The Race
by Indigo

Chapter 2

Charles Xavier sat brooding in his study, the Cerebro helmet on his head. Do I really have the right? he asked himself. The right to draw another innocent life into this war? As much as he hated to admit it to himself, 'war' was becoming an increasingly appropriate term for the volatile situation between mutants and humans. Worse, he knew he was partly responsible for that sad condition. Do I have the right to recruit someone else to a Dream I'm not even sure is working any more? He squeezed his eyes shut against the hot tingle that threatened tears. Self-doubt was not something that Charles Francis Xavier permitted himself ordinarily; admitting, even to himself, that his dream was perhaps futile, was as painful to him as a physical blow. Even so, he relished the pain. The man he used to be would have shut that pain away, ignored it, denied it. But he was no longer precisely the man he once prided himself on being.

The man he had once prided himself on being had succumbed to his darker instincts ... to his primal urges ... to his rage. And that had been the weakness that had proven the fracture in his psyche, allowing the damage to fester, personify, and finally manifest as Onslaught. He had failed everyone and everything that ever had mattered to him, then. Worse, he'd betrayed everyone and everything he cared about. He, Charles Xavier, father of the Dream, had been the traitor Bishop had come back in time to stop.

Charles closed his eyes, letting the memories unfurl in his mind's eye.

He had manipulated Emma Frost's mind when she had only been moments awake from her coma. Even if he never spoke it aloud, or let the thought beyond his mental shields for any other telepath to hear -- in his heart of hearts, Charles Xavier believed that he had done so with the best of intentions. But thus, as they say, is paved the road to hell, Charles, he reminded himself. I must do better than this. I must learn from the mistakes of my past. Thoughts of Jean, and the unrequited love he once held for him helped him steel his resolve. I slipped once. But now I must be ever-vigilant and remember -- "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." Nietsche said it and I should have heeded that warning. I failed in that once and nearly destroyed all I've worked for with my own hands. I cannot slacken my efforts ... I cannot let things become worse.

"Cerebro," he finally said at length, voice heavy. "Identify location of contact."

Cerebro hummed and buzzed as it followed Charles' command, and finally answered, "Custer City, Oklahoma."

Charles nodded, and cast out his thoughts for his X-Men. [~Cerebro has located a new manifestation.~] Even this long after Operation Zero Tolerance, he dared not allow some mutant to manifest alone. Who knew if all the Omega Sentinels had been taken in and deprogrammed? The manifesting mutant in Oklahoma could be in danger. Just as long as you're not rationalizing the reason to yourself, Charles.

Or so he told himself.

Bobby Drake, Hank McCoy, and Cecilia Reyes were the only X-Men in the house, so they answered his summons.

"I will not be accompanying you. But you must make certain this mutant is safe, and you must make certain they know ours is a place they can learn to use their powers in peace," Charles said.

"Should be easy enough," Bobby shrugged. "Hank with an image inducer, and Cecilia would be my choices."

Cecilia raised her brows. "Say what? Me? You know I don't wanna be part of this whole super-spandex club."

Hank smiled toothily at Cecilia. "That's true, my dear. And that is a point of view we have not often had represented when dealing with a new manifestation."

Charles nodded, brows and eyes dark over steepled fingers. "While I would be most pleased and least worried for our new manifestation's safety if he chose to return with us -- in fairness, I must make certain they are aware of all their options."

Hank and Bobby exchanged a glance between them. This was unusual for the usually unshakably self-assured Professor Xavier.

"And what're we to do if this kid just wants to stay in..." Cecilia frowned at the map behind Charles on the wall. "Oklahoma?"

"We let him live in Oklahoma," Charles answered simply. "With the knowledge that we are here should he change his mind."

"Oh, bullSHIT!" Cecilia snapped. "That's the same line you gave me when I turned you down years ago, and look where I am now. In your goddamn mansion. I didn't change my damn mind. I had no choice when the Sentinels came calling and shattered my life. You want the kid to have the choice to grow up alone and live happy, you should just not go and leave him the hell alone." With that, Cecilia whirled on one heel and stalked out, forcefield activating to protect her as she straightarmed the study doors open.

Charles' expression could have not been more stunned and horror-stricken if Cecilia had dumped the entrails of young children in his lap. "They ... they infiltrated the Mansion. Cable attempted to protect or destroy the information! I did not intentionally break my word!" He raised his voice against the receding sound of Cecilia's footfalls. He paused, took a slow breath, and schooled his face back to its customary unperturbable mask. "She may not forgive me for that soon, Henry, but we both know this is the best place, the safest place for her."

Hank gave Charles an apologetic smile. "If I were to agree with you wholeheartedly, Professor -- I cannot give you uncontrovertible assurances that my concordance was entirely bereft of selfish motives." He glanced at the doors as they swung slowly closed, then back to his mentor. "You, sir, see only sequestering us under your auspices -- where we may shelter from the hatred of the world. Cecilia sees only that she had a happy, if hard life -- one in which a quirk divergence in her DNA made no difference in how she lived."

Charles sighed. "I daresay you have a point."

Hank smiled wryly. "You have our best interests at heart; this has never been disputable."

Bobby nodded. "Hey, you turned me from the Abominable Snow-Punk to the Iceman I am today. That has to count for something to somebody besides me. I wouldn't have traded this life for a so-called 'normal' one for a million bucks. Sure, it's been hard. But Professor -- I've seen Asgard! I've seen outer space! And poor Cecilia's only seen the crummy side of wearing the blue and gold."

Charles raised both brows to regard Bobby with veiled surprise. That had been a startlingly insightful remark from the normally jocular member of his first class. "Perhaps you're right, Bobby. But the question at hand remains." He gestured to the map.

Hank regarded his best friend with similar amazement as had Charles. He visibly came to some resolution to an inner conflict, turning an apologetic smile on Charles. "I ... had better go calm her down." He bounded out of the room, leaving only Charles and Bobby, looking uneasily at each other.

"Are you up to dealing with this alone, or would you like to wait for one of the others to get home and accompany you?" Charles asked.

"I can do it alone. I'm not the baby of the family anymore, or the class clown," Bobby said softly.

"Excellent," Charles said, nodding and genuinely smiling. And this way, with no telepath present, there will be no question of coercion. He turned, tapped a few keys, and waited patiently for the printer to finish. He turned in his hoverchair and handed the printout to Bobby. "Godspeed then, Iceman. I am ... very proud of you."

Bobby smiled uncomfortably, but nodded. "I'll call if I need backup, but I don't expect to." He turned and bounded out the door, full of exuberance.

Charles could sense in his thoughts the eagerness to do this right and bring the new kid home.

"Godspeed indeed," Charles whispered.

One night earlier, in Custer City Oklahoma, Population 443, a fourteen year old boy sat on the steps of his new home, looking out at the flat, dry land before him in all directions -- and devoutly, fervently, wanted to get the hell out of here.

There were 75 kids within five years of his age out of the entire town ... and he had nothing in common with them save the same things he had in common with any other human being. He didn't know how to ride a horse. He didn't know the first thing about farming or ranching, nor did he care. He didn't know how to square dance, and Country/Western music made him want to defenestrate himself -- or, preferably, the person playing it at him. As a result, they treated him like a Skrull with a highly contagious case of some rare tropical disease.

His name was Aiko Carey, and he wanted to go home.

Unfortunately, that was a wish that would never come true for him. Home was here, now -- in this dusty, boring one-horse town because it was all he had left.

It was 99 miles to the nearest airport, and the pickup truck parked out front had barely made the trip back from the airport as it was. It was a ten mile walk to the nearest Interstate. There was one McDonalds, and it closed at 8 pm, for crying out loud! They didn't even have their own public library! If the unspeakable, awful, non-city quiet wasn't enough to bother him, the only noise that did permeate to his bedroom at night was the never-ending thrum of the oil pumps.

He knew that going back to San Francisco, home of his birth, was completely out of the question. His parents had died and with no next of kin, he went to his godmother Banji Darwin -- who much preferred the simple life afforded her here as a schoolteacher. He had, literally, nowhere else to go. He was two years from being an emancipated minor, and seven from inheriting whatever his parents had left him. Can't blame them, though, Aiko thought, brushing the long bleached-blonde bangs out of his face. It's not like they expected to get killed in a battle between a bunch of kids in purple and gold superhero outfits and some big purple robot guys.

"Go home, queer boy!"

Aiko had five seconds to duck before the Coke bottle came flying over his head. It was glass, and they still called it "pop" out here ... yet another reminder of how he would never be able to fit in. A half-Japanese, half-Jamaican boy was a standout no matter where he was, but in a small town in the heartland of America, he was practically a target. Nevermind that he'd been born in San Francisco; he looked too different for the insular little community's preference.

Just because he was from San Francisco, the kids Aiko's age teased him about being gay. They'd never seen a kid who had brown skin and epicanthic folds, nor one who wore dreadlocks. They didn't skateboard or rollerblade in Culver City. They didn't understand that it was a sign of individuality to dye or bleach one's hair, nor did they grasp it was a fashion statement to have both ears pierced with gold hoops; nor the fact that he had tattoos -- an IRIE on his left shoulder to signify his Jamaican heritage, and a rising sun on his right, to signify his Japanese ancestry.

Outside the school, almost no one had an internet connection! The nearest one was a long-distance call.

Banji was as understanding as she could be about it, but it was either this or let him become a ward of the State. Banji told Aiko she was sorry he was unhappy but that she couldn't dishonor his mother's memory by allowing her son to become one of the faceless statistics of the world. Aiko couldn't argue that point. His mother had loved him dearly. Both of his parents had. They had still been as in love the day they died as they had been when they married, Aiko imagined. Most of the kids his age back west had families that were divorced and blended. He had been the only kid he knew over the age of 10 who had both his original parents still living happily together.

Oklahoma was everything San Francisco was not. His home city was all green and color and rolling hills. Oklahoma was flat and ... prairie-colored. Dull. By comparison, lifeless. It had only been four weeks, and he was out and out miserable.

"Aiko, hon -- dinner!" Banji called.

Fighting tears, Aiko ran inside, the derisive laughter of the townies dogging his steps.

continued >>

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