by Brooke Hembree
A battlefield. They were all the same. When it was, where it was...that didnt mean a damn thing. It wasnt even an important battle, just another day at the office. Wild Pack had been hired to get into a HYDRA lab and retrieve a weapon prototype, and what the Wild Pack was paid to do, we did.
The job itself was pathetically easy. It was a research lab, limited security and out in the middle of nowhere, with no civilians to hurt or local authorities to trip over. It was an easy job, especially by the Packs standards. Unfortunately, the advantage was also the downside. Because it was so easy, we werent getting paid the high prices we were accustomed to. But we had been in this area on another op that we had finished a week earlier and had no other job prospects. We werent doing this one for the money. We made a hell of a lot on most jobs and this job was paying peanuts, anyhow. We had taken it to keep our employer happy and, because...truth to tell, we all lived for this...the thrill of combat, the element of danger, the adrenaline.
The strategy was simple enough: Divide up into three teams and approach the building from three sides. Wed be in and out in a heartbeat. Grizzly and Kane had taken the left, while Bridge and Hammer were doing their thing on the right side of the building. Me? I was with Dom. We were knocking on the front door.
It seemed that lately the two of us had ended up together a lot. Maybe because our fighting skills complimented the others, maybe I just liked having her around. Whatever the reason, I still wasnt convinced it was a bad thing. I hazarded a glance at her, amid the hail of bullets. Young...no more than twenty-two, if that old. Beautiful...and one hell of a fighter. High-tech firefight, common street fight...Dom could handle either of them with her combination of cockiness and caution, as well as style and grace. At that moment, she was dodging bullets, returning fire, smarting off and having a hell of a time.
I turned my attention back to the job. We were almost to the entrance, another hundred meters and wed be there. My senses were painfully sharp, I could see the guards shooting at us, feel the bullets rushing past me, and hear the gunshots. One gunshot seemed to stand out in particular, then I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen. It took me a moment to realize that I was fine, that I hadnt been shot. Fighting nausea, I turned to look behind me. What I saw made my heart stop. The bullet had hit Domino. She was crumpled on the ground, blood already staining her armor. She was already struggling, in vain, to stand. I swore, my blood running cold, then touched my communicator
++This is Cable. Ive hit a snag on my side. Finish the job without me and meet me at the rendezvous point.++
I heard Bridge and Grizzly asking if I was hurt, but I cut the comm unit off, ignoring them. The Wild Pack was well trained and theyd do the mission without a hitch. I didnt really give a damn about getting the prototype now, I just wanted them out of my hair. I needed to get Dom somewhere safe so that I could stabilize her enough for a bodyslide. I drew on my telepathy and hit the guards with a psibolt. I had planned to disorient them at least, maybe to knock them out long enough to escape. But my anger and adrenaline acted as amplifiers for my telepathy. I overloaded their minds with an ease that frightened even me. They were out...maybe for hours, maybe forever. Ask me if I cared. I rushed over to where Domino was struggling to her feet. "Dom, can you walk?" I asked, instinctively reaching out to help her.
She slapped my hand away and nodded stubbornly. "Im fine. I dont need your help, Cable. It just grazed me, I think," she said. I could hear her trying to place her customary cockiness in those words, but I heard a tremor in her voice. I examined the bullets entry. It had apparently missed any internal organs, but she was bleeding badly. Untreated, shed bleed to death within an hour. I had to get her to cover, stabilize her, then get her to Greymalkin. I had the equipment there to heal her without even leaving a scar, but in her condition, a bodyslide could kill her.
She looked like she might be going into shock. I had to get her to a safe place, preferably nearby. But I didnt know the area. Damn. I cursed myself in several different languages for the Packs stupidity. We didnt expect much resistance, we thought wed be able to just waltz in and get the weapon. None of us thought to check the terrain around it...to find out what was nearby. Oath, we were so stupid. And Domino was now paying for it. We had planned to meet at a safehouse, but it was so far away. My mind raced, hoping to think of somewhere closer, because every second now counted. I came up empty, wed have to head to the rendezvous point.
"Dom, the rendezvous point is a safehouse about a mile from here. We need to get there so that we can get you stabilized, and then fix all of this. Can you walk that far?" I neednt have asked. She nodded a grim, stubborn light in her violet eyes. Shed make it, if it killed her. I flinched at my wording, grimly acknowledging that her that the walk causing too much exertion was a very real possibility. To her credit, and my amazement, the first quarter of the way she did fine. But the terrain was rocky and it was hard going. Even though I was fueled by adrenaline and by concern for Domino, I soon was becoming winded. Domino refused my offers to carry her, though, moving forward by sheer will. Toward the middle, she clung to my arm to steady herself, then eventually leaned against me heavily for support. I carried her the last several hundred meters. She was paler. Cool. Shaking. I didnt say a word to her, I just took out a blanket from a pack and spread it on the floor. Kneeling by the blanket, I helped her lie on it. "This may hurt, Dom," I said, at the same time dulling her pain receptors with my telepathy.
"Playing doctor with me, huh, Nate? And we havent even been out on a date," she joked weakly. Her voice wasnt as strong, as assertive, as usual.
I smiled grimly in return. "When we get you out of this mess, babe, Ill take you anywhere you want to go." I replied as I examined the wound. It was worse than I thought. The bullet had passed through cleanly, not damaging any organs or bones. But it had apparently hit her inferior vena cava...the vein responsible for carrying blood to her entire lower body. I cleaned the wound, bandaged it, and tried to stop the bleeding. I had to get her to Greymalkin...there was no other way. I didnt relish showing her so many of my secrets, but in the past few years I had grown to trust Domino more than anyone else. She was the only person on this planet that could make me smile and simply too good of a friend to let her bleed to death in an abandoned shack when I had it in my power to save her.
"Professor. Bodyslide by two, destination Greymalkin." No response. I tried again and still nothing. Had the Professor been damaged during the fight? I didnt remember taking a hit, although now it was all a blur to me. "Professor, run a self-diagnostic," I said. I felt him complying. Although I knew it only took a few seconds, it seemed like an eternity. In that time, I knelt by Dom, stroking her hair. "Dom, were going get out of this, I promise." She nodded, weakly.
++Nathan, my scan shows no errors.++ I jumped at the sound of the hollow voice.
"Well, then get us out of here. Now."
++Im sorry, Nathan, I cant. An override has prevented me from complying with your order.++
++My programming does not allow me to say. If it is any consolation, Nathan, she would probably be unable to survive the bodyslide.++
"It isnt," I growled. Helpless. No way to get back to the origin point if the Professor wouldnt let me bodyslide. No way of getting her medical attention, which she needed within the next fifteen minutes if she was to survive. And I had told the rest of the Pack to finish the job. I tried to reach out with my mind, to contact Bridge. Nothing. My powers had obviously been drained already. I regretted my rash attack of the guards. A few bullets would have been just as efficient.
I had failed her. Just as I had failed so many people in my life. I should have been covering her better during the fight. No, forget that. I should have never accepted this job. We didnt need to money and we could have lined up another, better job in less than a month, but... Why? Why did we take it?
I saw that my hand was red from examining Dominos wound. How poetic. Her blood was on my hands. I felt my control slipping. Everything I touched, there was blood. Everywhere I went, I left a trail of bodies, of broken dreams. Realizing that I was almost hysterical, I forced myself to calm down. I had to be calm, to have a clear head, if there was any chance of me helping her.
I turned my attention to Domino. It had been about fifteen minutes since she was shot, five since Id bandaged the wound. It was already soaking through.
"Familiar, huh?" she asked, weakly
She made an attempt at a smile. "Remember China?" She frowned, biting her lip.
"Dom?" I asked, trying to keep her alert, keep her talking. I could see her getting disoriented.
"It wasnt my fault, you know," she said, "China, I mean. You keep acting like it was, but it wasnt."
Suddenly, I regretted very much the way I had teased her over it. She had simply glared at me balefully when I had mentioned it before, but now I could see that China was something that had bothered her. "No, youre right. It wasnt," I conceded, "I promise Ill stop bringing it up."
She frowned. "You? Giving up an argument without a fuss? I must be pretty bad, huh? Maybe it isnt so much like China after all." She tried to make it a joke, but I could hear her voice shaking, see the fear in her eyes.
I took her hand as squeezed it. "No, its just like China. Remember? I came out of that fine. You will, too." Where had that catch in my voice come from? She heard it as well.
"I wont, will I, Nate?" I didnt bother to tell her not to call me Nate. She noticed that and frowned. "What did I do, Nathan? How bad is it?" She regarded me steadily. I wanted to lie to her, but I couldnt.
"It missed your internal organs, but its damaged your vena cava."
She sighed, seeming to deflate. "So, Im bleeding to death?" I tightened my grip on her hand. "Dont say that. Well get a doctor, Dom. Youll be fine. Just hold on." Even as I said that, I felt her weakening. She was going to bleed to death on the floor of this cabin, all because wed taken a stupid job that hadnt even paid well. "No, Nate. I wont and we know it."
I swallowed, her voice was even weaker. "I-I need closure, Nate. I dont want to just leave." I nodded, and she took another breath. "Tell Kane...goodbye for me. Tell him to quit being so cocky, that hes too damn good to get ki-killed because of some stupid mistake." She didnt finish with "like me" but we both heard it. She took another breath. I stroked her hair. "Tell Hammer that hes not so bad... for a chauvinistic pig."
Another weak attempt at a smile. "Tell Theo..." She looked at me helplessly. "What can I tell him? Tell him Ill miss him. He was one of my best friends...ever." Was she crying? "And Bridge...tell him that if he handles the recruitment next time, he might want to be a little nicer to the applicant. The Pack attracts some pretty unstable people...who knows what one of them might do? " I opened my mouth to tell her that there wouldnt be a next time...that we only needed six members and that she was going to be one of them for the next fifty years. She shook her head and placed her hand on my lips to silence me. "Nate, Im dying here, deal with it. But I cant leave without saying goodbye. Dont make it any harder." Another pause, with heavy thought.
"Logan," she finally said. She looked at me imploringly. "Nate, I dont know what happened with you two, but it couldnt have been that bad. The two of you should really try to get along, youre both good men." I started to protest, but her look stopped me. "Even if you wont do that, you have to call a truce with him for a little bit. You have to tell him that I love him, Nate. That hes done so much for me... an-and that Id never be able to repay him, or even thank him, even if I had the chance, even if I lived for a hundred years. Will you do that for me, Nate? Please?"
I nodded, not trusting my voice. I couldnt deny it anymore. She was dying. I had held so many people as they died, given so many messages to those left behind. But no one had ever been so brave, so strong.
Suddenly, I was struck by the most inappropriate thought for the time. I remembered going with Domino to see a production of Evita. It reminded me of something, but what?
Even in her confusion, she was able to anticipate what I was thinking. "Youre thinking of Evita, arent you? The line from that song."
"I- Yes," I said. She smiled faintly. "I cant think of it."
She gave the saddest smile I had ever seen in my life. Then, took a breath. "Oh, what Id give for a hundred years, but the physical interfere, everyday more, oh my Creator." I had never heard her sing before...how had she kept that beautiful voice hidden from me? When I didnt say anything else, she continued, "What is the use of the strongest heart, in a body thats falling apart? A serious flaw, I hope you know that." Domino looked at me and sighed.
"Nate, dont look so sad. I made this choice. When I chose this life, I knew it could come down to this, and..." She trailed off. A pleading look filled her eyes and her tone changed. "Oh, Nathan, I dont want to die. I really dont want to. I know thats stupid, no one wants to die...but still..." Even in her fear, and the pain she had to be feeling, she still had an air of quiet dignity around her. Unable to say the right words, I simply pulled her close and held her.
"Nate?" she whispered, her voice straining to be heard. "Im not exactly afraid of dying...but Im afraid of being forgotten. Promise me, Nate, that youll remember me. Please."
I nodded, touching her wet cheek. "No matter how long I live, Dom, Ill never, ever forget you."
What would my life be like without her, I wondered? Suddenly, the secrets and the lies and the half- truths seemed so foolish now, so pointless. I had sought to keep myself distant from her emotionally, and it had worked. And I was now regretting it with every breath. Now, when I was losing her, I longed to be able to let her know me, to know her, to understand her, to be one with her. But that chance had passed
I realized that I couldnt make up for the time with her that I had been blessed with, yet had wasted. And I also knew that I couldnt give her back the years that were being snatched away from her as her life seeped out on the blanket, but I could share these final moments with her. I reached out to her with my mind and caught hers.
The world shimmered, and suddenly we were somewhere I didnt recognize. It wasnt the astral plane, but it certainly wasnt the cold reality that we had just been in. Stop, Nathan. We dont have time to wonder where we are...we only have time for...for us. I smiled at her voice...full of affection, yet irritated. Then my heart sank as the truth of what she said hit me. I didnt want to waste the precious few moments I had left with her, so I opened my mind to hers and she reciprocated.
I saw her childhood, her thoughts of me now, her hopes and dreams for her future. I showed her my past, my mission, my insecurities and fears. And as I felt her slipping, I allowed myself to go with her. I walked with her down the final moments of her life, seeing what might have been. And, I saw us in those images. The two of us: sharing a future, sharing a destiny. Laughing together, loving each other...
I held to her for a moment, feeling her being pulled away from me. She clung to me, as well.
"I love you, Nate," she whispered.
"I love you, too, Dom," I whispered. And it was true, I knew everything about her and I loved her...her beauty, her mind...and I was slowly losing her.
Its not the worst way to die. I was startled at her thought.
"Goodbye, Nate," she whispered, kissing me gently. She moved toward the veil separating our two different worlds.
"Wait, Ill go with you. I want to be with you, Dom," I said. I followed her, planning to tear the veil to shreds if need be. I watched Dom pass through it, and as I was almost there, something stopped me. A shield, I realized. I touched it and realized it was made up of both telepathic and telekinetic energy. I turned to see who had put this there, who was separating me from Domino. It was the Mother Askani. Her face was a mask of disapproval, I thought I could see traces of pity.
"It isnt your time, yet, Nathan," she said. I protested, trying to follow Domino. "Nathan, I know how much this hurts you, to lose something so dear to you. But you cannot, you must not, be selfish. Youre the only one who can defeat Apocalypse. Its you destiny, Nathan, just as mine was to leave everything that mattered to me behind and found the Askani, to bring you to the future. It isnt for you, it is for everyone who will live, and who will die under that madmans tyranny. Its for those you gave everything to get you here. You owe it to them to keep fighting."
I tried to argue. I wanted to ask her how it could be my destiny to defeat Apocalypse if I wasnt even sure it was worth it. I wanted to know how I could say I was to defeat Apocolypse to stop him from spilling innocent blood when I had been forced to watch other innocents suffer and I could do nothing. But just as I started to tell her that, I found myself back in my body, cradling Dominos body in my lap.
She was dead. She was cold, pale, her face was like a wax carving. I leaned down and kissed her once, on her lips, for the last time and I whispered the ending of a poem.
or night, in weal or woe,
That heart no longer free,
Must bear the love it cannot show,
In silent ache for thee."
I looked into those beautiful amethyst eyes for the last time, my heart constricting as I realize that she would never again look at me with those eyes, that I would never see them flashing with anger or shining with happiness. Gently, I brought my hand up and stroked her hair, then closed her eyes. And after that, I let the tears fall. Crying for her, crying for what could have been, what should have been. It was going to be so much darker in my future, now, without her.
And that was how the rest of the Pack found me, about an hour too late: Cradling my best friends body in my arms, tears on my face and too heartbroken to care what the Pack saw.
"Nate, what the hell went down back there? You just left us without ev-" Bridge stopped when he was Domino. "Oh, God, Nate. Is she...?"
I looked up and nodded sadly. "Shes...dead."
Horror flashed across GWs face. "H-how?"
I steeled myself, trying to keep the emotion out of my voice. I failed. "A bullet hit her during the fight. I had planned to talk her to the rendezvous point and get her stabilized. I thought that if we all retreated, they might follow us. I thought I could help her. When I realized that I couldnt it was too late. I tried to contact you, but..."
"I understand, Nate. You did what you thought was best," Bridge said, still staring numbly at Dominos body. It was disturbing. It was taking every shred of self-control that I had developed in my life to keep from breaking down again.
Hammer just stood there, shaking his head. I sympathized with him. An hour ago everything had been normal, and suddenly the world had been turned upside down. I saw regret in his eyes, doubtlessly thinking of some of the things hed said to her.
Kane was just staring blankly at her. He couldnt have been more than nineteen. In his eyes, I saw grief for a friend and the realization of exactly what this life was.
"No!" That was Grizzly. He and Domino had been so close. I saw anguish in his eyes, the cold, empty feeling that went along with losing someone you cared for.
"Weve got to get back," I told them, hating the tremor in my voice when I said that. I started to stand, but the overuse of my powers had made me weak and my body was stiff from sitting. Grizzly came forward to take her body, but I shook my head, fighting the urge to shove him away. "I can do it." I needed to do it.
Soon enough, Id have to let go of her. Soon, Id have to bury her and release her forever. But until then, I would cling to her as long as possible. I would cling to the light that had kept away my darkness for so many years. And when I had to let her go? I had no idea what I would do.
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