Rootless: Part 2

by Samy Merchi



During their trek thru America, X-Force, consisting of Danielle 'Mirage' Moonstar, Roberto 'Sunspot' Da Costa, Tabitha 'Meltdown' Smith, James 'Warpath' Proudstar and Theresa 'Siryn' Rourke Cassidy have come upon the small town of Boulder, Colorado on their way westwards.

However, little do they know that the town of Boulder is currently home and haven to the fugitive former supervillains called the Thunderbolts, consisting of Karla 'Moonstone' Sofen, Abner 'MACH-1' Jenkins, Melissa 'Songbird' Gold, Erik 'Atlas' Josten and Hallie 'Jolt' Takahama.

X-Force had dinner at the Kozy Kot restaurant where both Abe and Melissa work, and there was some mild flirting between Roberto and Melissa, which caused some strain in Abe and Melissa's relationship.

After Abe and Melissa get off work, they're confronted in an alley by Roberto, who flirts with Melissa, and thus causes Abe to attack him. He knocks Abe out, and then tells Melissa that he intends to call SHIELD so the Thunderbolts will be brought to justice. And that pretty much brings us to where we start today...

"What're you saying?"

"I'm saying that he's gonna call SHIELD on us!" Melissa said exasperatedly. "What're we gonna do??"

"Maybe we should cool down a bit and think about this --" Abe suggested.

"Abe's got a point --" Erik nodded faintly. "Where's Moonstone, anyway? She could figure out what would be the best way to go about this --"

"Can't we just, like, go away?" Jolt asked. "Move to some other town?"

"I dunno --" Abe said faintly. "I mean --" What was he going to say? That he didn't want to run? He didn't want to be a loser? "Never mind --" he then said, and with a sigh, sat down on the couch of the Thunderbolts' motel room.

"Look, the point is just to stay free, right?" Erik asked. "If we hide from this guy, if we go someplace else, there's nothing he can do."

"But finding new jobs, and probably new identities -- new places to live -- it always costs money, and time, and effort --" Abe said. "And there's no guarantee we couldn't be followed, or found again by someone --"

Erik shrugged quietly in answer, far from sure on what to do. He had always been a follower, and never a leader. Erik Josten always went along with what other people decided.

(( So this is what it's like being a fugitive -- )) Hallie quietly thought to herself. (( And they've been doing it before -- what kind of a life *is* that? Why do things have to always go so wrong? Why can't life be more fair?? ))

"We should just beat him up", Melissa commented harshly. "Rough him up and show him what it means to mess with the Thunderbolts. Would serve him right."

"And have a super-powered battle in the middle of Boulder?" Abe asked, shaking his head. "We can't do that. SHIELD would be on our backs even quicker than if we let that guy call them."

"So what should we do?" Erik asked. "We can't fight him."

"Maybe running would be smart", Hallie nodded. "I mean, it might cost something, but it's still better than risking getting caught --"

"I'm not scared of him!" Melissa exclaimed.

"It's not him that's the worry", Abe pointed out. "SHIELD is. If we fight him, SHIELD will be here. If we don't fight him, SHIELD will be here once he calls them. It's a no-win situation."

"Nothing is a no-win situation, MACH-1", came Karla's calm, steady, always in-control voice as she suddenly stood in the doorway. She stepped into the room, and looked over the assembled Thunderbolts. "Jenkins is right. We can't risk a super-powered battle in the middle of Boulder. Not only would that blow our cover, but it would also jeopardize innocent lives, and currently we are trying to be heroes, after all."

"So what *should* we do then, Moonstone?" Erik asked.

"The answer is simple, Atlas", she replied. "If we can't attack him here, we'll have to attack him somewhere else, and make sure he doesn't get to tell his tale to anyone."

Jolt blinked. "What are you saying, Karla?"

Karla smirked as she looked over to Hallie. "I am saying that we make sure he doesn't get to tell his tale to anyone. Would you like to tell us, Hallie, how we might possibly accomplish this?"

"I --" Abe started, a bit hesitantly. "We're not going to kill him, are we?"

"Why not?" Melissa asked. "If he threatens us, it's his mistake!"

"You're wrong, Melissa!" Hallie claimed. "You can't just go around killing people like that! Besides, if he wants us to go to jail, he's a good guy -- kinda, anyway. We can't go around killing good guys, or we'll just prove that we *are* bad guys."

"Of course", Karla said, the ever-so-confident smirk continuing to be etched on her face. "Jolt is quite correct, Thunderbolts. If we want to be heroes, we must act like heroes. First of all", she then started, "since this man appears to know who we are, we should confront him as the Thunderbolts, instead of going to him in our civilian identities. That was what allowed him to defeat Jenkins with ease. We will not be taken off-guard again. Next time, we will be prepared. Secondly, because we will confront him as the Thunderbolts, we obviously can't do it in Boulder or we would risk exposure and jeopardizing innocents. Therefore, we will have to confront him elsewhere. However, for that to be of any value, we must make sure he won't get a chance to call SHIELD *before* we get a chance to confront him."

"How will we do that?" Abe asked, making a small motion with his hand, turning the palm upwards.

"Since he could call them from anywhere within Boulder", Karla went on, looking to Abe, "we must make sure he can't call them from anywhere within Boulder. We must cut the phone lines and isolate the town, making it necessary for him to move to another town to call SHIELD. And that is when we'll make our move."

"You mean, do property damage?" Hallie asked. "But that'll cost the town -- we aren't supposed to do things like that."

Karla smiled to Hallie. "And just how much do you think a SHIELD excursion to Boulder will cost?" she asked. "The fuel, the salaries, even the ammunition if they find us. Trust me, Hallie, it will be much cheaper for the government to have a few telephone poles knocked over than for them to come all the way here gunning for us."

Hallie's lips parted for a brief moment, as if to object, but it didn't take long for her to understand that, as usual, Karla was right

. "She's right", Abe nodded as well. "Especially if they come after us in the Helicarrier. Do you have any idea how much just a hundred miles in that thing *costs*?" he asked.

"I'm sure we'll have time to consider SHIELD's finances later, Jenkins", Karla stated, glancing back to him. "You, I and Songbird have speed coupled with destructive capacity. It will be up to us to take down the telephone lines. So get into costume and get ready for battle, and we'll go to work --"


"-- the telephone lines out of Boulder are down for the moment, as telephone poles all around the town have been uprooted or snapped, despite there having been no storm last night. The police have no idea as to what might have caused this odd phenomenon, but the phone company assures that the lines will be operational again by tomorrow afternoon at the latest. In other news, our very own local girl Tammy Roberts has made it to the Miss Colorado beauty pageant held in Denver next month --"

"Turn it off, 'Berto", Dani said quietly as she brushed her dark hair with long strokes, a dark frown coming onto her face despite her attempts to prevent her expression from changing.

"Hmm?" Roberto asked, but nonetheless switched the radio off, after which he walked over to Dani, stepping behind her and sliding his arms around her waist, to pull her back against his chest, nuzzling the base of her neck through her hair. "Let me", he whispered into her ear, and took the hairbrush from her hand, before leaning back a bit, and starting to brush her hair carefully, working out any tangles in slow motions, making sure not to yank on her hair with rough brush-strokes.

Dani closed her eyes and smiled as he started brushing her hair. Despite the bad memories that had flashed through her, she couldn't help but enjoy being so close to the man she loved, having her hair attended to by him. "Thank you", she whispered quietly as the brush moved down along her hair time and again.

"Want to talk about it?" he whispered quietly into her ear without pausing the stroking.

"Talk about what?" she just answered, just as quietly, tensing a bit, knowing what Roberto meant.

"Why did you want me to turn the radio off?"

"It's -- it was nothing", she replied silently. "Just some bad memories. Don't worry, I'm okay."

"Are you certain?" he whispered again into her ear.

"-- Tammy Roberts", she said after a few silent moments. "She's just the little sister of someone I -- used to know."

"Used to know?"

"He's dead now [1]", she said quietly, her eyes lowering to her lap. "The first guy I ever loved." She held a long pause, as Roberto kept brushing her hair, before adding, "The only one I've ever loved, aside from you."

"Seems like both of us have had two loves in our lives," he replied quietly. "And both our first loves are dead. [2]" He smiled faintly, and stopped brushing for a moment, to hold Dani close to him. "But we have each other now, and I promise you, Dani -- I will never let my second love die. I love you, and I would give my life to protect you."

Dani slowly turned around in Roberto's arms, and put her arms around him as well, as she looked into her eyes affectionately, almost sadly. "I love you too, 'Berto", she said, and rested her forehead against his. "And I'd do the same for you, but let's just try first to do all we can so we won't end up in that situation in the first place. I just want to live happily ever after with you." She brought her lips to his, to kiss him tenderly.

Roberto smiled, and murmured against her lips, "As I do, with you", before meeting them and closing his eyes as he kissed her, sliding his tongue against hers and suckling softly on her mouth.

That's when the door opened and Tabitha stepped in, her eyes widening. "Geesh! Do you guys leave *any* opportunity unused?" she exclaimed as he saw the couple in each others' arms, causing them to suddenly disengage.

Dani quickly pulled away from Roberto, and took the brush back, starting to finish brushing her hair before a mirror, looking away from Tabitha to hide her blush, while Roberto merely smirked as he sat down on the edge of the bed, waiting for her to finish. "Hello, Tabitha. Have you ever heard of the concept of knocking?" he grinned.

"You ever heard of the concept of abstinence?" Tabitha grinned back, and then looked over to Dani. "Terry and Jimmy are waiting downstairs. We're just about ready to go, just waiting for you two lovebirds."

"We're just about done", Dani replied. "You can go on back down and tell them we're coming."

"I'll refrain from commenting on the idea they'll get from *that*", Tabitha smirked, causing Dani to blush even more, going a deep red.

Roberto chuckled, and got up, walking over to Tabitha and placing a hand onto her shoulder, to guide her out the door. "You tell them whatever you want, as long as you leave us alone right now and give us--" He glanced briefly at his gold Rolex. "-- fifteen minutes."

"Fifteen minutes?" Tabitha grinned, and looked over towards Dani, who still had her back to the blonde to hide her blush. "I pity you, Dani. And here I thought you were lucky to land loverboy -- oof!" She was interrupted by being practically pushed out the door by Roberto, and the door being quickly closed after her.

"I swear I'm going to kill her if she keeps that up", Dani smiled faintly, as she turned around to look at Roberto when he closed the door, her blush slowly fading to her normal Amerind skin coloration.

"She's just jealous", Roberto smiled, "because Sam isn't here and her libido needs taking care of."

"I wonder if she thinks --" she started, and began blushing slightly again. "You know -- that we're --" She left the sentence there, for Roberto to finish, a bit uncomfortable with saying it herself.

"Having sex", Roberto simply stated, and then shrugged. "Does it matter?" he asked as he sat back down on the edge of the bed. "What they do or don't think is no concern of ours."

"You'd want to, though", she then said quietly, almost a bit ashamedly or apologetically.

"I'd want their thoughts to be our concern?" Roberto asked with a smile even though he knew perfectly well what Dani had meant.

Dani turned around to look at Roberto. "You'd want to make love to me", she then said in a voice barely audible to him, her eyes watching his quietly.

Roberto simply shrugged in answer. "Of course I would", he said. "Anyone who wouldn't is either a heterosexual female, gay, a fool or insane. And I think you would want to make love to me as well. But", he then continued, "I can perfectly understand that you want time to get comfortable with our relationship. I will give you all the time you need, Dani."

"It's not fair of me to ask all the time I need, 'Berto", she said quietly, finishing with her hair and coming over to the bed, sitting into his lap and cuddling close to him. "You want me, and I'm not giving you what you want. I'm sorry."

With an affectionate smile, Roberto placed a fingertip over Dani's lips, to silence her. "I want you, yes", he whispered, looking deep into her eyes. "But so do you, me. You are frustrated as much as I am by our abstinence. From which we can deduce that you would not wait unless you felt it was necessary. And if you feel it is necessary, then it *is* necessary. I take your feelings seriously, Dani. Your feelings matter to me. Furthermore", he then continued, "sex isn't important. It is pleasurable, but it isn't important. I can live without it. I couldn't live without our love. That is what is important. Love is the sustenance of our lives, the essential food that we need to live. Sex is not essential. Think of it as a wonderfully delicious dessert. A marvelous addition, but an addition nonetheless."

Dani smiled, and wrapped her arms around Roberto, snuggling close to him. "I love you, 'Berto", she whispered, resting her face against the side of his neck.

"I love you too, Dani."

"He's leaving", Moonstone spoke into her helmet-microphone, transmitting her words to the ears of all the other Thunderbolts who were waiting in the mountains outside town, waiting for Moonstone to find out which road they were leaving town via, so they could prepare an ambush there.

"You sure it's him?" came MACH-1's voice back thru the radio waves. "How many black guys do you suppose there are passing thru Boulder, Colorado that spent the night at the Arliss Hotel, MACH-1?" Moonstone replied.

"Well, uhh --" Jenkins hesitated for a moment, and then answering became irrelevant as Moonstone continued.

"Besides, he's still with the same group Songbird described. Two Indians, a blonde and a redhead. Does that reassure your doubts, Jenkins?" she asked, and smirked faintly to herself, knowing that she had consciously waited before continuing, for the psychological effect of making MACH-1 hesitate, making him more easily manageable. Not that he wasn't anyway.

"Where are they heading?" Songbird's voice interjected, as Atlas and Jolt remained quiet, listening to the conversation, not adding anything.

Moonstone quirked an eyebrow as she watched X-Force from up high with curiosity. "North along Main Street", she answered thoughtfully, before she finally understood, watching them walk further and further from the hotel, not going to any car they might have, nor heading to the bus station, nor to a car rental office. "They're hitch-hiking", she mused, half to herself, half to the others.

"To the next town?" Jolt asked with a slightly incredulous tone, still a bit uncomfortable with the vast uninhabited expanses of Colorado, having lived in New York for as long as she could remember.

"They don't have a car?" MACH-1 asked curiously.

"No, they don't appear to have a car", Moonstone replied. "And I am hardly in a position to answer your question with certainty, Jolt, but it would appear so."

"Well -- it's good they're not going by bus or anything, right?" Atlas broke in. "I mean, it's not like we could attack them if they were on a bus --"

"Quite correct, Atlas", Moonstone replied, half in her thoughts, considering the fact that it would be smart to make sure X-Force wouldn't *get* a ride to hitch in. She nodded to herself quietly, and decided to use her energy blasts to tear the road open a bit between X-Force and Boulder after the youths had gotten far enough from the city for her to do that without risk of being noticed.

"Why can't we just fly?" Tabitha whined as they walked onwards along the road leading north from Boulder, the hot sun burning above them.

"Because we don't want t' attract attention to ourselves", Theresa explained in a semi-patronizing tone. "Besides", she continued, "even if Bobby carried Jimmy an' Dani, an' I carried ye, that wouldn't exactly be th' most comf'rtable way t' travel, now would it?"

"Nothing could be worse than this", Tabitha muttered, kicking a rock as she kept walking, sending it bouncing along the side of the road. "Why aren't there any cars going our way, anyway? Just cars going to that crummy town we just were in. I mean, I've heard of bad luck, but this is just the pits. The way this is going, even if some car by some miracle happened to be going our way, it's going to be a Yugo or something and we couldn't all fit into it anyway, even if it *did* stop, which it probably won't. But if it does, I've got dibs on a place in the car, and those who won't fit in can fly to the next town for all I --"

"Tabitha?" Jimmy smiled sweetly. "Just shut up and walk."

"I hate this."

"I love this", Roberto said, only wearing his shorts and shoes, with a rucksack slung over his shoulder, exposing his chocolate skin to the hot sun and basking in the wonderful feeling of his cells absorbing the heat and storing the energy with a barely noticeable tingle. Of course, he wasn't only doing a favor to himself by baring so much of his skin, from his shoulders down over his lightly-haired chest, his yummy, completely fat-less washboard stomach, the wiry, muscular, sleek arms and legs -- oh no, none of the three girls of the team were able to avoid stealing glances at him every now and then.

"You would", Dani teased faintly, grinning. "Show-off."

"Hang on", Theresa suddenly said, her expression turning into a frown, as if she were concentrating. "Does anyone else hear a whistlin' sou--?"

The whistling sound was made by the approaching Thunderbolts, flying low, flying fast, the two non-fliers carried by Songbird's powers. And within seconds, they stood on the empty road before X-Force. Moonstone standing at the point, in her golden fluid-metallic-looking armor. On her left flank, the youthful Jolt, her eyes and hands burning with the bright golden bioelectric energy that she was filled with. On Moonstone's right flank, MACH-1, in his dark blue, airplane-winged armor. Behind the trio, Atlas in his red-yellow costume, grown to thirty feet in size as soon as he got to the ground, preparing for a battle. And in front of his chest, hovering behind the point trio, Songbird, the pink solid-sound wings created by her powers carrying her aloft. "We are the Thunderbolts", Moonstone stated sharply. "And we want to talk to you", she continued, her eyes going to Roberto. "Now."

[1] Pat Roberts, Dani's first love died in NEW MUTANTS #41 [2] It's true! Roberto's first love, Juliana Sandoval, died in MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #4: THE NEW MUTANTS

Part 3

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