by Jaya Mitai
Disclaimer Marvel's are Marvel's. No money. Don't sue. Or Sue, because the thought of an invisible woman in my dorm room . . . aiiee. Cable is being an ass for a REASON, so don't flame me, I promise I'll explain it all . . . unless, of course, I don't get any FEEDBACK and then my esteem will shatter and there will BE no more, and to end it like this would just be a crime, so do your part! =) And LOOK! Spaces between paragraphs. Aren't you all just so proud? ::sniffles::
Special thanks to KJ, Pebbs, Lyssie and Redhawk for beta-ing, and thanks to Duey for keeping me from embarassing myself with the first draft. =)
Lucinda wedged the phone between her tilted head and raised left shoulder as she grabbed the breakfast pot, en route to the sink, to try to scrub out the oatmeal before it set like concrete.
The line was open, she could hear air moving over the receiver, and when she killed the running water, she heard the faintest sounds of breathing. Without a word, the line went dead.
Lucinda Guthrie rolled her eyes, keeping the phone tucked there a moment longer as she plopped the pot down in the bottom of the sink to soak.
"Momma-" The plaintive whine from her middle daughter was no surprise. Only kid that didn't like oatmeal. She kept wondering if Joelle got dropped in the hospital . . . "Joelle, y'not gittin' up from that table 'til your breakfast is done."
Pulling the rough but absorbent blue dishtowel off her right shoulder, she hastily dried her hands. No use getting oatmeal water all over the pho-
The line went silent. Completely.
Lucinda blinked, her hands freezing of their own accord, as if responding to the drop in temperature of her blood, still clutching the dishtowel. Her worn white cotton shirt stilled as her chest refused to expand and allow breath. She moved hurriedly over the crackling green linoleum floor, dodging the island on her way back to the phone. She leaned her head up, dropping the receiver into her hand, and hanging it up. She waited two seconds, than picked it back up.
Nothing. No dial tone, no sound.
She hung up the yellow phone carefully, testing the curly cord to make sure it was completely plugged in. It was. Her eyes swept past the orange cookbooks lining the island where it attached to the wall, past the canary cage, to the breakfast table behind it, and Joelle finishing the last of her breakfast. Josh was collecting the milk glasses the twins had left on the table, and his eyes were on her as he hesitated.
Her slender, callused fingers rested on the clean countertop, unpolished nails drumming a staccato rhythm as her mind flew.
"Josh, get th' twins an' Jeb. Joelle, hon, leave that, Ah think we need tah take a trip up t'the Sheriff's office . . ."
Despite her calm tone, Josh found her eyes, his eyebrows raising slightly in silent question. She nodded. "C'mon, Josh, let's go . . ."
He hurried past her, Joelle looking up questioningly. "Butcha jus' said Ah had t'finish mah breakfast -"
Without waiting for her to finish, Lucinda circumvented the island, her worn workboots almost silent on the linoleum that usually crackled like a roaring blaze. She scooped up Joelle without another word, quite a feat, considering the height of the eleven year old, ignoring the screech of the wooden legs on the floor, ignoring Joelle's surprised squeal and the frightened flutter of the parakeets.
The twins were currently being herded out the door by Josh, their tiny sneakered feet thumping surprisingly loudly on the dark navy braided rug. Jeb was coming down the stairs, looking faintly alarmed but not scared. Lucinda nearly jogged out of the kitchen into the den, barely skirted the wood stove, shoved back into the chimney but still in the way, eyes roving the old beige couch and rust colored Lazy Boy for her purse. Elizabeth came trotting out from the bedroom hall, clutching it to her chest, the strap still too long for her to wear it comfortably.
Lucinda balanced Joelle on her hip, long practice with the twins giving her hips the flexibility to do so, and she grabbed her purse with her free hand, rooting around for her keys.
The large oak New England chiming clock tolled out the hour in typical musical fashion, sitting proudly on the ancient mantle with the silver candlesticks that her great great great grandfather had made in his smithy after coming here from Virginia. The thought of looters getting them choked her heart, but she slammed the door shut, Joelle holding the old tin screen door as she locked the main and spun, avoiding the door, heading down the three slate stairs and around to the driveway. Her boots sounded unnaturally loud on the loose, tiny stones that made up the walk, and Joelle shivered against her silently.
Josh already had the twins, Jebidiah, and Elizabeth tucked safely into the old Caravan, and accepted Joelle without a word, giving Lucinda time to get the engine started as he slammed the sliding door closed and hopped into the front passenger seat. As it was shutting, she noticed the rifle he'd tucked between the seat and the seatbelt, then it was hidden in shadows.
The usually lagging engine was no different this morning, screaming loudly as she pushed the engine past 5000 rpm in an effort to get it to switch out of first gear. The van shot forward, eliciting a squeal from one of the twins and a surprised "Oo!" out of Elizabeth. It jounced down the long driveway, Josh already turning to make sure all the kids had their seatbelts on. Their excited chatter finally penetrated her thoughts.
"Momma? Momma, I'm scared . . ."
"I left my shoes . . ."
"He's breathing on me!"
Her eyes traced the phone lines down the long driveway, turning only once or twice to look at the main drive itself. It was still deeply shadowed by the Bradford pears flanking each side, brittle trees apt to fall at the slightest breeze, and the pits in the drive were harder to dodge than usual. On the packed dirt, she could only safety go twenty, and was pushing it by five miles. The shocks were non-existent, but the twins seemed to think of it as a rollercoaster ride, squealing and giggling while Joelle tried to button up their shirts and Elizabeth sorted through her mother's purse.
"Put Momma's purse down, sweetheart," she crooned, tires grinding loudly as she made the last turn towards the main road
And found a dark van pulling in from that direction.
The driveway was not wide enough to accommodate both vans, and at the speed she had gathered, it simply wasn't safe to stop. Suddenly glad of the last thunderstorm, she yanked the wheel hard left, over the low stump that used to be a twenty foot tree not three days ago. The van bounced, bottoming out in the thick grass, and Joelle started to cry.
"Momma, too fast!"
Josh had turned, watching the van follow them at a ridiculous speed. "Now, now, Jo, hang on, it'll be okay . . ." His left hand toyed with the rifle.
Lucinda's eyes never left her rear-view mirror as she followed the split-rail fence at forty miles an hour, knowing there was a break, hoping beyond hope that the rains hadn't turned the side yard into a swamp.
"We didn't feed the chickens!" the twins squawked in near unison, turned around in their seats, watching their pursuers.
"It's th' A Team," crowed Elizabeth, dropping the purse in lieu of waving to the van bouncing along behind them. The grass was instantly crushed beneath the tires, long dirt furrows torn up through the soft front lawn. The Caravan kicked up grass into the windshield of the van behind. It flicked its windshield wipers.
God, they aren't slowing down.
Her eyes focused forward once more, and she cursed, on a Sunday no less, yanking the wheel hard right. The van was going too fast; it fishtailed, sailing right into the huge pond of mud that had been perfectly good turf not three days ago.
The van lurched to a stop; there was a loud thunk in the back and just as suddenly a wail. Lucinda carefully applied pressure to the gas, trying to get out of the mudhole as the dark van pulled to a stop just outside it. It shook a moment, like an animal twitching in anticipation of a meal.
The tires spun wildly, kicking up mud and turf without getting a purchase in the slick clay that made up the earth near their home. Again she cursed, throwing the van into reverse, then drive, and trying again. The van lurched a few feet, no more. Frantically, she threw it back into reverse, and looked up as the cry in the back raised a notch of intensity.
Armed men were pouring from the back of the black van.
Elizabeth started to whimper loudly, and Lucinda slammed her foot into the gas. The wheels spun with no effect. Her frantic breathing caught in her throat as she heard the window roll down to her right.
"No, Josh! Put it down!"
Half the men had dropped into a crouch, and a gunshot rang out, striking the van with enough force that she felt the vibrations in her seat. Josh flinched, whether from sound or impact she couldn't tell, and the twins began to cry.
"Put it down, there, son," an authoritative voice called out. A familiar voice. A local voice.
A voice they heard every Sunday.
"Sir?" The surprise in his voice could have been plucked from the air and worn like a fur wrap.
"It's okay, Josh. These men are heah tah help you."
Lucinda brushed a strand of dark blonde hair from her eyes, somehow having escaped the scarf she'd restrained the rest of it in earlier this morning. The engine was still on, making the van tremble, and the twins continued to cry quietly in the back.
He had finally moved forward enough that she could see him. Rev. Hicks, the preacher from their church. He was dressed as if about to go to a baptizing, which was odd, since Sunday morning sermon should have begun by now. He tentatively edged around the mudhole, until he could clearly see Lucinda.
"It's all right, mah child. Don't fear these men. They are servants of God."
Her door was jerked open, a handgun in her face. "Get outta the car, lady." No accent. Neutral.
Josh cried out, to her right, and her head whipped around to see him falling towards the dashboard, clutching his head in both hands, the rifle hitting the ground with a wet squelch. The man beside Josh held his shotgun like a club, was just bringing it up for another swing
Then something hit her from behind, and only Joelle's screaming temper tantrum managed to cut through the dim, her yelling continuing for many, many minutes till at last it subsided, and then everything was quiet.
* * * * * * *
Her head hurt. No, scratch that. Her head felt like she imagined a rug did after you beat the dust out of it on the porch with a long wood stick. Her tongue felt thick, a sweet taste in her mouth despite the dryness. A deep breath almost set her to coughing, and her head began to ache rhythmically to her pulse. Her eyes fluttered open soon after.
She was lying on a cot, rickety, probably one of the mining company's surplus stock. Strangely, that seemed to comfort her. She must still be in town.
She sat up sharply, wincing and pressing the heel of her palm to the throbbing lump on the back of her head, eyes squinting at the fake bright white light buzzing down at her from a low ceiling.
Where am I?
Other than the cot, the light, and the lightswitch, the room was empty, a tan tiled floor, bare builder's white walls and a plain, brown door, some of the paint splattered on it, dusty with age. The room smelled musty, much like the pillow she'd been laying on, and as she sat up, she realized how cold she truly was. She hugged herself tightly, wishing for a thicker sweater, for once. The scarf was still on her head, though much of her bangs had escaped and tried desperately to poke her in the eye for all those years of being tucked back. Irritably, she brushed them aside, then winced at the pain the swift movement had brought.
As soon as she thought she was capable, she stood slowly, using the plaster walls for support as she moved to the door. As she expected, the knob was immobile, locked from the outside. It was wood, and if she wasn't so sure she'd puke for it, she'd kick it down. Hours of bailing hay gave you strong, strong legs and a good, hard back. These gents were in for a surprise.
Not to mention she'd have to turn in her notice of membership to the First Baptist Church.
Rev. Hicks had known Sam was a mutant almost since the first. He'd been rather open about the whole thing, using his powers to help raise barns, even saving the miners from one terrible cave-in. The town had no reason to persecute him, or her, for what happened in New York.
Her heart ached as she thought of Sam. After that single call, she'd only gotten the letter, and then the phone call from Charles Xavier. He was a very famous man she remembered meeting only once and very briefly, but generally useless, so careful with his phrasing that she had gotten no useful information from him. Dear Lord above, please don't let him have come down here, don't come home, Sam, don't . . .
The blame he must be going through. The hurt. More than ever, she wished she'd gotten a call, at least to know that he was alright. Sam, out there alone, having to go through all that alone . . .
Lucinda listened carefully, hearing nothing in the hall outside, at least what she assumed was a hallway. Braving her stomach, she let her foot fly at the door.
It didn't budge.
Pain exploded in her head from the action, and she felt the cool of the floor on her cheek before she even realized she'd fallen. The room spun crazily, tilted at a sharp incline, and there was a dull roar.
Someone picked her up.
It wasn't gently. It was the type of hold you use on a drunk man when you're tired and dirty and you just want to get home. She tried to get her feet under her, but that was difficult, the floor was moving much too quickly. In fact, it took her several moments to even realize she'd stopped.
Her hearing cleared before her sight.
"Let her come around a bit more, then take her in."
"Now Ah did NOT agree tah this!"
"You said yourself, Rev., we're men of God. It was your duty to aid us in their retrieval, so we can further investigate if any of her other children have been afflicted."
"Now, that's not what we agreed to!"
"I think, Rev., that if you just consider this a moment more, it will make much more sense-"
"Ah will not have this . . . abomination in mah Church! This is a House of God, not an Inquisition hall! Attackin' this helpless sinless family wasn't part o' th' plan!"
"New plan, Reverend."
An incredibly loud pop sounded beside her, making her jump, bringing her eyes open wide in shock as she took inventory, wondering where she was shot.
And her eyes saw the shadow of formal robes falling to the floor, a worn, leather-bound book sliding across the tiles of the back kitchen area of the church.
"She's awake enough. Let 'em say goodbye."
The door to the main kitchen opened as if by magic, and she was roughly dragged inside, the bright lights making her squint almost ridiculously, and her eyes took a long time to focus.
"Sam . . .? Oh mah God . . ."
He looked older than she remembered, face lined with pain and exhaustion, colored only with the blood that should have flowed on the inside, not the outside. His eyes were squeezed shut, his hair matted and stuck to his face, glued with sweat and more blood, older blood. He lay curled on one side, head at an odd angle due to the large yellow collar about his neck. One of his wrists was bent nearly backwards, his fingernails dirty with filth. His breathing sounded strained.
She straightened as much as she was able, though someone had her hands held behind her, and turned her head.
"Ah don't know who you are, or what you want, but Ah swear, if you've laid a single finger on any o' mah other children -"
She was roughly shaken, then released. "You'll do _what_." It was a very Northern accented voice. Sounded like the badly imitated Boston accents on television. Instead of rising to the bait, or even turning, she rushed over as well as she was able, crouching beside Sam and gently reaching out to pull a lock of soggy hair from his damp face. He flinched slightly, not conscious enough to recognize her, and the movement tightened her throat.
"Oh, no, Sam . . . " she crooned softly. "It's me. Momma. It's okay, Sam, Ah'm here . . ."
She trailed a hand down his head, to his neck, gently probing for breaks. While it was easy to diagnose a broken bone in a bovine or horse, human bones were much smaller, and with the swollen, fevered flesh beneath her finger, it was impossible to tell. From there she moved her hands down his back, noting a dark stain, fearing a gunshot wound, or worse.
What she discovered was that he had no ribs.
Very, very gently she touched his left side, but he cried out, muffled in his throat, his voice breaking towards the end into a pitiful whimper, or perhaps a plea. Her hand yanked back, shaking like a palsied old woman, and her disbelief must have been apparent on her face. My God . . . his side felt so . . . soft . . . like there wasn't any bone there at all . . .
"Funny, he kept getting back up . . ."
She turned, her eyes narrow, jaw clenched tightly enough to make her head hurt. Her jeans made not a whisper as she crossed the floor to one of the two middle-aged men in cammies, regarding her with vicious amusement. Beside him, on the wall, was propped a stained baseball bat, wooden, autographed by someone.
She walked right up to the man, nearly as tall as he was. And she slapped him.
As hard as she could.
Any southern woman will tell you the secret to a slap is all in the wrist, and she was _very_ skilled. The man bounced off the wall, feet sliding on the tiles as he tried to regain his balance, and he landed very ungracefully on the floor, knocking the bat down with an almost pleasant wooden clatter.
"Ah wonder what your Momma would have tah say about you," she told him softly, turning hard eyes on the other, who was trying not to guffaw. "An' you . . . Ah see neither one o' you is man enough tah take on a boy half your age with any sense o' honor or fairness. Ah've seen enough cowards in mah day, Ah don't need tah see the likes o' you. Get out. Get out an' don' come back."
Her tone had been carefully regulated throughout the years to get the most authority with the smallest effort possible, and she even managed to get the second one to drop his gaze to the side, out of shame, she hoped.
The first one grabbed her roughly around the waist, swinging her around.
"The oldest little rugrat in your litter screamed for _hours_." He had rough hands, callused, hands that knew labor, and they scratched the tender skin of her sides as he pulled at the thin sweater. An expert knee, used to catching bales of hay and dropped halters, found its mark with ease, and she dropped him like a sack of horse manure. She turned back to the other one, already advancing on her.
Adrenaline coursed through her veins, her fear gone. She'd handled herself with drunk miners before, this was no different. Her children were here, and she had to find them. Had to get Sam some help.
The absolute spongy quality of his left side . . .
This one grabbed her wrist before she could strike out, shoving her against the wall. It was unexpected, and her head cracked against the plaster. His face disappeared into swirls of stars, but over the roar in her ears, she heard Sam.
"Leave . . . her 'lone . . ."
Then she heard a strangled cry.
My baby . . . he's going to kill my baby . . .
Desperation drove her to her feet once more, lent her the strength to careen into the man, knocking them both to the ground. Her fingers sought his face, his eyes, and he cursed, and then something struck her in the face, and she fell back. The strength of a moment before was gone, she couldn't move. Her stomach churned, finally having caught up with the concussion, and she wondered if vomiting on the man might be an effective deterrent.
There was a surprisingly loud gunshot, and she heard herself cry out, but felt no pain . . . she heard Sam yell low in his throat, not in physical pain, but an anguished cry he couldn't get past cracked lips. The lights above flashed a moment, and then she was hauled to her feet.
"Find a room. Put her in. Lock the door." Male voice. Neutral accent.
Another one of them.
"He's dead." A female voice, an almost Californian lilt to it. The voice almost sounded like it was smiling. Sam groaned ever so slightly, and her heart sank. No, Sam, stay quiet . . . Dear Lord, please don't let them hurt him any more
She reached out a hand, nails clawing the face of the man behind her even as the "No!" caught somewhere along her trachea and disintegrated into sobs. Sam can't die, he can't . . . he'll live, he will live - Her nails caught flesh and her wrist was knocked away, a sharp pain flaring and settling to a dull ache as her arm grew too heavy to hold up and dangled by her side. She was picked up bridal style, not with callused hands, though they were strong. They did not reach out to hurt her or take advantage of her, held her more like Jeb would handle a ripped back of feed.
"Kids down the hall," a quiet, husky voice commented. Definelty foreign, an accent she couldn't place.
"Not our problem." The first voice. "Let's go."
She was carried out the door, and she heard a single solid thud of something striking something soft, and that something giving with a short, sharp cry, and she heard the muffled crack of breaking bones.
Her scream of denial seemed to echo through the halls forever.
* * * * * * *
Domino carefully sidestepped the broken porcelain on the floor, not even noticing the almost star-pattern the white fragments made against the dark navy braided run. She had eyes only for the scar in the mantle, the inner, lighter wood like blood inverted on the dark oak mantle. A large, blunt weapon had made that, a club, or perhaps a bat or axe-handle. Too wide to be a rifle-strike
Shatterstar had just finished rooting around the air vents. "Za's vid," he commented in a hushed whisper, causing her eyes to leave the mantle and settle on the spitting black lump of sparks and wires in his hand.
"Is this not government produced?"
Domino walked over, quietly, simply, and took the generator from him, turning it over in her hands.
"Yeah, it is." Big surprise. Her tone was cold, empty. Like any other mission. Like any other op.
It isn't, a voice whispered. Her voice. The only one in her head, since Nathan had stopped talking to her. His eyes seemed so distant . . . was he trying to assume the blame for this? Because it was his damn fault. Giving Sam space when the kid needed a good solid ass-kicking. So cold . . . too cold. Except for that one instance on the beaches of Virginia, he hadn't even _spoken_ to Sam since they'd heard the newscast.
Whatever the hell his problem was, he hadn't offered to share, and she was getting pretty damn sick of it.
Light footsteps on the stairs belied the size of the man that followed them. His rifle was slung over his shoulder, a tendril of the T-O that had been gleefully creeping up his neck was now receding reluctantly. His eyes found the box, and settled there, his voice still strangely calm.
"Kids are gone. No sign of a struggle up there."
The swinging screen door rattling just outside the main door made them both jump, and Tabitha pushed the door open slowly, eyes wide as she noted the gun that had until a second ago been pointed at her forehead.
"Sorry, Dom," she managed, Cable still hidden to her, on the stairs behind the open oak door. "The tracks in the front? I'd say they were both vans. Same depth, both had wide tires, were heavy . . . that or two trucks. The caravan is gone."
She stepped out of the doorway, and Cable slammed it behind her, making a mark in the wood as the door cracked alarmingly, the air of its passage blowing Tabitha's hair forward. She jumped with a squeal, and Domino gave him a positively acidic look. Much to her surprise, he returned it with no holds barred.
"How did he beat the PACRAT here," he finally demanded, almost of himself. "How could he have made the flonqing trip without stopping? That's _hundreds_ of miles-"
Ric came out from the kids' bedrooms and the bathroom hall. "No sign of a struggle there. Beds even made. Couple toys on the floor. Someone took off without their security blanket." He held up a small light blue Pooh blankie.
Domino sighed deeply, her eyes moving back to the ugly wound in the mantle. They must have left before Sam arrived, exhausted and probably not even noticing the mutant inhibiting field until it was too late . . . someone jumped him here . . .
*This reeks of government, Nate.*
He didn't seem to even hear here, his eyes so goddamned distant
*DAMMIT, NATE, SNAP OUT OF IT!*
_That_ startled him, rocking him back as though a physical blow. His eyes looked surprised, vulnerable? and then irritated.
#Do you want to find him this century? If you're right, they've had him a good two hours,# his mental voice snapped. #And his family. If any of Lucinda's other kids are mutants -#
"Fine. Sorry to bother you." She ignored the positively scathing look the comment earned, heading towards the front yard. "I'm going to follow the mud trail as far as it leads. Siryn, you're with me. Ric, get on the horn. Call Paige. Ask her if there are any aunts or uncles or parents Lucinda might have taken the kids to."
Ric looked startled. "What if she asks why?"
Domino glanced at Nate, surprised to find him searching for her eyes also. He said nothing, and after a moment she pulled her gaze away and glanced at Ric. "Tell her what happened."
Nate turned away suddenly, heading towards the bathroom and back bedrooms without a word.
*What the hell is your problem? What, because Tyler is buried here? Is that it?*
The link snapped shut. Just like that.
* * * * * * *
"I'll start right now." Her voice floated out of the kitchen, followed quickly by a slamming down of the phone and the careless plopping of a mug. Three high-heeled clicks later, the kitchen doors swung open, revealing one very deliciously dressed Jean.
Scott Summers didn't comment, though, either on her dress or her face. The simple tone of her movements and voice told him more clearly than even her thoughts that the day's recreation had been cancelled.
#That was Paige Guthrie. Sam and the family are missing.#
He followed her hurried clicks down the hall, to the elevator, and inside. The elevator was airconditioned and swift, and deposited them on the bottom floor of the mansion with its usual speed and hissing efficiency. It took him that long to formulate a single question from the myriad dancing about his skull.
*Government?* The unfortunate tragedy had been the talk of the mansion for a while. Logan had even planned to drive up to see Sam, get him to talk where Domino and Cable were failing. Though they'd heard nothing about it, Sam Guthrie would make a wonderful catch for the Friends of Humanity, considering the relative quiet of the supervillian world these days and the slight dying down of the usual mutant hysteria.
#They think so.# The swift clicks brought them both quickly into the large Communications room, and the Cerebro unit there, waiting almost patiently for her as she sat quickly and pulled the helmet to her head.
*That isn't going to do much good, then,* he commented quietly, knowing the helmet made their own communication hypersensitive. She didn't reply, but the lines around her eyes told of the despair she too feared would settle all too soon around them.
* * * * * * *
One of the twins was crying.
She could hear it, quiet but clear, floating down the hallway, over the mass being sung in the Sanctuary. They'd put her back in the same room. It spun, now, and occasionally moved up and down quickly, shaking her like a dog would a chew-toy, knocking her back to the cot as soon as she tried to rise. The pain in her head she knew. It was familiar, at least. She had a concussion. It made her pass out. And see things. And hear things.
Like her children, now.
It was just the mass. That was why they couldn't hear her.
The floor was her enemy, cold and hard, and she was pretty sure she was sporting one colorful bruise on her right hip. The cot itself was rickety, not very sturdy, and it was a miracle she hadn't collapsed it yet. She was thirsty, her lips cracked. She had no sense of time whatsoever, having left her watch on the kitchen windowsill above the sink when preparing to wash the oatmeal pot. Or had she?
There. On the floor again. She crawled towards the door, her eyes refusing to focus on it. She must have been here a long time, then, if she was this bad. Couldn't even see straight.
Her hands found the wood of the door, and she clawed frantically on it, trying to find the doorknob.
Now both twins were crying, weakly, and thunder rumbled outside her door.
And the singing angels above her began to scream.
* * * * * * *
Cable was absolutely silent as he stalked towards the main sanctuary of the church, where the clear, bell-like strands of music poured freely. Behind him, Domino covered his back, noting the muscled chords of his neck standing out. Tense. He was too tense. The link hadn't made so much as a peep since that last heated comment from her, and she resisted the urge to hit him across the back of the head with her weapon.
Skull was so thick, he probably wouldn't even notice.
Behind her was Ric, cutting off now to hit what she assumed was the confessionals. She wasn't sure if Baptists did confessions. Lord knows she hadn't in many years. And she was supposed to be Catholic.
Tabitha was in the back parking lot, keeping track of the dark van with the red clay on the tires, and the Guthrie van parked beside it. Warpath was hiding in the curtains of the inner sanctum, waiting to cut off retreat or approach from behind should one of the FoH escape and attempt to take a hostage. Jean Summers had sensed a great deal of fear here, after linking to Cable. It had to be the place.
But were they in time? It was Sunday night, the sun setting even as they crept through the halls, the red light from the sunset setting the stained glass afire, lighting the wall ablaze with red-tainted color. Even the Jesus looked to be truly bleeding. It was unnerving, and she checked to make sure her backup weapon was in place.
She cocked her head, tensing, as a tiny breeze played across her face, and Nate froze before her, scant moments before an alterboy plowed past, hiding the can of Coke in his robes as he rushed towards the sanctuary. He didn't glance their way, though they were in plain sight, and Cable's eye flickered a moment more before he started and reached out to smoothly catch the door.
She followed, again checking the upstairs open hallway before ducking into what looked like a large kitchen. She caught the swinging door on her butt as she entered, weapon at the ready. Smooth, clean counters met her gaze, shiny metallic sinks and a large, silver refrigerator/freezer covered in children's artwork. Nate took a few more steps inside, searching every corner.
They were alone.
The tiled floors were white, and nearly spotless, save a single track of something that looked sort of like . . .
Sort of like blood.
Domino knelt, reaching out a finger. It was cold, wet but thick. Could have been ketchup. She raised the finger to her nose, sniffing.
Ketchup didn't smell like old pennies.
She hastily followed the stain around the standing countertop islands. "Over here," she called softly.
She pressed an ear to it, listening intently as Cable approached behind her. There was some kind of . . . . no, it faded - Cable again jumped, causing her to tense, and glance at him.
She wished she hadn't. The look on his face reminded her somewhat of his expression when he was sleeping, and dreaming of the battles the Clan had lost. He was fairly radiating fury, she could taste it on the silent link, a thick heavy syrup that was almost disgustingly sweet in its filth. His jaw was clenched, though his face was trying to snarl, and the fist he brought against the door was actually shaking.
The door slammed open, obviously aided by telekinesis, and he pushed past her. She saw the tracks here, as well, very faint, on the very edge of the sneaker that had tracked it. Nathan didn't seem in the least worried about checking the area, and Dom swore softly as she followed him, eyes darting towards every door.
Above them, they heard the congregation stop singing and start screaming.
* * * * * * *
She clawed frantically at the door, pulling at the knob, not even realizing the low cry was coming from her. All she could hear was screaming, screaming, God, let them leave my girls alone! Josh, Sam, help them! Can't you hear it?
Oh Sam, oh baby, it's okay, Momma's here, it'll be okay
The knob turned beneath her fingers, and the door threw itself at her, shoving her back.
Serpents hissed loudly. They wound about her body, one ice cold and hard, the other quite warm and alive, and they hissed at her. She screamed, very hoarsely, and struck out
And found a warm, human face.
She continued to shake her head, to struggle. It was one of them, come to shut her up. Or kill her. Or show her what they'd done to her children. How could God let this happen in a church? The serpent stank, and tried to bodily haul her out of the room.
No, it's a human!
She coughed; the stench was everywhere, suffocating her, making it hard to breathe.
#Lucinda! It's Cable, I'm not going to hurt you.#
No . . . it was one of the Northerners, with their accents and their callused hands
But that voice . . . it seemed so familiar . . .
"Gas! Damn, what will they think of next? Give her to me-"
She was handed to a smaller serpent, one seeming of equal strength.
*My children . . . the twins are crying . . . Nathan? Help them. Please?* The serpent began to carry her away, and she tried to hold her breath against the stench of it.
"Oath! The kids are down here! Ric, Tab, get in here now!"
*Sam . . . help him, find Sam . . . he's hurt . . .*
The stench was simply too much, and retreating was so much easier . . .
#Lucinda, stay with me!* A commanding voice, like the voice of a general. Like the voice that had killed Reverend Hicks, a very neutral voice. Like the voice that had ordered her taken away, a very hard voice.
* * * * * * *
Domino made a face as she was forced to take a breath, and barely kept from coughing. She immediately felt light-headed.
*Knock-out or nerve?*
#Can't tell.# She watched him kick in a door, heard another canister explode and hiss more of the white gas into the hall. Just beautiful. Whole place was rigged.
Ric had just found the door to the hallway, and was rushing in, shaking his head against the gas that stung his eyes. Wordlessly she handed him Lucinda, and his eyes widened in recognition. One of her eyes was swollen nearly shut, her lips cracked and a small stain of blood on her light white sweater. He hurried her back towards the kitchen. Nate came back out with two young children, the twins, obviously, and Domino scooped them up as quickly as possible and set off at a dead run for the kitchen door.
They struggled weakly against her, obviously not recognizing her, and as she entered the relatively clean air of the kitchen she hacked the gas out of her lungs and sucked in a huge breath. Ric was doing much the same thing, having gently laid Lucinda on the ground. The woman was breathing well, but out cold. The twins immediately pulled away and hurried to her, and when Dom had caught her breath, she nodded to Ric.
"Get them outside. What's going on in the sanctuary?"
Ric made a face. "Assistant priest found the Reverend dead in his office. Came back into the main room covered in blood." He tried to pry the twins off their mother, Lucinda groaning slightly, and she grabbed a few quick breaths, saturating her lungs with oxygen before plunging back into the fog of the hall.
A large, towheaded boy was headed towards her, two girls with him, stumbling and coughing. He tensed at the sight of her, then seemed to recognize her even as she did him. She nodded to Josh, pointing towards the kitchen, and he nodded and rushed past, half-carrying Joelle and Elizabeth, Jeb in tow, making sure they didn't straggle.
That left Sam. If he was here.
If he was alive.
She pushed farther into the murky air, the lights off and the hall filled with the white gas. All the doors she passed were open, all empty, most curiously void of furniture. What had these rooms been used for?
She had to shake tears from her eyes, and upon glancing down, she saw the blood trail.
It led directly in front of her.
There was a light, up ahead, all the way at the end, and the air was relatively clearer here. Her boots made a hollow yet curiously muffled thump as she ran, her lungs burning slightly and complaining of the breath she held. Her eyes stung heavily, and she wondered if this was the kind of gas that ate retinas.
A huge, shadowy form emerged, misshapen and ominous in the mist, and as it approached, she made out the bright beacon of light, about eye level.
#I've got him. The rest of the kids out?#
She waited for him to catch up before they tried to find their way back down the misty, foggy hall. *I think so. Six?*
#Sounds right.# She heard a loud clank, and a piece of a yellow ring rolled to her. Mutant inhibitor collar. Now that he was closer, she could see how gently he carried Sam, and the large metal hand covering his face, keeping it from her view. Sam's head was moving back and forth slightly, as if he was fighting for air
Air that would kill him, if he got a good enough wiff of it. Her knees were starting to weaken, but she was fairly sure her lungs shouldn't be feeling the way they were from simple sleeping gas. The held breath was struggling to escape, and it took all her will to keep from gasping at the white death that floated around them.
FoH using gas like this in a church, on a Sunday. Talk about bad press.
They found the kitchen, shutting the door against the gas that was pouring in, and made it out into the main hall, where crying men and women in their Sunday best stared at them as though they'd never seen anything like it before.
Then again, most normal, church-going folk rarely see a man with one metal arm carrying a plasma cannon over his shoulder and a
A badly beaten, bloodied young man in his arms.
Cable had them outside in less than ten seconds, laying Sam down very, very gently on the pavement, oblivious to the crowd around them. Dom knelt, tucking the firearm away with one hand and searching for Sam's pulse with the other. Frowning, she pushed her fingers harder into his neck. She couldn't tell if the faint pulse was her own or his, and moved her hands to his heart
And squished into unyielding flesh, so foreign that she jerked back, forgetting the pain in her lungs. Cable seemed to have already discovered it, and the look on his face was . . . very foreign.
He literally looked like he was about to cry. Not in the lip-twisting red-nosed way, but in the way of a parent that has been expecting all along to hear the bad news from the surgeon. He was muttering under his breath in Askani, and she watched Sam's chest carefully depressed by unseen hands.
To try CPR on a man with a set of broken ribs over his heart would kill him, plain and simple. Gently, she probed for his heart, her fingers brushing against the bone fragments in his chest. Wondering how he was still alive.
And then she didn't have to wonder anymore.
"Oath, _breathe_," Cable hissed, his whole being focused on the boy on the ground, trembling with the effort and control it took to make a person's heart beat, a person's lungs expand. Domino sat back, knowing she was just in the way. C'mon, Sam, you're an External, you don't _die_. C'mon, Sam . . . _come on_ . . .
Cable against used his telekinesis like an artist with a brush, trying to make life where there simply was none. She remembered seeing Sam struggling against Cable's hand over his face - he'd been alive, they'd gotten to him in time . . . this wasn't fair, or right, or
Come _on_, Sam! Breathe!
Three minutes. Four.
Cable remained there, crouched by Sam, his body trembling with exertion and dripping sweat, jaw set and eye glowing balefully in a face framed with wild silver hair, at odds with his breathing as it danced gently on the breeze, reaching out as if to stroke him comfortingly. Domino took up Sam's hand, the cold clamminess of it, the blue tinged fingernails.
"God dammit, Sam, breathe," she almost snarled, her throat tight and painful, and not due to the gas.
Nathan moved suddenly, his hands reaching out and clasping Sam's face, his eye seeming to scream light at Sam, as though it were about to leap into him and spark life back into his still body. He bowed his head, and the link loosened a bit. He was using all his power, didn't have enough to keep the link tightly locked-
Domino gasped as pure, raw emotion tore down the link she'd been unconsciously probing for the past ten minutes. Pain, on so many levels. Anguish. Fear. Denial. Guilt. A sense of dread she couldn't ever remember feeling from him, leaving a bitter taste in her mouth. Domino looked up to see the kids, surrounding her, Tabitha, crouching beside the waking Lucinda, watching with tear-filled eyes.
"C'mon, big guy." Ric was chanting under his breath, probably not even aware of the words.
Shatterstar was behind Cable, eyes clouded with anger as he watched.
James, holding the twins, bouncing them up and down gently as he shook his head, pacing almost nervously, a huge bulk of a guy that kept catching her peripheral vision.
Abruptly the link closed, and Cable fell back, onto his knees, head still bowed, breathing heavily. He didn't look up.
Sam was still. As still as the concrete he lay on. The breeze pulled at his ripped tee shirt in an attempt to encourage him to move. His chest remained still. His eyes stayed closed.
Tabitha was murmuring. "Mrs. Guthrie, please, lie still, you've a concussion -" Her voice choked off, but she continued valiantly. "The kids are okay, Mrs. Guthrie, they're all here."
"Sam . . ." She was trying to sit up. Josh took things from there, moving to block her view.
"We're okay, Momma, we're all okay -"
The crowd was murmuring themselves, the ones nearest in shock.
"Oh mah Gawd, is he dead?"
"What was they doin' in th' church nohow?"
"Lucinda, honey, oh, darlin', I'm so sorry-"
And Domino closed her eyes.
The crowd silenced itself soon after that, everything stood still.
"Josh, help me up."
"You mind me!"
The sound of clothing moving. The sounds of Joelle, a tiny whimper starting from somewhere deep within her tiny chest.
"He'll get better, Momma. He always gets better." Elizabeth sounded full of confidence, the confidence of a young child hanging onto a constant in a chaotic time.
Only it wasn't so much of a constant, was it.
Domino opened her eyes.
Lucinda was leaning heavily on Josh, the twins gathered around her, a hand on each, before her right flew up to her mouth, eyes growing wide and just as suddenly flooding with tears. She came forward a step. Two. Three.
Looked directly at Domino, beseechingly.
Domino swallowed, her throat too tight for words.
"He . . . he will get better, right?" Her voice shook, high and forced in the silence, most of her southern accent gone now, hidden by the grief in her dazed voice. "He said that he . . . he couldn't . . . he said . . ."
Cable moved. He looked up, his eyes empty, distant. His face was set perfectly neutrally.
"He's . . . I scanned him, but I . . . his mind . . ." Cable paused. "I don't think he made it, Lucinda." The last was said so softly that Domino wouldn't have heard it if she hadn't been holding her breath. The hand moved again to Lucinda's mouth, and she stumbled forward the rest of the way, Josh trying to support her, trying not to let the tears show.
Trying to be strong.
Trying to be Sam.
There is no sound in the world that compares to the sound of a mother who has lost a child. It's a different kind of sound, one that time can't erase, one that eats up the silence between moments, that whimpers just as you're falling asleep, jarring you into a sleepless night of waiting, watching the colors and scents that come back with the memory of it.
The smell of blood, and the cheap perfume of the churchgoers on the slight evening breeze.
The color of the setting sun, the settling in of the dark, the creeping of shadows.
The feeling of absolute helplessness, helpless to save the life that slipped away visibly, leaving behind only what was broken, leaving behind only the ones that had so cared for it.
Leaving behind a mother, crying, holding a hand that wasn't holding back. Leaving a family confused, torn.
The wail mercifully broke into sobs, huge, shuddering sobs, fingers frantically grasping the pale, bloodless, frighteningly malleable ones attached to a hand that couldn't feel it. Domino put a hand on her shoulder, awkwardly. She turned eyes towards Cable, staring at Sam with a look of such confusion.
Was it the mutant collar around his neck? Had that inhibited his powers somehow? They knew Externals were mutants, but could a simple collar have prevented those powers from kicking in? Or were his good for one time only?
"No no, Sam, it's okay, Momma's here, it'll be okay . . . Sam? . . . oh, Sam . . ." She stroked his hair, tears streaming down her face, the twins clinging in fright to Josh, chewing on his upper lip in a gallant attempt to stop his own tears.
"No, Sam, no no no . . . please don't . . . don't leave . . . not you too . . ."
"Momma." Jebadiah's voice cracked. "Th' ambulance is here."
Domino started, finally hearing the approaching siren, the buzzing of the crowd. Cable stood slowly, the movements lacking his usual grace and power, seeming now like those of an old man. Over the link came something vaguely dark, unsettling, and she was half-glad that she couldn't sense the whole of it. Sam had been alive, she'd seen his head moving, after Nate took the collar off . . . this wasn't possible . . .it wasn't possible.
Domino angrily brushed the water off her face, turning her back to the crowds and the ambulance pushing through them, moving to Tabitha, still crouched where Mrs. Guthrie had been laying, her shoulders shaking gently.
Domino knelt beside her, wrapping her arms around the girl, and she turned into the embrace.
"How . . . could he h-have died?" she managed to choke out. "He . . . he should have come back . . . he should have come back . . ."
He shouldn't have come back, a tiny voice muttered inside her head, and she chased it away furiously.
"He shouldn't . . . h-have died . . . why . . . did h-he die? In a c-church?" The rest of her words were too muffled and distorted, and Domino just pulled her close.
"I don't know, Tab," she murmured.
Something off to the side caught her eye, and her chin moved on Tabitha's head, her eyes going past the crying mother, the paramedics trying to move her off, past James taking the kids over to the ambulance. Past the crowds milling around in confusion. Past the flashing lights, past the open door to the church.
Standing off to the side, alone, aloof, she saw a statue with silver hair, glinting as it danced in the slight breeze.
continued in Of Fluttering Wings and Forgotten Dreams
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