The Children's Crusade
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. R/R because you know you love these kids.
(Author's Note): This story is largely the result of the fallout from "Messiah Complex" as well as promotional/interview stuff I've seen about "Young X-Men". I'm trying to stay in continuity as much as I can while still making up something new as I go along.
It had been two months since the X-Men, and consequently the New X-Men, had officially disbanded. Julian Keller sometimes felt as if he was still licking wounds from the perfect storm of events that had led to the destruction of everything in his life that was stable. He had teetered on the edge of life and death through most of that ordeal but once the dust cleared the X-Men were able to get him and the other kids that needed it patched up and healthy again. After that was taken care of, Emma Frost promptly presented each former student with a debit card connected to their own personal account containing enough money for them to do whatever they wished. The sum on the card wasn't much but it would be enough for those who needed new lives to find them and to help out those returning to old ones. Julian didn't really hear all of Miss Frost's little speech. He was still getting reacquainted with the joys of breathing. It was funny the things one chose to take for granted.
Julian missed his teammates. He had spent the first couple weeks wandering around New York City. There was no way he was going to come crawling back to Los Angeles and to his parents. He had lived with his brother, James, but that refused to last and Julian wasn't surprised by it. His brother was always too much like his father, too interested in the family business to think about bigger concerns. Julian knew the kind of life he wanted to lead and it wasn't the life of some corporate leech. He had been given a glimpse of his destiny while he had attended Xavier's and he wanted to see that destiny fulfilled. He had already hatched a scheme and laid the groundwork for said scheme. The only thing he needed to do now was track down his former teammates and convince them to go along with it. This was what brought him to a slightly run-down apartment building in Brooklyn.
"Let's see if I learned anything about pitching sales from little brother," muttered Julian as he knocked on the door and waited for someone to answer. He could hear the noise of television behind the door, the program in question sounding a lot like professional wrestling. The former Hellion smiled as someone opened the door and he looked up at the golem-like creature that stood before him.
"Damn, you look better than the last time I saw you," said Santo as he motioned for Julian to come inside with him, "Dad's at work right now and Mom's out. I'm just watchin' TV."
"I kinda need your help with something," explained Julian as he came inside and watched Santo resume his seat on the floor. Upon returning home, Santo had quickly learned that sitting on normal furniture, ones that weren't specially reinforced to suit those weighing far more than any normal human ever could, didn't turn out very well for him. It was one of the many subtle differences between life at the Institute and life in the normal world.
"Feel like a big idiot," muttered Santo as he looked at Julian, "What do you need?"
"I don't have to tell you that this whole thing sucks," reminded Julian, "I thought about it a lot and I think I wanna reform the team."
"I dunno if you noticed by the lack of wallpaper in here and the smallness of this TV but this ain't Xavier's," said Santo, "What the hell are we gonna do for cash, Julian? The crap amount on those cards Miss Frost gave us won't be nearly enough even if we stuck all of ours together. I don't even know where some of us went."
"I do," explained Julian, "Look, I made some calls and stuff. I got a huge trust fund that I don't plan on using for college. We can make it work, big guy. Besides, are you really telling me you don't miss it?"
"Hell yeah I miss it," replied Santo with a grin, "Look, man, you're always the boss when it comes to me and the rest of the Hellions. You know I'm down for this but what am I supposed ta tell my parents? My old man never even graduated high school. He really wants this 'education' thing to work out for me."
"I'll think of something," assured Julian, "I got a list of the people I could find. The next stop on the list is Vic."
"Always did wanna see the country," said Santo with a grin, "We'll crash here until my parents get back. Grab yourself something to drink while you think of how to completely screw me."
"When have I ever gotten you into trouble?" asked Julian with a smirk.
"Only since the day I met you," retorted Santo as he turned his attention back to the TV.
"I can't believe we didn't get hassled by airport security," said Santo as he studied the tiny, plastic card in his hands, "Where did you get this thing anyways?"
"Had it made," replied Julian as he nervously looked around while walking up the driveway of the quaint, suburban home lodged in the quaint, little town their journey had taken them next. The plastic card Santo had was a fake Superhero Registration Card. Julian had used his connections to create one for each person on his list. The cards had been helpful in convincing Santo's parents that his scheme was completely legitimate. As far as the Vaccarros knew, their son was going off to a special training camp set up by The Initiative and endorsed by the people at the Institute. Julian hoped the same trick would work on Victor Borkowski's parents although from what Julian had heard about Victor's life back home trickery might not be required. Vic mentioned that his parents and his community in general were pretty supportive of his mutation. Still though, one could never be too sure.
"Where do you plan on settling down?" asked Santo as they waited for someone to answer the door.
"I think we should wait and see how many of us are in for this," decided Julian as he saw Victor Borkowski open the door and arch a scaly eyebrow at them.
"Dude, shouldn't you be in school right now?" asked Santo.
"Home-schooled," replied Victor, "Shouldn't you two be in some other state?"
"I'm going to make this quick," assured Julian, "Santo and I are getting the band back together, Vic. Are you up for it?"
"I always thought you might be crazy," admitted Victor as he held up the larger, more deformed of his arms, "I'd really not like the rest of my limbs to end up this way even though it might help because this one makes me feel all lopsided and uneven."
"I told you that me and X would take care of that for you," reminded Santo.
"Letting you intentionally cut off my limbs just on the off chance they'll grow back is extremely morbid," declared Victor, "Look, guys, I've got studying to do and a house to protect from intolerant assholes so you can understand that I'm going to have to pass on this."
"I thought everyone here was cool with you," said Julian.
"Not exactly," admitted Victor, "That was part of the reason why I came to Xavier's. I agreed with my parents that it would be the safest move for me and my family. At least we got half of that right."
"Can we at least come in and talk to your parents?" asked Julian.
"What exactly are you going to tell them that will make them agree with this?" questioned Victor.
"Victor?" asked a female voice, "Who's that at the door?" Julian saw Victor's mother come to the door.
"Mrs. Borkowski, my name is Julian Keller," explained Julian, "I was a classmate of your son's at the Institute. Miss Frost and Mr. Summers didn't want to tell anyone until the paperwork was finished but Victor has been chosen for a new, special program sponsored by The Initiative. I've been instructed to come and take him back to New York." Julian pulled out a SRA card with Victor's name and picture on it.
"Victor, you didn't mention anything about this," said Mrs. Borkowski.
"That's because it's a lie," stated Victor, "There's no training camp, Mom. I'm not registered and I never will be because I think Tony Stark's an idiot."
"Way to freakin' go, Vic," said Santo.
"I don't lie to my parents," stated Victor, "Mom, it's true that these guys were classmates with me at the Institute. Julian thinks it would be a wonderful idea to get our team back together and he wants me to come with him."
"I thought Mr. Summers disbanded the team," said Mrs. Borkowski.
"He did," admitted Julian, "I would be the one running the show, Mrs. Borkowski. I don't know how much you or your husband know about what Victor's already been through but I can tell you we would take care of him as best we could. We need your son on this team, Mrs. Borkowski."
"I'm flattered," said Victor sarcastically, "You guys can stay here today in case people show up to run me out of town or whatever but tomorrow you have to leave and I really don't think I'll be coming with you."
"That cool with you, Mrs. B?" asked Santo.
"My husband is out right now but I don't think we would mind having Victor's friends stay the night," admitted Mrs. Borkowski, "Julian, you'll have to discuss your future plans for Victor with my husband and I."
"I understand that," assured Julian as Mrs. Borkowski led the two boys into the house before going back into the kitchen.
"Why not come with us?" asked Julian as soon as Victor's mother had left the room, "What do you have here that's so great?"
"The luxury of not having to look over my shoulder for one thing," countered Victor, "Things aren't the greatest here but at least I don't have to worry about the Sentinels or the Marauders or the Reavers anymore. At least I can still be a little normal even though I'm not."
"Fine then," conceded Julian, "We'll stay here for the day but I really want you to think about this."
"I will," assured Victor, "but I don't think it'll change my mind."
"So your parents are cool with the whole 'g-a-y' thing?" asked Santo. Victor rolled his eyes at the fact that Santo was simultaneously harping on and dancing around the issue of his sexual preference. Victor preferred not to dwell on his sexuality. He was what he was and he didn't see a need to spend time thinking about it when he could devote that time to thinking about other, more rewarding things.
"So you can tell all my classmates I'm gay but now you can't even say the word?" asked Victor.
"Hey, I was just trying to break the ice that last time," explained Santo.
"You basically dragged me out of the closet," corrected Victor, "You're just lucky mostly everyone knew about it already otherwise I really would've gotten mad at you."
"Like you could do anything about it anyway," retorted Santo with a smirk.
"I kicked your ass that one time," reminded Victor as his attention returned to the television, "Yeah, they're cool with it." He noticed Julian walk into the living room and take a seat on the couch.
"How'd that meeting go with the parents?" asked Santo.
"Did you make sure to tell them everything?" asked Victor.
"They don't like it," explained Julian, "It doesn't matter anyway if you decide not to come with us but for what it's worth they're grudgingly approving so long as we take care of you. They think you leaving for a while might ease some of the tension around this town."
"Story of my life," said Victor sadly, "I do miss you guys. The Institute was probably one of the few places where I felt normal even after the trip to Hell and the threat of impending death looming over my head."
"Too bad Miss Frost didn't hook some of us up with image inducers," said Santo, "I mean most people in New York City are used to seeing weird crap but it's probably tough out here in the sticks."
"I wouldn't have used one even if she gave it to me," admitted Victor, "Besides, I can disappear any time I feel like it if people staring at me becomes too much of an issue." All three boys slightly jumped at the sound of a window shattering. Victor heard another crash upstairs that was probably the window in his parents' room.
"Right on time," muttered Victor as Julian threw up a telekinetic shield in front of him to block any incoming objects and quickly moved towards the front door. He felt something explode against it as soon as he stepped onto the porch. Julian thought that the angry townsfolk had broken the windows with bricks or other blunt objects. He didn't realize they were using shotguns.
"It's another one of them!" yelled a member of the mob. Julian felt a thud behind him that he knew meant Santo was backing him up. He wasn't going to waste time dealing with these idiots lightly. His eyes glowed green before all the firearms the mob had brought with them suddenly dislodged themselves from their owners' hands and came towards him.
"Is this your definition of protecting your family?" asked Julian as he looked at Victor.
"This isn't something I should have to do," retorted Victor as he stepped in front of Julian, "If any of you have some sort of problem with me then you take it up with me. Leave my parents and my family out of this."
"You were better off stayin' at that fancy school," assured one of the men in the mob as he moved towards Victor with obviously hostile intentions. To his credit, Victor stood his ground as the man introduced his fist to the boy's jaw.
"Yeah, I was," admitted Victor, "but it got blown up so now I'm back here. I think it would be a smart idea, Mr. Tillman, if you stopped worrying about other people's kids and started worrying about your own. Last time I checked, your teenage daughter was still pregnant."
"Least that kid will be normal," countered Tillman as he readied for another swing at Victor, "Better than a freak like you." The man threw the punch but Santo quickly inserted part of his body between the man's fist and Victor's jaw.
"This kid has been through more crap than you can even imagine," assured Santo, "You wanna be a big man and pick on somebody? Try me, pal."
"It's a school night," commented Julian as he telekinetically crushed the guns into one ball of twisted metal, "I think you boys should run along home now." Rockslide gave Tillman an intimidating look that made the man flinch and back away. It wasn't long before the rest of the mob got the hint and quickly began dispersing.
"They'll be back tomorrow," reminded Victor.
"Not if you leave with us," replied Julian, "Think about if we hadn't have been here tonight, Vic. You really think you could've scared them all away before they tagged your house with racial slurs while beating the crap outta you? They could've shot you dead, Vic, or worse yet they could've killed a member of your family."
"I know," admitted Victor quietly, "I know that, alright? You obviously want me on this team really badly and I appreciate it. I don't think I really have a choice right now."
"That mean you're comin' with us?" asked Julian.
"Yeah," replied Victor as he looked back inside his house, "Yeah, I'm in." He knew it wasn't necessarily the right thing to do but at this point it was probably the safest thing to do. Someone had to be willing to stand up and prevent things like this from happening to innocent kids and if the real X-Men didn't plan on doing it then Victor Borkowski figured he and his friends would have to be willing to take their place.
"Where's our next stop?" asked Santo as he looked at Julian.
"We gotta pick up the girls," replied Julian.
Cessily Kincaid yawned as she put her pajamas back on after stepping out of the shower. Technically she didn't need to take a shower but it always made her feel more human to do so. She stretched as she made her way into the living room of her apartment and saw Sooraya sitting on the couch.
"You are up earlier than usual," noted Sooraya with a slight smile as she took a sip of her tea
"Force of habit," admitted Cessily, "I still have an internal clock and it still wants to get up for Danger Room practices even though I like sleeping till some time in the afternoon. I think we're trying to meet each other halfway."
"Megan has returned from work," informed Sooraya, "She is already asleep again." Cessily nodded and turned on the television. It was another cloudy, overcast day in Seattle. Cessily was used to the weather by now. After the team disbanded, Cessily attempted to move back home with her parents but she couldn't handle being a veritable shut-in. She had contacted Sooraya and the two of them tried to figure out a new place to live. She discovered that Megan was living with Sooraya in Los Angeles and the three of them settled on moving to Seattle.
"Have you heard anything from Nori?" asked Cessily suddenly.
"No," replied Sooraya with a sad shake of her head, "Not since Megan and I left Los Angeles to come live with you. I have tried to contact her but nothing has come of it."
"We suck as this," said Cessily morosely, "How is it that the only time we were anything close to normal teenagers was when we had targets painted on our backs by the rest of the world?"
"Allah works in mysterious ways," reminded Sooraya, modifying the idiom she had heard so many Americans use.
"We need to get jobs," said Cessily, "Our cash flow is starting to die out and we can't have Megan cover the whole apartment on her salary."
"I know," assured Sooraya, her tone calm and even, "I know how much you miss them, Cessily. It has been tough on all of us." Cessily sighed as she thought about the rest of her former teammates who were out there somewhere in the world trying to scrape by with their own lives. Some days she thought she might as well have died in that bus explosion with the others for all the good she was doing in the world.
"One of us should get that," said Cessily as the phone suddenly rang. She wondered just who would be calling them. It was probably someone Megan knew since she was the only one of them who had really adapted to life in the city. It didn't really surprise Cessily considering how talkative and bubbly Megan was despite what had happened to her in Limbo.
"Hello," said Sooraya as she reached over and picked up the phone.
"We're standing outside on the corner," said Julian, "We'll be up in a second."
"Julian?" asked Sooraya skeptically, "What are you doing here?" She quickly moved to the window and looked down onto the street.
"No way," said Cessily as she looked down with her roommate and saw Julian, Santo, and Victor heading into the building, "There's no way." Sooraya clicked off the phone while Cessily quickly went into Megan's room to wake the younger girl up.
"Meg, you have to get up," said Cessily as she shook the pixie girl, "The guys are here, Meg!"
"I just finished my shift at the radio station," grumbled Megan sleepily, her wings fluttering in response to Cessily shaking her, "These guys better look hot. I mean hot like the 'Cyclops in his underwear' kind of hot 'cause it's way too early in the morning for anything less."
"It's Julian, Santo, and Victor," explained Cessily, "They're coming up, Meg!"
"Wait, what?" asked Megan as she rubbed her eyes and yawned, "You mean those guys?"
"Yes those guys," said Cessily with a huge smile.
"This I have to see," admitted Megan as Cessily hurried to let the boys in. Megan flapped her wings and rose into the air before zipping into the living room like a hummingbird.
"You know you don't have to dress up for them," reminded Megan as she saw Sooraya finish putting on the veil that kept almost all of her face covered.
"It is a habit," reminded Sooraya with a grin that Megan could no longer see. Megan shrugged before zipping behind Cessily to form a line of hugging that began as soon as Julian stepped into the apartment.
"Nice place," commented Santo as he lumbered into the room, "Seriously, this place is swank."
"Yeah, well we won't be able to keep it for long unless we get some cash coming in," said Cessily, "I don't think Megan can handle another shift at the radio station."
"You work at a radio station?" asked Julian skeptically as he looked at Megan, "What sane person gave you a microphone and an audience?"
"Hey, at least I have a job," replied Megan, "I do the morning shift for KISW so if people want rock music while driving to work then they have to put up with me."
"You know I think I'd just rather get a gun and . . .," began Santo.
"Seattle," reminded Victor, "You really don't want to make that joke here."
"You guys are so mean," declared Megan as she crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Santo, "I remember now why I left."
"You left for the same reason we all did," reminded Julian, "We got kicked out after our home blew up." There was an uncomfortable silence in the room as all of the former children of the X dwelt on that unpleasant occurrence.
"I think the adults are serious this time," said Cessily quietly, "I mean the mansion's been destroyed before but this time I think they're really serious about no more X-Men."
"I believe we should respect their decision," suggested Sooraya.
"They decided for us," countered Julian, "That's why we're here. You girls up for getting the team back together?"
"Wait, seriously?" asked Megan, "Won't we get in super-big trouble for that?"
"The adults obviously don't care about us," reminded Julian, "They may think the war is over but it's not. C'mon, Meg, you should know what the world out there is like better than any of us."
"It sucks," admitted Megan sadly, "The anti-mutant crap is starting to rise again. I have to wear a jacket to work all the time and press my wings down so nobody will know about me and fire me. That's bad enough but there's also this stupid registration stuff and the whole thing with The Initiative. That's where Josh and Alani are right now. I get emails from her about once a week talking about how great Camp Hammond is and how all of us should come down."
"Show of hands," said Julian, "Who thinks we should go work for Tony Stark and those tools at The Initiative?" No one raised their hand.
"We don't have a choice," said Cessily, "We can't play superhero without a license unless we want SHIELD on our ass." Julian smiled and held up a trio of fake cards made out for the girls.
"They're totally fake," explained Santo as Cessily took the one with her picture on it and looked at it, "We've been using them to get past airport security. Once they see you're workin' for The Man they practically fall over themselves to help you out."
"We could go to jail for this," said Cessily as she looked at Julian.
"You were just commenting on how you wished for things to return to the way they were," reminded Sooraya.
"I'm totally down for this," assured Megan, "Well, as long as I still get to live here and have my job. I really like it."
"Yeah, we figured that out," said Victor with a grin, "Not a big surprise."
"What about you?" asked Cessily as she looked at Sooraya, "I mean if you say yes I guess I pretty much have to go in with you."
"In my homeland, to defy the law meant to bring great peril onto oneself," explained Sooraya, "I have come to believe in the right to freely choose our own paths and my choice is to continue being a member of this team. I believe in America you call this 'civil disobedience'. I think I might like that."
"Then that's my choice too," agreed Cessily with a smile, "There's a couple conditions though."
"What would those be?" asked Julian with an arched eyebrow.
"Like Megan said, we like living here," explained Cessily, "I dunno where you decided to get us a 'secret base' or whatever. I don't even know if you have the money for it but we like living in Seattle so maybe it would be good to make our home here. It's a nice city except for the rain."
"I can float the cash," assured Julian, "We'll settle here but there's one more stop I have to make. Anybody seen Nori?" All three girls looked at one another nervously, Megan and Sooraya especially.
"She lives in L.A. still," explained Megan quietly, "Sooraya and I tried to get her to come with us here but she wouldn't do it. She's . . . she's pretty screwed up, Julian. I mean like seriously messed up."
"How bad?" asked Julian.
"Real bad," replied Megan.
"The inherent difficulty of free choice," commented Sooraya, "Sometimes those we care about make the wrong choices."