by Samy Merchi


Rahne Sinclair's life had been torment and pain almost as long as she could remember, in one way or another. What was special about her is that she never gave in. She had a boundless optimism and hope for the future, that in these dark days was more of a light in the distance for X-Force than anything else.

Now, that final flickering flame had been extinguished.

"Oh, grow up, Sam", said Tabitha, digging up a cigarette and lighting it with a micro-sized plasma bomb. With a few deep lungfuls of the smoke, she closed her eyes, and similarly, closed away the chapter of her life of being scared. Being sorry. Being angry. She had just paid Victor Creed back for having deceived her years ago, having made her the responsible party for Psylocke almost dying by his hand.

Even after Psylocke had healed, Tabitha had never stopped blaming herself for the incident. For years, the memory had haunted her. How stupid she could be. And there was no way to atone. Until now. She had finally paid back, and left that episode of her life behind. And it felt good. Blowing the smoke out from between her lips slowly, she intoned, "It's not as if anyone's gonna miss'im."

Sam gasped from the floor, on all fours after having thrown up, and still trying to get himself together after seeing Tabitha literally blow Sabretooth up. "How..." he got out, slowly stumbling up, bracing himself on the tunnel wall. "How...how could ya do that??"

With a chuckle, Tabitha shrugged. "Easy, now that I know how to do it. I just pictured the bomb inside him..." she started.

"No!" Sam interrupted her, very quickly, not wanting to hear anything more about that. "Ah..." He sighed, and just turned away. How could she kill someone so coldly? And it's like she didn't even care! How could she be so...disrespectful of life?? It's like suddenly he didn't know at all the woman he had been in love with as long as Scott and Jean had been when they had been married. And it scared him. She scared him.

"Somehow, I thought the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club would have put up a better fight", Malice cackled evilly thru Roberto's lips, watching the fallen Amara, impaled on one of Harpoon's weapons-of-choice. "Not that her pathetic King was much resistance either." Black solar energies crackled around Malice's fists, as she watched Harpoon's arm go back, priming to toss a glowing harpoon to the heart of the downed Rictor. "Now kill the mexican and the mercenary, and let's blow this joint."

The effects of Vertigo's ongoing attack, from somewhere unseen in the darkness surrounding X-Force's Black Team, kept Rictor unable to do anything. He had fallen to his knees, and completely lost his bearings in the dizziness and nausea overtaking him. A low hum signified the existence of his vibrational forcefield being up around him, prepared to shatter anything coming too close to him. But that was all he could do. Without being able to discern where up and down were, he could just as well harm his teammates as his enemies.

Suddenly, there was a horrible scream, which was sharply cut off in less than a second, and both Marauders' eyes snapped in that direction, unsure of what had happened.

"You presume too much", came a cold voice, unlike but not uncharacteristic of the person speaking the words. A fountain of lava suddenly shot up from under Harpoon, incinerating the inuit before he even had the chance to scream. "You may have been scrambling my sense of balance..." explained Amara as she stood up, one hand taking a firm grip of the harpoon sticking out from her chest. "...but that did not prevent me from sensing Mother Earth around me. All I needed to do was..." With a quick wrench, she tore the harpoon thru her with a wince and "...unnnfff...", and tossed it aside, her eyes now narrow, and focused on Malice. "...bury Vertigo in lava. I just needed time and concentration, and you fools so eagerly allowed me that, thinking I die so easily." With that, she flamed up, becoming a being of living Magma. "Now, release my husband, or I swear by Jove, you shall not live another moment!"

Rictor, now as well having recovered from Vertigo's assault, watched the face-off between Amara and the body of her husband. He quietly dragged the still-unconscious Deadpool aside, and followed the situation, ready for anything.

o O (The power! The vitality! The strength!! I -must- have her!) thought Malice, as she watched Amara, meeting the blonde's furious eyes with her own. With a quick decision, she smirked, and said, "No."

Without a word from Amara, only cold acceptance, the ground below Roberto's body erupted, and spewed upwards a storm of fire and molten stone, an unsurvivable inferno.

But, Malice was a psychic being, and as soon as she believed Roberto Da Costa would be killed, as she planned, she left his body almost reflexively upon feeling the first licks of flame and heat touch him. Gliding invisibly thru the dozen yards between her and Amara, she infiltrated the blonde's body, and started taking control of it.

"NO!!!" Amara screamed, not in terror, but in rage. "NO ONE CONTROLS ME, MARAUDER!!!" Her body grew hotter, starting to burn white hot, almost too bright to look at. "NO ONE!!! DO YOU HEAR ME??? NO..." Her fists tightened ferociously. "...ONE!!!!" Then, her eyes snapped open, and her body was suddenly still, only the unmatchable fire raging over her skin and in her eyes. "You lose, Malice", she said venomously, and steadily. Then, her expression changed utterly, turning completely around from fury and hate, into worry and love. Her head snapped towards where Roberto had been, her body shivering, now feeling terror that even an approaching possession had not been able to elicit in her. "Roberto...?" she asked uncertainly, her eyes falling upon the form standing there.

But it was not Roberto. It was still-warm, slowly-cooling stone, a cocoon that had formed of the outburst lava around Amara's husband. With quiet steps, she walked over to the stony statue mimicking Roberto's form, and placed a hand gently over to where his cheek would be. "Julio...?" she swallowed.

Rictor watched Amara quietly for a moment, then stepped forwards, to her. "Yeah?" he asked carefully.

Amara didn't even look at Rictor, instead pressing her face against the chest of the statue yearningly. But her voice was cold. "Get the hell out of here", she stated, almost blaming Ric for her loss with her tone. "Go get Shatterstar while you two still have a chance." She paused for a moment, waiting for him to leave, and then snapped her head towards him, her eyes blazing. "What are you waiting for?!?! GO!! I will watch Deadpool..." She added the last sentence as an afterthought, in case that was what Rictor was worried about.

Quietly, Julio turned around, and strode off into the darkness without a nod. After the first few steps, his pace accelerated into a run, and quickly faded into a silence.

Sniffling, Amara drifted down onto her knees, sliding down along the statue, her hands caressing the form. Heartbroken sobs came from her throat as she could bare her emotions now, alone, unshamed by watching eyes. She powered down, returning to her human form, and tears began flowing freely, as the crying intensified. "I love you, Roberto!" she claimed in tear-filled anguish. "Forever." The word that embellished their wedding bands, the word that they had shared so many times, from the depths of their hearts.

Amara knew Roberto for what he was. A playboy. She did not truly care that he slept with other women. That was not a big issue in Nova Roma, and it wasn't a big issue to her. What -did- matter to her, was their love. She could not imagine life without him. All their plans, all their hopes and dreams... Were they now gone forever? She could not go on without his ambition...his love. She shivered, needing his arms around her, and wrapped hers around the legs of the statue, holding it close.

"ROBERTOOOOOO!!!!" Amara cried her pain out, giving voice to having her heart torn out. Her cheeks were now moist with tears, and a drop of her salty sadness fell down, hitting the foot of the statue and settling there, smearing the grey into a darker shade.


Amara looked up.

Crack. Crack. Faint sounds came from the statue, and she could see the arms and chest start to show minute cracks. Quickly, she swallowed, a small fountain of hope rising within her. She did not back down, but stood up, her eyes widening as she watched.


The statue exploded in a hail of stone and ash, revealing the obsidian form of Roberto Da Costa, which then immediately, exhausted, fell forwards, against Amara. He gasped for breath a few times, then, gasped for Amara's breath, his lips pressing against hers with desperation and passion.

Amara met Roberto's lips with the same, and an unyielding relief. She fell down. It wasn't that her knees buckled, nor was it even a conscious move to lie down with her love, but she just, plain and simple, forgot to stand up. They tumbled down to the ground, but never once let go of the kiss. Amara's tears moistened Roberto's cheeks now, as their lips kept surrendering to the love they felt, everything else secondary in their minds.

After a minute or so, Amara finally ended the kiss, but her tears kept still coming, this time of joy, not of pain. Her hands caressed his cheeks as she looked down, lying atop him.

"I love you, Lady Amara Juliana Olivians Aquilla", Roberto's breathless lips stated. "I have always loved you, and will always love you." His eyes moistened now as well. "Forever", he whispered, saying that word which embodied their love.

"And I love you, Roberto Da Costa", she said. "With all my heart and soul. Forever."

"Is she dead?" Prism asked, while holding Shatterstar up in the air by the warrior's neck. Light bounced around inside his prismatic body, faster in anticipation and excitement at getting to kill after having been cooped up so long.

Riptide kneeled by Feral, and looked at her. The feline woman was immobile, lying on the ground and bleeding severely. She had been pierced by dozens of the Marauder's organic blades. The result looked like several clips of bullets had been emptied all over her. "Sure as hell looks like it", he answered, and stood up again, kicking Maria a few times for good measure. "What about the Irish chick?"

Shatterstar seemed oddly immobile, not struggling while being held, but his eyes were fixed ahead, slowly starting to clear again after being blinded by Prism. It was almost as if he were preoccupied with something.

With a shrug, Prism's eyes went to Siryn's unconscious form. "Gimme a moment and I'll get to her." He tightened the hold on Shatterstar's throat a bit, his smirk widening as he looked at his captive, preparing to send dozens of little lasers from the gripping hand into Gaveedra-Seven's head. "Now, as for this guy..." Suddenly, Prism noticed a strange humming. But too late.

"AAARRRGGHHHMMMM!!!!" Shatterstar screamed, and slashed with his twin-bladed sword, focusing his mutant power to energize the weapon. With a sound that much resembled that of glass breaking, a loud 'KTESSSHHH', the sword slashed clearly thru the midsection of the crystalline Marauder, cleaving him in two despite his diamond-hard body. The two parts fell to the ground, and Shatterstar fell to his feet, into a skilled combat crouch.

From there, in a fraction of a second, the Mojoworlder leaped backwards thru the air, and landed behind Riptide. And his vision was slowly returning. He knew that he could kill the Marauder in several dozen ways now, and incapacitate him in twice that amount of ways.

Making his choice, Shatterstar dropped low, and leaped forward between Riptide's legs, and while in motion, used his twin-blade to sever the hamstrings of the Marauder, causing his target to fall down like a puppet with his strings cut. Standing up after his lightning-fast maneuver, Shatterstar wiped his sword clean onto Riptide's shoulder. "I would like to see you stand without your hamstrings, Riptide", he said. "Let alone spin. I shall now attend to my comrades."

Glancing between Siryn and Feral, Shatterstar assessed that Feral's situation seemed worse, and quickly strode over to her, kneeling down beside her while taking a first aid kit from one of his numerous belt pouches. As his eyes went over the furred form in detail, they narrowed minutely. "It appears the superstitious beliefs of this world that felines are quite fortunate, might be correct", he stated upon noticing that Feral was alive. He started unwrapping some bandages and dressing Maria's wounds promptly.

Within a few minutes, Maria started stirring, her eyes fluttering weakly open. "Shrrstrr...?" she muttered almost unintelligibly. "Wh' hppn...?" She winced severely as she tried to move, and decided to rest easy for a while.

"You were injured by Riptide's attack", Shatterstar explained. "I have just finished dressing your wounds, and we are still being jammed." He picked up the first aid kit, and stood up. "I am going to inspect Siryn's wounds."

Feral did not say anything for a few moments, watching as Shatterstar moved over to the other side of the tunnel, and kneeled up beside Green Leader. Then, her eyes fell on Riptide, on the ground, and trying to crawl away quietly. A low rumble grew slowly in the bottom of her belly, and after a few moments, it came out as a cold laugh, like a cat watching a mouse try to get away.

With no little amount of effort, Maria forced herself up despite the pains all over her, and her eyes started gleaming like those of a homicidal maniac when she slowly staggered after Riptide, her sharp claws twitching eagerly, waiting for revenge.

Shatterstar quickly took note that aside from small scrapes and flesh wounds, the most significant injury was the burn scar on her temple. He was interrupted from wrapping a bandage around her head, by a hideous scream.

"No! NO!! NNNAAAAIIIIIRRRRGGHHHH!!!!" Riptide was screaming in agony, as Feral was kneeling over her. Her claws were tearing into him with vengeance, blood flying everywhere, as she forgot her pain, the bloodlust being like a pain-killing drug for her.

For a moment, Shatterstar contemplated not getting involved, but then stood up. "Feral, halt!" he called out towards her, and started walking towards the scene of the slaughter. "We may have need for information", he explained. That was all he was really interested in. Like Feral, he didn't mind killing. And there were others on the team who shared that view, including their Strike Leader Sunspot. But they were in enemy territory, and Moonstar could be able to pull a map of how to get out from Riptide's mind.

Feral growled viciously, as she looked over her shoulder at Shatterstar, pausing her actions for a moment. "I don' care!" she shouted. "I almos' died back there! I don' give a sh*t 'bou' 'nfo o' any kind! S' jou jus' back off!!" Her accent was heavier than ever, a surefire sign of her being on the edge.

It had indeed been a long time since she had felt like this. She was a killer, plain and simple. Not a woman who sometimes kills. Usually she tempered her methods to suit her team, much because of the respect Reignfire - as she thought of Sunspot - gave her. He respected her and gave her a measure of freedom, and she respected and obeyed him in return. But now, she had almost died and it had snapped her, pushed her over the edge.

Ironically enough, it had been Reignfire who had watched quietly when she had last been like this. He had captured her sister Lucia and detective Jose Hidalgo, a childhood friend of Maria and Lucia's, all for the purpose of handing them over to Maria, to do with as she pleased.

Lucia and Jose were the last ties to the pain and suffering of Maria's childhood, and she bore so much hatred for them... She had all but killed them, and all under Reignfire's watching eyes. In the end, she had let them live, demonstrated her superiority, exorcised her demons, let go of her past, and Roberto had been proud of her. He had been proud of her. That had made her...well, maybe happy isn't exactly the right word, but closer to happy than she had ever been.

What had amused her back then, was that Roberto had then arranged for Jose and Lucia's medical care, and later on hired them onto his payroll, to serve as security for a Da Costa International facility in the Amazon. He had manipulated them skillfully, and the situation now was that Maria didn't actually hate Lucia and Jose anymore. And they didn't hate her. Maybe there was no love lost between them, but the situation wasn't as hate-filled as it had been before.

"Feral", Shatterstar said calmly. "We could still die. We do not know the way back from these tunnels, but Riptide might well know it. And if he is dead, we cannot procure that information from him."

A low growl rumbled in Feral's throat, then she picked Riptide up, and tossed him against a wall. Hard. "Fine!!" she shouted, and suddenly perked her nose, sniffing the air. "Yer boyfriend's comin'", she snarled.

"Arclight", Scalphunter stated, crossing his arms over his chest. "Nice to see you lazin' around here while the rest of us go to work."

"Vic's dead", Philippa replied sharply, not much regret in her tone, but not much enthusiasm about it either. It didn't bother her, but the fact that the X-chumps were able to take him out -did- bother her. This wasn't the X-Men or Excalibur. These people kicked butt. Arclight respected that. But she was also deep down - not that she would ever admit it - scared by that.

Scalphunter nodded, and glanced at the sensor module in his hand. "I know. Things ain't too good for our team. We've lost Sabretooth, Vertigo, Harpoon and Prism. An' Riptide ain't answering." He had adjusted the module to ignore the dead Marauders' mutagenic signatures, as well as Wolfsbane's, to make the screen less crowded and easier to read.

His head turning towards Scrambler, and Moonstar over the Korean's shoulder, Scalphunter smirked a bit. "But the tide should turn soon. We've got a valuable asset."

Four glowing plasma bombs materialized around Tabitha, starting to slowly spin around her, as she took a few steps towards the debris blocking up the tunnel up ahead. "Want me to blow it clean, Sam?" she asked without looking back towards him.

Sam shook his head as he stepped up. "No. Dani an' Rahne could be trapped somewhere in there, an' that could cause a cave-in." He tapped his comlink, trying to reach anyone, but in vain. They simply couldn't reach anyone. "Ain't much ta do but go back, an' see if anyone else's in trouble."

Running his hand thru his hair, Sam turned around, and started walking in the direction they had come from. He had barely gotten to take a few steps, when he was interrupted by a scream behind him. Whirling around, he noticed that crossing the tunnel floor was suddenly a huge, wide chasm that seemed to go down into the darkness forever! It was as if the ground itself had disappeared into nothingness. o O (That's impossible!!!) Sam thought, but had time for little else as he saw Tabitha falling downwards, into the chasm...

Without a thought, he triggered his blast field, and with an explosion propelling him, he flew downwards, into the chasm, after her. She fell so very quickly, he intensified his speed, and slowly started reaching her... The thought that no chasm on Earth could be this deep, reached him for the briefest moment, as he raced downwards, reaching for Tabitha's hand, outstretched towards him.



Then, nothing.

The chasm disappeared. As if it had never been there. Unfortunately, Sam and Tabitha had been in it. The tunnel was now quiet and empty.

"Scratch two X-Forcers." Scalphunter tapped the sensor module, and set it to ignore Sam and Tabitha's signatures. He didn't want dead signatures messing up the screen. "Who's next?"

Roberto and Amara were still holding each other tightly, and lost in a kiss, when they heard a footstep. Instantly, they spun away from each other, to scatter into multiple targets, and crouched to face in the direction of the sound. Both powered up, Amara flaming brightly, and Roberto becoming as dark as dark can be. Complete polar opposites of each other, both nonetheless pointed their fists in the direction of the sound instinctively, their poses mimicking each others', the years of having trained together, in private, showing off.

"Relax, guys", came a voice from the darkness, which was recognized a moment before the figure stepped out of the shadows up ahead. "It's just me", Dani said. "I managed to escape and lose the Marauders."

Roberto slowly stood up, and relaxed, his lips, which had only a short while ago been on Dani's, but now tasted of Amara, drawing into a smile. "I was worried for you, Dani", he said, and lowered his hand. "I..." He paused, and glanced towards Amara, hesitant to say anything in his wife's presence.

Amara's eyes had narrowed at the sight of Dani, and as she, too, stood up and turned her head to see Roberto's expression, her eyes erupted in flames. But she said nothing. "Yes, Roberto?" she prompted. "You were about to say something, -my love-?" She walked over to him, moved behind him and slid her hands around him, caressing his chest very obviously, showing how -she- was Roberto's wife.

In response, Dani's eyes narrowed, and her expression turned stony. "You sure know how to pick your wives, 'Berto", she remarked icily, and walked closer to him. "You -do- know, Amara, that I've been sleeping with him for years now?" Her voice was sharp, carrying a hint of teasing.

A low chuckle came from Amara's throat. "Unlike you, Dani, I am not an idiot", she commented. "I knew all along." She felt Roberto tense up under her fingers, as she said that. "Oh, don't worry, my love", she smiled coldly, and kissed the side of his neck deeply, before her eyes went back to Dani's. "I have known all along, but Roberto has a right to sleep with whomever he pleases." Both Roberto and Dani's eyes went wide at that. "After all, only I -mean- something to him." Her smirk widened, and she nibbled on Roberto's earlobe. "Isn't that right, beloved?"

The air went still, cold, as the silence descended. Roberto swallowed. "Not now..." he tried, wishing they could postpone this discussion...preferably indefinitely. This was his greatest fear, to be in this very situation. Nothing was more horrible to him than having to choose between two women he loved so much from the bottom of his heart.

"Now", Dani said sharply. "We resolve this NOW." Her eyes were narrowed on Amara's, and her hands had clenched into fists. "Which of us do you want, 'Berto?" she asked without moving her eyes from her rival. "Tell us."

The slight sound Amara's hands made as they descended downwards on the material of Roberto's costume, caught Dani's attention, and her eyes went to watch. "Don't humiliate yourself any more than you already have, Dani", she said in an amused tone. "My -husband- made his choice years ago. You are only making a fool of yourself to think that you could mean as much to him as I do."

Again, Roberto swallowed, as he felt Amara's hands descend past his lower abdomen. "Dani..." he started softly, and closed his eyes, as if preparing to tell a piece of bad news.

"NO!" Dani said, her eyes going wide, as she took a step towards Roberto, her hand coming up to caress his cheek. "'Berto, please", she said, her eyes moistening. "Don't you remember?? Don't you remember how you saved me from the Enchantress? How we together formed the Mutant Liberation Front? How we used to cuddle up and watch reruns of Magnum?" Her voice was becoming more tear-filled every sentence. "How we went to my ranch in Colorado...you comforted me when my parents died, 'Berto...Don't you remember those long hikes that we used to take together??" she demanded, and started to cry openly. "'Berto - I WAS GOING TO HAVE YOUR CHILD!!"

With a theatrical sigh, Amara rolled her eyes. "It is always like this when you sleep with the middle class", she stated. "They get too attached to you." She didn't look like she cared about any of the arguments Dani had stated, but in fact, deep down, they tore at her. She did really not care that much about Roberto sleeping with Dani, but -those- arguments were -not- about sleeping together. They were about things you do with someone you love. And that worried Amara.

"Middle cl...?" Dani started, and took a step towards Amara, her eyes furious, but she was interrupted by Roberto keeping himself between them.

"Relax, Dani", Roberto said sharply, and glanced over his shoulder. "And Amara - stop antagonizing her." He sighed quietly, and cast his eyes downwards. "I didn't want this", he said. "I... I don't know what to do."

"Simple, my love", Amara said. "You just tell the truth. You love me, and no one else."

"I can't do that", was Roberto's simple, and brutally honest answer.

A moment of silence reigned again, and Dani's eyes turned from Amara, to Roberto, hopeful and silent. Amara's eyes followed Dani's, and went to Roberto's, but the same emotions were not there. She was more hurt, and afraid.

A portuguese curse was muttered under Roberto's breath, as he looked between Dani and Amara for a while. "The truth is, I love you both. And I can not choose between you, because I love you both just as much."


Amara's fist crashed onto Roberto's jaw before he could blink, and sent him to the floor. "You are -mine-, Roberto!" she screamed. "No one else's! You made your choice when you proclaimed our wedding vows! If you wish to go back on those words, then you may as well go back on more than that!" Furiously, she took off the ring she had -never- taken off since the wedding, and tossed it to the ground. With that, she whirled around, and strode off, to the other side of the tunnel, and leaned onto the wall, sniffling against it.

"'Berto..." came Dani's voice, quiet and tentative. She kneeled down briefly, to pick up Amara's wedding band, and stepped up to stand right in front of Roberto. "I love you." Those were the three simple words she said. "Take this ring, and put it in my finger. Forget Amara. Be mine, and I will be yours. The two of us, together against the rest of the world. Please?"

Roberto was going to answer no. He really was. He was going to say that like he couldn't choose Dani over Amara, he couldn't choose the other way either. But he never had the chance to say that.

"NO!!" Amara shouted, and ran towards Dani and Roberto. She stopped a few yards from them, as if she had hit something, and Dani winced. Then, the next thing Roberto saw was a harpoon head protruding from between Dani's breasts. His eyes went wide, as he saw a trickle of blood come from between Dani's lips as she coughed. He realized Amara had stabbed Dani from the behind with one of Harpoon's harpoons, and he gasped in terror, holding Dani close. "Dani???" he asked, but got no answer. "DANI???" he repeated his call, in a half-sob.

"Love...you...'Berto..." Dani coughed, blood trickling from her mouth, and then she shuddered, and remained still in Roberto's arms. He screamed, and squeezed her tightly against him. "NOOOO!!!!" he shouted, his eyes shut tightly, to deny reality, as he fell down to his knees, holding Dani's dead body against him.

Roberto sobbed for a while, in silence, and Amara watched him. She did not know how to feel. Sad, that she had lost a long-time friend? Happy, that she had gotten rid of a rival? Angry, at Roberto for caring about Dani's death? Worried, at herself not knowing how to feel?

Then, her thoughts were made unnecessary when Roberto looked up, red energies crackling in his eyes, as he let Dani down to the ground, and stood up. "Murderer", he said in a sharp, disgusted tone of voice. He could not ever remember hitting a woman before, but now, his rage and pain found a voice, as his fist streaked forwards, hitting Amara in the jaw, and sending her flying into the tunnel wall.

Amara slumped down against the wall, and looked up, at the approaching figure of Roberto. "You can't kill me", she said quietly. "You love me. And now you love me alone." She closed her eyes. "Can't you see, Roberto?? I -had- to do it! Now she is no longer an obstacle to our future..." She sounded like she actually believed that.

"Love you??" Roberto asked. "Love you???" He snorted. "Yes, I do, but as they say, love and hate go hand-in-hand." Gritting his teeth as he approached, his fingers flexed, and wrapped themselves around her throat. "Let's see if your healing powers can handle your head being separated from your shoulders", he asked with unbelievable coldness.

Amara swallowed under Roberto's fingers, and wrapped her arms around him. "I love you, Roberto", she said. "If my death is what it takes for you to love me, so be it."

"You are insane, Amara", Roberto replied in an astonished tone, as he held her up by her throat. "You have absolutely no respect for human life."

"Like you, my love", was Amara's response. "That is why we love each other."

Roberto shook his head, more in disbelief at Amara's attitude, than in denial. He knew they both were killers, but this... She just killed someone who had been their friend for over a decade, and out of nothing but jealousy. "I loved her, Amara", he said. "I love her. I always will."

A simple shrug was Amara's comment. Dani was gone now. No more a threat to her. She had proven her superiority, and fought for her man. He belonged to her now. She had slayed her rival, and was now undisputed for the love of Roberto.

Tears had moistened Roberto's cheeks, and now he brushed them away. "I should kill you", he said. "You are so sick."

"But you will not", Amara said, and her hands came up, to brush Roberto's tears away, caressing his cheeks. "Because you know that we will now soar higher, and faster than ever before, and no one can stop us ever again." Her lips sought out his, and she kissed him, long and tenderly.

"That didn't work out too well", Scalphunter growled. "Try Blondie's 'greatest fear', Scrambler."

Scrambler hmphed, still keeping his fingers on the unconscious Moonstar's forehead. "I already did! That was the part where the chick asked him to marry her!" he whined.

Arclight sighed, rolling her eyes. "Why you dragged the b*tch along I can't figure anyway. Let's just kill her, and go take those two down the old-fashioned way."

Blockbuster nodded, crackling his knuckles. "Before I get a sugar overdose", he commented dryly, watching Roberto and Amara.

Scalphunter frowned for a moment, then nodded a bit. "Okay, kill her. Then it's time to earn our pay." He started putting together a rifle from the parts his costume was laced with, as he watched the execution order be fulfilled.

"Heh heh", Scrambler smirked, as he pulled out a pistol, and pointed it at Dani's head.

Before Scrambler could fire, a dark shadow streaked out of the shadows, and sharp claws shredded across his stomach, gutting him, and he fell forwards, dead.

The next second, the shadow picked up Moonstar, and leaped down a hatch in the dark tunnel. Before any of the three remaining Marauders could react, Scrambler was dead on the ground, and Dani had been taken down the hatch.

"INCOMING!!!" Rahne shouted, as she dropped down from the ceiling, carrying the unconscious Danielle Moonstar. Roberto and Amara snapped to attention, and again rolled in separate directions, pointing their fists towards the arrival. Their eyes went wide, as they noticed who the arrivals were. Rahne and DANI??

"WHAT...???" Amara shouted, but nonetheless her eyes turned in the direction Rahne had come from, straight upwards, and made out the faint outline of a hatch in the dark ceiling.

Roberto was just as surprised to see Dani, and his heart skipped a beat. "I will cover Rahne and Dani!" he shouted, terrified of the idea of letting Amara close to Dani ever again. His solar energies erupted in a flash of black, and he streaked thru the air to Rahne's side.

Then, there was something monstrous. No one realized at first what it was, but quickly everyone realized. It had been an explosion. Somewhere down along the tunnel. And it had been huge. More than huge. The whole tunnel complex seemed to have shaken by the power of the explosion. But there were no signs where it had come from.

A few eyeblinks later, the ceiling practically exploded, and a hail of stone rained down onto the X-Forcers. Roberto put his cape over Dani protectively, and Amara felt a flash of jealousy run thru her as she saw that from the other side of the tunnel. "LOOK ALIVE, X-FORCE!" Roberto shouted.

Three forms fell down from up above. Scalphunter, flanked by Arclight and Blockbuster, fell into a combat crouch, and pulled down the trigger on his rifle, sending a hail of bullets in the direction of Amara Aquilla, the most dangerous threat in sight.

Amara confidently stood her ground, knowing that bullets would melt before they would hurt her in her lava form. But Scalphunter was not an idiot, and his bullets weren't ordinary ones. As each one hit Amara, a small cloud of greenish gas erupted from them. As the clip was empty, she was completely surrounded in the gas, trying desperately to get out of it.

"AMARA!!!" Roberto shouted, and furious solar energy lanced out from his eyes towards Scalphunter. It never reached the target, as Arclight leaped in the way, being knocked back into a wall. But she could take a blow like that. Scalphunter couldn't have.

"Nice blast, lover boy", Arclight commented to Roberto while trying to detach herself from the wall. "Can you take mine??" With a huge 'THOOM' she clapped her hands, a sonic shockwave knocking Roberto back, his ears and nose bleeding severely and his head feeling like it was splitting.

Rahne leaped at the huge man calling himself Blockbuster, determined to get vengeance on her previously broken back. It even still hurt like hell, and she was going to get some payback. Blockbuster slapped his huge arm towards Rahne as she leaped towards him, and slammed her away from him, stunning her momentarily.

"Roberto, I..." Amara coughed in the cloud, the greenish gas blinding her, suffocating her, chemically burning at her. She screamed, and felt the gas fill her lungs...

"NO!" Roberto gritted his teeth, and forced himself to focus. Despite the pain shooting thru him, he did -not- give up. A Da Costa did -not- give up. -NEVER-! They were not ordinary people! A Da Costa meant something, to Roberto. Something special. Something unique. Something -powerful-! Someone who -never gave up-! And he was not going to let the people he cared the most about, be killed. Even if he had to defy the laws of physics themselves, he would overcome this pain, and keep Dani and Amara safe! "YOU DIE, MARAUDERS!" he shouted, and rushed towards Scalphunter yet once more.

This time, Blockbuster intercepted Roberto. He watched Sunspot draw his fist back, and then strike towards him. Quickly, perhaps surprisingly quickly for someone his size, Blockbuster grabbed the arm, and then snapped it.

But Roberto did not cry out. He did not. He gritted his teeth, in order to try to ignore the pain all over him. His foot lashed out, in a kick that he had learned when he was twelve, in the football fields. He felt a rush of pleasure, as he felt Blockbuster's kneecap shatter from his kick, but the pleasure was short-lived, as he felt a huge fist pound at him, slamming him into the ground. The larger man kept pounding at the small Roberto, who barely managed to defend himself against the onslaught. With some small bit of concentration, he placed a foot onto Blockbuster's stomach, and vaulted the Marauder over him, against a wall, gaining a breather.

Or so he thought. Arclight's strong arms were suddenly around her, in a steely grip that matched his own, currently-depleted strength. From the corner of his eye, he saw Rahne leap to help him, and be shot by Scalphunter... Everything started to blur together... He saw Amara's flaming form lying still on the ground... "Dani! Amara!" he shouted, and strained against Arclight's muscles, in vain...

"You ever dance with the Devil by pale moonlight?"

"What the hell does that mean??"

"Oh, that's just something I ask people before I shoot them..."


"Gee, Russian Roulette -is- a lot more fun when you empty some of the chambers..."

Roberto tried to fight for his consciousness as everything around him seemed to degenerate into chaos. Shouts and shots here and there, and he was tossed to the ground, or more accurately just let go, and he fell under his own power. The voice sounded very familiar... Why did he associate it with bad things...? His eyes slowly opened... "DEADPOOL?"

Wade Wilson was engaging both Arclight and Blockbuster, and didn't have time to nod. But, as usual, he had time to run off at the mouth. "Guten Morgen, mein Kapitan. Nice of you to wake up. Have a nice nap while I saved your tight buns from the poster boy for male pattern baldness and the poster boy - or girl? I can't figure it out - for Athletic World? Not that I care about the tightness factor of your buns or anything... But you -do- sign the paychecks, so..." He paused for a moment, and the white areas on his mask covering his eyes, narrowed a bit in thought. "Hey, wait a minute! I'm not making dime one on this X-scapade... Man, I've lost a -fortune- over the years! That makes me..." CHOOM CHOOM CHOOM "...MAD!!!"

Roberto's head was slowly clearing, and one of the first things that hit his eyes was Scalphunter. Or what he thought was Scalphunter, anyway. The body was lying on the floor, and practically headless, as if the head had been blown off or something. He blinked once, then his eyes kept wandering. And stopped onto his cape, detached and resting on the floor, draped over something. And something bugged him about it. But in his confused state he couldn't figure out quite what it was.

"Need any help, DP?" The female voice sounded quite pissed, and was closely followed by two sounds. BOOM BOOM!

"Need? Hell no, but if someone has to be sweaty in spandex, it might as well be you. Well, you or Jeri Ryan, but I don't see her anywhere here asking that question..." CHOOM CHOOM, answered Deadpool's blaster.

"Ahem", came a new voice, this one icy beyond belief. "I dinnae b'lieve ye want t' continue on that train o' thought..."

"I will handle Blockbuster. He will be a slice of cake."

"Go ahead, dude. I'll go check on Amara..."

"I'm coverin' Reignfire."

"Ah don't like ya callin' him that, girl."

"F*ck off, Guthrie. I call'im whad I wan'."

"All those who think being on this team is like watching reruns of the Brady Bunch raise your hand..."

"SHUT UP, DEADPOOL!" came several voices at once.

"...didn't think so..."

And during all this chaos, there was one thing that caught Roberto's eye. An object, discarded, ignored, and forgotten by everyone. Everyone except him. Every part of his body ached, he couldn't focus his eyes, or properly get a bead on his surroundings. But he didn't need to. He didn't need to see the big picture. He just wanted that one thing...

Slowly, his muscles stretched and contracted, dragging him forwards over the stony floor. The abrasions and contusions all over him took their toll, and every single inch was pure pain. The left hand stretched out, and the fingers dug into the floor, and pulled him ahead. The right hand hung limp behind him, and he bit his lip, to ignore the pain of the snapped bone.

The battle raged on around Roberto, as he, inch by bloody inch, made his way to his objective, his left hand pulling him forward, one drag after another, never ceasing, never giving up. A red haze descended over his eyes, and he fought to open his palm, and reach out towards that little object, the sole focus of his attention.

Roberto's fingers tensed, and constricted into a fist, holding the object tightly. As he, finally, felt safe that it wouldn't be forgotten and left behind, he let himself relax, and drift into unconsciousness. And his fist did not unclench until he regained consciousness hours later.

Part 4

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