by DuAnn Cowart
Standard disclamiers apply.
This is not as easy as I thought it would be. Storm ran a hand across her face, a bit uncertain about how to continue. "Kitten, I know this will cause you pain. You must believe me, that is not my wish, not my wish at all, but for your own good you must know what kind of man you are consorting with."
Mustering a flat "Go on," Kitty eyed her warily."I'm listening, Ororo. Talk." God, please don't let this be what I think it is...
"Very well," the older woman inclined her head. "I suppose there is no other way to do this other than to simply tell you. This man, this Peter Wisdom, is a liar and a murderer. He is the worst kind of mutant- he uses his abilities to kill, Kitty, to ruin the lives of the innocent. He is no different than any of the villains we fight against, and you- you and Excalibur- have taken him into your heart and home. I could not live with myself if he harmed any of you- he is a weed that needs to be pulled," she concluded, a worried frown marring her elegant features.
Kitty's eyes glinted dangerously, and she held herself very still. Shit. It is. "Tell me what you know," she commanded in a rough whisper, and had to close her eyes against the litany of evils Ororo listed, though she already knew of all but a few of the more gruesome incidents. Rising half-way through Ororo's speech, she paced around the room, wrapping her arms around herself for warmth in the suddenly chill room. This never gets easy, does it?
When she was done, Storm's expression softened in sympathy for Kitty's obvious distress. "I understand very well what it is to be deceived by a person one thinks one loves, but I can assure you this- it is far better you know now and save yourself later hurt." Remembering the pain she felt when Forge left her, denied her the chance to accept his marriage proposal, she looked quickly away. Remembering the still-unresolved situation with Cable, the neglect and ambivalence with which he'd treated her lately, Storm's resolve hardened. I am doing the right thing, she reassured herself Though she may hurt now, this will save her from so much pain...
Ashen, Kitty turned to face her. Standing with her legs slightly apart, almost in a defensive posture, she questioned in a low, quiet voice "Is that everything you know?" When Ororo nodded, Kitty continued quietly, her voice curiously impassive "And just how did you find all this out?"
Ororo rose gracefully from the sofa to stand by Kitty's side, resting her hands on the younger woman's slender shoulders. "The computers at the mansion can access almost any data source on the planet," she gently reminded her. "And as co-leader of the team, my security level is such that I can enter most of those programs. Even so, I will admit that Wisdom hid his activities well- even our system was unable to access certain information- but I assure you, Kitten, everything that I've told you has been true."
Oh, I don't doubt that, Kitty thought, feeling physically sick to her stomach. Pete's told me about most of those things himself, but as much death and dying as I've seen in all these years, I never get used to it... Biting her lip, she forced herself not to jerk away from her old friend in anger. "Storm," she began, and Ororo's face clouded at the use of the more formal code-name "I'm gonna say this just once. This discussion ends when we leave this room. Do you understand? I don't want to hear any more about it after tonight."
Ororo stepped back, unaccustomed to being spoken to by Kitty in such a manner. When she nodded, a suspicious look shining in her pale eyes, Kitty drew a deep breath and continued "All right, then. Before I tell you, I want to ask you something, and answer me truthfully. How is what you just described different from anything else some of the X-men have done?"
Ororo shook her head, and in a puzzled voice questioned "Kitty, how can you even compare any of the X-men with what I have just told you? The X-Men are not murderers, we do not steal and kill and maim for the sheer joy of it. What Wisdom has done is more analogous to Sabretooth, or," her voice hardened "Mystique, or Sinister, or any other of the imnumerable villains we have faced than any of the X-Men."
Kitty spun around to face her, arms rigid at her sides. "How so?" she responded angrily, then paused for a moment to regain her composure. When she did, her voice was still harsh "Just what's the difference between what those villains do and what we've done in the past, other than a genuine desire to change? We're a team of formal criminals and maniacs, Ororo. You and Gambit were thieves, Rogue a terrorist, and Logan, Cable and Bishop have all been professional killers!" her voice cracked "And if you want to talk atrocities, Ororo, what about Magneto, or Emma Frost, or even that new girl, whatshername...Marrow?" She ignored Storm's look of distaste at that last and bowed her chest out slightly, standing directly in front of the taller woman and in a rapidly rising voice, cried "What about Jean, Ororo? She destroyed an entire planet. All of them- all of us- have done things we're not proud of. Those people are here- they're heroes- because we've given them a second chance. Pete's no different."
Ororo looked away, and her voice was laced with sadness. "I feared you would not listen to me, Kitty. Those people have done horrible things, true, but they at least had reasons for their actions. Jean was possessed by the Phoenix-force, Logan has had his mind tampered with innumerable times, Rogue was indoctrinated by Mystique, Bishop and Cable were raised in horrible futures- need I go on?"
Kitty threw her hands up in the air. "Dammit, Ororo, don't you see? That's just my point! They overcame those situations because we loved them and trusted them enough to give them a second chance! Much as I dislike the woman, even Emma Frost has come around, and from what I understand, doing a great job at the Massachusetts Acadameny! Hell, the X-Men even gave Sabretooth an opportunity to change, so why won't you do the same for Pete?"
With a black look, Ororo responded "And see how well that came out! Betsy paid dearly for that folly, Kitty. I do not want you to have to pay the same price for blindly trusting this man! And as for the others- They are working for their repentance, working every day. That they have overcome their pasts does not excuse what Wisdom has done. Did you even hear what I have just told you? Do those things not even have an impact on how you feel about this man, that he has been deceiving all of you in keeping this from you, that you do not know him at all?"
Kitty spun to face her, fists clenched in anger "How presumptuous is that, Ororo? How do you know he hasn't told me all of this and more, that he isn't sorry for what he's done? You've never even met the man before today."
Ororo's face blanched, and Kitty muttered coldly "It's none of your business, but just let me put your mind at ease. He has, and he is."
Watching Ororo digest that information, she fumed I can't count the number of nights that I've just sat up with him, when I was too tired to think, much less talk, just sat with him when he couldn't sleep because he was afraid of the dreams. I've held him in his sleep, when the nightmares make him wake up crying and screaming, begging forgiveness for what he's done. I've listened to him confess most of these horrible things- I've listened to him and told him he wasn't going to hell, that I still loved him, that he could absolve himself of the pain he caused when he wasn't the man he is now. Whatever Ororo thinks about him, she's wrong.
Neither spoke for a moment, until Ororo broke the silence with an unflinching "Are you quite done? May I continue?"
Glaring at the older woman, Kitty very nearly riposted with one of Pete's most vulgar expressions. Instead, she took several deep breaths to calm herself, knowing that the other woman's words had only come from a desire, however misguided it may have been, to protect her. Old habits die hard, I guess. Sighing, she nodded, and her body relaxed slightly. "Yeah, I guess I am. I love you, Ororo. I hope you know that, and I suppose in some twisted way I ought to appreciate what you're trying to do here tonight, even though I'm not a little girl for you to try to shelter from the big bad world. Whatever concerns you have about Pete- forget about them. There's no need to worry about our safety with him."
Ororo held out her hands, a disbelieving expression on her face. "He has truly told you all of these things, and still you stay with him? Does the rest of Excalibur know?"
Feeling her temper rise again at her rebuffed guesture of peace, Kitty nodded curtly. "They know enough. They know he defected to us from Black Air because he couldn't take that life anymore. His Black Air experience and contacts have saved the team's life- all of our lives- more than once, Ororo. Ask Kurt or Rahne if you don't believe me."
Returning to her seat, Ororo's eyes narrowed, her quick mind spinning through the implications of what Kitty had just told her. "I shall have to think on these things."
Kitty growled in a tone very reminiscent of Logan's when he'd finally had enough. Smiling tightly, she grabbed her purse. "You do that. I'll be in my- in our room." Crossing the room in several quick strides, she looked back over her shoulder to see Ororo, regal and impassive as always, staring at her. "I'll see you in the morning," Kitty muttered, then phased through the door into the empty hallway.
Ororo just watched her go.
Domino tapped one perfectly manicured fingernail, still painted a dreary peach, on the sturdy oak table in a jaunty beat. The effects of the drinks had finally started to kick in, despite their heightened mutant metabolisms, and the atmosphere at the table had turned from congenial to postively giddy, charged with an air that she recognized from old- the excitement, the tightly-charged abandon of the night before a particularly difficult battle. Somehow, it's different with X-Force, she mused, As much as I care about those kids, I'm still the boss with them. I can't let myself go, not like this, not with them, and Nate sure as hell can't... Tonight, all that didn't matter. Tonight, she felt far more like the wild, carefree woman she'd been than the tired, jaded leader she'd become. Tonight, she felt young, alive, and she was determined not to let that feeling go to waste.
After moving past the initial awkwardness of realizing the effect of her little game on Nathan, she began to relax and enjoy his discomfiture, teasing him subtly, relishing the payback for the months when he'd barely acknowledged her existance outside of "work". Serves the bastard right, she thought with only the slightest touch of rancor, narrowing her eyes slightly in not-quite forgotten indignation as he squirmed so satisfactorily when she accidentally brushed his leg with hers. Despite herself, she felt the same thrill of desire as she felt from him through their link, and she stopped short, well aware of the fact that the alcohol was rapidly lowering the walls between them, walls already made weak by the emotional trauma they'd shared, the intimacy of the pain and hurt that they could only share with each other.
Knowing she was playing a dangerous game, considering how strained their relationship had been over the last several months, Domino sighed. Yeah, that's the problem, she thought bitterly, remembering his reaction at her night away with John. Nate can't stand for me to be too far away from him and he can't stand for me to be too close. In crisis, when we need each other, we're there and there's no one else in the world, but when things are fine, neither one of us can bear to even think, much less talk about it. Her eyes widening in surprise, she thought ruefully And I'm a fine one to talk. Ever since all that happened, he's been the one who's tried to talk about things, and I'm the one who keeps turning him away. A complete reversal of what happened after Israel. Our timing just sucks. Taking a thoughtful sip of her drink, her jaw set in determination. Well, I'm tired of it.
Logan, sitting between Betsy and Pete, took a deep breath. The beer was having very little effect on him- his healing factor was diluting the alcohol almost as soon as it hit his system, but his keen senses were detecting almost every nuance of a complex emotional web criss-crossing the table. Domino and Cable- while almost as amused as Domino at Cable's reactions, the charged sexual tension between them was so strong that it was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore his own yearnings, and Betsy was not helping matters. Leaning slightly toward him, smiling so slyly at him, brushing his thoughts with hers, even her body language was doing nothing to dissuade him. Shit. Just what th' hell am I gonna do? He'd never cared much for Warren, true, but the man was a teammate.... That ain't stopped ya in the past, he reminded himself, remembering the passionate attraction he and Jean had shared for so long, even when she and Scott were together.
Be honest with yourself, man, he told himself, careful to keep the thought hidden deep under every layer of mental shielding he had, lest Betsy hear. He shuddered at that thought. I know damn good and well if this was Jean sittin' here, actin' like this, I wouldn't think twice about Scoot. I'd feel like shit afterwards, but that wouldn't stop me. Betts is a hell of a woman- Wings don't deserve her, anyway. Think of another excuse. Relaxing here with friends, listening to her clear, deep laugh at one of Wisdom's stories, feeling her intoxicating nearness, he really couldn't think of one.
Listening to the story with half an ear, Nathan gave Domino a curious look, left eye glittering in the dim light of the pub. After what they'd been through today, what they'd shared, their psilink had been practically simmering with an unspoken hunger, and here she was playing with him like this? Dammit, Dom, what are you getting at, here? he thought, frustrated in more ways than one. Watching her stare at him so smugly, his eyes narrowed, and he raised the heavy mug and drained it. "I've gotta get some air," he muttered, interupting Pete's story, and slid his chair back, tipping the table precariously as he raised his massive bulk out of the chair.
Looking up at him, Domino caught his hand and asked in a sugary voice "Mind getting me another drink while you're up?"
"You've had enough," he growled, then turned on his heel and walked away.
Chuckling under his breath, Logan rasped "You ought not play with him like that, darlin'." Domino shrugged, tipped back her glass and downed it, welcoming the warm burn the rest of the dark liquor left as it poured down her throat. Wiping her lips with the back of her hand, she focused her eyes, with some effort, on Logan. "You're takin' up for Nate, Logan? Never thought I'd see the day."
One shaggy brow lifted, and in a slightly reproachful voice, Logan replied. "Yeah, well, Neena, never thought I'd see the day when he needed it." Domino didn't deign to respond, but in his mind he heard another feminine voice. *I'd stay out of it if I were you, Logan. Cable deserves all this, and more, for the way he's treated both her and Ororo lately. Besides, do you really want to get involved in a lovers' triangle?* Betsy purred, lingering a bit longer in his thoughts than necessary, and he immediately caught the hidden meaning in her question. It was obvious that she, too, was drunk, but in her tone, in the look in her eyes, in everything his senses were telling him, he felt the truth of her desire, and felt it mirror in himself.
Catching her aubergine gaze, Logan swallowed, and underneath the table placed his hand on her thigh. 'Yeah, Betts, I think I do.'
Standing outside, Nathan leaned back against the brick wall, watching the people walk in and out of the busy pub. They'd all donned image inducers before they left the hotel, deeming a regular restaurant and pub to be less of a security risk than the Crown, but he still felt like he stood out even in this drunken crowd. Watching the people stroll down the sidewalk, some arm in arm, some in scattered clusters, a scant few alone, Nathan swallowed tightly. Unable to lose himself in the drinks and the camaraderie as easily as Dom had, he felt incredibly alone even among this group of almost-friends. The sense of loneliness had been with him so long that he rarely even acknowledged it anymore, barely even felt it, but always knew it was there. And it's your own damn fault, Nathan, he brooded. Too afraid of getting close to people to let them know you, too afraid of what that association with you will cost them.... Thinking of Domino, he felt a lump rise in his throat, and he closed his eyes, her confession of what Tyler had done still too fresh to forget. Case in point. See what knowing you has cost her?
Inside the pub, Domino's eyes narrowed. Both of them too drunk to exercise sufficient control over it, she felt his emotions far too vividly through their link. Annoyed at this blunt intrusion into her night off, angry with herself for teasing him when he'd been through as much as she had that day, she exhaled sharply and tilted her head back to stare at the ceiling for a few minutes, the patterned tiles undulating slightly through her blurred vision. My body must be worn out to be this affected by just drinkin'... I usually can go twice this long. Looking around the table, surveying the numerous empty glasses and bottles that littered the table, she snorted Or maybe we just drank more than I thought we did. Been doin' that a lot, lately...
Feeling Nathan's misery, she tentatively opened her mind to extend a sort of apology, but looking a little closer she realized that in sharp contrast to the deep, excited longing she'd felt earlier from him earlier, their link was now colored with a familiar muddy orange angst. Dammit, I have had friggin' enough of this! One way or the other, it ends, Nate. Tonight.
Noticing the change in her demeanor, Pete leaned over across Nathan's empty chair and whispered "Dom? You all right, girl?" His scotch-thickened voice echoed a bit louder than he'd intended, but Betsy and Logan seemed too lost in their own private discussion to notice. It didn't take the observational skills of a spy to notice that something had been going on all night between them, and between them and Dom and Nate's little dance, he'd felt something like a fifth wheel all night. Damn, I miss Kitty. 'ope everything went good with 'er and Storm...
Domino sighed and finished her drink. Bracing a hand on his shoulder, she rose, and stood there a moment, readjusting her bearings against the sudden swim of the room. "Yeah, Pete, I'm fine," she lied. "Just tired. I think it's about time to call it a night, though." Feeling in her pocket for money, she removed a large bill and laid it on the table. "This ought to take care of mine and Nate's drinks." Smiling, a hint of her earlier good humor in her voice, she waved "I had a good time tonight, people, truly. We'll see you in the morning."
Betsy turned her attention from Logan for a moment, lifting her chin in a regal smile. "I enjoyed myself as well, Domino. We should really do this more often."
Beside her, Logan nodded, nostrils flaring slightly. She ain't no more tired than I am, he thought shrewdly. She's pissed off. I'd hate t' be in Nate's shoes right now... Aloud, he rumbled "See y' in the mornin', Neena. Behave yourself."
"You, too, old man," she responded pointedly, and he raised his glass in reply. Squeezing Pete's shoulder, she turned and walked away, feeling gloriously woozy despite her irritation at Nathan's characteristically dour behavior. Stopping by the door to get their coats, she saw him through the window, leaning against the wall of the pub, sorrow wrapped around him like a shroud, and her eyes narrowed. Damn if I'm letting you do this. I'm not wasting this night on our usual shit- you and I are going to get some things straight. That decision made, feeling once more the wild abandon she'd exulted in earlier, Domino stepped out of the door, a resolute expression on her face.
Pete stayed there a few moments longer, finishing his drink, chatting amiably, until the clock in the corner struck two. "Well, I guess that's me cue t' go," Pete glanced at it a bit regretfully. "If I get in too late, Kitty'll have me guts fer garters, an' I won't be no good t' nobody in that condition." At Logan's somewhat proud look at this mention of Kitty's disposition, his brow knitted, and he threw a wad of money down on the table. "'S probably your fault, too, you horrid old man. Teachin' 'er 'ow t' fight's one thing, but did you 'ave t' give 'er that temper, too?" he groused, knowing he didn't mean a word of it.
Logan wasn't fooled either. Raising his palms, he smiled ruefully "Don't look at me, kid, she got that all on her own."
At Betsy's lilting laugh, Pete shook his head. "Yeah, I was afraid of that." With a hint of a wicked leer, he questioned "Can you two make it home by yerselves, or will y' need some help gettin' back to th' 'otel?"
Betsy replied archly, intentionally misinterpreting the gist of his comment in favor of another, far easier reply. "Considering I spent several years living in London, I certainly think I know my way around this town."
"I'm sure y' do," Pete took his coat, carefully keeping a smirk off his face as he waved them goodbye.
As he left, Betsy leaned forward, looking around the empty table. "At last," she breathed, and stretched languidly, and his breath caught in his throat. "We're alone." "You ready t' leave, too?" he questioned, taking her hand in his own, intertwining her long slim fingers in his thick, calloused ones.
His eyes never leaving hers, she answered "I thought you'd never ask."
"Hey, sailor, you lookin' for a date?" Cable jumped, startled out of his reverie by her low, amused question.
"Dom." He fixed her with a piercing glare.
"Who else can sneak up on you like that? C'mon- walk me back to the hotel. It's cold out here."
Taking his coat from her, his deep voice rose slightly, and against the buzz of the background noise amplified by his intoxicated state, he questioned belligerantly "What's the matter? Not any fun in there without anyone to torment?"
Tightening the belt of her leather coat, she shivered in the cool night air, taking his arm. "Oh, please, Nathan, lose the melodrama. It's so unbecoming."
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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