The Crusaders: In the Wake of War
Part 6: The Move
The days between of Starbolt's speech and this one were filled with constant visits by Kon to the office and various facilities of Simon Christos, as they worked together to design and prepare the team's new base of operations. The relative lack of significant crime to stop save for the occasional looter on the streets gave plenty of time for the pair to complete their task, and today, Sunday, was moving day. By midday, the penthouse had most of its residents' possessions cleared out, as many of the Crusaders were packing their things bit by bit throughout the week. Today was merely a matter of getting everything onto the Prometheus Innovations Sky Cruiser that waited on the roof. The pairs who formerly lived in each dorm worked together ferrying each of their boxes and bags out of their shared rooms, while Gunk transported the essentials from Lizzy's lab. Nearly everything was stowed away on the jet and almost everyone was waiting on the roof for take-off. One of the people that wasn't up there was Andrew. Though he could not see that which he stared upon with his own eyes, Andrew's spatial awareness and psychic vision let him look upon the kitchen and living space. His smile was bittersweet as he absorbed the room for the last time. Hikaru emerged from the Tanaka dorm with the last box in his arms. As he stepped into the corridor, he spotted Andrew leaning against the doorframe at its end. He approached his teammate, knowing that he'd be of aware of it, and stood at his side to share in the spectacle with a similar smile to Andrew's own.
"How does it look?" Andrew asked. The room remained partially in shambles from Glorien's attack only a fortnight earlier, and though they both knew it, Hikaru gave his answer.
"Like a wreck…and a thousand times better than it did when I first saw it." The two shared a look that conveyed mutual understanding. "Come on. They're waiting upstairs."
Kon stood at the edge of the rooftop, fidgeting with the object in his hand as he watched the open hatch, waiting for his friends with a view of Los Angeles beneath him. There was a small crater in his stomach that his nerves ran rampant within. As excited as he was to be free of the DSA, he was equally uncertain of what the future held without them. He knew what he was going to do with the object in his hand would banish the butterflies in his belly, but he couldn't yet bring himself to do it.
"What are you doing?"
"AH, shit!" Kon was startled by the sudden sound of Gunk's voice, who looked at him with mild perplexity and a hint of a friendly smile. "Sorry, just a little on edge."
"That much is apparent." Kon realised where he was situated and kicked himself for the accidental pun. "What I'm asking is if there is a purpose to your use of this position."
"There sure is, buddy." He raised his hand and opened his palm to reveal a small prism, labelled 'In case of emergancy' in Kon's handwriting.
"What is that?"
"This is the confession tape I recorded in case I died or disappeared. The one that inspired the 'best superheroes that ever were' speech I gave."
"Oh…you misspelt 'emergency'."
"Did I? I did. Well, I was in a rush when I handed it to Alderman."
"You gave it to Alderman?"
"It wouldn't exactly be much use if I had it on my person when I died or disappeared, would it?"
"I suppose not. So…why do you have it now?"
"An excellent question. It's so I can do this." Kon placed his hand over the one holding the tape. Gunk watched as yellow light shone from the space between his palms, and the two were greeted by the sight of a handful of dust when he separated his hands. Like cremated ashes, Kon proceeded to wave his hand off the rooftop, letting the dust gently descend from the top of the building onto the city. He turned his gaze back to the hatch and smiled as his thoughts travelled back. "Y'know, this was where I first met Lizzy. Up here, I mean."
"Interesting. Up here is where I asked Lizzy to analyse my cellular structure to determine the exact effect of electricity on me. How ironic it is that it was also where I left you all and that when I returned, it was to this very rooftop after having undergone Glorien and Anarchy's electric torture." Kon's first instinct was to reassure him that what he did as Dark Gunk wasn't his burden to bear, but he knew he'd heard that speech more than enough times in two weeks.
"Do you regret leaving, then?"
"Yes…but not just because of what happened to me afterwards." Kon smiled as Gunk did.
"It's great having you back, big guy."
"It's better seeing how you've changed since I left."
In the cabin of the Sky Cruiser, Suzy sat with her seatbelt strapped over her chest and a phone to her ear. On the left seat one space ahead of Suzy's, Lizzy sat horizontally, her legs swinging off one side of the chair while her head hung back over the aisle. With her hands, she played with strands of her hair.
"Mrs Newman, this is Suzy Medina…" Suzy greeted into the phone. "…is Abigail there? Okay, thank you."
"Giving her the good news?" Lizzy asked, before smiling dumbly. "Woah, I sound weird when my mouth is upside-down!"
"Abigail, it's me. Suzy. Oh, I…no, I couldn't make it this morning. I've been too busy with…I'm really sorry. No, no, you didn't make me feel bad…"
"Sandy sells seashells down by the seashore. Nailed it. Heh, it sounds like I'm talking with a blocked nose but it's not actually blocked!"
"…but, hey, I have news. I told the team you wanted to join up, and I told them all about you and your powers and how bad you wanted to join us, and…everyone agreed you'd make a fine addition. So, um, yeah…you're a Crusader now." The ecstatic squeal that Abigail let out was audible even to Lizzy, and it caused Suzy to squint with the high pitch.
"We should sample that sound to put in the background of our theme song. If we get around to having one of those." Suzy smiled the kind of smile one can only give when they know they've done a good thing as she responded to Abigail.
"No, it was no problem at all, Abigail. You earned it…well, that's true, but…I mean, half the job of being a superhero is being as sweet as you are, so once we get you a costume and some training, it'll be like you were a founding member. No, really, you are!"
"Tell her I said she's a total cutie pie!" Suzy giggled.
"Li-uh, Techsmith said you're a quote 'total cutie pie' unquote. She's sitting right here. Yeah, we…oh, sure. Let me hand you over." Suzy took the phone off the side of her face and stretched her arm over the aisle to hand it to Lizzy. "She wants to thank you for getting her, um, embarrassing video off the internet." Lizzy pulled herself up.
"She's very excited." Lizzy smiled as she took the phone and brought it to her ear.
"Hello? Yes, this is Techsmith. Or Lizzy. Whichever you like. Well, you already figured out Suzy's secret ID and you're gonna find out all our names pretty soon anyway, so you may as well get mine first. You're very welcome, Abigail. No, don't worry, you're fine. My boyfriend is a total fanboy, so I know dorky when I hear it. It's okay, dorky is cute. But I'm told I'm a real weirdo so don't take me at my word entirely. Hey, so, I know that it's still gonna be a little while, but I really am looking forward to meeting you in person and working with you soon. You want me to hand you back over to…okay, cool." Lizzy giggled. "Yeah…yeah, Suzy is pretty awesome, isn't she?" The compliments made Suzy feel that feeling that would normally make her bow her head. And despite that, not even her eyes moved from watching her best friend.
In the row behind Suzy, Thomas and James sat beside each other.
"So, am I your first relationship since Charlotte?" James asked conversationally. Thomas looked down from the ceiling and at James with no expression.
"Yes. For three centuries I was completely abstinent until you came and showed me how to love again."
"Even I can't tell if you're-"
"I'm lying. I've been with plenty of people in my time. Even I'm not that detached. That said…you're the first person I've been, uh, interested in for a little while."
"How long is a little while?"
"Huh. Well, that certainly makes me feel special. Not sarcasm. Sounded like it, but, y'know, it wasn't."
"Why did you ask that? Or, I suppose, why did you ask me that in the way you did? Bringing up Charlotte and that."
"Well, I know she meant – means – a lot to you. She's the whole reason you're here. I was the same with Nick, except he ain't dead…at least he wasn't last time I stopped him from gettin' killed."
"You're half right…she did mean a lot to me. But the reason I'm here is that I want to be. Because I like this team...and you."
"Just 'like' me, huh?"
"What? Oh, um, I…uh…" James chuckled.
"It's okay, Tommy. I get you." Thomas put out a hand for James to hold. He complied and listened as Thomas spoke tenderly.
"I just don't want you to feel like you have to compare yourself to Charlotte. As much as she may still affect parts of my life, she's gone."
"Tommy, it's okay. I feel the same regardin' my own place here…and regardin' Nick, too. I wouldn't have paid for dinner if I didn't." Thomas tried to direct his smile elsewhere but couldn't bring himself away from James' own reassuring grin. "Y'know, we can talk all kinds of shit about Kon…but you can be quite the dork yourself."
"Yeah, well…it only comes through when I'm at a loss for words over someone."
"Seems like you found the perfect words right there."
"It took me three partners to figure that phrase out, so I certainly hope I did." James laughed and leant forward. Thomas met him halfway, and the two locked lips once more with closed eyes.
Umi watched all of these exchanges from the back row until Hikaru came up the ramp and took a seat beside her.
"Do you feel sad, daddy?" Umi asked him. Hikaru looked at her with a smile.
"A little bit." He admitted. "But only a little bit. As much as the base housed us, we all house it. It was here that the founding Crusaders passed the time when their early weeks were without adventures to embark on. Here that Andrew would serve us a fulfilling breakfast at the start of each day. Here that we all fought amongst ourselves again and again, but also had some of our greatest bonding moments, as both tragedy and victory intersected with our lives. This place is a defining element of all our lives as Crusaders, Umi. And to every one of your life's defining elements, there's good and bad. Both are equally difficult to differentiate, and we can't afford to dwell on those distinctions, try as we may. Only as the world spins on and we spin with it can we see what we must leave in the past and what we must hold onto as we advance into tomorrow. Our promises, our memories, our responsibilities…they don't come in black and white. We must determine their value ourselves, for our own growth and our own happiness. But we must not lose respect for the past as we accept the future."
"Will you miss this place?"
"Yes. But now we're moving to a higher place. Whether it will be better or worse, I can't say. But it's the next step. That's what matters."
"Surprisingly factually accurate." Kon's voice came from behind the two, as he came up the ramp with Andrew at his side. Andrew took his seat beside Suzy, who by now had hung up her phone after ending her chat with Abigail. Kon, naturally, sat in the chair next to Lizzy, who was now upright in her seat. Gunk was the last one up the ramp, and as there were no seats left, he planted himself on the area of the floor just before the ramp. Andrew was quick to try to rectify this, lifting himself from his chair.
"Here Gunk, let me-"
"No, it's fine." Gunk politely declined.
"But I just couldn't-"
"His butt is made of jelly," Hikaru stated. "Everywhere is comfortable for him…" He turned to Gunk quickly. "…isn't it?"
"This is an accurate proclamation." Gunk confirmed. Andrew shrugged and reluctantly sat back down. Hikaru turned to Umi.
"Your seatbelt is on safe, sugar drop?" He verified.
"Of course, daddy." She answered sweetly.
"Everyone's strapped in?" Kon asked the team.
"Inasmuch as we all can be." Gunk answered.
"Y'know…" Andrew began. "…if you're going to insist on sitting on the floor, don't say things that make me feel guilty for having a chair."
"How very Thomas of you to say," Lizzy commented.
"Oh god, shut up," Thomas mumbled from the back to Suzy's giggle and Hikaru's grin. Kon turned to the pilots at the front of the ship and nodded. As the ramp pulled up and the jet's thrusters kicked online, Kon looked back over his team.
Gunk was tucking himself into his spot as snugly as possible.
Andrew was readying his Galaxy Supernova playlist, plugging his earbuds into his phone.
Suzy picked up a book she left beside her seat and started on the page she left off on.
Thomas and James continued to hold hands across the aisle, Thomas looking timid while James stared adoringly at him.
Hikaru stroked Umi's hair as she got ready to sleep through the flight, as she always did on planes.
Lizzy held Kon's hand, leaning over the aisle to peck his cheek as he leant back in his chair.
"Alright…" Kon's voice carried the confidence and authority born of experience and trust that it couldn't have possibly had the first time he said it. "…let's get crusading."
Thanks for reading all the way to the end, I really hope you enjoyed it. If you really liked this story, give it a favourite, and tell your fellow authors to check it out. You can continue the saga of the Crusaders in the next instalment on my profile, The Crusaders: Volume 2, starting with a two-month time-skip that sees the Crusaders encountering faces new and old as they navigate the consequences of the Moscow tragedy in the second volume's first arc: Aftershocks. If you have anything to say or suggest, any plot holes to point out, details needing clarification, or general questions to ask, feel free to PM me or leave a review. Finally, be sure to check out my community, The All-Star Multiverse, and my Facebook page, PancakeOverdose! Take care.