Hellfire And Damnation
Part One: King's Assassin
by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: Recognizable characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Set mid-way through the six-month gap after the Twelve Saga. This story is rated a very serious R for non-consensual sexual themes, violence, and a great deal of profanity. Younger and sensitive readers, take that to heart before you consider reading this.
From an objective point of view, my current situation wasn't too bad, all things considered. As far as limos went, at least, this one was top of the line, black as jet with an interior that could have doubled as a small hotel room. The nice man with the gun had even offered me a drink once I'd promised to behave--gentlemanly of him, I'd thought.
I'd turned him down, naturally. I might not have been prepared to object too strenuously to this little change in plans while I'd been on a street crowded with innocent bystanders, but I wanted my reflexes in perfect working order, not blurred by alcohol or whatever my chaperone might think to slip into it. I hadn't planned on making a side trip to the Hellfire Club today. Since I was, a healthy dose of caution was definitely in order.
Conversation with the pair of goons seated opposite me was probably fruitless. I gave them a noncommittal smile and the leaned back into the padded seat, staring out the window. And the day started off so well, too--
I'd been in New York for a week now, hitting some old haunt, hooking up with old contacts. Basically, killing time until I could get up the courage to go down to Westchester, or at least pick up the phone and give Nate a call.
Three months since Akkaba. I hadn't so much as spoken to him in that time--not since that morning in San Francisco, just before we'd fallen into Caliban and Deathbird's trap like obliging amateurs and the two Horsemen had whisked Nate away to Apocalypse's stronghold. I knew what had happened, of course. Everyone and anyone who'd ever been associated with the X-Men knew--knew that Scott Summers was dead, that this particular war was over, at least for now. I even knew that Nate had joined the X-Men, as hard as that still was for me to believe. I had my sources, after all. Always had--even now.
Part of me hated myself for letting it go this long, letting all this time pass without making even a token effort to reach out. I was a coward--there was no denying that. I knew what sort of shape Nathan had to be in, with his father dead and his life's work in ruins, but I was afraid to face that--face him. Even after three months.
I'd never been good at picking up the pieces. Not even when it came to my own life.
The limo pulled slowly to a stop, and I shook my head irritably. Damn it, I wasn't going to have the chance to keep stewing over whether I wanted to face Nate if I didn't stay focused here and now. I didn't know what Shaw wanted from me, but I had trouble believing it was anything I'd want to give.
I knew too much about this place, I reflected as Goon Number One opened the door for me and I got out, staring up at the Hellfire Club. More than I wanted--not half as much as I needed--and just enough to know how stupid I was for walking into this.
Oh, well. Who wanted to live forever anyway? Smiling sweetly at my nervous-looking chaperones, I deliberately put some bounce in my step as I walked up the stairs. Sowing confusion among your enemies. It never failed.
"Good morning," the dark-haired, immaculately elegant woman waiting in the foyer said softly, giving me a professional smile. "Please," Tessa continued, gesturing gracefully for me to follow her. "Mr. Shaw is waiting to see you."
"Well, good for him," I said brightly, to cover my frantic scramble to get my mental shields in order. Sloppy, I'd gotten sloppy these last months, not being around any telepaths. Stupid, Dom, really stupid-- I should have remembered Tessa and done this in the car. "I'm sure I'd be much more inclined to rush to see dear Sebastian if the invitation had been more--polite." At least I seemed to be in control of my own actions, for now. Maybe she was being a nice, mannerly mindwitch and keeping her thoughts inside her own skull, where they belonged.
#The Black King was uncertain as to whether you would respond to a more polite invitation,# Tessa's voice said smoothly inside my mind. She didn't even blink at my suspicious glare. "Our apologies for that, of course," she said, aloud. "If you'll follow me?"
Very smooth, I thought sourly, following her. She'd told me with two words that this was Inner Circle business. The Black King was uncertain-- An important piece of info, given that I was going into this completely cold. What I couldn't figure out was WHY she'd warned me.
#Let us just say respect and leave it at that, shall we?# she sent, not so much as glancing back over her shoulder at me.
Shit. "I'll be interested to hear what Mr. Shaw has to say," I said in my best, silky 'fuck with me and I'll rip your throat out' voice. I'd hear him out, since things were liable to get messy if I balked at this point, but that didn't mean I was going to let myself be easy prey. And I knew Tessa would take the hint. Telepaths were perceptive, that way.
Shaw's inner sanctum was just as subtly overdone as I remembered it. It took a very careful interior decorate to achieve just that precise 'I'm rich enough that I define what good taste is' look. I'd been here twice--no, three times before. The third time, I hadn't been precisely conscious, and according to Kane, Nate hadn't quite left these rooms in the condition he'd found them when he and the rest of the Pack had come to get me. I gathered that hadn't gone over particularly well.
But Shaw didn't look particularly concerned about property damage as he rose at our entrance, just like the gentleman he wasn't. "Domino, my dear," he said. I was tempted to extend my hand, just to see what he'd do. The courtly behaviour of the Inner Circle had always amused me. It was a great example of just how deceptive appearances could be. "So good of you to come. It's always a pleasure to see you."
I reminded myself that the last time I'd had anything to do with this man, he'd been trying to have me killed. It wasn't much of an anodyne to the charm he was oozing all over the place, but it helped. A little. A very little. "I bet," I said with a thin smile. He was in a suit, rather than his Black King get-up. I'd always liked him better that way. Hell, just call me a sucker for nicely dressed big men. Came from spending too much time with the Pack. "Care to tell me what this is all about? I'm not used to being kidnapped off a crowded downtown street in broad daylight."
"Come now, Domino," Shaw said, indicating for me to sit down and giving Tessa a dismissing nod. She nodded back, and glided soundlessly from the room. "How many people in this world could truly force you to do something you didn't want to do? As for this specific case, and your rather distressing use of the word kidnapping, let us be realistic." His eyes glinted. "If you hadn't been--curious, you would have taken your chances, bystanders or no bystanders. You chose to come here and see what I had to say."
I picked one of the more comfortable-looking chairs. It wasn't, unless you were comparing it to some of the other furniture in the room. "I'm not going to argue niceties with you, Sebastian." I smiled coldly at him, watching his eyes narrow almost imperceptibly. "I've noticed over the years that your hired muscle tend to have itchy trigger fingers. I don't feel comfortable with unnecessary civilian casualties--draws too much attention."
"Oh, I agree, but I must point out that I employ nothing but the best, my dear." He went over to the sideboard and filled two glasses. "Coincidentally, that's why I--invited you here today. A drink?"
"A little early for me, thanks." I watched him suspiciously as he came back and sat down across from me. "You want to hire me." Not what I'd expected, not at all--not that I'd expected ANY of this, of course, but this was definitely a curveball. "You know, Sebastian, you're getting downright inconsistent in your old age. I mean, look at our recent dealings. First you try to kill me, now you're trying to hire me?"
Shaw smiled, almost lazily, and the possibility that he was just playing with me--for whatever reason--popped into my head and wouldn't go away. "Times change, my dear. Surely you haven't been working with the X-Men and their ilk for so long that you've forgotten your own exemplary talents?"
Oh, hah. Flattery I didn't trust, especially from him. "Call me rusty," I said dryly, "but I've lost my taste for extended foreplay. Why don't you just put your cards on the table, your Majesty?"
"Very well." He set his drink down on the end table, his expression suddenly intent, absolutely serious. I was almost relieved to know that he did mean business, but all of this was still unnerving me, just a tad. "I do want to hire you. To be blunt, I find myself in the position of requiring the services of a talented and discreet assassin such as yourself."
"Yeah--I'd call that being blunt," I murmured, intrigued despite myself. "Why not use one of your own people for this? Or do it yourself. You're hardly incapable."
I supposed this was where the little moral part of me should have jumped up and screamed something about telling him I was a changed woman, and that he'd have to find someone else to take the job, but who was I kidding? Hanging around with the X-types hadn't changed me THAT much.
His brows drew together. I wondered for a moment if he was actually about to lose his temper with me, but was taken immediately aback by the reappearance of that damned smile. "I appreciate the compliment, my dear," he said almost amusedly, "but I do have my reasons. Matters elsewhere--require my full attention, and I'm hardly averse to paying a fair price for the services of a trustworthy expert when that's the case."
"Oh, of course," I said dryly. Translation, 'I don't want to get my hands dirty.' "So what poor soul's days are numbered?" I asked, quirking an eyebrow. "If we're getting down to specifics yet, I mean. Are we?"
"We may as well," Sebastian said pleasantly. "The man in question is a vote or two away from becoming our next White King. I'd like you to kill him."
I was beginning to wish I'd skipped that rather nice continental breakfast at the hotel this morning. Displayed on the terminal in front of me was one of Sebastian's personal files, a meticulous report on the proposed target. I was halfway through, and I was getting more and more nauseated with each successive paragraph.
"Fuck," I muttered, skimming a sizeable section on what SHOULD have been on an extensive and lurid criminal record. It wasn't, of course. People like this didn't answer to any authority but their own. "Damn it, Shaw, THIS is the sort of White King you're looking at these days?" As I scrolled downwards, I found a series of pictures. The taste of bile at the back of my throat was instantanteous, and I swallowed convulsively, gritting my teeth. "Even fucking MAGNETO was better than this," I said, my voice coming out more unsteady than I liked.
"I'm sure Erik would be flattered by the comparison," Sebastian murmured. He was standing over by the windows, still calmly sipping the same drink he'd been nursing since we'd opened 'negotiations'.
"Fuck you. This had better all be true," I said savagely, watching his body language like a hawk. "I don't take kindly to being fed bad intelligence--puts me in a shit of a mood."
Sebastian looked over his shoulder at me. "Every bit of information in that file is fact," he said, very precisely. "Trust me, Domino. I've had to order the--removal of evidence of his nightly amusements. Whatever you may think about me, rest assured I find such activities personally repulsive."
Amazing enough, I did believe him. There was a coldness in his eyes, a forced diffidence that told me more than any protestations of disgust. Sebastian had a long way to go to be considered ethical - hell, that held true for most of us - but there were some lines even he wouldn't cross.
"This is why you wanted me." A humorless smile tugged at my lips. "Because you knew I'd be motivated--personally."
"You son of a bitch."
Sebastian inclined his head fractionally. "Undoubtedly," he murmured, turning back to the window. "His proclivities aren't the only issue, of course. The Inner Circle has seen worse--"
"I hope you're not excluding yourself from that sweeping statement," I said acidly, knowing that I was being utterly unproductive but not letting that stop me. That file--those damned pictures--had shaken me, and sarcasm was as good a refuge as any when you were trying to get control of yourself. "I mean, as utterly--fucking--REVOLTING as this bastard's personal habits are, at least there's nothing in here saying he's ever played 'let's brainwash ourselves a mutant strike force'. I mean, at least he has THAT going for him."
"First of all, you know very well that wasn't personal," Sebastian said, looking back at me with a faint, all too knowing smile. "Secondly, I doubt that will stop you from taking the job. You're a very pragmatic woman, Domino--I know that."
"Money, of course, is no object."
"Oh, of course." Hadn't I said that already? I grimaced, shaking my head again. I wasn't sure WHAT to say. This whole thing was leaving a very bad taste in my mouth, and my instincts kept telling me there was more to this than Sebastian was letting on--
All right. Focus on the facts--reason it out. I didn't like the look of this Adrian Grant, not at all. Apart from the favor I'd be doing to the human race by putting a bullet in his head, I knew enough about how the Inner Circle worked to know that having someone like this as White King was going to be very bad for a number of people for whom I had a passing fondness. Plus, there was the fact that I'd happily killed trash like this, for free, more than once--
I had to admit, I was feeling mighty tempted.
"His mutant powers?" I asked, gritting my teeth. Sebastian just looked at me, and I hissed a curse. "Don't fuck with me, Shaw. If he didn't have a pretty impressive mutation, he wouldn't even be a candidate for White King--"
"He kills people," Sebastian said bluntly. "In an extremely slow and unpleasant manner."
"That's not terribly helpful."
Instead of answering, Sebastian strode across the room and leaned over my shoulder, calling up another file on the terminal. "A report on his mutant abilities," he said tersely, gesturing at the screen. I gave him a sideways look and started to read. "They made him very--useful, in the past, but their nature hasn't been common knowledge, even among the Inner Circle."
"Probably a good strategy on his part," I muttered under my breath. "Given the way you and your fellow royalty tend to make the most of any opportunity to stab each other in the back--"
Sebastian shook his head and straightened, taking a step back. Respecting my personal space--will wonders never cease. I gave him a wry look, and then began to read.
This was, I realized almost immediately, going to be a great deal more complicated than I'd originally thought.
A soft voice was the first thing I heard as I woke up. It whispered insistently from somewhere above me, but I couldn't make it out, couldn't seem to focus on anything. Dizziness warred with a sick pain in my head, and trying to open my eyes only made both worse. Hurt to breathe, even--damn, I was a mess. I kept my eyes shut, concentrated on breathing. It didn't really help, and the voice was still talking. It sounded a little more distant, but the words were beginning to make sense, so I listened.
"--indecently attractive as far as assassins go," it was saying, quite pleasantly. "This may turn out to be--diverting. You haven't found out who she is?"
There was a muttered response, but I ignored it. The other voice was the key--how I knew that, I didn't know, but that was the one I needed to focus on. The one that was dangerous--
"I suppose I'll have to ask her myself," the first voice continued.
It was a nice voice, really, a warm, smooth tenor. Not like Nate's voice at all. Nate's voice was deep and gravelly, and--
"I wonder if she was trying to kill me as Adrian Grant or as the future White King?" it said amusedly.
Amazing what fear could do to restore your powers of concentration. Forcing myself not to stiffen, I kept playing semi-conscious, all the while sizing up my surroundings as much as I could. I was lying on my side on something soft--a bed, had to be, and as much as I wanted to deny it, I was tied up like I'd gotten on the wrong end of a calf-roping contest. This was not reassuring.
"You can go. Let me know if your investigations bear any fruit." There was the sound of a door closing, and then someone sat down next to me on the bed. A hand moved slowly along my thigh, and it took every bit of self-control I had not to jerk away. "Do stop playing coy," the voice said almost lazily. "Trust me, woman, I've had a great deal of experience in precisely gauging the effects of my powers. I stopped just in time to avoid causing any permanent damage." The hand drifted up to my hip, resting there. "After all, brain-damaged assassins don't tend to be very informative, and I do so want you to tell me who hired you." The hand on my hip moved, and I couldn't not jump as he took me by the chin, turning my face first one way, then the other. "My goodness. You're a little older than I usually like, but you're quite beautiful. I think I'm going to enjoy this a great deal--"
I took a deep breath, and opened my eyes. "You're got me rather inconveniently placed for rape," I said hoarsely, ignoring the blurriness of my vision as I stared up into Adrian Grant's vividly blue eyes. So blue--I'd never seen eyes like that on a man. Almost like polished turquoise.
"Oh, we could fix that," he said with a slow smile. "Quite easily, as a matter of fact."
Yeah, I was sure 'we' could. Son of a fucking bitch! I raged at myself, silently, trying not to let any of it show in my expression. I had only myself to blame for being in this position. I'd frozen, damn it--me, frozen! I could hardly believe it.
It had been so simple, such a perfect setup. Sebastian had shown me exactly which window would give me the best vantage point on the front driveway. Tessa had played lookout for me, and given me a telepathic heads-up to tell me when Grant was arriving, even which side of the car he was exiting from. There had been NO way I could have missed. No way to miss, and several choices of escape routes. A quick, easy kill, from far enough away that his mutant abilities should have been useless.
My fingers had been moving on the trigger when he'd looked up, right at the window, and smiled at me. And I'd blanked. Just for a second, hardly more than the space between two heartbeats.
That had been all the time he'd needed.
Bastard! I swear, Shaw, I'm going to find a way to kill you for this-- He'd set me up, the son of a bitch! His file had said that Grant's ability was tactilely triggered. I'd gone into this thinking he had to TOUCH me to do any damage--
And all he'd done was look at me. From a distance, no less. One look, one smile, and all I could remember after that was falling, the gun sliding out of my hands as I hit the carpet. A bio-manipulator, the file had said. He could change the hemoglobin in your blood, make it unable to carry oxygen. Presto, instant hypoxia.
I glared up at him. He was even better-looking, up close. The phrase 'Norse god' came to mind--but there was something wrong about him, too. His features--no, his whole fucking body was too perfect. You didn't find that kind of perfection naturally, not even with mutants. It looked--artificial. The effect hadn't come across in the picture of him in Sebastian's file, but here and now, staring him in the face--this was not natural. I wasn't sure why I was so sure of that, but I was.
Grant smiled, broadly. "Do you like what you see?" he asked, caressing the side of my face. I debated biting him. "You're got a look in your eyes like you can see right through me. All my secrets--"
"Trust me, asshole, you don't want to know what comes to mind when I look at you," I grated, pulling against the restraints. No use. I could barely move; something was holding me down besides the obvious, and whatever it was, it wasn't giving an inch. What the fuck had the bastard done, tied me to the damned bed? What was worse, I could feel the cool weight of an inhibitor collar around my neck. Did he know, or was he just being careful?
"Oh, I beg to differ." Grant slid up the bed, closer to me, and despite my best efforts, I flinched. He twined his fingers in my short hair, almost idly, and then jerked my head backwards as he leaned forward. "I like spirit," he whispered, his breath warm against the side of my face. I stayed very still, trying to convince my heart to slow down a little. "I'd much rather have a woman spit curses in my face and tell me how much she despises me. It makes the moment when she's kneeling at my feet begging me to take her so much sweeter. The sense of accomplishment is the real thrill." He drew back a little until he was nose-to-nose with me, his eyes boring into me. "That," he said, almost tenderly, "and the look in her eyes, just as the light fades out of them. You have such lovely eyes, you know--"
"Fuck you," I snarled softly, before I thought. "Who writes your dialogue, you perverted piece of shit?"
He laughed softly. "Just like that, actually," he murmured to himself, reaching out with his free hand and tracing the line of my jaw slowly. "Just like that."
I didn't like his eyes, I decided. I didn't like them at all. Biting back the reply that had sprung to mind, I resorted to just glaring at him. I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction. As cliched as that little spiel of his had sounded, he'd meant it. This was one scary son of a bitch--
"What's your name, assassin?" His hand tightened in my hair, drawing my head back farther, to an angle that was almost painful. I gritted my teeth, and those blue eyes grew almost baleful. "Who hired you to kill me?"
"The Tooth Fairy," I grated out. His eyes darkened, and I gasped, shuddering at the sudden chill that hit me. *What the hell--*
"I said," he repeated, his voice going almost coaxing, "who hired you? You couldn't have gotten into the Club without inside help. Which one was it? Shaw? Selene? Who wants me dead?"
"Pretty much--everyone who's met you, I'd imagine," I managed. Something was--I could still breathe, but I was getting light-headed, starting to see stars. Using his--power on me again--bastard!
"You don't seem to be thinking very clearly," he said softly. "I'm assuming you did you research. Surely you know what I'll do to you to make you talk. Do you want that?"
"Fuck--you!" I used up too much of what little oxygen I had left, but it felt good to say.
"Actually," he murmured, "it would be the other way around."
He said it so calmly, so matter-of-factly. I shuddered. No--not again--NEVER again! But I couldn't tell him who hired me--it wasn't just professional ethics, either. When you played the game at this level, you knew what happened if you broke the rules. Shaw would kill me. But Grant--God, no, please-- Which was preferable? If I'd had the air, I would have laughed. I would have laughed until the rest of my sanity shattered.
"I've found that proud, capable women respond particularly well to that method of--persuasion. There's just something about being--dominated that breaks something in them, if one does it properly. It would take a great deal of care, of course--and a great deal of discomfort on your part. You don't want that, do you? Think very hard, my lovely would-be murderer."
What I was thinking about, as things started to get hazy and odd, was what a monumentally stupid idea this had been. Very stupid, I reflected almost giddily, even while I kept gasping for air my body couldn't use. I should have known better--oh, yes, I should have known better. You didn't trust Sebastian Shaw as far as you could throw him, and given that you couldn't throw him unless you were impossibly musclebound or very persistent--
My vision was going dark, but I could still see his face. It twisted suddenly into a look of frustration, and he let go of me, letting my head drop back against the bed, and rose. While he moved away, I concentrated on breathing, which actually seemed to be doing some good again, all of a sudden. Distracted--something had distracted him, and he'd stopped using his powers on me.
Door. That was it. It had been a knock at the door. I heard a soft voice, a female voice, and Grant replying angrily, but I couldn't make out the words. It felt like there were dancing knives doing a conga line inside my skull. There's an image--
"It appears we'll have to pick up this conversation later, my dear," Grant said, looming over me. "I've been summoned," he continued, his voice turning into a snarl on the last word. "I find Shaw's games so tiresome. If he didn't have that bloody mindwitch watching me like a hawk every time I'm in the Club and waiting for me to give her the slightest provocation, I'd have killed him long ago."
He really had no clue. "For--an assassin, you're not very--perceptive," I whispered in a voice that sounded like something in my throat had broken. Ignoring the pain, I lifted my head and gave him as contemptuous a smile as I could muster.
Grant smiled, almost dazzlingly. "That," he said, very softly, "is the pot calling the kettle black. After all, you wouldn't be here if you'd been a particularly perceptive assassin, would you? You would have known I was a hard target--" He tilted his head speculatively. "Although I am slightly impressed that you know my former role here in the Club."
"Not--hard to figure out," I sneered weakly. Sebastian's file had made it very clear why Grant had been so useful to them, at the beginning. But what was useful in a hired killer was dangerous in an associate, as Sebastian had so delicately put it. "You know--why you're not White King yet, Adrian. All you can do--is kill. Makes you useful--not anything MORE than that. You're a tool--asshole. A p-pawn, not a--king."
The backhanded blow knocked my head back against the bed, hard. I wasn't sure that it didn't break my nose, too. I could taste blood in my mouth, and I wasn't sure where it was coming from. The room seemed to be spinning, too--
"Believe me, we WILL continue this later," he said harshly. I gasped out a curse, wasting precious air, at the feel of that sudden chill once more as he brought his powers back into play. "The hard way, since you insist. But I think it'd be better for all of us if you spent the intervening time unconscious."
No--couldn't pass out, damn it! I had to stay alert, figure a way out of this! Couldn't pass out, not--couldn't--
to be continued...
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