're trying to figure out if you saved our friend or desecrated his spirit." Clark said seriously.

"It doesn't matter what we did or what you decide about it, we're probably going to end up in a fight. But what's bothering me right now is that I'm feeling something that I have no reason to feel." Steve fought to explain.

//You believe that someone is empathetically manipulating us?// Jesus asked cautiously.

"Yes. And when you put it that way, I think I know who it is." Steve said frankly.

//Quite right, Steven. Your former teammate, Ermenegildo, seems to not want you to leave his team.// Professor Xavier said slowly.

"Yeah. It feels like him, except that he usually isn't this subtle about it." Steve said speculatively.

//It appears that he was attempting to influence your groups without anyone, be it telepath or otherwise, noticing his manipulation.// Professor Xavier said more assuredly.

"When I felt my anger growing toward John and Bobby, I knew that something was wrong. I've never felt anything but admiration for both of them and I have no reason to be mad at them." Steve finished timidly.

"Your former teammate must be a very good friend to you to take such a risk on your behalf." Fallen said slowly.

"Actually, no." Steve said simply, then explained, "Herman's never cared anything about me. I think that he just doesn't want for things to change. Maybe he's afraid that if I leave, that the whole team will come crashing down, because we were barely holding together before."

//It's okay Professor. I can block him if you want. I just didn't notice him there before.// Jesus said confidently.

//I will leave it in your capable hands... or forepaws, as the case may be. Meanwhile, I will take the opportunity to reevaluate the dynamics of the B Team.//

"Please don't be too hard on them, Professor. They're just afraid of change." Steve said anxiously.

//Perhaps. But change is sometimes necessary. When a system becomes ineffective and stagnant, change will erupt to dislodge whatever is blocking progress, a mutation if you will.// Professor Xavier helpfully explained.

"Were you waiting for this to happen?" Steve asked curiously.

//I was waiting for something to happen. As we were saying earlier, if you attempt to force things to happen before their time, no one is better off for it.// Professor Xavier said sagely.

"So, how you doin, Pete?" John asked awkwardly.

"I am called 'Fallen' now. Please, let the person who I was be at rest. The person who I am now, will continue forward on the new and unlikely path that I've found myself on." Fallen said carefully.

"So, you're okay?" John asked hesitantly.

"Many things are uncertain, but of those things that I am aware, I am content." Fallen said carefully.

"You know that if you need us, we'll be here for you, right?" Bobby asked gently.

"Yes. I know. Likewise, if you should have need of me, I will be willing to help." Fallen said carefully.

There was a long moment of awkward silence, before Ms. Mordigan hesitantly asked, "Matt, am I to understand that the danger to the students has been eliminated?"

"Eliminated, yeah. That's right." Matt said shortly.

"So there's no reason we couldn't take the students back to the Wagner Institute right now, is there?" Ms. Mordigan asked in a leading tone.

"None that I know of. Last I heard, Julia and Kurt just about have the gas leak fiasco sorted out. I'm not sure if the task force guys have released the crime scene yet, but I can't think of any reason for them to keep it locked down now." Matt said speculatively.

"Don't forget about Lisa. We didn't tell her when we got here." Louie said quickly.

//Lisa, we got sidetracked when we arrived. Would you like to come upstairs to the dining room or would you like for us to bring you a sandwich?// Jesus asked carefully.

After a long silent moment, Jesus said to the group, //She's on her way up.//

"Ms. Mordigan..." Matt began to say when he was interrupted.

"Please, call me Mad. Remember?"

"Yeah, Mad, the original plan was for my guys here to attend classes with the new students to help them adjust to being in a new place in an unfamiliar situation. But since the new guys have been able to come together as a team and accomplish their goals, do you think that there's any point to them all being grouped together now?" Matt asked curiously.

"Yes. I'm aware of the academic accommodations that Julia was planning. While there may not be the anticipated need for your Junior X-Men to handhold the Meerkats while they're at school, I believe that both groups have the same need for education that can best be achieved by keeping them together." Ms. Mordigan said thoughtfully.

"Good enough." Matt said easily.

"So what are we going to do now?" Clark asked cautiously.

"If any of you are hungry, you could go ahead and eat. Lisa should be joining us shortly. Then, when everyone has finished, we could go as a group to the Wagner Institute and find out what we can do about accommodations for the members of the team who aren't already settled in." Ms. Mordigan said decisively.

{Come on.} Louie whispered, then took Quaid by the hand and led him to the table.

"You can't possibly be hungry again." Lee said incredulously.

"Yes I can." Louie said simply, then proceeded to load a plate with food.

"Looks like y'all had best get in there before the new team eats it all." Matt said with a chuckle under his words.

John was next in line behind Quaid, but the non-Borg members of the 'Junior X-Men' were soon to follow.

"You don't have to eat?" Robert asked casually as they watched the others going through the service line.

"No. I have no mouth... or stomach." Fallen reluctantly admitted.

"Do you have to regenerate periodically to recover your expended energy or repair damage?" Robert asked curiously.

"I do not know. I have only existed in this form for approximately an hour. There is much that I have yet to discover." Fallen said quietly.

"Trey and I don't have to eat either. If you start feeling too different from your teammates, you can spend time with us if you like." Robert said seriously.

"It's too soon for me to make any such decision, but I will keep your kind offer in mind." Fallen assured him.

"Did you leave any for me?" Lisa asked as she walked into the dining room.

"You'd better hurry." Beau said as he glanced at the table.

"Even though he wouldn't admit it, I think Marc was needing to get some rest." Lisa said as she walked up to the table and took a plate and silverware.

"That works out, then. As soon as everyone is finished, I can drive you back to the Wagner Institute so that we can sort out what everyone will be doing tonight." Matt said seriously.

"Aren't you going to eat?" Ronny asked as he stepped away from the table.

"That snack earlier took care of me. I'll pick up something later." Matt said simply.

Ronny looked down at his sandwich and considered for a moment, then placed his plate on the table.

"You should go ahead and eat while you've got the chance." Matt encouraged him.

"I'm not really hungry. I was just going to eat because there's food. It's best if I don't pick up that habit." Ronny said seriously.

"Fair enough." Matt said simply.

* * * * *

"Even though things are kind of messed up, at least you won't have to be looking over your shoulder all the time, worrying that someone's going to shoot you." Slash said quietly.

"That's not how things work. Just because Lavinia Loomis is out of the picture doesn't mean that the contract has been rescinded. Sooner or later someone else will take it up." Beau said frankly.

"That's no way to live." Slash said sympathetically.

"These are the cards that I was dealt. I can either play them or live in fear, hiding from everyone and everything for the rest of my life." Beau said a bit sadly.

"And here I thought I had it bad being thrown out on the street when my mutation came out." Slash said frankly.

"You fought your battle and I fought mine. We both did what we had to and survived. That's it." Beau said wearily.

"Well, at least now we can face it together." Slash quietly offered.

"Yeah." Beau grudgingly agreed.

* * * * *

"If everyone's done, why don't we pile into the bus so that we can get this show on the road?" Matt asked as he did a quick head count.

"You don't have to drive us. We can meet you there." Seth said happily.

"Yeah. And we can take your guys with us too..." Steve easily volunteered, then thought to ask, "...can't we?"

"Yeah. That's no problem." Quaid confirmed.

"Is that alright with you?" Matt asked Ms. Mordigan cautiously.

"I will need to gather my test books and drive my car back to the institute. But I've traveled with the group and found it to be exhilarating." Ms. Mordigan said pleasantly.

"If you're comfortable with it, I've got no problem." Matt said easily.

"Is everybody ready to go?" Quaid asked as he looked around.

"What are you going to do?" Trey asked cautiously.

"We call it 'hell surfing'." Seth said simply.

"Don't worry about it, Trey. It's just a way for us to get from one place to another. Give it a try and if you don't like it, next time you can travel another way." Lee said reasonably.

"If you find this method of travel to be adequate, then I am certain that I will as well." Trey said confidently.

"If anyone isn't up to a ride in the cube, I'm going to be driving over. I wouldn't mind some company." Ms. Mordigan said as she looked around the group.

"Is this going to be dangerous for Robert?" Bobby asked with concern.

"I know that hell surfing bothers Slash a little bit, but he just closes his eyes and seems to be alright with it." Lee said honestly.

"This sounds like something that I'd like to experience with you." Robert said with a timid smile.

"No danger, right?" Bobby asked as he looked Lee in the eyes.

"No danger. I promise. He may be your boyfriend, but he's my grandson." Lee said firmly.

"Ready?" Quaid asked uncertainly.

"I need to drive the bus to Wagner's, so we'll have it when we're ready to go." Matt said seriously.

"I'll walk you out." Ms. Mordigan said with a smile in his direction.

"Anyone coming with us?" Matt asked as he looked back at the group.

When no one answered, Matt turned to leave as he said, "We'll meet you at Julia's office. Remember not to go to the dorm until the task force okays it."

"We'll meet you there." Ronny confirmed as he watched Matt and Ms. Mordigan go.

* * * * *

"Meerkats, stand tall." Quaid announced.

Several people moved to be closer to Quaid as others stared at him uncertainly.

"That means to get into formation so that Quaid can put a cube around us." Slash quietly explained.

"Why didn't you just say that?" Lisa asked as she moved in a bit closer to the team.

"It's just like the battle calls we planned before. It's a way of telling you what we're doing without telling the bad guys." Seth explained.

"Is everyone ready?" Quaid asked as he looked around.

"Do it." Lee said with a grin.

"Double team cube!" Quaid called out as he spread his arms wide.

Lee took one last look to confirm that everyone was in place before calling out, "Welcome to hell!"

Rather than pass through a doorway, this time the doorway enveloped them.

The fiery sky illuminated the sandy hellscape as the cube lurched forward.

"That way." Lee said as he pointed.

"Hang on!" Quaid said as he launched the cube into the air at high speed.

"To what?!" Clark squeaked.

"Close your eyes and it's just like standing still." Slash said quietly.

When Clark looked at him, he saw that Slash was calmly standing facing forward with his eyes firmly closed and didn't appear to have a care in the world.

Clark closed his eyes and consciously fought to maintain even breathing.

* * * * *

"I'm gonna try something!" Quaid yelled excitedly.

"Holy shit!" Ronny yelped.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Seth screamed.

"What's going on?" Clark asked, fighting to keep his eyes closed.

"Rest assured that you are better off not knowing." Trey said with a note of concern under his words.

"He's skipping us like a flat rock across a lake of lava." Robert said in a voice that was obviously fighting to sound emotionless.

"Hey! Check this out!" Quaid shouted, then Clark heard multiple gasps, yelps, and a distinctive scream.

"Lisa? Are you alright?" Beau asked with concern.

"I'm fine. That wasn't me." Lisa responded quickly.

//Is it too late to catch a ride with Matt or Mad?// Jesus asked in a quaking mind/voice.

"Yeah. They're part of our team too, we shouldn't make them feel left out." Steve said anxiously.

"Quaid, you might want to think about saving the more adventurous maneuvers for when you've got passengers who want to be scared half to death. When you've got people who are sensitive to high speeds or radical stunts, you might want to show your respect for them by restraining yourself a little bit." Lee gently suggested.

"Okay. As long as we can go hell surfing some other time for fun." Quaid said thoughtfully.

"Just say when." Lee promised, then thought to add, "And maybe we can bring one or two people along who honestly want to have their wits scared out of them."

"Yeah. More is better." Quaid easily agreed.

"How much longer till we get there?" John asked as he looked around, seemingly trying to see everything at once.

"Five minutes or so. Quaid diverted us a little so he could do that rooster tail." Lee answered simply.

* * * * *

"This place we are going, it is the new school for mutant education?" Fallen asked curiously.

"It's for anyone to get an education. They let regular people in too." Lisa explained.

"I doubt that I will be required to attend classes since I am no longer 'of the living'." Fallen said honestly.

//I'm a rat and I'm going.// Jesus said frankly.

"Do you have to take tests and earn your grade?" Fallen asked curiously.

//Actually, we haven't been to any classes yet, so I don't know what they're going to have us do.// Jesus said honestly.

"Whatever it is, maybe you could do it together, so you don't get too bored while you're waiting on Louie and Lisa to finish their stuff." Seth said seriously.

"Once everything else is settled, I can see about having one or both of you helping me as the liaison between the two schools." Lee said with a grin at them.

//That sounds like it might be interesting. I've never thought about getting a job before.// Jesus said slowly.

"Were things to develop that way, I believe I would not be disappointed." Fallen added seriously.

* * * * *

"Hold it here for a second. I can't see a spot where we can materialize a group this big without landing on top of someone or something. We may have to go to the gymnasium or find some other large secluded open space." Lee said thoughtfully.

"Or I could just move us to the sideways." Seth said simply.

"Yeah. You could do that, then I could make a doorway so we can walk right into Julia's office, if you want."

"Do you want me to put us down here?" Quaid asked uncertainly.

"Yeah. This is good. We're in the reception area outside Julia's office." Lee said as he looked around with glowing red eyes.

"We're down." Quaid said seriously.

The cave where they found themselves bore little resemblance to the administration office, or anyplace else that had been formed by human hands.

There was smoke in the air that made it impossible to see more than a few feet in the milky white light of Quaid's cube.

"Going sideways." Seth announced.

No one had any complaint. They had all had more than their fill of the hellish scenery.

With a burst of light from his horns, Seth relocated the group from inside the cube to the nygo-husk equivalent of the reception area of the administration office.

"Who wants to go and make sure that Julia has time to see us? I need to stay and watch the door." Lee asked seriously.

"I have to stay so you'll have light." Seth quickly added.

//One of the 'official' students should go. Even though Julia has been good to us, Fallen and I shouldn't be the ones to ask her for favors.// Jesus carefully added.

"I'll go." Lisa said easily, then thought to ask, "But can you give me a couple minutes to talk to her before you appear?"

//Just let me know when you're ready for us and we'll be there for you.// Jesus assured her.

"Do you want to phase in, or would you prefer a doorway?" Lee asked helpfully.

"Whatever's easiest for you." Lisa said gently.

"Seth? Do you want to?"

"My pleasure." Seth said with a grin, then a brief pulse of light emanated from his horns. When the pulse faded, Lisa was no longer with them.

* * * * *

The girl behind the reception desk, obviously a student worker, jumped at Lisa's abrupt appearance, apparently from nowhere.

"Would Doctor Hoffman be available to see me for a few minutes?" Lisa asked hopefully as she noticed the girl's name badge.

"I don't know. She's been kind of busy with the emergency earlier. What was your name?" The girl, Kira, asked uneasily.

"Lisa Brogan." Lisa said pleasantly.

Kira pressed a button on the phone, then said, "Doctor Hoffman? I have a Lisa Brogan here who would like to speak with you. Will you be able to see her?"

"Lisa is here? Please send her in." Julia said with obvious concern.

"Doctor Hoffman will see you." Kira said as she gestured toward Dr. Hoffman's door.

"Thank you." Lisa said as she stepped away from the desk.

* * * * *

"Lisa! How is Marc? Is everything okay?" Dr. Hoffman asked with concern.

"He's fine. He's improved a lot and he seems to be in a good mood about things." Lisa said happily.

"Oh good. I was worried." Julia admitted, then cautiously asked, "So what brings you here at this particular moment?"

"Everyone who was still testing with Ms. Mordigan stopped for lunch and that's when we heard that the task force has the people who shot Marc in custody. Since it should be safe for us here now, we thought that we'd come back and see what you wanted for us to do next." Lisa carefully explained.

"I only heard from the task force a few minutes ago, so I haven't really had time to plan anything in regard to your group." Julia said frankly.

"That's okay. Before everyone else comes in, I wanted to take a minute to tell you how much I appreciate what you said to me in my interview. The best future I could possibly see for myself was to be someone that Marc could be proud of. My entire self depended on his perception of me."

"I take it that you've had a change of heart about that." Julia said warmly.

"In just a day I've gone from being a cardboard cutout of a person who only takes up space into being someone who can think and decide and change things." Lisa said joyfully.

"I'm glad to hear that." Julia said honestly.

"And to top it off, Marc is as happy as I am about how things have changed. He said that the changes that I've been through are what he wanted for me when we were talking about going to school together." Lisa said with a smile at the thought of her boyfriend.

"You can count yourself as fortunate. Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone who is supportive of their growth." Julia said honestly.

"I don't know how I got so lucky, but I'll do my best to see that neither of us regret it." Lisa swore.

"Just remember that I'm here for you if you need to talk about anything. I'll do my best to help you uncover your options so that you can make an informed decision." Julia said slowly and sincerely.

"I know. Even though I've still got a long way to go, I wanted to thank you for pointing me in the right direction."

"It was my pleasure." Julia said with a smile.

"If you've got time right now, the guys are here so we can go ahead and decide what we're going to do next." Lisa said enthusiastically.

"Although I haven't been officially notified that the crime scene has been released, I suppose that we can make the assumption that it will be available soon." Julia said consideringly.

"Are you ready for the guys to join us?" Lisa asked hopefully.

"I can't think of any reason that we should wait. Yes. Ask them to come in." Julia said pleasantly.

"Jesus? Julia's ready for you." Lisa said into the air.

//Lee is going to open the doorway into the inner office. There's no reason to frighten that poor receptionist more than we already have.// Jesus said seriously.

Lisa chuckled, then said, "I didn't think of that. Good idea."

Julia watched curiously as a hole seemed to burn through reality, leaving a more or less rectangular doorway, rimmed in flames.

The fire and hint of sulfur in the air inspired Julia to ask, "Would you mind if Kurt joined us for this discussion?"

"That'd be great." Slash said enthusiastically, then quickly added, "If Mr. Worthington or Mr. Wainwright are here, it'd be okay if they joined us too."

"I get the impression that they prefer for their investment to be 'hands off' as much as possible." Julia said pleasantly, then pressed a button on her phone before saying, "Kurt? The students that were testing at the Xavier school are back. I thought you might want to be involved in deciding what happens next, since circumstances seem to have changed."

"Yes, Doktor Hoffman. I vill only be a moment." Kurt immediately responded.

"Before we get too into things, Steve has joined the Meerkats and if there's a way to do it, he's going to need a place to stay." Lisa said in a rush.

"I'm rooming with a member of my old team right now. If I try to go back there it's probably going to be really uncomfortable." Steve said weakly.

"That is, if he doesn't just turn you to stone." Seth said frankly.

"Well, yeah." Steve reluctantly admitted.

There was a gentle ::bamf:: as Kurt appeared beside Julia's desk.

"See? That's how you do it." Quaid said with a grin at Lee.

Lee arched an eyebrow at him, then without any indication that he was going to do so, Lee disappeared in a ::bamf:: and reappeared a second later on the other side of Julia's desk, just a few feet from where he had previously been standing.

"You haff meine ability? If you vould like, I may be able to show you some zhings you haven't zhought to try." Kurt said hopefully.

"I've had my ability for nearly thirty years, but I've only intentionally tried to use it in the past week. If there's anything you're willing to teach me, I'd be happy to learn." Lee said appreciatively.

"Vonce ve haff zhings sorted for zhe students, ve vill see about a time to train." Kurt assured him.

"Before we do that, we're going to need to decide what we're going to do about sleeping arrangements for tonight. While it looks like the male dorm will be available, we still need to see about having the broken window replaced and another room opened up." Julia said seriously.

"Fallen's going to need a room, too." Seth quickly added as he indicated the shrouded figure at the back of their group.

"Piotr? Ist zhat you?" Kurt asked anxiously.

"I am a ghost. I am called Fallen."

"From what I made of it, what was left of Peter was scraped together and put into that sheet. That's not him like he was before, but it's what's left of him." Ronny explained.

"Thank you, Ronny. I believe that is the best explanation of me that I have heard to date." Fallen said gratefully.

"If we were to room Fallen and Steve together, then we could room the other two new students in the remaining room on the third floor. That would leave us with the fourth floor available as other new male students arrive." Julia said speculatively.

"New students?" Clark asked cautiously.

"Yes. Last week we announced that we were accepting precollege students regardless of whether or not they had a mutation. The students here are the first, but they certainly aren't the last. We're expecting three new students to arrive later today, two boys and a girl."

"And you said that there are two more rooms on the third floor?" Seth asked in a leading tone.

"Yes. Rather than have unused rooms serving no good purpose, we decided to wall them off until they're needed. The task force already agreed to allow us to open the hallway, provided that we didn't disturb their crime scene. As far as I know, the workman may have finished with that by now." Julia said informatively.

"So, what do you want us guys from Xavier's to do? I mean, you're kind of paying us to help the new guys." Bobby asked cautiously.

"From what I've seen, you've done a stellar job so far. In one day, the new students have not only formed a variety of good solid relationships with each other, but they've also banded into a rather impressive team... are you still calling yourselves the Meerkats?" Julia asked with a smile.

"We haven't come up with anything better." Lisa said frankly.

"I, for one, wouldn't want you to. I find it whimsical." Julia said warmly.

"How do you want us to handle it with the new students?" Slash asked slowly, seeming not to be paying close attention to the current topic of conversation.

"My first instinct is to tell you to do your best to be good roommates. The Meerkats can help them in their 'off-duty' hours and the 'helpers' that we've recruited can help them at school. But until you have a compelling reason to do so, don't bring them into either 'extracurricular' group. I'm not saying that they can't join you at some point, I'm only recommending that you not automatically assume that every precollege student will automatically become part of your teams." Julia said seriously.

"I belief zhat Doktor Hoffman is correct. Zhere vill be more zhan enough opportunities for zhem to choose how zhey vill make a contribution. For now, ve vill help zhem to be comforted and secure in zheir new homes." Kurt said decisively.

"I've been told in the phone interview that one of the boys, his name is Curt, is somewhat androgynous. I haven't seen for myself, but I wanted to mention it to hopefully forestall any difficulty that might result as a consequence." Julia said carefully.

"He hasn't met the other new students yet, has he?" Slash asked cautiously.

"No. Not that I know of." Julia quietly answered.

"Well, if it looks like there's going to be a problem, we could switch things around so that he rooms with me. I don't have any problem with the androgynous thing, and I might even be able to help him if he's having any trouble dealing with it." Slash said frankly.

"If you want to just room with him, I'll room with Buell. Let's face it, unless I go out of my way, he won't even remember that I'm there." Brian volunteered.

"You already know what's going to happen, don't you?" Louie asked Brian curiously.

"I can see lots of possible futures." Brian said seriously, then added with a grin, "When it comes to Buell, most of them aren't very interesting. It sounds tailor made for me."

"So Marc and Beau get their room. Louie, Jesus, and Seth get their room, Slash and Curt get Slash and Brian's old room, Brian and Buell get the first new room which leaves Steve and Fallen in the second new room... is that right?" Quaid asked as he looked around.

"That sounds right. Plus you and I can hell surf into school every morning." Lee said happily.

"That is going to be great!" Quaid said happily.

Julia smiled at his reaction, then said, "And since we only have one new female student, she'll get her own room, next to Lisa's."

"What's her name?" Lisa asked with interest.

"Bethany... and just so you know, she's a low-level empath with absolutely no training. Be on the lookout for that." Julia warned.

"Let me know if you need any help with it. I've been shielding myself from an empath for years. I've gotten pretty good at it." Steve volunteered.

//I can help you with it too.// Jesus added.

Lee smiled at the confident words, then looked at Julia and declared, "No need to worry about us. The Meerkats can handle it."

The End

Editor's Notes: It seems to me that Meerkats can handle a lot.

I get such a rush every time I see a new chapter, I start to get goose bumps, which I guess are better than being goosed or Gostov, of Gozoontich or however you spell it.

Fallen seems to be getting along pretty well, considering how different things are for him, now that he can communicate with people currently occupying this dimension.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher