by Jaya Mitai
Disclaimer they don't belong to me, no money, don't sue or I'll sic Shai and her Big Stick on you so there. =) This is the first thing I've written in forEVER and so give me lots of feedback to make me happy. =)
Special thanks goes to Ali, who made the miracle of letting me write again (I privately nurse the theory she took it away somehow to write all that stuff on TOP of her Paper From Hell and she got an A! It was all my doing. =) and Sarah and Lynxie and Lyssie for beta-ing, and Staff for giving it a go, and KayJay for being cute and telling me not to give up.
The car was a quiet model, 1998 Toyota Camry with the windows rolled up and the radio silent. The seams in the road couldn't be felt through the brand new shocks, barely heard at all, and only gun oil cut the brand new car smell.
She kept one eye on the road, the other watching the side. Even in the dark, despite the yellow of the headlights, she could dimly make out colors. It was just past sunset, now.
The seat back was comfortable, slid back enough that she could untangle her long legs and cross them comfortably at her ankles, which she didn't. There was no armrest to her left, only a raised compartment for storing CD cases, sunglasses, and assorted oddities, and it wasn't the same height as the armrest attached to the door. Her elbow rested against that one lightly, her weight mainly centered, balanced despite the smooth ride of the car.
Tense? Hell yeah. Thirty-seven hours of sleepless hell, watching a damn *monitor* waiting for a little blip to give her some clue to his whereabouts. Just one little clue.
* * * * * * *
Her first clue was the newspaper articles.
He always took immaculate care in every project he started, and this one was no different. Each and every article was sorted by newspaper and date, sometimes by columnist when one or two refused to drop the story. The photos were mounted on a corkboard ever so delicately with poster putty instead of tacks, causing slight oily spots to appear on the absorbent material. Below them, between the bottom bunk and the wall, a rather large cylindrical tin-turned-trashcan held the stray clippings and paper slivers as he made sure to cut along each and every line.
In fact, the only strange aspect of the entire display was the fact that it had been painstakingly hidden from view. She never would have seen it had she not actually laid on his bed, to stare at the bottom of the bunk above her.
The time he spent there, hands cushioning his head, staring up at nothing in particular
She reached up to the flat brown slat that supported the mattress above her, perpendicular to the one she lay upon, and plucked down the largest of the articles, from the Salem Sentinel. The edges were worn soft, almost like hide, reminding her of Tabitha's Teepee, the one she had erected for Monet one Thanksgiving. It had been constructed entirely of three old rake handles with brown paper grocery sacks stretched across, crumpled and crumpled until they were as soft as deerskin.
She rubbed the soft material between her fingers idly as she read a small snippet of the well-worn article.
Tony Gelanzo took make-believe too far this Monday morning, August 3rd, and was hit by oncoming traffic as he dashed into the road to save a turtle.
The twelve year old boy was said to be imitating the mutant known as Cannonball, spotted with the vigilante team X-Men and later with a group of known terrorists that call themselves X-Factor.
Tony's friend Chad explained to the police. "He saw the little turtle, and said, I'm Cannonball, nothing can hurt me in my blast field, I'll save you Raphael!"
The boy was struck by an oncoming Buick sedan traveling between 47 and 50 m.p.h. in a 35 m.p.h. zone. He was pronounced dead on arrival by the paramedics on the scene.
Mrs. Maria Gelanzo was seen in the street, cursing the mutant that she felt was responsible for the death of her son. An Italian translator in the crowd commented, "She called upon God to kill his first-born in the same fashion, she's hysterical."
This is just one in a series of deaths police believe are related to the mutant vigilante groups and the medias' and business' approach to the groups. Commissioner Stewart has this to say.
"It isn't pretty, it isn't fair, and it isn't going to be tolerated any longer. You remember Samy Tolse? He's still in the burn ward recovering from his stint as the 'Human Torch.' These . . . mutants are killing children and the kids are eating up the media stories like . . . candy."
In an odd twist of fate, the turtle itself was completely uninjured and came up inquisitively to the paramedics as they tried unsuccessfully to recuissitate the boy, who died of massive trauma to the head and torso.
Violet eyes closed in memory of the media circus that strong-armed the distraught mother into letting them shoot the boy's body being carefully tucked into the bodybag and zipped. Closed in memory of the painfully small bundle laid gently on the gurney to be wheeled to the ambulance, and later, the morgue.
Of all things, Monet had found the copy Sam had kept of that three hour news special. The debates that Senator Kelley funded on the matter, luckily, had been banned from the house by orders of Nate himself, and Sam mercifully missed the atrocious claims made against him.
His parents had not.
Professor Xavier had dealt with them, to her knowledge, and helped to dispel the mutant witchunt that would inevitably followed by going on the air himself, using one of the seven hundred flonqing doctorates he'd collected over the years to back up his statements, and historical references beyond that.
He hadn't managed to help Sam, though. Not that the pompous ass put much effort into it.
Domino carefully and exactly replaced the piece of paper, leaning up to swing her feet over the side of the lower bunk, carefully considering. He wasn't at his folks, and with that power, there literally was no place he couldn't take himself. Even if it was straight to the bottom of the Pacific.
The sheets beneath her were unruly, abnormally so, and stank of sweat and sleeplessness. Too many dreams and clips and voices in his head to sleep. Tabitha had seen it, so had Ric and Paige. Her hand found the hem of the top sheet on the floor, a wad of it crushed and still coldly damp with a particular stink that came of adrenaline and fear.
She knew it well enough.
The flannel itself was even softer than the newspaper had been, though it was so rumpled and filthy that it seemed only clammy, keeping only a semblance of the warm, cozy fabric that small children curl up in on cold mornings. It had been kicked off the bed many times, then hastily and uncaringly set back halfway only to be kicked off again. The mattress itself was no longer centered on the springbed, and there were marks on the wooden ladder that indicated he'd hit his hands there many times trying to snag the sheets back onto the bed.
She thought back to the bruises on his knuckles that he'd so quickly hidden from her
Dammit, we should have made him take the flonqing pills.
A tiny smirk tried to form on her face. Having had personal experience in that department, she knew as well as the next that a few antidepressants wouldn't have helped him.
She stood, her hand trailing of its own accord along the fabric, keeping hold of it as she walked until its weight and the bed pulled it from her light grasp.
* * * * * * *
Hell of a clue.
Tabitha and Ric had driven all over town looking for him. Thirteen hours and three gastanks later, they'd returned and reported that he simply wasn't there. A phone call to Sam's parents hadn't been necessary; they'd called after getting 'a letter.'
They hadn't mentioned what it had said, only that there wasn't a hint of where he might have headed.
The morgue was the next place they'd checked, followed by the residence of Maria Gelanzo, thinking he might be attempting to apologize. Nathan had barely managed to catch the rolling pin she tried to club him with, spouting Italian with such venom it wasn't difficult to decipher the general meaning.
He had gently disarmed the irate short woman and handed her back her pin after a quiet, brief apology, his face set in a granite line that could have meant a dozen things.
He hadn't spoken a word since.
Domino shifted slightly against the back of the chair, rolling her head on her shoulders and using the movement as an excuse to watch Nathan, once again. He'd engaged cruise control in more than one sense of the word, his eyes distant, hands following the road automatically. The whisper of her hair against the headrest didn't rouse him from it, nor did an oh so casual brush against the link. He wasn't . . . blocking her, exactly, he simply wasn't sharing.
"Haven't said much lately," she finally ventured, returning her eyes to the road.
She got a slight grunt after a brief delay.
"Back to monosyllabicism. That would explain things."
He blinked, finally, glancing at her in his peripheral vision before shifting his own weight slightly in the chair.
She raised an eyebrow as the silence continued.
"We've been driving for about
seven hours now, Nate, and we've gone through four states. Are
you going to tell me where we're headed?"
He brought his human hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose, using it then to scrub down his face. "Virginia," he finally offered. It was more of a question than a statement, and Domino shifted so that she was facing the steering column, letting her head fall against the upholstered headrest.
"Oath, Dom, we're headed over _there._" He gestured sharply towards the south, bringing his hand back to the wheel with an audible slap. He dropped the T-O hand to his thigh, and she noted the fingerprints he'd left permanently in the material of the steering wheel.
"You . . . sense him?"
A grim, humorless chuckle, ending in an almost snort.
One perfectly manicured eyebrow raised above a dark violet eye.
"Care to let me in on the joke?"
"Look, _you_ may have a bladder of steel, but some of us aren't so blessed. Take the next exit or we're going to swim the rest of the way."
It was a lie in the worst sense of the word, and he undoubtedly sensed that, but obediently twitched out his right middle finger, disengaging cruise control, and the car ground and chucked its way over the loose gravel on the exit ramp.
A few minutes later found Domino emerging from the "Last Rest Area for 37 Miles" with two steaming cups of something that smelled akin to kerosene.
"Chewy, just the way you like. I even got complimentary forks for it."
Nathan continued to lean against the car, watching her approach with that still-distant look on his face, hand reaching automatically for the styrofoam. She dangled it enticingly just out of reach.
"I'm driving. Get off the car door."
His balance didn't shift, and his eyes suddenly focused on her, his left glowing slightly.
"No buts. I want to get there in one piece. Besides, when you fall into that trance of yours you tend to go the speed limit. Move it or lose it."
A hipcheck that was playful if not forceful removed him from the door and he took the coffee from her in what could have been called an irritable snatch. She forced herself to ignore it, continuing her playfulness by tossing the plastic-wrapped fork into his seat as he opened the door.
It flew from the seat by itself, smacking into the glove compartment and falling miserably to the floor in a heap of broken white plastic.
"And they say that plastic silverware is indestructible."
He put on his seatbelt, ignoring her attempts at conversation. "Keep along this highway."
She started the car and in a few moments they could have been classified as a low-flying vehicle.
Nate didn't seem to mind or even notice the speed, once again falling into his distant, almost not-there trance as he sought the mind of the errant student. Domino kept an eye on the radar detector, slowing when appropriate to avoid the 'bears' waiting along I-65 to catch the speeders this Sunday night.
Almost a week. And Sam had vanished sometime early Saturday.
Nate roused himself periodically to take sips of the coffee that tasted like it had percolated through an oil filter. Truckers probably liked that distinctive flavor. He made no comment, staring out the windshield towards a probably cold, miserable young man somewhere out there.
Sam had been smart, almost too smart. He'd known they'd try to find him through Cerebro, hadn't once used his powers. He hadn't since he'd heard the story on the radio Monday morning. They'd let him out of practice for three days, then Xavier had excused him from his duties to 'talk' to him.
Which is what the sanctimonious ass called his telepathic probing into the darkest, most private place in the human body - the mind. Domino found herself scowling and had to carefully rearrange her face back to neutral.
Fat lot of good he'd done, too. Even admitted that he didn't 'feel as though any tampering would be welcome', and that 'he himself must find the peace and atonement he seeks.'
Didn't look like any of those doctorates got through that shiny, hard skull of his.
He'd spoken briefly with his parents on the phone, and she was almost certain Cable had listened in on that conversation, but either way he hadn't volunteered to share anything, and she didn't ask. At a time like this, she respected his privacy.
What she didn't respect was a student, one of _her_ students, taking off without his wallet, his ID, his watch, and a note saying where he went.
She flexed her fingers on the wheel, still debating whether strangling him or hugging him was the best course of action.
When they found him, of course. If they found him.
"Take this exit."
She started, glancing at the clock. Two more hours had passed.
She killed cruise control, letting the car coast up the rickety ramp. Probably had the same asphalt during the Prohibition. At the top was the oldest, most faded stop sign she had ever seen, with the exception of the one in Poland that had been in place since just after WWI.
She glanced at Nate, momentarily surprised at the amount of light in the cab of the vehicle. His eyes were squinting, as though staring at a bright sunset, his hands in his lap crushing the long-empty can. Quietly, under his breath, he swore in Askani. If she wasn't mistaken, it was the English equivalent of a disgusted 'Fuck.'
He took a deep breath, his chest rising and falling ever so gently as he expelled it, the light dimming as his eyes closed. She had always marveled at the way the light still somehow managed to get through his eyelids, particularly in the dark, giving him an almost golemish appearance.
His head jerked back, eyes open, and the light died.
She turned left, keeping it down to 50 m.p.h. to facilitate sudden turns, her eyes open wide and roving over the landscape, noting landmarks in typical mercenary fashion. The coast. Funny, though, she couldn't actually smell the sea. A willow growing near a small pond near the road gently waved its soft fronds in the general direction of the ocean, as if gesturing.
Wind blowing out to sea, then.
He wouldn't have gotten on a boat . . .
Nathan shook his head slightly in silent communication.
Domino kept special attention on the beachfront, killing the headlights and glad of the silence of the new car they'd rented. Wouldn't do to have him recognize them right off. She wanted to at least see him, make sure all the parts were there before he rabbited again.
"Stop." It was soft.
She stopped slowly, brakes silent, and turned off the engine. The wind carried most of the sounds of the sea away and the car blocked it out further, and for many moments the only sounds were the whispers of breath, first from Nathan, then the earth.
And she saw him.
His silhouette was hard to spot, though he was perched on the very top of the highest rocks. The shores were very rocky, with small dead trees interspersed, and if she hadn't been looking as hard as she was, she would easily have confused the straight, tall figure for their kind.
Uncomfortable with the comparison, she quietly opened the door, noting Nathan doing the same after a moment beside her. She shut it as quietly as possible, not audible over the much louder sounds of rushing water and the ever so infrequent soft cry of a seagull.
Nathan's breath caught in his throat, and she glanced at him. His jaw was firmly set, his hair positively glowing, as if charging from the light the moon offered. The moon herself was fighting the clouds for all she was worth, shining down despite the almost alligator mouth of clouds that were descending about her. It moved swiftly due to the breeze, fast enough to see the progress, but she fought well, shining through the lighter ones, lighting the mouth of the alligator as those below had the view of the silvered belly of the gator and the wispy teeth.
Nathan took a step forward, starting slightly at the plaintive small cry of a stray seagull. His eyes never left the still figure on the rocks, and Dom followed his gaze after a moment.
Sam looked like he was in his jean overalls, rolled up to his knees to afford easy wading, a tee-shirt ruffling itself in the breeze like a bird ridding itself of water after a quick dip in the lake. His hair flew about his head in a futile attempt at escape, and as she watched, he tilted his head upwards to stare at the moon, nearly gone now, just a glow in the collapsing mouth of the clouds.
And the cry of the seagull wafted to her, delicately.
"Oh, Sam . . ."
Nathan started forward, almost
soundless through the sand, and after a moment, she followed. His
past reactions to her attempts to talk to him tightened an
already painful knot in her gut.
"Sam? Can I come in?"
"Can Ah stop you, ma'am?"
Domino peeked through the crack in the door, glancing at his stretched out self on the untidy bed, staring at the bottom of the bunk above him.
"Well, you could if you tried hard enough, but then I'd probably have to kick your ass . . ."
"If it's all th'same ta you, ma'am, Ah'd like ta be left alone."
Domino opened the door all the way, not entering the room, his space.
"Sam, you know I'm here -"
He almost smiled, the muscled pulled, but the expression lacked some important element that she couldn't identify.
"Ah know, ma'am, an' I appreciate it, but Ah don't really want t' hear all about how y'know what Ah'm goin' through."
"You didn't let me finish, Sam." She chose her words carefully. "I was about to say, I'm here to listen."
Again, the muscle spasm. "Ah know." He swallowed, his face still dry, eyes not straying from the featureless brown slab above him. She stood there several minutes more, watching him breathe, seeing the tenseness in his frame, and waited still longer.
Still he didn't move.
"Sam, can I at least leave the door open?"
"So they c'n see th' killer?" It was the first truly bitter tone she'd ever heard leave his mouth, and the tone set an icy imp crawling about her upper GI tract.
She entered the room then, almost to his bedside. "Sam, _no one_ blames you for this. _No one_ thinks you're a killer, and if you're going to take that route, then you're wasting everyone's time." Her tone was flat but hard, hard enough to give a good steel beam a run for its money.
"Not Maria's time,"
he answered softly, and turned onto his side, facing his back to
her and cutting off the conversation as effectively as Nathan
Domino still remembered how tense his back had been as she'd patted it, hovered a moment more, then left, leaving the door open, waiting. He eventually had gotten up to shut it, gently, turning the knob rather than simply shoving it closed.
As automatic as putting on a pair of pants.
Nathan was a good thirty feet in front of her, and she had to stride hard to catch up.
He made it all the way to the rock cluster before the moon completely faded, and Sam looked down.
Without the moonlight to augment his features, his eyes looked like black, empty sockets out of a pale, tight-stretched skull. Even his hands and gracefully long fingers took on the aspect of something far more sinister, destructive. He was currently balling them into a fist.
"Ah knew you'd find me."
Cable just stood there, at the foot of the rocks, eye glowing faintly.
Sam dug his toes into the almost porous rock, head turning from them to watch the sea.
"Paige said it was gorgeous here," he finally commented, almost too quietly to hear, with the wind trying its hardest to steal his words.
"Sam, come down." It was as close to a murmur as she'd ever heard leave Cable's lips.
Sam didn't seem to hear him. "She said she would come here t'clear her head."
Cable put a foot on one of the base rocks, and Sam's toes uncurled. Nate froze before Dom could even think a warning.
"Sam," she tried tentatively, "Did it work?"
That thin chest expanded and deflated. "No, ma'am."
"Doesn't help to stand on the rocks," Cable said softly. "Sit on the sand. You can feel the sea then."
"Take it away," Sam responded, just as quietly.
Cable shifted that foot slightly, and Sam took an involuntary step away from him.
Towards the edge and a very long, rocky fall.
"Ah know ya'll can . . . telepaths, that is. Read up on it back with th' X-Men when they were talking 'bout the Shadow King. Said he could, an' you're more pow'rful than he is."
"Take what away?"
His face turned slightly to look at Dom. "Th' power. Th' trigger that gave me th' blast field."
Cable stiffened, his throat tightening. Sam took another step away from him, this one almost wary.
"Ah know that Ah'd have t'let you in mah head. Ah want your oath that that's th' only thing you'll change."
Cable rested a hand on his raised leg, using it to lean against in a position that fairly oozed casualness. "You want me to cut off you powers."
Domino carefully kept herself from looking at the shallows below him. The rocks he'd chosen as a point to watch the sunset and the moon were the highest on the beach, probably one hell of a vantage point. The fall might not kill him, would certainly break a leg or two, and the damage done by the rocks would be severe.
Not a killing fall. A crippling one.
Domino somehow contained that first muffled gasp, her eyes widening at a sight it was all too simple to see now . . . he hadn't been eating, lying down, not following his routine . . .
*Oh, damn, Nate, he isn't thinking about it, is he?*
Cable watched Sam for a long time. "Are you sure that's what you want?"
"Yes sir." Not a shred of hesitation in his voice.
Cable nodded once. "I can go about it one of two ways. I can simply block it off, and an alpha tepe can restore it -"
"Permanently, if it's not too much trouble."
"It is. And it's painful. It will be painful for the rest of your life, Can-"
"THAT'S NOT MAH NAME!"
Nate didn't appear flustered in the least by the venom and the fear? in that scream.
"It has other risks, if permanent. We don't know everything about your powers yet -."
Sam was trembling, now, only two or three steps from falling. If he tripped, now, or panicked . . .
"Ah'll risk it."
Sam didn't move then, his trembling remaining constant, his fists balling and unballing.
"Y'have to, sir."
Cable appeared surprised, leaning back and letting his hand fall back to his side. "Oh? Why? Do you think that'll prevent this from happening again? Think that it'll somehow make up for it?"
Sam took a step forward, then, his hands open and palms out, almost a plea.
"It won't," he continued shortly. "It won't make anything better. It won't make you feel better. It won't make Maria Gelanzo forgive you. It won't somehow magically remove the stain on that road."
Domino silently and swiftly sent a reprimand down the link as Sam, again involuntarily, took a step back, as if to balance himself.
"But-" Never had she heard his voice so full of pain.
Cable seemed not to notice, and continued ruthlessly. "It will make that death completely senseless. It will make your life completely senseless. Tell me, what else are you cut out for? Farming? You've already lived too much, you'd never be happy there. Marriage? You aren't cut out for commitment, obviously."
Domino moved closer, resting a hand on Cable's arm. He ignored it.
"So what'll it be, Sam? You want me to clip your wings, or are you going to do it yourself?"
She could see even in the twilight that Sam's mouth was working soundlessly. Cable folded his arms and assumed that completely closed look she hated so much.
*What the _hell_ are you doing??*
#Forcing a decision.#
She felt a surge of sudden anger. *So instead of giving him a pep talk when he was still back at the house, you decide to give him space until now and have him jump off a rock?* And then she was suddenly struck, almost physically. *If he chooses to jump, you _are_ going to -*
#Oath, Dom!# he snarled back, his face outwardly just as composed. #What do you think I am? Some kind of flonqing monster?#
"Sam," she said as gently as she could, "Come down from there. Talk to us. Talk to me."
*I sure as hell don't agree with your tactics.*
Sam took a step back. "Stay outta mah head, sir," he called down softly.
"Xavier is a cripple," Cable observed in an almost offhand way. "Didn't stop him, did it."
Sam managed to look startled, and glanced behind him. He seemed surprised by his proximity to the edge, but his feet didn't move.
"You know that fall isn't going to kill you, Sam. You know that the only thing it's going to do is hurt you. And with your power, you may even heal."
"Didn't in Asgaurd," Sam muttered quietly.
"It isn't the answer." There was pain in his voice, now.
"Then what IS?! 'Cause Ah've been here all day an' it sure as honey ain't here!" A step forward, one of anger.
Cable opened his mouth, but Sam wasn't finished. "Ah know. You're gonna tell me a story about all the little naive soldiers that followed you into battle an' tried to be just lahk you! An' how it hurt, an' how you just have to get over it!"
Nate almost staggered forward, and the link closed with a snap so fast Domino almost lost her balance, as well.
"Well Ah don't wanna hear it! You were raised from day one tah expect that! Ah'm not a soldier! Ah don't want tah be a hero! Ah want tah be a man, Ah never wanted tah hurt anyone, never . . ." His voice lost steam and eventually was choked with a sob that shook that thin frame all the way to his ankles.
Cable's eyes half-lidded. "I never wanted to be a soldier or a hero, either," he said quietly, and turned on his heels, heading down the beach, away from the stunned Domino and silent man on the rocks.
*Nate . . . ?*
#Save it,# he sent back, feelings clamped down so tightly she could actually feel the pressure.
He didn't slow.
She didn't move, just watched him walk, then glanced back up at Sam. He seemed uncertain, tears she could finally see tumbling down that boyish face, so experienced and yet so round, still. All the time in the world to learn that some things have to be never forgotten, perhaps never even dealt with, but somehow handled all the same.
Such a round, soft face.
"Cable . . . "
He stopped without turning.
"Ah . . . "
He didn't move.
Sam swallowed loudly enough to be heard over the ocean, the sea herself seeming hushed. And then with a terrific thunderclap he blasted off the rocks, landing in a bright flash of orange before the still man.
"Ah . . . Ah didn't mean that . . ."
Sam looked even more pitiful close up. There were large bags beneath his eyes, dark and making his normally round eyes look sunken and swollen at the same time. His face seemed drawn, dirty from dirty hands scrubbing away the teartracks.
"Ah . . . Ah don't know what tah do."
A ghost of a smile touched Cable's face. "Neither do I."
And the moon slowly peered out, almost like a decloacking woman tenative about exposing herself to a man for the first time. And as she fully dropped all the veils, she found a rare display similar to her own.
Domino stood back, wondering at the
sight of the silver man with the silver hair holding the man with
the golden hair as he sobbed beneath the moonlight.
continued in Of Failing Wings and Broken Dreams
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