By Ethiercn

The following takes place after New Warriors (1st series) #50. It is a "what if" and, therefore, non-cannon. I read the New Warriors for years, up until the point where Sil left with Bandit and Firestar found out her powers were sterilizing her at which point I stopped reading. I thought it was funny how every powerful woman in Marvel had to have some kind of problem with her powers, and how come Firestar didn't get a second opinion (and considering the Starlost and Sphinx storylines wouldn't she be sterile already?). The sterilization issue does not occur in the story below. This story was inspired after I re-read the New Warriors and did not like how easily Firestar forgave Justice for the whole Child's Play arc, considering how she was determined not to be controlled again. The characters used are from the core group (Night Thrasher, Nita, Nova, Speedball, Rage, Sil, Firestar, and Justice). The story also makes use of plot points from the Firestar mini-series and the Firestar story in Marvel Comics Presents. Firestar is also a year or two older here than in the New Warriors (which seem to adjust her age each issue). She is in college. For those who do not know, Firestar's father was stabbed by Spiral and almost died (Marvel Comics Presents). Randall was Firestar's bodyguard when she was at the Mass. Academy and died in her arms after warning her of the White Queen's plans.

Disclaimer: I do not own Firestar, Justice, Nova or any of the New Warriors (if I did things would be different). I am not making any profit from the below.

Rich ran down the path. Sometimes he had to get out of the gym. Because of the early hour and overcast sky, the trail was deserted. While he missed the babes, he enjoyed the stillness and the quiet. He turned a bend in the path and stopped.

Ang? He thought, looking at the red head stretching a few yards away. The woman wore a t-shirt and shorts, her long, curly, red hair pulled back into a ponytail. He couldn't see her face, but it looked like 'Star. He stayed back, moving so he was out of her line of sight. None of the Warriors, not even Vance, had seen her for weeks. After Vance had asked if anyone had seen her, they had checked her locker at the Crash Pad and found her uniform along with a note that simply read, "I quit". Furious and worried, Vance had gone to her house, only to discover that her father had rented the place out. The renter refused to give Vance a forwarding address. Apparently, "I quit" also referred to her relationship with Vance.

Everyone had been confused, angry, and worried. He had wondered if the Upstarts incident had anything to do with it, but Vance maintained Angel had been fine, and he was the one who would know. No one had seen or talked to her. Give her space, was Thrash's opinion. Rich hadn't been so sure.

The woman stopped stretching and stared to jog off. It was Angel. He moved after her, trailing behind, unsure if he should call her name. He wanted an explanation for her behavior. They ran for about ten minutes, until she put a foot wrong and went sprawling down onto the path. He stopped, kept his distance, and waited for her to get up.

Angel pushed herself onto her knees. It hadn't been much of a fall, just a few scrapes, but the sudden sting brought tears to her eyes. She cradled her right hand, looking at the angry red cuts filled with dirt and feeling the sting. The stress of the last year hit her. Before she knew it, the tears started to fall. She couldn't stop them. She hugged herself, trying to breath deeply to stop the tears, but they would not stop.

"Red?" someone said before placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, "You okay?"

Rich What was he doing here?

She tried to wipe the tears off her face. "I'm fine," she forced out, refusing to meet his eyes as he knelt down next to her, "It was just the shock of the fall."

With one finger, he gently raised her head so he could look in her green eyes. "No, you're not," he replied.

That was all it took. All she could do was sob, angry sobs that shook her whole body.

"Aw, Red," Rich pulled her into his arms; she struggled for a minute, but than gave in. His questions could wait. He had never seen her quite like this, not when Vance had gone off to the Vault, not when her father had been shot, and not when Jupiter had been raped. He looked around. The jogging path was still empty, but the clouds had grown darker and denser. He gently picked her up, had she always been this light, and before she could protest, flew back to his new apartment.

They arrived at his door just before it started to rain. Angel had calmed down. "Where?"

'My place, Angie," he replied as he put her down before opening the door.

The room was small with an even smaller attached kitchen. A bed, a couch that had seen better days, a table, a few chairs, weights, a TV, a dresser with his clothes stacked upon it, and a closet. A carpet the color of a hairball topped it off. "Take a seat on the couch," he said ushering her inside and making sure she sat down before he got a glass of water. He pressed it into her hands and went to his small bathroom where he wetted two washcloths, and grabbed some aspirin and his first aid kit. He gave her the aspirin, making sure that she swallowed them, before he handed her one wash cloth for her face. He pulled up a chair and began to clean out her scrapes.

"I can do that," Angel said putting down the glass and reaching for the cloth.

He shook his head. "What's going on Red? Where have you been? Why did you leave? Don't you know how upset Vance has been?" The questions came out harsher than he had intended, and she winced. For a moment, he thought she was going to bolt. Just in case, he gripped her wrist as he began to clean the scrape on her right palm.

"It's . . . "she began and stopped.

He looked at her. She looked exhausted, her green eyes dull, and her posture beaten down. The last of his anger faded. "Red, I'm your friend. I want to know what's going on. Going off without a word isn't like you. I didn't mean to sound angry, but we've all been worried."

She looked down at her hands, still refusing to meet his eyes for very long. "It's everything." She shrugged. "I . . . "she faltered. He waited. It seemed as if she were only trying to find the words.

"I'm sorry to have left like that. I tried talking to Thrash, but . . . "she trailed off.

He put a band aid on her knee before moving to sit next to her on the couch. "Why did you leave?"

She bowed her head, and he found himself glad that her hair had been pulled back into a ponytail. It couldn't give her the curtain to hide behind that usually did.

"It was . . . too much. Dad losing his job and then getting shot attacked for the second time because of me. There was so much blood." She looked down at her hands as if she could still see the blood on them.

He didn't say anything. He hadn't known that Angel's dad had been hurt before.

"Then when Vance got out of jail, it seemed as if things would get better. But they didn't. He left, and then we found out about the whole Upstarts," she stopped, her fingers of her left hand moving to pick at the band aid on her right palm.

"Is it what Vance asked you to do?" Rich asked, reaching out to stop her fingers before they tore the bandage off. He had never felt right with that whole thing. He couldn't ever do that to Nita.

She nodded, "Partly. First it was the White Queen, then Empath. I hated feeling like that, totally controlled by someone. It's . . . hell. Then Vance asked me to go though it all over again, for the greater good. I didn't matter," this last came out bitterly. "After Dad got shot too, and it was my fault. If . .. "

"Don't go there, Red. It's not your fault." He put his arm around her shoulders. "After the Upstarts," he prompted.

She twisted her hands. "I felt dirty. Being controlled like that again, and no matter how many times. .. "She sighed. "School, work, the Warriors, feeling like . . . taking care of Dad, " She paused. "He wanted me to quit. He was worried about me, about himself. He was angry at Vance over the Upstarts. He wasn't too happy with my choice to study painting either. It was too much. I couldn't sleep." She paused again. "I use to think I could hide what I was. But after Nova Roma, after the Sphinx, I knew better. I wanted to stay, but with everything, with the pressure, I felt like I was being torn apart between my dad, the Warriors, my desire to paint. I couldn't give up painting, and Dad is the only family I have left. Quitting the Warriors eased some of Dad's worries. We didn't fight as much." She was crying again, quietly now. She felt horribly guilty about leaving. No matter what she did, she was letting someone down.

He hadn't known. "Did you talk to Vance? Nita?"

She shook her head. "Nita and I aren't close friends, and with everything she's been though. And Vance. I tried, but I every time I began it was always 'We'll talk later' or 'thanks for being there Angel' or 'I've a paper due'. I felt like . .He just wanted things, me, to be . . . I didn't really matter as long as I was there," she paused. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left like that, but I didn't know what else to do."

"Shh, Red. It's okay," he rubbed her back. He could feel the tension in her shoulders. "When did you get a full night's sleep?"

"I can't remember. Every time I close my eyes, I see my father, the blood, Randall, the Upstarts, and everything else."

He pulled her into a hug, "Okay, Red. It's okay." For ten minutes, he mumbled all the comforting words he knew, several times. Finally, he realized that she had fallen asleep. Slowly, he lowered her down onto the couch and covered her with a blanket. Poor kid. Picking up the glass, he returned it the kitchen, and then took the first aid and wash cloths back to the bathroom where he changed into a pair of jeans.

He sat down on one of the chairs, so he could keep an eye on Angel and think. He felt guilty. He, they, should have realized what Angel was going though. They had all been so busy or worried about Rage. They hadn't thought. He winced as he remembered that none of them had offered Angel any help when her father had been released from the hospital. Had Vance even helped? He didn't think so, at least from what Angel had and hadn't said. Angel, of all the Warriors, was the supportive one, the caring one, the kind one, the giving one, the nice one. The one who could keep going without the darkness dragging her down. She didn't complain. She stood by all of them. It hadn't occurred to any of them that she needed help.

He had forgotten that there were other types of battles.

What to do? Tell Vance?

He couldn't shake the image of her trying to talk and being shut down, pushed away. Why hadn't she come to him? Because, his inner self replied, she knew you were worried about Nita and your own family. The member she was always closest to was Vance.

He was still trying to think things though when Angel woke up. With a panicky expression on her face, she glanced around his room.

"Its okay, Red; your virtue is intact." Not his best joke, but he wanted to get her to smile.

She didn't. "What time is it?"

"Eight thirty. You weren't asleep that long, twenty minutes at the most."

She got up off the couch and started to his door. "I've got to get back. I need to get ready for work."

He stopped her before she reached door, "Where do you work?"

"Monet's. An art store. Why?"

He knew it. "I want to make sure you're okay," he said.

"I'm fine. I was just tired. Thank you," she replied moving to the door.

He would've believe her if it wasn't for the fact that her eyes were still slightly puffy and edged with weariness. "Let me get you a cab," he said. "Don't argue. I'll pay for it. No arguing," he finished as she opened her mouth to protest.

He saw her into the cab before returning to his apartment. He ran his hand though his hair. He should tell someone. Thrash? Nita? Toothpick? Maybe they could work something out. They were supposed to be a team after all. Should he tell Vance? How could Vance, of all people, miss what was happening to Angel? He had been willing to sacrifice her, why hadn't Vance seen what it had done to her? Hell, he wasn't sure what to do.

There was a knock at the door. He opened it. "Hey," he said just before Vance's fist slammed into his face.

Sprawled on his floor, Rich took a quick inventory of his teeth. He decided that Thursday ranked right up there with Mondays, which was a shame because he used to like Thursday. "One is all you get Super-Tights," he said softly watching the man in front of him. His friend seemed momentary shocked that he had actually thrown a punch.

Vance slammed the door shut with a telekinetic push. "How long?" he raged.

"What?" Rich got to his feet, his brain clicking slowly into gear, "Geez, it's not like that."

"Then what was she doing here?"

"You're living with my girlfriend, why don't you tell me?" Damm it was not a good day. "Angie's like my kid sister for crying out loud. It would be like you with Nita."

Vance's shoulders slumped. "Then what was she doing here? You said you hadn't seen her."

"I hadn't, not until today. Saw her when I was jogging this morning. She fell. That's it."

Vance stared at him for a minute before moving to stand next to the only window. "How is she?"

Rich walked over to his fridge and pulled himself a glass of juice, "It was just a few scrapes. No need for stitches."

"That's not what I meant," some of the anger returned to Vance's voice. "Is she okay? Did she say anything?"

Rich drank his juice, stalling for time. Leaning on the counter and studying his friend, he replied, "No, she's not okay. She said quite a bit, at least for her."

Vance bowed his head before looking at Rich, "I'm sorry about that," he said gesturing to Rich's face. "I saw her come out and just thought."

"Yeah, lucky for you I still have all my teeth, otherwise Nita would've kicked your ass."

Vance flashed a fake smile, "Where is she?"

Rich sighed. He knew he should have asked her that. She had told the cab driver, but he hadn't heard. "I'm not sure where she is staying. I only know where she works." Vance looked over at him, "But I don't think showing up there is a good idea." He was finally getting feeling back in his jaw. "Why did you do it?"

Vance didn't respond; he just stared out the window.

"Do you still care for her Super-Tights? Because if you do, you need to stop being an ass. She needs some one to fall on." Rich walked over to his stack of clothes and found a clean shirt. It seemed like the shower was lost idea. He should head over to Nita's, see what she thought. He pulled the black t-shirt over his head, "She stood by you and then you pushed her away. That's a fact. You should have made it up to her after the Upstarts. If you don't still care for her, then you owe me more than one beer."