First Dance: Part 1

by Alicia McKenzie

DISCLAIMER: All characters in this story belong to Marvel, and are used here for entertainment purposes only. The Gatehouse isn't real, but taxi drivers with no sense of direction are fearfully commonplace in Toronto. :) Many thanks to everyone who wrote me asking for more Six-Pack stories; your encouragement has been much appreciated. Just to set the chronology straight, this story is set six months before 'Friendly Fire'.

Logan nearly choked on his coffee. "Excuse me?" he sputtered, once he could breathe again. He tried to keep the incredulity from his voice, but it was hard. "Did I hear you right just now?"

The young woman sitting across the table from him gave him a tolerant look, but he saw a wicked sparkle in her intense violet eyes. Sunglasses, Logan thought bemusedly. Definitely a must for her traveling disguise next time. She wore makeup to disguise her unusual coloring, that was smart, but those eyes, those incredible eyes of hers--they ought to be registered as lethal weapons. His feelings for her might be strictly platonic, even paternal, but even he wasn't entirely immune to what she could do with one eloquent look.

"You heard me." She arched an eyebrow. "Unless you're going deaf in your old age--" He growled at her and she fell silent, her sly smile growing. She'd always known how to push his buttons. Got damned irritating at times.

Needing a moment to regain his composure, Logan glanced around the small airport cafe, making sure that no one was showing any signs of unusual interest in their conversation. She did the same, just as casually, and then turned back to him, her expression serene. He gave her his best stern look. As usual, it only seemed to amuse her.

"Are you out of your mind, Neena?" he demanded, more harshly than he'd intended. Her smile vanished abruptly.

"Domino," she corrected him, quietly but firmly. "I told you to call me Domino. For now, at least."

He groaned. "Fine!" he said in exasperation. She rolled her eyes at him, and he sighed. "I know, I know. I was the one who suggested you find yourself a nom de guerre, kid--"

"And I found one that suited me, old man," she said mockingly, flipping her ponytail over her shoulder. "Don't you like it?" He didn't deign to respond, and she grinned at him. "Think, Logan. If I'm going to go by 'Domino', I have to get used to hearing people call me by it. But don't worry, I'll always be 'Neena' to you." She chuckled. "Not that 'Neena' is all that accurate, either."

Logan shook his head, muttering a few choice curses under his breath. Aliases were a neccessary thing in their line of work, but he sometimes thought she carried the 'name game' to extremes. And she certainly got an indecent amount of amusement out of it. "How can you even be considering this?" he asked, trying to keep his voice level. "What happened? You get bored and decide 'Hey, let's see if I can goad the old man into a stroke'?"

She gave him a dark look. "Logan, you're always letting your prejudices run away with you." Her eyes narrowed. "Weren't you the one who told me I'd gone as far as I could, solo?"

"Yeah, so?" he grumbled defensively. "I also remember saying I'd help you find a place that suited you!" And he had. A good, reliable mercenary he'd known for years was putting together a new group, right here on the West Coast. He'd taken her out to dinner last week and 'happened' to mention Neena in the course of conversation. Like always, Simone had played it cool, but Logan knew her well enough to see she'd been interested.

"Yeah, so?" Neena mimicked him, looking annoyed. "I don't want you to 'find a place' for me, Logan. I'm a big girl, I can make my own decisions!"

He sighed and took another swallow of his coffee. Should've known something was up. She'd called him this morning, telling him she'd arranged a short-term job for herself and asking for a ride to the airport. He'd been more than agreeable--they hadn't seen each other much during the last couple of months. Conflicting schedules and all that. And he missed her. But she'd been much too quiet in the car on the way over. Logan had figured she had something to tell him, something she didn't think he'd like. But this?

"I'm too old for this," he muttered. She snorted, and he gave her a reproving look. He needed to make it clear to her that he wasn't challenging her independence. Only her judgement, his conscience pointed out with a snort. He ignored it. "I'm not disputing your right to choose what you want to do, darlin'," he said carefully. "You've handled yourself well this last year. Made me proud. But you don't know what you're getting yourself into--"

"Don't I?" she asked, her eyes flashing. "Give me some credit, Logan. I've done my research, just like you taught me. And everything I've dug up says their reputation is solid. The Wild Pack is reliable, efficient, professional, and in demand. I like that combination, even if you don't," she concluded almost defiantly. "I fit the profile, Logan. I'm what they're looking for, even if they don't know it yet." Her expression grew almost defensive for a moment. "What, you don't think I'm up to working with a team?"

Logan groaned. "I didn't say that. Quit jumping to conclusions." He took a deep breath, and went on calmly. "You're as qualified as the next person, darlin'. I know that--I trained you, remember? But your abilities aren't the issue here--"

"Oh, right." She leaned back in her chair, scowling. "It's not me, it's Cable. I swear, Logan, even if this don't work out, it'll be worth it just to meet the man, after all your horror stories." She shook her head, folding her arms across her chest and giving him a stubborn look. "What is this beef you have with him, anyways?"

Logan winced. "I wouldn't call it a beef, darlin'." Actually, how would he describe it? Besides getting out of hand, that is. Fleeting pangs of conscience aside, he wouldn't trust Cable with his pet goldfish, if he had any. Let alone with someone as precious to him as the young woman glaring at him now.

"I don't care what you call it," Neena was saying in that brittle voice that meant she was just about at the end of her patience. "I arranged a meeting. What happens, happens. But it's not the sort of opportunity that drops into your lap every day, Logan. I'll be damned if I give it up because you've got some kind of personal problem with an ex-SHIELD agent I've never met!"

Logan took another sip of coffee, to cover his surprise. "You did do your homework," he muttered, impressed despite himself. Very few people outside SHIELD had known Cable and Bridge in their officer days. Most of those were dead, and the files on Fury's one-time 'troubleshooters' were buried as deeply as Nick had been capable of burying them. He gave Neena a thoughtful look, wondering how much she knew. But all he saw in her expression was resolve, and Logan sighed, recognizing his options.

He could keep kicking up a fuss. She'd get pissed and probably stop speaking to him for the next six months. Or he could grin and bear it. The idea didn't appeal to him, but it was the best way. For now.

"Do what you want," he growled, trying to make it sound grudging. If he gave up too easily, she'd smell a rat. "You would anyways. Like I always say, you've got a stubborn streak as--"

"Wide as the Grand Canyon," she concluded in a good impression of his exasperated tone. "I know." In the distance, a pleasant female voice announced over the P.A. that 'American Airlines Flight 147, bound for Toronto' was now boarding. Neena rose, giving him an irrepressible grin. "You know me too well, old man. Wish me luck?" It was an old joke between them.

He got up, enfolding her in a fierce embrace. "As if you needed it, girl," he scoffed. "Take care."

She vanished into the crowd, without a glance back. Typical. Neena never did anything she didn't intend to do with her whole heart. But Logan couldn't make himself feel good about this. All his instincts were telling him this was the wrong choice, that it would only lead to trouble in the end.

So he had to make sure that didn't happen. Leaving the money for their coffees and a healthy tip, he wandered from the cafe over to the American Airlines desk. There, he asked the attendant about the next flight to Toronto.

"I'm sorry to say we don't have another flight to Toronto until tommorow morning, sir," she said apologetically.

"That'll do," he growled, and paid for the ticket. Neena's meeting with Cable and Bridge was tommorow night. She hadn't said where, but he had a pretty good idea. In any case, he'd have plenty of time.


Cable raised an eyebrow as Bridge ordered another drink. "G.W.," he said bluntly, "don't you think you've had enough? I'm not carrying you back to the hotel."

"Lighten up, Nate," Bridge scoffed, his words slightly slurred. "We finished our contract, we're alive, what's not to celebrate?" He gestured around at the bar. "We're in the best watering hole in the great Dominion of Canada, and still you can't relax. You are too uptight, pal."

Cable studied their surroundings moodily, wondering why G.W. liked the Gatehouse so much. From a practical standpoint, he approved of this place. Catering to people in their link of work, it was swept for bugs daily, and the staff didn't ask questions. Even the clientele tended to keep to themselves. In many ways, the Gatehouse was neutral territory.

But the bar was crowded tonight, and he was tired. Tired enough that he was picking up more background noise, telepathically speaking, than usual. It was making him edgy. And sitting here watching his usually inhibited partner get thoroughly drunk wasn't helping. He knew Bridge was, like he'd said, just celebrating being alive after his brush with death during their last job.

Cable scowled at the memory. They'd been caught in the middle of a very nasty firefight when G.W. had stepped on a landmine. Cable had managed to disarm it telekinetically, fighting to concentrate on the delicate mechanism while Hammer and Grizzly laid down covering fire. But it had been close, too flonqing close. His telekinesis was an unreliable tool at the best of times. Part of him hated that weakness in himself, even while the rest of him pointed out that he should learn to make do with what he had, like always--

"What're you brooding about now?" Bridge demanded loudly, but Cable saw the flicker of concern in his eyes.

"Nothing," he said stiffly. As he looked away, he heard Bridge sigh. Cable felt a momentary pang at not saying anything, even if it was only 'I'm glad you're not dead'. But everything he cared about died, and it was better, safer, not to feel anything. Not to connect.

He just wished that realization wasn't so depressing. What is, is, he told himself resolutely, and looked at his watch. "She's late," he said darkly. "Not a good sign."

"Give her a break, huh?" Bridge snorted. "Five minutes isn't a big deal."

Cable gave him a cold smile. "Timing is everything." He'd timeripped often enough over the last few years that he'd become intimately aware of how much five minutes could mean--if they were the right five minutes. Not that he thought tonight's meeting was going to be a pivotal one. Although, he told himself frankly, you never know, do you?

"Huh," Bridge said disgustedly as the waitress brought his drink over. "You and your double meanings."

"I wasn't insinuating anything," Cable lied, irritated. Bridge had developed an aggravating habit lately, pouncing on anything he said that was even remotely enigmatic. "If she can't be punctual for a simple meeting, what does that say about her?"

"That she got stuck in traffic, maybe?" Bridge pointed out, shaking his head ruefully. "You can be a judgemental son of a bitch at times, Nate, you know that?" He took a sip of his drink. "So, who arranged this?" he continued casually. "Hammer?"

"Obviously," Cable said, trying not to snarl at him. "We all agreed to let him handle recruitment. You and I are too busy, and Grizzly doesn't have the right temperament--" Theo was too easygoing. Too trusting.

"I still can't believe Ham even arranged an interview with a woman. You know his opinion on female mercenaries." Bridge sounded almost nostalgic. "Remember when he mouthed off to Ellen Byrne? Ellie threatened to castrate him with a pair of rusty garden shears, I think it was--"

Cable didn't feel like discussing Hammer's prejudices. That particular brand of discrimination had never made much sense to him. In his time, fully half of his Clan's fighters had been female. Excluding them from combat would have been both impossible and stupid. "She has the skills we need," he said in a neutral voice. "Hammer knew that if he'd dismissed her out of hand just because she was female, he and I would have had words."

"Since when have the two of you ever needed an excuse for that?" Bridge joked. Cable gave him a chilly look, and he sighed. "Quit glowering and tell me about our candidate."

Cable shrugged, feeling oddly resentful. "Not much to tell, yet," he said coldly. "Hammer says she wasn't particularly free with the personal information, but that doesn't matter. I should be able to find out whatever we need." Bravado, really. His scanning range was limited, even more so with the headache he was developing. "Hopefully she'll be forthcoming, and I won't have to do it the other way." Oath, I just want her to get here so that we can get this over with--

Looking almost sober, Bridge studied his face intently. "Only if you have to," he said warningly. "I know how tired you are, and I don't want you pushing it. The 'other way' usually leaves you half-blind with a headache for the next two days--"

"Stop mothering me, Bridge!" Cable growled, letting his irritation show. Sometimes he regretted ever letting Bridge know about his abilities. Not that he'd had much choice at the time--"I don't need or want your advice on this!"

Bridge's eyes narrowed at the rebuke. "This isn't just lack of sleep, is it? What's bugging you, Nathan?"

"Nothing! I'm fine!" Cable snapped, flinching at the real concern behind the question. But he wasn't about to try and explain to G.W. why he couldn't get the image of that burnt-out village they'd seen down in Guatamela out of his head. Or confess to the nightmares it had triggered, nightmares he thought he'd seen the last of years ago. The charred wreckage, the blackened bodies--it had been a scene straight out of his own past. It didn't matter that he had held no responsibility to the dead. It had been someone's duty to protect them, and that someone had failed. Just as he had, years ago--

"Of course you are," Bridge said with a humorless smile, sounding resigned. "Not that you'd tell me, even if you weren't." Cable, startled by the edge of hurt in his partner's voice, started to say something, but Bridge shook his head. "Don't worry about it," he said, his tone turning caustic. "I'm just being selfish, that's all. Someone's got to talk to our new employer tommorow morning, and I doubt I'll be rid of the hangover by then."

"Sure," Cable grumbled, forcing a semblance of humor into his voice. "Leave the negotiating to me. You know I hate it." Too many of the people who employed their services had minds like sewers. Even for a low-level telepath like himself, exposure could be--unsettling.

"Burden of leadership, Nathan," Bridge said with a sudden, disconcerting grin. "Bottoms up." He held up his own glass, a challenging look in his eyes. Put off balance by Bridge's sudden mood swing, Cable picked up his own untouched drink, the one G.W. had ordered for him when they'd arrived, and tossed it back without thinking.

It had looked innocuous enough, clear like water. But it was a good deal stronger than he'd expected, and burned all the way down. He coughed and sputtered for a good minute, while Bridge sat watching, looking suspiciously smug. When he could finally speak again, Cable gave his partner a baleful glare.

"That is the--absolute LAST time I let you order for me, Bridge," he wheezed. His throat felt raw. "What in the name of the Bri--what was that?" He went off into another coughing fit. By the time he'd gotten over it, Bridge was looking somewhat repentant.

"Not very nice of me, that's what," he admitted. "Especially considering you don't drink." Cable gave him a defensive look, and Bridge's grin returned. "What, you don't think I've noticed? You'll order something and then nurse it all night. Like you were doing it for form's sake, going through the motions or something."

"I've seen people get drunk, Bridge. The loss of control doesn't appeal to me." Now, how had that slipped out? Bridge looked startled, and then nodded, as if something had just been confirmed to him. Cable scowled at the empty glass. Alcohol use had been a vice limited to the highest caste in his time. He nearly laughed at the sudden, absurd image of G.W. in a milk bar. "What did you say this was?" he asked.

"Why? Want another?"

"I think one was enough," Cable said severely. "One of us has to be sober when she gets here."

Bridge snorted. "A drink or two is not going to shatter your precious focus, Nathan." That concerned look was back on his face. Cable hated it. "You've got to learn to relax, partner. Not healthy to be wound so tight all the time."

"You sound like Fury," Cable muttered resentfully. He'd heard this lecture before. "'Cut yourself some slack, Nate.' 'Don't lose your perspective, Nate.' 'Nate, take two days leave before I throw you off the Helicarrier without a parachute--'"

"Yeah, well. Nick may've been wrong about a lot of things, Nate, but he wasn't too far off-base about you. He had you pegged as a control freak from the moment he laid eyes on you." Bridge leaned towards him, a very peculiar look on his face. "You know," he said, as if confiding something, "a mercenary that doesn't drink stands out like a sore thumb."

Starting to feel a little light-headed, Cable considered Bridge's words. "Really?" he asked, staring down at the empty glass. Bridge nodded. "Guess I should work on that. It's not as easy as it looks," he concluded quietly.

"Something tells me you're not talking about drinking, my friend," Bridge murmured almost encouragingly.

"Not drinking," Cable muttered. "Adapting." No matter how carefully he watched the people around him, how much he worked on mimicking their behaviour, he always missed something. Nuances that he couldn't seem to see. The society of this era seemed, on the surface, to be so much simpler than his own. He'd been quickly disabused of that notion.

"Well, that was typically cryptic," Bridge said dryly, but there was a strange note of satisfaction in his voice as he downed the rest of his drink. Cable gave him a sharp look, realizing he'd just given something away. As if he didn't suspect enough already! Cable rebuked himself angrily, trying to think of a way to cover his unintentional lapse.

Then, he sensed it.

He stiffened, inwardly reeling with shock, the gentle haze that had been creeping over his awareness blown away like mist by a strong wind. Bridge called his name, his voice sharp with worry, but Cable raised a hand to silence him as the mind that had blazed into his awareness like a comet entered the crowd. He didn't need to have worried about losing track of it; even amid the background babble, it stood out effortlessly.

Beautiful, he thought helplessly, lost in a rapt fascination like nothing he'd ever experienced. He could sense no awareness of his presence in those clear, strong, oddly luminous thoughts. Whoever this was, he--no, she, Cable decided, the psi-pattern was unmistakably feminine--couldn't be telepathic, despite its peculiar radiance. He could sense pride and humor, and a sharpness that spoke of both intelligence and cunning. There were shadows, here and there, but they only served to make the light more brilliant in contrast--

Cable blinked in surprise as an attractive young woman emerged from the crowd. She was the source of the psi-pattern, he realized, amazed at how young she was. Tall and slender with long dark hair, she couldn't have been more than eighteen. She moved with a fluid, dangerous grace, a confidence that made it quite clear that she belonged here, in this crowd, despite her youth. Cable was suddenly hit by the irrational desire to get up, go over to her, and pick a fight, just to see her fighting style. Askani forms of unarmed combat created that sort of--elegance of movement, but only after years of training. His instincts told him that her grace was a natural gift, something that training had only honed.

Where the hell are they? he heard her think irritably. He was rocked by the sheer power behind that thought. Damn that cab driver, if he's blown this for me I'm going to hunt him down, I swear--

Then she spotted them, and he saw the tension on her face relax into recognition. There they are, he heard. I'm glad they didn't leave, I guess I should apologize for being late, stupid cab driver--

The stream of consciousness grew even louder as she came over to their table. Cable hastily reinforced his shields, but even that didn't block her out entirely. She stopped, sliding off her sunglasses and regarding them with brilliant, penetrating violet eyes.

"Bridge and Cable, right?" she asked. Bridge just stared at her, a very strange expression on his face. Cable frowned at him, but trying to block out the girl's thoughts was taking all his attention. He didn't have time to stop and figure out what Bridge's problem was.

"Right," Cable said, more gruffly than he'd intended. Oh shit, I offended them, the girl was thinking, clearly chagrined despite the cool expression she was wearing. Damn it, it's not my fault, I meant to be here early, what happened to my damned luck, tonight of all nights? Her frustrated thoughts flew out at him like arrows, each hitting their mark with deadly accuracy. Cable shook his head doggedly, as if the physical movement would somehow clear his mind. But it didn't, and he told himself not to glower at the girl. She couldn't know what she was doing.

"Sorry I'm late," she said quickly, giving him a slightly nervous smile. "It's good to meet you. I'm Domino."

to be continued...


Part 2

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