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Avenger Assembled

No More Good Days (IC)

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Mark was gone from school for over a week after his father's disappearance, only occasionally emailing Erin or Chris to let them know he was all right. They were the friend who'd been there when his life had gone to Hell, after all, even if the absence of the others hadn't been their fault. So when he finally stepped back on campus in early June, just a week or so before Chris and James were due to graduate, he skipped his own room and headed upstairs to check on Erin and see if she was in. He was surprised to hear Alex's voice as he knocked on the door, but supposed it was good they were all there. He needed friends today, now, more than ever.

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"Come in," Erin called, not bothering to get up from the bed. Oliver had decided it was time for petting, and she was obliging him to the point where she was about to fall asleep. It really was true what they said about pets lowering your blood pressure. She was a little surprised when Oliver jumped down from her bunk and padded over to the door expectantly. She glanced over at Alex. "Must be Mark," she murmured under her breath. Oliver had a soft spot for the saddest people, and she couldn't think of anyone on campus more depressed right now.

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Alex turned around from where she was checking her reflection in the mirror. She was dressed in a very un-Alex like way, rocking a slim pantsuit that was distinctly grey although the blouse was a deep jewel toned that was her only ode to excess of color. She kicked off the low slung heels and headed on over to the door, tilting her head to the side before nodding her agreement with Erin's assessment. "Yeah, I think you're right." She agreed as she started to pull down the bun that she'd had her hair twisted up into. "I guess he's ready to talk about things."

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Mark walked in, almost stumbling over the purring cat, and bent down to scoop him up into his arms. Oliver wasn't often a carrying sort of cat, but he seemed very interested in Mark indeed. The tension in his shoulders relaxed as the cat purred and purred, but his friends could still see the look on his face that would have meant depression on anyone else. On Mark's face, it was almost crushing. "Hi guys. Hi, Alex. Nice to see you." He gave her a wan little smile. "Well, I'm officially back on campus, at least till graduation."

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Erin sat up on her bunk, waving Mark over to her desk chair as Oliver began washing Mark's hand. "It's good to see you back," she said, a little awkwardly, then looked to Alex for guidance on how to handle this. "Um... how are you feeling?" The answer was patently obvious, but it seemed politer to ask than to tell him he looked like hell.

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The sensation of safety and soothing emotions rocketed up a notch as Alex added her mental weight to the ambiance of the room the way a normal person would adjust a thermostat. Between her presence and the cats, their dorm room was really the place to be for the emotionally traumatized. "Why don't you come on in and sit down, Mark. You look like you have a lot on your mind and we've got plenty of time." Alex said gently, shrugging out of the suit jacket and starting to look a bit more like herself.

"Do you want something to drink?" She offered with a little handwave over to the mini fridge by way of explanation. Some of the social polish she'd acquired in having to work with adults during the day was starting to linger but the soft smile was still entirely Alex and she clipped her hair back with a band that had rainbows wrapping around it.

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I'd forgotten about her, thought Mark, shifting a little uncomfortably. "Okay, a drink would be nice. Anything you've got is good." He petted Oliver, taking several deep breaths, before he said, "My mom let me come into school today because she said my dad visited her last night. He said everything was fine, that he'd see her again soon, and that she didn't need to worry about me going to school again." He swallowed hard and confessed, "I don't know if I believe that's true."

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"Hard to say," Erin agreed. "She looked pretty rough last time we saw her. But even if she just dreamed it, at least it made her feel better, and let you come back to school." It wasn't as though Erin were in any position to judge somebody else's coping mechanisms. She slid down off the bunk to sit on the floor, rather than continue ducking her head to avoid hitting it on Alex's bunk. "Who knows, maybe it was him. He didn't die, he just sort of... went away, I guess."

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Alex glanced over at the fridge which opened at her look and a soda came floating out Mark's way. Telekinetics means never having to crouch down in tight pants. She dropped down into her desk chair, tucking her hands in her lap as she watched Mark with wide eyes that always made her look even younger than sixteen. Alex tilted her head to the side thoughtfully. Here where was she would say something along the lines of acceptance and love that stretched beyond worlds.

"Why don't we go find him and ask? Then you would know for certain. Would that help?" Alex suggested instead, looking up at Mark.

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Mark scrubbed his eyes, but Oliver's calming influence kept him from actually crying. "What would I say to him, Alex? Ask him to come home, when, when he couldn't even stay in the same reality as everyone else? Give me a message from my mom, who might never see him again?" He shook his head. "I don't know what to do. Our family's been really great, and all my dad's friends, but I'm afraid of them finding out what really happened. My dad did so much for the world, for everyone, and now everyone will just see him as a crazy monster who tried to make people go away! I saw the way Chris and Trevor were looking at him!"

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"Hey, Mark, give them some credit," Erin reminded him. "They're not going to go spreading the story around everywhere. And even if people do find out, so what? Just because your dad did one bad thing that had to be fixed isn't going to erase the lifetime of good. Trevor and Chris don't know him the way older heroes do, and they were hit a lot more personally by everything getting changed, you know? They're going to feel differently than people who actually worked with your dad and were, are, friends with him."

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"Maybe you need to get angry, Mark. Its perfectly normal to be angry at the person you lose, even if its not the usual kind of loss," Alex said gently as she lifted her hands slightly, the gesture placating, "Its a big change in your family's life and in your life and that's going to be hard for you and your mom. Its entirely possible that it really was your dad, and its just as possible that it was her subconscious comforting her, but I think what matters there is that its helped your mom to cope. Now you need to focus on what's going to help you cope."

She resettled her hands in her lap and blinked at him, her expression solemn, "But, your father has done way too much for common memory to think of him as anything other than a hero. I think what's bothering you more is how this has affected your opinion of him and you're trying to deal with that by worrying about what everyone else thinks of your dad because that's a bit easier to manage. He's still a hero, and he's still your dad and he's also still a man who made mistakes. He can be all of that. He is all of that. And you can love him and be mad at him for it all at the same time and that's okay."

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Mark stared at Alex, then at Erin. "I'm not angry with him, Alex. Not really, I mean..." He rubbed his chest, over the place where Erin had seen him be impaled and die. "He saved my life. And maybe saved other people's lives, we don't know. I'm grateful he did what he did," he said, a little defensively. "Just...just not all of it." He suddenly inhaled, sharply. "He didn't know he had powers. He couldn't control what was happening. You know how it is, when things just happen on instinct early on, I..." He swallowed hard. "It's my fault. I never told him."

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Erin blinked at that. "You never told him about the genie thing?" she blurted without thinking, then caught herself. "I mean... that's pretty rough. But even if he had known, it might not have made any difference. People do crazy things when someone they love dies. He was obviously not in his right mind after that. He wasn't even thinking about your mom then, just about how bad he felt. Even if he'd known for a couple months that it was an outside possibility he might have powers he'd never tapped, it probably wouldn't have changed anything."

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"It isn't your fault, Mark," Alex said firmly, "Hindsight is always clearer. If we always knew the correct path, we'd take it every time but no one's omniscient. Not even here at Claremont. You didn't keep quiet out of malice, but because you were still coping with everything. You can't know if it would have made it worse or better and we've already seen what comes of trying to change the past. All you can do is go forward but in doing so, you have so many options. The important thing is, with what you know now, to do the best you can to make things better. That's what your father wanted for this world and that's something you can still do. Not by remaking it but by just growing up to be the good man they wanted you to be and doing what you can every day to make things better for those around you. You'll find your way again, Mark. We all believe in you."

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"I could have dodged that blast," said Mark stubbornly. "Or worn my vest that day, or a lot of other things. But no, I just walked into it without thinking, just like I do everything else." He shook his head. "And no, I didn't tell him. All those years of telling me how proud he was that he'd been able to have all those adventures without ever using any powers...I didn't want to cheapen our family legacy for him by making him think he'd had powers all along, that...that it hadn't really been real. And now look at us." He sighed, shaking his head. "I'm not even the same person I was. My powers have been acting funny ever since we got back."

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"Acting funny like how?" Erin asked. It was much easier to talk about that than about Mark's situation with his dad. Erin couldn't help but think it had been unfair of Mark to keep that sort of information from his dad, but there was no reason to tell him that now, when it would only make him feel worse. "I mean, you can't even see your power work most of the time, can you?"

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"Let me show you," said Mark, a little worriedly. "I haven't really shown anyone this..." He looked down at his hands and said, "I wish I had a ham sandwich!" A moment later, the air on his lap began to ripple and bend, black inky dots swirling together out of nothing, shaping together into the shape of a thick, juicy slice of ham in between two solid slices of thick black bread. "You see?" he said, sounding worried. "I can just...just do that now!"

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Alex watched with interested concern but no real fear as reality warped to Mark's will. She tilted her head to the side, and held her hand out for the sandwich, "Can I see?"

She examined it closely for a moment and spread her fingers out above it until glow around her hand slid down to cover the sandwich. It would float up into the air a few inches before Alex dissassembled and reassembled it at a molecular basis. While she watched the sandwich with an air of curious scientist she explained to Mark in a gentle tone. As Alex had always had rather extreme powers on the ethics scale, she was sympathetic, "Its a theoretical path your powers can take. You've always warped reality but as its been mostly unconcious control, its manifestations haven't been so extreme. Now that its sliding into concious control, the manifestations become more...hm... potent."

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"I know what reality warping looks like," said Mark, looking deeply uneasy. With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the sandwich. "You remember what my dad said, when, when he left, Erin? That reality couldn't handle two reality-warpers." He swallowed. "What if the same thing happens to me that happened to him? What if I lose control of my powers and...and I do what he did?"

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Erin shrugged helplessly. "What if you sneeze and turn into a monkey? What if we all catch cold and die tomorrow? Anything can happen, and there's not always anything we can do to stop it. You have all the advantages over your dad, you know you have powers, you've been training with them half your life, and you know what the worst case scenario looks like already. That just makes you like anybody with potentially lethal powers. You have to do what you can, then trust the rest to chance."

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"And you've always been good with chance," Alex pointed out with a gentle smile, "A little worry is a good thing but don't drown yourself in it or you'll end up crippled with it like Mike was. You know a lot of people with scary world changing power. You're in a school full of them, there's a lot of us to talk to about how we handle that. You'll find your own way too."

She paused and sobered a little. Alex reached out to touch his shoulder lightly, "And, Mark, if things did go wrong, we'd stop you. Its what we did for James when he was a conduit for hell on earth. We'd find a way to stop you too. I promise." She squeezed gently, and released him.

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Mark flinched away from Alex's hand, a surge of emotion in his eyes. "No!" His sharp reply startled Oliver, but the cat didn't jump down; instead he stood up and began licking Mark's chin, a bizarre counterpoint to his rush of emotions that quickly died down. "I...I don't know how to deal with any of this," he said suddenly, a gulf opening in his eyes. "Being afraid of hurting people, and my dad gone, and Mom crying all the time, I...it's not right! Things like this aren't supposed to be happening, things like this have never happened! I just...I just don't know what I'm supposed to do!"

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Alex's eyes flashed at the sharp outburst and she tucked her hand back into her lap, "People suffer. Bad things happen, even to heroes. Look at Erin. At James. At me. A real hero picks up and pushes forward despite that. Your dad is still alive, he's just not here in this world. It could be a lot worse. A lot. I know its hard, Mark, I really do. But this is what other people have to deal with every day. Normal people and supers and bad guys. Everyone has dark times. This is yours. It'll get better, with time but this whole pushing people away isn't going to help anything. We all understand, you know."

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Erin didn't say anything, struggling with words that wanted to be angrier than would be helpful, but Oliver filled in for her. Purring like a motorboat, he bumped his head against Mark's jaw, then licked his face. Stretching, he climbed up onto the distraught boy's shoulder and nuzzled his ear.

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