by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters you recognize are Marvel's, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. Everyone else is mine. Borrow them without permission and I'll be forced to hit you over the head with my research notes. (That's a lot worse than it sounds, by the way...:) This is set in the future of the Outsider's Arc, although it can also be read as a stand-alone piece.
--strode through the tall grass as it swayed gently in the wind. It was a beautiful day, she thought, smiling at the way the sunlight danced on the lake. Barely a cloud in the sky--
The sound of an explosion, somewhere close. "Back off, asshole!" a girl's voice snarled. She heard it, knew it, but couldn't bring the name to mind.
Dirt--there was ground beneath the side of her face, the taste of blood in her mouth. "Dom!" the girl's voice continued, worriedly. A small hand touched her throat, feeling for a pulse. "Dom, are you okay? CABLE! Get over here! She--"
--walked out to the end of the dock and stuck a toe in the water, flinching at how cold it was. She scowled to herself. Did she really want to swim THAT badly? She'd forgotten how cold the lakes up here stayed all summer--
#Dom--flonq it, Dom, ANSWER me!# Strong arms lifting her up off the ground, cradling her gently. That voice--she knew that voice. She--
--laughed aloud as a tow-headed boy ran past her, shouting something that sounded a great deal like "Geronimo!" as he jumped into the water. "You idiot!" she shouted after him, still laughing as his head broke the surface. "You nearly scared me right off the dock! Don't--"
#--do this, Dom!# A bright blaze of golden light inside her mind, full of panic, flickering at the edges with fear and anguish. #Stay with me, woman, don't you dare do this--#
--"Hah!" he shouted back at her, swimming over to the end of the dock. "You snooze, you lose, sis!" He reached the dock again and splashed water at her. "Quit being such a baby and get in here!" He was grinning, his hazel eyes sparkling. "Come on--don't be a chicken! It's not so bad when you--"--
#--got hit by a psi-attack, Dom, do you hear me? You've got to focus on my voice, Dom! Don't give--#
"--me a break, Des!" she scoffed. "And quit splashing me before I--" She trailed off, getting a weird feeling all of a sudden. It felt almost like someone was watching her. Looking around warily, she frowned. She didn't SEE anyone, but still--Dad always told them to follow their instincts. "Des? Someone's out there watching us--"
Treading water, Des blinked up at her and then hauled himself out of the water, stealing her towel as he got up. "I don't see anyone," he said, looking briefly around. But his eyes were narrowed, and he looked uncannily like Dad as he looked back at her. Then, he grinned roguishly, and her brother was back. "You must be seeing things, Patch--"
She punched him in the arm hard enough to make him grunt. "Don't call me Patch, Desmond, or I'll kick your ass."
"As if you could, shrimp."
"Hey, you know I could--" She trailed off in shock as she caught sight of a tall, silver-haired man standing in the trees on the other side of the lake. "Des! Over there!"
Des looked in the direction she was pointing, his eyes widening as the man started to run forward out of the trees. "Go get Dad!" he shouted, shoving her in the direction of the house. Only he pushed her too hard and she lost her footing, toppling off the side of the dock into--
--the dark, smelly water of the harbor. She coughed, nearly choking on a mouthful of the foul water as she tried to keep herself afloat. "DAD!" she shrieked over the howl of the wind and the driving rain. "Dad, help!"
"Hold on!" And there he was, running along the walkway towards her, all in black and looking so dangerous that he didn't really seem like Dad, anymore. "Hold on, sweetheart, I'm coming--" He vaulted the railing and hit the water with a splash that nearly swamped her. But before she could start to sink again he was there, keeping her above the water. "Are you okay?" he asked anxiously. "Talk to me, Erin--"
"Just c-cold," she said, hating the way her voice quavered as she held on to him tightly. She was ten years old, she shouldn't be acting like such a baby just because she fell in the water. Des would laugh at her.
"I swear, girl, if you ever pull a stunt like that again--" he said hoarsely as he swam them back to the walkway. His accent was stronger, like it always got when he was angry or upset. "You scared ten years off my life, Erin Kathleen Cavanaugh! If your mother wouldn't castrate me for even thinking about it, I'd tan your hide!"
"I just--I t-thought you might need help, Dad--"
He sighed as he grabbed hold of the railing and pulled them both out of the water. "Did your brother put you up to this?" he asked. "Because if he did--"
"No, Dad," she said, still shivering. He took off his coat and put it around her. "I h-heard you talking to Mom, and she was saying that it was too dangerous--"
"And you thought you'd come along for the ride?" He laughed, a tired, worried laugh, and led her along the harborfront, back to the stairs that led up to the street. "Good God, girl, what did you do, hide in the back of the van?"
"Well--yeah--" She looked up at him, frightened. "Are you okay, Dad? I heard all those gunshots, and I ran--"
"Which is exactly what I told you to do if you were ever in that situation, Erin, remember?" The wind picked up, nearly knocked her off her feet--it was the wind that had pushed her even farther off balance when she'd tripped--and Dad muttered something. "Your mother is going to have my head," he grumbled, picking her up.
She slid her arms around his neck and held on tight, trying not to shiver. Or sniffle. He might think she was crying, and she didn't want him to think that. "I'm sorry, Dad--"
"Don't be sorry, girl. Let's just get you out of here, shall we?" He froze suddenly, and lowered her back to the ground. "Erin, get behind me," he said softly, in the voice she knew was ALWAYS to be obeyed, no matter where they were or what was happened.
She did, but peered out from behind him, unable to help herself. What she saw made her gasp.
It was the man. The one who'd been at the lake. He was every bit as soaked as she and Dad were, but he was wearing some sort of weird uniform. It was blue and gold, and it sure didn't blend well into the night. He was staring at her--at HER, totally ignoring Dad. Erin swallowed and took a step back.
"I don't know who you are, but I've got no quarrel with you," Dad grated. "Get out of the way."
The silver-haired man didn't seem to hear him. "Dom," he said, staring right at her, a strange look in his eyes. Such weird eyes, Erin thought in fascination. Was one--glowing? "Dom, this isn't real." He sounded exhausted and afraid and desperate. "It's a shock-induced hallucination, a flashback--"
Dad moved before she could say anything, drawing his gun and firing. Not shooting to kill, Erin knew as she watched. Still, the bullet caught the stranger in the shoulder, and Erin couldn't help a cry as he stumbled backwards, the color draining from his face and his knees buckling. Then Dad was picking her up again, running for the stairs. She managed to twist around in his arms, saw the stranger struggling back to his feet, one hand pressed over the wound in his shoulder and his arm hanging limply at one side.
#Dom--# The voice was in her head. #Dom, please--wait!#
Erin blinked, dazzled by the sudden, golden light that glowed around him. So bright--like sunlight--
--not sunlight. Lamplight. And she could barely see it, only bits of it from the cracks in the attic floor. Des sat behind her, hugging her from behind.
She whimpered at the sound of someone crashing at the door. "Des, we have to--"
"We can't," he whispered. "Mom told us to stay up here--"
"But she's all by herself--"
His arms tightened around her. She looked back over her shoulder at him, and nearly burst into tears at how hard he was trying not to look scared. He thought he was supposed to be big and tough, when he was only a year older than her. It wasn't fair--where was Dad? Mom didn't do this sort of thing anymore, not since she'd had them.
Another crashing sound, and she flinched, feeling Des do the same. "Des--"
Then a louder crash, the noise of wood splintering, and Erin heard her mother swear. "Get the hell out of my house before I blow your fucking brains out," Clare Cavanaugh hissed.
The sound of the laughter that answered her was horrible--deep and cruel and contemptuous. "Go ahead, frail. Shoot me."
They heard the shotgun go off, and a thud. There was a long, long moment of silence. Then, an awful, awful growling noise that grew into a roar, and Mom suddenly screamed. Glass shattered, and Erin couldn't just sit there anymore.
"No!" she sobbed, wrenching away from Desmond and running for the trap-door. "Mom!" She threw it open and nearly fell down the stairs, barely managing to keep to her feet as she reached the bottom.
"Well, look what we've got here," growled the huge blond man in the middle of the room. He smiled at her, and Erin shuddered at the pointed teeth the smile revealed. She barely noticed Desmond come to a panting stop behind her. "Pretty little thing, ain't you? Look just like your mom--" His eyes were yellow, like a cat's, full of amusement, and something else, something that scared Erin to death. He glanced past her to Desmond, and the smile widened. "Glad you two came down to play. Not that I couldn't smell you both up there, but it makes my job a lot easier if I don't have to chase ya--"
Mom pushed herself up from where she was lying amid the ruins of the coffeetable. She was bleeding, there was blood all over her face, but the dazed look faded from her eyes as she saw them standing there. "Erin, Des--" she started in a choked voice, and then her violet eyes hardened, seemed to glow with a light of their own. "Get out!" she shouted and dragged herself back to her feet, grabbing the shotgun like a baseball bat and smashing it across the back of the man's head. He stumbled and then whirled with a growl, and she swung the gun again, catching him across the jaw. "Run! GO!"
Erin gasped. HIM again? But it was him, standing there in the shattered doorway, glaring at the other stranger. "Don't run," the silver-haired man said inexorably.
She blinked at him. He--hadn't Dad shot him in the arm? But that had been a month ago, when all of this had started. After Dad had taken that job, the one she'd stowed away in the van and come along for. After the threatening phone calls and the mysterious cars following them whenever they went out--
"You don't have to run," the silver-haired man said, his eyes fixed on her as he moved forward into the house. "It's not REAL, Dom. You KNOW it's not real. This is all in the past." He seemed to flinch as he looked at the other stranger. "I knew this," he whispered, his expression going odd and distant. "I saw it in your mind--I just never thought--"
"I don't know who the hell you are, pal," the other stranger snarled. "But I don't like people getting in the middle of my jobs!"
The silver-haired man didn't even look at him. "Come on, Dom," he said gently, offering a hand. "You don't have to see this again."
"Erin--" Des whispered from behind her. She looked back at him, dizzied, confused. Wasn't she--weren't they supposed to run, like Mom said? Run and get to the road, and flag down the car, and fight with the men in dark clothes that got out and tried to drag them in. Fight until one of them put the cloth soaked with something over her face, until her body got slow and sluggish and wouldn't obey her anymore--
"No," she cried, shaking, remembering waking up in the tiny room alone. Not knowing where she was, not knowing where Des was. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting until two men in white coats came and strapped her to a gurney and took her away--"Get AWAY!" she cried, and turned without thinking, ran at the wall without remembering that it was a wall, only knowing that she had to get away--
--and she danced, laughing, catching glimpses of Mom and Dad's smiling faces as she twirled around in her new sundress, twirled until she got dizzy, but kept dancing--
--and dancing, a swift, deadly whirl of muscled limbs and practiced strength. Far too fast for her opponent to follow, and her blade sank into flesh as the crowd surrounding the combat pits roared, and her dance turned into a dance of victory, and she--
--danced, her red skirt flaring out dramatically. "Aren't you glad I talked you into this, old man?" she asked facetiously, inwardly surprised that Logan KNEW how to dance. It wasn't exactly something she'd expect of him, after all.
He cracked a smile. "Well, it's your sixteenth birthday," he said gruffly. "And if you want to dance, Neena, I'll dance." There was something odd in his eyes, something soft and affectionate and somehow proud. It reminded her of--of--
--"Don't lie to me, you little bastard!" She could barely hear the voice in the hall outside her room. "Where are my children?"
The voice that answered was the Doctor's. Calm as ever, so perfectly calm. "Your children, Mr. Cavanaugh? You have no children."
"You liar!" the other voice bellowed. The sounds of a struggle, and she stiffened slightly before she could remind herself not to move.
Torres had told her to practice not moving, after their last practice session. You don't know how to wait for it, girl, he'd said in that cold voice of his. Going to get you killed, if I don't cure this impatience of yours-- She knew better than to disobey Torres. He liked hurting her, when she did something he didn't like.
"I know you have my children! I know you hired that animal--" A sob from the strange man. "My wife, you killed my wife--"
"Gentleman, please remove Mr. Cavanaugh from the premises," the Doctor said, almost compassionately. She heard the strange man's voice cursing and swearing and crying that he'd find his children, that he'd tear the building down with his bare hands if he had to. The shouting faded only gradually into the distance.
She put it out of her mind, and waited--
--and waited, perfectly still, as she stood on the auction block in Madripoor. Ignoring the shouting of the crowd--
--hearing the shouting of the crowd as only a dull roar, growing more dim by the second as darkness crept in at the edges of her vision. "Gonna kill you, girl," her opponent grunted, his thick, meaty hands squeezing the life from her. "Gonna kill you right here--break this skinny little neck of yours--"
"You ain't gonna do NOTHING," an angry voice snarled. There was a strange noise, a--snikt? And then her opponent had let go of her, and was howling in pain. The crowd was angry, shouting for blood, but there was someone bending over her, a short, powerfully-built dark-haired man whose one unpatched eye blazed with anger and something else, something that seemed almost like pain. "You hold on, darlin'," he murmured to her, lifting her up off the ground. "We're leaving, you and me--"
"But--" She could barely manage the word, her throat was so sore.
"No buts." He held her gently, even though she could feel his body trembling with anger. Gently, so gently, as if she were the most important thing in the world to him--
Only it wasn't Logan carrying her anymore. It was Creed. "Gonna enjoy this, girlie--" Her head hurt, she could barely move it, but she started to struggle weakly, hearing him laughing at her, laughing--
--laughing, as she tackled Des. "You're it, loser!"
"Don't hurt your brother, sweetheart!" Mom called.
Des pushed her off him, looking indignant. "I'm bigger than she is!" he protested, his pride hurt.
"Yeah," Erin said with a sly smile. "But I'm the lucky one, remember?" She sat up, brushing grass off her clothes, and then nearly shrieked as the silver-haired man appeared from out of nowhere, kneeling down beside her.
He smiled faintly at her. He was so pale--he looked like a ghost. She could almost see right through him.
"I thought I'd find you back here," he whispered.
Erin glanced quickly at Des. But he was getting up, going back to where Mom and Dad were sitting on the picnic blanket. None of them seemed to notice the silver-haired man.
"How come only I can see you this time?" There had been other times, hadn't there? She couldn't quite remember, for some reason, but she knew him. And somehow, she knew he wasn't going to hurt her. "Why can't they?" She turned to look at her family, but they were gone. She was alone, on the hillside.
Alone with him. "Hey," she said, afraid as she looked back at him and saw him sway, throwing out an arm to support himself. "Are you okay?"
"Can't--do this for much longer," he whispered. Sweat stood out on his forehead as he lifted his head, with what seemed like an enormous effort. "Dom--you've got to come out of this. I can--show you the way back, but you have to trust me."
--"trust me, child," the Doctor said in that cool voice. "This won't hurt." And then he was putting the helmet over her head, and the images started, burning themselves into her mind, over and over again until there wasn't any more Erin, only--only--
--"Neena," Torres said with a snort. "Too 'cute' a name for a pit fighter, girl. Besides, you don't look like a Neena"--
--"Neena?" Logan asked softly from where he sat beside her bed. "Pretty name."
She blinked at him. "It's not mine," she said hoarsely. "I was--someone else, before."
His smile was strange. Sad and somehow comforting at the same time. "Weren't we all, darlin'. It's who you are now that counts, though. Who you are now, and who you want to be."
She smiled back, hesitantly. It was the first time she could remember smiling since she'd come to the combat pits. "Thanks," she whispered, and closed her eyes--
--who she had been--
--who she was now--
--who she WANTED to be--
--and opened her eyes, smiling in wonder at the beauty all around her. Domino laughed, spinning around for a moment, arms flung open wide to embrace the cloudless sky, the white, gauzy skirt of the dress she was wearing following her movements like water. She ran her hands through her hair, and smiled in delight at the feel of the soft breeze against her skin. So beautiful--where was she? The white sand, the turquoise sea--it hardly seemed real.
"You are SUCH a pain in the ass, you know that?" a deep, exhausted voice growled from behind her.
She turned. "Well, hello to you too," she chuckled, embracing Nathan before he could say anything else. "About time you got here." She had been--waiting for him. Yeah, that was it. He'd kept her waiting, again. Such a bad habit--she should shout at him for it, but she was too happy to see him.
He snorted, his arms sliding around her and holding her close. "Pardon me. I was playing hide-and-seek with someone who didn't want to be caught. Cute little kid, though--" He pushed her out to arm's length, studying her intently.
Frowning at the sorrow she sensed along their link, she reached up and brushed that unruly lock of silver hair away from his eyes. "What's the matter, babe?" she asked softly, her eyes narrowing as she looked him up and down. He was so pale--he looked absolutely drained. And there was a dark stain on his uniform, at the shoulder. Dried blood? She fingered it, frowning. "You look like something chewed you up and spat you out, Nate. What happened?"
He opened his mouth and then closed it again, looking more uncertain that she'd ever seen him. "Erin?" he asked in a curiously vulnerable voice.
She frowned. "Who's Erin?"
He sighed deeply, almost regretfully, and then paled even further, one hand going to his temple. "Someone--I think I would have liked to know," he said weakly, and then swayed, crumpling so abruptly that she barely managed to react in time.
"Nate!" Domino gasped, trying to ease him to the ground. "Shit--what the hell have you done to yourself now?" she asked worriedly, cradling his head and shoulders in her lap. She didn't see any visible injuries, but something was clearly wrong--"Nate?"
He opened his eyes and smiled weakly at her. "I'll tell you later," he whispered, and then reached out and took her hand.
Light, blazing golden light, blasted through her like sunlight pouring through a window suddenly flung open. Domino opened her mouth in a shriek--
--and sat up with a gasp, trying to struggle free of the arms supporting her.
"Easy there, my dear," a soft, familiar voice said. She blinked at Hank McCoy, not understanding. He was just standing there beside--beside her bed--bed? Where the--what had happened?
"What--where--?" The medlab? And the person holding her up was Sam. She glanced at him in total bewilderment, only then realizing that she was wearing a hospital gown. There was even an IV in her arm. "Sam--what--what's going on?"
"Dom?" a faint voice asked from her left. She turned her head, staring in amazement at Nate sat up in the biobed beside hers, Jean supporting him. He was wearing a gown and IV, just like her, and he looked even worse than she felt.
"Where--" She swallowed, shaking her head. "Nate--are you okay? I--weren't we fighting? Somewhere--I can't quite--" Everything was hazy, ever since having breakfast at the mansion, arguing with Nate over--some mission? Damn it, why couldn't she remember?
"Two days ago, ma'am," Sam said softly, still supporting her. "You got hit with a psi-attack in the middle of the fight. Keeled right over--scared the hell out of us. Cable went into your mind to pull you out, and you've both been lying here for two whole days."
Domino opened her mouth to protest, to say it couldn't have possibly been that long, but the words died on her lips as she looked back at Nate. "Two days?" she asked hesitantly. "Two days--what were we DOING for two whole DAYS, Nate?"
His smile turned a little sad.
"Oath, Dom, everything's a little foggy for me, too,"
he whispered, breaking eye contact and rubbing at his temples as
if his head hurt. "But I do remember a little--I think you'd
call it a trip down memory lane."
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