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Jack was really getting sick of criminals attack with mysterious weapons that had weird effects when combined with morphed humans.

Case in point, the beam that all five of them had just gotten hit with—and they really needed to change their tactics from ‘everyone charge from the same direction’ for exactly this reason—left all of them on the ground, disoriented. Jack climbed to his feet as the spots faded from his eyes, glancing around to check on the rest of the team, only to see a Ranger in red pushing upright to his left. A quick look at his arm revealed green, and when he said, “You have got to be kidding me,” it was Bridge’s voice that came out.

Seriously, screw mysterious weapons.

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People were staring at her. Most were at least aiming for discreet, but a few threw subtlety out the window and stared openly, whispering amongst themselves when Syd walked into cafeteria. She made a face as she scanned the room for a seat. Several people waved her over when she glanced their way, but she either saw a hint of star strike in their eyes or recognized them from earlier in the week, before she made it clear that she didn’t want to talk about her singing career. As far as she was concerned, she was always a worthwhile topic of discussion, but it was getting to be distracting. She was an SPD cadet now, just like everyone in the academy, but it would be a lot harder to get anywhere if people treated her as ‘Sydney Drew, Pop Star,’ instead of just ‘Syd, new cadet who happens to be extremely talented.’

Her gaze settled on a small table by the windows, a cadet about her age sitting alone, head bent over a book. After a moment, he glanced up, their eyes meeting for a second before he gave her a quick smile and turned back to his book. Syd started walking towards him almost immediately, somehow thankful for that moment of impersonal eye contact.

“Can I sit here?”

He looked up, pure bafflement on his face before he apparently registered what she said. “Oh, yeah, sure!”

“Thanks.” She waited until he shuffled his things off to the side before she sat, extending a hand as soon as she set her tray down. “I’m Syd.”

He smiled, but didn’t make a move to take her hand. “Bridge.”

“Oh!” The exclamation slipped out before Syd could stop it, and she immediately regretted it as wariness and resignation slipped into Bridge’s eyes. Still, knowing first hand how much rumor mills normally got wrong, she asked, “Is it true?”

“Yes.”

Syd smiled and laid her hand on her tray. “That’s great! I thought I’d be the only one who was different.”

Bridge’s smile, when he saw her now-plastic hand, was brilliant.

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Nami studied her wine suspiciously, wondering who had spiked her drink and what, exactly, it had been spiked with. It was the only explanation for what she was seeing. Luffy was not staring at his plate, which had only moments before been piled with steaks rather than celery, and whimpering dejectedly. Chopper was not alternating between listening to Usopp’s story about an entire island of flying rabbits who had declared him their leader and sparkling at the new arrival. Sanji was not muttering a recipe for hasenpfeffer under his breath. Zoro was not ignoring his crewmates and the… thing in their midst to take a nap—no, wait, he was doing that. No imagination could produce snoring that loud.

Nami closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “There is not a rabbit in a superhero costume. It is not real. It is a hallucination.”

“Do I look like a hallucination?” the creature demanded, straightening to its full height and ignoring Nami’s nod. “It is I, Captain Vegetable!”

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Relic

May. 8th, 2017 01:20 pm
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Cobra ran his hand over the rim of the stone ring. It seemed like an obvious question, since he’d never seen it before, but he hadn’t been in the condition to notice any extra statuary when Crocodile and Ms. All Sunday brought him down here. “And it was sealed off until this morning?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” The foreman motioned to where a support beam held up a crumbling section of ceiling. “We’d never have found the room if the ceiling hadn’t brought part of the wall down.”

Behind them, Igaram cleared his throat. “To that end, Your Majesty, is it safe for you to be down here?”

Cobra glanced back at him, then through the open wall to the bustling activity in the tomb proper. It had seemed pointless to hide its existence after Crocodile’s defeat, particularly given the gaping hole leading up to the Square. Now a miniature army of workers scurried through the space, clearing rubble and adding supports to keep the tomb from collapsing any further. Announcing the tomb’s existence was a small price to pay to keep it from bringing the city down in a slow collapse. “If it weren’t safe, these men would not be down here, Igaram.” He turned back to study the towering structure, walking through the ring to look over the other side. “Have you any idea what it is?”

“No, Your Majesty. Strange thing, though. There’s no way they could have brought this down after the tomb was built; they must have built around it.”

“Hmm.” He ran his fingers over the closest symbol one more time, a circle hovering above a bottomless triangle, before dropping his hand and stepping away.

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It did make sense, Kaku decided, laying on the roof of the judicial tower, to use capture the flag as a training exercise. It was easy enough to rile up the competitive spirit of a bunch of eleven- and twelve-year-old boys.

Competitive boys got creative very, very fast. Some of the strategies his classmates had come up with to hide and find the flags had been impressive.

And violent; the infirmary was already half-filled with injuries caused by careless—or, he added, allowing himself a grin, careful—rankyaku or shigan.

Still, when looked at the right way, Capture the Flag was a good, basic mission:  identify and locate the target, work with team to create plan, eliminate obstacles as necessary, eliminate target. If the instructors were lucky, the trainees would remember something from this later on. It was almost perfect.

“There he is!”

It made sense, Kaku repeated, jumping off the tower, his classmates in fast pursuit, but he hated being the flag.

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Recognition

May. 8th, 2017 12:50 pm
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Hartley didn’t really think of himself as an ass man. However, when the resident superhero wore spandex and spent his time running, it was hard not to notice.

Unfortunately, the same could be said of Kid Flash. It had been a few years since the young speedster has shown up with his mentor, and it showed. Acknowledging even that much made Hartley feel vaguely dirty; he may have a long list of illegal things that he’s willing to do, but teenage superheroes are not on it. At least the arrow had disappeared from his lower back sometime over the summer.

He didn’t realize the damage was already done until he had the news on one evening. It was only background noise while he planned his next heist, but eventually the words, “Division I Champion,” “ISEF affiliated”, and “over a thousand high school students,” broke through his concentration. He chuckled, the end of the Pied Piper story running through his mind as he watched the footage of the science fair. Hypnotizing that many scientifically-inclined people was probably asking for trouble, and the children part predictable, but it was something to think on later. Especially if they all showed the same level of aptitude as the apparent winner, a lanky, redheaded boy who spoke confidently about molecular geometry with a grin.

Then the teen turned away from the camera to gesture at the diagrams behind him.

As it turned out, well-fitted slacks showed off someone’s lower body about as well as spandex. Hartley gaped at the screen as the boy – Kid Flash – turned back to the camera; now that he’d made the connection, he could easily recognize that grin, fit the cowl and goggles across that face.

He leaned back in his chair, shock slowly fading into a new set of plans. He’d missed the kid’s name, but that would be easy enough to find out. He would do some research, find out more about the kid before bringing anything to the other Rogues. And then mock them that he found out so easily that Kid Flash was—

He’d recognized Kid Flash by his ass.

He was never, ever telling the other Rogues about this.

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Breathe in. Step. Turn. Breathe out.

The movements were second nature, something every child from his planet learned as soon as their wings held true. On their own, they helped with coordination and balance; in the wider forms, they formed the basis of almost every dance and martial art in his culture.

For J, they were a meditation.

He stretched his arms over his head, arched his back, and let his mind drift back.

The faces of the other Soldatos passed behind his eyes with the initial steps, acceptance and regret acknowledged and set aside with each movement; they’d all volunteered knowing they likely wouldn’t survive.

He brushed thoughts of Abel away with a sweep of his foot. Last he’d known she had boarded the last refugee ship. She could still be alive; he’d done his best to ensure that. And if she was alive, then maybe…

He shook his head, catching himself in a misstep. He stilled, centered himself again, and breathed before restarting the slow pattern.

His spouses. His steps stuttered again, and he broke the pattern to throw himself into a spin. Old pain teased his mind – he’d felt them die – only to be shoved back. He knew it was there; he could deal with it in time.

Which left thoughts of his children.

He stopped. His muscles ached – Tomoro would not be happy with him, putting this strain on his body this soon after healing – and he couldn’t think any more, not without…

He took a deep breath and reset his stance. Back to basics. He would deal with the complicated steps again when he was able to.

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“Damnit, GB, don’t—”

Francoise didn’t even flinch at the now familiar sound of a body hitting the ground at high speed. Even the stream of Sicilian invective that followed didn’t get more than a slight frown – and did her voice really get that shrill or was it just Jet?

Instead, she focused on carefully preparing a mug of tea. She’d already broken three cups over the past day, not to mention the crushed doorknob; she wanted to avoid breaking anything else due to her not being used to Junior’s strength. She just really needed a little calm and quiet to get used to this, but…

Another crash echoed in from outside, closely followed by Jet yelling, “It’s not that hard! Ease up on the thrusters!”

She loved her boys, she really did, but ‘calm and quiet’ would never describe most of them.


---------------

By process of elimination, they’d quickly figured out that Albert had ended up in Ivan’s body. Ivan, who had just started his two-week sleep. Ivan, who was now sitting in Joe’s body, staring at his own unconscious form.

Ivan had to wonder if this was how the others felt when he was asleep during an emergency.

Idly, Ivan flexed Joe’s hand, watching the long, adult fingers curl and straighten. Technically, the situation wasn’t an emergency. Inconvenient and uncomfortable, yes, but nothing they couldn’t live with for a couple weeks.

“Ivan?”

Inconvenient and uncomfortable and very slightly creepy. Ivan looked up into GB’s face and saw Junior’s patient gaze looking back. “It’s time for dinner.”

Ivan nodded, carefully standing up and slowly left the room. Junior stayed close, but let him walk on his own.


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The medbay was quiet without the other cyborgs hovering in the background. The only noise was the tone of 008’s monitors on the other end of the room. Gilmore listened for any change in the steady beat as he finished repairing 002’s leg. The only sign that 002 wasn’t sleeping through the repairs was how tightly his arms were crossed across his chest.

“What they did to the Cyborgmen, that’s what they were trying to do to D3 and D10, right?”

The question was almost matter of fact; Gilmore kept his eyes trained on his hands, frozen while clearing liquid out of the joint hinge, and took a deep breath. “Yes.” He forced himself to start working again, setting the joint back into place. “I had thought that that line of experiments was abandoned after… after it failed with those two. I suppose it was moved to a different lab.”

002 made a small noise, and Gilmore pretended not to notice when 002’s hands tightened on his arms. Instead he replaced the sliced hydraulic tubes and tried to ignore the memories lurking.

This was likely why the two of them didn’t talk much, Gilmore thought, setting the last connector and starting to reseal the knee. Despite everything, the rest of the cyborgs were still learning the extent of what Black Ghost was willing to do, and by extension what Gilmore was culpable for; 002 had lost any illusions on that front long ago.

“I don’t really remember everything that happened back then.”

Gilmore let the implications of that sink in as he finished working. “Trauma, most likely,” he said, glancing up at 002 and feeling a bit of guilty relief that his eyes were hidden behind his bangs. “It’s possible that you blanked out some events to protect yourself. Though I remember several concussions that likely didn’t help any.” That got a short laugh, and Gilmore smiled for a moment before the gravity of the conversation set back in. “No mind alterants were used on you. Given how long it took for you to learn to fly, no one wanted to risk anything that could cause any setbacks.”

Slowly, 002’s hands relaxed, and he tilted his head until he could peer out from under his bangs. “More setbacks than running headfirst into trees?”

“We could only control so many variables.” Gilmore stood up, his back twinging in protest at straightening after so long hunched over. “Do you think you’ll be able to sleep? I can get a sedative.”

“Nah, I’ll be fine.” 002 didn’t look fine, still pale and tired, but that stubborn light was back in his eyes.

“All right.” Absurdly, Gilmore felt the impulse to ruffle 002’s hair; he settled for laying his hand on 002’ shoulder. “Good night, 002.”

“Night, doc.”


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She did wait until after the war, because she was young and optimistic and hopeful. But even she couldn’t wait forever, and she eventually got used to him not being there. She never remarried, but she lived a long, full life in the house they were to share their lives in.

But when she got older, it was clear her mind was starting to deteriorate. She didn’t always remember names, or mistook who someone was. The worst was that she started waiting again. And when she was too bad off to live in that large house all on her own, her family moved her into a hospital, and her favorite nephew offered to take responsibility for her.

She fought so hard against it. He wouldn’t be able to find her if she wasn’t in the house. A few weeks later, her heart just gave out. A peaceful death in her sleep, the doctors said.

Her favorite nephew was a scientist with Black Ghost. He bribed the hospital to place fake death records and took her. Her frail body wasn’t a problem; they just needed her brain. And the house.

They rebuilt the house, made it a weapon, and put her in charge. They built a doll, based off old pictures of her, to act as life support for her brain.

When she woke up, she was the house, the one where he said he’d come back to her. And they showed her her body, young again, so that he’d recognize her when he came back. She would never have to leave.

We’ve done all this for you, they said. We just need you to do this for us.

And she was crying when she said yes.

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GB woke to the sounds of a camp already active, despite the dim light telling him just how early in the day it was. The morning chill manifested in the icy cold touch of the basin he slept in, despite the nearby campfire, and he surged over the side as soon as he registered it. He plucked a stray leaf out of his chest as he shifted into his default form and looked about the camp as soon as his eyes reformed.

And immediately had to protect said eyes when Jet took off a few yards away, kicking up sprays of sand with the first few sweeps of his wings before he caught the wind over the lake. Further down the beach, Geronimo sat feeding Ivan, and Pyunma could just be seen floating in the water. GB let his gaze wander over the lake, taking in the tranquility, until he felt a presence at his side. “You don’t get scenes like this in the city.”

“No,” Chang agreed. GB leaned into him, soaking in the warmth the shorter man emanated. He glanced around, checking for their unaccounted teammates, and found them still asleep on the far side of the fire. “Should we wake them?”

“No.” The flames in Chang’s eyes glowed faintly as he looked up. “We don’t know when Dolphin will be back from feeding, so we might as well let everyone rest up. Besides,” he added, sounding more chipper, “it looks like there’s good fishing in this lake.” He pulled away, ignoring GB’s protest, and spooned a mug of soup from a pot buried next to the fire. “Now, go enjoy the morning.”

GB laughed and looped his free arm around Chang’s shoulders in a quick half-hug before he let himself be shooed away. Chang’s cheerful humming followed him as he joined Geronimo and Ivan. Geronimo gave him a nod in greeting when he sat in the sand next to them, while Ivan blinked at him through his fringe. ‘You’re in a good mood.’

“Yes, well.” He tilted his head back, let the breeze run over his face, and watched Jet loop through the perfect blue sky. “It really is a lovely day.”

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“You want me to what?” Junior asked, not quite thinking he’d misheard

“Throw me,” Joe repeated, pointing up and over his shoulder. Out the window, Junior could see – and thankfully couldn’t hear – Francoise and Pyunma yelling up at where GB and Jet looked to be playing keep-away with a volleyball. Knowing them, they were just out of reach.

The logic behind Joe’s request was suddenly very clear.

Junior considered. Even with their enhanced durability, Junior’s strength could still easily hurt his fellow cyborgs. Joe knew that, and still asked.

“Alright.”

The squawking noise Jet made when Joe slammed into him was incredibly satisfying

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The birth certificate proclaimed that Vincente Esposito was born to Francesco Esposito and Gracia Caro Palomo February 2nd, 1942. It wasn’t hard to figure out whose it was – aside from the birthday, Jet’s current legal name was Vincent – but Pyunma couldn’t think of any reason Jet would hand him a copy of his original birth certificate out of the blue. The flyer scowled at him, waiting for some sort of reaction.

“So what’s this for?”

Jet ducked his head a little, his scowl deepening. “It’s stupid.”

There was a note of uncertainty in his voice, mostly hidden under the irritation, that you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know him well; Pyunma’d heard that note too often to miss it. “It can’t be that stupid if you bothered to hunt it down. How’d you get the hospital to give you a copy?”

“Said it was my grandfather’s.” Jet relaxed slightly and shrugged. “I don't know, I guess I want someone to know. And you won’t make a big deal out of it.”

Translating that from Jet-speak turned it into a pretty big declaration of trust. Pyunma accepted it with a nod. “Alright. Tell me.”


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The rain was sudden, a few minutes of distant thunder the only warning before a sudden torrent unleashed and 002 said, “Hey, stop the car.”

004 glanced over; the other cyborg had sat up from his sullen slouch in the passenger seat and was staring out the window. “Something wrong?”

“I just want to get out now.”

He could understand that; they’d all been spending a lot of time outside since they’d escaped, but still… “We’re in the middle of a thunderstorm and you want to stop and feel the rain?”

002 finally turned to glare at him. “It makes me feel normal, okay?”

It took a moment, but 004 did remember. Back during the tests, 002 had always complained that the rain muffled his sensors and made it harder to fly. But if they weren’t fighting for their lives right then…

He pulled over.


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“I’m just saying, if you’re going to spy on me, at least—”

“Grant Britton!”

GB wasn’t the only one who stiffened at the shout, though likely for an entirely different reason than the others. He turned on his heel to see an older woman in a blue cardigan and matching pillbox hat determinedly bearing down on the group. “Mum?!”

006 had time to repeat, “Mum?” while 003 murmured, “Grant?” before he found himself yanked into a crushing embrace.

* * *

“I was afraid someone would find you dead in a ditch.”

GB stared down into his cup of tea, the sadness and guilt of the past few days a familiar lump in his chest. They’d relocated to a nearby pub, a light lunch providing GB with something to give him time to think. If only so he could think of a proper revenge on his traitorous teammates who’d disappeared as soon as they’d realized exactly what was happening.

“If I hadn’t read the reviews, would I have even known you’d resurfaced?”

“I’m sorry, mum. I wasn’t planning to be in town that long…”

The glare he received told him exactly how well that excuse went over. “And where have you been?”

“Rehab.” While she blinked at the lie, he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “And after I got out, I needed some time to figure things out. So I’ve been traveling.”

She made an intrigued sound. “With your friends from before?”

“Yes. We’ve been…” He laughed, relaxing away from the lies and half-truths. “We’ve all been going through some hard times. Being there for each other when we can has helped.”

She made that sound again, slowly sipping the last of her tea and setting the cup down with a sharp click. “You are coming home to dinner tonight.”

“Yes’m.”

“And bring your friends. If you’re traveling with them, I’d like to at least meet them.”

“Yes’m.”

She nodded sharply and stood up, rounding the table to drop a kiss on his head. “I’m glad you’re safe, my darling boy.”

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Pyunma shifted uncomfortably, his mind cycling too fast to sleep despite his body’s exhaustion. The silence of the medbay pressed against his chest and left no distraction from – he pulled the trigger, how could he pull the trigger – from his thoughts.

“I can hear you thinking from over here.”

And who’d have thought he’d ever be happy to hear 002 start complaining? “So sorry for keeping you up.”

“My leg’s doing that. Tell me about him.”

“What?”

002 sighed, and there was a rustle of sheets. When Pyunma looked over, the younger cyborg was sitting up, looking pale and pained. He only sounded grouchy, though, when he said, “Neither of us is getting any sleep, so tell me about him.”

Pyunma pushed himself up slowly, feeling pain twinge through his own body as he moved. “You want to hear about the person who shot you?”

Your friend didn’t shoot me.”

Considering everything that had happened over the past few days, the amount of conviction in 002’s voice was almost absurd. But it was enough to push Pyunma’s mind past the Cyborgman to better memories.

“Mamado and I grew up together.”

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Jet stared at Joe in disbelief, uncertain of what he was looking at exactly. Joe shifted uncomfortably under the look, holding the cupcake up almost as a shield. “I know last week wasn’t good, but,” he sped up, seeing Jet’s face darken at the mention of the disaster that was his birthday, “I still thought—happy unbirthday?”

He held his breath for a long moment as Jet just stood there, eyes hidden behind his bangs. Suddenly, finally, the tension left his shoulders and he muttered, “Since when did you read Through the Looking Glass?”

He still took the cupcake.

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“When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

Pyunma had heard that old saying about looking into the abyss, but he’d never quite considered applying it to a situation like this. Probably not a fair thought, but when he’d tried to understand 002, he’d underestimated just how much 002 returned the favor; he’d also underestimated how horrible 002’s ideas could be.

“You’re going to get shot,” he told the flier as they climbed into the torpedo tube.

002 just barked a laugh and said, “They’re not going away, and you want to get out there and do something as much as I do.”

And he was right, the anxious itch in the back of his mind easing as 002 contacted the bridge; Pyunma didn’t have to admit it out loud, though, so he just smiled as he tightened his grip around 002’s hips and said, “You’re just a horrible influence.”

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The whine of a baby broke through Jet’s pain-filled haze. He stared at the barracks ceiling for a few long minutes, no longer used to any noise besides his own in the room, before rolling off the cot and stumbling upright. Pain stabbed through his hips as he staggered across the room – he hadn’t thought the surgeries could get worse than those first few – and caught himself on the edge of the crib. “Hey.”

The infant – 001, he remembered; they’d changed his number again – quieted. He blinked up at the teenager. I didn’t mean to wake you.

“I wasn’t asleep.” Which might have been true; he was having trouble telling lately. “C’mere.”

I don’t think you should—Oh. Jet had up and cradled close to his chest before 001 could finish the thought. Jet slid down to the floor, back against the crib, and ran his fingers through 001’s hair.

“Better?”

I—yes.

Jet ran his fingers through 001’s hair again, head tilted back. He’d been moving on automatic, following faded memories of helping his aunts and grandmothers care for his baby cousins:  babies fussed, they got held. He didn’t have access to milk, even if 001 needed changing he didn’t have any supplies, so that left…

Ninna nanna, ninna oh, questo bimbo a chilo dò?

He stumbled over the words, the distance of time mixing with the drugs in his system blurring the lyrics and language, but he thought he got the melody right. 001 had relaxed against his chest, one hand curled clutching Jet’s shirt.

That was nice.

“Thanks.”

Do you know any more?

Jet cast his mind back, digging through dusty memories. “Yeah, I think so.” He cleared his throat. “Una mariposita, que del cielo bajó

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