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Back on the Job

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The first day of the newly adult New X-Men team working together starts auspiciously: interrupting Julian and Sofia’s first date since college. As their earpieces buzz, Julian thinks they should pretend that the hipster cafe they were sitting in was so overlaid with internet traffic that they couldn’t get reception.

“Hellion, Wind Dancer,” Julian hears over the earpiece Alleyne’s been forcing him to wear all the time since they decided to reform the team. “There’s a situation.”

“Yeah, there is,” Julian says in annoyance as he passes up the urge to tell Alleyne where to stick his ‘situation’, the mason jar masquerading as a glass he was spinning telekinetically rocking from side to side to vent his frustration. “You’re interrupting our date.”

“Shh,” Sofia says, giving Julian a quelling look. Julian responds by rolling his eyes and levitating the folded napkins so that he can open and close them repeatedly in a ‘blah blah blah’ gesture. Sofia’s expression is torn between amusement and exasperation, which Julian takes as a good sign. She takes a breath and releases it slowly. “David,” Sofia continues. “What’s going on?”

“Someone’s managed to weaponize a news satellite,” Alleyne says.

“Which one?” Julian asks despite having resolved to ignore Alleyne until he goes away.

“It belongs to Fox Media,” Alleyne says.

“So they’re broadcasting yokels with their seven guns? How is that a weapon?”

“The weapon,” Alleyne says in the painfully clear tones of someone who is biting off each syllable as he says them, “is the weapons array they paid to be installed.”

Julian whistles, low and long. “They must really be worried about the Kree stealing their stuff.”

“Julian, stop,” Sofia interrupts. “David, please continue.”

“Interestingly, it’s only targeting one building in Manhattan,” Alleyne says. “As far as I can tell, it belongs to a subsidiary of Stark Enterprises. Their gaming division, according to the leasing documents. I’ve got Wallflower and Pixie here already, so if you could make your way over we can get started.”

“I got the tab,” Julian says. “Also, Sofia needs a head start.”

“Are you sure it is not you who needs the head start?” Sofia says, raising her eyebrows. “The saying is ‘As fast as the wind’, after all.” She stands up and summons the winds to her.

This is the part that Julian loves the most about Sofia. While he’s sure that he should think her smile is her most attractive feature -- and it is an attractive feature -- what he finds the hottest is when her hair is caught up in the wind she’s calling, the intense look of concentration as Sofia pulls the air around her, and the way she lifts off gracefully like a dandelion caught in the wind. It’s the most perfect and complete expression of who Sofia is; he can’t imagine her being anything else.

“See you in a flash, beautiful,” he says. Something of his admiration must show on his face, because Sofia’s face glows and her smile softens to something gentler and fonder as she takes off.

“You one of those muties too?” the cashier says as Julian hands over his debit card, a suspicious scowl turning her pleasant features into an ugly mask.

“I’m the one with the card,” Julian says, the corner of his mouth lifting into a smirk. “You guys take mutie cash, right?”

It’s a conflict that exists still even in this world. Mutants are still hated and feared, but it’s shown mainly in covert ways. Julian’s heard stories from Cess and Santo about how they’ve been denied service, and while it’s something he has yet to experience he believes them. He goes out his way to flaunt his powers whenever possible, because while he can ‘pass’ he refuses to not stand with them.

As such, he telekinetically passes over his debit card in part simply to see whether her desire to balance the till outweighs her desire to tell him to stop polluting her air. Her job wins and she ungraciously accepts the card. Julian doesn’t feel like he needs to leave a tip, though and takes great delight in her expression as he lifts himself into the air right in front of her nose before flying out.

The New X-Men have the most stereotypical secret base imaginable: it’s an abandoned warehouse in a rundown area of town. Underneath is where the the magic happens, which is only accessible through a double security barrier of biometric data and a swipe card.

He arrives just after Sofia, who greets him with windblown hair and a triumphant grin that doesn’t dim at all when he declares that she won because he let her.

“David is inside,” she says. “You’ve kept him waiting long enough.”

Alleyne is inside, having set himself up in what the team’s nicknamed the mission room. The back wall is covered with monitors, and for not the first time Julian wonders if Alleyne could possibly be monitoring all of them or whether it’s just for show.

“Glad you could fit us into your busy schedule,” Alleyne says, looking up from his notes.

“Couldn’t let you have all the fun, if you know what ‘fun’ is,” Julian says as he settles into a nearby chair. “Besides, the quicker we wrap this up, the quicker Sofia and I can go back to our date.”

“That’s what you think,” Sofia says to Julian quietly, and Julian rolls his eyes.

“Yes, I’m sure that’s the important part, and not the civilians in danger,” Alleyne says.

“Are you going to do this briefing or not?” Julian snaps and for a moment there’s a hint of a grin from Alleyne before his face settles into an impassive mask.

The briefing is brief but informative, and for all that Julian doesn’t care for David Alleyne personally, he can admit that using Sofia and Laurie Collins as ground control while Julian and Megan Gwynn deal with evacuating the building is a sound plan. It’s not as flashy as Julian would like, that being tearing the satellite down, but it probably reduces risk of casualties. Probably.

He still doesn’t like waiting though, and broods on it during the rest of the briefing.

“There’s no reason for targeting Stark Inc’s building that I can see,” Alleyne says in conclusion, the light overhead reflecting strangely upon the orange glasses he wears. “There’s been no controversial decisions, no layoffs, and everyone who works there reports that they’re extremely satisfied with their work. But we’re the closest team to it. It’s our first chance to show the world what we can do.”

“Whatever,” Julian says. “I’ll take care of it. Couple of minutes, and it’ll be scrap metal.”

“Follow the plan,” Alleyne says. “Take care of the people. I can get someone to take it down afterward.”

“Yeah, me,” Julian says. “Why waste time?”

“You can’t handle it.” This is Sofia, which angers him more than if David said it. If Alleyne took a jab at his powers, Julian could brush it off as jealousy. Sofia, on the other hand, needs to know that he is powerful and capable.

“I can! Piece of cake.”

He revises his assessment when they arrive, and Sofia rushes off with Collins to calm the crowd. There’s always a crowd whenever something terrible happens, they’ve found, and this is bigger than most given the location in downtown Manhattan, all freaking out about something they can’t control. He can feel a breeze as Sofia summons the wind, and can see the crowd visibly calming in the face of Collins’ fierce-eyed concentration.

He gazes up into the sky, following the arc of white-hot energy that appears periodically to pound the roof of the building. He can feel the hair on his arms stand up in response to the static electricity left in its wake and for a moment he wants to zap someone with it to see what happens. He doesn’t though, in part because of the audience. Instead, he reaches up, one hand outstretched, to use his telekinesis as a kind of sonar to find out where the satellite is.

It’s a long way up. Maybe he’ll need help. But he can’t focus on that while the building falls down around him. Pixie grabs his arm and teleports them both inside.

It’s a nightmare. The sirens are blaring loud enough to deafen and the emergency lighting casts a dim red cast upon everything, and the shaking every time the energy pulse from above strikes the building is terrible. Julian runs to what looks to be the human resources office for no other reason than it’s without windows and, therefore, nothing can distract him from what he has to do.

“Ready!” Pixie says, magical energy arcing between her hands as she starts preparing for a multiple teleportation session.

“Go,” Julian tells her shortly, reaching both hands up to focus his will. A shield of just over two hundred feet is a piece of cake and his telekinetic shield slips easily into place to encase the entire building. Pixie gives him the thumbs up before teleporting out.

Julian’s responding smirk slides off his face as the satellite strikes again, pounding against his shield. Time slips away, and all he can think about is that he must keep this shield up against the onslaught. Finally, it stops and he blinks away black spots from his vision. He glances at his watch. The attack was only for around two minutes. The realization sends a sudden chill through him - he may not be able to last. Already now, he’s having to concentrate around what promises to be a terrible headache. He refuses to imagine what the consequences might be if Pixie dawdles.

“Got the top floor clear,” Pixie announces as she teleports in with a clap of displaced air. Somehow she looks cheerful despite a nasty cut across one eye dripping blood down her face onto the floor. “You can lower the shield if you need to!”

“I don’t need to,” Julian says through gritted teeth. This isn’t true. This isn’t a tall building, merely twenty stories, but high enough that any falling debris could easily kill those below. With each pulse of energy from the satellite, the kinetic force he can’t bleed off tears more of the roof away, and he has to hold the wreckage aloft as well until Pixie can teleport it away.

It’s a careful juggling act that he couldn’t have done a few years ago, let alone when he last saw his family, and he spares a moment to think Look, ma, no hands! before he lets the shield he has over the roof drop to a foot above the carpeted floor of the top story.

There’s a shudder and a scream of tortured metal. Then everything goes dark for a moment as the beam from the satellite destroys the power supply on the roof, before dim emergency lights turn on. Julian can feel the vibrations of the generator’s strain through the floor, and he shifts his weight uneasily on the balls of his feet.

He stretches his hands out, palms up, and looks down on them to concentrate. There’s a momentary reprieve as Pixie teleports out the last of the wreckage, which has the unfortunate result of making her a target herself, and one far easier to reach than a psionic whose will is stronger than technological advances. Through the peculiar sixth sense that allows him to manipulate matter to his will, Julian can sense the particles that make up Pixie slipping around the energy that would tear those particles apart if it could, before she teleports into the next floor.

That signals the renewed assault on the building, with whatever programming drives the satellite’s systems determined to tear down a building, with the only thing standing in its way two mutants barely out of college. It would be horrifying if it weren’t so common-place. Julian scowls, and concentrates on his hands, and breathes. It’s hard to remember to breathe steadily, and not to gasp when the energy pulse punches through his telekinetic shielding to burn the carpet on the now exposed top floor. It’s hard to remember to stay calm, knowing he has to hold this place until Pixie has cleared the building, and there’s nothing he can do to speed things up. It’s hard to remember why he’s doing this. If the positions had been reversed, and it was a mutant building being destroyed, Julian doubts any flatscan would be risking their lives to save mutants.

Then he smiles, sour and bitter, as his shield holds up against another shot. That is, of course, the answer. Someone has to show these flatscans how heroism is done. His smile is wiped away a moment later, as his shield wobbles. To focus, he starts to hum tunelessly.

“What’s that?” Pixie asks as she teleports in again.

Julian spares a frustrated roll of his eyes -- isn’t it obvious he’s busy? -- and says “Is everyone out of the next floor?”

“Yep! Next seven floors are clear!”

This catches Julian’s attention. “Seven?”

“Yup,” Pixie says, sitting on a nearby table to catch her breath. “They must have been evacuating before we got here. Ready to drop?”

“I got a better idea,” Julian says, and steels himself against a wince as the pulse tears through his shield to punch a hole in the floor. Pixie doesn’t refrain from flinching at the screech of tortured metal. “You keep going and I tear it right out of the sky.”

Pixie raises her eyebrows at this. “You really think you can do that?”

The building shakes in response.

“You better believe it,” Julian says, while knowing that he probably can’t. If he does manage it, he won’t be able to lift a paperclip afterward.

Pixie stares at him for one long, hard minute, before turning away with a toss of her pink curls. “If you die, I’m gonna bring you back to yell you to death.”

She teleports out, for which Julian is extremely grateful. If he fails, he doesn’t want anyone to see the aftermath.

He sucks a breath in through his teeth and reaches up into the sky, following the path he traced earlier. Reaches up with telekinetic fingers, scrabbling for purchase across the metal surface, until he can encase it all in a bubble.

Then he pulls it down.

It’s harder than he thought, stretched out as far as he is, and for a horrible moment he thinks he might lose concentration and let go. He doesn’t, and manages to pull up some reserve from somewhere on thinking about how if it killed him, it would go after Sofia next.

His breath saws through his chest when he remembers to breathe, and his lips and chin are hot and wet from his nosebleed. His head aches awfully, as if something is stretching out of shape to the point of breaking, but he can last until Foley fixes him back up.

He has to.

Then he’s able to pull the satellite into Earth’s atmosphere and all he has to do now is guide it down to his floor.

It lands with a crunch of metal, plaster and glass on the ground outside the room and Julian’s knees go weak. He wants to sit down. Instead he stumbles out, hand trailing against the wall for balance, as he goes to inspect his handiwork.

He’s managed to utterly ruin the floor with the satellite resting across several small offices and the rubble of the partitions between them. The concrete dust is dull and gritty against his tongue, and he wants nothing more than to spit it out on the ground. If it weren’t for the cameras overhead, he would. He still might, depending on what happens in the next few minutes.

The satellite is larger than he expected, about the size of a small car, and he spares a moment to speculate that Stark Industries has outsourced to China and that’s why it was so easy to rip it down from the sky to destroy their own building. He dismisses the thought as soon as it comes; it had been far harder than that, and it’s not like anyone else could have done it.

He kicks it.

“Hellion, what are you doing?” Prodigy says, over the radio earpiece. Now that the satellite is down, communications are unjammed. Julian misses that at least: it was nice not having to deal with Alleyne talking in his ear all the time.

“It annoyed me,” he says, stumbling over his words. He’s tired, far more so than he has been before, and it’s only through practice that he doesn’t simply sink to the floor and sleep where he is. Practice, and the knowledge that the others will be coming soon and he’ll be damned if they steal his thunder. This is his show, and to prove that, he kicks the satellite again.

This is a bad idea.

Sparks run across the surface of the satellite, feeble and erratic at first, then stronger and wilder.

“Hellion, did you kick the satellite a second time?”

“No,” Julian says. He can hear Alleyne’s exasperated sigh.

“Can you turn your head towards the satellite -- oh. Oh.”

“What?” Julian isn’t sure what Alleyne is seeing. From his perspective, the fact that the satellite seems to be now constantly lit up is probably a bad thing, but probably not a bad enough thing to get Alleyne’s voice to crack like that.

“You need to get it out of there now,” Alleyne says. “Get it up as far as you can.”

“What?” Julian says again. “How the hell am I supposed to do that?”

“I’m not talking to you,” Prodigy says. “Wind Dancer?”

There’s a pop of displaced air, a rush of sound, and a funnel of air propels the satellite up. Julian whips his head around to see Pixie fall to her hands and knees and Sofia, half a foot in the air, hovering in front of her protectively.

Sofia grunts under the strain of lifting it, and with a jerk of her hand she throws it further than Julian thought possible. Her face is set in a furious scowl of determination as the wind she’s summoned whips her hair and clothes around her dramatically, and she pushes her hands together. There’s a terrible crunch of metal and silicon, and then a grinding sound.

“I have it under control,” Sofia says, a small smile curving the corners of her mouth as she lets her hands fall to her sides, and sighs. Despite the flush of exhilaration, she looks tired, albeit not as tired as Julian feels. “Thank you for keeping everything safe until I was free.”

“I could have done that,” Julian says.

“Of course,” Sofia says, her tone light and amused. “You just wanted to test me, yes?”

“You could be out of practice,” Julian says, attempting to rise to his feet before giving it up as a bad joke.

“I think it is you that is out of practice,” Sofia says, while offering Julian a hand up. He accepts it after a moment and hauls himself upright. “David, what was that?”

“That was a new mutant.”

Julian glances up to where the satellite vanished. “Seriously? We are never getting any new guys now.”

“Obviously it’s not the satellite,” Alleyne says in a tone that could strip paint. “I meant that a new mutant was controlling it.”

“Oh, like a technopath,” Pixie chimes in. “So where are they now?”

“Wallflower is keeping him calm.”

“Then everything will be fine,” Sofia says.

“What was he even mad about?” Julian wonders aloud.

“Apparently,” Alleyne says. “He was really mad at how he died in a video game.”

“He destroyed a building out of nerdrage?” Julian says incredulously. “That is so dumb.”

“About as dumb as you kicking a satellite when you knew it was bad news,” Alleyne says in reply. Julian grinds his teeth as he tries to think of the appropriately withering comment to put Alleyne back in his place.

Sofia rolls her eyes at this and mutters under her breath, “Boys.” Then, in a louder voice, she says “Megan, can you teleport us back to David, please?”

“Sure can!” Pixie says, using her wings to lift herself into the air.

“Are you sure?” Julian says, looking at her. She’s pale and sweaty, with her hair pasted to her face by sweat, and while it can be hard to tell given that her eyes are black on black, he’s fairly sure she’s not focusing.

“Maybe not you. You need to go on a diet,” she says. “Sihal Novarum Chinoth!”

*

A few days later, there’s a construction crew already on site rebuilding Stark Enterprises’ building, to the poorly spelled delight of internet forum users everywhere. It’s amazing what money can buy, especially Ms Frost’s money, Julian muses, as he watches them from the cafe over the street.

“Is that more interesting than me?” Sofia says, and Julian glances back at her. She’s smiling mischievously as she toys with her empty glass, the half-melted ice sliding around as she twirls it with a tiny cyclone.

“It did break up our date,” he says.

“And that is why I allowed you a second,” she says.

“You would have anyway,” Julian says, and the way that her smile shifts from mischievous to wry is answer enough.

“To frustrated teenagers,” Julian says, telekinetically lifting his drink for a toast.

“To old friends,” Sofia says, lifting hers aerokinetically.

It isn’t how Julian planned to spend their dates when he was thinking about Sofia in college. But, watching a city building be rebuilt and knowing that, for at least one day, the people here associated the New X-Men with being safe? That isn’t so bad.

“To us,” he says, and taps Sofia’s glass with his own.