In The Still Of The Night

by Alicia McKenzie


DISCLAIMER: Characters are mine, not Marvel's, used without permission for entertainment only. This would be set sometime in very early X-Force, obviously while Copycat was still masquerading as Domino.

I've stolen lives before. Lots of lives. That's what I DO, after all. I'm a mercenary, but instead of just selling my gun, I sell my body. No, not like THAT. Although it feels like that sometimes, it really does--

Shapeshifting, as far as mutant abilities go, is pretty damned useful. A valuable commodity, to those with the right need and the right resources. Like Tolliver. My erstwhile employer. The man who sent me on this job, who told me to infiltrate this little group of mutant renegades and then betray them.

I'm a good soldier. A good employee. Usually. This time, though, I think of the way this all has to end, and it hurts. It hurts like hell. Partially because of the kids. Sweet, confused, lonely kids, just looking for a direction in life. Well, sweet's maybe overstating things, but they're good at heart, if you look deep enough.

Partially the kids. Mostly, though, it's because of him. I turn over in bed, studying his sleeping face intently. He looks like a kid himself, when he's asleep. All the defenses down, all the coldness gone. Young and vulnerable and achingly peaceful.

I'm falling in love with him.

That's not good.

He mutters something in his sleep, his brow creasing, lips trembling slightly. I reach out, smooth the rumpled silver hair back from his forehead. Tenderly--too tenderly. I could only permit myself such a gesture here, when we're alone. Anywhere else, there'd be too many eyes, too many witnesses to attest to the fact that I'm losing my objectivity. I should be able to sleep with my target without starting to care about him. I've done it before.

But this time is different.

A soft moan breaks through clenched teeth and he stiffens, sweat standing out on his forehead. A nightmare, I know, as I slide over and take him in my arms, cradling his head against my chest and stroking his hair gently, whispering soothing nothings. He relaxes, quieting. I wonder if she used to do this, when they shared a bed. He certainly seems to have these nightmares most nights. Awful nightmares. Some that make him cry like a child, others that make him get downright violent. I've learned to cope. Did she?

Did she comfort him, the woman whose face I'm wearing? I wonder a lot about her, these days. What she was like, to inspire this kind of unspoken devotion on his part. What kind of a sense of humor she must have had to make him smile.

Whether or not she loved him, too.

He seems to expect a lot from her--from me. Sparring partner. Second-in-command of his little X-Force. Devil's advocate. Confidant. Lover. Did she fit all those roles? If she did, she must have been a hell of a woman.

'Course, she must have been, to have kept up with him.

Maybe I should feel privileged to be here. To live a life worth living--for however long it might last. Here, there's sanity. A chaotic sort, but one with a plan, a purpose. A growing feeling of family, no matter how much Nate and some of the more independent-minded of the kids like to deny it, to each other and to themselves.

And there's him. Someone who looks at me and sees me as woman worth caring for. Someone more than a useful chameleon. Even if he's not seeing me.

What does it matter, in the end? You are what you are. You steal what moments of happiness you can.

If that makes me a parasite, so be it. I shiver at the chill that seems to settle into my bones at the thought, the desolation echoing in my heart. What a life. What a fucking excuse for a life.

He seems to sense it. Never fails to amaze me, that he can be so perceptive and yet not know he's dealing with a fraud, a fake. "Dom," he whispers, only half-awake, shifting position and sliding his arms around me comfortingly.

Warmth. Caring. A whimper escapes from me, before I can stop it, and his arms tighten, reassuringly. I lean my head against his for a long moment, and then, taking a deep, shuddering breath, kiss him with all the yearning inside me, all the emptiness that needs to be filled.

I draw back after a long moment, smile tremulously as he blinks at me sleepily. He's awake now, but not quite clear-headed. "Dom?" he asks softly, reaching out and stroking my cheek lightly with a strong, gentle hand. "What's wrong?

So gentle. So much kindness, under the facade of the cold, uncaring soldier. He's hurting inside, as much as any of these kids. They show it by acting out, squabbling with each other or taking out their anger on whatever unfortunate adversaries happen to cross their paths. He keeps it all inside, locked away. Perfectly balanced with that obsessive determination that drives him onward, that keeps him going when all part of him wants to do is lay down and die.

It's a precarious way to live. Sometimes I'm sure that one more loss, one more betrayal, would send him over the edge. And this side of him, this tender, compassionate side, the man who trusts me--trusts HER with his soul, would be lost forever, less than a memory.

I just wish I didn't have to chance being the one who tips those scales.

I don't even feel the tears pouring down my cheeks until he brushes them away, those kind eyes troubled, distressed. "What is it?" he whispers. "Bad dream?"

The very worst, sweetheart. The kind you can't wake up from. The kind where you're walking down the darkened hallway with the ominous music playing, and your brain is screaming at you not to open that door, only you can't stop yourself from reaching for the doorknob--

"Nate--" I swallow past a lump in my throat. "Just--hold me, please."

I want more than that, of course. I tell him that, just by the way I hesitate, then melt against him as he takes me into his arms. He hesitates, too, and then kisses me, those powerful, gentle hands moving over my body, awakening sensations I had long ago trained myself not to feel. Oh, I'd learned to fake them, well, enough, but feeling too much was dangerous. Surrending to passion could be fatal.

Those hands of his-- Hands that can kill instantly. Hands that would be locked around my throat at the moment, if he knew who I was and what I was planning to do.

I never note the passage of time, when we're together. A moment, an eternity, an eternity in a moment--I don't know and I don't care. All that's real to me is him, his strength, his tenderness. I have no right to love him, to accept the gift of his trust, but I do.

I open myself to him willingly, crying out his name, a plea, a prayer for forgiveness, as our bodies become one, a transitory, illusory moment of unity that can never be real.

Later, I pretend to drift off into a doze so that he'll feel free to do the same. When I hear his breathing slow to the regular rhythms of sleep, I open my eyes again, and watch him.

I could watch him sleep all night.

Maybe I will.




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