Of Raising Wings and Deadly Dreams

Jaya Mitai



Disclaimer – Marvel’s or Alicia’s. No money. Don’t sue, PLEASE??? They TOLD me it was okay! Who?


Kidding. =) No insects encouraged this.

Mucho thanks to PK, who kept me from embarrassing myself . . . silly me . . . I should write about people I know, eh? =) Going to wrap this up, stay tuned for the final chapter! You may be surprised yet . . .

Hot, hot water pounded down on him, and he let it, trying to drive away the chill of the T-O. It didn’t work; had Nathan ever tried this tactic? Every time he’d been paying attention, the pansy had been trying to outchill the flonqing virus.

Then again, considering the figure on that female that attached herself at the hip to him, perhaps cold showers were a necessity for the man.

The thought of Domino made him sigh audibly, enjoying the sensation of steam in their lungs. Sooner or later, he’d have to reestablish the link, unless he could somehow string it along, making her think he hadn’t forgiven her for the blame - and it _was_ Nathan’s fault, no mistaking that. He should have beaten the little brat into the ground long ago, dumped these children and done his job.

Coward to the bone. Couldn’t win a war on any front, but was great at making allies that weakened him. Stryfe smiled, letting the almost scalding water pound against his face, neck, and chest, watching the drops bead on the ivory walls of the shower-bath and course down it towards the drain, the drops meeting, separating, joining. Like so many insignificant lives, trying desperately to find something to hang onto in their mad rush for the drain.

Maybe if he could just get the stupid virus to warm up, he could sleep.

Not with this pounding headache, at any rate. And he’d have to babysit that stinking link, what with Dom giving him eyes like a flonqing kitten.

He’d had a kitten, as a child. Some stupid Egyptian tradition. Little orange ball of fur.

It hadn’t liked him.

It hadn’t lived long.

He shook the water from his eyes, turning it off with a flick of his mind. Nathan was always so neurotic about this damn virus. Letting it gain a little wasn’t going to kill him if he could just knock it back now and then; no need to conserve so much raw power for the ‘just in case’s. Cable crippled himself with such thinking.

Stryfe wasn’t completely careless, however; he wouldn’t make the same mistakes he had with it the first time. He’d been watching Nate a long time, studying the way he handled the T-O. Thing seemed to have various degrees of aggressiveness, like it was sentient. He was toying with the idea of trying to communicate with it, but the headache was becoming a little much.

What _was_ Dayspring doing in there? Dying?

The thought brought a particularly pleased look to the reflection Stryfe noted in the steamed mirror as he toweled himself off. These towels - what a waste of material. On the sink lay a pair of comfortable, short cotton shorts, what it seemed Nate usually slept in, if it wasn’t his uniform. Stryfe slipped them on, noting the open flap in the front curiously. What the flonq . . .

Oh. Of course.

Briefly he wondered if the women had such a useful tab built into their underwear. That would make sex incredibly convenient in the middle of the night -

Behind him, the bathroom door opened, and a very amused hand waved away the steam.

"Decided on a hot shower, for once. Neck bothering you?"

He rolled it experimentally, not having noticed the ache there for the pain in his head.

"Not really." It seemed a very Cable thing to say, though in truth it might explain the headache in part.

"Mmm." Her cool hands found the knot on the back of his neck, and he jumped, making her drop them after a moment. "You’ll live." Less amusement. More guarded.


He eyed the two strangely shaped hairy sticks in a cup on the sink. Dimly he recalled sticking one in his mouth to . . . what _had_ he done with the thing? It had been so long, the details were lost to him . . .

"Nate, we need to talk."

He wondered if she’d pick up a brief scan, then debated how Cable that would be. He turned slowly to regard her, watching her strangely-colored eyes for a clue to how sensitive she’d be to such a scan -

And found two pools of open hurt staring back at him. Something seemed to tense on the link, and he kept it closed, watching her with a neutral face that he was certain Cable had stolen from him in the time they’d spent ‘bonding’ on the Canaanite transport. She was still in uniform, lips slightly parted as she debated what to say, and a brief scan picked up half a dozen different apologies, eyes shifting in her search for the right words.

The sooner she apologized, the sooner he’d have to reestablish the link. Even as ‘dull’ as she was, telepathically speaking, she would be able to pick up the different inflections in his telepathic ‘voice’ much more easily if she heard it constantly. He had a slightly heavier accent, as well, and he hoped no one had picked that up, either.

The Cajun would be the first, or Logan. He’d have to watch them very, very carefully.

She took a step closer, having chosen her words carefully and preparing them in her throat. Oath! It was too soon, much too soon. How to shut her up? He curbed his instinct, which was to backhand her, and his mind raced. Telepathically? With Jean in the house and already on her toes, that would be less than wise -

She took a deep breath to start, her chest rising slightly, reminding him that she _had_ a chest, and my, what a delicious one it was. Nate had decent taste in body types, anyway, though this female was too opinionated to suit him. Young enough, though. He was slightly surprised to find the old body reacting to her, drawing him closer despite himself, shivering a bit with anticipation.

Perhaps making up wouldn’t be such a bad thing, after all.

He grabbed her before she’d spoken her first word, pulling her to him for the first kiss he’d had since he’d died. The first woman he’d had in his arms in ten years. The kiss was hard, without affection, something much deeper and more instinctual there, something she responded to after a moment, with more than a bit of surprise but also with a playfulness that pleased him, her hands slipping around his waist. He trembled violently as he felt her touch, reawakening senses that had lain dormant for so long, pulling her even closer as he deepened the kiss without permission. His hands slid down her shoulders to her elbows, then her hips, and she pressed against him, almost searching for something, not at all put off by the less than gentle overture. This one could learn -

He pulled away just as swiftly, brushing past her without another word to plant himself firmly in front of the bedroom window, keeping his breathing under control by will alone as he stared out into the darkest hours of the night, three or four before dawn. He continued to tremble, even the T-O arm, and he resisted the urge to break the window before him.

Fool! She’d certainly be more than familiar with Cable’s mannerisms in bed, whereas Stryfe was most certainly not. He was quite effectively kept out of the way for any occasion Nate had to indulge in the physical pleasures, and try as he might, those memories were sealed off somewhere he had not yet found. There was no way he could fool her, not right now. Not that he would even be inclined to mimic his ‘brother’ in that particular situation.

"Nate . . ."

He didn’t answer her, glad she couldn’t see him, or his reaction to her, and after a moment the bathroom door closed with slightly more force than necessary.

He ran a hand through their damp hair, receding a bit with age, took a calming breath, and chose the side of the bed furthest from the bathroom, wondering it would look odd if he slept on the couch. Or made her.

He turned his thoughts inward as he pulled the thin sheet up to his chest, curling on his side like a child, snuggling into the pillow in the sickeningly cute manner of a man with a few missing marbles.

#Oh, Naaaathan . . .#

He thought pain was red. Most pain was red. When he’d been in S.H.I.E.L.D’s care, that had been red pain. When he’d taken that particularly poorly-aimed plasma blast for Aliya, that had been red pain. Red like blood. Red like Scott’s visor, his power. Red like a sun setting over the remains of a battle.

This pain was black. Just . . . black. And cold.

He liked the cold. It was numbing, it was cold. He’d always liked cold.

He’d never liked black.

And it was cramped. Despite the pain, his perception wasn’t completely overwhelmed, and he had the impression of a tiny, cold prison -

They’d buried him alive.

He kicked futilely at the casket, the blows echoing very hollowly, something about them not sounding right for wood, surrounded by soil. Was he in the morgue? To try to TK his way out would only increase the pain; he’d tried it before. Had to get out, before . . . what? The sense of urgency was overwhelming him. He couldn’t breath; the air was sour, not enough oxygen left! Dom! Jean! I’m not dead, I’m not -

He shook his head, or the best he could do in the enclosure, trying to batter aside the stray thoughts, like the confusion of the half-asleep. Something warm was in his eyes, irritating them, and he couldn’t blink it all away.

Stryfe! His stomach curled with nausea, and it was sheer will that forced it back into line. Though if he were right, it would hardly matter.

He didn’t have a stomach anymore. Or rather, he did; it just wasn’t his to command.

Didn’t have a body, either, or a mind. He was floating in the one that used to be his own, was still his, taken by another, like the sands of his home, like the blood of his people.

How had he done it? How had he taken control so easily? The gas? Were his shields that weak, his concentration that faulted, that Stryfe had seen a way where he had detected no leak? And the stronger half of their powers! He hadn’t even felt the shift, suddenly Stryfe had been dictating his speech, his thoughts. It had seemed like the most natural thing in the world, no warning at all. How had he done it?

What was he doing? The thought made Nathan groan, remembering the last time, at Tyler’s grave. There wasn’t _time_ for this! They had to find Sam, find out what Sinister was up to - he still had the feeling of urgency, though it knew direction, now.


His call echoed hollowly around him, the echo bouncing around the parallel walls of his prison, eventually decaying into mocking laughter, at a major third interval to a sing-song voice somewhere outside.

"Naaaaaathan . . . "

He slammed his techno organic hand against his prison, receiving a wave of pain for his efforts, and the wall came alive, forming a hand that fastened to his throat with a speed that terrified him. It roughly pinned him to the floor as the ceiling opened, like a trunk, and revealed -


Stryfe was quite satisfied to merely walk around him, circling slowly and evenly, like the flonqing scavenging birds of their home. Nathan seemed to be indeed in a grave, or a deep well, Stryfe standing on solid ground some seven feet above him, the small square of light hopelessly small and unreachable.

"You’re alive. How disappointing."

Stryfe kept his frown from his face, looking down into the pit at his brother and former oppressor. A terrible wound bled from his skull where it was split open, exposing his grey matter for all to see. The wound was simply an astral image of a much deeper, though less physically damaging lesion, and it represented the current state of Dayspring’s ability to shield after the telepathic blow he’d received.

He should be _dead._

The blood was running into his eyes, making him squint up at the light Stryfe was keeping bright simply to antagonize the man. Strange how the mind worked; physical tortures worked just as well when they were only imagined, and half-perceived.

A very useful characteristic, depending on who was suffering, and who was inflicting.

Stryfe resisted the urge to crack his knuckles. Inside the barbican he’d built in his head, Jean would never hear Cable. She would know nothing of what happened here, nor would Xavier, unless he was actively probing, and he simply could not do that without Stryfe’s knowledge.

No one could hear Dayspring’s screams.

It was much the same as before, but somehow, so much more satisfying.

"You will look back on my treatment of you before with fondness," he hissed, continuing his slow circling. "You will bless the day I could not use your mind against you, long for the times when the worst hurt I could cause you was the death of you Clan!"

"Save it," he spat, trying to sling the blood from his eyes ineffectually. "Enjoy it while it lasts, Stryfe. It’ll never happen again."

Stryfe smiled unpleasantly. "I agree completely, brother," and suddenly Nathan was bound wrist and ankle by the cold metal hands that sprang into existence at Stryfe’s mental suggestion. They pinned him down firmly despite his struggles, teeth clenched against the crushing pain they exerted. Stryfe suddenly was beside him, kneeling over him and very ungently prying his eyes wide open.

"Let’s see how well you channel, after that blow."

The TK energy they both used nearly unconsciously to fight back the T-O was redirected, like a river, and Nathan’s eyes widened as he saw it, golden and pure, his own powers, cascading towards him, like lava from a volcano, unerringly heading right for the pit in the floor as though their mindscape was sloped like a kitchen sink.

He locked eyes with Stryfe, fear not apparent in the gaze, but something tiny and frantic that made Stryfe almost, for a split second, reconsider. What did it mean if he killed Nathan here? Would the memories leave with the man, giving him a body and his own mind, alone? Or would the body pine away despite its other occupant, killing them both?

And then the cascade poured into the pit, searing the wound in Nathan’s head, and he screamed, and screamed, and Stryfe no longer cared. It was only when the astral form of his brother became nearly transparent with fading that he stopped the flow, leaving Cable gasping for breath, blood flowing freely from the wound, the metals hands visible through him.

Stryfe glanced over at the T-O casually, finding it in its place.

"What do you know. You can still channel. Surprise, surprise."

Nathan just kept his eyes closed, trying some useless Askani breathing technique to get what must have been unbearable pain under control, more manageable. The wound was now aggravated, throbbing and red, hot to the touch. His fading form was losing energy from it like he would have been losing blood. It would kill him quickly, if not repaired.

"We best do this often, lest you forget how to use your powers. You never know when something . . unpleasant could happen."

He released the man roughly, closing the lid of the metal box back on Nate almost without a glance, ignoring the cry of his name, the rage there, fighting around the pain. He was much too interested in an idea that danced just outside his ability to conceive of it.

Of course.

His smile grew wider, and the mindscape rang with his laugh, triumphant and chilling in its lack of human warmth. He glanced back down at the box, a wad of gauze appearing in his hand.

Scalphunter brushed through the doors, idly rubbing a slight blemish off the surface of his favorite knife as he tucked it back into its black leather sheath. The knife had been his first, and he had a certain fondness for it, almost like his first girl.


His peripheral vision took in the stiff to his right as he headed towards the scientist, whose back was to him as he calculated, seeming oblivious to everything around him.

Mister Sinister was never that careless around the rest of the Marauders. Did Essex trust him, or had he built a failsafe into him just like the rest of them, that they would die, or paralyze, if they attempted to attack him?

Scalphunter had never been brave enough to find out.


Then again, this mission had more than piqued his interest. One of a kind, and he didn’t have to go into it fearing death. He wondered idly if there was a roomful of Sinisters lying around waiting for this one to bump off, and would awaken upon his death. The secret to his immortality, perhaps?

"You are ready." It wasn’t a question.

"Yeah. Still don’t know how you expect me to talk her into using the damn thing on him ‘stead of me."

Sinister didn’t turn. "Try charm."

There was a barked laugh. "I think that was a characteristic you deemed ‘nonessential’."

"Did I? More’s the pity."

Scalphunter raised an eyebrow. Chat wasn’t one of his boss’s specialties. He cast a glance at the boy. Deader than a doornail, body at least twenty minutes old. Lips were just starting to turn blue, like the fingernails, and perfectly still.

"At least he stopped screaming. Was about to piss me off."

Sinister chuckled darkly, going over to observe the body. "Sam Guthrie will never scream again," he reassured the Marauder, pupiless eyes studying the corpse.

"I thought he was immortal." Even he didn’t know what Sinister’s plan was here. They’d taken great pains to beat the hell out of the clone they’d replaced him with back at that church down in Hickville, which had been rather fun, and then brought the whimpering kid here, where he’d been in great pain ever since. Seemed like offing the kid after all that was almost . . . sad.


"He was."

Scalphunter watched the man return to one of the lab computers, and the restraints around the wrists, ankles, head and chest of the boy released. Sinister gently picked up the body, carrying it over to a fairly large version of their regenerative tanks, letting the body sink to the bottom.

"But you killed him."

"I did." Sinister sounded overly patient, like he was explaining things to a child.

Which brought up the question, why was he bothering to explain?

"The same substance that killed him will be in the darts," Sinister continued in his usual half-condescending tone, watching the tank start to do its work.

Well, if the damn kid was an External, and he’s _dead_, and been that way for a half hour, it isn’t very likely that’s going to do a hell of a lot of good. Scalphunter said nothing aloud, however, watching the bubbles move slowly through the gel, aerating it.

"Was there something more?"

"Yeah. Why am I going alone?" Rip and Arc were sparring, and Scram, ‘Buster, and Vertigo were vegged out in front of the TV, having received no orders for the hit. And that Sinister _wanted_ him to lead them back here . . . something strange about all this.

"You will hardly be alone, Scalphunter."

Scalphunter merely shrugged. When he was in one of his cryptic moods, it was best not to ask questions. Although he had warned that Domino would be there, which probably meant that asshole Cable would be tagging along, too, which made a hell of a lot more sense, considering that whole Jesus complex the idiot had.

He chafed a bit at the thought of handing Domino a gun as he left the lab. As if he wasn’t just as good a shot. Something about her ‘luck’ powers most likely coming in handy . . . handy my ass. They were probably going to tag her and use her as bait for the Tin Soldier, after the bloody fight.

And there was NO way they were going to simply dart somebody like _him._ Period.

You don’t live three thousand years just be knocked off by some little bug, whether it kills Externals or not.

He was nearly out the door when the tank sensors picked up and broadcast the faintest, weakest of heartbeats.

"Well, I’ll be damned," he murmured, and heard Sinister chuckle quietly.

There was something almost . . . gleefully chilling about that sound.


"She’s still sleeping."

"Avoidance reaction," Hank assured them, padding into the kitchen and fishing a mug out of the back cabinet. While X-Force’s home had been the ideal, and safest, place to take the Guthrie family following the attack, they weren’t quite equipped to handle the needs of seven extra mouths on the dishes and silverware front without running the dishwasher at least once a day, and considering the events of last night, it really hadn’t occurred to anyone.

"She’ll be fine when she gets some decent sleep. Quite a shock, that," he added to himself, pouring the steaming liquid into the mug, idly glancing at the clock. "Although, on a farm, I’m sure she rises at least an hour earlier," he mused thoughtfully.

"I can think of another early riser I don’t see here," Scott murmured, casting a look at Jean, her large green eyes troubled as her fingers wrapped around her own mug, a cartoon face proclaiming ‘Can’t take it!’

"He’s on his way down." She moved her shoulders back, then reached behind her to flip the tag of her cotton shirt back under, tossing her hair over her shoulder to do so. Scott didn’t move as it whacked him in the face, other then a quick twitch of his right eyebrow, and she turned back to him with a kiss.

"I love you, sweetheart."

"Mmm," he replied, concentrating the tiniest of lasers at his tea, trying in vain to get it to warm up.

"What an interesting application of your powers, O Fearless Leader."

"Why thank you. Did you get all the Cheerios out of your fur?"

Hank gave Scott a mock offended look as Stryfe, doing his best Cable impression, walked in, his mission, as per usual, to secure and consume large quantities of caffeine. Scott took Jean’s hand under the table and squeezed lightly. After last night, the last thing Cable needed was to feel that he was mistrusted, and usual kitchen banter was mostly likely to put him at ease - if he actually registered anything before the third cup.

"I’m planning on doing research into how small children have the ability to make any substance sticky," Hank announced, inspecting his chest carefully. The kids seemed to think he was nothing more than a giant animated stuffed animal, and the youngest of them had found him an interesting jungle-gym, particularly last night when they had snacked on dry Cheerios.

Stryfe’s mission complete, he leaned against the counter, seeing the lack of kitchen seating, completely intent on his coffee. Scott briefly wondered if Stryfe had ever discovered the liquid.

"Ask de twins, when y’do," an almost cheerful voice suggested from the doorway, followed quickly by the most alert-looking Cajun 6:42 a.m. had ever seen.

"Do you not sleep?" Tabitha asked around her toast.

Remy gave her a knee-melting grin. "Not if I have a reason t’stay awake, cherie."

Jean leaned over and smacked him hard on the arm, and he flinched away. "What dat for?!"

"Rogue duty," she informed him flippantly, going back to leeching the heat from her mug. Her shirt was short-sleeved, but she was in jeans herself, and Scott eyed her.

*Coming down with something?*

#Just a little chilly.# Her smile was anything but, and she centered her attention on Stryfe.

"It could be worse. I could be on Domino duty."

Stryfe regarded her from above the lip of his mug, but it was Tab who spoke.

"Dom isn’t stupid enough to nag him until mid-third cup."

Stryfe’s eyes fell on her and she screamed, barely managing to put her orange juice on the table before writhing, her hands on her face. Scott tensed but kept himself still as he realized the screaming was play. Hank had not moved, nor Remy, and Jean rolled her eyes exaggeratedly.

"My eyes! My eyes!" Tabitha abruptly stopped, moving two fingers to peer between them at Stryfe, who was simply staring at her as one would a garden statue.

"You don’t have to wake up next to that thing," Domino muttered, pushing past Hank and hipchecking Stryfe away from the coffee machine. Shatterstar laughed, cutting it off short as he realized it was aloud.

"Excuse me," he nodded politely to the X-Men and his ‘teachers’ before retreating, and after a moment, Tabitha seemed to take the hint.

"I’m going to go before I get myself assigned to seven o’clock sparring," she murmured, smiling at Jean and Scott before very conspicuously averting her eyes from Remy, who chuckled. Hank gave Remy a haughty look.

"Is there no low to which you will not sink?"

"I haven’t hit on _you_, mon ami."

Scott shook his head and picked up his tea. Nice and hot again.

"Cut it out, you two. You’re going to give my poor husband a complex."

"I t’ink it time we came outta de closet, Hankie."

Henry McCoy nearly spat his coffee across the room, much to the amusement of the occupants, including Stryfe, who gave them a very strange look and refilled his mug.

"Two," Domino counted under her breath, and he leveled an acidic glare at her. "Wait till you’re old and decrepit like me."

She half-smiled, choosing not to reply, and took the seat Tabitha had vacated, putting her in the seat beside the Gambit leaning on the wall. He nodded to her once, and she kind of regarded him before ignoring him completely, covering her mouth as she yawned.

"So what’s our plan," Scott asked quietly, of the room.

No one replied.

Tabitha hummed under her breath, hanging the red and white striped dishcloth over the back of one of the chairs as she finished the last of the non-dishwasher dishes. With that done, she took the washcloth and wiped the counters before rinsing it out, hanging it on the spigot as she washed her hands, the tune still rumbling around in her throat.

"Not suirprised y’remember that one."

She stopped, the tune dying with her breath as she froze, and the echo lingered on, the melody finishing in her head as Theresa walked fully into the kitchen, eyes sympathetic.

Tab didn’t turn. She didn’t want to see the look on that face. She just shut off the water, shaking her hands out in the sink. "I know you’re giving me that _look._ I don’t need it; I mean, I’m fine, right? Sam’s still okay, and they’ll find him." Her shaking tone gave away the lie as easily as the strained quality of her voice.

"Aye, that they will," Theresa agreed. "James was lookin’ fer y’," she added gently after a moment, and paused, the kitchen falling completely still, the only sounds the slight popping of the microwave as the digital number shifted.

"I’m so scared," she finally whispered, bringing her still dripping hands around her in a hug, and Theresa added her own, after a moment, resting her chin on the taller girl’s shoulder.

"He will be okay," Tab murmured, as if willing it, and Theresa nodded agreement silently, gently shaking the girl back and forth. "He’s gonna be okay, and they’ll get him back from Sinister or whoever, I know they will, but . . . what will they find? I-I mean, what if he was really beaten, will he recover? Will he be . . . will he . . ."

"Will he be th’ same Sam that left," Theresa finished, leading Tabitha to one of the kitchen chairs and moving across the kitchen to get a paper towel. "I dunnae ken," she said softly, handing the suddenly teary-eyed girl the paper towel. Tabitha nodded thanks and pressed it to her eyes before they got swelled and puffy. With X-Men in the house, and Sam’s family, the last thing she needed to do was embarrass herself by wailing like a child. Heaven knew there were already enough in the house.

But the memory of what he’d looked like as Cable had laid him down on the pavement, the injuries, the pain on his face even as he . . . as he lay there dead. It was a clone, she told herself forcefully. But it hadn’t been a clone that had arrived at the house, and the blood Dr. McCoy had analyzed from the carpeting wasn’t clone’s blood, either. While McCoy hadn’t said anything about it, Paige had looked at the sheet after the doctor, and she had told them that the blood was arterial.

You don’t bleed that kind of blood from a papercut.

Who knew what kind of condition he was in? Or worse yet, if he was in Sinister’s care, how could they be sure they didn’t rescue a second clone, a better one? What if Sam was really locked in the dark somewhere, lost, hurt, and they never found him?

What if they found him, only to find that he’d retreated back into himself like so many of the regularly beaten mutants they’d seen in Genosha? Could Jean help him?

What if her kind-hearted, generous, innocent little farmboy had died with that clone, and some other Sam, some Sam she didn’t know or love, lived in his body now?

"I dunnae think Sam could be changed by this," Theresa broke the silence, taking the seat beside Tabitha and following a scratch in the table with her fingernail. "He has a good soul."

Tabitha choked back a sob suddenly, and Theresa was startled as the girl flew by, the kitchen door swinging quietly back and forth.

"Och, what did I say?"

"Must have been the part about the soul," James suggested, coming in the other door quietly, hesitantly, as if expecting Tabitha to come right back in. "I’ll keep an eye on her."

"Take Ric with y’," Theresa added, watching the door finally still, her eyes unblinking and filled with tears, barely feeling Proudstar’s hand on her shoulder, barely hearing him leave.

"Oh, Sam, dunnae do this to her."

Stryfe glared icily at Hank as the man appeared with a full syringe of clear fluids.

"That would be?" The inquiry was less a request for the specified information as it was a command.

"He as bad as me," Remy commented from somewhere off to the right, and at Hank’s apologetic look, Stryfe rolled up his left sleeve, trying to glean off the top of Hank’s head what it could be -

"Simply vitamins and a very simple painkiller that should, if anything, make you hyper. I fear that headache signifies far greater damage than-"

"It doesn’t," he assured the doctor curtly, allowing against his better judgement the injection. If there were sedatives in there, and he without his preparation finished, it could be disastrous.

"Nate," Jean started, as gently as she could, "I know he hurt you, and badly, from the looks of your mindscape. That kind of damage needs to be repaired -"

"What do you think I was doing last night? or the last few hours of it, anyway," he muttered, rolling his sleeve back down as soon as the scientist withdrew. "It isn’t anything that won’t heal."

"Nate, I’m just worried that -" He turned his full attention on Jean, eyes so intense that it seemed for all the world that he’d forgotten the occupants of the room. Dayspring dialogue was coming to him faster than he could spit it out.

"Jean, I don’t _know_ how he got out, and until I do, I don’t want _anyone_ in my head. Oath, if I could get myself out of here, I would! Not you, not Dom," and he softened his voice with effort, glancing at her in what he hoped was a slightly apologetic manner, "Nobody. If I think I’m -"

"But you didn’t realize before, Nathan," Hank pointed out quietly. "What makes you think you’ll be more prepared?"

Nathan glanced at Jean before deciding that looking just past her left shoulder would be more Cable. He didn’t know all the tricks to telepathy, no more than Cable himself knew and he’d been taught over the years. Undoubtedly Jean was more talented, though he was the psionically stronger of them. Even now she was touching his shields, either checking for weak spots or actually expecting him to let her in! The audacity of the woman confounded him.

"Trust me, I’ll know," he ground out, making that voice as bleak as possible. Either this bluff would work, and there was some sort of telepathic alarm system you could set up in your own head, or he was in for a most interesting battle.

Jean, however, seemed to know of such a thing, and her eyes widened marginally. "Nate, you didn’t . . . how could you, you don’t know -"

"I didn’t know how to build links, either," he growled, again meeting her eyes. "Guess I’m just lucky at these things."

"You could permanently cripple yourself!" She sounded furious, which surprised him, but he was mollified to hear worry there, as well. "Do you have _any_ idea what that kind of release could do to nearby unshielded telepaths?"

"You have a better suggestion?" He allowed his anger to show; they might mistake it for frustration. "We could spend seventeen hours in here repairing the damage, or we could put it off for a few flonqing days while we find Sam! And it’s the only way -" He broke off suddenly. If she were talking about the effect on whatever it was she was thinking of on the astral plane, it had to be very interesting indeed. If only he could drop his shields and find out what she was thinking!

"The only way to take yourself out before Stryfe takes us out?" Domino sounded cold, angry. "I don’t really know what you two are talking about, but it sounds pretty damn stupid from over here." Her sarcastic tone infuriated him. Such gall! She needed to learn about a companion’s place, that was for certain.

"Do you have _any_ idea how vulnerable this link makes you," he spat, more to remind her than in any real concern, but it worked well whichever way you thought of it. "He can kill you with a _thought_, Dom!"

"So can you," she said quietly, and he took a step back in surprise. Had she figured it out . .. ? "He won’t, and we both know it."

"If he knew he’d only have control for a short time? He’d do it in a heartbeat." He turned from her sharply, before he said anything more on that subject, facing his parents instead. Jean’s look of worry was creased with pain, now, a very strange flavor he didn’t recognize.

"We can worry about it later. Right now Sam should be our main priority." He glanced at McCoy. "Finished?"

Hank was watching a printout. "Your stress levels are higher than I’d like, but certainly nothing new." His droll look passed when he saw Stryfe didn’t appreciate the irony. "And you’re slightly deficient in vitamins C, D, and E, and you need more calcium, since, as you pointed out so eloquently this morning, you’re growing ‘old and decrepit.’ Other than that, you’re fairly healthy."

He just nodded, once, and headed for the door.


Scott didn’t do more than give him a nod as he turned. "Be careful out there, and stay in contact?"

He nodded, paused as though considering, and replied. "I’ll be in the local safehouse. Might be able to find something there we can’t detect here."

Domino started forward, and he shook his head. "Alone, Dom." And he turned and left without another word, the smile growing on his face as much as he fought it.

Maybe not for much longer, but for right now, they were his.

Domino watched Nate tense warily as Hank approached him with a syringe of what better as hell be something that wouldn’t knock him out. Judging from last night, he was jumpy enough, without his extended family trying to ‘do what’s best for him.’

For him, or for them? To make them feel a little safer at night?

"That would be?" His tone was less than questioning, and he she knew as well as the next guy he was thinking the same thing she was.

Sometimes Scott and Jean could be as stupid as doorknobs.

"He as bad as me," the Cajun observed, more than a little amused, and she cast a glance his way. She’d seen a lot more of him that she really wanted to, and he had no business being in here for Nathan’s ‘required’ checkup. She’d point that out to him this afternoon; missed her sparring session this morning, and some action seemed like a good idea.

Hank tried to reassure Nathan as he approached, stopping to scribble briefly on a chart. "Simply vitamins and a very simple painkiller that should, if anything, make you hyper. I fear that headache signifies far greater damage than-"

"It doesn’t." What a standard reply. Nate wouldn’t admit to being injured until after he woke up from a seven month coma, and even then it would be forced. The link was closed tight, she was getting almost nothing from him. She watched him roll up his sleeve and Hank injected the contents quickly and with his standard efficiency. Nate didn’t even blink. Bastard. Probably thought he was protecting her, after Stryfe snapped in her mind a bit too loudly for _her _ comfort.

"Nate, I know he hurt you, and badly, from the looks of your mindscape." Domino felt her gut clench at Jean’s soft tones. "That kind of damage needs to be repaired -"

"What do you think I was doing last night? or the last few hours of it, anyway," he muttered quietly, adjusting his cuff before glaring at Jean, and Domino just watched him. Still tense. Worried.

What was going on in that head of his? How much had that fight taken out of him? He’d been downright *jumpy * last night, like he expected himself to suddenly lash out at her again –

"It isn’t anything that won’t heal."

"Nate, I’m just worried that -" "Jean, I don’t _know_ how he got out, and until I do, I don’t want _anyone_ in my head." His voice was tense, as well, tight, and his accent seemed more obvious. Nervous. "Oath, if I could get myself out of here, I would! Not you, not Dom," and he cast her one of the most puppy-dog looks she’d ever seen. "Nobody. If I think I’m -"

"But you didn’t realize before, Nathan," Hank pointed out, seeming to pore over his bloodwork results. "What makes you think you’ll be more prepared?"

Nate seemed to glance around, hedging as he pulled his T-O arm up absently to rub it, as though it were bothering him. He didn’t look at Jean, didn’t look at anyone. "Trust me, I’ll know," he finally muttered, in a tone of voice that made her stomach clench tighter and her arm curl around it.

Something was wrong, very wrong, and he wasn’t going to accept help with it.

"Nate, you didn’t . . . how could you, you don’t know -" Jean seemed shocked to speechlessness, her red hair seeming to increase in shade as she paled.

"I didn’t know how to build links, either," he muttered, again meeting Jean’s eyes. "Guess I’m just lucky at these things."

"You could permanently cripple yourself!" Never a good sign . . . "Do you have _any_ idea what that kind of release could do to nearby unshielded telepaths?"

"You have a better suggestion?"

Domino watched him pace a few steps before stopping, clearly frustrated.

"We could spend seventeen hours in here repairing the damage, or we could put it off for a few flonqing days while we find Sam!" he finally exploded at Jean’s persistent silence. "And it’s the only way -"

She didn’t like where _that _ was going one little bit, and decided to step in. "The only way to take yourself out before Stryfe takes us out?" His eyes found her with an almost anger. Oh, yes, Nate, I can read your thoughts without the link. "I don’t really know what you two are talking about, but it sounds pretty damn stupid from over here."

"Do you have _any_ idea how vulnerable this link makes you," he snarled at her, surprising her with that venom. Born of worry, and concern. Cute, if he wasn’t so intent on chasing her away. "He can kill you with a _thought_, Dom!"

The thought occurred to her with such clarity that she was amazed it had never come up before. "So can you," she said gently. He was taken completely aback, actually physically taking a step away from her, like distance would help. God _damn _ you, Nathan! That wasn’t what I meant! "He won’t, and we both know it." True enough. Stryfe would play with her, and play hard.

And should it happen, she was ready.

"If he knew he’d only have control for a short time? He’d do it in a heartbeat." There was such conviction there, such utter emotionlessness. Oh, Nate, is that what’s eating you? She felt like decking him into next week for thinking it. What an ass! Like she couldn’t handle herself!

#He’s right, Domino,# Jean murmured in her mind. #You have no defense against Stryfe.#

*The hell I don’t. *

Nate ignored it if he heard it. "We can worry about it later. Right now Sam should be our main priority." He finally pulled his gaze from Jean, to fix on Hank, still idly looking over the report. "Finished?"

"Your stress levels are higher than I’d like, but certainly nothing new." Gee, what a surprise. "And you’re slightly deficient in vitamins C, D, and E, and you need more calcium, since, as you pointed out so eloquently this morning, you’re growing ‘old and decrepit.’ Other than that, you’re fairly healthy."

Dom couldn’t help the slight smile that crossed her face. Old man . . . but somehow not so old.

Nathan just nodded, glanced once Dom’s way, picked up his jacket, and headed to the door without another word, his strides confident and purposeful. He’d made up his mind about something –

And if it’s keeping me out, Nate, you got another thing coming.


Judging from the concern in Scott’s usually reserved voice, he’d seen it too.

"Be careful out there, and stay in contact?"

"I’ll be in the local safehouse." Domino almost fell over. He was actually _telling _ them where he would be? Make it easier for Gambit to tail you, why don’t you. "Might be able to find something there we can’t detect here."

Domino started forward as Nate moved towards the door, hoping he wasn’t about to notice her following him in her usual natural fashion. Hah. Fat chance, girl.

"Alone, Dom."

*The hell, buster. *

Something in his eyes made her stop, though, and he was gone almost before she could be even sure if he’d heard her or not. At her colorful language, Scott smiled.

"See if you can do something with him?"

She bared her teeth. "I’m going to do something, all right. _To _ him."

continued in Of Ragged Wings and Hollow Dreams

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