by DuAnn Cowart
Standard disclaimers apply.
It took a few minutes for the small talk to die down and the others to take their seats. I'm so ready to get this over with, Domino muttered, allowing herself only a brief moment of discomfort at the idea of all these people learning so much about her past- it had been difficult enough to tell even Nathan. But I told him everything, Domino reminded herself. This bunch is gonna be working on a need to know basis, whether they like it or not. At least Pete and Nate agreed that since I'm the only one who's ever really spent any time there, I should be the one to lead this thing. That'll give me a little more lee-way in keeping sensitive material private...
Walking back from the window where she had stationed herself while Logan and Betsy greeted Pete, Ororo pointedly stepped around her. Speaking of sensitive matters, Domino thought, We need to get this out of the way right now.
She walked over to where the other woman sat alone on one of the sofas. "Ororo, may I have a word with you?" She spoke quietly, careful to pitch her words low enough that no one else would hear. Despite her care, across the room Logan's head jerked up, and his grizzled features creased in concern. She ignored him.
Ororo's slanted eyebrows rose almost to her hairline. "What more is there to say, Domino?" Her usually lilting voice was flat, dispassionate, and she stared coldly at the other woman. "This is business, and whatever else any of us are," she crossed her arms over her chest "We are all professionals here." Ororo fumed And no matter how I feel about you, woman, I will not allow anything to impair how I do my job.
Domino studied her carefully, wondering for the first time how she would have reacted to all this had she been in Ororo's position. For the first time she almost- almost- regretted her earlier trick. "You're right," she replied softly. "Whatever else happens-" she paused for a moment, suppressing a most unbecoming feeling of jealousy towards both the other woman's cool self-possession, and, if she were to be completely honest with herself, her new relationship with Nathan, "Whatever else may have happened, you're absolutely right about that. I trust we can all behave as such?"
Ororo nodded, and Domino walked back over to the tapestried chair. I don't have to like the bitch to work with her, she reminded herself, concious that by now all eyes were on her. Leaning forward in the chair, she surveyed the the inhabitants of the room carefully. Logan had joined Ororo on the couch right right after she'd finished talking with Domino, and Pete had taken a seat on the other side of him. Kitty perched her slender frame on the arm of the couch beside Wisdom, and from the intense looks on both of their faces, she could tell that Nathan and Betsy were deep in telepathic speech as they took their seats on the other couch.
When they'd finally settled down, Domino coolly surveyed the group. Consciously shifting into professional mode, she blocked out all personal thoughts from her mind, focusing solely on the mission. As a female mercenary, she'd had to work very hard at first to be taken seriously, and had over the years developed several habits that helped cultivate her now fiercely respected reputation.
Using one trick she'd found to be very useful when working with a new team, she paused for a few moments, taking a long, appraising look at each person. Allowing her gaze to rest on each face a moment before moving on to the next person, she used the time to consider what she knew from her own research about the capabilities of each. Their reactions to her intense scrutiny told her a great deal about themselves, information she needed to know. Other than that incidental benefit, the assessment served its purpose very well. It clearly emphasized to those watching her that she'd best be taken seriously.
Besides, she narrowed her eyes, skillfully analyzing the minutiae of body language along with the more easily interpreted facial expressions No matter how professional we are, I need to see if anyone's got a problem with me being in charge here.
Nathan, long familiar with this little ritual of hers, met her gaze easily. She didn't linger long over him- she knew him almost as well as she would ever know another human being, and something about the uncharacteristically soft look in his eyes tonight made her distinctly uncomfortable.
Logan and Psylocke, sitting on opposite sofas, seemed to mirror each other's pose. Each leaned back comfortably in their respective seats, and both returned her stare easily. In Logan's familiar face she saw affection mingled with more than a little concern, and she had to force herself not to break her silence to reassure him that she was fine. There was no need to worry about him- as he had so often assured her, he was the best there is at what he does. She'd fought with him- hell, he'd taught her how to fight- enough in the past to know those words weren't mere bragadoccio.
Perfectly formed lips curving in a faint semblance of a smile, Betsy nodded her understanding at this little test. *I trust your judgement,* Domino heard the quiet mental voice sound in her thoughts. Nodding her thanks, Domino went over what she knew about the British telepath. Though they'd never fought together in anything more serious than a few Danger Room skirmishes, she knew the woman to be a survivor. Though she wouldn't dare deem her a friend- precious few people in the world held claim to that title anymore- she respected her.
When she looked at him, Pete scowled, not bothering to disguise his obvious disdain at her tactics. Runt's never had a problem expressing his feelings, she sighed inaudibly. Dammit, Wisdom, I know you're the one that told me about this, but you know as well as I do that I've got to establish my position here, and that means doing this for everybody. Recognizing the annoyed look that flitted across her features, Pete exhaled and sat up straighter, meeting her stare squarely, as much of an apology as she knew she'd ever get from him.
Kitty's chin jutted upwards slightly, and she met the older woman's stare with a slightly defiant look. Domino almost chuckled. Having reviewed hundreds of hours of old X-Men and Excalibur logs and footage, she knew that it would be a serious mistake to dismiss this girl as a novice, no matter how young she looked.Logan trained her, too, Domino remembered, and as I recall, she's got a genius-level IQ and a facility with computers we might need once we get inside the clone's fortress. After all, I can't be everywhere at once, she thought wryly, struck once more by how very much Kitty was like herself at that age- both deadly fighters, trained by the same man, in fact, both involved in the "business", as she delicately referred to it, and both very much emotionally involved with an older man. About the only difference she could tell was that Kitty and Pete had had the courage to act on their emotions and not dance around them for two decades.
Schooling her features into perfect calm, she leveled a hard gaze at Ororo. The other woman stared back at her with a truly impressive hauteur that despite herself Domino had to admire. We're gonna have to work together, here, Windrider, she'd used the name as a subtle mockery so often that it had stuck even when she was serious. I know what you said, and I know I have no problem with it, but I wonder- can you really work with me? Studying her a bit longer, Domino thought she saw a quick flash of dislike flicker through the other woman's cold facade. Nodding slightly to herself at this confirmation, she knew that whatever else happened, she would keep whatever they found at Tolliver's- the clone's, she reminded herself, it was far easier to think of him that way- fortress far away from Storm's eyes. Though her instincts were telling her she could trust the woman in a fight, they were also screaming at her not to trust her one inch further once they were off the battlefield.
Finally looking away, she glanced back at the group as a whole. The whole process had taken maybe a minute and a half, and had confirmed most of her suspicions. Taking a deep breath, and weighing the potential for embarrassment against what she knew she must do, she sighed. In a cool, professional tone, she addressed the group. "Thank you all for your patience. I know you're wondering why we're here. First of all, there's some basic ground rules we've got to get straight. First, and most importantly, let me tell you all that this is not, I repeat, not an X-Men mission. We're not abiding by Xavier's rules. This is more than likely gonna get very ugly, and if anybody has a problem with that, they can leave right now."
The room was quiet. Nobody moved. Domino nodded coolly. "Good, then. Second point- I'm gonna be in charge once we get there, for reasons I'm about to explain. Anybody have a problem with that, they can leave now."
The room remained quiet, but Storm's head jerked up as if she were stung. She parted her lips to speak, and her voice was clear and curious. "Might I ask why you are leading this mission, instead of a more..." a pregnant pause "Experienced leader such as Nathan or myself?"
Domino nodded, and quickly masked the irritation that flared up at the question. "Fair question," she admitted. "Once I outline the mission, I think you might understand why."
Taking a deep breath, she began. "You're wondering why we're here, why Pete called me, of all people, all the way across the Atlantic when Excalibur's stationed right here. There's a good reason for that." Drawing on every ounce of internal strength she possessed, she continued, hating every moment of it.
"When Nathan formed X-Force, he called who he thought was Domino to help him get the team in order. That woman was not me. She had wore my face, worn my body," She stared straight ahead, careful not to look at Cable, who was careful not to look at her "But she wasn't me."
"That was the shapeshifter Copycat, who'd been hired by the arms dealer Tolliver, " She clinically noted the dawning comprehension in their faces "To infiltrate Nathan's life and turn him over to Tolliver, who in the process had kidnapped me and held me captive for almost a year while Vanessa lived my life." A deep breath- "It wasn't until Vanessa finally betrayed X-Force and Nathan came looking for Tolliver that he found me, and I was able to escape. I know this isn't common knowledge, since at that time X-Force was an outlaw group and didn't keep proper log entries or mission reports." Not that I wouldn't have erased them if they had, she thought to herself wryly.
On the other sofa, Logan closed his eyes against the frustration and guilt that the mention of Tolliver- Hell, be honest with yourself, man, Tyler- Nathan's son- brought. I know there was nothin' I could do- if I hadn't killed him, I'd be a freakin' mindless drone right now- but still, knowin' that I killed the man he considered his son, He shuddered. No damn wonder Cable's been so cold to me lately. No matter what the reasons were, a man can't forgive somethin' like that.
Glancing worriedly at Logan, Domino continued. "Of all that sordid shit, what matters is that Tolliver kept me prisoned for a year. During that year, we traveled to almost all of his strongholds, and my mutagenic signature was programmed into his defense system, which uses some components from Nathan's future." And that's as close as I'm going to come to mentioning that, she decided. They know Tolliver was Tyler, but damn if I'm gonna say it. This is painful enough for him as it is.
She stood up, stretched, and settled back in the chair, grateful that no one had asked any questions. "All that's well and good. Ancient history- or at least that's what I thought until I talked to Pete last week and he told me to get my ass over here just as soon as I could."
She arched a raven eyebrow "And I think you all know where you come in at that point," she said drolly. "What you don't know is why Pete called me at all. As I understand- and correct me if I'm wrong, Pete-" He nodded at her, remembering their decision not to reveal too much to the others "That some of Pete's sources in British Intel have spotted some of the top geneticists formerly employed by Black Air near one of Tolliver's old fortresses off the coast of Northern Spain. Those spottings, along with some seriously funky satellite readings and the testimony of one of Tolliver's old flunkies, led British intel to conclude that Tolliver's back to his old tricks."
No one spoke for a moment, then Betsy's soft alto voice pierced the silence. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but...' she paused delicately. "I was under the impression Tyl- Tolliver," she corrected herself, mentally catching Domino's decision to use that less painful name "Tolliver was dead."
Domino sighed. Looking up bleakly, she said in a dry voice "He got better."
To Be Continued...
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto
you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Do not let your
hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
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