Unbound
Roleplaying Log: Unbound
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Angel and Phoenix reconnect on their way to rescue a young mutant from the clutches of a nightmare.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: December 05, 2018
IC Location: Brooklyn, New York
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 06 Dec 2018 19:44
Rating & Warnings: PG-13(Language)
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

EARLIER

"… with a power signature spiking off the charts," Phoenix briskly explains while strapping herself into the Blackbird's pilot chair. She's 'Phoenix' instead of 'Jean' because she's wearing shiny green and gold everywhere, right now. "I got a sense of… I dunno, speed? From his psyche; open space, wind whipping through my hair. Then I had to disconnect from Cerebro; then I decided to call you."

A brisk smile towards her teammate and fellow Xavier's alumni, then it's back to the pre-flight checklist.

"I just wish we didn't have to use this thing for something so… I don't wanna say small, but it's— it's right in Brooklyn, y'know?" A brisk headshake and a soft, self-deprecating chuckle as she glances sidelong. "Guess I'll always be haunted by the memory of that time I sat down to figure out what it cost just to leave the hangar. I'll get over it." A beat as switches are flicked. "Eventually. Probably. Anyway! I guess this is just as good a time as any to catch up, huh?"

Before the life or death stuff starts.

"That's the other reason I decided to call you," she notes with a wink. "I've been… busy, catching up and getting reacquainted with things, I know; not nearly as much time as I'd like for getting reacquainted with people."

* * *

"I'm flattered I'm still on the call list," is Warren's amiable rejoinder. "The only question is how high up on the call list? I'll give it to Scott, but I'm at least second. Right?"

Some things really don't change.

Settled comfortably in the copilot's seat, Warren seems perfectly content to let Jean do the majority of the Blackbird's handling. One might think he would be the type of guy to insist on piloting, whether out of enthusiasm or chauvinism or a bit of both, but he never really was the sort to grab for the Blackbird's controls even back in the day. He had the ability to fly whenever he wanted, whether mechanically or in a plane. Let others take it, when the opportunity arises.

Besides, he's busy sliding Jean periodic glances, sidelong, in between keeping track of what looks like a stock ticker scrolling busily down the screen of his (unnecessarily exclusive) phone. Worthington Industries stock: all going down. Turns out people don't like sudden news that the Worthington clan is actually headed by a mutant. His glances are not anything lascivious, nor even flirtatious, for once: there's a certain quality to them of a man still trying to trust his own eyes.

"I get what you mean, anyway, but if there's one thing I don't want us to ever have to split hairs about, it's cost," he says, finally putting away the phone. One wing flicks in an unconscious stretch. "If I had to be cornered into this, we might as well make use of the benefits."

There's a heavy pause. What do you really say, after years of thinking someone dead, after seeing what they became before that death? "The good kind of busy?" he finally asks. "You always pushed yourself hard, Jean."

* * *

"Just about every kind of busy is the good kind," Jean murmurs in dour reply. "Considering."

Beat.

Beat.

Sidelong glance.

Broad grin.

"Roughly neutral to shitty," she amends after a wink, "but at least it's nice up here." Jean's relative youth and the trauma of her initial manifestation helped teach her the value of finding light wherever she could in the dark, spiteful world their Professor charged them with protecting. Bobby had snowball ambushes and pranks to keep him balanced; Jean, silver linings and irony.

"It still feels like I'm remembering how to walk in someone else's body, sometimes, but I'm pretty sure that'll pass?" She shrugs while flicking one last switch and gripping the yoke. "If someone hasn't written a book already, I'm thinking I'm gonna; there's gotta be a market."

Afterburners flare and a section of the Adirondack Mountains slides open. What would be the envy of militaries around the world if they knew enough to be truly, properly jealous bursts free and silent black wings race towards Brooklyn. Once the Blackbird's leveled out and settled into its trajectory, the hard part is pretty much over and Phoenix is free to stretch both arms above her head, then twist towards her teammate.

"How are you holding up?" she wonders as concerned curiosity spreads over her features. "The garbage coming out of Albany's not the only news I've been seeing… how's everyone taking it internally, over there? Are they sticking with you, or…?"

* * *

There is a world of meaning in that one single word: 'considering.'

"Touche," says Warren, his wings drawing in in that slight telltale way that communicates vague chagrin. There's a distinct language to his wings, the way they move, the way he holds them; they've been a part of his body for half his life, and they're expressive as a pair of hands.

They relax slightly when the dourness breaks into that familiar ironic lightness. That glimpse of the Jean he used to know seems to relieve him, assuage some small private worry he hasn't to date displayed. Warren presents flippantly enough to the world — speaking of defense mechanisms — but there is an essential concern for others at his core that's always balanced out whatever monster wealth could have made of him. "There's a market for just about everything — much less a story like yours," says Warren. "I ought to know. You won't have trouble getting lines out the door for a book. I probably have a publishing subsidiary lying around somewhere, in fact…"

And to speak of that: how is he, asks Jean. Warren falls silent as the afterburners flare; after a moment, he lifts his wings in a shrug, slinging his arm over the back of his chair. "There's been some inevitable freaking out," he confirms. "Stock dropped like a rock first day, but that's just how the market goes. Once people get done with shock, they'll switch to novelty." He grimaces slightly. "It all rides on showmanship and human emotion. I've just been reassuring everyone nobody's gonna get arrested, and in fact… things will look great once the tax breaks come in. But I think they'll stick with me, regardless. There was already enough upheaval when my dad passed. Nobody wants more, and I threw them the bone to keep things stable."

There's a pause. "I didn't tell you about that," he says, with another semi-wince. "Did I? It was a few years ago." He was taking a break from aerial bigot-fighting; she was in a cocoon. Just normal things. He scrubs a hand over his face. "Lot of things happened while you were out there, Jeannie. I'm selfishly glad you're back. All this responsibility doesn't suit my shoulders."

* * *

Since Phoenix doesn't have to worry about the control panel, the woes of Warren and Worthington get her full attention, complete with alarmed eyebrows and sympathetically pursed lips at the appropriate junctures. He certainly doesn't have to tell her about the perils and power of human emotion, but she frowns and nods through his conclusion anyway, as if she didn't spend the last of her formative years learning to cope with them.

The death strikes a surprising and sour chord, but she manages to let it go like the casual piece of context that it is until he winces.

"My condolences," she softly offers, then, along with a brisk and invisible touch to his poor, responsibility-worn shoulder. "I missed— I mean, yes, a lot, I know. But I'm selfishly glad I'm back too." She flashes a smile, but it's muted; death hangs a little heavier in the air than it did a few moments ago. "The timing could be better… but I'm glad. And I think you're right— well. I mean— I hope you're right, but you probably are: free money goes an awful long way towards soothing ruffled feathers." A slight, wincing pause. "Not intended."

"I missed this," she adds a little while later, after a spell spent studying the control panel just in case. "Thanks for coming."

After another brief spell of silence, she finally lets a question that's been kicking around since Warren's story tumble free:

"What… did you give them, anyway? The bone, to keep things stable. You didn't pull some kind of Oprah move, did you?"

* * *

It's not really clear whether Warren becomes aware, at any juncture, of the irony of speaking authoritatively — dare we say, mansplaining — about human emotion to Jean Grey. He's always been a bit oblivious even at the best of times, though at the least the shape of that matured gradually over time from 'self-absorption' to 'just plain didn't think about it.' At the least, Jean's always been correspondingly good at being polite throughout it.

Her condolences, the light touch to his shoulder, draw a shake of his blond head. "Thank you," he says, "but it was some years ago, and I didn't mean to dampen the mood. I had to make my peace with what happened." There's a slight hesitation, before he lifts a hand and covers hers. It's a fraternal sort of gesture; Warren's a flirt everywhere else, but those of the Original Team long since settled into family for him. "The timing could be better… but then again, probably it was just right. Times like these need people like you, I think."

A lofty pause. "Even if you'll require my forgiveness for that pun." His wings fold primly. "It's granted."

Another moment of silence, more serious, before he adds, "I think we all missed it. There's kind of a simplicity to it. Back to the basics, right?" He lets her hand slip from his. Thanks for coming. "You know I always will."

But here comes the sticking point: what was the bone Warren had to throw? The young man frowns out the cockpit window. "It was only slight Oprah," he says, with a demonstrative pinch of his fingers. "A press conference, a speech, a dramatic reveal. You know what a song and dance all that can be."

The barren stretch of silence that precedes his next statement puts the lie to his outward flippancy. "I gave them me," he says. "I kept it secret fifteen years, but it seems I can't any longer. If they find me out after March 1st… there's a lot of things that would come down with me." His wings contract. "It's what the Professor taught us all, isn't it? Work with them, even as you object."

* * *

Before there were X-Men, the Xavier Institute was a scared girl being drawn from her fear-woven cocoon so she could learn how to face the world— all of it, even the parts nobody else could feel the way that she could. Whether as a lifeline or a mission statement, Jean Grey has lived half of her life with the Professor's teachings to guide her, and now she's flying the world's most private jet from New York to— somewhere else in New York because the path they've forged leaves little room to do otherwise.

"I… can't help but wonder, sometimes, what he'd teach us now. If he ever even saw 'now' coming," she slowly utters as contemplation shades her features. "We've worked with them our whole lives, even if it meant hiding who we are. Binding ourselves."

Green eyes pointedly shift across the cockpit.

"Making ourselves small, for them… and the closest they get to working with us is free money to bend over backwards for them."

At least it wasn't the mansplaining or the casually mentioned death that brought her mood down; just Him.

Just the world.

"They're lucky to have you," she then offers. "Gonna assume you found the perfect suit to match 'em," her chin tips towards luxurious feathers, "right? If you're gonna put on a big, embarrassing show, you've gotta at least do it in style."

NOW

It was a farmer's market.

It's still a farmer's market, technically: there are still trucks and stalls, shoppers and produce, crafts and food. Still a modest park playground not so far from the designated area for vendors; all of the pieces are still there.

Not one of them is within even a dozen feet of the ground, but they're there. Shopping has largely given way to panic: a few stubborn and/or daring souls tried to persevere early on, to 'swim' through the currents of lessened gravity, only to find themselves drifting erratically off-course with each stroke. None of them are doing much moving, now, save the minimum required to tweet or snap; mercifully, this means that they're more or less suspended in the midst of what - who - ever has taken hold of this stretch of Ayers Park.

Included among the suspended and barely drifting is Phoenix, whose fiery mane ever so slightly flutters as it stretches towards the ground. After disembarking a ways away to let the Blackbird return home, her first move was to beeline towards the park so she could get a head start on sussing out the phenomena at play and pin-pointing its source.

Several frustrating minutes of falling right when she meant to fly left, or sharply ascending instead of veering right later… she has decided that floating upside-down is, if not the ideal posture for telepathic googling, the one least likely to create unnecessary stress. Moving 'properly' isn't impossible, but it's an act of will and patience, even for those trained for aerial operation.

« I'm… I want to say I've got him, » Phoenix thinks, « but it's so faint— he keeps warbling in and out of local Astral space, it's… almost like he's not here, or… … … … oh. »

« I think he's sleeping, » she suggests a beat and a retune later. « Somewhere in the parking lot… »

* * *

They all relied on the Professor, to greater or lesser degrees. His disappearance was the whole reason Warren returned. Even now, with all the vast resources he has to hand, Warren sometimes still searches.

"I don't know," he confesses, folding his arms across his chest. The cadence of his voice is slow, but solid. A lot of people see him in superficialities — pretty, wealthy, spoiled soft — without considering that here is a man who had to start questioning a lot of things about himself quite early… and deciding a lot of things about himself quite early, too. Plenty thought he would break early, at the first sign of ugliness. He did not. "Most of me thinks he wouldn't teach us any different than he always has. He taught us a moral code, a set of beliefs… not behaviors to only be used for a certain time and place."

He hesitates. "But then again… there's part of me, too, that wonders if he ever thought it would get this bad." His wings twitch under her pointed gaze, knowing why, their feathers bridling slightly under the remembered pain of the harness and strap. "And it is bad. Being able to have these out all the time, now, just makes me think back on all the years I spent binding them down to look how they wanted me to. All that… and this is what we've got to show for it, at the end?"

He closes his blue eyes. "Still, we can't give up quite yet. For all the things I don't know, I do know that's not what he would have wanted."

They're lucky to have you, she says, and his eyes reopen. His seriousness dissolves thankfully into that more familiar, rakish insouciance. "Of course they are," he grins, fanning feathers in a brilliant display, "and I'm telling you — my style's only gotten better since you saw me last. I had the suit perfectly color matched, down to the exact gradient of white. Half the room fainted. That was almost worth all the trouble."

NOW

Angel does not typically front-line on missions. He was always more of a scout, a reconnaissance figure, flying cover and watching for the precise place and moment to strike. He keeps to that pattern now, drifting a little outside what he perceives to be the area of effect of the odd weightlessness, even as Phoenix descends closer in a veil of psionic flame.

«Doesn't look a lot like 'speed' to me,» comes his 'voice' over the telepathic channels, as he inscribes an experimental circle lower, only to find one wingtip scraping the bounds of the inverted-gravity effect. «Looks a lot like the opposite. But maybe it's just on account of him having a nap. Going to try to get a closer look.»

Resigned to his fate, he turns into the area of effect, and immediately finds himself adjusting to the odd gravitational inversions as he tries to make his way over to the parking lot. People start Snapchatting him.

«Life was easier before everyone had a smartphone,» he grumbles, though he doesn't look like he actually minds the attention.

* * *

«Like you mind the attention,» Phoenix teases.

She's not oriented in a way that lets her see Angel clearly, but she knows him.

«Now you can even write your number… … on…»

«…..»

A fresh, locally raised obstacle course is all that hangs between Angel and the parking lot, once avian adaptations and muscle memory work to buoy him against strange gravitational waves. Phones click and flash from a dozen different angles amidst the debris field; it's a little like Danger Room 1.0, only the lights aren't laser beams and nothing's spinning or bladed.

Except for those artisinal knife sets stretched across piece of sky, that is. Those are quite sharp; several previously halved ballet flats float amongst them as proof.

Roughly in the middle of the lot, a sedan floats perfectly parallel to the asphault.

«… he's… Dad's gonna kick his ass… if he finds out… nothing to hold onto…» Phoenix distantly thinks of the boy - 14, maybe 15 at the most - slumped over in the passenger's side. The stereo system pumps distorted guitars, frenetic drums, and guttural vocals; there are plenty of other vehicles hovering in the lot, but at least it's the only one that's booming. A music video flickers across the tablet in his lap.

«… can't trust anything, can't… … God.» The psychic equivalent of a shudder passes through the link, followed by a briskly cast sense of contrition. «He's so scared…!»

* * *

«Yeah, actually, don't mind at all,» comes the blase rejoinder, as Angel drifts luxuriously through a gaggle of girls who have, considering the circumstances, nothing better to do at the moment than furiously snap as many pictures as possible. «Though you know, I actually prefer pencil and paper for the whole numbers thing; trynig to type things into a phone is really annoying, and 'I'll just call your phone' doesn't work when at the end of the day you've just got a bunch of unlabeled recent calls…»

This stream of consciousness on the woes of Warren's dating activities mercifully trails to a stop as he arrives at the makeshift obstacle course that stands between him and the floating sedan. He tilts his wings, gauging his angle of approach, considering the gravitational waves that ripple around him, before he finally gets himself oriented to his liking and tries a tentative drift through the mess, wings pitching every so often to adjust his trajectory to squeak past the knives. A few feathers might get shaved, but no harm, no foul.

«This is a little too on-point to a Danger Room exercise,» he comments. «…Except easier. I knew Scott was just being an asshole with those scenarios.»

He falls silent again, however, as Phoenix speaks more on the mental state of the boy. A twinge of empathy shudders across the link.

«Well, good thing I'm not the intimidating-looking one,» thinks Angel. «Can you imagine bringing Logan?»

He attempts to maneuver to settle beside the passenger's seat, wings half-folded in so they don't seem quite so looming. "Hey," he says, this aloud — and not unkindly, even as he tries to gauge whether the boy is actually asleep — and any potential threats. «You getting in okay, Jean?»

* * *

THEN

"I don't want to give up," Jean quietly agrees.

There's a crucial difference when it comes to the way Warren and Jean handled growing up with their powers: she never had the chance to choose before they were bound. She spent years training under the gentle delusion that the alien sensations she sometimes felt when things got too heated, or sad, or even joyful were simply the result of her gift beginning to stretch beyond telekinesis, to subtler disciplines of the mind. It was an act of mercy from one of the world's most experienced psychics towards a girl who hovered on the edge of death when they first met, a necessary evil to pull her back into the world; the best, most convenient of several difficult choices.

It just wasn't her choice; it was His.

"But I'll die before I let them make us less than we are, just to placate their fears, Warren," she tentatively continues. "Just so they'll despise us a little less. I don't care if we have to leave— to find a place of our own, so we can avoid hurting each other… but something has to give. We deserve a chance to live, and love, and fuck up, and learn from it as much as they do, without having to worry when it's gonna collapse because we were born the wrong way."

It wasn't until she could no longer be bound that she learned to resent both the choice and the fear that made it look like mercy. That lesson resonates at a remove compared to His, but it's no less powerful for its distance.

After a silent spell: "You're going to be wearing, just. Inappropriate amounts of white, now," she quietly wonders while pushing a small smile into place, "aren't you?"

NOW

The boy is actually asleep in that locked, booming sedan. He's a little on the tall and lanky side, with a brown undercut and a bags under his eyes. A patina of sweat coats his brow and his breathing is a little jagged. There isn't a remarkable thing about him except for the one making mincemeat of the area's physics.

The air around it and Angel begins to warm.

«Yeah,» Phoenix replies, quiet and distracted, «but I can't… I can stop it…»

The air around everything warms. Flames older than Ayers Park waver in and out of existence around the sedan— around other vehicles nearby.

Around a cloud of knives, around stalls, crafts, produce, people…

«… but it'd… stop if I did. Hard.» Her 'voice', such as it is, grows fainter by the moment. «Can't juggle talking to him… and everything else…»

Phoenix has made her choice as she clutches what was, and will one day again be a farmer's market close to her bosom, warm and safe. Unmoving save to tuck her limbs in close, the woman's wreathed in a sliver of the fire bound to her soul and psyche; it's enough to render her nearly formless in its depths, revealing intermittent flickers of pale skin or shimmering uniform and little more.

«… but I can facilitate… for someone else…»

Angel begins to warm from within, as if someone's wrapping a weighted electric blanket around his mind.

«Someone who gets what it is to want… to need… to hide something wonderful from a fearful world…»

* * *

THEN

Jean speaks, and as she does, Warren preens. Not in the metaphorical sense a wealthy, self-absorbed, pretty young man would preen; this actually is literal preening, a nervous sort of maintenance gesture that is just another thing underlining the fact Angel is something not quite human. Something that blends man and beast. He picks at the feathers of one wing absently, straightening and combing them, interlocking plumes that have become displaced. She'll die, Jean declares, before she lets them be made less than they are.

Warren smoothes his feathers in a last pass of his hand. "No one gets that more than me," he says quietly. "I've been made half of who I am, for half of my life. My hope… optimistic, I know… is that this will promote more understanding. People fear less what they see everyday, and which they see doesn't threaten them after all. I believe we can achieve that without having to compromise who and what we are to them." A pause. "If we can't, then we'll cross that bridge then." He folds his wing back behind his back. "I already intend to see what I can do about lobbying to make the legislation seem less like DNA profiling, or the compilation of a damned do-not-fly list. At least reel it back until it's only for violent offenders. If I'm going to register to keep my resources, then I'm going to put them to use."

Silence descends… and then, a break in the seriousness. A lazy smile coils across his face. "There is no such thing as inappropriate amounts of white," he says, "when you're me."

NOW

The white uniform Angel wears certainly puts proof to that statement. It's somehow stayed pristine so far, though that might change very soon.

He frowns at the boy — ostensibly sleeping — before his frown deepens as the ambient temperature rises. «…That you or him, Jeannie?» he says, trying not to show the nervousness in his voice, and inevitably failing because it's Jean Grey. There is a flicker through his memories, a quickly-suppressed recollection of fear, and fire, and the wrenching pain of loss. The day Jean died marked them all. They banter like nothing's changed, but everything has, and sometimes Warren isn't quite sure anymore what Jean does — or is.

There's no time for fear and old memories now, though — no luxury for recollection. Warren pushes the thought from his head. Just handle it like old times, he thinks, and he leans forward. «Yeah,» he says, closing his eyes and letting the warmth seep in. «You handle the rest. I'll talk to him.»

* * *

«It's me, Warren,» she assures in a 'whisper'.

Warmth builds within and without. Psychic flames tint until Angel's hovering in a sea of magenta stars.

«Just let go, and…»

It's a falling dream. Angel - technically, a psychic representation of Angel drawn from his subconscious to ease the transition from physical existence, but who's really counting - feels a powerful, downward pull. Unlike the boy—

— unlike Oliver, tumbling towards him through grey skies and screaming, Angel has the power to control it. The name settles in the folds of the X-Man's mind.

It's a falling dream, so everything is falling: Oliver, the contents of his bedroom, the furniture in his house, everyone and everything he remembers from his block, his school, his jiu jitsu gym, all of it careens endlessly towards whatever doom lurks in the stormy darkness below.

Everything is falling, so it's a good thing that Angel is, as is so often the case, exceptional: unlike the largely self-contained chaos without, Oliver's terror has made a hailstorm of his life, placing the X-Man in the middle of countless hurtling pieces of projectile mundania.

And as everyone knows: if you die on the Astral Plane, you die in real life, even if it's to something stupid like getting hit in the face by a beanbag chair at high speeds.

"aaAAAaaaa— ! Aaaa— aaa— am— am I— "

Once subconscious instinct alerts him to the presence of a witness, the wings are of course the first thing he sees.

"— am I— am I dead? I- is this— this is what HEAVEN is?!" he sputters, eyes bulging. "IS this Heaven??!"

* * *

It's me, says Jean, and she can feel Warren instantly relax in the corridors of their linked minds. Some things change, but others stay exactly the same: like the trust of years of fighting together. Even the uncertainty born of years and outlandish events cannot kill how deep a reflex that trust is.

That trust yields a singular sensation, one not entirely unfamiliar to him. Warren doesn't react to falling quite the same way humans do. Most people panic at the sudden sensation of descent, but Warren has moved in three dimensions ever since fifteen. He settles into the sensation a lot more rapidly than, say, 'Oliver' does.

This is good, because very shortly after his manifestation into this snapshot of the Astral Plane, a falling sofa attempts to murder him.

The X-Man twists right with a surprised flare of his wings, glances upwards, and then dodges a few more assorted projectiles — a floor lamp, a table, some exercise mats — before they can impale or smash or otherwise inconvenience him. «I hate the Astral Plane,» he says, mostly to himself, because Jean is presumably busy and Oliver has more important topics of discussion on his mind than Warren's opinions.

am I dead and is this Heaven?!

"I get that question a lot," says Angel, with the wry patience of long experience. "No on both counts, kid, sad to say. If you actually were, and I was what you thought I was, you'd be talking with Saint Peter first before you ever got to me." A pause. "I think that's how the hierarchy goes."

He skirts a plummeting chalkboard, to dare a bit closer. "I am here to help you, though, if I can." His tone softens. "What brought you out here, by yourself?"

* * *

"I— "

Shuddering, falling, Oliver's eyes fly over Angel for a few fearfully uncertain beats before squeezing shut.

"— I— I— I tried so hard, I tried not to, I— ever— ever since last week, I— wh— whenever I, I sleep, I…"

Several bands worth of drums and sticks tumble towards Angel and Oliver actually winces apologetically as they do. None of it seems even near endangering him; if anything, the careening pieces of his life faintly orbit him on their way down.

"… G-God, things just— I had to tell my parents I fell on the bed, and that's why it broke, n-not— not that it fell. Because… because of me. B— because I— because I'm a monster, I…"

Oliver's eyes are screwed firmly to the storm below, now, as a tremor wracks his body.

"Y— you can't tell my dad," he fearfully whispers. "You can't, he'll…!"

One piece of Oliver's life breaks erupts out of formation to lance towards the man and the boy alike: a crucifix bigger than either with a spiked end poised to skewer both, one after the other.

* * *

There are a few benefits to having the mutation that he does, and Angel counts that blessing regularly among the many other blessings of his life. Though he may never be able to know what it is like to be a mutant that can easily present as completely human, the nature of his often enables him to roll a certain number of automatic successes towards gaining trust — or even obedience, in the case of some of the more religious.

People are just naturally disposed to place trust in things that look angelic. Warren would be lying if he said he never used that, on occasion.

It certainly might be a reason he keeps his wings conspicuously open, now that the storm of debris seems to be settling. A reason he doesn't calm his astral presence, which usually sees fit to limn his wings in a slight glow of light (perhaps a commentary on how integral the appendages are to his sense of identity, in his subconscious). He listens, as an angel might, as Oliver finally opens up to him, and in that stammering he hears an echo of all the many mutants he has seen manifest over the years — and an echo of himself, fourteen and being told that what was in his back was not cancer.

"You are no monster, Oliver," Angel says. "No more than I am; no more than any other mutant is. What happened to you happened to me, fifteen years ago. And I had to hide it too. I tried to stop it. I tried to cut them off. They came back."

He drifts still closer. "But there is a place you can go where you can learn what is happening to you — "

His sharp eyes pick out movement before he even registers quite what the movement is; cutting through the air with a sharp downbeat of his wings, he dive out of the way of the first lancing thrust, then reaches to pull the boy out of the path of the next. A stark illustration of what 'father' might do, if ever there was one…

"Your father does not have to know," he says. "Not until you want him to know. If you ever do."

* * *

Oliver clings tightly to a radiant, feathery embodiment of his hopes and fears as another falls past them.

As manipulations go, Warren's is a kind one indeed.

"B-but— but someone'll… Mom'll know, she— what if she…"

Brown eyes jitter over Warren's face for several lingering moments.

"… I… you— you cut them off?" he whispers, wonder creeping in amidst the terror. "But…" His gaze drifts towards seraphic majesty.

"… but they're so— they… they're awesome, they're…"

Another shudder passes through the boy as he returns to Warren's face.

"Where… where is this place?" He swallows a lump as soccer gear rains down around them.

"Are you sure?"

* * *

"You've already run away, Oliver," Angel says, his voice sad. "That die is already cast. But we can help you deal with everything that will come next."

The boy clings, and Warren lets him. He remembers what it was like to feel lost, with feathers sawing their way out of his flesh… and moreover, it helps him keep the young man clear of the continual rain of debris. He tells the boy he too, tried so hard to not be what he was, and the expression of mingled wonder and terror puts a wistful look on Warren's face, though he is careful to disguise the thought behind it. They always are awed, those who do not have to wear sixteen feet of abnormality on their backs.

But they're awesome. "They are," Angel says. "But at the time, I couldn't see that… and my father? He hated them. He wanted them gone."

His arm tightens around the boy's shoulders. There is a distinct sense this winged creature will not let him fall. "There were a lot of things I didn't tell him, either. Not until I was ready. So… yes. I am sure." His gaze turns down to meet Oliver's. "I lived it."

Wings furl in, shielding away the descending paraphernalia. "It's a school, an hour north. The Xavier Institute. I went to it, too, when I decided I wanted to learn what I was… but more than just a school, it exists so we will always have somewhere safe to be, with others like us."

* * *

"With all the muti— "

An ugly word is barely held from escaping Oliver's lips. An instinctively furrowed brow softens. Hate's so much easier to internalize than love, but there doesn't need to be any here, does there?

They aren't in the world of protest signs and creepy bible study/gun club meetings right now, are they?

They're in his dream, and his dream contains an Angel.

"My brother knew, but he didn't— he didn't care. He didn't mind at all, and they don't mind me staying with him sometimes, as long as I make it to school… God. God, I hope I didn't flip his car or something— God, he'd be so //mad—!" Oliver quickly shakes his head and tries to slough the fear from his mind. There's nothing to worry about; he's only dreaming, and the nightmare he's been living with is about to end.

"I mean, uh— I, uh, I accept, just— I gotta make sure he knows where I am…"

A beat as he looks down and swallows again.

"A-and— and I guess… I guess I— I gotta…"

…..

… . .

Oliver opens his eyes and sees an Angel floating near his window.

He sees the farmer's market floating behind Angel, too, but the blonde X-Man being the first thing to welcome him back to the world helps keep the panic at bay, for now. That the market's still cradled firmly in magenta flames helps, but mostly: he knows that he will not fall, and that's enough.

* * *

An ugly word nearly escapes Oliver. Angel does not blink. He's heard ugliness often enough over the course of his life it doesn't phase him like it used to, and he's helped enough young people — going through what he once did — to know that in the beginning, most of their hatred is all held inside, directed at themselves and what they are.

The trick is helping them let it go.

"We can get in touch with your brother," he assures. A pause, and half a wry look crosses Warren's face. "And if his car got flipped, we can take care of that too. But for now, you need to — "

Wakefulness comes, bringing with it a sight in real life which is not that much less impressive than what he saw in sleep. The sight of what he's done — again — is for now, veiled away by the mantling spread of white wings.

"Come," Warren says, opening the car door and extending a hand. "My colleague's got all that in hand."

Blue eyes half-close. «He's good to go, Jean. Sounds like we've got at least one stop to make before the school, though.»

* * *

The sedan's lock pops. Warren opens the door and Oliver takes the offered hand. With the other, he reaches over and flicks the roaring metal off.

The market and its occupants begin settling back into place as hundreds of invisible fingers do delicate work.

«Exotic weapons test?» Phoenix wonders, still faint. «HYDRA gas leak? Space rock with space radiation?»

"His car's okay," he offers with a small smile and a relieved sigh. "Thanks…" His eyes drift towards the wings as he trails, and— true, they aren't glowing; but they're no less awesome.

"My name's— oh, wait. Duh. You know my name." A momentary pause. "… 'course you know my name, hah. I— I just can't believe you're real."

His smile grows after a longer sigh and he drops his eyes, self-conscious.

"I think I'm ready for the other stuff to be real too."

* * *

«I'd usually go for the space rock one,» Warren muses back at Jean, «but that feels a little too-soon. What do you think? Gas leak's been on the shelf long enough to be fresh again.»

His attention returns to Oliver as the young man steps out of the car. Giving him a hand up, he glances towards the car, then nods once. The rest of the world starts to settle back into place, and so too does Warren; he could keep hovering, but that'd be a lot of kicked-up dust straight into the kid's face.

"I am real," assures Warren, his wings folding neatly, "and so is the rest. I'd like to say the astral dream trip is the weirdest it gets, but I can make you no promises there. It'll majority be the good kind of weird, though."

Curling a wing about the boy, he guides him back towards where Jean waits. "Now how do you feel about jets?"

* * *

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