Victor has just turned six. He thinks he's fifteen. Or maybe he's four or three or maybe age doesn't count for a cyborg.
It matters to him though.
It matters because he needs to know when he can start separating the fake memories from the real ones.
He's the only runaway that wants to remember their past as much as the present.
"I'm off! Love you!" He tells his mom as he heads out the door. The school is twenty minutes away and he has almost an hour to get there, but it's his first day at his new school and he doesn't want to risk being late. Victor Mancha is glad they moved to L.A. for his mom's new job except now he has to start a high school in a new city.
"Que tengas un buen día!" His mother calls out just as the door close. Victor doesn't know it, but this was the first time he told his mother that. Not the hundredth, thousandth, millionth, time like his memories say it is. Or maybe it is the hundredth, thousandth time. Victor can't figure out when his mother met Ultron and his memories are lies, lies, lies.
This, Victor thinks. This is definitely real. It is his first birthday with the runaways. Sure, the cake is several days over due (mostly his fault, he hadn't mentioned it until last night during a brutal game of monopoly) and it's over cooked but they remembered and it gives Victor a little bit of hope that maybe, finally, he's fitting in with them.
He's got memories of other birthdays but they all are questionable. Every single one of his memories before he went on the run are tainted. Ultron designed them to make Victor the perfect Avengers candidate and he can't help but feel like the killer robot pissed on his childhood when he reveal the truth. Dunked it in the sick, yellow color of urine and then handed them back to him to deal with the mess.
"I love you guys." They've just survived a close shave with another super villain trying to take over L.A. They are speeding away from the scene as the police sirens get close. The bad guy is out like a light and tied up three ways to Sunday so they get out of there.
"You're welcome." Chase says from the Leapfrog's pilot seat. It was him that saved Victor's hide when it turned out that the villain could control water. Victor is soaking wet and very conscience that this is the first time he's said those words to anyone but his mother. He's only been with the group for a few months and it feels like a major confession. He likes them. Likes Nico, Gert, Molly, Old Lace, and even Chase. He misses Karolina (though he still prays that one day she'll come back to earth.) He doesn't know if they should know this. Wants to take it back so they can't reject it.
But then Molly says she loves him too and Nico nods and Gert makes some kind of affirmative noise that he takes as agreement with the rest of them. It's not a ringing sound of endorsement. They are all exhausted and it's more of a 'thanks for saving me, I'm going to sleep now' than a heartfelt 'welcome to the family' but he'll take it.
He knows they are just gears and wiring but something warm works its way up into his chest and he relaxes in his seat.
This is real. He doesn't want it to be. He doesn't want Gert to have joined his mom in Heaven. He doesn't want Chase and Old Lace to be missing as the rest of the group mourns. He doesn't want to have his first time to be with Nico as they both try to find something good in today. As they pretend they aren't crying and breaking. He doesn't want to have had to admit that he likes Nico as more than just a friend while he sits on her bed and tries to wipe away the tears as she talks about Gert.
But it is.
This is how he says goodbye to Gert. A mumbled prayer as she's packed under the dirt behind the Hollywood sign. Molly clinging to his waist as she sobs.
This is how stumble into he and Nico stumble into a relationship. Victor cares about Nico a lot. She's brave, beautiful, in charge of her life, and makes him feel less lost. But he doesn't want them to be a thing because they are both mourning. Doesn't want to put his feelings out there if she doesn't return them. But this is real so he doesn't get a choice.
"Te amo." Nico tilts her head up at him. They are sitting on a couch. He's got one arm around her shoulder while her legs are in his lap. It has been a while since they've had some alone time. Molly and Klara are off playing at the beach while Old Lace keeps one eye on them and naps in the sun. Karolina is making a grocery run.
He's not sure if he should have said it. They've only been together for a few months. Sure, he has known her for years. Through deaths and break ups and running because their lives depended on it. They are dating right now and it feels more solid then any of their previous attempts at romance so Victor mutters the Spanish version of those three little words in hopes that either she won't understand or accept it. Nico smiles a little. A tiny up turn of her lips that makes him happy even though there's s storm of butterflies in his stomach.
"I love you too."
He walks into a church that his memories tell him was real and that he spent his childhood here every Sunday before his mom moved to L.A.
His memories of before running away are not all un-true and that's the worst. Because he walked into the church and was hit with all the things that are the same and then backhanded by the differences. Yes, the cathedral is tall and there are brass pipe organs in the back, but the smell is off and the seats aren't comfortable like he remembers.
The priest doesn't remember him either. Victor speaks with him after service and mentions that he visited once or twice with his mom when he was small. There's no recognition in the holy man's eyes though he says he's glad that Victor has returned.
The cyborg doesn't stick around. He walks out the doors as the bells ring (Ultron got that right at least) and keeps going as his heart threatens to constrict enough to kill him. He's not sure why he's upset. He was supposed to find out that his time here was a lie. Suppose to be able to determine exactly when he was 'turned on' and started to pretend he was a real boy. To use this to put a date on it so that he could know for sure which memories are lies and which aren't.
But it still hurts. He has a lot of good memories here that have just been ripped away. Vanished like a dream you can't remember but desperately want to. He's more human than ever now. The nano machines inside him have been successfully making him organic. A few years after finding out the truth, he's got real bones and a few organs in him as he found out the last time he got seriously hurt. Maybe that's why this is hitting so hard. He's more human than he was before.
Victor pulls out a notebook and crosses the church off the list. He's got one last place to check before he'll have a date to when the lies stop. It shouldn't take long. Just a matter of hacking the data bank of the middle school his head tells him his mom sent him to. Then he can go home, back to Nico and Molly and the rest of his family that he's found.
"Almost there." Klara's voice was tired but pleased. She had been helping Nico deliver their children into the world in the back of the Leapfrog because the Young Avengers had called them for help halfway around the world. Victor hates them a little for this but they had been dealing with traitors in the Avengers and he could understand why they wanted some outside help to handle them. Their group didn't hang with super heroes. The few they did get along range between 'let's go for coffee when you're in town' or 'you stay out of my way and I'll stay out of yours.' Karolina dated Julie Powers of the West Coast Avengers for a bit but it fizzled out when the supers moved to Washington. So, yeah. He understands why the Young Avengers contacted them but it doesn't make him feel any better about them asking.
Or not turning them down, or not finishing earlier, or not being able to convince Nico to stay behind. They are out over the freaking Atlantic Ocean when Nico's water breaks and he couldn't even pretend he's going to get to New York in time to find a hospital.
Not that they were planning on using a hospital in the first place. All of Victor's paper work is forged, Nico's months away from being eighteen, and neither of them have real address or legal work. The CPS would snatch the kids up before either of them could blink. The superhero community ignored them because they but bad guys away, Molly and Klara were old enough not to require a lot of raising, and none of them wanted to tear a family apart even if it was self made. The government was not so caring.
Cloak and Dagger had come through for them and gotten them in touch with a midwife in California would have helped with the delivery. Apparently she was friends with a lady who patched up superheroes when it wasn't bad enough to require surgery. She was in Montana right now and they had to make due with Klara who's knowledge admittedly came from the 20th century when she helped her mother out a few times.
"All done." She calls out. Victor leaves the pilot seat and turns around. There's a lot more blood than he was expecting. It had soaked throw the blankets that were permanently stashed behind a seat. Karolina had stripped offer her jacket so that they could have something to wrap one of the kids in while Klara had given up her cloak for the other. Molly's hat had gone behind Nico's head to given her some support.
Nico is sweaty and disheveled and staring at the two bundles of life in her arms like there is nothing else in the room. Victor kneels down beside her. They are so tiny. Their faces just barely visible under the makeshift swaddling cloth.
"What do you think?" She asks softly.
"Names. We've got a boy and a girl now."
"Maria?" He's thrown this name out before but Nico hadn't seemed to keen on it. She tilts and looks at their little girl.
"I was thinking Gertrude." She said softly. Victor swallows. She hadn't mentioned that before.
"Maria Gertrude?" Nico is silent before nodding.
"Maria Gertrude Mancha." She says firmly. Victor blinks at the statement. He hadn't expected that. Not since Nico refused his proposal when he first found out she was pregnant. "And Charlie Chase Mancha."
"I like them." And he does. He really, really does.
"They are good names." Klara says as she gathers up the dirty blankets.
"Definitely things you can shout when they've been bad." Molly adds.
"Do you want to hold them?" Nico half turns towards him. He nods and takes both kids carefully. They don't make a noise, don't seem to notice that they been handed from one parent to another.
"Yo soy tu padre y Te amo." He tells them softly. Suddenly the job seems too big. He's not enough to raise these little beings in such a big, hard world made up of lies and painful truths.
"You too are going to be great parents." Molly says with a grin. He hopes so. He really hopes so.
This is a lie.
He knows it's a lie because he's at his seventh birthday and he's not seven. He's never been seven. He was made a teenager and everything from before is fake. He never ran around a playground, going from swing to swing, and slide to slide. He was never small enough to play with them. The first time he really saw one he was too old.
It's a nice memory though. One of his favorite of the tainted. His mom took him here after work. She bought him ice cream and let him play until he was literally too tired to move. There was a small cake waiting for them back home, but Victor always liked the afternoon spent playing with his overworked mom the best.
This is a lie because he has kids of his own and a girlfriend that loves him and this never happened.
Struggling, Victor realizes this isn't a dream either. He's not waking up. This is too vivid to be him remembering. The images start to warp as he prods his reality. Ruling out everything but some kind of villain sticking him into a Lotus Machine. He fights his way out of it. Ignoring his mother's calls to play and the sunny day. Racing through the streets for his family that isn't here causing the whole thing to shatter.
He wakes up in the back of truck. Bound along side a similarly tied up Nico and on their way to somewhere he suspects has empty graves with their names on it. He escapes the things holding them and wakes Nico. A fight breaks out as the escape, but escape they do intact for once. Sometimes taking the jobs that Hunter gives them just isn't worth the paycheck.
"How did you break out of it?" Nico asks him later as they triple that the kids are safe. The close call today has rattled both of them.
"He picked one of Ultron's memories." Victor doesn't add anything and Nico doesn't say anything back, but there's an arm around his shoulder and her head resting against it. It's soothing.
There's no time for I love you's. There's no time for goodbyes and farwells. There's a pym particle bomb in front of him and his family behind him fighting for all they are worth.
They aren't going to get here in time to help. Victor has no way to disarm it. He does the only thing he can and grabs it and flies. He can curse Ultron for a lot of things, but the villain made him powerful (he expected him to be able to kill the entire Avengers after all and he's only gotten stronger with age.) So, Victor flies until he hits space and uses the momentum to keep going.
He thinks about how he got to say 'I love you' to Maria and Charlie this morning over breakfast. How he said it to Nico just before they jumped in to deal with the terrorists. He's lucky, he knows, that he was able to say those words. That he found a family to love of blood and not. That he fell in love with L.A. despite the supervillains and the heat that messes with his tech and the media who are borderline suicidal for a story. That he gets to save the world and his family from death one more time.
He loves all of that and that's the one thing he has always known wasn't a lie. It's not a bad way to spend his birthday.
Translations from Spanish:
Have a good day!
I love you.
I am your dad and I love you.
I apologize for butchering it. All I had was Google translate.