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Children of the Barricade


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Paige smiled at the receptionist as she signed in at the Nicholson front office, a familiar procedure by now. Making the transition from West Coast to East Coast had been odd in many ways, but living near her daughter's new school had at least made it easier to volunteer for all the normal mom-things. Today, though, she was not here to chaperone a field trip or bring in treats. She felt Holly's surprised brush of recognition across her mind, sent back a wave of affection and an assurance she would pick her up after school. "We're in Counseling Room Two today?" 


"That's right, it's all set up," the receptionist told her. "They should be here any minute." Paige nodded and thanked her, then headed down the brightly-colored hallways that always smelled faintly of crayons and school lunches. She'd never attended a school like this, but still managed to feel a quick burst of nostalgia. Counseling Room Two was on the southwest corner of the building, a cozily-sized room with windows on two walls and a long-strip of one-way mirror that could be blocked with a partition for privacy. There were a couple of comfortable chairs, a giant beanbag in one corner, some books and toys on a shelf, and some framed pastoral art prints on the remaining wall. It was a comfortable room, that generally had to be used in uncomfortable moments. Paige wondered exactly how uncomfortable this was going to be. 

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Paige had been in the room perhaps a couple of minutes when the hinges on the door squeaked for a second. The sound pauses, and it only takes her turning around to see that Aleksander Nakani is standing there, looking a bit awkward in his cargo pants and polo shirt. He has the good graces to look a bit ashamed of sneaking into the counseling session.


"...Habit. Sorry."


Paige wouldn't need her psychic senses to know he seems off-balance a bit. Not angry, per se, but not in a great mood. Then again, talking about feelings and moods is why he was there that day.

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Paige turned hastily from the window at the sound of the door, her startlement fading quickly into slight exasperation and amusement. She wondered how often that sad puppy expression got him out of trouble. It had been almost five years since she'd last seen him, and he'd definitely started to grow into those deep eyes and angular features. Another five years, and maybe a few classes in public speaking, and he'd probably be fronting a superteam somewhere. Her voice was warm when she spoke, as friendly as she could make it without risking coming off as condescending. "Aleksander Garen Nakani, it's nice to see you again. It's been a long time." 

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"It's good to see you again, Missus Cline."


He finishes closing the door, unstealthily this time, and moves into the room, stopping a couple feet away and giving her a slight bow. It seems a move he settles on after a bit of hesitation, perhaps unsure of how to actually greet her beyond "hello". He gives a slight smile as he continues.


"Thank you for remembering my...sensitivity, but you can call me Aleksander. Or even just Alek."


He looks around the room a bit, seeming to almost get lost in memory.


"This room used to be bigger. Toys aren't as exciting now, either."

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Paige chuckled. "I'm afraid that's a symptom of growing older. But there's always something new and exciting to replace what fades away. And eventually you'll stop growing. Hopefully, anyway! You and my son are about the same height, and I can't believe how quickly he shot up. You and he are at the same school now, do you know Will Cline?" She took a seat in one of the comfy chairs, her legs crossed at the ankle, her posture open. Classic interviewer pose, but it did generally work. "How do you like Claremont so far? I hear it's quite a change from Nicholson." 

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Alek smiled a bit.


"Suppose my toys are better now. Certainly didn't have the...anyways. Looking forward to driver's license."


Paige may well have been told by the Barbeaus that Alek was working with Raven, but even so, the boy was playing things close to the chest, likely unsure how secure the room was. Indeed, he was taking his time to case out the space, noting passages in and out of the space, potential cover points, even improvised weapons. His thoughts were under fairly tight control, but those sort of automatic observations were fairly surface-level; Paige wouldn't really have to pry to pick them up. The way he clasped his hands behind his back and kept a rigid posture suggested he was still uncomfortable, if not quite nervous.


He looked toward her at the mention of growing, having the grace to look down for a moment and blush slightly, before making eye contact again at the mention of her son. His brow furrowed a bit as he looked thoughtful.


"Know of him. Met him a couple times. Friendly. Lots of energy. Likes flirting and being nice to the girls on campus, but not in a...skeevy...way. Seems more like he's trying to get smiles and laughs than dates. Usually."


He tried doing that totally-not-a-smile expression that folks like the Summers family and Hunter family can manage, but only partially succeeded, showing a bit of a curl to his moth and crinkle at the edge of his eyes.


"Seems like a good guy. Fast, too."


Alek looked at the available seating for a moment before picking one of the free chairs, minutely adjusting it so he was facing Paige directly...but had his arms crossed over his chest in a way that totally wasn't one step above hugging himself, and the ankle of one leg resting on the knee of the other, giving a sense of being partially closed off.


"It's good. Really is. Interesting place. Interesting setup. Good teachers. Some good kids there. Making some friends. Having fun even when I'm not on patrol. Some of them are...hotheads...though. Or just don't understand why tactics are important."


Sounded like a source of frustration for the meticulous young man.

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"That's good," Paige told him with a smile. "I know it can be hard when you're more mature and better-trained than most of your peers. I didn't grow up like you, not even close, but it was a very restrictive environment, with a lot of discipline, rules to follow, not much time for fun. After I left, it took awhile to get used to the idea that it was all right to relax, and that if my friends didn't think the way I did, that didn't mean they or I were wrong." She leaned forward a little, wrists resting on her knees, palms open. "Are you nervous?" 

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Alek seemed to sit and ponder her words for a bit, his mind closing down even more to even her fringe senses, his posture tightening up just a bit. He started glancing anywhere but at her. It took almost a minute before he closed his eyes, took five deep breathes, and seemed to at least mentally relax ever-so-slightly, turning to look at her again.


"I...yes. Had thought this was...behind me. Wanted to forget. Put it away. But meeting...it's not your fault, Missus Cline. But it's like preparing for someone to...probe an old wound. You think it should be healed and done. And you don't ever want to touch it again."

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"I understand," Paige told him gently. "It seems so much easier to try and forget the past, especially when it's so painful. But just because you don't think about it doesn't mean it's stopped hurting you. Sometimes it feels like if you look back too long, it'll swallow you whole. But looking at the past and coming to terms with it, that's the way you take your power back from it. And eventually it won't be a wound anymore, just a scar."


She straightened up a little, looked him in the eye. "If you're not ready, Alek, we don't have to do this today. We can reschedule for another day, or I can write a recommendation to your counselor that you do more talk therapy or something else besides psychic intervention. Your mind is your territory, you're in charge of it," she told him very seriously. 

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"No. I...I have to do this. This isn't just about pain, it's about fear. Memories and thoughts hurt, but part of me is afraid. Not just of the pain. Of what I was. What they wanted me to be. They used pain and fear. A lot. Tried to break us. Mold us."


His legs are tucked up against his chest now, and his eyes are seeing things not in the room, or even the present day. Paige can hear faint echoes of cries of pain and sadness. The voices are far from grown-up.


"Only getting nightmares a few times a month now, and not as intense. But...I want the nightmares to go away. Or at least...I want to get to where I'm not afraid of the nightmares any more. I'll never be totally fearless; Boss Lady says that's a stupid goal anyways. I need to master my fear."


Suddenly, he smiled very slightly, though his gaze was still unfocused.


"Fear is the mind-killer..."

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Paige's lips quirked at that. "You'll let it pass over and through you, and when it's gone, only you will remain. It's a good thing to remember." Psychic etiquette was one thing, but the mother in her could not feel those cries and not reach out. She projected peace and tranquility to him, a safe and protected place where nothing could hurt him. "You've come so far already from the boy I worked with  five years ago. You should be very proud of yourself.There's no magic cure to make the nightmares go away, but here's another little step." 


She extended her hands to him, flat, palms-up, waiting for him. "Whenever you're ready." 

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Alek nodded as Paige finished the quote, his smile fading away.


"Might be from fiction, but I've really grabbed onto those words. It's helped. Other things have too. But they're not usually as fun to quote."


He closed his eyes and shivered a bit at the soothing psychic touch, but it was clear it was the shiver of a cold boy having a blanket placed around his shoulders.


"You know what the worst part is, at least sometimes? It isn't what happened to me. It's the other boys. What they did to them. What they had us do to each other. Probably partly why I do what I do now."


He looked down at her extended hands. For a few terribly long moments, it seemed like he wasn't going to move. But then, with almost agonizing slowness, he began to uncurl. As he did, he spoke.


"Boss Lady says not to trust quick-fix magic most of the time anyways. Always a catch."


Finally, his hands were hovering a couple of inches above hers. He was hesitant, and afraid...


"Let's do this."


With those soft words, his hands lowered to meet Paige's.

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~Your Boss Lady is a wise woman,~ Paige replied, this time her words filtering right into Alek's head. She closed her eyes and took a long breath, sliding her consciousness into his mind with barely a ripple. If he hadn't known what she was doing, it might have been entirely imperceptible. ~Just relax,~ she encouraged him, ~you're doing great.~


Paige "opened" her inner eye and took a moment to gather herself before allowing herself to take in the totality of Alek's mind. It was chaotic, fast-paced, frenetic, hardly holding onto a thought longer than it took to look at it and toss it away again. Very much like Will's mind, she thought affectionately, very teenage boy. There was darkness, of course, much more so than with her son, anger and fear, grief for a childhood he'd been denied, rage at so many different things. He still had a lot of emotions to work through. Even that, though, was natural. What she did not see were the jagged edges of psychosis or the smooth, slippery walls of sociopathy, signs that his pain had festered into something dangerous. 


~When you're ready,~ she thought to him again, still projecting peace, safety, approval. ~Show me where it hurts.~ 

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~Melissa seems to think so too.~


Naming his adoptive mother rather than just calling her "mom" could have been a defense mechanism; certainly Alek had been far too young when taken to really remember Maral Nakani. But the young crime-fighter was formal enough at times it might just be how he spoke with her. He inhaled, slow but deep, as he felt her enter his mind.


At first, the images and thoughts and feelings were fast and jumbled. Then, slowly, with noticeable effort, they began to slow down and move, hauling themselves into something that resembled some sort of order. The beginnings of a system. It was clear that imposing that kind of order on his mind was still a mostly-conscious effort for the young man, but the beginnings of an iron-clad crusader-vigilante was nonetheless there.


At first, the now-visible images were those of normal activities with the Barbeaus. Then slightly blurry images that seemed to be Alek training with someone, learning, growing, preparing. The only pain there was the burn of muscles, the sting of a hit during a spar; the sort of pain anyone with a work ethic actually rather enjoyed. Then there were brief glimpses of friends and co-students, with various emotions laced with them. A few quick glimpses of various girls, both from around campus and in pop culture, with what might be considered attraction or crushes, tinged with embarrassment.


Then, suddenly, it was like they (for now Alek "stood" there as well) were standing in front of a locked hallway. It wasn't welded shut in a way that suggested denial or unhealthy "sectioning"; rather, it was Alek's attempts to contain the memories and pain and emotions, at least the ones that hurt the most. The way the whole structure (as much as anything here was a "structure") seemed fragile and rickety suggested this work wasn't perfect yet. Alek reached up and silently unlocked the deadbolt on the door before slowly opening it, a slight tremble showing in his hand, and his breathing speeding up a bit.


~In here. I'll...I'll show you.~


They moved past a multitude of memories whose pain was reduced to a dull ache that only flared up occasionally, until they hit the back of the hallway. This was where the worst pains and memories prowled, the images (which by this point were library card catalogue units with televisions mounted in front) sheathed in writhing shadows that seemed to emit occasional hisses.


~It's...this isn't going to be nice. I know you're experienced and stuff, but...it's not good.~


He was clearly trying to protect her, however misplaced the sentiment. Though Paige knew it wouldn't have mattered the age or gender of the person with him; to Alek, this pain should be something that was only his.

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~I know,~  she reassured him, squeezing his fingers lightly. ~Don't worry about me, I can protect myself. Everything you're feeling is normal, everything you're doing here is good, natural. Shutting these memories away gave you time to heal and become strong. You're so much stronger now than you used to be, Alek, can you feel it? You have the power now, not the memories.~


Paige looked around the dreamscape and steadied herself, imagined confidence, steadfastness, implacable courage. She was a television show host, not a psychologist, but she was a psychic and a hero and a mother, and she wanted very much to help the traumatized little boy who was no longer little. ~If I am sad or angry, you know it's not at you, but on your behalf, for what was done to you. You're not going to be overwhelmed by the memories, your control is too strong for that. But if something happens, if anything becomes too much, I'll help you,~ she promised. ~Show me.~ 

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~Thank you. It...it helps. Looking with someone else.~


His free hand reached up and gestured at the rack of monitors. The hissing shadows receded, just a bit, and the first monitor started to flicker to life.


~These hurt worse because they aren't just about what was done to me. But about what I was forced to do.~


With that ominous statement the playback began.



A young boy, only five, perhaps six years old, was doing a handstand while wearing only simple pants, his small but already-toned arms trembling with the effort as the rest of him shivered in the cold of what looked to be a dark, dank cave or basement. A man wrapped in obscuring clothes walks into the single light shining down from overhead.


"And how are we doing today, Svarog?"


"I am performing as expected, Master Chernobog."


The man hums thoughtfully.


"I am not so sure that you are, Svarog. I have been told by the others that you are not fierce enough in the combat trials. You win every fight, but refuse to use the most effective means at your disposal."


"I am attempting to maintain the quality of my fellow assets, Master Chernobog. We are the dagger in the night for the Society, and we must be in the best shape possible. To that end I have restrained the full force available to me in practice spars, with the intent of honing the skills of both myself and my opponent, to make us higher-quality weapons for the Society when our time comes to serve the Society in the shadows of this unrighteous world."


The man harrumphs and shakes his head.


"No, that is not the parameters we have given. This independent streak must be broken. But I do not believe I am the man to do it. Svarog, meet Master Glaurung."


Theatricality and copyright infringement aside, the man who entered was a presence the young boy could feel, even without seeing him. He stood tall and strong, wearing an outfit that seemed somehow timeless, combining old and new fashions. His face was visible, and had the look of a charming serpent ready to strike. Especially when he smiled and spoke.


"Strong wills are good, little weapon. They mean that the enemies of man cannot easily break your mind when you face them in righteous battle. But you must learn to obey your betters. I will help you with that."


Even removed as she was, Paige could feel the echoes of "Glaurung" and his psychic power. It seemed a subtler thing than most, centering more on suggestions and commands rather than explicit control. But it was clear he still left an impression on Alek; the youth had grit his teeth as the memory ended, and another monitor flashed to life.



Two boys fought in a ring of stone and sand and blood. One was Alek. The other was a boy of similar age and size, though his features suggested an origin from somewhere in the Indian subcontinent. They circled each other for several moments, until Glaurung made his presence known.


"Svarog, Agni, begin!"


And then it was a fight. A truly vicious one, especially considering the age and size of the participants. But it was quickly clear that little Svarog was the better fighter. He overwhelmed his opponent, and soon had Agni on the ground, breathing heavily with blood streaming from his nose and bruises forming all over his body. Svarog crouched over him. One fist held back, quivering, as if at war with himself.


"Well, get on with it boy, he needs to learn his lesson for losing so badly."


Svarog turned to face Glaurung.


"Is it not inefficient to render him unconscious and delay his physical recovery."


Glaurung stepped forward, a whip in his hand flashing forward and scoring a line across Svarog's back.


"No, it is not inefficient. He will learn a lesson. Now strike him."


Svarog stiffened for a moment before turning and delivering a blow to Agni's temple that left the other boy's eyes rolling up into his head. The young Alek stood up and took several steps backward, beginning to hug himself.


"Stop. I will not have our weapons showing such weakness. You are not to feel remorse or pity. You are a weapon. You do as you are ordered and strike where and when you are told."


Young Aleksander froze, then went to a parade rest with a jerky nod.


The memory playback stopped there, Alek's eyes unfocused.


~Agni was unconscious for three days, and it took him a month to recover.~


He shuddered.


~Nobody's found Glaurung yet. He's still out there.~

Edited by KnightDisciple
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Rage coiled in Paige's gut as she watched the scene unfolding, pure rage for the obscenity of what had been done to Alek, reflected rage at the reminder of another psychic authority figure who'd molded his charges in the most terrible of ways. She carefully banked those feelings, tucking them away for when they might do some good. If living with Parker Psion had taught her nothing else, she'd learned great psychic discipline.


 Reaching out, she ran a gentle hand over Alek's hair, much more a projection of intent than anything physical. ~He can't hurt you anymore,~ she promised. ~We took out everything he did to you, he has no more influence in your mind than any other memory. And if he ever tries to hurt you again, he will be stopped.~ Her mental voice was very confident about that. 


~if you want, there are things I can teach you. Shields for your mind to keep anyone from getting in and influencing you. It's not fast work, but it would give you an extra layer of protection.~ 

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Alek shook his head.


~Not about him hurting me. Not even much about fear of him controlling me again. It's about guilt and pain over what he made me do to others.~


Other screens began showing similar scenes. It seemed that the next several years of Alek's life, Glaurung was one of several cruel trainers who forced the boys into more and more violent sparring matches, perhaps hoping to craft a "perfect warrior" out of the process.


~And I know he'll be stopped if he ever shows himself again. I'll stop him myself. He was afraid of my potential when I was a beaten and brainwashed 10-year-old boy. Now I'm something so much more.~


There was a barely-controlled edge to his mental voice there, something Paige perhaps would want to help him curb. But it wasn't wild or out of control, not really; mostly it was just the raw pain of a young man who'd been through too much. At the mention of shields, he gave a sharp nod.


~Yes, please.~

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~You're more than they ever could have imagined,~ Paige agreed firmly, making herself watch the screens along with him. ~Strength that's tempered with restraint and compassion is a force he'll never understand. And you are far more than a weapon.~


She turned away from the screens to look at him.~Are you ready to wake up now, or is there more that we need to look at?~  The mental journey was tiring for both of them, but Paige could hold out longer if she needed to. She'd just make Richard order something for supper while she took a long afternoon nap. 

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~You're right, Missus Cline. Thank you.~


He was silent for a moment, then both hands came up and gestured at the wall of monitors. Instead of terrifying pictures, it was a collection of faces, faces of other children in a similar condition to Aleksander when Paige had first helped with his case several years ago. Beneath the faces were names, all based on deities, demigods, or monsters from various mythologies, roughly correlating (or not at all) to their area of origin. All of them dark and terrible names, really. A precious few faces had normal names attached as well.


~I don't ever want to forget them. I know you have a lot on your plate, but...could you promise to do your best not to forget them, either? They're out there in the world, living better lives now. I hope. One day I'd like to meet more of them, if I can. Share our hope and how we conquered this.~


He stood there, looking at those faces for a couple of minutes, before nodding and turning to Paige.


~I'm ready to wake up now, please.~

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Paige looked at the monitors, then back at Alek. ~I remember them,~ she assured him. ~I helped some of them like I helped you.~ She concentrated on the screens until two of them changed, a young boy's scowling face becoming an image of him frowning thoughtfully over the first Harry Potter book, and a young girl with tears on her face turning into the same girl studying a handheld videogame as though it were alien technology. ~When all of you were rescued all at once, the League called in every friendly adult psychic they had in their files. I was living in LA at the time, but I took two weeks off to pitch in. I worked with you and Maeve and Ben mostly, but I won't forget any of you. None of us will.~ 


She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, withdrawing from Alek's mind as carefully and painlessly as she'd entered it. After a moment she opened her physical eyes, watching until he did the same thing. "If you like, I can look into them for you, find out what I can about where they are now and how they're doing. The League keeps tabs, I'm sure." 

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~Thank you.~


That was all that was needed in their mind-scape. Aleksander blinked several times as they awoke to the "normal" world, his hands reaching up to wipe away a couple of tears from the corners of his eyes. At Paige's offer, he stopped and pondered things a bit. 


"Maybe later. I think right now I need a bit more time, and so do they."

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Paige nodded, drawing back to give him back his privacy and stretching to relieve the painful crick in her spine. Barely half an hour had passed, but that was still a long time to hold perfectly still. "Whenever you're ready, then. But wherever they are, I'm sure they're healthy and safe. It's good that you remember them, but don't be afraid to go on with your life and leave the past behind." She picked up the folder she'd brought in with his paperwork and began making notations, marking that she'd scanned Alek and found him still on a path of recovery, with no hidden triggers or lingering damage from his ordeal. "Do you have any questions about what we just did?" 

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"Should I expect any headaches? Anything like that? Sometimes in the past I got them, but not always. Um..."


He put on that "thinking hard and seriously" face all teenage boys seem to be able to sprout. 


"So can you show me how to visualize my mind better, like all the time, any time? Normally I only get a picture as clear as we just had when I'm working with a psychic. I think having the ability to visualize it so clearly all the time would help me organize my thoughts, shield my mind, and repel attackers. Besides, I need to figure out how to...I guess the word would be "layer"?...my thoughts. For my sake, and others'."

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"You shouldn't, we only looked today, I didn't have to do any deprogramming," Paige assured him. "The deprogramming can cause those headaches. If you do feel a little achy, take a couple of tylenol and lay down in a dim room to let your mind rest and you'll be fine." She slid the papers back into the folder and closed it. "Visualizing your mind as a place takes concentration and practice, usually with meditation. I can help you wilth it as part of your shielding training, but itll also need a lot of work on your part. If you want to get an idea of how it works, do some research on mind palaces. It's the same idea but much more subconscious, your ideas and concepts translate themselves into places and things." 

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