AWOL

By TheLostMaximoff

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. R/R.

They look at one another, their eyes circling the vicinity and passing over each member of their little club. They don't know exactly what to call each other. They stopped being a class a long time ago and they also stopped being a team. So did they stop being friends as well? It's a question all of them deal with in their own ways. It's a question all of them try not to ask but it gets asked anyway.

"You called this meeting, Nori," reminded Hellion, "You go first."

Noriko Ashida nods silently and looks around the group of young mutants gathered in a secluded spot on the island of Utopia. It seems so long ago that she was living on the streets, using pills to control her abilities. At that point, she couldn't imagine her life being worse but she's since learned that life has a rather interesting way of proving you wrong. She's often wondered if things would have been simpler had she stuck to the streets. Again, it's a question she doesn't want to ask herself but it gets asked anyway.

"I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to see that things are going way wrong," begins Surge, "I think it's extremely safe to say that this is not the awesome life that we signed up for when our parents shipped us to the school. The question is: what're we going to do now?"

All of them are there for various reasons. Whether they were disowned by their parents, left without any other alternatives, or they were stupid enough to make the decision to come to Xavier's, the supposed last children of the atom have never had it easy. They've suffered through loss, anger, and grief but there's a new feeling that hangs heavy like a cloud over the gathering. Some of them know too well about rejection and then there are others who are learning its bitter taste for the first time in their lives. None of them are especially pleased with it.

"We should consider what options we have," decides Dust, ever the gentle voice of reason, "It appears that we can either stay or we can leave."

"We should've smartened up and left a long time ago," states Hellion, the bitterness in his words evident.

Surge looks at him, or more accurately at the metallic gauntlets floating in the air where his hands should be. It's not that she doesn't understand how he feels and yet she doesn't, or more accurately she can't. Despite the fact that she has to wear her gauntlets at all times, Nori still has real hands. Looking at Hellion is a grim reminder of what her and her friends have had to sacrifice for the cause. Nori never wanted to be a soldier though. She just wanted to survive.

"Things were pretty good before those new kids showed up," reminds Rockslide.

"Don't talk about them, Santo," warns Hellion, "We were told that we were the last generation, that there would never be another mutant kid born. Then she comes back and suddenly Cyclops is willing to throw everybody under the bus for his little savior. Now there are mutant kids popping up all over the damn place and suddenly we're expendable."

"Hope isn't that bad," says Pixie, "I've talked with her and some of the new kids. They seem kinda nice."

"Don't start that, Megan," says Hellion, "You would take their side, wouldn't you?"

"That's enough," states Surge and it's forceful enough to silence even Julian Keller, "Believe it or not, Julian has just hit on the topic of this meeting. Whose side are we going to take?"

"You act like all of us are going to pick the same team," says Anole, "Something tells me that's not going to be the case."

"Vic has a good point," admits Surge. "I say we take a vote right now. Raise your left hand if you want to stay and raise your right hand if you want to go."

Nori's eyes sweep the group, counting the votes in her head. Pixie, of course, wants to stay because the X-Men have been very inclusive towards her. Consequently, Anole wants to stay because Megan is one of his best friends. Hellion, Dust, and Mercury want to leave, the former Hellions always trying to stick together like the family they were taught to become. Nori looks at Rockslide, the only one besides her who hasn't made his decision yet.

"Uhm, both?" he asks after raising both hands.

"You can't pick both," says Anole, "What, you have a write-in suggestion or something?"

"Well Nori hasn't voted either," reminds Rockslide, "Maybe I was just seeing what she was going to do. Maybe I just . . ."

"Didn't want it to come down to you making the decision," finishes Surge. "As it stands right now, I'm voting that we leave."

"Even if it means losing David?" asks Mercury.

Nori realizes that she was secretly dreading that moment. It's exactly the reason why she didn't invite her boyfriend to the meeting. Nori knows that he wants to stay and she's afraid that maybe, just maybe, she will lose her nerve and decide to stay too.

"Oh please," scoffs Hellion, "He stopped being a member of this team a long time ago."

"There isn't a team anymore," reminds Anole, "Look at what's going on out there in the rest of the world. Sentinels are starting up again and who knows what other crap is waiting for us out there."

"The crap comes to us whether we want it to or not," counters Hellion, gesturing with the hands he doesn't have, "I dare you to give me one good reason why we should stay. What, so we can get killed like the rest of our friends? Bastion and Selene and God knows who else have already proven that we're not safe here."

"So you think we're safer out there in the open then?" retorts Anole

"I don't hide from anybody and last time I checked, you don't either," declares Hellion, "We're dead either way, Vic. At least out there we might be able to actually do something worthwhile."

Surge sighs and watches her family, maybe the only family she's ever really had, try to rip itself apart. She wonders how all of this came to pass, how things became so screwed up that they reached this point where she has to choose between a life with the man she loves or a life with some of her best friends. She wonders what would have happened if the deciding vote came down to her, not knowing what she would've actually chosen.

"We need to figure this out," she decides, "I think Vic and Julian have each made good points for their sides of this argument but there's something they're forgetting. When we came to the school, we didn't know what to expect. Some of us, most of us, didn't get along with each other. We got into arguments with each other and fought with each other over a bunch of stupid things but then M-Day happened and all of that changed. We became a team, a damn good team might I add, and all of us chose to keep putting on these costumes and doing the right thing. We became something else too though."

"We became a family," speaks up Mercury, "Nori's right. I watched my family get torn apart over the fact that I'm a mutant and then I came here and met you guys. You are my real family and I won't let the same thing happen to us that happened to me and my parents. I know some of us are mad at each other right now but we're not splitting up. We mean too much to each other to let that happen."

"Cess is right," agrees Surge, "This is the deal, guys. We all leave or we all stay. Whatever we decide to do, we do it as a family and we stick together on it no matter what. The grownups can have their little fight and split up and go wherever they want. We stick together no matter what because in the end we can't count on anybody but each other. So what's it going to be? Stay or go?"

All of them, all the forgotten children of the atom, look to one another. They nervously wait for the first person to raise his or her hand. As always, Hellion is the first to voice his opinion on things and raises his right gauntlet to indicate leaving. Dust and Mercury follow suit. Rockslide raises his right hand, his loyalty to his former squad never in question even though he might lose one of his best friends in Anole.

"You were right, Julian," admits Anole as he raises his right hand, "Even though I can camouflage myself, that doesn't mean I like to hide who I am from the world."

"No pressure, Megan," reminds Surge as she notices that she and Pixie are the only ones who haven't decided yet.

"Yeah, sure," says Pixie glibly, "Maybe I'm just waiting on you."

Nori can't exactly tell which way Megan will go. The winged girl has been through her fair share of trauma but the adult X-Men seem to have taken her under their wing. Nori can see that the others, Julian being prominent among them, resent Pixie for that even though it's not really her fault. Yet being under the protection of the adults hasn't seemed to really keep Megan safe.

"When I first met you guys, you probably thought I was really annoying," admits Pixie sadly, "Heck, you probably still think that way about me. The truth is, well, I don't like the me that I've been recently. I got all caught up in hanging out with the cool, older kids that I forgot about the people who were my best friends from the start and who stuck with me through everything. Worse, I let some of you get hurt when you got dragged into the craziness that is my life. I don't want to be like my dad or my sisters and be fake all the time If you guys are leaving then I'm leaving too."

"I'm leaving too," decides Surge, "Since we're all in agreement, I think it's time we said our goodbyes."

XXXXX

Scott Summers stirs from his bed, roused by the voice of his lover in his head. His mind immediately races to the notion that they are under attack because since M-Day it feels like he and his people have been under constant threat. He looks at Emma Frost and can tell she's upset about something. She doesn't say anything as she simply hands him the piece of paper clutched in her elegant fingers. Cyclops studies the note carefully. There is only one simple word on it save for the signatures of those who wrote it. That single word is "Goodbye". Scott takes a moment to process this revelation, this admission of his own failure, before the door is forcibly opened by a very angry Wolverine.

"I got one too," says Scott as he holds up the paper, knowing that the Canadian mutant has received the same goodbye note that he has, "Let them go, Logan. I think we've failed them enough already."