Of Kismet Wings and Killing Dreams

by Jaya Mitai


Hey, maybe if I drag this out long enough, I can have twelve parts! The Twelve! ::laughs hysterically:: Sorry, sorry . . . *gasping for breath* Too much Easy Mac does not a sane Writer make . . .

Disclaimer - They belong to Marvel, every last one of ‘em. No money was made, and if you wanna sue me anyway . . . get in line. =)

I keep saying it, but I’m sure the next installment will be the final one . . . so quit with your ‘Oh, poor widdle Sam’ complaints . . . . or I’ll be even MEANER to him! HAHAHAHAHA!!!! I can do that, I’m the Writer . . .

Domino stood to the immediate right of the bathroom door, listening to the sounds of brushing and the water running in the sink. She carefully masked the memory of Blaquesmith, disappeared to who knows where, hoping Stryfe wouldn’t grab it on a scan. It wouldn’t be difficult to distract him, a right cross and followup would probably take care of it –

How could this happen? How could she be so stupid? For fuck’s sake, _Jean_ had been in his head! How the hell had she managed to not realize Stryfe was the one that got up off the floor, instead of Nate? So many clues! The accent, the hot shower, the kiss –

She recoiled at the thought, kicking herself mentally for making the excuses to herself. She was never that quick to excuse Nate! There _was_ no excuse for him.

She checked the gun she’d tucked into the back of the uniform pants she’d pulled back on, making sure the safety was off. Blaquesmith had been fairly specific in his ‘commands,’ just get him to open the link and reach down it. He had to actually reach for a memory or an emotion, just opening it and allowing telepathic speech wasn’t enough. Great. So the second Blaquesmith strikes, I’m going to have a lunatic in my head.

Thanks, but no thanks. One’s enough.

The water shut off, and she heard the sound of the towel hitting the floor, and clothes being pulled on. It took him a moment, must have been a uniform. She wondered where he thought he was going, what he was planning to do. Why was he pretending, what was the point of the game? And what were the rules?

The door opened quietly but quickly, and she got in a good hit to the jaw and stomach before he backhanded her out of nowhere, with his human arm, the only thing that kept her neck intact. Domino staggered back, shaking her head quickly as he covered the distance between them with terrifying speed.

An invisible hand shoved her against the wall beside the window, pinning her arms to the side as though she were bound to the wall like –

Like a prisoner, a captive. Like a victim. She struggled furiously and vainly against the TK, allowing her face to snarl as he covered the last few feet ever so casually, sauntering to within inches of her.

“Tell me, Domino,” that so-familiar face smirked, “what was it? The conversation? The accent? I’m simply dying to know how you figured it out.”

She laughed, more from nervousness than his apt choice of words, her voice a little higher than she would have liked. This could have gone _so_ much better - “I’ve known from the start, you fuking arrogant -”

She felt the link tickle, and her voice simply . . . stopped. She could open her mouth, but her lips refused to form the words, her throat refused to move to shape them.

“Sssh,” he whispered, coming even closer, resting his forehead against hers, glowing eye like a flame, like a red-hot iron that would burn if it came in contact with flesh. He pulled one hand up to her face, thumb tracing her lower lip as his other brushed her side, and he smiled at her flinch, the fingers walking with a teasing lightness to the small of her back, pausing there before taking the gun.

“Just what were you planning to do with this, hmm?”

She could talk again, and she violently shook off his hand, eyes hard as he grabbed her around the upper throat, beneath her jaw, pinning her head roughly back to the wall. “You weren’t really going to shoot me, were you?” He sighed, and she barely restrained herself from spitting on him. Such a melodramatic ass!

He pulled the gun up, eyeing it thoughtfully before tossing it aside.

“Primitive technology, but still effective. Reminds me of home.”

“What did you think you were going to do,” she snarled, surprised to find he was letting her speak again. “Just pretend to be Nate for a while, live his life?”

“Other man’s shoes and that nonsense? Please.” His gaze returned to her, cupping her chin gently. “Do you want to know why, my dear? Would you like to know why?”

She tried to shake off his hands again, but he gripped her like iron, not letting her look away, cutting off her air with his simple and lethal placement of fingers.

“I’ll show you why.”

The link opened, then, like a great dam letting forth the held waters of an ocean, an ocean of filth and decay, and she shuddered as she was overwhelmed by it. Fear and hate were strong, followed by an overpowering need for acceptance, a sense of self-worth. Arrogance, triumph, satisfied revenge rolled after. Just behind that was a lust that made her tremble, eyes still held by that terrible, so familiar gaze. Beyond it all swirled self-loathing, despair, a need to give love, to receive it. It was like wave after wave of filthy water against her, soaking what it touched, ruining it, leaving its scent and oils behind as it receded for a moment, only to crest again, rearranged.

The link trembled as her mind recoiled from the _wrongness_ of it, recoiled from the raw pain and emotion that was as of a small child, and the bitterness and hate that was of an old man, wronged by life. He was the only thing holding her up, the only thing grounding her from the swirls of lunacy in her mind, threatening to twist her own feelings, contaminate her thoughts. She concentrated on the physical, the feeling of his fingers releasing her, letting her breath, the feeling of her gasping for air, the feeling of physical pain behind her eyes.

“That’s _why_,” he hissed, his breath hot against her face, the scent of mint strong. “Do you like what you see, Domino? Does it all make sense now?”

“Let ‘er go, homme.”

She was able to tear her eyes from him then, her right eye not seeing well in the dark, nightvision having been blinded by the fire in Stryfe’s eye, a dark spot over the open doorway. Her left eye made out the shape, holding glowing, almost flaming cards, even as her ears recognized the accent.

She tried to tell him no, she tried to tell him to just attack, but her lips wouldn’t obey, and the TK that pinned her to the wall didn’t release as Stryfe turned to face the Cajun.

“I’ve been expecting you,” Stryfe snarled. “Sooner. You’ve disappointed me.”

Remy moved almost imperceptibly, cards flying unerringly towards him, but Stryfe held up a hand, and the glowing bombs bounced off nothing, landing at the startled Cajun’s feet. A powerful telekinetic blow crushed LeBeau to the ground, body pressed against the charged cards, and Remy jerked in the TK as the muffled explosions reached Domino’s ears.

Stryfe allowed her startled cry before slamming the door closed, eyeing the absolutely still Cajun a moment more before turning back to her, lips curled upwards in an uncomfortable looking sneer.

“You seem upset.” She was shaking, now, eyes fixed on the perfectly still body of the X-Man. Jesus, he killed him . . . they’d fight him to the death, now. The X-Men wouldn’t let him walk away from this. The kids . . . Where the hell was Blaquesmith?? His hands again forced her to look at him, grin mocking now. “Tell me, were you _cheating_ on Nathan?”

Once more he touched her face, a gentle touch, not at all unlike Cable when he wasn’t sure what to say to her, but this time it held none of the tenderness. It was simply a touch, to goad her, knowing that every time he touched her it made her skin crawl, knowing it made her wonder what would follow it, whether he would grow angry and hit her for silence, or something far, far worse.

Stryfe’s eyes shifted, suddenly the same open, almost hypnotic look that Nate had when he was remembering something from far back in his life, and he spoke very, very gently. “Are you afraid of me?”

She didn’t realize until afterwards that he had been inside her mind, rooting around deftly, not her recent memories, not the place she hid what Blaquesmith had told her, but the places that she hid from herself. All she knew was that suddenly his gentle touch mimicked theirs, his hands at her throat, stroking her hair, fingers sliding down the side of her throat to trace her collarbone, and she was once again held against the fence, as the first one leered at her.

“Are you afraid of me,” he repeated, teasing her with his small dagger as his friends held the frightened fifteen year old girl pressed against the chain link fence. “What were you gonna do, pale girl? Hmm? What didja think you were gonna do.”

She struggled, kicking one in the shin, which made the other two bark laughter. “You’re in way over your head, pale.” Her eyes studied her surroundings frantically, hair catching in the chain link fence as she tried to get away from his hands, the knife he pressed to her cheek with almost enough force to cut. He laughed, grabbing her chin roughly, forcing her to look at him, only him, forcing her to flinch away from the tip of the blade he pressed with increasing pressure beneath her chin. She shook, rattling the chain link fence as they shoved her against it, letting the elastic quality of the fence bounce her closer and closer to the dagger, cutting her, just slightly. Her eyes rolled in her head, looking for a route of escape, a weapon, anything –

Daddy, what do I do, someone, no –

There was a blazing white light in her head, not golden, like Nathan’s

presence, or rose like Jean’s, but a pure, clean white light that covered everything, touched every part of her mind, and the alley dissolved as she heard Stryfe’s howl of frustration.

The blazing white light fought to push the dirtied golden glow from her mind, cleansing what the wrongess of that presence had done even as it struggled to free her from the memory, and then there was a pressure inside her skull so great that she barely felt the twinge of pain in her throat from the scream, barely felt herself physically sliding down the wall, and she clutched her head, bring up her knees and pressing them against her forehead in a vain attempt to contain the pressure. The lights were too bright, there was too much of them –

The link shredded under the strain of the battle, she felt it tear like one would feel the ripping of skin, first the sensation, followed by the sudden, sharp pain that made her cry out again, feeling the link shriveling as the dirtied golden glow destroyed it, as Stryfe destroyed their link.

Then both glows were gone from her head, and she was alone, all alone. The pain pounded to her heartbeat, deafening in her ears, and she choked on blood as she tried to swallow, rocking back and forth and pressing her hands painfully into her skull to try to relieve the pain.

Hands were touching her, then, and she felt hot breath on her face as that person spoke, and she yanked herself back, pushing the hands away, the person. She couldn’t hear, she couldn’t hear her own cries or the words being spoken to her, she couldn’t hear anything –

She tried to reach out to Cable, instinctively, only to find that her arms were gone, the hands that she used in her mind to reach him were crippled, she couldn’t, and she felt the loss so sharply that it made her gasp, choking all the more.

Nathan, help me, please –

The white light was all she could see, and where it touched her, the pain faded, and the pressure as well, soothing her fears, cleaning the rest of the filth from her mind, slowly grounding her back to her physical body, her cramped position.

She took a shuddering breath as the light faded, and she finally heard him.

“Chere, y’still wid me? C’mon, open y’eyes, p’tite -”

She did, pulling her head up and wincing as the ache returned, a hundredth of what it had been. Remy made a face, reaching out very slowly with a handkerchief and pressing it to her nose, a reluctance there that made her start. He was crouched to her right, very compactly for such a tall man, and wasn’t hunched over her at all, body language screaming non-threat.

“How -?” She cursed as her throat screamed at her, a sharp pain in the back of it, and she took another shuddering breath, surprised at her trembling, surprised at the cold knot of fear in her stomach.

He leaned back as soon as she uncurled and held the handkerchief to her own nose, cursing her shaking hand, and she saw the singed shirt and the kevlar beneath it. “Couldn’ charge de cards dat much, tossin’ ‘em too close t’you. I be fine.”

She had stopped thinking about him long before he stopped speaking, eyes drawn to the man directly in front of her, gasping, on his hands and knees on the carpeting, his uniform spotted with sweat.. Blaquesmith knelt beside him, one hand on his shoulder. Never had she seen the Askani tutor look so grim, so . . . upset?

“Nate . . . ?” Something caught in her throat, and she coughed up a gobbet of half-congealed blood. Great. Had her sinuses exploded? Not that she really needed them anyway . . .

Nathan tensed as he heard her, pulling his head up slowly to look at her, such pain in his eyes that she almost flinched away. It was so close to what she’d seen in Stryfe, too close - they aren’t the _same_, girl, you know they aren’t the same . . .

#Dom . . . # She did flinch at his voice, seeming so loud and unnatural without the link to temper it, so full of emotion, and the aching came back in full force. Cable dropped his head, leaning back so that he was kneeling as well, chin resting on his chest as he tried to take control of his breathing.

“What’s going -”

Domino’s eyes flew to the doorway, to Rictor, standing there, eyes on Blaquesmith with surprise, Logan beside him. They were shouldered aside by a Jean in her nightshirt and a pair of jeans, who hurried into the room with barely a glance at anyone else and knelt by Nathan. Blaquesmith, surprisingly, stood slowly, almost stiffly, and let her take his position by Cable, retreating to a spot near the corner of the room, simply watching Nathan.

Scott was almost immediately behind Jean, not surprisingly still in uniform, and he looked them all over before doing a double-take on Dom.

“Ric, get Hank. Move!”

Surprisingly, after hesitating only a second, the boy ran to obey, and Scott knelt in front of her, gently moving the handkerchief. She recoiled from his touch instinctively, logically knowing he wasn’t going to hurt her, and tears of frustration sprang to her eyes. Not again! It had taken so long for her to train herself to accept touch again, after that, and what happened after . . . not again –

Scott froze at her flinch, watching her closely. “Domino, it’s Scott, I’m not going to hurt you.” His voice was soothing, calm, like she was a hysterical student, or frightened deer that would bolt if given the opportunity. She felt a rising blush in her cheeks as she simply nodded at him, almost screaming with frustration as she pressed against the wall to avoid his hands, the pain in her head growing rapidly once more.

The white glow was in her head once more, and she jumped and glared at

Blaquesmith, his inhuman eyes studying her very apologetically, a foreign expression on that strange face.

#Forgive me, child.# His voice was calm, quiet. She felt the memory being tucked right back where it had come from, like one tucks a book back onto its shelf, into its rightful place, soothing away the pain to a mere ache, and she stifled a sob as something calmed her slowly, warm and comforting and . . . safe.

“What is this, you two can’t stand to see me upset?” she joked out loud, weakly, and Remy chuckled softly beside her as Scott watched her, not understanding, brushing something from her face that she had the distinct suspicion wasn’t blood.

“It was the best way,” Blaquesmith told her aloud. “Were it not for the timing, I would never have asked that of you -”

“That I don’t doubt,” she muttered, batting Scott’s hand away, relief flowing through her that her hand didn’t hesitate or flinch when it touched his. “Just a nosebleed, Summers, I think I can handle it.” Her voice wasn’t as rock-steady as she would have hoped, and it sounded rough and raw, but it was a bit stronger than before.

Scott coughed, eyes on her chest, and she glanced down.

The white tanktop was covered in dark blood, some spattered on her pants, as well. It looked like a prop from a horror movie, like someone had tried to murder her with a large kitchen knife.

“Dat’s one hell of a nosebleed, p’tite,” Remy observed, and she swallowed, suddenly aware of the taste of salt and blood in her mouth. She looked at Scott questioningly, suddenly not so sure she was glad that ache in her head was fading. She wasn’t going to . . . was she?

“You’ll recover,” Blaquesmith assured her, still standing in the shadows, aloof. “A few blood vessels burst, and you have a slight concussion.”

Somehow she knew that her injuries were probably much worse, or had been to cause her to lose this much blood. She remembered Stryfe’s cry, his words in the kitchen.

“If he knew he’d only have control for a short time? He’d do it in a heartbeat.”

Her stomach curled further, nauseous from the blood she’d swallowed and the realization. Stryfe had tried to kill her. That arrogant little son of a bitch had seen what was going on, realized he was going to be defeated, and tried to kill her.

#I repaired what could be repaired,# he assured her tiredly, and she glanced up at him, surprised at the undertones in his mental ‘voice.’ The man sounded more than tired, he sounded . . . miserable. Her eyes flew back to the people in front of her as Jean gasped.

“Nate -”

He was on his feet, suddenly, not as unsteady as she would have thought, considering the pained sounds of his breathing. He wouldn’t look down at Jean, gaping at him, instead focusing on some point above the window as he slowly straightened. “What is, is,” he told her, flatly, almost stiltedly, before his gaze dropped and found Dom.

She could only force herself to meet his eyes for a single second, dropping her own gaze to an area around his shins, squeezing them closed against her cowardice. It isn’t the same! she told her stomach, balling in an uncomfortable knot. That was Stryfe, and this is Cable.

It’s the same pair of eyes, her stomach insisted firmly, curling further into the colder, safer depths of her lower abdomen. The same face, the same body. The same absolutely compassionless hand touching her in a mocking shadow of intimacy.

She forced her eyes open, taking another breath, trying to drag her eyes upward, to meet him, to meet Nathan’s, and she simply couldn’t.

He didn’t attempt to talk to her, say anything either mentally or verbally. He simply offered her a hand, palm out, like he had any countless times they’d tackled each other out of the way of a bullet or explosion during a mission and he’d regained his feet first.

She found herself studying that hand, the callused palm, the strong lines and muscular grace. It was his human hand, those perfect, long fingers that had taken lives, caused such destruction, held her in her sleep. It was shaking slightly, the tips wavering as if entirely unsure they wanted to be outstretched, instead of balled into fists.

The same hand that had kept her from breathing not minutes ago.

She knew what he was offering with that deceptively simple gesture. If she took that hand, there would be no need for apologies, there would be no need for blame or for regret. She knew if she took that hand, she would be making him a part of her life again. She would be forgiving him for things he hadn’t done, she would be closing this episode for herself forever, accepting what had happened and moving on.

If she got up on her own, she would be on her own, and he would respect that choice, she had no doubt. Not after that. Not after what he’d probably seen Stryfe dig out of her mind. Not after probably watching Stryfe try to kill her.

Her stomach was cramping further, drawing her arms to cradle it, and hug herself, rather than reach out and accept that ever-so-slightly unsure hand. This was stupid! It had to be killing him, knowing what Stryfe had nearly done, what he _had_ done. He’d almost killed an X-Man, and he’d almost killed Domino. But that wasn’t Nate’s fault!

And what had happened to Nate, once again at the mercy of Stryfe? What had the two discussed, what damage had Stryfe wrought in his time in control of their body? And what if he was still in there, snickering, just laughing at Cable as she sat here and hesitated, driving the knife ever further before twisting? Who would be there for him to lean on?

And the timing . . . ? Things falling into place . . . ? It had to be that battle, only some stupid Prophecy could get Blaquesmith to be frantic enough to do what he’d done.

Sorry, pal, but I think you need me as much as I . . . need you.

She clasped Nate’s hand at the wrist, as firmly as she could, consciously not allowing herself to flinch, and he pulled her up with surprising speed, and suddenly his arms were around her and she was burying her face into his chest, and she didn’t care who was standing there and where they were. His T-O hand held her head against him, stroking her hair, and she listened to his heartbeat, fast and strong.

“Dom, I’m sorry -”

She smacked his back before hugging him even more tightly, using his shirt to wipe away any stray incriminating tears that might have been on her face. “Askani don’t apologize. What is, is.” She didn’t intend them that way, but the words were cold, her tone was cold, muffled and emotionless, and she knew it when she felt him tense.

She leaned away, looking into his suddenly guarded eyes, the shield she knew so well dropping into place, a shield she’d never seen in Stryfe. “I suppose you would have found it eventually, anyway,” she managed evenly, trying to dismiss the memory loop. It seemed so hollow, empty, and he hesitated, looking at her without meeting her eyes, frozen, as though expecting her to drop a bomb or something. She swallowed, the words paining her throat, and her stomach heaved, but her heart gave her the strength. “And when are you going to rebuild that link?”

His eyes were the only thing that moved, relief so strong on his face for a split second, then an immense hurt that he hid so fast she wondered if she’d imagined it.

“It would be better,” Blaquesmith interjected, jerking them back into the room with his soft, patient voice, “if you waited several days before attempting it. Your mind is still damaged, Domino, and extra sensory input would only impede your healing.”

“Oh my stars . . .” the Beast murmured, eyes fixed on Domino’s less than white top as he came into the room, wearing only an immense tee shirt and a pair of red plaid boxers.

Domino blinked at him before turning again to watch Blaquesmith, who traded glances with Jean before teleporting away, his face glittering with . . . tears?

She almost stumbled as Nathan backed away suddenly, surprising her, to make room for Hank to examine her. He stepped forward so swiftly to support her again that it made her throat tighten. After this stupid battle, she was going to get some great teasing in –

Downstairs, they heard glass shatter, and the report of a rifle, very faint, drifted to them from the front of the house.

Lucinda curled the borrowed blanket about her more tightly, no more sunlight to warm her. The yard was alive with a few stubborn lightning bugs, hoping still to find mates despite the chill in the air, and mosquitoes, but not nearly as bad as they were –

She broke off the thought before it could really finish. She needed to get the kids home. They were still in school, and this house was no place for them. She couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that she and the kids were just slowing down their efforts to find Sam. The blue doctor McCoy had checked each one out, and her as well, and other than a slight bit of lung damage from the nerve gas they’d be just fine, healing without even any real threat of pneumonia. He had hinted that it made Jebediah that much more likely to develop asthma, but he’d had allergies for years, and she sort of expected that it would develop without any help.

The seat creaked as she shifted, the cold stiffening her joints slightly. She itched to get up and do something. She’d called a neighbor, the animals had been fed and seen to, but she hated to put that extra responsibility on farmers as busy as she was. Three days since they’d left. It felt like three weeks. The barn would be an absolute mess, and the house –

They’d told her that Sam had been captured in the house, and that there had been signs of a struggle. Her throat constricted almost out of habit as a shudder ran through her body. She didn’t want to go back there, see the blood on the floor, the broken glass, whatever other damage had been done. It would just remind her of her son, and that _soft_ feeling of his chest –

She couldn’t quite bite back her sob, not the first of the night and surely not the last. If that was what had happened to her Sam, what would they find, when they did find him? What broken little thing would they rescue, and return to her? Medicine was advanced, but not that advanced, to put a boy back together from pieces?

Then again, if they could grow a clone of her son, that looked so much like Sam, then maybe whoever had him could somehow help him –

And what if they rescued what they thought was Sam, and it was just another one of these doppelgangers? What if her baby stayed in the care of whatever madmen had him, died in a dark corner somewhere while the man they thought was Sam was having grilled cheese at her table?

She tried to muffle her cries, knowing that seeing her upset only hurt Domino more, and the kids. They were so young, and she couldn’t help but question Cable. He was the best person in the world to hear Sam’s letters tell it, but he put them in danger so often –

Danger for a good cause, and they believed that. And she should respect that, every heart has its own calling, every soul had to go its own path.

She hadn’t seen him all day, he’d returned only a half hour since. She wondered if he’d go back out again tonight, searching for her son. He must feel so responsible. He had a kind heart in there, she’d seen a glimpse as she’d caught the look on his face when she offered land to bury Tyler on their farm. No parent should outlive a child.

Though in his case, he was actually _older_ than his father, which struck her as fundamentally wrong, and though Sam had done a good job explaining it, she wondered exactly how his father handled that.

She remembered Scott and Jean from Sam’s stay with the X-Men for a while, under schooling there. They were good, kind people, and Cable couldn’t ask for better parents, but it must be such a strain on Jean, knowing her son would mostly likely die of old age before she did. How to relate to a man like that, who’d seen so much and yet was capable of the openness and warmth that Sam seemed so proud to catch now and then.

She swallowed the last of her tears, glad to find them dispersing as she distracted herself, and she curled even deeper into the blanket on the porch swing, trying to hide her face a bit as someone quietly came onto the porch, closing the front door behind them.

“Uh . . . Mrs. Guthrie?”

She looked over; that was Tabitha’s voice. Sam had written many things about the girl that only a mother would pick up meant they were in a relationship, however confused he was by the girl. She patted the seat beside her, and Tabitha came over slowly and sat almost gingerly, shoulders hunched in and hands clasped between her knees. Her dark blue overshirt looked less than warm, and Lucinda carefully tossed part of the blanket over the girl’s legs.

Tabitha jumped, then smiled her thanks nervously. “I just wanted to . . . see if you needed anything, out here . . . ?”

“Ah forgive you, child. Why you seem ta think that you need ta apologize-”

Tabitha had sat bolt upright at her words, and now her feet nervously pushed the swing back and forth. “I should have spent more time with him,” she stumbled, as though she couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “I should have made him talk to me, I should hav-”

“Hush.” Her voice was strong despite the emotion that had overflowed not five minutes before. “Should’ves and could’ves don’t change a thing.” She continued in a gentler voice, knowing just how helpless Tabitha must feel. “Ah just want to thank you for bein’ there for mah boy. Ah know that you jest worryin’ about him meant a lot to him. You did what you could, child. It was his choic-”

Tabitha moved very suddenly, her cry distorted as she knocked them both from the porch swing, and Lucinda hit the porch hard on her shoulder, rolling to her back and then feet as anyone thrown by a horse is taught. Halfway up she heard the muffled report of a rifle.

The yard was large, and ringed with trees, and she crouched down low, eyes watching the treeline between the whitewashed porch railings as she crouched over to Tabitha. The girl was absolutely silent, lying on her stomach, hands braced at her shoulders to push herself to her feet quickly. Her eyes were open, head turned also to watch the treeline. If the report had come to them now, and the shot had been fired when Tabitha knocked them away, that placed the shooter at least 200 yards away.

“Tabitha, on the count o’ three, let’s go.”

The girl didn’t respond, and Lucinda’s sharp eyes turned to her in alarm.

“Tabitha, answer me!”

She had a pulse, and the older woman could see her breathing, finally picking out a strange little wheeze on every exhale. Lucinda moved fast, the stiffness gone from her as she snatched the young woman up and jogged to the front door as fast as she could with the unwieldy bundle. A buzz traveled past her ear, taking the blanket off her shoulders and burning a trail along the back of her neck, shattering a window and hopefully alerting the people inside.

The front door was unlocked, and she somehow got it open without dropping Tabitha, spilling them both onto the floor as another buzz passed where her head had been moments before. With a booted foot she kicked the door closed, hearing the footsteps running towards them.

She remembered to breath, then, carefully turning Tabitha onto her side, her hand covered in blood as she found the warm, wet spot on Tabitha’s back.

“Oh mah God . . .”

The entire group, including all of X-Force, out in the hall, and the assembled X-Men, charged down the stairs in near silence, just staring at the sight of Tabitha, sprawled on her side with a growing red stain decorating her sweater, and Lucinda beside her, staring at her own bloodied hand. Nathan and Scott started barking orders almost immediately, not hesitating as they heard the other.

“Ric, Terry, get them into the medbay -”

“Hank, get her stabilized and out of here! Jean, with me. Remy, keep back, make sure they don’t get in the sides -”

“James, you’re on the door. Dom, go with McCoy.”

“Hold up.”

Logan’s growl pretty much got the attention of both Summers, and he continued in a softer voice, helping Lucinda to her feet, away from windows and doors. “I smell Marauder.”

Both Scott and Nate hesitated, eyes shifting in such a familiar way that it made Domino’s throat tighten again, only slightly, and she suddenly swore, seeing Tabitha’s wound as she was ever so carefully picked up, hurrying down the stairs past the frozen leaders of X-Force and the X-Men.

“That’s Sinister’s idea of an invitation, isn’t it.”

Scott eyed the house thoughtfully. “Hank, how is she?”

“Whoever it was, he was aimin’ at me,” Lucinda growled, staring with a surprisingly blank look at her left hand, covered in blood. “She knocked us outta th’ way.” She touched the back of her neck with her right hand, then lifted her eyebrows in surprise at finding a bit of blood on her fingers. “Got me, too.”

Scott didn’t have to say a word, Hank was already there and gently moving Lucinda’s hair from the wound, hurrying her out of the foyer. “Logan, how many -”

“Just Scalphunter.” It was a snarl, making Domino jump. It didn’t sound like human speech, and suddenly those hard, dark eyes were fastened on her, and she broke contact quickly, watching them carry Tabitha away as an excuse for the action.

“It is an invitation,” A strong female voice intoned, all eyes turning to see an young Askani sister appear on the second floor, Blaquesmith beside her. The Askani woman was a sister Domino didn’t recognize, measuring each and every one of them in turn, her midnight hair hanging around an angular face, giving her a hawklike appearance. Blaquesmith, however, had eyes only for one. “It’s time to Gather,” he said softly.

Scalphunter cursed as he disassembled the rifle and attached the various pieces to his uniform. Stupid kid! How the hell had she even noticed the laser? It would have been the size of a large flea, at his distance!

Killing one of the kids hadn’t been part of the plan. Scalphunter finished putting the rifle away and rubbed his hands quietly, watching the house. Kid must have taken that bullet in the middle of her back. Hit a lung if not her heart.

It wouldn’t have killed Lucinda. Sinister had been very specific about that. Do not kill the mother. She would have taken that shot high in her left shoulder and McCoy could have stopped the bleeding and repaired it with a simple surgery. In all fairness, this probably made it look all the more realistic, considering it meant that he’d shot at her three times and missed.

He saw them in the woods, having come out a side door. Cable, he made out, and Domino to the opposite side. Jean and Scott would have come out, as well, probably trying to come around behind him.

He took off at a dead run, making sure to leave enough for the Wolverine to trail him by, and headed for the abandoned hay barn three quarters of a mile down the road.

He touched his earpiece, setting it to transmit, and spoke into the microphone, feet crunching on the cold earth.

“They’re on their way. Cable and Domino spotted, probably Cyclops and Grey. Don’t know about Wolverine, McCoy, or the Cajun.”

“Dr. McCoy will stay to help Lucinda. She is still alive?”

“She’s alive. Ran into a snag. One of the students might be dead.”

There was a long silence, only his short controlled breaths and footfalls on the hard ground audible. “I am to assume it was unavoidable?”

“She must have spotted the sight.”

“They may request Jean stay behind to protect the students,” Sinister mused aloud. “If she is not with them, abort the mission.”

“Yes, sir.”

The transmission was killed, and Scalphunter cleared the barn doors, jumping an old bale of rotted hay as he went to a window, watching for them.


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