The Future is Wyld 2:
To Be, Or Not To Be, A Horse, Of Course

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/F
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

The afternoon that Ginny and SnapShot left to enjoy the woods alone, somebody new was arriving at the school. A cab pulled up, and a massive Clydesdale stepped out, carrying a single battered suitcase.

"Thanks," he said in a deep voice, pulling out his fare and quickly handing it to the driver. The Cat in the seat counted it up with a scowl, then peeled out, turning around and heading back for town as the Horse turned to the fences in front of The Jurnix Institute for the Gifted.

"Well," he muttered to himself, "here goes nothing!" With that, he approached the gates, and looked to see if there was a camera or speaker he could find.

Instead the gates opened of their own accord, at least as far as he could tell, and a powerfully build Eagle swooped down to hover over him, her icicle blue eyes crackling with power.

"Welcome to The Jurnix Institute for the Gifted." Her voice rang with thunder on the clear blue day. "I am Surauli, Charles."

Instead the gates opened of their own accord, at least as far as he could tell, and a powerfully build Eagle swooped down to hover over him, her icicle blue eyes crackling with power.

"Welcome to Jurnix School for the Gifted." Her voice rang with thunder on the clear blue day. "I am Surauli, Charles."

"Ch-Charlie Kincaid," he said quickly, backing off a little, startled. "Uhm - I called a few days ago, about coming out here?"

"We are expecting you," the avian seemed to smile, though it was hard to tell. "Follow me, Professor Jurnix is ready to see you." She instructed and shifted her wings to make a comfortable walking pace for him towards the main house of the mansion complex.

The chestnut stallion followed, keeping a respectful distance from the eagle, and the power she controlled, as they approached the main building. All the way, his eyes darted back and forth, taking in every detail he could, more than a little curious at how completely normal the place looked. Not a single indication was visible to any of his senses that this was a place mutants lived.

"Quiet," he mused, looking towards the main house. "Nice place." He wondered if any of the other students were around... or anybody else, really. Of course, as big as this place looked, they could all fit with plenty of room to spare, most likely.

He was about to give up when he caught a gray equine face looking down at him from the third story. He could all but feel the intensity of the scrutiny, a weight on his mind and down his spine as he was judged from the distance.

He smiled at her a little, glad to see her there. Still... it was strange, that pressure. Was she some sort of a mind reader, or something? Whatever it was, it remained as she returned his smile until they could no longer see each other when he entered the building. Only a moment later did he feel it go away.

Shaking his head a little, Charlie shook off the feeling, and hurried up a little to catch up with Surauli, who was now walking with an unearthly grace befitting her rumored status as a goddess.

He was led threw the building, a very normal looking mansion with the expected costly furnishings and artwork and to a rather unassuming looking carved wooden door. SHe opened it and motioned him in to go face to face with the leader of this place, the bearer of the dream that had shattered all the odds and created a center for mutants.

"Welcome to my home, Charlie." Professor Jurnix smiled at him, a curling of his long foxish muzzle.

 "Hello, Professor," the Clydesdale said politely, smiling back as he shifted his case behind him a bit as the Foxbat stood to greet him. "It's good to meet you."

"I am pleased you chose to come here," Jurnix extended an amazingly frail looking hand with it's wing draped behind it. "I am sure you will learn a great deal here, as well as find a home."

"That last one is what appeals the most," Charlie admitted, taking the foxbat's hand in his own far larger one and shaking it gently. "It's been awhile, since I really had much of one."

"Please sit," he motioned to a chair large enough and settled into a much smaller one himself. "I am sure you have questions until Samantha arrives to show you around. She is the Percheron that was watching you earlier.

"Thank you, sir," Charlie said, sitting down with a smile. "I noticed her before ... probably just my mind playing tricks on me, but it felt almost like she was looking straight through me," he chuckled sheepishly.

"She has that effect sometimes," he chuckled lightly. "It comes with being second in command of the student body. She takes her duties very seriously. She has a gift similar to yours, as well."

"Another shifter, sir?"

"Yes, and well into her studies." He nodded with an encouraging smile. "She should be of good resource for you, and I hope a good friend as well." He paused. "If you have a taste for Lion lovers, I would advise staying clear of Sandy and Kris however. They are quite aggressive about their status as mates."

"Lovers, sir," Charlie asked, looking at him with a surprised expression. That clearly wasn't something he'd been expecting. "Uhm... I'll keep it in mind, sir. Are Sandy and Kris two of the other students?"

"Yes, the first to come here." He nodded easily. "Sandy Reshol, or Mar as she also goes by, is in charge of the other students when necessary. You shouldn't notice it much, but it is expected that you follow her orders if she gives them, just as if an instructor had."

"Understood," the stallion nodded. "Not that I expect it to come up, but within reason, right?"

"Of course," he nodded with a reassuring, if slightly harder smile. "Both were selected because they have excellent leadership qualities. I have never had a problem with their behavior, but if it comes up, I do want to hear about it."

"Thank you, sir," Charlie nodded. "Like I said, I don't think it'll come up, I just want to make sure I've got my bases covered. I've had some... less than reasonable arrangements, before."

"You will not find them here." The Foxbat said simply, the brown globes of his eyes flashing just slightly. "I value willing cooperation and desire to be here and do what is right far more valuable than spending energy forcing it on others."

"Prof?" A deep female voice came with a polite knock on the door.

"Come in Gaia." He called out to her in his much higher pitched voice.

"Yes, sir." The large dapple gray mare opened the door and stepped in, her large blue eyes falling quickly on Charlie with a smile.

He smiled back genuinely, mentally noticing her striking eyes, his own brown ones meeting them. "Nice to meet you, Gaia."

"It's good to finally have another equine around here." She grinned. "There is a serious overabundance of hunters in this place." She extended her hand with a friendly smile and teasing tone in her voice.

"Well, it looks like you've been holding your own," Charlie chuckled, standing up and taking her hand, shaking it with a winning smile. "I've heard about the Lions, any others I haven't heard of yet?"

"Well the Prof here is a Foxbat," she nodded to him with a teasing grin. "Preferred diet aside, he's got the teeth. Our primary teacher is an Eagle, Medical is run by a Fox and Cat, and the youngsters of the place of a pair of canines. We are it for the herbivore stock."

"Not that you stick to plants that much," Jurnix chuckled, teasing her back.

"Yeah, but there's something to be said for not being the only person around who used to be a walking dinner buffet," Charlie grinned.

"You said it," she smirked a bit and caught his hand. "Come on, I'll show you your room and around the place. It's a big area."

"I noticed on my way in," he grinned following behind her. "Definitely not like the city!"

"No," she grinned back and swished her thick tail provocatively before they left the office under the amused eyes of Tamerin Jurnix.

"This place is *huge*," Charlie chuckled, as he and Gaia finally got back to his room after the tour. "Man!"

"Yeah." She grinned. "The Prof likes his luxury, and his space. That and he's not plans to be able to take in hundreds just at this campus."

"Yeah." She grinned. "The Prof likes his luxury, and his space. That and he's got plans to be able to take in hundreds just at this campus."

"Maybe it won't feel like a completely different planet when that happens," he chuckled. "It's gotta be amazing living here."

"It's pretty cool," she smiled slightly and settled on the bed. "It's really nice to be able to shift when I feel like it and not freak everyone out."

"I just tried to stick to alleys," Charlie chuckled. "Hey, if you don't mind my asking, how much can you shift? Just a couple other forms, or pretty much anything you want?"

"I'm pretty versatile, though I haven't managed more than a 15% change in mass." She explained easily and stretched her arms back, displaying her full chest a bit more. "The Prof things I'll manage more in time, but that's to be seen."

"Cool," he smiled, sitting down next to her on the bed. "So... we expected anywhere soon?"

"Dinner's in an hour, but it's not a formal event." She grinned a bit shyly. "It's only on Sunday night that we all need to be there at the same time for the weekly review and next week's schedule."

"Cool," he repeated with a grin. "Mind if I ask a couple questions about this place? Jurnix threw me for bit of a loop back there," he admitted, chuckling a little.

"Not at all," she smiled encouragingly. "And don't worry, he does that to everybody."

"Well, probably not the same loop he threw me for," Charlie smiled at her. "I don't know, but I was just pretty surprised when he mentioned that I'd have to be careful if I had a taste of Lions as lovers," he chuckled. "Not the sort of thing I'd expect a teacher to mention."

"Oh, that," she laughed lightly. "I think you can thank our new canines for that. They arrived separately, but Ginny hadn't been here an hour before they were an item. That was just last week."

"So I guess I'm getting the newest version of the new student orientation, huh," he asked with a grin, chuckling a bit. "I guess I just figured that if anything like that happened at a school, the teachers would be doing anything they could to keep from encouraging it. Then again," he grinned again, "this is anything but a normal school."

"It's only a school because of what we do here, which is learn." She smiled softly. "We're really a community, and he wants us to be happy. Not being silly about sex is a big part of that with a bunch of teens on site."

"Yeah, I guess it would be," he grinned, leaning back a bit. "Guess that would explain why I haven't met the two pups yet, wouldn't it," he asked with a wink.

"Yeah," she laughed lightly, tossing her long creamy main. "They're 'camping' at the moment. Which with those two is basically a way to play for three days and not irritate everybody. Naked SnapShot doing his invisible speed thing into the kitchen for munchies can be cute, but it's messy."

"Somehow, I get the feeling that a movie camera set to record faster would get some priceless shots," Charlie snickered slightly. "So he's super-fast then?"

"Oh, believe me, it has." She winked with a grin. "And yes, he's our speed demon. Cute little fifteen-year-old Border Collie with the constitution of a hummingbird on speed."

"There are *so* many off-color comments I could make that I'm going to keep to myself," he smirked. "Sounds like everybody around here's seeing somebody except you and me," he said, seemingly just pondering the situation.

Well, up to last week, only four out of eight of us had somebody." She flushed slightly under rich gray fur. "Now it's six of ten, or eight out of ten?"

"Suppose that depends on whether or not you want it to be eight out of ten," he smiled softly at her. "I know I wouldn't object."

"It'd be nice to have someone to sleep with." She blushed a little deeper. "It's been a long time since I've had a boyfriend, or girlfriend for that matter."

"You, uhm... like both?"

"Yeah," she chuckled softly. "I'm mostly into het sex, but my first shift was actually a gender shift. With a girl, I just tend to wear a male form. Though I have to admit all that softness is nice to snuggle with."

"Yeah, it is," Charlie nodded with a bit of a smile. "Though there's something to be said for another guy too. Sounds like we've got similar tastes," he blushed slightly, though his chestnut-colored fur hid it well.

"And similar default forms," she smiled and shifted closer.

"Not exactly the same though," he chuckled, turning a bit and touching her side gently. "Of course... some of the differences are *very* nice...."

"Yes," she lifted a large hand to comb threw the thick black mane that fell forward from his ears and down his neck. "Very nice." She leaned close to nuzzle him. "The fun two shifters can have in bed."

"Oh yes," he rumbled, nuzzling her neck, slipping his arm around her to rub her back. "Even if you stick to normal things," he winked, kissing her lightly.

"Is this mood going to hold till after dinner?" She asked softly, a bit uncertain.

"I think so," he smiled softly. "Assuming you're still up for it."

"Yeah, I will be." She kissed him gently. "It's just a very short time to play and shower and still make it to the table in time not to be snickered at. I have some dignity to maintain, unlike the speedster."

"Making snack runs in the nude... yeah, I'd say his dignity was shot to hell by hormones," Charlie chuckled, caressing her cheek softly. "It can wait... should I call you Gaia, or Samantha? I never checked which you preferred," he admitted.

"Gaia," she smiled and closed large blue eyes for a moment to control her own long ignored hormones. "It just seems more me."

"Okay," he smiled, rubbing her back. "Gaia it is."

"So let's get to dinner before they start to wonder what we are up to." She giggled softly and reluctantly stood. "Come on, the food is seriously good here."

"Okay," he chuckled, standing up to follow her. "Lead the way!"

Charlie looked around at the incredibly well appointed dining room, and took a seat near Gaia. He smiled a bit, appearing to be trying to be polite, but really wondering if anybody had caught them in the halls on the way there.

"Don't worry about it too much." She smiled back and whispered. "I'm not going for keeping it a total secret or anything."

"Keeping what a secret?" The Red Vixen nurse asked with fixated curiosity at the new couple.

"Who needs telepaths when there are sharp ears," Charlie chuckled a bit, blushing slightly and letting Gaia decide how much to say. He just wasn't any good with this sort of thing.

Gaia just roll her eyes. "That I finally got my wish. A handsome male equine enrolled."

"It's got to be some kind of bug." She shook her head with an amused laugh. "Now it's just Surauli and the Prof."

"Says who?" Sandy broke in as she and Kris sat heavily next to each other.

"Oh come on, those two?" Gaia made a face. "No way."

"Why not?" The Lioness smirked back, knowing she had no answer.

"Stranger things have probably happened," Charlie chuckled. "Especially around here, I'm sure."

"But those two have got to be the most not sexual people in the place." Gaia protested weakly.

"Where are the pups?" Kelly asked, her long, fluffy white tail whishing as she settled next to her girlfriend.

"I think Gaia said they were out camping or something," Charlie said, thinking back.

"Those two are out alone?" The Lioness stared hard at him, then Gaia. "We'll *never* get them back."

"Who says that's a bad thing?" Kris smirked a bit, then snapped his mouth shut as the Eagle and Foxbat entered the dinning room together with sharp eyes on everyone.

"It is good to see you made it, Charlie." Jurnix smiled at the newest member of the school.

"Thank you, Professor Jurnix," the Clydesdale smiled back, nodding politely. "It really is an amazing place you have here, with people to match."

"Thank you," he inclined his long head slightly as the two senior members of the staff sat down. "I am pleased you are enjoying things so far."

"Very much, Sir," he agreed as a parade of serving trays loaded with foods of every nature came out of the out-of-view kitchen without anyone holding them up. The Clydesdale tried to keep from looking too surprised, but he couldn't help some degree of shock at the display. That hadn't been something he'd been expecting though, thinking about it, he should have been. After all, they were all at the table.

"Very good, Sandy." Jurnix nodded approvingly at the Lioness when the last dish was set down.

"It's real informal once the food gets here," Gaia grinned at him and snagged a large bowl of mashed spiced squash near her. "Everything gets passed around, take what you want, ask for seconds and whatever."

"Okay," he grinned, collecting a fairly modest plateful, at least for his size. Even so, he had a fairly good sampling of the various fruits and vegetables offered.

"Vegetarian?" Gaia asked curiously, her own plate heavy with ham, three kinds of fowl and roast along with the plant foods.

"Easier on the stomach," he explained with a bit of a chuckle. "Don't mind meat, just takes a little more work."

"Ah, you haven't gotten the omnivore's digestive track," she nodded understandingly. "For me, meat and pasta are an easy way to keep up with the energy demands of shifting."

"Not without making it," he nodded. "Energy's not as big an issue for me, really. Hasn't been yet, anyways."

"You might not shift the same way," she half shrugged. "Actually, it would be a bit of a surprise if you did. I don't *have* to eat what I use, but if I don't, I always feel like I'm starving."

"And that is *definitely* not fun," he nodded. "You're right, I probably don't. Be kind of surprised if anybody around here did the same things the exact same way, really. Too many things that'd have to happen the same way."

"Well, the two telekinetics that brought out the food seem to think they do," Gaia commented absently as she downed another large glass of milk that was quickly refilled by a floating pitcher. "And several of the other mental ones seem to, or at least enough that they train the same beyond practice, practice and more practice."

"Point," he chuckled sheepishly, starting in on his own meal. "Many people around here have mental-based powers?"

 "Well, Mindwalker there is a telepath and telekinetic, among other things," she nodded politely towards the Foxbat with his plate full of bright fruit. "Ms. Sanders is an empath, Sandy is an empath, telekinetic and can do these cool psi-blasts no one's figured out, and I'm a telepath." She finished easily.

"Guess I'll have to watch what I think," Charlie chuckled a bit. "Just kidding," he added quickly.

"Nah," she smiled reassuringly. "We stay out of other's minds unless invited, or there's an important reason."

"Okay," he smiled back. "Figured that was the case. I'm guessing that's the normal policy with using your skills around here? Only with some sort of warning, if they could end up throwing people off?"

"Pretty much," she nodded. "Mostly it's drilled into the telepaths. Our main restriction is not to impersonate anyone when we shouldn't."

"Okay," he nodded. "I'll keep it in mind. Shouldn't be a problem; not really into that sort of joke. More trouble than they're worth."

"Especially around here," she nodded seriously. "If a psi doesn't catch you, the truth will. We're a small community, even when the school is full."

"Yeah," he nodded. "And when it catches up with you, it's not easy to fix things up."

"Not usually," she nodded with a look that said she'd be asking for details later. "But other than not doing anything anti-social, we're encouraged to be ourselves and use our Gifts as much as possible."

"Okay," he smiled, nodding again. "I have a few tricks that make things easier; good to know I can use them here."

"Oh?" Gaia raised a curious eyebrow. "Care to share with another shifter?"

"Sure," he nodded. "Not sure if it's something you can do, but I can manage non-living objects with a bit of work. Never needed a tool belt," he chuckled, holding up a finger that quickly shifted to a small screwdriver, then back, shimmering silver and liquid as it did so. "Handy trick sometimes."

"Oh man, I bet it is," her eyes lit up. "I've never tried that before. I can make myself look like a rock or something, but I can't usually get the properties right."

"Uh-oh," Sandy groaned softly, "here we go again."

"Sush," Sandra snapped at the much larger female.

"It's okay," Gaia chuckled. "I usually manage the worst timing, where she's concerned."

"To get interested in trying something new?" Charlie chuckled a little, nodding knowingly. "Actually, I can't change the properties too much either, internally, without a *lot* of work. The outside's not too hard though. Kinda the same principle behind making fur."

Gaia thought about that a bit, her eyes connecting with Jurnix's for a long, silent moment as Sandy groaned around her meat-intensive meal.

"Here they go again."

"Don't worry," Sandra smiled at the male equine. "They're just *thinking* about what we are again."

"Okay," he nodded, watching with interest as he took the opportunity to eat a bit more. "They do that often?"

"Some weeks more than others," she nodded with a light chuckle, then raised an eyebrow at Jurnix before nodding and falling silent, much more of her concentration required to stay with the silent conversation than it took the telepaths, where were still eating and clearly awareof their surroundings.

"Mostly it's when new folks show up and they have new pieces to the puzzle." Kelly picked up for her coworker and girlfriend. "It's not usually at the dinner table, however." She regarded the three curiously.

"Hope I'm not *that* big a surprise," Charlie said, watching them with much the same expression. "Any idea when they might let us in on what they're thinking?"

"Either when they decide on something, or when we drop enough hints that they're being a bit rude." She snickered softly. "Usually it'll be a few days before I hear much."

"Okay," he chuckled. "Well, as long as they don't decide I need to be dissected I should be fine."

"No way," Gaia flicked her ears back, looking directly at Charlie. "We don't do that kind of thing here."

"Sorry," he said, blushing sheepishly. Well, at least he knew they could hear what was going on now. "in bad taste, I know."

"So's talking silently at the dinner table," she ducked her head slightly.

"True," Jurnix inclined his head slightly. "I do apologize for that."

"No biggie," Charlie smiled. "Probably a good way to talk about that sort of thing without leaving folks like me completely baffled."

"Or get really weird looks in public," Gaia grinned mischievously.

"Probably," he chuckled. "Of course, sometimes the weird looks are fun."

"Oh, yeah." Kris finally spoke up, though his mouth was still half full of roast, earning him a piercing glare from Surauli.

"Well, they can be." Gaia giggled in his defense.

"Especially the stunned blinks," Charlie chuckled.

"And baffled double takes," Sandra piped in with a wide grin on her face. "Nothing says 'it's a strange day' like seeing a Fox fly."

"With the possible exception of watching a Horse walk into an empty room, and a Cat walk out," Charlie chuckled. "Though yours would probably throw more people off."

"That's a good one," Gaia snickered. "Very effective for loosing a tail too."

"Not to mention winning costume parties," he winked. "Haven't had too much need for the other one."

"I haven't managed anything that looks false enough to be a costume," she said thoughtfully. "And that makes you lucky."

"Probably does," he nodded, a bit more serious now. "I've managed to keep a fairly low profile, for the most part."

"That is a good thing," Jurnix finally spoke up, though it was clear that the general consensus agreed with him.

"Yeah, it can save *so* much grief," Kris nodded seriously.

"Cops are *so* not fun to deal with." Sandy added with a bit of a shudder. "MPs are worse."

"Erff," Charlie said, shuddering a bit himself at the thought. "Yeah, I bet they are."

"That's another plus for this place," Gaia said softly. "When you need the help, you've got it any kind you need."

"Yeah, take care of our own." Sandy rumbled with the fierce family possessiveness of her kind.

"You have any trouble with them out here?"

"Nah," Gaia shook her head. "But sometimes when where out in the real world trouble finds us."

"I'll bet it does," he nodded. "Well, it goes without saying, but I'm in with the rest of you."

"It's good to have you too," Sandy cracked a welcoming grin that was almost warm, for a Lion to a Horse.

"Thanks," he smiled back, nodding gratefully.

Later on, after dinner, Charlie and Gaia were back at her room as soon as they could manage. As the door closed, he turned around and ran a hand along her back, kissing her gently asshe turned into the contact and closed her arms around him. He returned the embrace, kissing her again, a bit more aggressively this time as he rumbled deep in his chest.

"Such an eager horsy," Gaia grinned and squeezed his ass, pressing her ample bosom against his chest.

"Like you're any less eager?" He grinned back at her, his hands roaming her back as his tail swished behind him. "I seem to remember you making the first move before dinner, after all."

"Mmm, and you look no less delicious for it," she rumbled and pulled him back, onto her large bed for a playfully tussle that landed her on top of him, straddling his hips.

"Now who's eager," he asked with a chuckle, leaning up to kiss her playfully. "Mmm... who're you in the mood for, gorgeous? I seem to remember you were interested in playin' around the way only we can," he winked.

"First time I always like birth-forms," she grinned down at him and rubbed her hips over his swelling groin, enjoying the feel of the stiffening flesh contained within cloth. "Games are better when we know each other better."

"That works for me," he rumbled, reaching up and starting to rub her side through her t-shirt. "You like riding on top, beautiful?"

"Depends on how strong you are," Gaia grinned down and slid her fingers around his, locking their hands as she pushed him down.

"Is that a challenge, gorgeous?" He let her keep pushing his hands back until he was sure, though he didn't give *too* much ground, leaving himself a chance if it was.

"Definitely," her eyes glittered in eagerness. "To take me, if you can."

"Only one way to find out," he grinned, starting to twist to one side, but then reversing himself when she tried to counter it. He quickly realized that whatever else she did here, true combat training was part of it. She simply grinned down at him, countered every move and kept him guessing as to just how to get her under him.

He focused more, though his grin only became more determined as he pulled out a few tricks he hadn't tried yet. His tail flipped up between their legs, brushing between hers as he twisted again, trying to figure out some way to best her.

He was nearly ready to consent that it was her victory when he felt her shift, an opening to roll her over if he moved fast enough, an opening he took as quickly as he could, grinning as he rolled on top of her, pinning her down.

"You're good," he rumbled, kissing her quickly as he straddled her and felt her body go submissive under his.

"A lot of practice," Gaia grinned up. "It comes with the territory."

"And here all I did was play in school," he smirked, kissing her again possessively. "Those clothes real, babe, or part of the skin?"

"They're real," she chuckled with a smirk that said she could win if she really wanted to. "You'll just have to take them off the hard way."

"Just checking," he rumbled, shifting a hand to knead her breasts through her t-shirt. "Thanks for the win, babe," he murmured sheepishly, leaning down close before licking her cheek lightly.

"Mmm, just make it worth it and you'll get a lot more," she arched into the contact shamelessly. "Toys are in the nightstand drawer."

"Oh, I'll make it worth it," he grinned. "Wonder what sort of toys a girl like you has?" He kissed her again, sliding his hands down and under her t-shirt, working it up gradually as she moaned softly and spread her legs between his.

"Lots of stuff to make playtime easier."

"Well I'll just have to take a look then," he rumbled, shifting down to kiss the dark gray fur he exposed as he slipped the shirt up, licking at her belly gently.

His nostrils flared at the intensity of her desire, so potent in his nose, and the quivering of muscle every place he touched with soft, manipulative lips. He pushed the shirt up above her sturdy bra, working at her breasts with his lips and teeth as he coaxed her arms up to slide the shift off of her.

Even with both hands and mouth, it was maneuver that really did require her cooperation, and despite her moans and squirming, she gave it in full.

"Gorgeous," he rumbled, shifting to kiss her as he tossed her shirt to the side. Broad fingers worked at her breasts, one hand sliding under her back, searching for the clasps as he kissed her deeply.

Gaia arched up, giving his hand room to move and bare even more of her fur to his lips and tongue. She shuddered as he nosed the loose bra up and over her ample breasts, feeling them settle to the side a bit and reveling in the sensations of having a lover again. He nibbled at her breasts, backing off to work her nipples with his lips as he reached back to open the drawer up.

He felt around, recognizing silken rope, a pair of handcuffs and several bottles easily, along with less identifiable objects.

"You've got a real collection," he chuckled, pulling the cuffs out. "These for you, babe?"

"When I'm down here they are," she grinned back up at him lustily.

"Good," he grinned, starting to fasten one of her wrists. "Don't want you trying to turn the tables now, do we? Any rules for what I'm not supposed to do?"

"I'll let you know if I don't like it." She promised with a grin.

"Okay," he grinned back, coaxing her hands up towards the headboard. "Just wanted to be sure." Once her hands were fastened, he kissed her again, trailing down her muzzle and neck, towards her pants, slipping a hand down to stroke her through her panties, inhaling her scent as she moaned and spread her legs wider, arching into his touch to rub against his fingers.

Charlie grinned, rubbing a bit slower as he shifted to strip her pants off with his free hand. Laying down next to her again, he slipped his fingers up and under her panties, tracing the swelling lips of her sex slowly to heavy vocal encouragement and her body's obvious desires. He slid her panties down her thighs a bit, spreading her lips with his fingers, teasing her clit before reaching down further to press a finger against the tight, hot entrance to her body. His lips worked their way down her body, as he listened to the sound of her moans, and pressed a finger just a little bit into her.

"Oh, yeah!" Gaia cried out, eager and hungry for the intimate attention. "Sink that thick horse cock into me."

"In due time," he grinned. Deciding that he'd teased long enough, he pulled her panties off and stood up, actually looking into the drawer and picking out one of her smaller dildos with a chuckle.

"Quite a selection you've got here," he smirked at her, rubbing it along the lips of her sex, then pressing it into her slowly. "You like being filled in both holes, gorgeous?"

"Not particularly," she admitted with a low moan.

"All right," he nodded, kissing her gently as he worked the dildo in and out of her for a few moments more. "Glad I checked." Licking her muzzle lightly, he left it buried inside her as he shed his pants, his stiffening shaft dropping from his sheath. He peeled off his t-shirt, then straddled her hips, leaning down to kiss her again as he pulled the phallus out of her, the tip of his taking its place.

"Ask when I'm a guy," she shuddered and thrust her hips up, seeking the fullness of a big male inside her again.

"I will," he rumbled, the deep sound turning into a groan as he pressed forward, his long, thick shaft slipping into her tight body slowly.

Gaia didn't give him the chance to settle in. She wrapped her legs around his hips and pulled him against her tightly. Her tail brushed against his balls, massaging them as her internal muscles worked on his cock. He groaned lustily again, starting to pull out of her, starting to thrust into her long and deep, shifting a little bit each time, letting her moans guide him to what felt best inside of her as the thrills of memory of being in the other's place shot down their spines, intensifying the experience.

After a few thrusts, he felt his shaft rub against the rougher surface of her g-spot, and he started thrusting faster, mating her hard as he licked at her neck between groans.

"Oh yeah," he moaned, his shaft throbbing with pleasure inside of her powerful body, squeezed and stroked by fine muscle control until she arched her hips up hard with a loud whinny. Her legs locked over his hips and held him tightly in place while her body fluttered and contracted tightly around the hard shaft deep inside her. He let out a matching whinny, spasming inside of her as he came, his fluids erupting into her tight sex, making the already slick passage drip with their joint pleasure.

"Keep going," Gaia moaned demandingly, only beginning to feel the full pleasures she knew she could reach. He obliged her without a word as he caught his breath, focusing on pounding himself deep inside of her, his chestnut-brown fur soaked with sweat, the air heavy with the scent of sex and desire.

Gaia's cry of pleasure overshadowed the opening of her locked door and Sandy walking in with a shake of her head and hungry look of her own.

"Oof," Charlie panted, slowing down for a bit as they recovered. "That has got to be some sort of record...." That was when he realized there was a slight draft from the open door, and looked over to see what was going on.

"I think we've got company," he said, grabbing for the blankets reflexively.

"Hi, Mar." She mumbled with a loopy grin.

"Yeah, he's good for you." The Lioness could only laugh and shake her head. "I told you you needed to get laid more often."

"That we managed," Charlie chuckled sheepishly, nuzzling Gaia's neck lightly.

"Obviously," the tawny feline smirked. "I would suggest showering, despite being late for class already."

"Oops," the Clydesdale observed sheepishly, noticing the clock as Gaia blushed brightly under her dappled gray fur. "We gonna get a little privacy?"

"Yeah, sure," Sandy smirked and turned to leave. "Just don't get distracted again, or it'll be the Witch coming for you, not me.

"Gotcha." Gaia nodded quickly and worked her well used body out of bed.

"Damn, you *made* of cum?" The Lioness blinked at Charlie with a decidedly interested look.

"Something like that," he said, blushing a bit as his form shimmered and a towel sprouted from his waist, making at least an attempt at modesty.

"You've got your own guy, leave mine alone," Gaia swished her tail challengingly.

"Right, but you've got the *versitile* one." She half complained with a last applicative look before leaving.

"Come on, hotshot," Gaia chuckled and grabbed his arm. "Time to clean up and get to work."

"Right," he chuckled, following her into the bathroom as the towel disappeared. "Wash your back?"

"As long as it's just my back," she smirked playfully. We really can't get distracted again."

"Okay," he laughed, kissing her lightly. "Just your back, promise!"

"Hope you didn't get into too much trouble for being late this morning," Charlie said sheepishly as he found Gaia in the immaculately groomed formal gardens after classes and training for the day were finished.

"Nah," she smiled and patted the soft grass next to her. "It's more embarrassing than anything. It doesn't look good for the second in command to miss class."

"I guess not," he chuckled, sitting down next to her. "Think we're going to have to turn on the alarm next time," he winked, relaxing a bit.

"Very true," she chuckled, her gaze on the natural world as crafted by the hands of people and the hand of nature beyond the walled landscape.

"It's beautiful here," he observed, looking around much as she was. "Spend much time out here?"

"As much as I can," she nodded with a thoughtful smile. "It reminds me of what I am. Made by nature, shaped by will, and a little bit of that wilderness no matter now it's tried to be tamed."

"I see you're in a philosophical mood," he chuckled a bit. "You're right though."

"This is more normal for me, though last night was a lot of fun." She leaned against him lightly and wound their fingers together. "I'm afraid I don't do the carefree and cheerful all that well as a lifestyle."

"Care to talk about why? I seem to remember you mentioning MP's last night."

She glanced at him, then shrugged. "Just am. Some folks are naturally cheerful, SnapShot for example, some natural leaders like the Prof. Me ... I'm introspective a bit too much." She leaned against him a little more. "It's helped a lot with my Gifts though. The shapeshifting requires a lot of understanding of self as well as other forms, and telepathy ... well, if you can't hold onto yourself, you're in a shitload of trouble when it wakes up and all of a sudden you've got dozens of people in your head all at once."

"Oof," he winced. "Yeah, I'll bet it would." He leaned against her a bit too, nuzzling her a bit. "Wasn't sure if it was just how you were, or if it was something that had happened. Y'know though, it suits you."

"Thanks," she smiled and relaxed. "Most folks find it annoying."

"Nah," he chuckled, kissing her lightly. "Not unless you start telling me to think about the sound of one hand clapping."

"I'm not *that* bad!" Gaia giggled and pushed him down on the grass for a rolling match that left him on top of her in a passionate kiss.

"That time," he smirked as their lips parted, "you didn't let me win." He kissed her again, just as passionately, rumbling deep in his chest.

"Showoff," she grinned and twisted him over with a sudden flash of wings and bright scales over a solid, reptilian frame.

"And *I'm* the showoff?" He grinned up at her dragon-form, thinking for a moment before deciding on the proper response. Shimmering for a moment, he shrunk and twisted, a smaller, four-legged cat form twisting away from her, onto its feet, and jumping up on her back before he changed back, his arms wrapped around her from behind, a broad grin on his muzzle.

It vanished a second later as his feel left the ground and he was suddenly facing her and in her arms over a hundred feet above the ground.

"Oh shit!" Charlie's instinctive response was to freeze, and he did for a moment, but then it occurred to him that it might be a good idea to make sure he was covered if her arms got tired. A moment's focus, and he sprouted a pair of his own wings, though he kept them close so he didn't disturb her own flight.

"How did you get this high this fast," he asked her, a shocked expression on his face.

"Putting body mass in the right place," she grinned at the now smaller male.

"Maybe I *should* have grabbed your wings down there," he grumbled good-naturedly, relaxing a bit as the initial panic left him.

"Wouldn't have helped much," she snickered. "I didn't turn around to face you, after all."

"Point," he chuckled. "Well, I'm not about to try racing you without a bit more flying practice, but if you're in the mood for a little playing around, I think I'm up for it."

"How about that flying practice," she grinned and began to let him go. "Because this is a fun way to play."

"Okay," he grinned back, spreading his wings and making a couple mental adjustments that were more internal than external, from what he remembered of the last time he'd tried more than just gliding. "Any time you're ready. Worst that happens is I glide until I get it right."

"And that's not too bad," she grinned and flipped her wings, putting several lengths between them in a single powerful beat that showed off just how huge her wingspan really was. "Lets start with circling the campus."

"Sure," he called to her, adjusting his own position and flapping his wings, gaining some height and quickly increasing his own wingspan to make it a bit easier. "Definitely too long since I've done this!"

"I never miss a week," she shot back and began her warm-up routine to give him something simple to follow. He did his best to do so, trying to keep up with her. Even with his inexperience though, it was fun, and he tried to remember why it was he didn't do this more often.

"Charlie?" Gaia caught him in the relative privacy of the free-for-all that qualified as their lunch break. "You okay?"

"Yeah..." he said, smiling a bit as he trailed off, trying to act like he was. It wasn't a very good act, and after the last week even he knew he wasn't fooling anybody. "No," he admitted with a sigh. "Not really...."

"Willing to talk about it?" She asked gently and resisted the urge to scan deeper into his mind than the surface thoughts she always kept tabs on with everybody.

"Willing... kind of. But I'm not really sure I can, yet. Have to sort some things out first."

Every mental alarm she had went off all at once. "Is it about us?" She asked softly, a little afraid of the answer.

"No," he said, shaking his head quickly. "Not about us... it kind of sped things up, but it's not like that." He reached out, brushing her cheek gently. "It's part of it... but not the problem."

"Something happened at that party, didn't it?" She leaned into the touch and carefully moved a little deeper into his mind. "Something went wrong."

"Yeah... kind of," he admitted. "Gaia... trust me, please?" As she looked deeper into his mind, she caught a jumble of emotions, not the least of which was self-disgust.

She bit her lip and nodded, backing out of his mind even as her worry increased. "There's nothing wrong with what we are, Charlie."

"Not with what y - right," he said, catching himself in the middle of his answer, but nodding slightly. "Gaia, I can't explain it right now ... but what's wrong probably isn't anything you could imagine."

"At this point, I can imagine a lot," she said softly. "None of us came here without a few bad encounters. We can help, if you let us."

"Maybe once I know what I'm going to do about it," he said softly. "It's more complicated than that... don't want anybody to get hurt."

She nodded slightly, her worry clear on her face. "Just don't do anything stupid, okay? Our strength is in our unity. We can handle a lot, the ten of us."

"Okay," he nodded, smiling a bit at being included, despite the twinge of guilt it inspired inside him. "Don't worry... I'll be careful."

"I'll worry anyway," she kissed him on the cheek. "It's my job."

"Well, don't worry too much," he smiled, the first genuine smile he'd had since they'd started talking as he kissed her back. "I'll sort it out eventually."

"Just don't forget you have friends here." She hugged him impulsively. "And don't let the teachers get used to this level of performance," she winked at him. "They'll expect it all the time."

"Want to make sure they'll keep me around," he chuckled, hugging her back awkwardly after a moment, though the feeling was real. "Sorry about all this, babe... didn't expect it at all."

"Everyone has their trials coming to terms," she smiled gently. "It'll work out."

"Yeah," he nodded. "It will... somehow."

"That is ridiculous!" Dr. Keller's voice was a furious counterpoint to her normal demeanor, something that snagged Charlie's attention quickly. "TGRI is out of their collective minds if they think they're fooling anyone with half a brain."

"I know, Sandra." Professor Jurnix's voice was much calmer, but even he seemed irritated. "But as long as it doesn't go into practice, it is not worth changing it."

"Don't we *want* them on the wrong track?" Gaia didn't sound too convinced.

"Them, yes." Sandra replied with of huff. "They're trouble any way you look at it."

"Or them." Jurnix nodded.

"Yeah, that one I met was creepy as all hell." Gaia shuddered.

Charlie slowed down, waiting near the door, listening intently. What was going on exactly? No use barging in without hearing things out first, after all.

"But this is getting published like it's for real!" Sandra snarled, a very unsettling sound coming from the usually calm and gentle Vixen.

"And like all false information, it will eventually be corrected." Jurnix tried to sooth her. "But for the time being, it is in our best interests not to challenge their claims."

"At least not until we're sure what they're up to, right Prof?" Gaia asked quietly, her voice conveying her distress clearly.

"Yes, Samantha." He replied gently. "The less that they realize that we are even aware of their existence, much less that they are a threat, the better our final position in the conflict will be."

Charlie decided it would be a good time to take the chance of stepping in. He knocked on the slightly-open door a bit, giving them a chance to tell him to go away.

"Come in Charlie," The Professor's calm voice welcomed him into the room, and he instantly wondered the wisdom of it when he saw exactly who Dr. Keller was called Firestar sometimes. The flame red vixen was truly on fire, white hot flames licking around her in a visible mirror to her rage.

Definitely not his best idea ever.

"Sorry, Professor," he said, nodding a bit. "I was passing by and overheard something about a conflict ... I think it's probably a conversation I should stay out of though."

"What do you know about TGRI?" Sandra demanded before he could really back out, and he received a sympathetic look from Gaia for it.

"Some genetics place, aren't they?" He frowned a bit, then nodded. "Yeah, think I heard some recruiter say they were trying to figure out what caused mutants."

Gaia actually flinched as Dr. Keller ramped up to a full steam rant.

"They are a company that is trying to learn how to *create* mutants." Professor Jurnix interrupted her calmly, then paused to let his words sink in. "In hopes of controlling us."

Charlie glanced at the flaming vixen and swallowed nervously.

"Glad I turned down that offer then," he murmured. "Trying to figure out what they're doing for sure before you call 'em on it?"

"They apprached you?" The Foxbat was now intensely interested in his newest resident. "What where you told?" He asked in a completely calm voice that was almost impossible to refuse.

Gaia stepped next to Charlie and slipped her fingers around his in a nearly protective gesture. "It's okay, Charlie. But if you know anything about them, please say it. They're one of the greatest threats to what we stand for right now."

Charlie licked his lips nervously, thinking for a moment. That did it. Now or never... and he didn't like that second option.

"Professor? Could we speak in private, please?"

The words weren't even completely out before Gaia had the doctor by the arm and was all but dragging the irate vixen out of the room, flames and all. The door shut behind them with a solid thud and the click of a lock.

"Have a seat, Charlie." Jurnix said gently.

"Thank you," he said, sitting down with a sigh. "You're not going to like this."

"Most likely," he nodded and relaxed into a friendly manner. "It is not, however, something that can not be overcome."

"I hope not," the Clydesdale nodded, swallowing a lump in his throat. "Not sure where to start here...."

"The beginning?" He suggested gently. "Or why you changed your mind."

"The beginning," he chuckled, closing his eyes and trying to remember that far back. "Mind if I shift to something a bit more comfortable? I'm getting used to Charlie, but it's not my normal form."

"Of course," he nodded with huge round eyes fixated on the shifter.

'Charlie' shifted, 'his' form turning into liquid silver for a moment, shrinking, the contours of the body smoothing out, curving. By the time 'he' was done, Charlie had been replaced by an older, smaller black-furred Cat. She opened her yellow-tinted eyes, and looked at Jurnix.

"Anastasia Reynard," she introduced herself quietly. "And I've been with TGRI as long as I can remember, in various capacities."

"I see." His surprise was evident, though closely controlled. "May I ask why you are telling me this?"

"I was sent to keep an eye on you here, what you were up to mostly. Simplest story... I couldn't do it. The longer I was here, the more disgusted I was with myself, especially when things started getting... complicated," she said, lowering her eyes a bit.

"Samantha," he nodded slightly. "What do you wish to do?"

"Not going back to TGRI, that much is certain. Not sure what would happen to me, but I know it wouldn't be pleasant, especially since I wasn't made, but actually compromised a mission willingly. As for what I would like to do ... that's up to you, in a way. I like it here, and want to help as much as I can, but I can understand why you'd want to throw me out on my ear, or just turn me over to Dr. Keller."

"The doctor has a temper, but she is less of a danger than she looks," he actually chuckled softly. "You are welcome to stay, under the same terms as Charlie." He said simply. "As for the other students and staff, I will leave it up to you how you wish to explain this to them, but they will know."

"Understood," she nodded. "Professor ... can I have the chance to tell Gaia? I think she deserves to hear it from me."

"I would prefer if you told everyone yourself," he regarded her firmly. "But you are right that she deserves to hear it in private. I expect it will not be the most pleasant evening you have shared with her."

"Far from it," she nodded, closing her eyes for a moment. "I'll find a way to tell them. If it makes a difference, Sir, I never told them anything they didn't already know."

"I doubt there is much you could tell them of this place that is not largely public knowledge among those familiar with mutants." He told her gently. "This does raise a point a prefer to avoid, but given the seriousness of your former alliance, I need you to open your mind to me."

"I will," she nodded. "But be careful. Some of the things in there aren't pretty, especially if you go far enough back. Training can be brutal for people expected to go into field work." She tried to relax internally, letting down the shields she'd been trained to try and keep up, though she had a feeling they wouldn't even slow him down. Most of them had vanished when she returned to her normal form.

"I understand," he nodded simply and slipped easily into her mind. While careful and polite, she had no doubts about just how complete his investigation of her mind was.

It seemed like only an instant and he was gone, his expression grim as he took the feline in full measure.

"Do you wish to know the truth of your past?" He offered quietly.

"Where I'm from? I think so," she nodded, trying to remember what - if anything - she'd been told before, and coming up with nothing.

"You were born to an employee of TGRI just over thirty years ago." He began gently. "When it was discovered you were a mutant, and I would presume when your parents refused to turn you over, they were removed from the picture so more company friendly people could adopt you. Much of the next few years were suppressed for your own sanity." He admitted quietly. "You were a test subject before you were an agent."

"I shouldn't be surprised, about the last part." Se said softly. "I wasn't the only one ... is there any way to find out who my birth parents were? It'd be nice to know what my name was supposed to be, if nothing else."

"It will take some time and a few discrete inquiries to the right people," he nodded with a gentle look for her. "But I gathered enough in your mind to find out."

"Thank you," she nodded. "I hope you found something useful. Is there anything else?"

"I strongly recommend you eat and rest before you attempt to talk to the others. It has been a long day, as you will likely realize soon."

She looked at the clock on the wall with a startled look as she realized it was over seven hours later, late evening.

"All right," she nodded. "Any suggestions for how I answer any questions in the meantime? I'm sure there'll be some." She shifted again, her body growing back to Charlie's size and shape in preparation for leaving his office.

"There will not be." He said simply. "I will call a meeting of everyone here tomorrow after dinner for you to explain things. I will trust that you speak with Samantha before then."

"Yes," he nodded. "I will. Thank you, Professor."

"You are welcome, Charlie." He smiled with a slight nod. "Welcome to the school."

The next morning, Charlie was up early, trying to figure out how to say what he had to. After an hour of chasing himself around it and not coming up with anything that was any better than what his thinking the last night had given him, he crawled out of bed and got dressed. Best to take care of the worst part early.

Stepping out of his room, he walked slowly towards Gaia's, trying his best to fight back the nervousness he was feeling. He'd gotten himself into this ... time to face the music.

Pausing, he reached out to knock lightly on her door, hoping she was awake. He felt the pulse of a telepathic probe, more clumsy than her usual, then her sleepy voice called out for him to come in. He opened the door quietly, walking in and closing it behind him. He licked his lips as he saw her lying in bed, trying to wake up, wearing a nightgown he'd never seen before... not that that was hard, he hadn't seen many of them.

"Morning," he said, smiling weakly.

"Hay handsome," she smiled back, still a little bleary eyed. "Finally came out of hiding, I see."

"Had some thinking to do," he admitted, pulling up the chair from her desk and sitting down. "Sorry to wake you up."

"I's'okay." She mumbled and rubbed the last of the sleep from her eyes even as she made a promise to herself never to take a sleep aid again. "Up for talking about it now?"

"Yeah," he nodded slowly. "Gaia... you're not going to like it. And I'm sorry."

That brought her fully upright in the bed, her large blue eyes fixated on him. "Given you are apologizing, it can't be that bad."

"You might be surprised," he said softly. "I ... fuck, I don't know how to say this. I'm not really who you thought I was ...." He trailed off, trying again to figure out how to say that Charlie didn't even really exist without hurting her too badly.

"Not really," she murmured, though the pain of knowing was bright in her pale eyes. "I just didn't want to believe it."

"I wish I could say it wasn't true, but I don't want to keep lying like this. Gaia ... whatever I've done, I want you to know that I do love you. That wasn't a lie."

She took a deep breath and nodded. "There some advantages to being a telepath, and some sucky drawbacks. I know Charlie loves me," she paused, trying to find the right words, "but how long will Charlie be around?" She dropped her eyes. "I've done the new personality for the new body thing too. I know it doesn't always translate over."

"This did," he said softly. "It got through, even though it wasn't supposed to. I shifted back before... usually, I've dropped it like that, nothing more. But this time, it's sticking. If you want, I could keep Charlie around for a long, long time; that was kind of the idea, even before this."

"So who's the core?" She took a deep breath. "That's who's going to be there, in the end."

"Description," he asked softly, "or you want me to change back?"

"All the way back," she nodded firmly, though inside she wasn't nearly so ready for it. "Mind too."

"All right," he nodded, swallowing hard and then shifting back to the feline form that had spoken with the Professor the night before. Charlie's mind, at least most of it, seemed to fade somewhat, leaving Gaia looking at a very nervous black Cat who looked almost half-again as old as she was.

"This is me," she murmured, watching the equine's response carefully.

"At least I don't have a problem with girls," Gaia said, trying to gain her composure a little better and actually *look* at her lover's real form and mind. "Or Cats."

"Good to know," she smiled weakly. "The name I use like this is Anastasia," she added. "If you're going to poke around in my mind ... just be careful, please. I know there's some stuff if there that's not pretty, and according to the Prof, it only gets worse in some places."

"Just the surface," Gaia chuckled a little. "If the Prof was in there, and you're talking to me, I don't need to go any deeper to believe." She paused with a sigh and patted the bed. "Come on, we taking the day off."

"Can't take the full day," she said ruefully, standing up and moving towards the bed. "He wants me to tell everybody else later on.... Thank you, Gaia."

"*That* is after dinner," she said firmly. "Now where's my horsy?" She added almost playfully, though there was no doubt she was serious.

"Right here," Anastasia half-chuckled, shifting back into Charlie and laying down next to her, reaching out to rub her shoulder gently.

Gaia slowly relaxed and pulled the big Clydesdale against her. "I know you didn't sleep much last night."

"Not really," he admitted, wrapping his arms around her. "Had a lot to think about. I have a feeling you weren't sleeping well either, to be out as late as you were."

"Took a sleep aid," she yawned and snuggled in. "Still messing with me."

"Okay," he said softly, snuggling up to her as well, nuzzling her lightly. "Sleep well, baby," he murmured, holding her close, his own fatigue catching up with him.

"Charlie ... Anastasia," Gaia nudged her equine-form lover gently late in the afternoon. "Awake?" She asked unnecessarily from well- trained habit.

"Yeah," 'he' nodded blearily, waking up the rest of the way quickly, shifting to look at her.

"Is there a reason you never asked about birth control?" She continued softly.

"Yeah," he said quietly, once the question had registered. "My body isn't really any more normal than it has to be most of the time, so I'm sterile in any form, as far as anybody can tell. Maybe I could shapeshift so it was possible, but that's way beyond what I can pull off so far."

"Ah," she nodded and nuzzled him gently. "I shifted so I couldn't get pregnant. It's a nice trick for now." She pulled him close for hug. "Eventually, I'm sure we can figure out a say, if you want to."

"Maybe," he smiled a bit, hugging her back and nuzzling her neck. "Honestly, never thought too much about it. Nothing I could do about it, and it would have been a serious problem if it had happened.... Why're you asking now?"

"Cause I just thought of it." She chuckled weakly. "Most guys ask at some point if I stay with them long enough to exchange names."

"Sorry, I just don't usually think about it," he admitted sheepishly. "Kind of a hole in the act, I guess, but it wasn't because I didn't care. Just not an issue for me, so...." He shrugged a bit, kissing her lightly.

"Not too big a hole." she chuckled softly and returned the kiss. "At least with me. Since it didn't concern you at all, it never showed up in your mind, so I never thought of it either."

"Guess not," he chuckled, relaxing a bit. "Doesn't bother you then?"

"No," she smiled a little shyly and ducked her head. "A thought just crossed my mind about just what our kids might be like, with two powerful shapeshifters as parents. It could be pretty impressive."

"Yeah," he smiled softly. "It could be. Assuming we could keep track of who was what," he chuckled. "Same could probably be said of anybody's kids around here, really. I mean... I have *never* run into this many people who were this powerful in the same place," he admitted, shaking his head slightly.

 "We are just the beginning," she promised softly. "The Institute is the answer to the anti-mutant hatred out there should it come to blows, or money. If all else fails, are prepared to succeed from the normal nations and defend our own under laws that recognize what we each are."

"That's not going to go over well," he said softly, closing his eyes for a moment as he imagined the response he knew would come from some quarters, "even if it doesn't come to secession. Especially not with places like TGRI." He sighed, swallowing a bit as he remembered what he still had to do.

"It would never go well," Gaia replied quietly but firmly. "Even if we stayed separated and fell to them one by one, it would not go well. We are a minority, a very feared minority, and like every one before us, we must stand together until society catches up with our existence and accepts that we are here and we are not going to be second class citizens or a slave population by accident of birth." Her tone grew harder as the words came out. "I am willing to do this so my grandchildren will know a society that is not divided."

"I understand that," he said quickly, "and I agree. I just... I know some of what we're up against. It might not end up getting that far, with the official governments, I don't know what'll happen there, but I do know that we're already thought of as a threat... hell, I might have just moved up any plans they had," he sighed. "Times like this I wish I knew more about what was going on around me."

"We know." She murmured gently and held him tight. "But it is this, at least to die in the attempt to win true freedom, or fate all our kind, the one who can not fight especially, to the fate you suffered." Gaia sighed softly. "It's not an easy thing to explain, but we do *know* much of what is going on." She dropped her eyes slightly with a slight sound. "There are places and ... things ... in this compound you haven't met yet. Hell, there are a few *I* haven't been privy too, and I'm second in command."

"As much a military base as a school," he guessed. "At least if need be?"

"Something like that," she nodded a little uncertainly. "I do know that Jurnix is willing to do *anything* he has to to ensure our future. Peaceful is preferable, war ... if we have to, we will be ready. We are not going to face the fate of the groups before us, suffering centuries of prosecution before gaining a legal right to exist free."

"No idea what they're getting into," he murmured softly, sighing a bit. "Not you," he corrected, realizing that he'd said it out loud. "Not anybody here, but if push came to shove, as far as I'm aware, you wouldn't have to worry seriously about anybody but the major governments being able to put up a serious fuss. If they tried taking this place on, even with only what I know about now, TGRI would be completely outclassed. That's one good thing at least, I guess," he said, smiling weakly.

"We ... there are groups that are a true threat to us," she admitted quietly. "Though to my knowledge, both that Jurnix considers capable of destroying his vision are other mutant groups. Places like this one, but without any intent on a peaceful settlement. If you end up on the strike team, you'll be meeting them personally." She shuddered slightly in memories both too fresh and far distant.

"Idiots," he sighed. "Terrorist sorts, mutants of the same level here? I'm not sure, but if I can keep my cover going, I *might* be able to find out something more about them that could be of some use. If they're even half as well-known as this place, then they're probably on file somewhere."

Gaia chuckled softly, though it was a rather dark sound. "If they have anything we don't, I'll be very frightened. Jurnix has been at this for over eighty years. We have good cause to be prepared for war, and we know their names and abilities. I've fought many of them myself."

 "Eighty - how old is he?" Charlie asked in disbelief. "I mean ... *maybe* he forties, but ...."

"Yeah, sometimes we live a long time," she nodded quietly. "I'm likely all but immortal, you may well be. He doesn't age much. At least not yet."

"Kinda figured that would be the case with us. Only as old as we want to be, something like that. Didn't expect it with him... guess he's just full of surprises," Charlie chuckled slightly, shaking his head ruefully. "On the other hand, that does provide the time to make things happen."

"And witness events and plan for them properly." She nodded. "Some are even older. Our biggest problem is, oh, I think Charon dated it back to medieval times."

"Immortals screw everything up," Charlie muttered darkly. "Who's Charon? Somebody else here?"

"Watch who you're calling trouble," she pouted teasingly. "And yeah, you could say that."

"Okay, manipulative immortals," he amended, chuckling slightly. "And Gaia? Even SnapShot could've recognized that as a dodge. Is it one of those things you don't really know, or something you can't tell me?"

She worried her lips a moment before shaking her head. "Both, really. It's something downstairs," she said as if that explained it all. "Technically, I don't really know it exists. I just know it's really powerful, and the Prof has spent most of his life working on it."

"That would be big," he nodded, frowning slightly. "And I understand, babe. If you don't even know about it, then it's definitely on the 'things I shouldn't know about' list."

"Yeah," she nodded and nuzzled him. "It helps us on missions and stuff. I think it's a machine, or computer of some kind, but Sandy says it's Magic."

"Could be both," he said softly. "Technomagic can do a lot of different things, from what I understand, which isn't very much. But the lines start to blur after a certain level of power."

 Gaia just stared at him for a long silent moment. "You're serious, aren't you? Magic really is real."

"I suppose it could have been some sort of mutation, but if it was, then the guy who was pulling rank on my trainers has one *hell* of a strange power," Charlie growled, an odd sound from his equine body. "Whoever he was, he had all sorts of things he used when he didn't think anyone was looking, that helped him keep things running just the way he wanted them."

"Shit." She hissed, a sound utterly at odds with her normal language as she reached out for Jurnix with her mind and got a quiet metal nod from him that a few people did indeed know magic, but many who looked like it were really mutants. "Oh, this is so not good."

"Why? What difference does it make how they do something, except that there's some extra flexibility? Honestly, I'd rather try taking him on than Jurnix," Charlie pointed out. "I mean - you go after somebody who needs to use some sort of spell or gadget, they have to have some time to get it working, at least most of the time."

"Why," Charlie asked, frowning a bit. "I mean, what difference does it make how somebody does something, except maybe some flexibility? Even with that, it takes time to cast a spell."

"It's called an extra variable in an already extremely complex equation that has very serious implications for the entire world and everyone on it." She shook her head, then nuzzled him. "On a level, it's not something you need to worry about. It's only really a concern for those of us trying to change the future from where it's headed now. More variables are a *bad thing* in our line of work."

"That I'll give you," he admitted. "I'm used to thinking of things in more immediate, practical terms. Somebody with an extra trick is only a concern until you know how to stop their trick. I've only seen one person who could do things like that, so I doubt it's very common. He seemed pretty proud of that, honestly."

"I don't doubt it. It has to be very hard to learn to a practical level if it's so rare." She considered it for a moment. "Or it requires a talent ... a mutation almost ... to be able to learn in the first place."

"Could be both," he pointed out. "This guy was real big on bloodlines and training. I was useful, but the ones he was really interested in were the mutants with families, and the people who'd been with the company for a couple generations."

"I'm not surprised," she nodded. "Jurnix said that mutants have been around as long as people, it's just that it's only recently that there have been so many of us, and that we weren't considered something ... I think he called it 'not mortal'. Like in the old days we were there, but supernatural creatures, not people."

"Any science you don't understand is magic," Charlie agreed. "Or at least something like that. The thing that worries me most about it is that, if this crackpot was serious, then he's been around for centuries. If that sort of lifespan is normal for people who can use magic, life gets *really* interesting."

"Yeah, though there can't be *that* many immortal-types running around. Not with politics the way they are."

"Forget politics," he chuckled darkly, "I don't think they'd ever get anything done, at least not the ones like him. They'd spend eternity arguing about who got to run what for how long, then over whose fault it was that they spent so much time arguing."

"That bad?" Gaia snickered, then nuzzled his long dark mane. "Still ... does he have any telepaths on staff?"

"Empaths, they're where the most success has been," Charlie explained easily. "There might be a couple weak telepaths on staff somewhere, but if there are I don't know about them, except for one of the stronger empaths. He's not really a telepath though, I think the term they used for him was telempathic. Now there's somebody who's freaky to have to deal with when he's upset about something."

"I don't doubt it," she nodded sympathetically. "What other powers are there?"

"I'm the flashiest mutant they have that I'm aware of," he explained, relaxing a bit to think about it. "There were some rumors that they were playing around with trying to 'modify' people to have more dangerous abilities, I had some training in shifting myself to different forms for no reason that I could find, so it could be that they were using me to figure out if something was feasible.

"Generally though, it was me, a few empaths, and people who were being recruited as test subjects, but weren't really operatives, at least not yet. They were having some success at creating empaths, that's why they had so many of them ... there was one guy who was fast enough that he could probably have given SnapShot a run for his money, but he was the only natural mutant I knew of who demonstrated abilities that were dangerous in a fight. The rest were pretty much biological polygraphs. If, for whatever reason, anybody ends up going into TGRI, they should watch out for a scrawny Cat who looks like he'd go through the roof if you said 'boo.' That's the telempath, Lyal. He's had the bosses on their knees sobbing before. I have a feeling I should be taking notes for when I talk to the Prof about this," he chuckled sheepishly, scratching the back of his head slightly.

"I'll sending him what you cover here." She chuckled and relaxed in his arms. "And considering I'll be the one going in if we strike the place, telling me isn't a bad thing."

"You'd have to be damned careful," he said softly, closing his eyes. "Lyal's not bad, he's broken. Unfortunately, that gives him one hell of a source to draw on when he has to. Not sure what he'd manage to do to you, you're strong enough he might not get through, but I don't think either of us want to find out I'm wrong. The bad news is, while I was fairly well-placed, it was only in my field. I could tell you what they had me learn to do for 'tricks,' but I don't know if any of them exist or not, outside of me."

"We're always careful," Gaia murmured and held him close ever as she forced her body to relax against his. "We have to be."

Dinner was an uneasy affair for both equines, each for their own reasons. Gaia kept looking at Jurnix, their conversation hushed and very private between their minds. Charlie mostly just tried not to think about what was coming when everyone was finished, and the displays Dr. Keller and Surauli had put on in his presence.

Especially not the displays - they made what was coming up harder, if it was possible. The draft-horse ate quietly, glancing around at the others, wondering how many of them would react the same way when they found out.

And how many of them could do similar things. He still wasn't sure what everyone could do, for all he had a decent understanding of their primary abilities. It was the doctor, the one who should have been the most committed to life, that worried him the most. Her response seemed so personal, so instinctive, it may not ever listen to reason.

Had she been mixed up with them at some point too, somehow? If she had, he could understand it, really.

He'd have an easier time of blaming her if he wasn't feeling so guilty about it himself. Well, one way or another, he couldn't work for them any more.

He'd just have to hope that everything went well.

As well as could be expected, at least.

At least on that side he had the Professor and Gaia with him. It could be worse, after all. Gaia had sure implied some things about this place that warranted the TGRI fears about them. And the two telepaths currently having a debate by themselves in this full room were nothing to be passed off as wimps. He couldn't help but wonder just what they were debating about. Not too hard to guess that it had something to do with this whole fiasco, but there was a lot of ground covered by that.

Oh well - when they were done, he'd have to face the music, somehow. Best to focus on trying to figure out what to say when that time came.

And how to say it. Abruptly his head shifted up, aware that Gaia was looking at him with that surreal edge to her presence that spoke of her more-than-normal status.

'*I think it is time, Anastasia.*' the equine's voice was directly in his head without every passing his ears.

 '*Ready,*' he thought back, not sure if she heard it or not as he got ready for things to get *very* awkward.

The entire gathering, students, team members and staff, all looked at Jurnix expectantly with the abruptness of being called to order by him.

"We have a very special event happening," the Foxbat began quietly and very seriously. "My dream has become a reality. One who followed our opposition has decided to join us for the freedom we offer."

He paused and inclined his heard towards Charlie, who licked his lips and nodded slightly.

 "That would be me," the equine said softly. "I was sent here by TGRI."

"Why you -" Kris growled from his seat next toSandy, his arm starting to shift to gleaming metal as he half-stood from his seat.

It was as far into the threat as he made it before telekinetics, telepathy and Sandy's stern order stopped him and sat him back down, calm and very compliant.

Charlie took a deep breath, both glad that Kris was the only one who'd reacted so far, and hoping that he'd be okay afterwards - hopefully a bit calmer, if nothing else.

"I was sent to figure out what sort of a threat everybody here posed to TGRI's plans, but I can't help them anymore, not after seeing what you're working towards here. I just hope I can earn back what trust I've lost - and really deserve it, this time."

His eyes darted over to the flame-red Vixen who had put on such a rage-filled display before and found her locking eyes with Jurnix and clearly upset by the flickers of red and orange around her.

The silence that descended was deafening, the looks exchanged a mixture of distress, relief and confusion.

"What's the big deal with them?" SnapShot finally piped up.

"They're trying to control every mutant they can," Charlie explained, watching the reactions of the others uneasily. "And doing a fairly good job of it. What you hear in the news is just what they think they can get away with people hearing about.

"They'd be perfectly satisfied if every mutant in the world was working for them, willingly or otherwise, and they're willing to do just about anything to see that happen, including murder, kidnapping, and brainwashing... I know for a fact that there are people there, under their control, who've been on the receiving end of all three." He took a deep breath, before dropping the last part.

"They think of Professor Jurnix, and this entire place, as being a potential enemy at best, and an active threat at worst... that's why they sent me here," he admitted.

"And they are quite correct." Jurnix inclined his head. "They are what we stand against, and likely our greatest threat at the moment. Charlie is a perfect example of why we must make a stand here ands now. We can not allow such people and places to control our future."

SnapShot chewed on that idea a bit before he nodded, winning an approving glance from several others. "They're who the Team goes out after?" He made a small motion towards the older students in general.

"Yes," Gaia informed him. "Them and others, though we mostly do rescue work, like when we found you." Ginny glanced at SnapShot, but didn't say anything, keeping quiet about the whole thing as she looked back at Charlie, who seemed glad to have most of the attention off of him for the time being.

"We have a target list now?" Sandy asked pointedly.

"Both rescue and removal." Gaia informed her simply. "It is not going to be pretty for some time. It's a long list."

"It's never pretty," the Lioness pointed out. "Which is longer?"

"I think this is where we think about heading out," Ginny whispered, leaning over to SnapShot.

"Not unless they make us," he grinned back. "I like listening to them plot."

"Okay," she nodded, sitting up and focusing on what they were talking about more. It was interesting, she just couldn't shake the feeling that, once in awhile, it might be better not to hear what they were plotting.

Especially if it turned out that the 'remove' list was the longer one.

"We have almost a dozen rescues," Gaia was saying, "only one of whom is likely to be a challenge."

"That is a long list," Sandy agreed, frowning a bit.

"And you'll have to get them in one shot, or close to it," Charlie said softly. "If you can't pull it off, they'll figure out how it happened and make a second attempt *much* more difficult."

"That is going to be difficult." Jurnix frowned. "Just on a numbers standpoint."

"How many are in the field regularly?" Sandy asked as her mind went into a deep planning mode.

"That depends on what they're doing," Charlie explained. "They don't know that I've 'turned' yet, so if it's a day when I'm supposed to report, there will be at least one of the induced empaths at the rendezvous.

"As far as I know, they keep the natural mutants under wraps except for 'special occasions.' So if they've got some reason to send them out, they will, but it would have to be a reason worth the threat of losing the agent. The good news is that the one that'll probably be hardest to get hold of is the one they send out into the field most often, usually to swipe something. So if some sort of trap could be laid out that they don't notice, we'd have a chance there. The others... one of them is kept on-site all the time, and the other wasn't connected to my old jobs at all, so I have no idea what they have her doing."

The table fell silent for a long moment as looks were exchanged and each mind worked on ideas to compensate for their too-few numbers.

"Would it be possible to hit a couple places at once," Charlie asked after the silence had gone on too long for his liking. "If it would be, I think it'd be easier."

"Two, possibly three." Surauli nodded. "We only have two telepaths however."

"We'll just have to do this differently then." Sandy spoke up, her sharp mind well into planning stages. "It'll take some prep here, we'll have to hold some of them for a while, but we don't really have to deal with them there, just immobilize them long enough to get them here."

"If most are in the same facility, that might not be too hard." Gaia added quietly, still running odds and ideas around. "Immobilization agents should work on most, and we can handle the others."

"At least six of them should be in the same place," Charlie said certainly. "Hell, you could probably take the whole place down if you hit the right places. They don't have a central air system, but there's no building that's entirely air-tight - I should know, I've used the cracks often enough."

"And I can get the schematics, the real ones, without much trouble." Dr. Kelly nodded. "Between that and Charlie's knowledge of the place we should be able to deliver an immobilizing blow very quickly and be out before they wake up."

"That would probably be the safest way to do it," the equine nodded. "Most of the mutants would be out like anybody else, the guards along with them. The ones who might not be you can probably handle already."

"Do they all live in this place?" Kris asked abruptly.

"I think they do," Charlie said, with a quick glance that told him the outburst from earlier was over, at least for the time being. "Some of the empaths might not, but they'd be the ones who weren't born that way. There's a chance they'd be treated like regular employees, but I'm not sure. I'd be really surprised, honestly, but...."

"I will find out before we raid." Jurnix said simply. "We can adjust how long the knockout agents works to suit how many places we will have to hit."

"Sounds like you've got a plan then," Charlie nodded. "Wish I could be more help."

"Security codes and access cards would be." Sandy spoke up.

"I can give you the codes I have, but they might have changed them since. I wasn't expected to need them again for a long time." He thought for a moment, then smirked slightly.

"On the other hand, I can tell you how to get Gaia and one other in the door. I did have a set of code-words in case something went wrong and I had to bail, or I managed to get a 'convert,'" he explained, shuddering a bit at the very idea now. "The guards should know them, and if they've got somebody who looks and sounds like one of my known forms, and knows the code-words, that should be enough to get some doors open long enough to make life interesting."

"I only need a few seconds," Gaia and Sandy grinned at each other.

"You'll have that much easy," he grinned back. "They're always watching the entrances, but getting everybody moving on a normal day is almost impossible without somebody threatening to have their hides for it."

"Good." Gaia nodded. "Some things out there are quite constant.

"Where would you take me, as a convert?" Sandy asked, her tone serious and deadly as her sharp fangs.

"To security," Charlie explained, remembering his orders. "From there, you'd probably be restrained and taken to be scanned by Lyal, the telempath, to make sure you weren't a plant. You'd want to break loose before then," he said certainly. "Not passing would probably result in 'me' being taken to be punished for the screw up, and you being worked over mentally until they were sure you weren't a threat anymore. That's what was implied in the orders; we've never actually had one brought in that I know of."

"That shouldn't be hard, between the two of us," Sandy nodded.

"The speedster ... where is he usually kept?" Gaia asked suddenly as an idea form in her mind that was quite different.

"The barracks," Charlie explained. "Though 'prison cells' is more accurate. He's got more space though - they have to give him enough space to run, or he starts to go stir-crazy pretty fast. Secure track that he spends a good amount of his down-time on. Think he said they tried a treadmill in his cell once, but decided it would be cheaper to build the track than to keep replacing burnt out engines."

"Poor guy," SnapShot said softly. "That's just mean."

"As far as I know, it's about all he's known," Charlie said softly. "Same with all of them... us."

"Would he be let out if something went wrong, to hunt down an intruder?" Gaia continued.

"Probably," the equine nodded. "But he knows that place like the back of his hand, and he'd probably burn off any sedatives or immobilizing agents faster too."

"Which makes him the first target for me to take out," Gaia said quietly. "Does he have any mental shielding that you know of?"

"I'd be surprised. It doesn't seem like something he'd have been trained in, and even if he was, you know how weak their training is. If he had some sort of natural shielding, that would be seriously strange."

'*I will check,'* Jurnix promised her silently.

"Then the best one to come with me will actually be SnapShot." Gaia said, surprising several at the table and making the young teen choke.

"SnapShot?" Ginny half-squeaked, glancing at Jurnix as if expecting him to veto the idea flat-out - and, honestly, at least part hoping he would.

 "SnapShot?" The Foxbat raised a curious eyebrow and looked at his youngest and almost newest resident.

"Speed is of the essence in setting the canisters," she explained simply. "And he is the fastest among us. He is also more believable as a convert than Sandy or I would be."

Jurnix considered that for a time before nodded. "True." He agreed, though his tone held some reservations.

"If only two are going," Charlie said with a bit of a frown, "it would probably be the only way to pull it off."

"But what if something goes wrong," Ginny asked, looking at her lover, who was sitting still for likely the first time in his life, staring at Gaia in disbelief.

"I run like mad," SnapShot managed, pulling his reaction together for her sake, then he grinned. "Nothing catches me when I'm moving."

"They will also have far more ... unpleasant ... things to pay attention to." Gaia nodded. "He is fast, but I am far more dangerous in such situations." She leveled her gaze at Jurnix. "I will not let him come to harm."

"I am sure you will not," he nodded. "And backup will not be far behind, should the situation get that far out of control."

"Once everything's set up, that shouldn't happen," Charlie said with a bit more confidence than he felt. "They won't know what hit them until it's too late."

"Far too late." Gaia nodded. "We will simply see to that."

A few hours later, Ginny was waiting with a few towels when SnapShot finally climbed out of the pool, where he'd been trying to burn off some of his boundless energy so he could get some sleep.

"Still feeling so wound up," she asked him with a smile, handing him a towel.

"Wired and tired," he admitted and made short work of drying off as only he could. "I've never been on a mission before."

"I guessed," she smiled, sighing after a moment. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"

SnapShot actually sobered for a moment, looking at her with a serious she'd never seen in him before. "I have to be. The Prof is counting on me. Everyone is counting on me."

"Please be careful," she said softly, hugging him tightly. "It sounds like you've found one hell of a mission for your first one."

"Yeah," he smiled and nuzzled her affectionately. "But it's going to change a lot of lives for the better. It's not like I'm going in alone."

"I know," she nodded, returning the nuzzle gently. "Just make sure you come back in one piece, okay? Everything's relying so much on what Charlie told us being true...."

"Yeah, but the Prof and Gaia are both in his mind," he shivered. "If he's lying by them, he could take this place out on his own. And they'll be checking a lot of it before we go in. Plus Gaia will know if it's a trap before it's sprung, as long as any people there do."

"Good," she murmured. "Just don't like thinking about what might happen if things go wrong. Especially since it sounds like they've got somebody who actually can keep up with you now."

"Maybe, but I doubt he can outlast me," he smiled and claimed her muzzle for a long kiss. "I'm not just fast, you know. I run all day too."

"You can do just about everything all day long," she giggled, kissing him again with the slight break in mood, rubbing his back affectionately. "I love you," she said softly, as their lips parted.

It earned her a very soft look, a way the tension slipped out of his face that no one else ever saw. "I'll be fine." He promised quietly, his bundle of energy dissipated for a moment.

"You'd better be," she said softly, kissing him again. "You'd better get your sleep, you've got a big day coming up."

He grinned and hugged her tightly, back to his usual self. "Maybe this means I'm getting promoted."

 "Maybe," she smiled. "It's a chance at least; I know you've wanted to go with them since I've gotten here, so it's about time."

"Hello, Lightning," Gaia approached the cell with the captured speedster, a lean Cheetah that on a good day would definitely be giving SnapShot a run for his money on the track. "Care for something less institutional to eat?"

"I suppose that depends on whether or not you're planning on knocking me out again to give it to me," he said dryly, his eyes darting around for any obvious opening. "Honestly, if you've got a roomier place, it'd be kinda nice. I can be good," he added with a shrug of his leather-clad shoulders.

"No, knocking you out is hardly necessary now," she smiled softly at the mutant not much younger than herself. "I do apologize for the accommodations. They won't be for long."

"I hope not," he said, sighing and relaxing a bit. "So, I'm guessing you found Annie out?"

"Yes," she said simply and pulled a chair up to sit just outside the force field enclosed chamber. "She had quite a story to tell, when it finally came out. Very little of it good for TGRI, though they are not anyone you or the others will have to deal with like that again."

"Good riddance," he grumbled. "I hope you weren't too hard on her; don't think she ever figured out that things could be different. Thanks for getting us all out, by the way. What are you going to do with all of us?"

"No," she smiled faintly. "She was harder on herself than we would ever be. As for your fates, the empaths -- the six that were rescued -- are going civilian. Professor Jurnix is setting them up with new identities and lives. They're low enough level that they won't show up on any mutant tests.

"For the four of you, Charlie ... Annie ... has decided to join us. That is an option for all of you, though Lyal will take some serious work to be put right enough to let loose again."

"Between Professor Jurnix and myself, we're quite sure we can." She said with certainty. "It may take till the new year, but we'll fix him."

"He'll take some serious work to be anything but a vegetable, from what I've heard," the Cheetah sighed. "So, you've given us the 'sign on' option; what else is there? I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm sure you're better than our former 'employers,' but honestly? I don't know that you've got that much use for somebody like me if you are."

"You don't have to be 'useful' to be welcome to stay here." She told him gently but firmly. "Though honestly, I expect Ginny would be quite relieved to find out her boyfriend is no longer the only resident speedster. She was not happy when I named him as my partner in this raid."

"That'd be the guy who was running around gassing the place," Lightning guessed. "Have to give him points for enthusiasm. Okay, if I did stay here, what sort of restrictions are there on dealing with the rest of the world?"

"Obey local laws and don't show off you are a mutant." She told him simply. "That's about it, really."

"And the catch is...?"

"You are expected to attend class, not cause problems and if you want more than the allowance Jurnix provides us, to get normal, civilian work to earn it. In your case, there would also be the 'no contact with TGRI or it's people'." She smiled gently at the Cheetah. "We don't operate the way they do, Lightning. Our main purpose here is a school to learn how to use our Gifts, coexist in the real world out there and a sanctuary when it's not possible."

"I can see why they were worried about this place," he chuckled darkly. "Either you're just about everything they *don't* want to have to deal with, or you fake it very, very well. They made a fair amount of headway with the idea that there's no other place for mutants to go, at least with the ones they didn't let see otherwise."

"So we understand," she nodded grimily. "It's why we decided that direct action, illegal or not, was the best course. I do apologize for the cage, but we needed to be sure you weren't a danger to us or the outside before we let anyone out.

"Understood," he nodded. "I've gotten used to being locked up. Don't like it any more than I used to, but I can handle this. At least talking with you gives me something to do," he smirked slightly.

"You have much more than that to do soon," she chuckled softly, very pleased at how cooperative he was. "And a lot of space to do it in.

"Space is something I would definitely like more of in the long run," he chuckled, glancing around the cell again. "I do have one other question for you, since it sounds like if I do start working with you, it'll be a more-or-less full-time job. I've spent most of my life cooped up one place or another, and it only got worse after my powers showed up. If I turned down your invitation, would it still stand if I come back later, after I've seen a bit of what's out there?"

"Yes, it will still stand." She nodded without hesitation. "Our doors are always open to mutants who need a home."

"Good to know," he nodded. "Honestly, I've seen just enough of the world when I was out robbing select parts of it for TGRI that I think I'd like to see more before settling down, even some place like this."

"Just be careful," she advised him quietly. "There are a lot of people out there who hate us or worse, and not all of them are nice and obvious, like TGRI."

 "Don't worry," he smiled softly. "I'm not planning on getting my head blown off just after I stick it out the door."

"Good," she smiled and stood to set her palm on the control pad for the force shield, letting it drop in it's entirety. "It is your choice, but I would advise you to stay for a couple days at least so we can set you up with papers and a little traveling money and information."

"The papers will help," he nodded, just before darting out of the cell, stopping next to Gaia, "but I don't want to be a bother besides that. I could always hunt something up after I'm out."

"I am sure you can," she smiled at him and turned to show him to the unsecured areas, more grateful than she could express that at least one of the rescues did not require major mental tweaking. "It is not a bother at all, truly. You should get something from TRGI for your service, after all. You have quite a back paycheck due, as I understand it."

"That, I'll give you," he nodded. "I take it somebody around here found some way to 'borrow' the funds in question?"

"That is how I understand it," she chuckled softly and stepped into the elevator when it opened. "It's not my field, so I just take his word on such things."

"In that case, I'll accept," he chuckled. "Best way to get back at 'em I'd be willing to do. Not sure if I've said it yet, but thanks for getting us out of there."

"You are welcome," she smiled down at the much smaller male. "I'm just glad you held on well enough I don't have to do any rewiring in your head." She added softly and pressed the ground floor button, four levels about where they were. "As sorry as I feel for Lyal, it's going to be very unpleasant work for me to set him right enough to be let loose. I really hate messing with people's minds like that."

"I'd say he's suffered the most of any of us," the Cheetah agreed, looking up at her for a moment, considering something. "You know if you'll be able to fix him without completely changing who he is, beneath the scars?"

"I'm going to try," she said grimly. "I haven't looked too deeply yet, but I may be able to repair the damage and leave the rest, much as we did with Annie. If it's bad enough, I may have to just erase things until I get to a point in his life where he wasn't completely screwed up. Worst case scenario," she paused and sighed with a shake of her head, "Worse case is that he'll wake up in a bed here with no memories or knowledge other than his name and a reasonable grip on language and basic math and society, all of it planted there after a clean sweep."

Gaia shuddered slightly as the lift came to a stop. "Gods, I hope I don't have to go anywhere close to that."

"He was there before I was," Lightning explained, as they waited for the doors to open, "so I don't know what he's like beneath all of it. But from what I've seen of him, your biggest problem will be convincing him he's safe. He's a nice enough guy, when he feels safe. Sort of like a whipped puppy."

"That is closer to the truth than I care to think about, honestly." She rumbled and stepped out into the mansion's first floor with a bright flash of hatred for what Charlie had been put threw. "He *will* be all right. It's just a matter of time and how much he'll remember."

"You didn't find Annie out, did you," the Cheetah said after a moment. "She turned."

She didn't bother to deny it. "She ended up with a choice between her training and me ... this ... and told the Prof."

"Good for her," he smiled. "And for you. Don't suppose I can talk to her some time before I head out?"

"I don't see any reason why not." Gaia smiled slightly. "I expect she's on the track right now. Though she tends to stay as Charlie most of the time."

"I'll keep it in mind," he smiled. "Think you could point him out to me? I wasn't assigned to that project, so you could say I only saw the 'drafts' for what Charlie would look like."

"He's the only other equine here," she chuckled softly and showed him outside.

"In that case, I should be able to find him," Lightning grinned, taking a deep breath of the outside air. "Mind if I find my own way?"

"Not at all," she chuckled softly. "Any fence you meet will be the edge of our property."

"I'll see you later then," he said quickly, before disappearing in a dark streak, a cool breeze passing in his wake.

Charlie wasn't trying to set any speed records around the track, even when SnapShot's weren't counted. The draft-horse was just jogging, mulling over what had happened. He had to wonder how things were going to work out with the others.

Suddenly, he was almost bowled over by a blast of air as a streak flew by him, only giving him about half a lane's space on the track. As he tried to figure out what was going on, it blew by him again, then a third time, closer with every pass.

Okay, that was it.

"Damn it, SnapShot," he bellowed, his body shifting as he displaced himself to the next lane, "you know better than to do that!"

"Then I guess it isn't SnapShot," a familiar voice said as the speedster came to a stop behind him. Charlie spun around, a grin spreading across his equine features as he realized who it was.

"Lightning, you bastard," he laughed, hugging the cheetah tight.

"Erk! Annie!" Charlie put him down, smiling sheepishly as he stepped back, rubbing his head.

"Sorry - forgot this body was that much stronger."

"Sure you did," Lightning said with a good-natured frown. "So, what brought that on?"

"Just thinking about you and the others. All I've heard was that everything went down perfectly; no idea how everybody's doing."

"Sounds like everybody's doing as well as can be expected," he shrugged a bit. "I know I am. A little sleepy for a few minutes there, then your girlfriend knocked me out but good when I tried to make a break for it."

"You weren't going to -"

"Not going to fight 'em," Lightning said, shaking his head. "Just wasn't sure who they were, so I was going to take the chance to get as far away from that place as I could, given the chance. Sounds like everybody thought we'd put up more of a fight."

"Well, I did," Charlie admitted. "So they've let you out already?"

"Yeah - and gods it feels great," he grinned. "You picked a good place to switch sides to," he added approvingly.

"Not much of a choice," Charlie admitted, leaning back against the railing. "Not the way things went down. Take a look around - TGRI wanted to fight this? Take this sort of thing away from everybody? And for what - one lunatic's delusions of grandeur."

"Hey, I'm not gonna argue with you. Just a little surprised how things happened - you're not the sort I'd figured for switching sides, especially not for the reason you did."

"Heard about that, huh?"

"She tried to cover for you," the Cheetah smiled, leaning back next to Charlie. "But yeah, I picked up on it. I may not be a telepath, but I know how to read people well enough." Te Equine sighed, shaking his head as he remembered the aborted 'breeding program' they'd both been involved in shortly after the Cheetah was brought into TGRI.


"Hey - no big deal, right? It was your job, I know, and it didn't last any longer than the job did."

"…Yeah," he admitted. "What the *hell* was I thinking at the time, I don't really know. Not sure I want to."

"You thought the same thing the rest of us did, at the time - they were the only people who'd accept you, and you had to do what they wanted. Don't worry about it, okay?"

"Okay," he nodded. "So, you going to stick around?"

"For a couple days," Lightning nodded. "Long enough to get some paperwork that gives me my real name back, maybe a little pin money."

"That all," Charlie asked, a slightly disappointed tone to his voice, though he hid it well enough. "Kinda hoping you might help us out. We could use you around here - SnapShot's fast, but you've got some experience under your belt he doesn't."

"He'll never get it unless he gets out in the field," Lightning pointed out. "Besides, you guys don't really need another speedster like me around yet. I'll be back eventually, most likely, just want to see what I've been missing. Most people see a tiny part of the world through a metal shell. Me? I can see the whole thing, on foot, whether I go fast or slow. That's one hell of a chance to pass up, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Charlie smiled, nodding a bit. "I guess it is. Don't do anything stupid out there, okay?"

"You know me," the Cheetah smirked up at him, watching at the draft horse shimmered and shifted back to the smaller, more natural form of Anastasia.

"That's the problem," she chuckled, putting a hand on his shoulder gently. "And thanks, for understanding."

"I did since the first time you explained it to me babe," he said reassuringly, putting a hand over hers. "Besides; it's not like we didn't enjoy that part of our jobs, at least. Just wasn't supposed to be more. Now, you'd better put Charlie back on. Going to have to get used to him, from the sound of things."

"Doing that already," she chuckled, shifting back into the draft horse. "Just wanted to see things eye-to-eye one more time before you head out."

"It's not like I'm leaving tonight," Lightning grinned. "You're not getting rid of me *quite* that easy. So, you want to get back to your running?"

"Nah," Charlie chuckled. "I've got some work to get to. Just don't rip up the track too badly, okay? It's handled SnapShot this long, it'd be a shame to let those claws of yours break a perfect record."

"Just get going," the Cheetah said, rolling his eyes slightly, before running off at a much more normal pace as he started to explore the grounds.

"How are you feeling?" A low, calm male voice greeted Lyal's return to consciousness. The scrawny Calico woke up the rest of the way fast, scrambling back on his bed, staring at the Foxbat with eyes the size of saucers.

"Wh-who are you?"

"Tamerin Jurnix," he answered witha polite nod. "You are currently at my school."

"No!" Lyal lashed out mentally with the shout, pouring every ounce of the panic he was feeling into the psychic blow that washed over the Foxbat without really registering as a strike. "Can't keep me here!"

"You will be fine, Lyal." Jurnix said firmly, wrapping the panicked feline in a mental blanket of calmness. "There is nothing to fear anymore."

"H-how did you - what's going on?" The fear and panic seemed to subside somewhat, replaced by confusion in the trembling Calico. "Y-you should be on the floor...?"

"I am a telepath, Lyal." He said gently. "My shields are designed to resist more direct attacks from more powerful than you. What I did was to calm you down."

"Please don't hurt me," Lyal murmured, shrinking back. "Why did you take me?"

"No one here will hurt you Lyal," he responded with a bit more authority than usual to reinforce the idea. "You, and the others, were taken because we found out what conditions for you were like." He explained simply.

"Lightning has chosen to travel the world for now, Anne and Melinda have decided to stay. The Empaths are going to live normal lives, as they wished."

"Normal? B-but... that was normal...." Lyal's mind was swirling with confusion, as he tried to sort out what he was being told, compared to what he 'knew' was true. "Master's going to be angry with me," he sighed after a moment.

"Master is no longer a concern of yours." Jurnix rumbled with full determination. "He will *not* be doing this to anyone again. I will see to that."

"What are you going to do to him?" Lyal asked suddenly, the fear and confusion replaced with a fierce dedication almost instantly. "You're *not* going to hurt him."

 "I have no intention of hurting anyone," Jurnix replied smoothly and truthfully even as he gently wound his mind into the feline's to begin his work of unconditioning the broken telempath. "I am only here to help."

"Wh-what - no, stay out!" The Calico clutched his hands to his ears, as if that would help him somehow. "Please, I'll be good, I promise!"

"I will not hurt you." He said gently, wrapping the terrified tom's mind in a blanket of soothing. "No one here will hurt you."

"Everybody hurts me," he murmured softly, shortly before something seemed to shut down inside him, and he just stayed huddled in place, the surface of his turbulent mind calming, as he turned his confusion and worry inside.

"Not anymore," Jurnix told him firmly as he eased his way into the other's mind, gently smoothing out the worst of the obvious trauma and utterly dismayed at the amount of damage to repair. "You are safe here, and you always will be."

"All right," the Calico murmured softly, though the acceptance didn't go much deeper than the surface of his mind.

It was a start however, and as long as the feline was reasonably cooperative, Jurnix didn't care to take the more drastic approach that Kris had required.

Gaia kept her mind and body ready for whatever she found in the cell Pyrrha was being held in. Despite the success with Lightning, she knew enough of Lyal not to take any chances with this pyrokinetic Salamander. From the sound of it, that was probably a good thing - she didn't sound nearly as well-adjusted as Lightning had been.

"What would it take to get somebody to turn on some air down here?"

"The temperature control is behind you." Gaia called out firmly as she came into view. "The small box on the wall."

There was silence for a moment, before the sound of the air conditioning started, and the entire room started cooling off.

"Thanks," the voice said not long after that, albeit a bit grudgingly, as the orange-and-black Salamander came into view. "So this is real?"

"Quite real," Gaia nodded, scanning the unusual creature as she had Lighting. "You are no longer the property of TGRI, or anyone."

"Which, of course, explains why I'm behind a force field," she said dryly. "Who are you people anyways?"

"That is because we have no real idea if you are a danger to the outside." She said simply. "Where you are is Jurnix Institute for the Gifted."

"Shit," she murmured, sitting down with what looked like it was probably a nervous expression. Her clawed fingertips drummed the cot, making muted taps. She looked back and forth between the wall and Gaia.

"I don't suppose there's more than one Foxbat named Jurnix out there, is there?"

"Not that I am aware of. Certainly not that is headmaster of a school for mutants." She said simply, not quite sure what to make of the sudden distress directed inward and probed a little deeper.

The wave of conflict in her mind that hit was almost palpable; a mix of intense rage towards the Foxbat that seemed to be without source, and complete disgust with herself for feeling it.

Definitely something they'd end up going in and fixing.

"These force-fields fireproof," Pyrrha asked with a nervous laugh.

"We know you're a pyro," Gaia said simply. "Everything in there is. Do you want the conflict to stop?"

"You sure you can do that? Don't know what they did to me...." She turned her head away, opening her mouth almost like she was going to vomit - only to have a gout of flame spew forth instead, shooting easily across the cell.

"Sorry," she said, closing her eyes for a moment. "Whatever happened, that's the reaction the idea of meeting him gets. I don't think they were satisfied spying on you guys."

"I'm not surprised." Gaia said softly. "And yes, whatever was done can be undone, one way or another. Between Jurnix and myself, there are no more powerful telepaths on the planet."

"At least I don't think I can hurt anybody in there," she said softly, standing up and going to adjust the heat slightly, raising it. "So, what's going to happen to me? This does kind of prove that I'm more than a little dangerous until I'm fixed up more."

"Unfortunately, yes." The draft horse inclined her head. "It means you will have to stay here until we can undo the conditioning you have. Then you will have the same offer to remain with us that was given the empaths, Annie and Lighting. The empaths chose to live normal lives on the outside. Annie is staying, and Lighting will likely return when he has seen some of the world. I haven't spoken to Lyal yet, but he will require intensive work to become functional again."

"Probably," she nodded. "Think I might stick around here, if you can take out what they've done to me. This place sounds good... it's what they wanted me to do here that doesn't."

"That has been a common theme," Gaia pursed her lips disapprovingly. "It is certainly much better than where we found you in every respect."

"That wouldn't be hard," the Salamander laughed slightly. "What sort of things do people do here? I mean... what you just did common?"

"Not at all," she smiled gently. "You don't have to keep that one if you don't want to either. I'm Samantha Wilder by the way, though most of the time I answer to Gaia. On the outside, we would prefer to stuck to a normal sounding name, your given one or not. The idea is to not cause ripples among the normals."

"That will take some training," she chuckled a bit. "I wasn't exactly taught to be subtle. My real name's Melinda, don't particularly care about what code-name I use, but I'd rather not be called that all the time. It's been way too long since I've heard anybody else use my real one."

"That won't be a problem, Melinda." Gaia smiled gently at her. "Training to control our gifts is largely what this place is about. Given you already know you'll have problems, we would expect you not to go outside the compound without someone that can help control it until you can. I know the Prof, myself, Sandy and Surauli all could from the data we have on you. It shouldn't be too difficult for you to see a bit of the world until you can go out on your own."

"Thanks," she smiled. "Even having a chaperone is better than a cell like this for the rest of your down time. On the bright side, I don't just torch whatever startles me anymore, so after that reflex is out, I should be able to look around the grounds a bit, right?"

"Definitely," Gaia nodded easily. "Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable until then?"

"Maybe something to drink," she asked hopefully. "It's kinda dry in here."

"What would you like?" She asked politely, even as she turned to fetch a glass and the water Melinda desired. "Are you amphibious?"

"Water, please," the Salamander nodded. "And yes, though I don't *need* to stay wet all the time. More comfortable usually but not necessary."

"I'm sure I can arrange for one of those above ground pools for you for now, and one of the rooms with a large whirlpool when your head is better." She offered and set the glass and a large pitcher of cool water in the transfer space.

"That'd be great," she smiled, waiting until Gaia had closed her side so that she could retrieve them. Pouring a glass, she took a long drink, setting them down again. "Thank you. Sorry about the attitude before."

"It's okay, Melinda. Honestly, we expected *far* worse, given Annie." She chuckled very softly. "A loud mouthed complaint about the temperature is far from unreasonable."

"Well, Annie and I never really worked together, so it doesn't surprise me too much. Different sorts of jobs ... does it matter, what I did before?"

"Not unless you want to continue to." She shook her head. "Then we have to find out if we even do that work."

"I doubt it. I was trained for combat, but my real strong suit was spontaneous combustion that wasn't so spontaneous."

"While many of us train for combat, it's not exactly a job description here." Gaia chuckled softly. "Do you have any hobbies?"

"Scorch-mark graffiti, before they fire-proofed the walls," Melinda said dryly. "I've always wondered if I could get this under control enough that I could try welding," she added, snapping her fingers and blowing out the flame that appeared at the end of her index finger.

"Most likely." Gaia grinned at her. "I see you are just going to have a head full of new experiences shortly."

"Probably. Lightning was our newest recruit, but I was the one who got outside least often. They usually wanted people to go boom with a bit more subtlety."

"Yeah, I can see that." She nodded easily and settled back in the chair backwards. "Having a mutant make the evening news isn't something that is high on anyone's list yet. Thankfully."

"Probably higher on yours than TGRI's, especially depending on how it happens. The lid gets blown on them and the fallout isn't going to be pretty, especially not for them."

"Or for any poor souls they have as agents at the time." Gaia added quietly. "We will have to keep a close eye on them, to make sure they do not get to build up this far again."

"Best reason to get rid of them now," Melinda pointed out softly. "Before they have the chance, while they're still busy sorting out what the hell happened and how to fix it."

"That is likely true," the draft horse admitted reluctantly. "It is also beyond our resources at the moment, in all likelihood."

"A shame. And I can't touch anybody important there, so that doesn't help."

"It will be dealt with, in do time." Gaia assured her. "Being aware of the enemy is how our advantage. They do not know us well, but we know them better with every passing day."

"Any way I can help, just let me know."

"Right now, the way you can help best is to get that reflex out of your head, and then settle in to life here."

"I'll see what I can do about it," Melinda sighed, closing her eyes. "Just don't bring... him... down to meet me, that wouldn't be good at all."

"I was referring more to letting me in your head to undo that little reflex." Gaia told her quietly. "It shouldn't take more than a few minutes."

"That fast? Really?"

"Unless it was implanted was an extremely skilled telepath, yes." She nodded easily. "If you will just open your mind to me, we'll have this over with and you out of there ASAP."

"I'll try," she nodded, relaxing as well as she could. She didn't feel the presence of the other mind, but the moment Gaia found what she was looking for she felt the lash of power implode something.

Then it was gone, just a hole where the impulse used to be and Gaia was staring at her with those unique crystal blue eyes.

"Care to meet Jurnix now?"

"I-I think so," she said, surprised at how quick and, honestly, painless it had been. "Just keep this up until we're sure? Seems too easy...."

"That was a given," she agreed, the trace of regret clear in her voice. "There are worthy risks, and stupid risks, and he's not one for the stupid kind." She gave the Salamander a smile and turned away. "He's working with Lyal now, so it maybe a bit before he can actually come."

"Quite a bit," she nodded with a bit of a wince. "I'll wait."

"Not so long," she said with clear regret. "It will take weeks to undo the damage without mind-wiping him. But a few hours may be required before he comes to a reasonable point to stop for the night. I will see what we have by way of a pool for you in the meantime."

"Thanks again," Melinda smiled gratefully. "For everything."

The Future is Wyld 2: To Be, Or Not To Be, A Horse, Of Course

NC-17 for M/F
Het Level is HighHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

119 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written April 17, 2004 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: JIG

Primary Races: Equine, Mutant

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Romance (Teen)

Pairings: Samantha 'Gaia' Wilder/Charlie Kincaid

Blurb: Sometimes, moles are a bad idea. Usually when the place they're sent into treats them better than home.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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