by DuAnn Cowart
Standard disclamiers apply.
Shortly after the plane lifted from the small pad atop Braddock Enterprises, they lapsed into an uncharacteristicly uncomfortable silence. Cable felt his tension heighten exponentially as the plane ripped across the relatively few miles between England and Spain. Watching Domino, feeling her struggle to regain her customary cool detachment even in the wake of the tremendous emotional upheaval of the past few days, Cable felt his forced aura of self-assurance slowly dissipate again into thinly diguised fury at what he knew they were walking head-first into. Stupid move, Nate. You're allowing emotion to cloud your judgment.
None of us are stupid or inexperienced enough not to know just what we're getting ourselves into, he thought grimly. And in all of our planning, everyone's been so busy trying not to remind me of the fact that, he swallowed, eyes fixed tightly on the controls, doing anything to avoid her suddenly piercing stare Thing behind all of this is a duplicate of my. . . son that they're not pointing out obvious flaws in our strategy. The word son felt strange to him, but he brushed that thought aside quickly. He'd long ago comes to terms with the particulars of Tyler's parentage as best he ever would, and knew that now was not the time to begin thinking again of that old pain. Not if I want to get through this half-way sane.
When he wouldn't meet her gaze, Domino turned her head away to stare back out of the window at the thunderous downpour. Flashes of jagged electricty split the sky, and the air echoed with the sounds of sharp precipitation impacting on the plane's image-induced hull. Storm's giving this all she's got, Domino thought admiringly, feeling a begrudging respect for the woman's skills if not her personality. I might not like her worth a damn, but I'm actually glad she came. With all the ionization in the air and the interference of all this water, we might actually make it through the security system.
As the electricity in the air flickered, casting blue light over their faces in an eerie strobe effect, Cable ground his teeth and heightened his mental shielding against the tumult of emotions in the air. Even excepting Domino's thoughts, which even before their link had always stood out as especially loud and bright, he could sense Ororo's formidable will battling with the elements to achieve the sheer power necessary for the incredible display of energy helping disguise their plane and warpTyler's sensors. The last thing I need is for Dom to catch me thinking about Storm... He stifled a shudder, foul mood growing darker. I'm gonna have to deal with all this sooner or later, but flonq, I hope it's later. We've got enough todeal with right now.
As Cable thought on these things, Domino leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. Forcing herself to ignore the maelstorm outside, she'd just began to focus her thoughts and slip into the proper mindset Logan had taught her all those years ago. She'd just begun to push her emotions to the side and become once more the cool and precise soldier when sharp images from Betsy's vision sprang unbidden from her rebellious subconscious. She kept her face impassive, ignoring them as best she could, but beside her in the cockpit, through slitted eyes, she saw Nathan wince anyway.
"What was that for?" she muttered grumpily.
"Nothing," he shrugged, but before he could stop it a quick tumble of the images from Betsy's vision shot from his mind to hers through their link. He cursed under his breath. Her jaw clenched at the intrusion, and he could see in her eyes the frustration that echoed his own. "Is that what's wrong with you?" she lashed out, knowing she was angry at the circumstances, not at him. "You're afraid I can't handle whatever it is we find in there?"
His hands clenched around the controls, dark mood contrasting sharply with his earlier euphoria and his left eye glittered in the dark cockpit, mirroring the lightening flashes outside. Instead of the glowering machismo he so often masked his emotions with, however, he took a deep breath and told her the truth. "You're damn right I'm afraid! You think I don't know what a sick bastard that mockery of Jen's son is, and just how flonquin' tough this is gonna be? Do you think Forge's pretty new toys will keep us safe from all that? Give me some credit, Domino."
"Then you return the favor," she spat, fists clenched in impotent anger. "Give me some credit, too. I'm not a scared little girl, Nate, afraid of the boogeyman. I'm- we're all professionals here."
Before she could respond, the red LED lights on the console flashed brightly. "We're here," he informed her, and felt his own heartbeat quicken at her sharp intake ofbreath. Instead of comforting her, like he so desperately wanted to, Cable kept quiet and began the final landing sequence, careful to circle far around the outside perimeter of Tolliver's security system to land at the coordinates Pete and Domino had agreed upon. Deftly piloting the plane to park in a large outcropping of rock a few miles from the fortress, Cable changed the setting on the PACRAT's image inducer to blend in with the lanscape instead of the fluctuating darkness of the sky. The plane shuddered slightly and was still.
Recognizing the magnitude of the moment, both were silent. Neither looked at the other, not knowing quite what to say, but after a few moments Domino sighed and unstrapped herself from her seat. Nathan's jaw clenched tightly, and he began angrily shutting down the plane and programmed the sophisticated auto-pilot to pick them up if the proper emergency beacon was activated. Oath, this could be it, could be the last time, and neither damn one of us knows what to say...
Finished, he stood up, almost bumping into her as they jostled for room in the cramped cockpit. Apologizing brusquely, he shifted as they awkwardly circled around each other so as not to touch the other as they moved the few steps to the door.
Cable stopped suddenly. This is ridiculous. An unexpected glint of humor showed through his dour expression. "Dom," he said with a small smile. "What?" She didn't look at him, but he even without the strength of their link he could sense how she felt. He felt the same. *I thought we said we weren't going to play these games. It's gonna be all right,* he sent warmly, projecting every bit of strength and love and encouragement he could through their link. Eyes never leaving her face he took her hand in his and brought it to his lips to kiss her palm softly, and for a moment there was peace. She swallowed tightly and brought the hand to her chest and clasped it there. The expression on her face flickered for a moment, and in it he could see her heart.
Before he could speak, though, she raised a halting finger and turned her face away. When she turned to look at him again, his lover, the woman who'd shared his bed and his mind, was gone and in her place stood a soldier staring back at him with steely amethyst eyes. She stepped awayfrom him. He felt something within himself harden slightly, though he recognized what she was doing. *This isn't the end,* he sent, though he couldn't be sure she'd heard it or the silent prayer he sent to heaven. "Very well. Let's get started," he rasped, slipping skillfully into battle-mode, taking refuge in this thing he knew so well. She's right, he thought a bit regretfully. Until this mission's over neither of us can afford the distraction. Far better, he mused, to fall into old patterns, work with proven methods until they had time to adjust to this fundamental change in their relationship.
*First, Nate...* she sent through their link, a flash of gratitude showing through her mask as she realized what he'd done and why. *What we talked about? The link- like we agreed?
Remembering their decision, he nodded, a resigned look in his grey-blue eyes. Very slowly, so as not to cause any more damage to her already bruised psyche, he dampened the link between them so that the brilliant golden bond became only a thin bronze thread, gleaming dully against the darkness that threatened to engulf them.
Even though he'd known this was coming, he couldn't help but grunt in pain as his mind caught fire, shrieking at her sudden absence, every instinct, every synapse demanding that he cease this foolishness and restore the comforting bond immediately. He resisted, though, knowing that their decision had been the right one- besides the risk of Tyler or any other enemy telepath detecting it and tracing them, the bond between them shone so brightly that it was an effort to think of anything other than her. Neither could afford the distraction right now. As he carefully loosened the tie between them, Domino sagged against the door of the cockpit. The edges of her vision sparkled as she moaned aloud as a searing pain tore through her mind, cutting her off from his solid, comforting presence. Suddenly, he wasn't there, she was alone, and all there was was pain.
At her sharp gasp, he leaned forward to catch her, grey-blue eyes wide with concern. Biting her lip, she shook him off, righting herself with both palms pressed against the surface of the door. I can do this I can do this I can do this, she repeated like a mantra, schooling herself back to composure. When she finally looked up at him, her face was even paler than usual, but he could feel her thoughts clutching to the thin thread that remained between them like a lifeline. He'd done much the same.
"Nate," she choked, the woman showing through the warrior as the same agony he'd felt rushed through her, only with an intensity her non-psi mind wasn't equipped to handle. "Is it supposed to feel like this? This. . . empty, this dead inside?"
He swallowed, remembering how lost he'd been at Aliya's death, how hollow his soul had become at the severing of their link and how much it still hurt. "Yeah. It is," he whispered bleakly.
"I never knew," she said in a ragged whisper. "Put it back. I can ignore the distraction if you can, I swear, anything but this-"
His very nearly acquiesed, but then better judgment took over. "No, we were right, Dom," he told her, ignoring the ache again as he had for so many years. "We can't deal with this right now, not and do this like it has to be done. But maybe I can. . ." Closing his eyes and reaching out a soothing telepathic tendril, he gently smoothed away the rough edges of what was left of their link. With great finesse, he soothed her inarticulate non-psi mind, convinced it that their bond only lay dormant, not dead, until the luminous psi-pattern, light within shadows, that had always shone so brightly to him was back as it should be. Placing a few temporary shields around the most affected areas, he slid quickly out of her thoughts, certain that no permanent damage to the bond would result from this necessary separation.
"Thanks," she breathed, removing her hands from her temple, gratitude apparant even through the mask that was slowly descending again. He felt a slight tingle from the link that told him she was still there with him, and was immensely reassured. "That's much better, Nathan," she told him crisply as her senses returned to normal.
"Glad to be of service," he smiled wanly, performing the same operation on himself, standing a little straighter when it was done. "Now let's get this thing started."
Domino strode into the cabin, clapping her hands loudly. "What are you people doing just sitting there? We've got a castle to raid," she barked, stepping over to a large plexisteel cabinet in the back of the plane. Unlocking it, she rummaged through several crates and began tossing several identical wrapped black bundles to her startled teammates. Betsy caught hers with one hand and unwrapped it, staring dubiously at the thick black suit she held in her hand. Shaped rather like a wetsuit with gloves and a hood attached, it had belts and pockets and wires and other strange appendatures, and was hideously ugly. "I trust you have a good reason for this," she questioned curiously, eyebrows delicately arched.
"This ain't Margaritaville. There's no need for parrots here," she informed them with pointed glances at their various brightly-colored uniforms. Slipping her suit on over her own tight black bodysuit, Domino began bending and stretching until the pliant material molded to her form to fit her perfectly. On the other side of the cabin Cable did the same, pulling and tugging thick foamy material over his bulging muscles until the same suit that Domino had donned covered his much larger mass.
The others watched, intrigued at the demonstration. As expected, Pete protested when a bundle was thrust in his hands. He protested loudly. "I told you, Dom, I ain't wearin' no friggin' body condom for you or anybody," he complained, thin face set in a stubborn expression that she recognized all too well, and felt her own features set in a similiar manner.
"Aw, come on, kid, a few unstable molecules here an' there never hurt anybody," Logan grinned, already halfway into his suit. "If these are th' outfits Scoot told me about, we'll need 'em." Funny how Cable got 'em out of Forge before th' X-Men were able to, Logan wondered. Wonder what chip he had to call in for these- I'll have ta ask Neena about it later.
Pete didn't budge, only looked at Kitty balefully when she dutifully began suiting up. "Traitorous yank."
"Stupid git," she shot back cheerfully, immensely enjoying the predicament he was in. Excalibur had tried their best to get him to wear a conventional costume, but to no avail. This is gonna be fun.
Domino sighed. "I know you won't see these on House of Style anytime soon, runt, and I know how damn fashion-conscious you are, but this'll serve our purposes today." Leaving the suit's hood hanging at the back of her neck, she slipped on the accompanying boots, lacing them up tightly, one hand hiding the other from view as it slipped a large wad of a gunky substance into her left heel. "They're outfitted with encrypted radio transmitters, too, so we won't have to depend on our psions for communication."
While the others examined the unfamiliar suits, pulling them on and testing them out, Domino stepped across the cabin and unlocked a tall combination locker. Rifling through it, she quickly selected several favorites, and gently put them to the side as she casually unzipped and fastened hidden pockets and snaps and straps, stuffing knives, pistols, ammunition, and a few more exotic implements of destruction into them, then began fastening some of the larger rifles in a dark backpack. "See, people? All kinds of fun places to hide your goodies."
"I c'n take care o' me own damn 'goodies,' thank y' very much, Dom," Pete muttered wryly, staring at the black outlines of the suit as if it were an armful of snakes. "And you've got more testosterone than most blokes I know."
"Pure estrogen, baby," Domino turned to Pete, who along with Ororo, remained unsuited. "But even a manly-man as cold-blooded as you are can't regulate your body temp so you don't show up on any term-scans." She addressed Pete, but raised her voice so the other woman in the back could hear her words as well. At the rash of puzzled stares, Domino continued. "These suits might be hot as hell and twice as ugly, but Forge assures me they'll adjust body temperature output to that of room temperature, and besides all that they're just about the best damn body armor I've been able to find. 'Course, Ororo, Pete, you energy projectile types might break the uniform's seal when you use your powers, so be aware of that."
From where she lingered in the back of the plane, Ororo's chin jerked slightly at the mention of Forge. Domino cursed herself for bringing him up. Dammit, the last thing I want to do is get her thinking about her love life right now. Those thoughts were lost as she spied a particularly beloved plasma rifle lined up with several others in a plexiglass case along the back wall, and her eyes went wide with glee. She darted straight for it, all thoughts of her current romantic predicament vanished. I'd wondered where I put you, baby, she crooned to the gun, ignoring the startled and then amused glances all around her. Oh, yeah. My luck is back.
As Domino cooed to a large, ugly gun, Ororo stared at her, shoulders tensed, drawing back from the suit as if burned. How kind of her to so snidely mention the Maker, she thought, and the plane rocked slightly from the increased turbulence from the vicious storm outside. After an all-day preparation, Ororo had slowly wrested control of the fierce weather already brewing, entwining the natural forces with her own powers and bending its will to her own.
It had not been a simple thing to create and maintain a maelstorm of this intensity- she'd had to isolated herself from the others, claiming a shadowy corner in the back of the cabin as she focused her concentration to razor sharpness. Normally Ororo kept certain safeguards raised in order to protect those around her from the full brunt of her powers but tonight, though, she could release herself and all the angry emotions she'd crushed inside her, release her fury with Cable and Domino and Forge and Pete and even Kitty and with the constant fear and prejudice they all lived under to transform the dark emotions into a thundering deluge.
As the lightning flashed outside, and with a small, secret smile, she shrugged and stepped into her suit, pulling it up over her long, lithe limbs as her soul soared along with the storm. Sometimes joining with nature was a gentle caress, sometimes a bitter pain, but times like this- while the others talked and bantered amongst themselves, Ororo was far away, exulting in the cathartic release, the thrill of all her elemental abilities let loose and free of all constraints. The currents touched her like a lover, and she felt the rain smashed into the landscape below, thunder roaring in the sky, jagged bolts of electricity splitting the points she aimed at with incredible precision. Ororo clenched her fists and the lightening sliced the air again, and her pupilless eyes widened atthe sensual joy of it.
In the passenger area of the plane, Betsy shook her head. Thank God for shielding, she thought fervently, impressed despite herself by the awesome power her teammate had unleashed. If this is what pent-up sexual frustration can do, I'm so glad I have Warren. Fingering the spongy material of the suit absentmindedly, she saw Logan bend down to pick up a fallen gun, tight muscles rippling under the form-fitting black suit, and she swallowed.
With a final pat at her backpack, Domino slipped it onto her back. "Everybody got your gear? There's plenty of community guns and ammo in the Hold," she pointed to the plexiglass cabinet in the back.
"Some of us ain't quite so fond a guns, Dom," Pete reminded her with a wince as he nevertheless took a small pistol from the cabinet. Now wearing the suit, Pete glared at her with a venom that even in this dark mood she found amusing. Beside her, Nate chuckled at the unexpected sight of Pete in tights and Kitty gaped in open amazement. She elbowed him in the ribs.
"I know you don't like it, Pete," she didn't specify guns or outfit "But you know as well as I do that this is no ordinary mission- Tolliver's technology is so sophisticated we're gonna need every advantage we can get. Even with Storm's kindly provided weather," she inclined her head at Storm, who had stepped up from the sheltered back of the plane "If they sense your body heat they'll know something's up. And when we release the gas, we're gonna need the built-in oxygen tank-" gloved fingers pointed to a small compressor and tank built into the back of the suit.
Her lips quirked in a reminiscent smile. "But on second thought, at the rate you huff down those cancer-sticks, that much oxygen might not be good for you. Might make you sick," She teased, and was rewarded by Kitty's low chuckle.
Pete was the picture of forlorn resignation, and he glared disdainfully down at his thin frame, lean muscles outlined by the tight black suit. "I hate bloody spandex," he grumbled "Makes me look just like th' rest o' you bloody wankers." Arms linked through his, it was all Kitty could do not to laugh out loud at him- however handsome she found him, in or out of costume, even she had to admit her thin, wiry lover looked nothing like broad, stocky Logan or the hugely muscled Cable. And I suppose this is even more serious than I thought to get him into something like that...
Listening to their banter with half an ear, Cable walked opened the locker with "BOSS" scrawled across it in what appeared to be hot pink nail polish. Telekinetically selecting several massive peices of ordnance, he closed the door behind him, ignoring the amazed stares of some ofhis teammates.
"I have never seen such big guns in my entire life," Kitty whispered in amazement to Pete, who was still glaring at his suit distrustfully.
"Friggin' phallic substitutes, love. Means he's got somethin' else t' hide." Pete answered, loud enough for the others to hear, still stung he was forced to wear such ridiculous garb. Cable pretended to ignore him, but the slight smile playing on the corners of Domino's lips and Logan's howl of laughter told him his jibe had hit its mark. When Cable had finally armed himself and gear and equipment had been dispersed to all interested parties, Domino slipped her hood over her head. Watching the others do the same, she flicked on a switch in her belt and demonstrated some of the suits more essential function. "Well, that's about it," her voice came through the small hearing aid style transmitters they wore. "Anything else?"
"I think I speak for us all when I assure you we're quite ready to go," Psylocke answered, her deep alto sounding only slightly tinny in the others' ears.
"Ready when you are, darlin'," Logan assured her, and she imagined she could see his warm chestnut eyes crease in an encouraging smile, though the hood disguised any identifying features from view. Watching Kitty and Pete stand together, arms linked, drawing strength from each other's presence, she felt something twist within her at the realization that she and Nathan could not- would not allow themselves that comfort now. She wondered if two old soldiers like them would ever be that open about theirfeelings.
Well, we're not gonna find out today. Let's get this over with. After everyone was armed and ready, she opened the door to the plane. With a deep breath, stepping out onto the ramp into the pouring rain, she motioned sharply over her shoulder for the others to follow. "Let's do it."
Moments later, jagged bolts of electricity split the sky, briefly penetrating the tick veil of rain and darkness to reveal the ruined remains of an ancient stone fortess perched precariously atop a sharp cliff overlooking the broiling, angry sea. Logan crouched low to the ground, following the path Domino and Cable had traced out, his sharp senses unnerved by the weather and the sharp, familiar smells coming from the apparant pile of rubble about, five-hundred yards from them. If that's an abandoned pile of rock, a teddy bear don't have a cotton dick.
What disturbed him most was the familiarity of the scents- the place smelled like Genesis' stronghold where he'd almost become a Dark Rider. Logan shuddered, and pressed on, keeping his body low to the ground, watching Betsy and Ororo's stealthy figures on either side of him, occaisionally glancing back to see Kitty and Pete bringing up the rear. Logan trudged on, knowing that this was the easiest part in their plan. They were travelling in a broad zig-zag pattern, passing around several sizzling heaps of slag that steamed in the pounding rain, careful to not make too direct a path and arouse suspicion. Storm's aim had been, as always, superb, and they'd made excellent time.
When they were about one hundred yards from the beginnings of the rubble, Cable stopped in his tracks. A few feet away from him, almost in unison, Domino halted. Flicking a tiny node on her glove, she changed frequencies from public to private. "What, Nate? What is it?"
"Up ahead," he leaned forward slightly, one gloved hand shading his eyes, trying to keep the water off of the goggles of his hood. Still on the public frequency, he noted "I sense sentries outside- it's hard to tell how many, but I think we were right, Dom. They are using a psychic dampener, but it's relatively weak and it's leaking bad around the edges. Betsy, you picking up anything?"
The British telepath concentrated, sending out her thoughts to skim the periphery of the rubble. Her more delicate, experienced touch easily honed in on what his raw power had detected first. "You're right," she agreed "With the interference it's difficult to say for certain, but I think I sense five separate mind-patterns."
"All right, then," Domino shifted easily, a large plasma rifle falling neatly into her hands. She smiled at it, taking comfort from its heavy, solid feel in her hands."Let's take 'em out."
The team moved fluidly, working in quicksilver unison as they easily dispatched all of the guards surrounding what still appeared to be nothing more than a ruined pile of rock. When they were finished, and the unfortunate sentries bound and gagged and moved out of visible sight,Pete raised up a hand.
"Next step- disengagin' the holographic inducer thatdisguises this place."
Domino shook her head. "No time. They'll figure out what just happened here soon enough, and I want to be already in before they find out that Curly, Larry, Moe and company over there," She jerked her head back in the direction of the defeated sentries "Didn't all just take a piss break together." Walking towards the wall, she stuck her hands out, palms first, and began tapping the rough-hewn walls. "Here, gimme a hand. You're feeling for a flat steel doorframe- be careful, though-"
Understanding her caution, the others followed, and it was scant moments before Kitty's high, clear voice sounded in their ears "Here- I think I found something-"
Walking beside the younger woman, Domino carefully felt along the edges of the wall, and even through the thick gloves felt the rough stone suddenly stop to be replaced by a flat, cold surface. Underneath her suit she turnedpaler.
"Is this it?" Kitty asked quietly, immediately recognizing the stiffened shoulders and tense body language.
"This is it." Pulling her hood off her face, Domino shook her dark hair out and removed a small dark plastic microphone from a pouch in her suit and tucked it around her left ear, plugging it into her suit. "Keep your hoods ready to pull back on if there's a problem- especially you two," she inclined her head to Psylocke and Shadowcat, who had been given the task of drugging the scientists' air. "But for now we're probably all right." They eagerly complied.
Removing the suit's gloves, Domino looked at Cable, who was watching her intently. She said nothing, but allowed their gazes to meet for just a moment before turning around to face the area Kitty'd found. Hoping her face didn't betray the trepidation she felt, she grinned cockily. "I'll see you all in few minutes," she said, then stepped into the wall and was gone.
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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