by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, I finally did it. I got tired of justifying why Domino didn't go looking for Cable after their link broke during the Psi-War. So, here's a little revisionist Psi-War fic, showing the way it SHOULD have been. Here, she actually behaves IN CHARACTER and goes looking for him--just in time to get caught up in the events of the Nemesis Contract storyline. For those of you who aren't big fans of the book itself, the Nemesis Contract basically consisted of a faction within SHIELD deciding that Cable's T-O virus would be the perfect catalytic factor to create a new sort of synthetic SHIELD agent. But all of that comes out quite sufficiently in the story itself, and that's not the important part, anyway. I've heard it said that fanfic gets written because fans want to 'fix' what they see as injustices in plot or characterization in canon. I usually shrink from using that explanation, as I'm not arrogant enough to think I'm better than people who write about these characters for a living, but this time, that's EXACTLY my motivation. This is possible the biggest 'injustice' in the history of either of these characters, and it's long past time that someone did something about it.
THANKS: To Lynxie, KJ, Duey, Mitai, Pebbs, Lyssie, and BJ, my faithful fellow #plotters. Couldn't have written it without you, ladies...:)
WARNING: A wee bit of implied naughtiness at the end of part 2, so younger readers be warned. ;)
Most of Hell's Kitchen was still sealed off when she got there. Cleaning up from the fire', Domino thought, her stomach churning with a mixture of anxiety and bitter scorn as she stood on the rooftop of the low-rise, overlooking the devastation.
A fire. Right. One had to wonder what brainless idiot had come up with THAT particular cover story. It sure wasn't going to hold. There had been too many witnesses around-- not to mention the few minutes of live video of SHIELD's assault that had gotten out before the signal had been scrambled. People--and not just the media--would want answers.
Answers. Reddened violet eyes narrowed, focused on the safehouse. She could see it from here. It was apparently untouched, standing almost at the center of the damaged area. Like the eye of a hurricane. That's where her answers would be. HAD to be.
If only she'd gotten here sooner--Domino brutally shoved the what-ifs away before they could overwhelm her. They didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Not her hesitation, not her fumbling attempts to figure out what had happened and what she might be walking into--not even the twenty hours she'd spent locked in her room in San Francisco, desperately trying to reach him, trying to forget what it had felt like to wake up with Nathan's scream ringing in her ears and that red-hot agony surging down their link the moment before it had exploded, leaving only aching emptiness behind. It didn't matter. She had to keep telling herself that.
Her hands tightened into fists at her sides, and her eyes stung with the tears she'd been desperately trying not to shed for days now. Wiping her eyes impatiently, she headed for the fire escape. She couldn't waste any more time.
Getting past the perimeter was the work of about five minutes. Child's play, really. Once she was inside the restricted area, it was easy enough to keep away from the clean-up crews'. Who were, a dispassionate part of her mind noted, clearly not city employees. The way they worked together, the way they moved, even their general physical type, gave away the truth to anyone with an ounce of sense. The area was being sanitized. Whatever had really happened here, the powers that be didn't want to leave any traces.
She just wished she could pretend, just for a moment, that this might have had nothing at all to do with Nathan. But chances that SHIELD had carried out what had looked pretty much like a full-scale assault on this particular neighborhood to catch someone ELSE seemed pretty slight, even if one were optimistic. And optimistic didn't quite describe her mood at the moment--
*Look at it this way,* a calmer voice told her. *If SHIELD was in here after him four days ago, whatever you felt wasn't him--dying.* She nearly tripped over some rubble, her vision blurring with tears again at the thought.
That was exactly what she'd thought must have happened to Nathan, until she'd pulled her head out of her own ass for long enough to realize that something had gone wrong with Moonstar's powers, too. She'd pulled herself together--made a few phone-calls, checked up with a few sources. She knew a few other mutants with psionically- based powers. As far she'd been able to find out, they'd all been affected.
Nate. Without his powers. She shivered, folding her arms across her chest and hugging herself tightly at the memory of that night in the Baxter Building after the fight with Onslaught, when the T-O virus had gotten out of control and nearly killed him. If he didn't have his powers anymore, if he couldn't help himself, there was no one else who could--
The safehouse looked abandoned, just like it should. None of the perimeter defenses seemed to be active; she didn't even have to bother using her key' to bypass the security systems. Domino moved silently down the dark hallway, headed for the central room of the safehouse.
This was bringing back too many memories. This was where she'd waited for him, the last time she'd seen him. She'd pulled in all her markers to track him down, and then blown it entirely--shouting at him, throwing everything that had happened to her lately in his face, as if he was to blame for it.
Not listening to him. What had he been trying to tell her? she wondered miserably, swaying slightly on her feet. She'd been so angry, nearly irrational--she could recognize that now--and all that was clear in her mind were his eyes. The--desperation there.
Voices, ahead of her. She hesitated, her heart pounding in her chest, and unconsciously reached out through the broken link. The emptiness inside her mind howled with anguish as soon as she touched it, and a quiet sob escaped her. *Please--please be there--* she thought desperately, dazedly, as she forced herself to keep walking forward.
Hunched over the computer console, only one small light on in the entire room was a familiar, vaguely insectoid form. Beside him stood a slender brunette woman--who was also familiar, Domino thought with a shock of recognition. *She was in the hospital when I woke up--who the hell is she?*
The woman turned, letting out a little gasp of alarm as she saw Domino. "You!" she blurted, green eyes full of consternation. "How--"
"Good evening, Domino," Blaquesmith said, without turning around. "I've been expecting you."
Somehow, that calm, utterly unflappable pronouncement reached deep down, past the weariness of the last few sleepless nights and the pain of that void in her mind, and provoked a ripple of real anger. "You've been expecting me?" Instead of hoarse, her voice came out low and dangerous, so subtly threatening that the brunette woman stiffened, her eyes widening in real alarm. "What the hell is that supposed to mean, you little rat?"
"It means," Blaquesmith said very calmly, "that I anticipated your arrival. It would be out of character for you to have sensed Nathan's reaction to the loss of his psionics and not come to investigate--no matter what sort of disagreement the two of you had at your last meeting."
"Fuck you, Blaquesmith!" She couldn't manage to put any heat in the snarl, though. It felt like there was an iron band tightening around her chest with every breath. She ignored it as best she could, and went on stubbornly. "Loss of his psionics'?" she demanded. "All of his powers?"
"Yes," Blaquesmith murmured, and finally turned to face her, a penetrating look in those strange eyes. "The virus was out of control when he went out to face some sort of-- energy creature rampaging through this area. I can't be certain, but I believe it was released by SHIELD. They moved in shortly afterwards, and Nathan never returned to the safehouse."
"So you don't even know if he's ALIVE?" Oh, this got better and better. She'd expected answers here, damn it! Not more questions and worse uncertainty--
"No," Blaquesmith said, very softly. "But I believe that now, we can find out. Together."
The place was a hovel. She'd forgotten how much she hated this particular safehouse. Nate had some pretty decent hide-outs--the one in Switzerland was a personal favorite of hers--but this place had never managed to transcend that first bad impression it had made on her, all those years ago.
This was where she'd first found him again, after that disaster in the Yucatan, the Pack's last mission. She hadn't been looking for him--hadn't trusted herself if she found him--but a few rumors had reached her, and one thing had led to another.
She'd confronted him here, told him exactly what she thought of him for betraying them, for shooting Hammer and leaving them all to die. In the end, she'd come so very close to pulling the trigger on him, taking the only kind of revenge that had made any sense at that moment. If he'd made any attempt to justify his actions, to defend what he'd done--but he hadn't. He'd just LOOKED at her--waiting, with a nearly inhuman patience, for her decision. Life or death.
It had been then that she'd realized, that she'd seen the full scope of the bond between them and known that she couldn't kill him, no matter what he'd done. That hadn't made everything all right, of course. It had taken years before she could bring herself to forgive him, and longer still to trust him again.
Hard lessons, for both of them. But she'd learned, or so she'd thought. She'd thought she'd made peace with all the risks and compromises of knowing him. Of loving him.
How easily she'd forgotten. Slowly, as if in a dream, she moved around the dimly lit, spartan confines of the bedroom. His room, according to Irene.
It felt like him. Nate had never been much for homey clutter, she thought with a pang that provoked a sharp, indrawn breath that wasn't quite a sob. But there were definite signs of his occupancy in the room, traces of him that wrenched at her heart. A gun lying here, where he'd obviously set it down in the middle of cleaning it. A sweater, neatly folded and laid over the desk chair. A worn, battered copy of Tolkien on the bedside table.
Domino sat down on the bed before her legs could give out on her. With shaking hands, she picked up the book, cradling it as if it were the most precious thing in the world. She opened it to the front page.
To Nate,' it read. So that you'll learn there's something out there worth reading besides Sun Tzu. Love, Dom.'
Love'. So breezily tossed-off, in such a casual hand. She closed the book and clapsed it to her, swallowing past a lump in her throat. She'd been all of nineteen years old when she'd given him this.
She hadn't even known what the word meant.
She looked up sharply, meeting Irene Merryweather's troubled gaze. The ex-reporter grimaced apologetically, and Domino managed a faint smile.
"It's all right." Her voice came out clearer, stronger than she'd anticipated. "He found it?"
Blaquesmith had told her to let him track down Bridge's new address in Washington. She could have probably found it herself, with a few phone calls, but after Irene had caught her up on everything that had happened since Domino had stormed out of here after that argument, she'd been a little--unsteady on her feet, the shock and sleepless nights finally catching up to her. Blaquesmith had suggested she take a few minutes to meditate on the situation as it stands', which was probably Askani-speak for pull yourself together'. She hadn't bothered to argue with him. She wasn't that proud, that she couldn't admit to herself when he was right.
Irene nodded silently. She came in, turning the desk chair around and sitting down, giving Domino an intent look. "Are you sure you're up to this?" she asked bluntly. "You look pretty shaky."
"Not to be rude, Merryweather, but you don't know Bridge. He's not QUITE as stubborn as Nate, but on a bad day, he can give him a run for his money. How far do you think you'd get without me?" Domino raised an eyebrow, daring the other woman to challenge her.
Irene's smile was almost wistful. "I've managed to talk Nathan around a few times," she said, mildly. "But considering what's at stake here--I'm glad I don't have to go it on my own."
Domino laid the Tolkien back on the night-table and gave the younger woman a penetrating look, trying to assess what was behind those shadowed green eyes. "You would, though, wouldn't you?" she said softly. "You'd march right in there and throw what little evidence we have in the face of the ex-director of SHIELD--"
"Wouldn't you?" Irene asked awkwardly.
"Why? Because you--" Irene bit off what she'd been about to say when Domino gave her a warning look. "Look," she continued, almost apologetically. "I'm not--hell, this is ridiculous. I'm not--well, competition! Is that what you wanted to hear? When he doesn't scare me, he's pissing the hell out of me--but he's important to me. I--believe in him, okay? Everything I've seen, since he saved my life--I can't NOT, anymore."
Domino closed her eyes for a moment, wishing she hadn't brought up the topic in the first place. I believe in him'. When was the last time she'd thought that? Had she ever? It had always been a question of trust, of giving ground grudgingly, learning to accept that it wasn't surrender to let someone inside the walls around her heart.
"Yeah," Domino said, pushing all the turmoil down, deep down, and pulling the professional mask back into place. She opened her eyes, giving Irene a level look. The younger woman looked taken aback by the sudden change in her demeanor, and Domino smiled slightly. "Let's go to Washington, Irene," she said calmly. "I've got an old friend who's overdue for a refresher lesson in hand-to-hand."
Irene's eyebrows just about hit her hairline. "Aren't you even going to give him the benefit of the doubt--?"
"Once he swears to me that he didn't have anything to do with this, yeah. If he does that, I'll probably limit myself to a good kick in the balls for old time's sake."
"Domino--this is break and enter--"
"Irene, would you be quiet? Believe me, G.W.'s not going to turn us in." Domino gave an exasperated sigh. *Why DID I bring her along?* For some reason, leaving Nathan's chronicler' behind--*chronicler, what does he need with a chronicler, is he having delusions of grandeur again??*-- hadn't even occurred to her.
But Irene certainly wasn't comfortable with sitting here in G.W.'s living room, waiting for the new head of SHIELD's Washington bureau to come home. If Domino hadn't told her to sit down on the couch and stay there, she'd probably be pacing the room right now, giving away their presence to anyone who happened to walk by outside and catch a glimpse of them through the bay window.
Quite a nice house, Domino thought impassively. *Guess the new job pays well.* There were still boxes piled everywhere, though, which surprised her. From the looks of it, G.W. wasn't even half-unpacked yet. Very uncharacteristic. He had always been so fastidious when it came to his personal space'. Either he'd been really busy-- or he'd had something preying on his mind. A moral dilemma, maybe? she thought humorlessly. G.W. had always had problems with those.
*Is that your problem, old friend?* she thought, looking around at the boxes. *Conscience bothering you?*
Something was happening, as she sat here waiting for him. Something she hadn't expected, despite her casual words to Irene before they'd left New York.
She was getting angry.
Bridge had been so determined to hunt him down, so persistent. It hardly seemed possibly that he hadn't had a hand in this. *Was this the only time you could catch him, G.W.?* she thought angrily. *When his powers were gone and he was dying on his feet?*
If that sanctimonious bastard had anything to do with this, with sending SHIELD's air cavalry into a residental area after one sick, injured man, she was going to kill him. With her bare hands.
"I see." There he was, quite calmly walking up to his front door, fumbling in his pocket for his keys. Domino smiled coldly, and picked up the gun she'd laid on the coffee table. "Not a word, Irene. Leave it to me."
"All right," Irene whispered nervously, shrinking back into the couch as if she wanted to melt into the shadows. Domino gave her a reassuring look that the younger woman probably couldn't see in the dimness of the room, and then leaned forward slightly in the chair she'd chosen, holding her gun at the ready.
She heard the keys rattle in the door, and then the chirp of the alarm system she'd gotten around so easily being disarmed. The door opened with a loud creak, and she heard footsteps, the rustle of fabric. Then silence. A deep sigh that sounded surprisingly exhausted, and then more footsteps.
Bridge's tall form was lit slightly by the faint light of the streetlights, flooding in through the bay window, as he walked by, clearly headed towards the stairs.
"Rough day?" Domino asked softly, just before he could pass by the doorway into the living room.
He froze. She flicked the safety off her gun, quite deliberately, knowing he knew the sound and knew what it meant. "Dom," he said in a strained, hoarse voice that didn't sound anything close to his own. He didn't turn around, didn't move a muscle. "Dom, hold on--"
"Shut up." She wanted to hear what he had to say, true, but there were a few things they needed to get clear beforehand. "Come in here, and keep your fucking hands where I can see them."
He flinched at the muted savagery in her voice, but obeyed, moving slowly, clearly not wanting to provoke her. Irene stiffened as his gaze moved to her for a moment, and Domino waved him to the chair right across from her.
"Sit down," she said harshly, still keeping her voice low. At this distance, even with the only light the dim glow coming in through the window, she could see his face clearly. He looked tired, years older than he had the last time she'd seen him. The thought provoked a flicker of sympathy, but she crushed it ruthlessly. "Before you explain to me exactly what the hell's going on, G.W., let me just get this out front. If this was your idea--if you had anything to do with this--your secretary, tomorrow morning, is going to get worried when you don't answer your phone. She'll probably send an agent over to check on you, and said agent will find your body. Are we clear on that?"
"Perfectly," Bridge muttered. "Do I get to talk now?"
Domino leaned back, still keeping her gun fixed on him but relaxing slightly. "Make it good," she grated.
"I didn't know," he said simply.
"You'll excuse me if I have a hard time believing that, G.W. Didn't hunting him down used to be your JOB?"
"Dom, are you going to listen to me, or are you going to keep on with the editorial comments?" She relaxed further at the testiness in his voice. Acting wasn't among G.W.'s talents, and her instincts were telling her that he was honestly upset about this.
G.W. eyed Irene for a moment, and then continued. "I didn't know. Shit, Dom, NICK doesn't know, as far as I can tell. There's a group within SHIELD who just up and decided that Nate was the perfect subject for a little-- experiment of theirs." His voice broke, but before Domino could demand more details, he went on. "It's the T-O virus they wanted--" He went on for a solid ten minutes, explaining about the Nemesis project, how this group had sent one of SHIELD's manhunters in to take Nathan down and then changed their minds, sending in the air cavalry to finish the job.
"This is like something out of a science fiction novel," Irene whispered when he finally stopped. G.W. gave her an irritated look, and she raised a defensive hand.
"Who is this, Dom?" he growled.
Domino raised an eyebrow. "A friend," she said coldly, with a deliberate cruelty that made him wince. It sounded to her like G.W. was telling the truth, that he hadn't had anything to do with this, but she wasn't quite ready to go easy on him yet. Maybe that was unfair, but after what was happening to Nathan, she wasn't precisely in a mood to be fair. "So where is he now?"
"Aboard the Helicarrier," Bridge said, his voice still hoarse. Not just from all the talking, either, Domino released with a grudging bit of sympathy. "Dom--what they've done to him--it's obscene. Apparently it took them almost fifty hours to cut out enough of the T-O virus to use on these damned droids of theirs--" Domino winced at the image, but Bridge didn't seem to notice. "They've got him drugged to the eyebrows and locked away in a psionic dampening chamber--"
"But his powers are gone, aren't they?" Irene asked.
"That's what the report I--stole said," G.W. continued, as if she hadn't interrupted. He met Domino's eyes, his expression bleak. "According to Belgrade, the neural dampeners are the only reason he's survived. They slow down the virus. Even if you managed to get him out--"
"One thing at a time," Domino said, biting off the end of each word. They'd cross that bridge when they came to it. "First we have to get him out. Now, G.W., are you going to help, or do I start using you for target practice?"
He didn't even flinch. "What do you think?" he asked painfully.
She stared into those dark eyes for a moment longer, and then put the gun away. "How do you want to do this?" she asked calmly, just like she had back in the days with the Pack, when she'd been waiting for orders out in the field. SHIELD was his turf--he knew the ins and outs of the organization like she never could.
"Actually," Irene said, sounding like she was trying to be diffident, "I have an idea." Domino gave her a questioning look, and she shrugged, giving her and Bridge a faint smile. "Just hear me out."
*Where ARE they?* Domino thought angrily, glancing at the clock. *Damn it, G.W., you were supposed to meet me back here two hours ago!*
Irene's idea of a little negative publicity had been a good one, in hindsight. At the very least, it was a diversionary tactic that might buy them the time they sorely needed. Domino just wished that Irene hadn't been quite so insistent about having a source' along to quell Jameson's natural reluctance at taking the word of a tabloid reporter and printing it as fact in the Daily Bugle.
But it was ONLY a diversionary tactic. G.W. was going to get her onto the Helicarrier, and she was going to give her recently restored speed and reflexes a little workout. A risky plan, but it was the only one they had. There simply wasn't enough time to bring X-Force in from San Francisco, despite their previous success in infiltrating the Helicarrier. There was no one answering at the mansion, either. She and Bridge were going to have to do this on their own, and hope luck was on their side. She rubbed the scar at the base of her skull reminescently, reminding herself to thank Jesse again for his deactivation of Gryaznova's inhibitor--if she made it through this.
*Come on, G.W., you big oaf--where are you?* Doing up the zipper on the purloined SHIELD flightsuit, she stashed the last of her concealed weapons and went down to wait in the computer room. Not that she was all that fond of Blaquesmith's company, but at least she wouldn't be tempted to pace and swear under her breath if he was watching her.
When she got down there, she was more than a little surprised to find the little rat levitating upside down, meditating. *Meditating!* she thought, vaguely outraged as she watched him hover in the air. "Nice timing, old man," she said aloud, caustically. "Don't you have anything better to do?"
The minutes crawled by. She was beginning to seriously consider hauling off and punching him, to see if she got any reaction, when he suddenly righted himself in the air and floated back to the floor.
He was smiling. The little bastard was smiling--which was usually NOT a good thing, based on her past experience. "What?" she demanded suspiciously as he got up, moving stiffly but continuing to smile at her. "You look like the cockroach that just ate the canary--"
"Nathan's telekinesis has returned," he said, almost happily. "And someone aboard the Helicarrier has freed him."
"WHAT?" Domino had turned and was halfway to the door before the implications of what he'd just said struck her. Turning slowly, she glared at him. "Do YOU still have your powers?" she demanded.
"Of course. I do not exist entirely in this timeline, Domino, so my powers were completely unaffected by the event on the astral plane." He blinked at her almost innocently, and then his wrinked brow creased even further. "There-- appears to be some kind of battle," he said with a frown. "Robots, of some sort--"
Domino cursed. "I've got to get up there and help him!" she snapped, thinking swiftly, running through the options. There were distressingly few of them. "Can't you bodyslide me up there or something?" she demanded finally, out of desperation.
He shook his head almost gently. "That is no longer within my capabilities, dear child--"
"Don't call me that!" she blazed. "There has to be some way to get there and help him--"
"It is in his own hands, as his fate has always been," Blaquesmith said repressively. "Be tranquil, Domino. You have no way to get to the Helicarrier without your friend Bridge, and, as he is nowhere in evidence, you have no choice now but to wait."
"To WAIT?" Domino, seething with fury, advanced on the little Askani, murder in her eyes. "Is that all you're going to do, is sit here and WAIT to see if he makes it through this? What about all that Chosen One' nonsense? Or are you no better than Apocalypse, waiting to see if he's fit enough to survive?"
Blaquesmith's expression hardened. "I understand you are upset, child--"
"You understand NOTHING!" she almost screamed at him. "You don't give a damn about him, do you? Your perfect weapon's broken, so it's up to him to get himself out of trouble! You can't be bothered, since he's of no use to you anymore--"
"You are becoming hysterical, Domino."
"Shut UP!" She couldn't help the tears that escaped, leaking down her face in steadily increasing numbers. A plan, someone to help her carry it out--she'd almost had things under control. At the very least, she'd had the illusion of control, the ability to tell herself that she was doing SOMETHING to help him. But now?
Her knees buckled beneath her, and she bit back a sob. None of that mattered now. Her strategy, such as it was, had been relegated to the trash heap, and she had no way to intervene. No way to even know, except through the irritating, enigmatic little time traveler standing in front of her, what was happening to Nathan.
A strong hand reached out, closed over her shoulder. "You must have faith," Blaquesmith said in a softer voice. "I realize it is far too late to ask you to trust me, Domino, but can you not trust him?"
Trust. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, trying to shut out the world, to ignore that ceaseless ache where her heart should be. *Nate, come back to me--please.* There was too much left to say, too much that needed un-saying--
If only there was a little of their link left, enough to let him know that she was with him--but there wasn't. Not even a thread, connecting their two souls anymore. Just that emptiness, that shadow where light had been, inside her mind--the cold where there had been warmth.
She sniffled, wiping her eyes, and glared up at Blaquesmith. "If he doesn't--if he--I'm going to kill him. Then I'm going to kill you."
He gave her a faint smile that seemed somehow fond. "I don't doubt it for a moment, my dear girl."
"Domino!" Irene came tearing into the safehouse, soaked to the skin, gasping for air. Domino almost leapt from her chair, startled from her brooding.
Bridge was only a few steps behind her. "The Helicarrier just came within two hundred yards of taking out the Brooklyn Bridge," he reported tersely. He was just as wet as Irene, and Domino blinked, noticing for the first time the rumble of thunder that she could hear even here in the heart of the safehouse. "Apparently the Nemesis project went a little--wrong. The drones got loose and nearly wrecked the Carrier's engines." He shook his head in disbelief. "It's all over the news, damn it--we heard it on the radio on the way back over. I should check in--"
"There won't be any covering this up, at least," Irene said breathlessly. "It's rush hour, there had to be thousands of people who saw it--"
"Holy shit," Domino breathed, and looked sideways at Blaquesmith, who, although his feet were firmly on the ground, looking like he was still meditating. "Any word?" she asked almost fearfully. Blaquesmith didn't respond. Domino felt like throwing up, or screaming. Or both. "He can't have just vanished, damn it!" she raged.
"Actually," a hoarse, breathless voice came from the still- open doorway, "I broke a window and jumped into the East River." Blaquesmith shook himself, coming out of his trance, and Domino whirled, barely noticing Irene and Bridge doing the same thing. Cable, drenched and generally battered-looking, wearing some kind of blue skinsuit with what looked like an oversized bar code on the front, stood there blinking at them. There were small scars in a curious regular pattern all over his arms and legs, only half-healed on the flesh side but little more than rough seams in the techno-organic metal. "That sounds like the start of one of those New York jokes, doesn't it?" he said unsteadily, swaying on his feet.
"Nate--" Domino whispered, and started forward. But Blaquesmith threw out a hand to stop her. She gave him an irritated look, ready to push past him, but something in his expression stopped her.
"One moment," he said, and reached out to the console, tapping in a few commands. There was a soft humming noise, and then something embedded in the doorway was projecting a beam of light that swept over Nathan, head to toe and back again. Nathan stayed perfectly still, watching G.W. like a hawk. The light finally died, and Domino heard Blaquesmith give a sigh of what sounded very much like relief. "You have the virus under control."
"Obviously," Nathan muttered distractedly, still eyeing Bridge warily, his mistrust obvious. Domino couldn't honestly say she blamed him, but she opened her mouth to defend G.W. anyway.
Irene beat her to it. "Bridge was going to help us get you out," she said, talking so fast that her words nearly ran into each other. "We didn't think you'd be able to, well, rescue yourself--"
"What happened, Nate?" G.W. asked softly, not making a move towards him, as if he was afraid he'd bolt. Seeing the tension in Nathan's posture, the way he was quite deliberately lingering in the doorway, Domino suddenly wasn't all that sure he was wrong.
"Your manhunter wanted a rematch." Nathan's tone was flat, expressionless. "He got it." He blinked, shaking his head slowly. "Fury let me go." His voice was suddenly sounding more strained, ragged with exhaustion. "After the droids--he looked right at me, and didn't--didn't say anything. I don't know why--"
"We can do the debriefing later, G.W.," Domino muttered, taking a slow, careful step towards Nathan, one hand outstretched. "Landed in the East River, huh?" she said, lightly, drinking in the sight of him, alive and more or less in one piece.
"Yeah." He blinked at her as she approached, looking almost bewildered, as if he couldn't figure out what she was doing here. "Dom, what are you--why are you--"
"Well, when I heard the words significant property damage' in connection with Hell's Kitchen, I thought I'd stop by and see what you were up to," she said with a weak smile. It felt so--wrong, to stand here not ten feet from him and not be able to sense his presence.
He shied away from her; an instinctive reaction, it looked like. "Dom, how--" Taking a step backwards, he swayed again, nearly falling.
But, except for that moment, he seemed perfectly steady on his feet. Refusing their support, he muttered something about getting dried off and shouldered past them, headed upstairs. Blaquesmith watched him go, a peculiar expression on his wrinkled face. Irene looked worried and baffled, unsure of what to do, and Bridge's internal battle was so clearly written all over his face that his frozen-in- his-tracks state wasn't all that surprising.
Domino shook her head, muttering a curse under her breath, and followed Nathan. On her way by, she snagged the med-kit she'd been planning to take with her aboard the Helicarrier.
It was really quite simple, she thought to herself. First of all, there were eminently practical reasons for not taking his I'd like to be alone' hint. Blaquesmith might have established that the virus was back under control, and Domino assumed that he would have said something if his scan had picked up any other serious medical problems, but she wasn't willing to put all her faith in the little rat. She had to see that he was all right for herself.
There were less practical reasons, too. Such as the fact--no, make that the set-in-stone, irrevocable, unavoidable TRUTH that she wasn't letting him out of her sight.
Yeah, there was that.
By the time she got upstairs, he was already in the shower. With a deep sigh, she leaned over and picked up the soaked, filthy skinsuit that was lying in a heap on the bedroom floor. Her lip curled as she took a closer look at the bar-code' on the front of it. *Turn a person into a number--hell of an organization you work for, G.W.* She went back out into the hall and stuffed it down the recycle- chute with a little more force than was absolutely necessary.
Coming back into the bedroom, she went looking for something he could put on that wouldn't get in the way of her looking at those cuts. She really hadn't liked the look of them, that too-regular pattern stretching over every bit of exposed flesh. *It took them almost fifty hours to cut out enough of the T-O virus--* G.W.'s words echoed in her mind, and she growled under her breath.
So much easier to be angry, she thought with a flicker of dark amusement. It was a lot simpler than facing the emotions she'd felt, seeing him standing in that doorway downstairs. Dreaming about what she'd do to Clay Quartermain and that Dr. Frankenstein rip-off Belgrade didn't involve nearly as many complications as actually looking Nathan in the face and telling him--telling him--
"Nate, you okay in there?" she called, pitching her voice loudly enough for his hyper-sensitive hearing to pick up her words over the running water. Not getting anything resembling an answer--at this point, she would have been satisfied with a grunt--she headed over to the bathroom door. "Nate?" Even with the door half-closed, the chill in the air hit her like a slap to the face. "Shit, Nate!" she snapped in distress, throwing the door open and striding in, privacy issues the last thing on her mind at the moment.
He was standing under a steady stream of ice-cold water, trembling from head to toe, bracing himself with his arms as if he didn't quite trust his legs to hold him. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut, and he didn't seem to register her presence at all. Hell, she would have welcomed SARCASM at the moment--anything but this absolute lack of response.
She reached around him, turning the water temperature up to something at least a little warmer than glacial', and then slid her arms around him from behind. "It's all right," she whispered, not caring or even noticing that she was getting soaked. He was breathing heavily, almost gasping for air, as if he'd just run a marathon. Domino closed her eyes, hugging him tightly. "Nate--it's over--" she soothed.
At first, her words didn't seem to register on him at all. She didn't let that bother her. She just kept talking to him in that same soft, reassuring voice, the words coming seemingly of their own accord. Eventually, some of that terrible tension started to drain from his body. He was still shaking, but less spasmodically, and she felt him start to sag exhaustedly to his knees in time to ease him down more gently.
"You always did wait until after the action was over to be human, didn't you?" she muttered distractedly, reaching up with her free hand and turning his head towards her, caressing the side of his face lightly. His eyes were still tightly closed, but at least he seemed to know she was there, to judge by the way he was now clinging to her. After a few minutes, when he didn't seem quite so cold anymore, she detached him part of the way, very gently, and reached up to shut off the shower. "Suck it up, wait until the dust settles, and THEN let yourself feel, right?"
"Look--who's talking," he said hoarsely, swallowing hard and then, finally, opening his eyes. Domino stared into those weary, uncertain eyes, seeing the battered spirit behind them, trying to muster its strength. She shifted position slightly, putting an arm around his shoulders again and drawing him closer. "I--I'm glad you're here, Dom--" he whispered into her hair.
The admission was tentative, almost grudging, but it still made her smile. Only for a moment, though. "Come on," she said, firmly but still gently. He was starting to shiver more violently again, his skin growing cold and clammy. "You need to get dried off and into some warm clothes."
As she helped him up, Nathan blinked down at her, managing a weak smile. "You're soaked," he whispered raggedly as she handed him a towel.
"I won't melt," she said dryly, and stood back while he drieded off and tucked the towel around his waist. It let her get her first good look at him, and the sight made her grit her teeth, the muscles in her jaw clenching spasmodically. "Damn, Nate--" she barely breathed. His eyes flickered uneasily away, and she bit her lip, stifling whatever else she might have said. What WAS there to say, anyway? *Hey, babe, you look like shit?*
The scars were bad enough. A few of the cuts and bruises were newer, clearly picked up on his way out of the Helicarrier, but what bothered her was the weight he'd lost. She didn't know whether to attribute it to what he'd just been through or the temporary spread of the virus--or both-- but he was too thin, his face drawn and haggard, exhaustion etched on his features as if it was the story of his life. His shoulders were slumped, and he held himself stiffly, almost awkwardly, not even a trace left of the controlled, self-assured strength that usually marked his demeanor.
"Dom?" he said unsteadily. She shook her head, blinking back tears, and supported him as she led him back into the bedroom. He seemed a little more stable on his feet, she noticed, trying vainly to focus on that, on the good rather than the bad.
He was here, he had the necessary part of his powers back. They could take the rest of it as it came. "Like you didn't have enough scars," she muttered as she checked him over. He sat there on the bed, uncharacteristically passive, not even flinching when she cleaned some of the deeper cuts. "Ribs okay?" she asked.
"Just bruised," he said dully, his eyes fixed on some point on the wall over her head. Finishing her ministrations, she closed the medkit and rose, going over and putting it on the desk. She turned in time to see him pulling on the clothes she'd gotten out for him. His coordination seemed off, and as she moved to help him pull the sweatshirt over his head, she realized it wasn't just exhaustion. He was acting like he was off-balance, for lack of a better description. *Less of the T-O virus in his body--maybe he IS.*
"You need to rest," she said firmly, pulling back the blankets on the bed. He laid down like an obedient kid, blinking up at her, and she arranged the covers over him almost tenderly before she sat back down beside him. "You'll feel better once you do," she said, trying and failing to keep a brisk tone.
"Right." He started to push himself up on one elbow, but a wince of pain escaped him, and Domino grimaced, putting her hands on his shoulders and gently pushing him back down. "Dom," he said awkwardly. "We--I mean, I--"
"Can tell me whatever it is later," she said, reaching up and running a hand lightly over the silver stubble that was all that was left of his hair. "You and I are having a run on bad hair days lately, aren't we?" she said with a soft chuckle.
A faint smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "I like yours," he said tiredly, relaxing back into the bed.
"Oh?" Suddenly self-conscious, she fought the urge to run her fingers through her still-damp short hair to straighten it.
"Makes you look--different." He closed his eyes with a deep, shuddering sigh. Domino thought he'd fallen asleep until he spoke again. "You came," he murmured faintly.
"Of course I did," she said, her voice almost breaking. "What did you think I was going to do after the link broke like that? Say you win some, you lose some' and just go on with my life?"
"Wouldn't have blamed you." The quiet desolation in his voice nearly finished the hatchet job on her resolve. The look in his eyes when he opened them and looked up at her again was haunted, yet somehow guarded at the same time, as if he didn't know what to say to her--or wasn't quite sure she was there.
"Don't be--" She swallowed, pulling the covers up around him to buy herself a moment. "I was full of shit that day," she said unsteadily, still fiddling with the covers. "If I was going to give up on you, I would've done it a long time ago." Blinking back tears again, she shook her head, managing a shaky smile. "We don't have to talk about it now. You need to rest." She started to get up, knowing that she really should go and say SOMETHING to G.W., but hesitated, frowning, at the suddenly shuttered expression on Nathan's face. "What?"
"You weren't--full of shit." The walls cracked, briefly, and she caught a glimpse of the utter misery behind them. "You were right to--go. All I do is put the people around me in danger." She opened her mouth to say something, anything to forestall this sudden self-flagellation, but he pushed himself up to his elbows, his gaze bleary but determined. "I saw what the neighborhood looked like, on my way back here." Self-loathing curled beneath the flat, impassive words, like a snake waiting to strike. "All because of me. These people didn't do anything to deserve SHIELD razing their homes, it was MY fault--"
Domino reminded herself, firmly, of how counterproductive it would be at the moment to haul off and smack him. "Would you listen to yourself?" she demanded, half-angrily, half-disgustedly. "Damn it all, Nate, I wish I could write this idiocy off to the shape you're in, but it's too--YOU, isn't it? Everything that goes wrong is somehow your fault'--are you just masochistic, or do you honestly believe you're the center of the universe?" The anger peaked into something close to fury, and she rose, glaring at him. "I've got news for you, old man. I didn't come running out here to find you in order to sit here and watch you brood yourself into this damned self- indulgent depression of yours again! Grow the hell up, would you?"
His left eye flared briefly, then dimmed. "Why did you come, then?" The question was dull, almost incurious, and it was that very lack of emotion that pushed her over the edge.
"Why did I come?" she snarled, hands clenching into fists at her side, nails biting into the skin of her palms. She hardly felt it. "Why? Because this damned link I never asked for in the first place blew up in my face and I decided I had to find out what the fuck happened to you to cause that, THAT'S why! Frankly, I'm beginning to wonder why I bothered!"
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. Nathan stared at her, ashen-faced, for a moment, and then laid back down.
"You should go talk to G.W.," he said softly, turning his face towards the wall and staring at it as if there was something terribly interesting written there. "I--would, but I don't think I could make it down the stairs." A weak smile, meant to show it was a joke. Not entirely convincing, Domino thought painfully, and wondered what the going rate was for having one's mouth sewn shut.
"All right," she whispered, swallowing past a lump in her throat. A half-dozen different things she could say sprang to mind, but she ignored them all. An apology wouldn't do; part of her had meant that all too sincerely. And brushing it off, making a joke of it, would be--cruel, somehow. "Just-- try to sleep, all right?"
"Sounds like a plan." He closed his eyes, as if to follow her suggestion. But Domino watched long enough to see the faint tremor pass across his features before his expression smoothed. The little crease in his brow stayed, that line that always gave him away when he was tense or worried or in pain. Domino took a deep, shuddering breath at the sight of it, and turned, leaving the room before frustration and remorse and relief could boil over into another emotional display. It was going to take her long enough to get her foot out of her mouth as it was.
She wasn't sure what brought her back as soon as she'd seen G.W. out and promised to keep in touch. Irene had gone to her own room, pleading lack of sleep, after a few pointed questions about how Nathan was doing, and Blaquesmith had lost himself in meditation.
Instead of staking out one of the extra bedrooms and giving him and herself the space that she damned well knew was required at this point, after all the times they'd danced this dance, she'd come back to check on him. Maybe it was stubbornness, she thought uncertainly as she stood beside his bed, watching him sleep.
Or maybe she just couldn't stay away. The anger had receded, more than enough to let her see how misplaced it had been. Not that he wasn't infuriating and masochistic, but she hadn't been thinking, either. Just reacting, a defensive reaction that made her ashamed to acknowledge.
All of this had hit a little too close to home, made her face things she wasn't ready to face--possibilities she'd spent years running from. Don't feel.' That was the cardinal rule of survival in the world she'd lived in since childhood. If you let people touch you, you risked pain, and she'd long ago had enough of that to last a lifetime.
But here she was, staring down at his sleeping face, seeing the lines of pain and weariness that even his usual annoying habit of looking twelve years old when he slept couldn't hide, and trying, desperately, not to cry. She managed to pull a chair up next to the bed and sit down before tears of relief overcame her entirely.
So close. So damned close--and considering the history of the last eighteen odd years she'd spent with him, that was saying a lot.
She might have never seen him again, Domino thought in a moment of crystalline insight as the tears rolled silently down her face. She might have gone through the rest of her life knowing that those last, snarled words she'd tossed over her shoulder as she'd fled this very safehouse weeks before had been her only goodbye. Her last sight of him could have been that shocked, uncomprehending look he'd given her as she'd turned away from him.
And that, she couldn't have lived with. She would never have forgiven herself. Not when she'd learned the most important lesson this sort of life taught you, the inalienable truth that, in the end, your memories were all you had. You were the sum of your existence.
An existence that would have been so much poorer, so much darker, without him.
The reward was worth the risk. The joy was worth the pain.
Amazing how much clearer things seemed in the wee hours of the morning, she thought with a weary, wistful sort of amusement. Wiping tears away, she got up, but froze as Nathan suddenly stiffened, something that sounded alarmingly close to a whimper escaping him.
He was still asleep, she realized, leaning over him. Asleep, but dreaming--and not about anything pleasant, to judge by the way he was acting. Sweat was standing out on his forehead, and another stifled moan wrenched its way out from behind gritted teeth as he started to shake violently.
"Nate," she called softly, sitting down beside him on the bed but quite deliberately not reaching out to restrain him. "Nathan."
"Nate, it's okay," she said soothingly, still not sure whether or not she should touch him. He sometimes got violent when he was in the grip of a nightmare, so a little care was usually warranted if she didn't want an accidental broken bone or two. "Come on, babe, wake up--"
His eyes flew open and his whole body suddenly went rigid, as if he'd been flash-frozen in an instant. He stared up at her, no recognition at all in those wide eyes for a moment. "Dom," he finally croaked, and slumped back against the bed, starting to shake again. "Thought I was--"
"It's okay," Domino said gently, reaching out to him. But he flinched away, and she stiffened as he sat up, tossing back the covers and swinging his feet back over to the floor. "Nate? It was just a dream--"
He sat there on the other side of the bed, his back to her, those broad shoulders shaking with suppressed tension. Slowly, hesitantly, she got up and switched sides, sitting down beside him. He suddenly folded his arms across his chest, almost hugging himself, and she bit her lip, not knowing what to say. A minute or two passed in that awkward silence, but before she could settle on the right words, he turned to her, his expression almost feverish, eyes boring into hers desperately.
"I can't--I can't FEEL you," he said painfully. He reached out, as if to touch her cheek, but his hand froze halfway, the movement arresting itself almost automatically. "Before--before I could, even when we didn't have the link. I knew when you were there, even if I had my back to you. I could--hear you." He lowered his hand, and Domino saw it clench into a white-knuckled fist. "Now you're sitting there, right beside me, and I don't feel ANYTHING." The sudden wildness in his tone was frightening. "I'm afraid to even touch you, because part of me doesn't think you're real--"
"Nate--" she started, striving for a reassuring tone.
One lonely tear trickled down his cheek, but he seemed totally unaware of it. "It's so empty," he whispered, his gaze unfocusing. "Everything feels so empty--nothing feels right anymore, Dom. It's like I'm dreaming and deaf and blind all at once--"
The decision made itself. She reached out, taking his hand in hers. He jumped, starting to pull away, but she tightened her grip, having no intention of letting go. "I'm still here, see?" she said quietly. "I'm not going to disappear if you touch me, Nathan. I'm not a mirage."
She really hadn't thought this through at all. She'd seen telepathy as just another sort of mutant ability--if one that was personally unsettling to her. When Nathan had formed their psi-link, she'd eventually gotten over her qualms and come to quite enjoy it--the intimacy, the insight it gave her into his mind even in his most unreadable moments, even the spice it added to the physical side of their relationship.
But even then, her understanding had stayed limited and shallow. Terry, for instance, wasn't her sonic scream--but the same wasn't true for a telepath. Their ability couldn't be relegated to one corner of their existence, pushed away and separated from the rest of their life. It was what they were, how they related to the world around them.
She imagined, for a moment, going blind, seeing only darkness where there had been life. Going deaf, plunged into silence.
Losing the sense of touch, unable to feel anything beyond yourself. Losing all of that, simultaneously. Even what she was capable of picturing made her skin crawl, and she knew she wasn't anywhere near the truth of what he was feeling right now.
Words wouldn't do, she realized with a calm clarity. But looking at him sitting there trembling with exhaustion and a fear he wouldn't admit to herself, she knew she had to do something, and do it now.
She took his hand and laid it over her heart. "Do mirages have heartbeats?" she asked gently, wryly. He snatched his hand back as if he'd just put it on a burner, but she moved closer, reaching up and tracing the line of his jaw tenderly. He jumped again. "Could you feel a mirage touch you?" she asked softly.
"Dom--" He said her name softly, half-protest, half-plea. His arms went around her tentatively, and she leaned into that hesitant embrace as it tightened. "I suppose a mirage wouldn't smell like Obsession and gun oil," he ventured almost hesitantly.
She started to laugh, unable to stop herself, and kept laughing until tears were pouring down her face and the laughter was turning into sobs. "Oh, God, Nate--" she whispered shakily. "You ever do this to me again, you bastard, I'll kill you with my bare hands--"
"I never meant--" His whole body shook with silent sobs, as if some great dam had broken and released the flood of all the pain and fear he'd probably been reppressing since he'd lost his powers. "I never wanted--please don't leave, please--"
"Never," she whispered fiercely, after a heartbeat's worth of thought, and without a moment of regret. Pulling back slightly, she stared up into those haunted, lost eyes. They needed to talk. They needed to talk about all of this, until they were sick of talking, and then do it some more.
But not right now.
She would never be sure, afterwards, which of them moved towards the other first, who cast that last flicker of pride to the wind and reached out, wanting, needing, seeking and offering comfort at the same time. Then they were in each other's arms, and it didn't matter. Nothing mattered except shedding the layers of clothing that separated them, the inconsequential physical representation of that new, aching distance between them, the abyss they were each struggling to cross.
Then they were facing each other, a moment of hesitation coming simultaneously there in the dark. His eye flared for a moment, enough light to let her see the apprehension that flickered across his features, warring with the yearning. She reached up, touching the tears still on his face with an unsteady hand. He shivered.
"I--dreamed about you, on the Helicarrier," he said in a low voice rough with emotion. "I don't remember much--but I do remember that." He took her face between his hands, staring into her eyes as if he was trying to drown in them.
"Was I shrieking at you then, too?" she asked with a weak chuckle that sounded a little off, even to her own ears. He shifted, moving closer to her, and she leaned forward, responding to the unspoken signal. "Telling you off or just being my usual nagging--"
He kissed her, and she melted against him, her arms slipping around him seemingly of their own accord. She clapsed him to her fiercely, never wanting to let him go. This close, she could hear his heartbeat as loudly as her own, and part of her counted each beat, as if she was the one trying to reassure herself that HE was real.
There was still a separation here, a distance, she thought, gasping softly as he traced the line of her spine with a gentle hand. Maybe, as intoxicating as the link had been, this was the way it should be. Love wasn't losing yourself. It was facing your limitations, finding common ground. It was the flirtation with unity, those fleeting moments of transcendence, that combined with the times of pain and loneliness and gave structure to it all. Highs and lows--the roller-coaster of life.
And there was still so much to be lived, between the two of them. A different sort of honesty to be learned. "I don't feel much like a mirage," she whispered huskily in his ear, a sudden, blazing smile breaking over her features in the dark. It only grew wider as he lowered them both to the bed. "You convinced yet?" she said teasingly.
A faint smile tugged at his lips. "Almost," he said softly. They laid there for a moment, side-by-side, in perfect stillness. The way he watched her might have amused her, under other circumstances, but not now. Now it only touched her, and yet somehow saddened her at the same time.
"What do you see?" she asked, pushing herself up on one elbow and leaning over him. He turned over onto his back, staring up at her with that same, almost mesmerized intensity. "You're looking at me like you've never seen me before."
"Just remembering," he said, a little hoarsely. "Trying to see you--just with my eyes." That smile reappeared, struggled to grow. "I forget sometimes how beautiful you are--"
She smiled softly, leaning down and kissing him lingeringly. "Always know exactly what to say, don't you?" she murmured as she drew away.
"Not usually, no." He blinked up at her, and suddenly that wry, warm grin she hadn't even realized she'd missed seeing so much was back in full force. "Wisecracks," he said with a soft chuckle. "Is that how we're going to end up compensating?"
"Why not?" she said. "We were tossing smart-ass comments back and forth long before we ever started sharing headspace." With a devilish smile, she ran a hand across his closely-shaved hair again. "Did I mention that I actually think the buzz-cut is kind of cute?"
That particular wisecrack fell a little flat, as Nathan's expression turned somber, almost wistful. "But that was our way of keeping our distance," he said painfully. "I-- don't want to go back to that, Dom. I can't. Not when everything's so--empty."
The admission made her hesitate, wavering suddenly in her resolve. It wasn't that she didn't want him to be honest with her--it was what she'd wanted more than anything for longer than she liked to think about--but this was almost too much. What he was asking for--it put everything into flux, opened up new and terrifying possibilities she wasn't sure she was ready to face. Old fears surfaced, shadows reaching up to snare here within their inky depths again--
They fled, howling, back into the depths of her mind as perfect clarity soothed her unsettled thoughts, a calm recognition that seemed to glow with its own inner light.
He needed her. He needed her, and she needed him. If all these haunted days since the link had broken had taught her anything, it was how impossible, how dark and lonely and painful her life was when he wasn't in it.
He needed her. She needed him. They could take the rest as it came.
"None of us can ever go back, Nate," she whispered. That little crease formed between his eyebrows again, and she bit her lip at the sight of it, part of her wishing it away, wishing that she could undo what had happened to him-- that she could take away everything in the world that caused him pain.
Then again, if she did that, if she made herself into some kind of human crutch, he wouldn't be the man he was, would he? The reluctant messiah who could carry the whole damned world on his shoulders and yet still be the friend she laughed with, the comrade she fought beside, and the man who could make her feel as if she was his world--
It wasn't enough to admit it to herself anymore, she reminded herself. But the words couldn't get past the lump in her throat. And it was too much to express right now, too complicated an answer to the pain in his eyes.
"I'm here," she said hoarsely, pressing her lips to his temple in a kiss that was a wordless promise. "I'm here, Nate. For as long as you need me." A soft moan was her only answer, full of an anguished longing that tore at her heart, and she blinked back sudden tears. It seemed like she'd cried more in the last week than she had in all the rest of the years of her life combined. "I won't leave you, I swear--"
She was in his arms again before she could finish the sentence, their tears mingling as they came together with as much passion and need as two battered souls were capable of feeling. No words spoken, none needed as the world narrowed to this room, this bed, and the two of them, alone in the universe.
Two proud and lonely and wounded souls, separate, yet closer, in this moment, than they had ever been, as they pulled each other up out of the dark. Rediscovering the courage it took to reach out across the abyss, making the leap of faith one more time--and finding all the hope they needed in each other.
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