|DISCLAIMER: Any character you recognize is the property of Marvel Comics and is used without permission for entertainment purposes only.
Warning: This story may deal with adult issues, so be forewarned.
Just Lucky, I Guess
Sitting beside her on the plush sofa, Nathan listened intently as her cold dispassionate voice spoke matter-of-factly of his son's depravity in the tests his doctors had put her through, the violations she'd suffered, the hopelessness and anger of knowing that she had been completed replaced by an imposter and no one had known the difference. He averted his eyes in shame at that last, unbidden memories of Vanessa running through his thoughts. As she described Tolliver's abuses in clinically graphic detail, his fists involuntarily clenched so tightly that the short blunt fingernails dug perfect red crescents into his calloused palms. With every word she spoke, his rage grew until the sorrow and pity he'd felt for his lost son transformed itself into a burning hatred that was so thick he could barely breathe.
He tried to close his eyes against the horror of her quiet words but, every time he tried, the ghastly images she described appeared again and again, so he just sat there beside her, biting back the bile rising in his throat, fixing his eyes blindly on her emotionless face. Each cold word burned itself into his permanent memory until his vision swam with fury and disgust at what her association with him had cost her. He thought he would vomit.
When she finally finished, she stared at him grimly, artifically emerald eyes searching his face, gauging his reaction. Finally discovering a hatred equal to her own, the facade cracked and she smiled, a tired curling of the lips that didn't quite reach her eyes. 'I hated to tell you this, Nathan, but you need to know just what kind of monster Aliya's son was.'
When it was clear that she had finally finished, he looked bleakly away, thoughts churning with what he'd just learned. He'd instinctively recognized her inflectionless tone for what it was, a professional self-defense mechanism for dealing with the atrocities that were unfortunately all too commonplace in their trade. 'I ought to know,' Cable thought bitterly, knowing that he too had spent years blocking out all human emotion after the death of Aliya and his Clan's defeat at the hands of his 'brother' Stryfe. He'd done a pretty good job of it, too- until he formed X-Force and reunited with his family, about the only thing that brought him any kind of pleasure at all had been his association with the beautiful smart-assed young woman mercenary who'd joined his band and his life.
Comparing that young- though already jaded- girl to the exhausted woman who sat beside him now, her face so composed, he felt his heart lurch inside his chest. 'I knew it was bad- we've been through too many break-down sessions not to know that much- but *damn*, Domino...why did you hide this for so long?' Closing his eyes again, he broke the silence with a thickly whispered "I'm so damn sorry, Dom. I...I wish you'd told me all this before."
She glared back at him and answered sharply "*I* wish you had asked." He recoiled from her glacial tone, and the hurt guilt in his eyes only partially assuaged anger from the perceived presumption in his tone. Taking a deep breath, she shrugged. "It's really no big deal, Nathan," She spoke casually, some semblance of emotion seeping back into her voice now that the ordeal of telling Nathan was over. "Shit like that happens- you know that as well as I do. It's part of the life. I just wanted you to know so that you'd know what we're getting into."
He reached out a hand and touched her face again, the pain and guilt he felt at the situation making their dampened psilink almost tingle with need. His gentle fingers caressed her cheek, and she felt a dangerous vulnerablity rise within her. Swallowing, she drew again on her cold center of calm to turn her head away, hoping he understood her reasons why. 'Can't afford this right now, Nate...'
Nathan's face blanched. Jerking his hand back as if burned, he rose awkwardly from his seat beside her on the couch and walked stiffly across the room to the window, arms clenched tightly to his sides. Turning to face her, his voice was soft "So what do you want to do now?"
Domino raised a wry eyebrow. "Do? Right now? Find Tolliver and roast him slowly on a barb-wire spit." She glanced at her conservative wristwatch "But considering the time, and the company we're keeping, I think we probably need to make some decisions about how we're gonna brief our little 'team'."
The team in question, still dressed in the garb they'd worn shopping, had settled themselves in the lobby to 'wait' for Kitty and Pete. In the meantime, Psylocke had called a trusted employee at Braddock Industries and had their luggage brought from where they'd left them in her London office to the lobby of the St. Martin's. Ororo had been too preoccupied with looking for Kitty to even notice when a young employee had dropped the bags off, taking the opportunity to suck up to Ms. Braddock in the process. After dismissing the young man, Betsy had caught Logan wistfully eyeing his bag of comfortable clothing more than once, and she herself had to admit that the prospect of changing out of this conservative, constricting garb was more than appealing. 'Not to mention these damn contacts,' Betsy grimaced. Ever since Slaymaster blinded her and Mojo replaced the eyes of her original body with video prosthetics, she'd absolutely abhored the idea of any kind of artifice near or around her eyes. She recognized the necessity of the disguising contacts, and didn't complain when she had to wear them, but she would secretly delight when she could take the damn things out.
Ororo looked crossly at the antique grandfather clock in the corner and sighed. "Are you *certain* it was Kitty's mindpattern you sensed? We have been waiting quite some time now, and she has yet to appear."
Psylocke crossed her legs and shrugged. Sending a delicate telepathic probe upstairs, she grimaced at the painful psychic residue the discussion had left. 'Whatever the hell it was must have been bad, but it seems to be over. I suppose it's been enough time,' she thought. "Perhaps I was mistaken," she casually replied to Ororo. "Oh, well. She'll be here soon enough." Logan, sitting beside her on one of the couches in a corner of the spacious lobby, turned his head to hide his smile.
Ororo frowned at her teammates. "Very well. I shall simply leave a message for her with the desk clerk. We have business to attend to upstairs, in any case." Rising from her seat, Storm walked purposefully over to the check-in desk to dictate a message for Kitty.
Still seated on the couch, Logan watched his old friend leave, then turned to Betsy. When Ororo was out of earshot and otherwise occupied with the hotel clerk, he stood in front of Betsy and extended a gentlemanly hand to help her up. Lips twitching in a small smile, she took it and rose gracefully to stand beside him, her slim hand still clasped in his calloused square palm. The warmth of his grip seemed to travel up her arm, and she felt once more the same dangerous excitement creep through her abdomen that she had felt in the department store. 'Oh, dear,' she thought belatedly, guilty thoughts of Warren warring with the warm pleasure of this so-far innocent flirtation with Logan.
Logan looked up at her, craggy features creased in amusement and another, deeper emotion. "Well, Betts, whatcha say? You ready to try again?" He released her hand gently, and paused. "Keepin' 'Ro from drivin' Nate and Dom crazy, I mean."
She raised a wry eyebrow at his sly double entendre. Doubt darkened her smooth features, and she answered him honestly, as he deserved "I don't know, Logan. I think it shall require some thought." 'How different he is from Warren,' she considered. 'By this point in the trip Warren and I would either be fighting or sitting here crying over our respective problems. Even so, we've been through so much together, and the love is still there, if horribly battered and bruised...' She smiled softly at Logan and whispered "Let me think about it." To her surprise, she found she meant it.
He smiled gently, chestnut brown eyes twinkling with understanding, and nodded at her. "That's a good idea darlin'. You let me know what you decide."
A clear, commanding voice sounded over his shoulder. "Decide about what?" Storm inquired curiously, already grabbing her cotton canvas travel bag from the pile beside Logan on the floor.
"About what we're doin' for dinner," Logan answered, eyes still fixed on Betsy's sculpted features. He winked at her, and bent to grab both his canvas bag and another, larger garment suitcase, presumably Cable's.
Betsy laughed, a deep, lilting sound that cut through the seriousness of the moment. "Yes, indeed," she smiled at Storm. "What would you care to do this evening? Logan is quite hungry, apparently." She returned his wink, and was rewarded by a deep, gravelly chuckling of his own. She delicately picked up her designer bags in one hand and grabbed Domino's leather suitcase in the other with surprisingly deceptive strength.
Upstairs, Domino sat in the tapestried chair, pulling the last of the blasted bobby pins from her hair. She half-heartedly aimed them at one of her shoes, tossing them into the hollow formed by the narrow, inhumanly uncomfortable pumps. It was no real surprise when they hit their mark- her reflexes and skills had long since returned to normal after the ordeal that Gryaznova bitch had put her through. Domino rubbed the back of her neck idly, still feeling the scar that the now-removed implant had caused. 'And they wonder why I hate friggin' doctors so much,' she sighed and tried her best not to think of the other doctors, Tolliver's doctors. She pulled the afghan she'd retrieved from one of the bedrooms closer around her, trying to ward off the cold.
The last of the pins gone, she began briskly running her fingers through her hair until the dark tresses at last flowed freely around her shoulders. It had taken some doing, but she and Nathan had worked out a tentative plan to present to the others. Cable had then excused himself to the bedroom, ostensibly so he could phone the mansion on a secured line and tell them all was well, but she knew better. Whenever he received an emotional blow, especially one of the magnitude she knew he'd suffered today, he needed some time to process it alone. 'Probably mediating,' she decided. 'Dead to the world. A bomb could go off in here and he'd barely notice right now.'
It was a trait she shared, she knew, at least the need for privacy if not the meditation. Oh, she prayed occasionaly- Roman Catholic childhood faith never quite completely leaving her- but Nathan's Askani practices had always seemed more practical than soothing to her. 'Pain control, biofeedback techinques, fine,' she thought 'but as for all that 'What is, is' business-' She snorted. 'I'm too tired to think philosophy right now.' Languorously shifting in her seat to tug the tight pantyhose off, she tucked them into the foot of one of the cast-off pumps, she exulted in the quiet of the room. 'Amazing how much just a little breathing room helps,' she thought to herself. Now that she'd gone ahead and told Cable, the dread of having to relive what Tolliver had done had almost completely dissipated. All that was left was the ass-kicking, she grinned, and felt curiously relieved at the weight that just telling Cable had lifted. Untugging the pale silk shell from the waist of the linen skirt, she breathed in deeply, closed her eyes, and leaned back into the soft chair.
'Peace and quiet...ah....' she sighed to herself, relaxing, sinking deeper into the cushions of the elegant chair. 'If I could just have a day or two of this I might actually be alright....'
A few moments later, the sweet silence was broken by two sharp raps at the door and an imperious, albeit highly muffled, voice.
"Nathan! Kitty was not there- let us in! I wish to speak to you about something!"
Domino exhaled sharply, feeling the earlier irritated tension return immediately at the sound of Storm's melodious commands. 'I'm just not gonna worry with her right now,' she decided, trying to forcibly command herself to relax again. 'Just get her out of here, Dom, then go back to relaxin'.'
Summoning up her sweetest voice, she walked over to the door and called out "Nate can't talk to you right now, Storm... Go on to one of the suites. We'll call you when we're ready to brief the team."
Outside the door, Storm paused briefly. Betsy and Logan, standing to one side of her, glanced at each other quickly but neither said anything. Betsy sent 'Let's let them handle this one by themselves. Domino's alone. Nathan's gone in the other room and Ororo's got to learn that she can't bully her around like she can some others...' Logan nodded in unspoken agreement, his keen hearing catching even the faintest sounds from the other room.
Storm planted her hands on her hips in grim determination. "Domino. I do not have time for these games. Let us in the room, NOW."
Inside the room, Domino's eyes flew open at the curt command. 'Did she say what I thought she just said? I think she said what I thought she just said.' Eyes narrowing to deep jade slits, she muttered a staccato growl, all pretenses at good humor gone. "Storm. We. Are. Busy. Go. Away. We'll call you in a little while."
The other woman snorted. "I do not think so. Open that door."
Domino's lips twitched angrily. 'Alright, then, if that's what she wants to do. I'm not in the mood to play nice.' Regretfully pushing away the image of opening the door and punching the other woman in the jaw, she grinned wickedly as an even more appropriate response sprang to mind.
Stepping quickly out of her linen skirt, she tossed it behind the door and slipped out of the linen shell. Grabbing the afghan from the chair, she ran lightly back to the door, pulling her fingers haphazardly through her hair to make a wild, unruly mess. Breathing in and out rapidly for a second, she then held her breath to make her skin flush even through the makeup. Conscious that the other woman was waiting, she quickly popped one of the green cosmetic contact lenses out and wrapped the afghan around her.
Completely nude except for the afghan, she opened the door slightly. Huffing and puffing like she was out of breath, she looked at directly into Storm's feline eyes and sighed. "I told you we were *busy*, Storm," she growled, allowing the afghan to slip down to show more skin. "Now what do you want?"
Staring directly into the other woman's disconcertingly purple/green gaze, Ororo's eyes widened in stunned hurt surprise. "You...were...busy?" She questioned brokenly, taking in the other woman's obviously disheveled appearance. Coffee-colored skin flushed with embarrassed anger as she put the situation together, Ororo drew herself up to her full height and choked "Kitty is not here yet." She paused haughtily, trying to regain control of herself. "Call us when you are...done." Her voice dripping ice, she pivoted sharply to stalk down the hall to the other suite, electricity almost visibly sizzling around her enraged form.
Noticing the amazed gazes of Betsy and Logan, Domino winked conspiratorially at the two. Psylocke, now telepathically well aware of the details of the prank, was struggling to contain her own ribald laughter. "Looks like you could use your clothing, dear," she chuckled, and stepped inside the room long enough to deposit Domino's suitcase on the ground.
Logan followed long enough to do the same for Cable's bag. Touching her arm with a rough hand, he chastised half-heartedly "Ya oughta not done that t' 'Roro, there, darlin'." It had been all he could do not to burst out laughing out there in the hall, and his words sounded hollow even to himself.
Domino rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right, old man. Now you two get on out of here before the weather witch thinks we've made an orgy and she got left out..."
When they'd left, she shut the door gently behind her, locked it carefully, and put her clothes back on. As an afterthought, she opened the door and hung the 'Do not disturb' sign on the doorknob, a broad, self-satisfied smile on her face for the first time in ages.