New Orleans, Wednesday Morning
Belladonna Bourdeaux welcomed the quartet into her office. She briefly made eye contact with each and every one of them before she spoke.
“Thanks to you,” she indicated Clarice, “We have been able to track down our little thorn in the side, he’s in police custody, since killing him would have been the soft option, better to let him live in a cage.” She met Ben’s gaze and nodded, “Your parents will be safe, we have contacts throughout the country that will ensure the security of your family, it’s the least we could do after all your help.”
Belladonna sighed, “I hate to admit it, but you X-types are good at what you do. I’ll be honest, I would have loved to watch you fail, guess it goes to show, my ex-husband does have good taste in people.” She smiled as she looked at Kitty, “I won’t be asking you to help the Guild again, since some of you have problems with my sort of people, so don’t be coming to New Orleans looking for a place to stay, okay?”
Kitty returned Belladonna’s smile, but had the good grace not to speak. Belladonna cleared her throat and continued, “I have four tickets arranged for the next flight to Chicago, now get out of my city…”
Two hours later, the four friends found themselves at the airport, waiting for their flights, Kitty and Jubilee were talking animatedly to Clarice, making the young girl feel welcome. Kitty told Clarice all about her plans for a new mutant group, different in style to the X-Men, one that sought out mutants and protected them from an increasingly hostile world. Ben listened in silence, watching Clarice, her every reaction and expression. He leaned over and whispered to the three girls.
“Can I have a word with Clarice in private?” he asked.
Kitty and Jubilee nodded, and both got up and wandered over to the nearby shops that occupied that area of the airport. Ben noticed with some amusement that Jubilee kept looking over, trying to see what was going on.
Clarice looked like someone had kicked her, “What’s wrong, sir?”
Ben gave a small laugh, “Y’know, that’s probably the first “sir” I ever got in my life.” He gave Clarice a big beaming smile. “Nothing’s wrong, just wanted to talk to you. What do you think of Kitty’s plans?”
“Dunno,” Clarice replied noncommittally. “I mean, I was supposed to go to this school and become some kind of mutant superhero, but then I died, sorta.” She shrugged her shoulders, “The last few days, I’m finally free and I haven’t a clue what to do…”
Ben gave her a sympathetic look, “Know the feeling, I spent three years in a coma and only just recovered a few months ago, it’s like finding you feet all over again.”
“Yeah.” Clarice said.
Ben paused for a second, “Kitty seems to think you’re on board for our little group, me, I’m being more realistic, you’re young, and I’m guessing the last few years haven’t been the best for you.” Ben slung an arm round her shoulder. “Me, I’m used to the conflict stuff, those two over there, they’ve had a lifetime of it. I know how tough it is, trying to find your way in the world, with hardly any support.”
He turned and looked into Clarice’s violet eyes. “You have a choice I never did, consider this the crossroads, you can take the normal life and go back home, maybe go to college, or you can come with us, and get caught up in the wonderful world of doing the right thing and risking your life. Either way, the paths will not be easy but you’ve been trapped for too long for Kitty or Jubes or myself to tell you which road to take.”
“I thought I was coming with you three.” Clarice’s eyes were wide with surprise.
“You can, but this life isn’t for everyone, you deserve peace and quiet, not more conflict, I just don’t want you dragged into something because you feel pressured to.” Ben smiled again, trying to put the young girl at ease. “You don’t have to decide now, but I am personally giving you the choice.”
“So this is real life then, a bunch of choices?” Clarice asked.
“Yep, the trick is making the right ones and recovering from the wrong ones” Ben waved Kitty and Jubilee over again.
As they were getting on the plane, Jubilee took Ben by the arm, “What were you two talking about?”
“Jealous, are we?” Ben asked with a sly grin. Jubilee rabbit-punched his arm and desperately tried to stop blushing, “Seriously, Ben, what was all that?”
“Choices…” Jubilee gave him a puzzled look and then followed him to their seats.