Young Avengers fic! And just in time, because God only knows when Issue 12 is coming out and then it’s going on hiatus ‘til ’07 while Heinberg restarts Wonder Woman for the eleven thousandth time. (Ed. note from 2009: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA.)

Contains spoilers for the current arc, specifically Issue 9. The thing with Teddy’s mom. You know what I’m talking about, right? If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t read this.

on the lips of all children
By Gale

SUMMARY: The first thing they do is take away her name.


The first thing they do is take away her name. She does not mind; it is in service to the Empire, after all, and the Empress. She knows who she is, knows her true shape, knows what is a part of her and what is artifice. Skin changes, names change, but the inside does not. Losing her name is a small matter.

She is led down a small hall by a vizier and ushered into a room. It is bright and cheerful, with one entire wall a window. From a protective standpoint it’s a nightmare, but as far as a room for a child goes, it’s good. There are small, soft toys in the room, and colored blocks, learning games.

And in the center of the room, sound asleep, is the child.

He is perfect. His hair is pale yellow, his face too rounded, but his hands are curled into tiny fists and his legs are tucked against his belly. His skin is pinkish, not green. If she were to cup her hands, the child would fit in them easily; she would not even have to increase their size.

She’s not even aware she speaks out loud when she says, “He’s so small.”

”Babies usually are,” a voice says. She turns and looks—

--and drops to one knee, lowering her eyes. “Empress,” she whispers, breath catching in her chest. “I – I am sorry, I was unaware—“

The Empress waves a hand, looking almost careless. “They’re so small,” she says, looking at the baby. “He was even smaller than that when he was born. So tiny.” She reaches down a finger and touches one fist; in his sleep, he reaches out and grasps it. The Empress smiles. “So perfect.” She meets the woman’s gaze. “He is my son.”

The woman blinks. “But he is—“

”—not like us,” the Empress finishes. “I know.” She wiggles her finger a little, but the baby holds on. “A number of years ago, a scouting party was sent to a small planet a few million light-years away. The planet itself is mostly water, and its inhabitants aren’t what you’d call intelligent. They only recently discovered space travel.” She clicks her tongue. “But something interesting started happening.”

The Empress stops talking. The woman has been in service long enough to know a prompt when she hears one. “What?”

“They began evolving,” the Empress says. “Spontaneous human evolution – that’s what they’re called, humans. The gene for evolution – or, as they call it, ‘mutation’ – is present in most of the population, but right now it’s only active in a small number of people. Our scientists have determined at their current rate of expansion, however, it will not remain so for long. Even now, there are people on the planet who have abilities not unlike our own.” She reaches down and takes the baby in her arms, holding him close.

”This is where you will take my son,” she says, meeting the woman’s eyes, “and raise him as your own.”

The woman doesn’t respond for a few seconds. When she finally finds her voice, she says, “Your Highness—“

”You have seen the child,” the Empress says. She does not raise her voice, but something in it makes the woman stand a little straighter. These are commands, not a conversation. “He takes after his father, I’m afraid.” She pauses, then adds, “You do not need to know who his father is. It is no one’s business but my own.”

”Begging your pardon, Your Highness,” the woman says, “but that isn’t necessarily true.”

The Empress stares at her for a very long time. The woman takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, waits for the Empress to give the order to have her killed. It is her right, after all.

“You are right, of course,” the Empress says, and for a moment, she is not Empress Anelle, the leader of the entire Skrull empire; she is just another woman with a newborn child, a woman who has not slept in far too long. “It *is* important. But not for what you need to do.”

”You want me to raise this child among savages,” the woman says.

”They’re not savages,” the Empress says. “A little backward, perhaps, but no worse than the Kree.” Saying the name makes the Empress’ mouth twist. “It should be relatively easy to live among them, especially since so far the child shows no sign of our abilities.” She looks at the woman. “Would you like to hold him?”

Of course she would. “I shouldn’t.”

”You’re going to be his mother,” the Empress says gently. “Just – be careful with him. His skin is more sensitive than ours.”

Slowly, carefully, the woman takes the child from the Empress. He is small, and his skin pinks up if she holds him too tightly, but he does not wake. So far, he has not cried. He seems remarkably well-behaved, from the little she knows about children.

”You will raise him as a human,” the Empress says, keeping her voice pitched low so the child does not wake. “As I have said, he has shown no signs of developing powers, and the tests our scientists have run have been inconclusive. But then, he is unlike any child they have ever seen before, so you should keep a careful eye on him.” She meets the woman’s eyes. “He is not to know who and what he is before he is capable of understanding it,” she says, and that’s an order. The woman nods.

”The necessary documents have been forged,” the Empress says. “You have been trained in secrecy and the art of lies, so you will know how to take what you need to keep both of you well-hidden. I cannot say it will always be safe; the humans are evolving, and both the Kree and the Shi’ar have cast their eyes in the planet’s direction. There’s even talk that the Majesdanians have started sending exiles there, but we have no way to confirm that, and as long as you remain in your human form, they should have no reason to suspect you’re not a native.”

“If he does develop powers?”

“He shows no signs of them,” the Empress says again. “But you will keep an eye on him, just in case. If he does, you are to tell the boy what he is, what you both are.” She looks at him for a moment, then leans forward and kisses his forehead.

The child opens its eyes and stares at her. His eyes are small and blue, and focused on her. He yawns.

Instinctively, the woman reaches out and brushes the child’s hair from his face. “Hello,” she whispers, tasting unfamiliar words on her tongue. “I am your mother.”

If she knew the Empress better, perhaps she would be able to decipher the expression on the other woman’s face. But she does not.

*

The woman names the child Theodore, after her teacher at the academy, Th’drr. After a while, the people in her life – the humans she works with, the children Theodore attends class alongside – start calling him Teddy, which is apparently some kind of shortened version of Theodore. It’s as good as anything else, and it makes the boy smile when he hears someone call him that.

She takes her name back – Lt’mnn, a good enough name, and it had been her grand-sire’s – and adds human letters to make it Altman. That is her real name, now, though her human license to operate a small road vehicle says that her name is, in fact, Molly. She settles into her job selling homes to human beings, and raises her son.

Teddy is intelligent – and more than that, he’s *clever*. He is good at all of his school subjects in equal measure, and makes friends easily, though he never lets any of them get too close. Eventually, his mother decides that this is for the best; letting anyone get too close, especially humans, is dangerous.

She watches him carefully, but she never sees any signs of superhuman abilities in him. He likes to draw, though he’s not particularly good at it, and he grows faster than she’d expected.

But then, that’s what her whole time here has been like. There was no real time to prep her on the way, so she’s unprepared for how *fast* human children grow, like tiny weeds, all of them different. There is no unified voice of the people, just many voices that shout and rage at each other. She finds it remarkably inefficient. How these people have survived this far on their own with no empire to guide them, she has no idea.

Teddy grows up. He puts metal through his ears and argues with her more than he had when he was still a hatchling, begins spending more and more time away from home. More than once she longs to reclaim her true face and knock him through a wall, but she doesn’t; humans have rules about *that* sort of thing, too. Besides, there’s no way of telling if he would be harmed. So she raises her voice and shouts back, and sends him to his room.

*

When the news starts talking about a group of costumed teenagers calling themselves the Young Avengers, she takes one look at the boy who looks like a smaller version of the Hulk and knows that it’s Teddy. She’d know him anywhere; it’s his bone structure with other skin superimposed over it.

There’s one brief moment of surprise – she didn’t notice! How could she not notice? She’s been watching him for *years* -- before she realizes that her son is a warrior. Not the most skilled one, she can admit, watching the news footage of him falling through a window with a wince, but still. Something in her chest fills with pride.

That’s her son.

*

“Mom,” Teddy says, looking far more nervous than the situation warrants, “this is my. Um. This is Billy.”

Billy is a young human male approximately Teddy’s age, with a firm handshake and short dark hair. Billy is also the young man dressed like a miniature version of Thor who fights alongside her son, though she’s fairly certain she’s not supposed to know that.

Judging from the way they’re both just a little too skittish around her, and the glances they keep sending one another that she’s not supposed to be noticing, Billy is *also* her son’s intended mate.

“Billy,” she says, waving at him. “Nice to meet you. Would you like something to drink?”

He could have done worse.

*

And then, one day, the world ends.

There is a Super-Skrull on Mrs. Kaplan’s doorstep, smashing through her wall and making threats. He tears away her world in a matter of seconds, exposing her true form to her son and his comrades. She wants to hurt him, smash him, break him, rend him limb from limb for doing it this way.

In a few years, Teddy would have been of age. She could have explained everything to him – who his mother was, who *he* was, why they were here. How maybe he is a mutant, but not in the way he’s always thought. How he’s still her son, no matter who gave birth to him; and how he’s as human as he is anything else, because the way a child is raised is just as important as what is beneath the skin.

And then the Super-Skrull was attacking again, taking her son away, taking *her son* away, and he stretched out a fiery arm towards her, and—


*


There is not enough YA fanfic in the *world* to suit my tastes. I couldn’t tell you why this first one’s about Teddy’s mom, except to say that it is, and I’m really kind of sorry that the first time we actually *see* her is the issue where she dies.

Also, seriously, how many Super-Skrulls are there? One? Two? Is it a Corps, like the Green Lanterns? Is that the first trick you teach children, how to grow extendo Thing arms set ablaze? Dude, WHAT?
.

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