Just Lucky, I Guess: Part 55b
by DuAnn Cowart
"Neena." Logan entered the pilot's cabin, voice pitched low so as not to startle Domino.
A thin arm crooked outside of the confines of the co-pilot's seat. She leaned forward, almost dwarfed in a chair that had been designed to comfortably fit some of the largest men on earth. She didn't acknowledge his presence, only stared blankly out the window as the autopilot guided the plane back to London. The light pollution from the heavily urban area illuminated the entire sky, and the blanket of clouds underneath them shone with a sickly dim glow.
Domino closed her eyes, running a hand through tangled hair, then finally murmured "Logan."
She spoke as if from a very great distance, her words sounding strange and tinny even to herself. Her mind seemed drenched in the same grey fog as the plane. Strange colors tinged the dimness of her thoughts, and she had to blink to keep tired eyes from closing.
This was more than just post-battle fatigue. She knew very well what that felt like, and this wasn't it. Instead, she felt like she'd been leeched of color, sapped of strength, pulled and stretched tight inside herself. The only thing that felt real was the broken shards of the psilink, pulsing a very faint purple and gold, draining her.
'Shit. I can't do this. . .' Steeling herself, she turned around in the chair and motioned Logan in. "How's Betsy?" The words took a great deal of effort.
Logan blinked, but Domino was too exhausted to place the flicker of emotion that creased his face. "She's awake. Ro's lookin' after her now. Apparently her head hurts like a bitch, but she'll be ok," a brief pause. "She says she wants to talk to you later."
"I'm sure she does," Domino breathed. 'I've got some things I need to talk to her about, too.' Returning her attention to the dark horizon, she rested her head against her chest. Raising her chin slightly, she asked in a deceptively disinterested voice, trying to maintain her composure while the broken link thudded within her skull. Somehow talking to Logan, having something to focus on, helped immensely. "And Nate?" The grey inside her soul turned black at the mention of his name.
Logan paused between the chairs, hands in his pockets. "No change since you saw him. He's still hooked up to the emergency monitors, but other than broken bones and a hell of a headache he seems fine- we'll know more when Jardine's docs check him out."
Domino closed her eyes, a lump forming in her throat. Now that the immediate fear of losing her partner had faded, she felt raw, empty, confused and lost in the residual storm left behind by Tyler's violations and Nathan's closer-than-usual brush with death. Summoning her strength, she looked down at her lap, intertwined knuckles white with repressed emotion. She looked up, red-rimmed eyes boring into his. "Logan, I- I thought he was gone this time. I thought this was it."
He just nodded, dark eyes softening. "I know," he whispered softly, meeting her bleak gaze. "Believe me, darlin', I know."
She met his gaze for a long time, drawing warmth and strength from the compassion in his eyes. Domino's shoulders straightened, and after a final shudder, she consciously resumed the professional mask- or at least the best semblance of it as she could manage under the circumstances.
"You need something, Logan?" She asked conversationally, though he could still smell her turmoil, feel the frustration rolling off her in waves.
"Just checkin' our course," he replied, lowering himself into the pilot's seat. Leaning forward, elbows resting on widespread knees, his nostrils flared involuntarily as he struggled to sort out the complex mix of scents emanating from her. "Seein' how much longer it'll be 'til we get t' Pete's landing point."
"About. . ." She looked through feathery eyelashes, focusing at the chronometer. "Half an hour." She paused briefly, then with great effort met his gaze. Her eyes were chips of violet ice. "You're not fooling me, old man. I'm fine." Bruised lips curved in a brittle smile, and he could see taut muscles bunched in tension underneath the tight material of her torn bodysuit.
Logan drew in a deep breath, then exhaled sharply. "Whatever you say."
Domino drew in a deep breath, slivers of annoyance shading the lassitude of her tone. "I know what you're trying to do, and I appreciate it, but there's no need. I'm not a little girl anymore."
The older man shook his head a bit sadly. "You were never a little girl, Neena. Even when you should have been." His shoulders slumped in a slight shrug. Drawing on a wellspring of patience few knew he possessed, he continued in a voice perfectly pitched to be low and rough and comforting. "Mind if I stay in here for a while? It's gettin' a bit heavy back there. Kitty gave 'em another dose of that happygas, and it smells like New Year's Eve in Amsterdam."
At the mention of their captives, Domino stiffened slightly but quickly regained her composure. Her voice still had a distinct edge. "They're still unconscious, then?"
Logan nodded. "Yeah. Kitty and Pete are back there keepin' an eye on them just in case, but they're out cold. Most harm we'll get from them is if one of 'em drools on us."
"Be careful. I think we're all out of anti-venom," Domino muttered, and Logan smiled slightly, appreciating the attempt at humor more than the joke itself. "Has Pete got our clearance codes yet?"
"Yep." He passed her a small square of paper with a barely legible series of numbers and letters on it, and she nodded. "Wisdom just got off the radio with Jardine- just like we thought, his men are gonna meet us at the MI5 landing strip just outside of London and take over from there."
Domino's eyes narrowed, and she twisted in her seat to face Logan. "This isn't over, Logan," she warned, face bleak, paper crumpling in her hands. "I've worked with Jardine's people before- I know what he's like. If he thinks our part in this is done, he can think again. . ."
"We did our job, Neena." Logan met her gaze. "Now it's time to let go and let Jardine and his people do theirs."
She looked at the sky, and blew a sigh through cracked lips. "Those people in the back of this plane are some of the most dangerous sons of bitches on Earth, and they *used* me, Logan- they experimented with my-"
Breathing heavily, she broke off, hands clenched tightly in her lap. "Let's just say I have a personal interest in their work."
He just stared at her, craggy features silent and still. She exhaled angrily. "Fuck, Logan, what do you want from me? I'd think you of all people would understand."
It was too much for him to bear. Logan slammed the flat of his palm against the console in exasperation. "Damn, Neena, y' think I don't know what it's like to be fucked with by these bastards?" Six sharp claw snapped out from the back of his hands. Holding them up to the light, he snarled "Remember a little project called Weapon X? I know where yer comin' from, girl, and I know how it feels."
"I-" She swallowed, dark brows knitting in frustration. "Let's not even get into a pissing contest about who's been fucked around more, Logan, I know you'll win," she hissed, eyes narrowing to thin slits. "I'm just sayin' that this goes a lot deeper than we ever thought. Tolliver had links to Black Air, Genosha, AIM- and who knows what else? This doesn't end here, dammit, and I'm not forgetting about this until I *know* exactly what happened back there." He just stared at her, and she paused, anger deflating under the power of his dark stare. "I didn't mean anything against you, dammit."
His expression softened, and he retracted his claws slowly, skin instantly healing over the openings. Stretching across the space between them, he rested one square hand lightly on her shoulder. She flinched, spine stiffening.
He sighed. "I know y' didn't, girl. I ain't sayin' sit back and do nothin', but- give it some time. We've stopped Gene- Tyler for now. Give it some time, let Jardine and his people do their job before we go in half-cocked like we did this time." His expression darkened again. "This was damn stupid. We should have been more prepared, not charging in half-cocked like we did. Ops like this take weeks- months- of preparation. We were *lucky* to get out as easy as we did."
Domino tilted her head slightly and nodded, eyes haunted with the memories of what Tyler had done. "Yeah," she whispered bitterly, "Real lucky."
Logan paused, then arched a shaggy eyebrow. "I ain't gonna ask you what happened back there," he began, voice lowered huskily, "But-"
She cut him off before he could continue. "Good. Because I'm not going to tell you," she replied tersely, eyes narrowing at his sudden shrewd look. Infuriated, she stabbed an accusatory finger at him, pale skin gleaming in the dark of the night.
"Logan, it was nothing! You told me a long time ago that shit like this happens and that if I couldn't take it then I was in the wrong business. We went storming in there today like bare novices, and we paid for it. Simple as that." Her voice was quiet and self-contained, and very, very cold.
Logan shook his head ruefully. "It ain't ever that simple. You know that."
Domino grudgingly inclined her head. "Maybe so. But we walked away from it, and that's more than-" Biting her lip, she looked away. "More than some can say."
Logan nodded in agreement, adroitly allowing her to change the subject. "True enough. I gotta tell ya, though, it was close- we just barely made it out of the blast radius before the whole damn place fell down on itself. Another minute and the shockwave would have pulled us down with it."
Domino, knees still weak from that frantic final flight away from Tyler's stronghold, just shrugged a slim shoulder. "Timing's everything, old man. You taught me that."
Almost on cue, a series of bright lights began flashing at the plane's console, denoting air-traffic control's request for authorization. "See what I mean?" Domino arched a wry brow, rising from her seat, wincing as stiff, sore muscles groaned in protest. Handing him a headset, she managed a small, genuine smile, stuffing the slip of paper back in his square hand. "Pete gave you the codes, so you talk to these assholes. I'll go tell get everyone ready to land."
"You do that." He moved over, then widened his eyes slightly. "Hey-" he reached out a hand, gently touched her arm. "What about that lettin' Jardine take over this thing? That's why we came here in th' first place. . ."
Domino stared at him several long moments, then nodded, her entire body slumping slightly. "You're right. I'll. . . let them do what they have to do, but my part in this thing isn't over. Not by a long shot." Her eyes glinted in the dim light.
"Never meant that it was, darlin'," Logan nodded, satisfied, then Logan shifted to let her pass, reaching for the radio controls even as she moved towards the door.
Pete leaned against the ramp as Kitty helped several of Jardine's men usher the still dazed captives out of the plane. Logan and Ororo had already contacted the station's medical personnel, and were accompanying their wounded to the station hospital.
Pete watched as their captives streamed out, stumbling down the hatch in ragged pairs, feet constrained to small steps by drugs and shackles. One particularly cumbersome pair of shoulders brushed him as he passed, and it was all Pete could do not to impale the drugged prisoner with five fiery hotknives. Instead, he gritted his teeth and slapped the man contemptously, pushing him aside as the man stumbled down the ramp. "Toerag."
This had been a hell of a trip. Even though it was on paper- if such things were recorded on paper- a complete success, he'd seen the cost of the mission. He'd sat by the Tin Man during the flight and examined for himself the state of his injuries as the other man lapsed in and out of consciousness; he'd spoken briefly with Betsy during a brief period of lucidity before the mild painkiller Logan had administered helped lull the exhausted telepath into slumber.
More than that, though, he'd seen Dom. He'd seen how she held herself coming out of that hellhole, and had seen clouds of shadows almost tangibly descend on his old friend again. He'd tried to speak to her about it during the short flight, but she'd just looked at him with the same old hollow eyes, and he'd known nothing he could say or do would matter.
He understood. Damn, he more than anyone could understand how she felt. After all, he'd been there. Ten years of working for Black Air would do that, twist the soul and the mind so that you were was almost unrecognizable as the person you were when you started out.
Oh, yeah, he knew what that was like. If it hadn't been for Pryde and the rest of those over spandexed do-gooder wankers, he'd very likely still be in that condition himself. Dark and drunk and alone and hating everything in the world, himself included.
'Not anymore,' he told himself, and thanked the God he didn't believe in that it was actually true. There *was* more to him than duty and shadow now. Whatever else these idealists were, they were believers, and despite himself some of it had rubbed off.
He thought it had on Dom, too. He and his old friend were both realists- nothing would change that- but the way she and Nathan had been acting over the last few days had almost convinced him that they'd both overcome their dark pasts.
But now- from the way she held herself, the bleakness in her eyes- it looked far too much like the old Dom for his liking.
His mood blackened even further, and he had to consciously shake himself out of it. 'And since when did I get so fuckin' introspective?' he mocked himself. 'Dom'll do fine. She always does.' Ignoring the nagging guilt, Pete shook himself back to the present and walked over to his lover, taking her gently by the arm. "Things under control here, Pryde?"
She spared him a half-smile, but warm eyes turned chilly again as she turned to watch the last of the captives file out of the plane. She crossed her arms tightly across her chest. "Of course," she affirmed, nodding as each confused passenger was counted off and taken into MI5 custody. "As soon as the agents here," she motioned at a pair of black garbed men "Here sign the paperwork, we're done."
Pete settled in beside her, lips twisted in a grimace. "Good," he nodded curtly, watching their captives closely.
"Yeah," Kitty said.
"Yeah," Pete said, and they lapsed into silence as justice ensued.
In an examining room, a tall, thin woman in a lab coat finished making the last of several notations on a clipboard. Another woman, clad in a pale green hospital gown, sat on the edge of an examining table, pale legs dangling.
"And you're quite sure you don't want any further scans?" The first woman raised thin, almost nonexistent gray-blonde eyebrows imploringly. "Aside from numerous cuts and bruises, there's no serious physical damage, but there is some evidence of severe emotional trauma-"
"NO." Domino's voice was calm and clear, if a bit shaky. "No, if you say I can physically walk out of here, then I'm going, Doctor Lowell, and there's nothing you can say to stop me."
"Ms. . . Winters," the doctor's voice dropped dubiously as she read the name. In her position as Chief Physician at this Station she had learned to recognize an alias when she saw it but such deception still ran contrary to her nature. "Ms. Winters, I am recommending that you be observed for at least the next 24 hours. . . With all you have been through today I cannot in good conscience agree-"
Domino raised a tired hand. "Enough, Doc. I understand, I understand, I'm leaving Against Medical Advice, or whatever the hell you Brits call it. Tell me one thing- can I walk out of here and not lapse into a coma?"
Lowell was quiet for a moment, mind racing through all the possible outcomes of the sequences of injuries this patient had suffered. ". . . I cannot say with certainty."
Domino levelled a steady purple gaze. The other woman just sighed. "In my professional opinion, you are an idiot if you do so, but despite what you have endured you appear to be an idiot in complete control of her mental faculties and if you want to behave as such it is certainly your option."
Domino blew a sigh. "Doc. . ."
Lowell sat down on a bent aluminum stool, waving a bony hand. "Go. Get the hell out of here. Jardine told me to make sure you three were given the best care we had, but he didn't tell me to babysit you."
Bruised lips quirked in a wry grin that quickly faded only to be replaced by the same utterly guarded look that Lowell had seen on far too many operatives in this station. "The other two who were with me- they were hurt worse than I was. What's their status?"
Lowell sighed, laying Domino's charts on the flat shelf beside her stool. "You must know very well that I can't release information like that-"
"Don't try that bullshit with me. This isn't County General hospital- you know damn well normal rules don't apply here." She leaned forward, eyes glittering darkly. "If they're well enough to travel, we need to get out of here as soon as possible. *How are they?*"
Lowell shook her head, rolling her neck back, feeling tired vertabrae pop. "I don't know if Doctors Wixtrum and Kerr will release their patients-"
Domino leaned forward. "If they *can* be released, I need them released. Do what you have to do, but if they're safe enough, I want them cleared. You're the head honcho around here. Get it done."
Lowell drew herself up to her full height. "And what gives you the authority to demand that?" The wrinkles at her eyes creased imperiously.
"Nothing," Domino murmured softly. "But Jardine sure as hell has it." She unsheathed the veiled threat in her tone. "If I've got to call him down here to get this taken care of, I will."
Domino jumped down and her knees almost buckled underneath her. Grabbing the table for support, she managed to stand erect before Lowell saw her wobble. Holding the edge of the bed for support, she glared at the taller woman, who just looked back at her and shook her head longsufferingly.
"Oh, there's no need for such show. Let me talk to Mr. Jardine and the other doctors, and we'll see what we can do." She held up a hand, and waited a few seconds before warning "*If* your colleagues are medically able to leave. I will not, orders from the top or not, approve the release of any patient if so doing will present a serious risk to that patient's health."
"Understood. *Thank you*," Domino sighed, stance relaxing. "Was that really so hard?"
"Not nearly as hard as it will be for you to go outside in that paper gown. I know you're in a dreadful hurry to leave, Ms. Winters, but perhaps you could spare the time to clean and clothe yourself while I'm making the calls."
Domino paused, then the gray dimness lifted a bit. "Touche," she smiled wryly, inclining her head.
Lowell motioned to the adjoining shower and blue jumpsuit hanging on a rack beside it. "I'll see to the arrangments while you're preparing yourself." With that final word, the tall doctor spun on her heel and was gone.
Ororo Munroe leaned back on one of the seats that lined the waiting room of the station's small infirmary. She shifted slightly, and the worn naughahyde chair squeaked indignantly. She didn't even notice, just thumbed through the March 1992 copy of British Vogue, absently skimming the articles.
'I should be accustomed to this by now,' she chided herself, rubbing a smooth hand over her face, stifling a yawn. 'But I am not. No matter how many years we have been doing this, it never gets easier,' she mused regretfully. 'And as long as the X-Men and our . . .' she paused, thinking of the best term to decribe the persons being treated in the adjoining examining room '. . . friends continue to risk ourselves like this, what else can we expect?'
She looked up from her magazine to see Logan slowly pacing around the room. Dark eyes glowed in the flourescent light of the waiting room. He walked up to the glassed-in desk area, stalking the receptionist as if she were prey. "How much flamin' longer are they gonna be in there?" He growled impatiently.
The young woman stationed at the desk blinked, and clutched her skirt underneath the desk. To her credit, however, she merely looked up at him, chin lifted haughtily. "Sir, I've already told you that the doctors will be with you as soon as your companions have been treated. I assure you, they are being given the best medical care Her Majesty's physicians can provide. We will alert you when the examinations are complete."
Noting that Logan's face had assumed a dangerous shade of red, Ororo rose smoothly from her seat and walked over to him, lightly laying a hand on his shoulder and leading him back to his seat. The receptionist breathed a barely audible sigh of relief.
"She's absolutely correct," Ororo told him in a soothing voice, pale eyes soft as she looked down at the shorter man. "You must have patience, my friend. The physicians are doing all they can."
Logan just looked at her.
She chuckled humorlessly. "Perhaps that *is* asking too much, but Logan, you know this as well as I. We are X-Men. We have survived far worse than this."
Domino stood outside Nathan's hospital room, face framed by the small glass window of his door. She was flanked by two figures in white lab coats, one tall and thin, the other stout and short.
She watched him sleeping peacefully, massive shoulders almost hanging over the sides of the small bed. His injured arm was bound in a cast, and his side was tightly wrapped underneath a thin hospital gown that was far too short on him. However, his monitors were chirping nicely and the petite gray haired nurse who lingered at his bedside didn't look worried at all. A plumper nurse stood in a corner, filling a glass of water from a pitcher, keeping a careful eye on the patient.
She raised curled knuckles to the glass, searching deep within herself for the shattered remains of their psilink. She probed her thoughts like the tongue is drawn to the socket of a freshly pulled tooth. He was there, and she was there, but the chasm between them loomed so large she didn't know if it could ever be breached.
She didn't know if she wanted to try.
The stocky man beside her coughed. "Ms. Winters, excuse me just a moment," he murmured, and she could still detect traces of a Cockney accent in his clipped voice. Domino obediately moved away from the door, and the man took her place. Looking through the pane of glass, he tapped once and one of the nurse looked up nodded at him.
Her eyes widened, and she inclined her head in silent questioning. He simply nodded again, and she shrugged and began removing the IV and electrodes from Nathan's still form.
Domino blinked, hands clasped behind her back. "Are you sure he's-"
The short man coughed again. "Ms. Winters, I can assure you, there is no permanent physical damage. Other than tending to some abnormal brain spikes, we've done all we can. Though I would prefer to keep him for observation several more days, Dr. Lowell informs me that you are quite ready to depart."
"That's an understatement," Domino breathed slowly.
"One doesn't have to be a telepath to see how ready you all are to take leave of our hospitality." Wixtrum smiled wryly.
Domino's eyes widened in alarm, and she unconsciously took a step backwards. "*Are* you a telepath?"
"Hardly," Doctor Wixtrum pursed his lips. "We have access to several psis, but no psionic scans have been ordered or approved in your cases," he glanced again at Lowell, who nodded. "Though it is obvious that all three of you are suffering from psionic damage. It would be best for all of you to have a telepath you trust examine you when this is all over." The man spoke matter of factly, much as a family doctor would recommend a specialist for an earache. "Besides, Mr. Jardine has to approve all unconsenting E.P.A.s."
"E.P.A.?" Unfamiliar with the jargon, Domino's eyes narrowed. "Explain. Now." Her tone brooked little room for argument.
"Exercise of Psionic Ability," Doctor Lowell supplied helpfully, stuffing her hands in her pockets. "Ms. Winters, there's really no need to worry-"
Domino spun on her heels. "Lowell," she asked warningly. "Did-"
"Did anyone perform unauthorize psiscans of you while you were in this office?" Doctor Lowell finished her question, unperturbed. "Of course not. Besides the fact that Mr. Jardine expressly ordered us not to, that sort of scan is an invasion of the highest sort. If we allowed that sort of business, we wouldn't be any better than that Black Air scum, now would we?" Wixtrum's lips curled in distaste at the mere mention of the former organization, and Lowell unconsciously wiped her mouth as if the words had left a bitter taste in her mouth.
'A little inter-agency competition, I see,' Domino thought, recalling her own days in government intelligence. 'Only this time they're fighting over more important things than funding and jurisdiction.' She shuddered, memories of Black Air's nastier exploits cutting through even the grey bleakness currently shrouding her soul.
"Besides," Lowell leaned in a bit conspiratorially. "While I will not be so unrealistic to say it never happens, you would not *believe* the red tape involved in obtaining the proper authorization for an E.P.A. Now, they're only used on the grossest offenders, and only in cases of direst emergency."
Wixtrum met Domino's dubious gaze with a soft nod. "All talk of ethics aside, Ms. Winters," he said gently. "No alpha level psis serve on our staff. Our beta level telepaths take their jobs very seriously, though, I can assure you. It only took a few mindfried agents as a result of scanning without proper subject preparation to teach us the dangers of improper procedure."
Domino, unconvinced, just narrowed her eyes. Fists clenched by her sides. "If I find out otherwise, you'll wish-"
Lowell rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes. We'll wish we were never born." She glanced at Wixtrum, who was suppressing a smile. "Goodness, don't they ever get tired of that blustering? It must be exhausting." Turning back to her patient, she shook her head. "There's really no need for threats, Ms. Winters. What we do here is top secret and completely confidential, and we respect the privacy and rights of our agents and allies completely."
Before she finished, the hospital door opened wide, and the older nurse walked out, closing the door tightly behind him. "He's waking up," she told the doctors in a chipper voice. "We finally found something large enough for him to wear. Goodness, but he's a big one," she shook her head, then refocused her attention on the others. "As soon as he's up, we'll get him dressed and out of here."
Domino ignored her, staring transfixed through the window at Nathan, who was just beginning to stir.
The nurse noticed the expression on her face. "He'll be just fine, love," she murmured. "Don't you worry about him." Domino just looked up at her, eyes blank and glassy, and she smiled softly. "You get some rest, dear. You look like you've seen a ghost." Patting her arm and nodding at the doctors, she padded down the hall towards whatever efficient task awaited her next.
Domino only stared at her bleakly, and resumed her position at the door.
To be cont'd
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. -John 14:27
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