I do not own X-Men or any Marvel-related properties.
Slight spoilers for X-23 #3
A/N: This is just a short story idea that popped into my head. Since I have writers block with my other two stories, maybe this will get the creative juices flowing again. It deals with how Julian and Laura deal with the latter leaving to go find herself and how they resolve to carry on without each other.
Dear Julian Pt. 2
Just a few loose ends to tie up, like always. Laura watched Utopia slowly shrink into the distance from the deck of the ferry taking her to the mainland. The sky had a mixture of crimson and gold compliments of the morning sun. Part of her wondered if being there on that ferry, right then, was the right course for her. Wolverine was in a state unlike anything she had seen before, likely rampaging around terrorizing those closest to him. No, what attacked her and Julian was not Wolverine; that was a husk using Wolverine's body. For certain, the X-Men were going to need help tracking him down and figuring out how to fix the situation. Laura was a great tracker. That was the problem: that was a label. A label used the same way people call upon a hammer when they need to strike a nail. She needed to believe that she was more than that. Laura knew she was more than that. She had seen her soul for herself.
All data, circumstances, and feelings considered, being on that ferry was where she needed to be. Nevertheless, there were a few things about her departure that irked her.
"Miss?" Laura turned to see a security guard, "Would you mind if I see the contents of your bag?"
Laura gripped her bag tighter, "Yes. I have not done anything to warrant an investigation."
The security guard rubbed his eyes, uncomfortable with the situation apparently, "Listen, I don't want to do this, but the tatted asshole down that way said he saw you with a knife. Can I look in your bag?"
Laura looked to the tattooed one the guard had indicated. He was bald and had tattoos everywhere there was skin exposed. He had a few piercings as well and was eyeing Laura up like she was prey. Defeated, Laura grudgingly handed the guard her bag. There was not much in there. Some changes of clothes, some cash, and her old X-Force uniform. The guard was about to pull that out when Laura stopped him.
"I would rather not broadcast my associations," Laura urged the guard, "I have no intention of causing trouble."
The guard looked at her suspiciously, but he relented, "Alright, but keep your distance from the tattooed guy."
"I can handle him," Laura assured the guard.
"I figured, but that's why I want you to keep your distance," the guard explained, it was a reasonable request, but commentary on her life as it was.
People always told her what to do. Some things never change. Cyclops would give her orders, she'd follow them. Wolverine was the same at times, but tried to give her choices. The facility, Kimura, all of them. Even Julian had given her orders at a time when Mercury, their friend Cessily, was captured by the facility. It was different with him though, unlike everyone else in this list, he ordered her to not kill. He was different, but were his orders any different because of that? It was still an order. However she started to care about what he thought about her after that incident. What would he think about her now that she had left without saying goodbye to him? That worried her the most. Sure, she worried about the fate of Wolverine, her friends, the island, but she needed to go. Still, did Julian not deserve some explanation? Did he not stand by her when the others rebuked her?
The ferry pulled into the dock and Laura departed, keeping an eye on the tattooed racist. When he saw her eying him, he withered and ducked his head, ashamed. It seemed that even strangers feared her. It was not because she was a mutant. She simply did not live up to people's preconceptions. That was true with everyone on Utopia it seemed. That was why she left.
For the first time in her life, Laura had no idea where she was going. She debated purchasing a greyhound ticket and picking a random location, but it did not feel right to pick just one destination. Nor did it feel right having someone else transport her anywhere. That left either trying to buy her personal mode of transportation or walking. She did not have enough cash on her to buy anything in San Francisco without there being too many questions, leaving her to pound pavement.
As she made her way out of the city, she made very few stops. Her first was a small diner to get some breakfast. She ordered a plate of pancakes, something she had grown a fondness for while staying at Angel's Aerie. That nagging doubt at the back of her mind had not completely vanished as she sat there, idle. Leaving Julian behind like that was something she needed to do, of that she had no doubt. She could not shake leaving him clueless though. She had to do something for him for no other reason than maintaining one of the few friendships she still had. She was no good with good-byes or much else. Julian knew that about her, but he it did not matter to him. He still made an effort to be there for her.
What made the situation worse was a part of Laura wanted to be there with Julian. She wanted to know what he was going to say to her before Logan stabbed him in the back. She cared for him, for Cessily, Santo, Victor, and Surge, despite her treatment of her recently. Laura had gone over this in her head countless times before and after leaving Utopia. Every time she gets comfortable around what she cares about, something or someone always came around to destroy it. It always forced her to run. It happened when she went to live with her cousin Megan and Aunt Debbie, it happened at the Xavier institute, and now it had happened at Utopia. This time was different though. She was not running away. This time there was a chance that she could come back. When thinking of that an uncommon feeling seeped through every fiber of Laura's body. The tension in her muscles ceased slightly, her respiration rate was slower; she felt comfort.
She finished her meal and continued to make her way out of the city. Her next stop was just outside of a small condo complex. It was where her cousin Megan and Aunt Debbie lived before the Facility uprooted all of them. She did not linger there long though. She had fond memories of the place but the house that had been destroyed was built anew with a new family living there. Laura saw a woman holding a child kissing her husband good-bye before he went to work; time had passed this place by quickly as there was no trace of what had happened there nearly two years ago. Laura did not know what to think about what she saw, but it gave her pause to think. Despite the excess of violence that this place had seen when she was there, life had returned to it. Storm had told her of such things happening in nature: forests burning to the ground and life returning in time.
If that happened for normal people too, then perhaps there was some hope of similar phenomena occurring in her life. Her reasoning came full circle again; she needed to leave to heal herself.
Find and heal herself. Two things that she wanted that were not ideas planted in her head by anyone else. It was a start.
She was approaching I-80 quickly as she moved through the city, no one paying her any attention. All in all that was how she preferred it. How long she would remain unnoticed, she could not know. She figured that there was a strong chance that the X-Men would send someone after her to try and return her to the island. Not that they could keep her there. She also imagined that Storm would dissuade others from pursuing her. For some reason, Storm understood Laura better than most did. That baffled Laura to no end; someone who she barely interacted with was the closest thing she had to a mentor besides Wolverine. Laura did not know what to do with that. For all her training and experience, there was much she could barely fathom; mostly the innocent things that others took for granted.
Laura's last stop before leaving San Francisco behind was the Fisherman's Wharf. Her cousin Megan and she used to spend a lot of time there. It was there Laura truly began to appreciate family. It was there that she decided to go to the Xavier Institute and really try to build a different life for herself. It was there that Wolverine banned her from X-Force and told her to figure out what she wanted in life. This place was nothing less than an important place for her.
She sat on the edge of the dock and took in the San Francisco Bay one more time, not knowing when she would see it again. The normally greenish-blue waters were hued yellow and orange from the sun, still young, lifting off from the horizon. Before she could begin to savor the sight, she heard feet tap against the wooden dock behind her. A scent she had not smelt over year and a half back was carried to her by the wind, reminding her of a incident when she was fifteen.
She remembered a room lit only by a hanging lamp over her head. Two men. One was blind, wore red-tinted sunglasses, and a pinstripe suit. The other clad in red, white, and blue from head to toe. They stood before her and began asking her questions. The first one he asked her was…
"Are you X-23?" a voice asked. Laura whirled around from where she sat and saw a man standing there; the one who was dressed in red, white, and blue in that dark room. Now he was dressed in a blue jumpsuit, harness, a brown trench coat. He still had a lone white star across his chest though.
"Captain America," Laura stammered, her mind going into flight-or-fight mode. What reason could he possibly have for being there?
"I'm not Captain America anymore. Been promoted, sort of. I'm Captain Rogers now," he said, as it was now. His tone was calm, yet commanding. Laura could not tell if he was trying to be funny in some weird way, "Answer the question."
That was all Laura needed to tell she should be careful with what she said next.
"No," she answered firmly, not breaking contact with his blue eyes. They stood there, squared off, for what seemed like minutes. Laura had no clue what to expect, but did not once dare unsheathe her claws. Rogers gave her a nod and held his hands up, showing he did not mean any harm.
"I hope so," he said, "Mind if I join you for a bit?"
Laura nodded and Captain Rogers sat down on the edge of the dock, inviting her to do the same. Laura was still uneasy, but sat anyway. She let only one of her legs dangle over the edge of the dock just in case she needed to move quickly. Everything about this situation was strange.
"You can relax… Laura is it?" Rogers said, seeming to have noticed her posture. His years of experience made him privy to certain cues.
"What are you doing here?" Laura asked him.
"I was actually on my way to see Summers and a few other residents of Utopia," Rogers answered, "You're one of them actually."
Laura's hands tensed against the wooden frame of the dock. There were only a few things that the number one security authority of America would want to talk to her about. Very sensitive those things were.
"I think we both know what I'm referring to," Rogers said. Laura sat up to leave, but he caught her by the arm.
"Remove your hand from my arm or I'll remove it from yours," Laura threatened coldly. It sent shivers up her body whenever someone, a man especially, touched her when she did not desire it.
"I'm not here to arrest you. I'm just trying to get the facts and close some old files before dealing with the mountain of work ahead of me," he explained, releasing his grip as he stood, "I let you go before. I need to know that I did not make a mistake."
Laura turned away. She was caught between a rock and a hard place. While she was not being detained, this was the sort of incident she was hoping to avoid with her friends on Utopia. However, being on bad terms with someone like Steve Rogers was typically a bad idea.
"Okay," Laura relented, hearing no variation in his heartbeat. He was truthful. Rogers had her follow him to a small café. They sat outside and he ordered a coffee for himself. Laura kindly refused an offer for a beverage. While this had been going on she noticed that there were multiple agents sitting amongst the crowd. They were probably security for Rogers, but more likely a buffer between them and the public so they would not be over heard.
"Everything we discuss here stays between us, okay?" Rogers said, still no variation in his heart rate.
"I want to believe that X-23 is not sitting across the table from me, and that you are Laura Kinney," Rogers began, "I want to believe that you aren't calculating multiple escape routes from this meeting, ways of killing me, whatever."
Laura still did not meet his gaze, unnerved that she was doing exactly what he thought she was.
"I have records that show you going the Xavier institute, leaving once it was destroyed and coming out here," he continued, "Then there was nothing; as if all the records SHIELD and HAMMER were keeping on you disappeared."
"You were keeping track of me?" Laura asked, more curious than surprised. She met his gaze then.
"Like I said, I wanted to make sure I did not make a mistake letting you go," Rogers explained, "Granted that became tough after the civil war, and everything else."
"And now?" Laura asked.
"That period of time where there are no records? I did some digging," he answered, pulling out a data pad and handing it to her. On the screen was a woman Laura recognized. It was someone who helped her during her last encounter with the facility, "I trust you're familiar with Agent Morales."
"Yes," Laura answered, seeing exactly where this conversation was leading. It was going somewhere unpleasant.
"I questioned her about this discrepancy and she came clean with me about the Facility. I'm sorry about what happened to you there," Rogers continued, "She had been looking for you months by that time. She originally was investigating a Purifier massacre across southwest United States."
Laura's hands visibly tensed. He was referring to one of her first X-Force missions. It was one of the most violent ones she had ever been on in her life. She must have killed dozens of religious extremists during that mission alone.
"Can you see how I don't know if I'm talking with X-23 or Laura Kinney now?" Rogers asked, "We both know you were involved in all of that and more. What I don't know is why. Twice I've been after you. First time you escaped, the second I let you go, both times you went on to kill more and more people. Tell me, did I make a mistake letting you go?"
"No, you did not. I may have killed many since you let me go, but it was not a mistake," Laura countered. She explained a little about her time at the institute, how she first encountered the religious extremists and how those she killed during her time there were in the defense of other mutants.
"Then what about the massacre?" Rogers pointed out, "Those Purifiers were killed on their own turf. How was that defensive?"
Laura scowled, "You are familiar with war?"
"Very," Rogers said humbly.
"Then you know that sometimes to defend what you care about, you must attack. To protect those you care about, take the fight to the enemy," Laura continued, as if reciting her art of war.
"So you and X-Force just took it upon yourselves to murder them," Rogers implied, not liking what he was hearing.
"We were at war. We had orders, we followed them," Laura hissed, her anger flaring. There it was again, people making assumptions about her.
"Did you not do the same in World War II, Captain?" Laura asked.
Rogers was taken aback slightly. He considered her words carefully. In WWII, the United States was attacked and it retaliated. He joined the war effort. He killed to protect the country he loved, to protect the people he cared for. Laura and X-Force did the same thing. The Xavier institute had been attacked countless times. Once the mutant messiah was born, it increased tenfold. With their numbers already dwindling, it should have been expected that there was going to be a response like X-Force. For as much as Steve Rogers tried to differentiate him and his fellow GI's during the Second World War from Laura and X-Force, he could not. There were too many similarities to be ignored.
"So, what now? The war is over now," Rogers prompted her, "You've spent most of your life killing and following orders, it seems. What are going to do with peace?"
Laura considered her words carefully, "I do not know. That is why I am leaving. I need to find out who I am. I need to build my own life before someone else decides to for me."
Rogers sat there holding her gaze. He sighed and gave her a smile, "I'm glad to hear you say that, Miss Kinney."
Laura cocked her head aside, again caught off-guard by Rogers. She did not know what to make of his words, "Explain."
"You have been dealt a tough hand time and time again. I've seen many in similar situations go bad," Rogers explained, "You, despite everything, are still trying to change things for the better. That's true integrity."
He thought back on all the villains and bad people he had dealt with over the years. Some of them were once good, or knew nothing else and did not want to change. It was people like Laura that would force him to relearn that people's destinies were not set in stone.
Given that endorsement, Laura felt more confident that leaving the X-Men was the right thing to do.
"Thank you," Laura returned Rogers' smile, briefly. Something she had not done in awhile. It was nice, despite its brevity, "Is that all?"
"Yes, you may be on your way," Rogers nodded, finishing off his coffee, "I hope you find what you're looking for."
Laura got up and began to leave, but stopped. Rogers' encouragement may have served to put to bed some of her concerns but she could not shake one.
"I want to ask you something," Laura turned back to Rogers, "When you left to fight the Axis, did you have any regrets about who you left behind?"
Rogers sighed again and nodded, "I had a beautiful woman that I was dating when I got shipped off. I worried about never seeing her again if I died in the line of duty. I did not let that fear keep me from fighting though. Writing letters helped though. Made me feel closer to her."
Laura nodded and said, "Thank you, Captain."
"Best of luck, Miss Kinney," Rogers bid her farewell and waited at the table until she was out of earshot. Once she was, he signaled a man over from inside the café. The man was tall, bald, built like an ox, and had dark skin.
"How'd it go, Cap?" Luke Cage asked sitting down next to Rogers.
"She'll be alright. I'm going to keep her in my peripherals though, make sure the Facility stays off of her if I can," Rogers replied.
"So she's not in?" Luke Cage asked.
"I didn't even bother asking her," Rogers answered, "Keep her listed as a potential recruit though. I think she would be a fine student at the Avengers Academy. Your students would benefit greatly from her experience."
Laura made a few more unplanned stops after her unplanned meeting with Captain Rogers. She dropped by a drug store and an internet café. She picked up some stationary and cheap digital camera. She did not want the regret of leaving Julian behind without a word of good-bye weighing down upon her while she went out into the world. She wrote a letter, took a picture of herself, printed the latter off at the internet café, and sealed them both in an envelope. She made one last call to one of the island's teleporters.
"Hello?" a young, feminine voice with a Russian accent answered.
"Illyana, it's Laura," Laura answered, "I need you to meet me in the city."
Laura relayed her location to Illyana, aka Magik, and remained vague on the details. As far as Colossus' sister knew, it was just another pickup. Laura called her over Pixie, knowing that Illyana would not get all giddy at Laura giving a letter to Julian.
Magik appeared within minutes and Laura handed her the envelope, "I'm not the postal service."
"I will not ask you to do this again. I just need you to do it this once," Laura explained.
"Why did you not call Megan?" Illyana asked, annoyed. Laura simply glared at her, "Oh, right. Fine, then. I guess I'll see you later then."
Illyana disappeared beyond her portal once more, leaving Laura standing on I-80 facing east. With no more doubts and less regrets, she was ready to face the unknown. X-23, the drone assassin, was dying. Laura Kinney was beginning to live.
No, I do not plan on doing a "X-23 joins the Avengers Academy" in the near future or at all. But I would be open to maybe co-writing one depending on what my school workload is like. Consider this a free fanfic idea in the meantime to pursue on your own, with my blessing, if you so choose.
Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this two-shot. Let me know what you think.