Rootless: Part 1
by Samy Merchi
Mirage. Sunspot. Meltdown. Warpath. Siryn.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE: Moonstone. MACH-1. Songbird. Atlas. Jolt.
This story takes place after page 14 of THUNDERBOLTS #15, and after X-FORCE #71 and VALENTINE'S NIGHT.
DISCLAIMER: 1) This material is not used for monetary profit in any manner. It is done solely for enjoyment purposes, and as homage to the great stories and characters of Marvel Comics Group
2) All the characters, events, and locations portrayed within are recognized as property of Marvel Comics Group should they so wish.
3) This story has been written by Samy Merchi . Any commentary in the form of compliments or critique is welcomed, and eagerly hoped for. So go ahead and drop me a line telling me what you thought, okay? It'll make my day. ;)
4) This story is being archived at least at my fanfic page at http://mash.yok.utu.fi/~samerc/fanfic/index.html. Previous parts can be found there if needed.
PREVIOUSLY IN X-FORCE:
After a conflict in how the team should operate, X-Force parted ways with their mentor Cable, and took to the road. Danielle 'Mirage' Moonstar, Roberto 'Sunspot' Da Costa, Tabitha 'Meltdown' Smith, James 'Warpath' Proudstar and Theresa 'Siryn' Rourke Cassidy are now traveling across the United States, trying to be normal kids rather than superheroes. [ X-FORCE #70-71 ]
During their trip across America, Roberto and Danielle finally acknowledged their feelings for each other, the feelings that they have had for each other since their very first weeks together in the New Mutants years ago. During Valentine's Day, Roberto asked Danielle out, and they have now finally gotten each other. [As seen in VALENTINE'S NIGHT]
PREVIOUSLY IN THUNDERBOLTS:
The Thunderbolts rebelled on Baron Zemo during his attempt to take over the world, but despite their foiling his plan, they are still wanted fugitives, and were about to surrender to the Avengers and the Fantastic Four after Zemo was defeated and escaped. [THUNDERBOLTS#12]
However, Karla 'Moonstone' Sofen, Abner 'MACH-1' Jenkins, Melissa 'Songbird' Gold, Erik 'Atlas' Josten and Hallie 'Jolt' Takahama were teleported away before they were taken in by the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. They ended up on the dimension of Kosmos, and were caught up in the civil war there, but were sent back to Earth by the Kosmosians after Moonstone killed the Kosmosians' ruler in cold blood in front of MACH-1 and Songbird's eyes after having first tried to persuade them to do the deed and failed. [THUNDERBOLTS #13-14]
The Thunderbolts are now back on Earth and trying to make a new life for themselves. They are wanted fugitives, and are trying to lay low in Colorado, and lead normal lives. [THUNDERBOLTS#15
"-- to the Kozy Kot, folks. Do you know what you'd like, or do you need a few more minutes?" the red-and-white haired waitress named Margie Green asked of the party sitting at the table before her as she held her pen and notepad ready to take down any possible orders.
"I'm *starving*!" the short-haired blonde at the table grumbled. "I'd eat just about *anything*! What do you have in this place?" she asked the waitress.
"There is a reason why there are menus in restaurants, Tabitha", commented the young man sitting opposite her, brushing a hand thru his raven-black hair. He was attracting more than a bit of stares in this town of Boulder, Colorado. Some because of his skin and eyes, both a smooth chocolate brown. But most of it -- mainly from females -- was due to his stunningly athletic body and his handsome, model-like features. "I would like some coffee, please", he smiled to Margie. "As black as you can make it." Then he glanced to his side, to the tall woman sitting on his left side, her hair the same black shade, but much, much longer, reaching all the way down to the small of her back. "Dani?"
"Mmmm --", Danielle Moonstar mused to herself thoughtfully, flipping thru the menu thoughtfully. "I think I'll just have a garden salad and water", she replied, and put down the menu, then turning her eyes over to the waitress to see if she had heard her.
Indeed, Margie Green was jotting down the orders in her notebook, but she also did something else which did not sit well with Dani. She stole quick glances to Roberto every now and then, and though she smiled politely, Dani could see thru the facade. And she decided to make the situation clear by leaning her head onto Roberto's shoulder. "So, 'Berto, you gonna come see my parents?"
Margie Green got the hint, and instead turned her eyes onto the other people at the table, her eyes next hitting the tall, muscular form of James Proudstar. Like Roberto and Dani, he was dark-haired as well, but his hair was cut even shorter than Roberto's, who was content to let his hair grow long enough to curl comfortably. James kept his hair almost buzzcut-like. And whereas Roberto's athletic tendencies were obvious on his body by its graceful, fluid shape, James was larger, and more bulky. "What about you?" she asked.
"Ummm --" James mused a bit hesitantly, his eyes going between Roberto and Dani, and Margie. He still wasn't completely comfortable with their relationship. Not that he had any real problems per se with it, but it was just...surprising. It had rattled him a bit. Not to mention the fact that after Risque had seduced him and then betrayed him by handing him over to the scientist Sledge, he had been averse to relationships himself. They were bad news. To him, anyway. "I'll have a beer, and some mashed potatoes and a big T-bone steak would be great --"
"An' I'll be havin' meself some lasagna", Theresa Rourke Cassidy announced as she quickly tossed her head back, flipping the fiery red hair backwards, to cascade down her neck. She glanced briefly to Jimmy, sitting at the head of the table on her right-hand side, as she sat opposite Dani, and tried to look indifferent to his choice of drink, not trying to show how much she wanted a beer herself. She'd almost *kill* for a beer. Just one. "An' a Coke, please."
"I'll just have the biggest, hugest burger that you can make!" Tabitha then eagerly announced as her turn came, making motions with her hands, spreading them outwards.
"And what will you have to drink?" Margie asked as she kept scribbling the orders down.
"Oh, umm -- I'll have a beer, too", Tabitha replied after some pondering.
"I'm sorry", Margie said as she looked up to Tabitha, pausing the scribbling. "Do you have ID?"
"Huh?" Tabitha asked. "But -- you didn't ask Jimmy for any ID either!" she half-whined.
Jimmy chuckled, and pulled out his wallet. "That's because you aren't 21, Tabitha", he commented amusedly, and showed Margie briefly his Driver's License to prove that he was over the required age, before putting his wallet back in the back pocket of his jeans. "People who work in places like this learn to see pretty well who's old enough and who isn't."
Tabitha stuck out her lower lip, and crossed her arms over her chest, starting to sulk.
"Just get her a Coke as well, miss", Roberto smirked as he watched the pouting Tabitha across the table. "She'll get over it."
"Okay", Margie nodded, and then looked back to Roberto. "Won't you have anything to eat?" she asked, with a voice just slightly tinged with curiosity or concern -- or maybe both.
Roberto smiled faintly and shook his head. "I don't eat much", he simply replied.
"You sure?" Margie asked. "You need to keep your energy up --"
Dani's eyes narrowed slightly, and she started quietly stroking Roberto's left thigh under the table as she leaned still against him.
"Uhm --" Roberto started, and glanced to Dani briefly, before looking back to Margie. "Yes, I'm certain, miss. Thank you for your concern."
"Okay then", Margie nodded, and quickly recapped the order. "One coffee, black. One water, one beer and two Cokes. A garden salad, mashed potatoes and a steak, lasagna and a hamburger", she listed, and then glanced around the table. "Right?"
Theresa nodded once, her natural tendency to assert authority taking over. "That's right", she said.
"Okay", Margie smiled. "Shouldn't take too long", she then said, before turning around and heading off to the kitchen.
As Margie Green left, there was a few moments of silence, which soon got broken by Tabitha. "Weird hair", she commented, referring to the brownish-red hair with the top of the head bleached white.
"The style is as becoming on her as it is on Rogue", Roberto simply commented.
"You'd just better not 'be coming onto' her, buster", Dani said sharply, and her fingernails dug into Roberto's thigh suddenly.
Roberto winced slightly at first, and then grinned. "Would I ever do that to you?" he asked Dani, and then leaned in to give her lips a light, tender kiss.
"Yes", Dani hmphed but accepted the kiss nonetheless. "And then I'd cut off a certain part of your anatomy."
"It looks familiar somehow", Jimmy mused thoughtfully, doing his best to ignore the public display of affection between Dani and Roberto. "Like I've seen it somewhere -- on the news or something, you know?"
"Bah", Tabitha commented, still sour at not having gotten a beer. "You're probably thinking of your daydreams of Rogue." She picked up the salt shaker and started unscrewing the cork absently until it was loose, and then left it there as she put the shaker back onto the table.
"Trust me", Jimmy grinned. "I'd *know* if I was thinking of Rogue. Oh well", he shrugged with a good-natured smile. "It'll come to me if it's anything important."
"-- and a T-bone", Margie announced to the cook in the kitchen, and then walked over to her boyfriend, Aaron Jeffries, whose brown hair was bound into a little bud of a ponytail which peeked out from underneath his red bandana, as he kept washing dishes according to his job.
"Hi, Margie", Aaron said, turning his attention from his work for a moment, absently rinsing some plates as he looked over to his girlfriend. "You okay?"
"I'm always okay", she just replied dismissively.
"I saw you looking at that guy", he then just commented, in a flat, unemotional tone.
Margie's expression turned a bit darker. "Aren't you supposed to be *working*?!" she asked, her voice edgy, slightly angry. "No wonder the manager keeps putting you down all the time, Abe! What, you spend half your time spying on me??"
"Shh!" Aaron said alarmedly. "It's 'Aaron' now, remember?"
"Whatever", Margie said, wrinkling her nose. "What I do is my business. You just butt out", she then snapped. "Besides, he has a girlfriend."
"You have a boyfriend!" Aaron half-snapped back, but in a much more careful tone than Margie. "Namely, me! Aw, c'mon, Margie -- tell me what's going on! I don't even know where we stand with each other anymore!"
"There's nothing to talk about", Margie replied, and turned away. "And even if there were, this isn't the time or the place to talk about it. Get back to work, Aaron, unless you want to get sacked."
As Margie walked away, Aaron looked after her quietly. He had no idea where he stood with the woman he thought he loved. Hell, he had no idea where he stood with himself. He wasn't Aaron Jeffries any more than Margie was Margie Green. They were Abner Jenkins and Melissa Gold. Once they had been known to the world as the super-villains Beetle and Screaming Mimi. Now? They had been known to the world as the superheroes MACH-1 and Songbird. And they had lost it all.
When the two of them had been recruited by Baron Zemo into the new Masters of Evil months ago, they had no idea what would happen. They had thought they would just go on being Beetle and Screaming Mimi. But they hadn't. Zemo planned to use his new Masters of Evil for a very daring maneuver. The Avengers, the Fantastic Four and other heroes had seemingly died in battle with the entity Onslaught. The world had been left without heroes. And it was Zemo's plan for the Masters of Evil to pose as heroes to worm their way past the world's defenses.
Adopting new costumed identities, Zemo started calling himself CITIZEN V. His trusted aide and technological expert Fixer had taken on the name TECHNO. The loyal Erik Josten, formerly Power Man, Smuggler and Goliath, became ATLAS. The psychologist Karla Sofen, Moonstone, adopted the sobriquet METEORITE. Melissa had become SONGBIRD. And he? He had become MACH-1. Together, they were the THUNDERBOLTS.
They quickly gained the media's acceptance, and in the absence of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, soon filled a void the public needed to be filled, and became the darlings of New Yorkers. The wonderful new team of superheroes that showed the world that even after the Avengers and Fantastic Four's deaths, there was still hope.
But things went wrong. Horribly wrong. After Zemo's plans to get access to Avengers files and other important government files, to get a top-secret security clearance had been granted, he quickly started his plan to take over the world with a device called a bio-modem with which he took over the armies of the world and started a worldwide coup. The Thunderbolts were revealed to the public as the Masters of Evil. But most of them weren't evil anymore. During their time as heroes, they had grown to like it. And they found themselves opposing Zemo's plan and, in the end, foiling it.
But despite having stopped Zemo from taking over the world, the Thunderbolts were still wanted fugitives. Unwilling to turn themselves in, they had tried to start a normal life here in Boulder, Colorado. They had tried to stop being superheroes or supervillains. They had tried to lie low, and get ordinary jobs and live like ordinary people. So far, they had succeeded.
Edward Jantzen wasn't really Edward Jantzen. He was Erik Josten. But over the years, he had had a lot of other names, too. He had been called Power Man. He had been called Smuggler. He had been called Goliath. And most recently, he had been called Atlas. Now, he was trying to lie low in Boulder, Colorado, and he was called Edward Jantzen.
As he lifted crates around in the warehouse where he was working at, he couldn't help but think about Dallas Riordan. The beautiful redhead who had worked as the Thunderbolts' liaison to the New York mayor's office before the Thunderbolts had been exposed as the Masters of Evil. The woman Erik had fallen in love with. But never had he been able to tell her the truth, that he was a former super-villain. And that he still possibly was one.
He had recently tried to call her, but had only found out that she might be indicted for having been a part of the Thunderbolts' ruse. And Erik felt horrible. Her career could be ruined because she was suspected of having been in on the whole scam. And it was all his fault -- or so he thought, anyway.
Holly Tsuruta wasn't really Holly Tsuruta. She was Hallie Takahama, and she was a teenager. She was the only Thunderbolt who wasn't a Master of Evil. The teenage Oriental-featured girl had received superhuman powers as a result of experimenting on her by the master geneticist Arnim Zola, and she had subsequently joined the Thunderbolts. Zemo/Citizen V had objected to the whole matter, but Moonstone had convinced him with her psychological expertise that it would be a wise choice.
Never had Hallie suspected that the Thunderbolts were, in fact, the Masters of Evil, until it was revealed to the general public when SHIELD attempted to bring them in. But she was wanted all the same, just as all the other Thunderbolts now were, a fugitive from the law even though she had never known anything about the Masters of Evil's agenda of infiltrating the world, and even though she had been the one who had convinced Moonstone, MACH-1, Songbird and Atlas to turn on Zemo and foil his plan to take over the world.
And now she was working at a Burger Planet in Boulder, Colorado, when mere weeks earlier she had been on the top of the world, a superhero in one of the best, brightest new superhero teams to ever explode onto the scene. But she never gave up hope. She was the Thunderbolts' hope that there would be a better world. She had the youthful idealism none of the former villains had, and she was the one who could keep them on the straight and narrow by appealing to their better natures they were so hesitant to let out.
But it was tiring to always be someone's hope.
Kate Sorenson wasn't really Kate Sorenson. She was Karla Sofen, the villain formerly known as Moonstone. And she was Moonstone again. 'Meteorite' had been nothing but a scam. 'Moonstone' was who she was, and she had reclaimed her villainous name even though, at present, she was treading the straight and narrow with the rest of the Thunderbolts.
She didn't want to. She disliked having to descend to the level of normal humanity. Having to conform to other peoples' rules. Kowtow to possible employers in hopes of finding a job. And she would never accept a menial job as the others had. The frustration grew inside her. Life with the Thunderbolts was not suitable for her. She could not fit into a normal life, no matter how hard she tried. She could not constrain herself to such a small, insignificant life. But she tried nonetheless. Because she knew -- she knew that if she didn't try, she would just end up in jail again. And she wouldn't go to jail again.
"-- gonna go call my folks, and let'em know that me and 'Berto are coming by sometime tomorrow."
"Okay, Dani", Roberto nodded to the words with which she had addressed the whole group, as he gave Melissa/Margie a fleeting smile as she took the money from the table and headed off to put it in the cash register. He started getting up as well, as the others had, and let his eyes linger on Melissa for a few moments inspectingly, before they turned over to Dani, watching her go over to the pay phone in a far corner of the restaurant.
"So, what now?" Tabitha asked as she inspected her fingernails boredly.
"We go find a place t' sleep", Theresa replied, and glanced over to Jimmy. "Why don't ye go'n ask th' hotel over there", she said, nodding her head to indicate the estabilishment outside and across the street, "if they have any rooms f'r a night?"
Jimmy nodded once, and glanced at his watch. "We're gonna stay here the night, then?" he asked. "We could make it to another town before it gets dark --?" he suggested, the time being 4:47 pm.
"It's not like we're in any hurry anywhere", Tabitha commented.
"Tabitha's right, Jimmy", Theresa nodded. "Ye go ahead an' go ask if they've got any rooms. We'll wait here f'r Dani to finish her call."
"Okay then", Jimmy said, shrugging once, as he headed out of the restaurant.
It took a few minutes before Dani hung up, and then walked over to Tabitha, Theresa and Roberto who were ready to go. "I can't wait to see them", she smiled brightly as she walked over to Roberto and put an arm around his waist. "Or their faces when I tell them about us. I bet they'll be happy. They have as horrible a taste as I do."
"Bah", Roberto commented. "You have as good a taste as I do, Dani." He then quirked an eyebrow slightly. "You didn't tell them yet, then, I take it?"
She briefly shook her head. "No -- I thought it'd be better to tell'em face-to-face than on the phone. Especially since we're going to be there soon anyway." She glanced around. "Where's Jimmy? In the bathroom?"
"Nah", Tabitha replied. "Terry sent him to check out the hotel on the other side of the street."
"Ah", Dani said. "Let's go see if he's found anything, then."
Theresa frowned briefly, and then after forcing the frown away, she put on a smile and headed towards the door. "Let's go, then", she announced.
As X-Force filed out of the restaurant, Theresa first, then Tabitha, then Dani and Roberto, holding hands and whispering to each other about the upcoming visit to Dani's parents, all of them failed to notice a dark form watching, observing them. And the watcher smirked slightly, as a plan started forming in his mind...
"-- Look, Margie, I'm just trying to understand what's going on --" Abe pleaded as he stepped out of the Kozy Kot restaurant's back door with Melissa, holding the door open for her.
"*Nothing* is going on", Melissa replied half-angrily, half-exasperatedly, as she stepped out into the cool night air. The sun had set, it was past 8 pm and they were finally off-duty.
"But --" Abe started, and then sighed, his shoulders slumping, and he just shook his head. Maybe it would be better just to be quiet. Maybe he *was* overreacting. Maybe it was just his nerves. It *had* been a long time since he had been a fugitive, and now he was jumping at every shadow again... Paranoia. The only way for a villain to survive. But he wasn't a villain anymore. But the world refused to believe that.
"Good evening", came a new voice, and Melissa and Abe both suddenly whirled around in the dark alley towards the voice, only to see a confident-postured male form standing some twenty feet away, looking at them. In the darkness of the alley few details could be made out of him.
"Who --?" Abe started, his hands instinctively clenching into fists, as if preparing for a fight. Melissa stayed quiet, her eyes narrowing and her body tensing, but she said nothing, just watching for the moment.
"Me", the stranger stated, stepping closer, and in the faint light his chocolate skin could be made out, as well as enough features for him to be recognized.
"You!" Abe snarled, his eyes narrowing angrily.
"You!" Melissa uttered at the same time, her tone far from angry, but rather surprised and maybe -- it seemed to Abe, at least -- pleased?
"Yes, me", Roberto smirked as he slowly walked over, and took Melissa's hand in his own. "You look most radiant tonight. It is astonishing how one can look so stunningly beautiful even after such an arduous shift at such a menial work."
"HEY!" Abe growled, and shoved Roberto away from Melissa, his jealousy boiling by now. "You watch yourself, loudmouth! She's *my* girl!"
Roberto was pushed back slightly by Abe's hand, and then narrowed his eyes at Jenkins for a brief moment.
"Aaron, I'm *no one's* girl!" Melissa hissed angrily, glaring at her boyfriend.
"But --" Abe started again, and then went quiet, seething with rage as he tried to restrain himself.
"Quite correct, Ms Gold", Roberto smiled. "The independence of a strong woman such as yourself is to be cherished and appreciated, not smothered -- presuming the latter option would even be possible."
"You know my nam --" Melissa started, taking a few steps back in alarm, but got suddenly interrupted by a growl as Abe leaped at Roberto, pulling his fist back to swing it forwards and towards the Brazilian's face.
"Please, Mr Jenkins", was the dry reply as Roberto suddenly powered up, turning jet-black, and with a light swat of his arm, Abe was flung across the alley and crashed into the brick wall.
"UNGH!" Abe winced, as he impacted onto the wall, and then slumped down along it, unconscious.
"ABE!" Melissa screamed, and quickly rushed over to him, kneeling by his side and cradling him in her arms for a moment, before looking over her shoulder, and glaring at Roberto. "I don't know what or who you are, but it looks like you know who I am, so I'll tell you one thing! You hurt my man, and you're going to hurt for that!"
"Indeed?" Roberto smirked, as she watched the two Thunderbolts. "In case you haven't noticed, Screaming Mimi, you are not wearing your sonic carapace at the moment. And without it, you are powerless, just as Beetle is without his armor."
Melissa snarled, and got up, her hands clenched into fists. "Then I'll hurt you later!" she claimed.
"You are welcome to try", he smirked. "However, in all honesty's sake, the both of you, even with your sonic carapace and his armor, will have little hope of taking me down. You may have fled justice for the moment, Masters of Evil, but that is about to come to an end once I place a call to SHIELD."
"No!" Melissa snapped. "You won't do that! You won't take our lives from us! I swear I'll *kill* you before I let you do that!!" Roberto merely maintained his superior smirk. "As I said, you are welcome to try. You can find me at the Arliss Hotel, room 304. Come at your own risk." With those words, solar energy crackled around him, and he suddenly soared upwards, disappearing to the dark night skies in a matter of seconds.
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