The Flight of Heroes

He's back in New York.

It's kind of funny like that; the adventure beginning and apparently ending in that city.

He misses it.

The adventure, that is, not the running or the hate.

Jamie Madrox misses being a hero.

His team, his X-Force had traveled to Washington D.C. and back all in search of who and what they were. Their numbers grew, their bonds strengthened, they became a family, the only family any of them had.

The only people any of them could turn to.

Times Square.

The center of the world.

Madrox had seen it many times before.

But still, it was possibly the most beautiful thing ever.

Sara wanted to see it. She never had at night. She didn't tell them much about her childhood, the time before they found her, but apparently she had never seen Times Square.

Jamie was taking her, as well as Cecilia. A night out, walking through the city would do them some good. At least that's what they thought.

It was kind of cold, Madrox wore a large overcoat, his hands buried deep in its pockets. He walked with Cecilia on his arm. They had gotten much closer.

Sara walked in front of them. She was beaming, despite being hidden under a large blue cloak, used to hide the bone growths that seemed to cover her body, causing her what was recently revealed to be immense pain. But somehow the little girl lived through it all. She was a fighter.

Sara was indeed beaming. She loved the city as much as any of them, and finally she was going to see them for true.

They walked in relative silence, the three of them. The others, Jubilee, Dominic, and Calvin had stayed back at the motel, having figured out the pay-for-video games on the television. This was to be a peaceful stroll through the city. Unfortunately, it wasn't the greatest part of the city.

Painted alleys and broken windows dotted the street the small group was walking on. Semi-abandoned buildings and run down apartments made up the world they were visiting. It was a different New York than Times Square. The darkness and the crisp air added to the eeriness of it all.

The perfect place for the perfect crime.

It was across the street. Madrox saw it first, and stopped. The other stopped with him, and watched.

It was a pizza joint. One sole pizza joint in this neighborhood. Highlighted by dying streetlights, they could plainly see the large but broken front window that announced the place as Toni's Pizza. There were a few people around, all dressed in dark clothing.

It was being robbed in the middle of the night. The street was deserted. Nobody was around, the perfect time for a robbery.

Why did they have to opt for a cheap motel in a crummy part of town?

"Humans," Sara uttered with disgust and contempt, "pathetic."

"We should do something," Cecilia suggested, holding herself closer to Madrox.

"Really?" he sincerely asked, "You think we should?"

"Can we?" Sara asked with a sparkle in her eye.

"I suppose, but let's keep it somewhat civil," Madrox responded, as he released Cecilia.

He stuck his hands casually inside his overcoat and strolled over towards the robbery. Cecilia and Sara followed slowly behind, Marrow pulling bone daggers out of her arm underneath her cloak.

Madrox got close enough; he counted four or five young men, all dressed in dark clothing; all wearing some sort of ski mask. Pathetic really.

"Excuse me gentlemen," he said rather loudly to get their attention. All of the stopped and looked, a new one appeared from inside the building, poking his head out the broken window. None of them said anything.

"I was just going to tell you to please stop what you're doing and leave," Madrox told them calmly.

A couple of them smiled and started snickering. Who was this clown, heheh. They began to strut forward, acting way too cocky for a situation they had no control over.

"And who the hell do you think you are?" one of them said, wearing a dark green sweatshirt. He slowly pulled a handgun from his side, making a real show of it. The others all pulled similar weapons.

"Well, I just happen to be a concerned citizen," Madrox said as he pulled out a semi-automatic machine gun from his coat, one he had stolen from Weapon X soldiers and had kept close for just such an occasion, " and I don't like the fact that you're robbing this here pizza place. I happen to like pizza."

He held the gun with one hand loosely in the air, finger on the trigger, grin on his face.

"Awww crap," one of the guys mumbled from the group. His name was Michael; this was Michael's first hit with the gang. He just knew something would go wrong.

"Hey Pantu!" another one of them shouted to the back, "We need some help!"

Madrox watched as a young man dressed in jet-black leather exited the shop. His face was covered in a tight ski mask with a skull picture on the front. He had something of a dark blue cloak on, like Sara's, the hood down. He also had what appeared to be small blades on the backs of his wrists, some kind of weapon.

"What you want?" this new fighter asked Madrox directly, ignoring what the crooks were telling him.

"I want you to stop what you're doing Halloween Man," Madrox told him. Sara and Cecilia moved in to flank Madrox, ready for anything.

"Halloween Man?" Pantu joked, "Really? Call me Reaper, dough I don't really want you to call me anythin'. It appears as if you have the upper- hand stranger. With a gun like that I see how tempting it must be to play hero."

"I don't want to have to use it," Madrox told him, "just all of you leave."

"You just want us to leave, just like that?" Reaper asked him, his own handgun tapping lightly against his thigh.

"Yep," Madrox said calmly.

"You don't know how tough life is man," Reaper said, not really as an excuse, just to say, "what with the Kingpin of crime on da run. A guy's gotta make a livin' with his boss not helpin' him no more."

"Yeah well, I don't care," Madrox replied, he pointed the gun straight at Reaper, "I said you're going to stop, and all of you are going to go home right now."

"HAHA!" Reaper laughed out loud, holding his stomach and looking up to the sky, "you one funny hombre buddy, I'll give ya dat."

Sara took a step forward, readying herself in attack position. Madrox lowered his gun to just in front of her, holding her off.

Cecilia just kept looking at the Reaper, she was actually kind of afraid.

Fighting trained soldiers and giant robots is a lot different than street punks in the middle of the night when they have nothing to lose.

"Remember, I didn't want to have to do this," Madrox sighed.

With a quick motion, Jamie Madrox slammed the side of the rifle against his chest. This created a duplicate next to him, holding an identical gun. Then, both Madrox and the duplicate slammed the gun against their chests, and two more Multiple Men were created. Now there were four guns, all pointed at Reaper and his goons.

All of the thugs looked stunned and afraid. Reaper just looked quizzical.

"How'd you do dat?" he asked.

"No questions," the original Madrox said, "just leave."

"You one of dem mutants too eh?" Reaper said, "Fancy that."

In a quick movement, Reaper clenched his fists, and the blades on his wrists, like small daggers, extended beyond his hands. He had dagger blades on the backs of his wrists, and now they extended beyond his fists. He had weapons. He held them up, showing them off to Madrox, Cecilia and Sara.

Then, in a fluid movement, he sliced one arm around him, cutting his left hand blade through the arm of one of his thugs. The young man shrieked in pain and grabbed his arm. The others looked at their comrade, horrified. Cecilia squealed behind Madrox. Sara took another step forward.

"What the hell!" Madrox shouted at Reaper, all four guns trained on the man.

Then the thug started convulsing.

He dropped his hand from the wound, and shook. He fell to the ground, still shaking. A slight trace of foam was appearing through his ski mask at the mouth. He was having a seizure right in front of them. In a couple minutes, the young man stopped squirming and stayed on the ground, barely breathing.

"I just happen to be a mutant as well my friend," Reaper sneered cruelly at Madrox, "paralyzing toxins. Can slice people wid dem. Want I should slice you?"

He took a step closer to Madrox. The thugs behind him backed away from what was about to go down. Young Michael leaned down to his fallen buddy on the ground.

"You monster," Madrox said calmly. Each of the three duplicates plus the original thumped their gun against their chest, and within seconds, sixteen assault rifles were now trained on the Reaper. Sara had removed her cloak, bone daggers at the ready. Cecilia still stood back.

"Not one more step!" Madrox shouted at the mutant before him.

"Oh yeah," Reaper grinned, "You da tough one. Guido!"

The thugs turned back to look at the pizza joint, Reaper kept staring forward.

Cecilia looked into the pizza shop to see what was happening.

Only to see the largest human being she had ever seen exit the building. Almost the size of that green monster the Hulk.

"It's about time you called me out Reap," Guido Carosella said with a sad grin, "I was gettin' tired of playin' ace-in-the-whole."

The thugs moved aside as this misshapen human stepped up behind the Reaper. Cecilia was amazed. He stood at least a foot taller than anyone there, and his upper-body was huge. It was disproportional, and way too big for his body. He wore cute little circular shades, with a baldhead sporting a single lock of shocking white hair. He was a monster.

"Well, looks like we havin' a big mutant party now," Reaper said, setting himself into a defensive stance with his blades out, "o'course we can't leave out dem non-mutants. Boys?"

The "normal" human thugs turned towards Madrox and X-Force, and pulled out their handguns and knives. They were loyal to the Reaper.

The tide had turned.

"Crap," Madrox said softly to his two friends. Things hadn't turned out like they were supposed to, "are you ready?"

"We're ready," Cecilia whispered back, reaching into her coat.

"Go," Madrox whispered.

Instantly, Madrox absorbed all but one of his duplicates, the one on his left. As the original Madrox hit the ground, Sara leapt off the back of the remaining duplicate, bone daggers ready. She sprang into a grouping of the thugs, slicing away.

As Madrox hit the ground, Cecilia leapt to her right, out from behind him. As she leapt, she pulled her handgun from her coat and fired two shots. Hitting two of the thugs, one in the shoulder, the other in the arm. Both of them dropped guns and fell to the ground in pain.

You see, the majority of X-Force, especially Jamie Madrox, were opposed to bullets and guns. The weapons they had confiscated from Weapon X were now used merely for show. The bullets wasted in target practice. Madrox had believed the crooks seeing a giant machine gun would be scared and run off, he hadn't taken into account mutant criminals who weren't going to be afraid. His assault machine gun was actually empty, as were the duplicates, it was a bluff.

And Reaper called it.

Cecilia, however, having a very defensive power was allowed to keep bullets in her handgun. They came in very handy.

The thugs still standing with handguns fired, but unfortunately most were aiming at the now reabsorbed duplicates. They fired at nothing, except a few shots that hit Cecilia.

Cecilia Reyes felt the slight sting as bullets ricocheted off of her personal force field. She dove to the ground, and rolled slightly behind a light pole.

Jamie Madrox was on his feet quickly. He powered his legs under him, and shot up at Reaper, creating duplicates as he went. He watched the criminal's face; it was still registering what had happened. He was looking at Madrox, but still didn't realize that Madrox was coming for him.

A few duplicates broke off and went to wrestle with the giant man, but Madrox powered forward, slamming into Reaper's midsection and tackling him to the ground.

Reaper swung his arms awkwardly, trying to slice Madrox with his neuro-toxin blades, but he couldn't reach. Lying on the ground, Madrox straddled Reaper's midsection, and began pummeling him in the face.

Cecilia crouched behind the light pole, watching the battle. Her gun was up and ready, but she didn't want to shoot anyone. She could only watch.

Sara was going wild. The young girl excelled at reckless abandonment. Her bone knives were sticking out of thugs everywhere. She tried her hardest not to kill.

One young man raced at her with a baseball bat. He swung laterally, nearly tacking off her head, but Sara ducked it easily. Using his momentum, she grabbed him by the lapels and swung him to the ground. From there, he got a bone dagger to the thigh and the young man screamed out in pain. But Sara didn't have time to pause; she back-kicked another thug and rejoined the fray.

From behind, a large hand reached down and grabbed Jamie Madrox around the back of his neck and lifted him off Reaper. Guido lifted the smaller man up, looked him in the eye, and flung Madrox against the wall. The impact created another duplicate, which charged at Guido, but the original Madrox felt horrible, slumped against the wall.

The small battle was driving to a close. The thugs were being defeated, and all that remained a real threat was Guido. Reaper was relatively out of it, barely standing after Madrox's assault.

Sara finished off the final thug, leaving him unconscious on the ground, and she took an offensive stance in front of Reaper and Guido. Three Madrox duplicates, all that remained, grouped behind her. Cecilia ran over to the real Madrox, worried about him.

"Jamie?" she asked, choking it out through small tears.

"I'm, off, I'm fine Cecilia," he said carefully, and she helped him to his feet.

"Are you sure?" she whispered.

"Big galoot," he responded half-heartedly, "let me at'im." They stood, and watched the face off about to take place.

"You should never have gotten involved," the large man said plainly, a deep slow voice.

"Oooooh, I'm scared big man," Sara sneered, "come over here and say that."

The duplicates hit each other, creating three more.

"No," Reaper said, "dis ends now." He whipped out a gun from his cloak and pointed it at Sara. It was a small handgun, yet still carried a deadly bullet.

To Jamie Madrox, the world froze. He saw it all, but through a haze of near-unconsciousness. Reaper had pulled a gun on Sara. She in turn reached down quickly and pulled one up from a fallen thug.

Madrox broke from Cecilia, and thought he heard himself shout, but he couldn't tell. He was moving too slowly. He would never reach her in time.

Reaper fired.

Sara fired.

His bullet missed, but only slightly. It struck a duplicate straight in the neck. The force of the death caused the original to stumble, he was losing control as he ran.

Sara's bullet, however, found its mark. It struck Reaper square in the chest. It ricocheted off his rib cage, and came to rest in his heart.

Cecilia screamed.

Reaper dropped his own gun, and fell backwards into Guido's hands. He was dead.

His gun fell slowly.

At least it seemed that way to Jamie Madrox. It fell slowly to the pavement, and he watched as the hammer hit the ground first. It fired.

He can remember watching the bullet as it flew at him.

Sara didn't register anything; she was running after Guido. The large man had dropped his boss and had run off into the night.

But Cecilia could see.

She didn't see the bullet the way Madrox did, but she saw how his body went rigid as he stumbled. She saw his body straighten up and the spurt of blood erupt from his front.

He fell to the ground in front of her.

"No," she choked out as she ran to his body.

She leaned down to him, and rolled him over onto his back. Blood was gushing from a wound in his left shoulder.

"SARA!" Cecilia shouted. The young girl turned from her pursuit, and froze at the sight of Madrox lying on the ground.

As Cecilia was ripping parts of his overcoat and doing anything she could to help the wound, Jamie Madrox felt himself smile.

His last thought before everything black was whether or not the hero was allowed to die in the end.

"We have to get him to a hospital!" Cecilia shouted desperately.