Thu, 30 Dec 1999
DuAnn Cowart ibelieve@rocketmail.com
Just Lucky, I Guess 55

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.

This chapter is for Ali Varallo, who has been inspiration for quite some time


Just Lucky, I Guess

55/?

DuAnn Cowart

 

Domino turned to Betsy and Nate to whisper a warning, but the words were swallowed by the glittering vortex of golden energy that cascaded from the device, immediately encircling the three in a maelstrom of dazzling luminescence, swirling through and around them as technology that wouldn't be invented for a thousand years bent time and space to discorporate and instantly reassemble three dazed forms just outside the cloaked walls of Tyler's Fortress.

It was not a gentle experience. Betsy staggered, doubling over in pain. Cable, already pushed far past the limits of normal human endurance, crumpled bonelessly to his knees. Beside him, Domino bent to try to help him up, her stomach lurching in protest from the rough travel.

Cable groaned aloud, left eye glowing brightly in the darkness. "Venai'ha?" he queried, the liquid Askani syllables contrasting sharply with his dry, cracked voice.

"Nate?" Domino grabbed his arm, struggling to hold him upright. "Nate, talk to me. . ."

"Shraghn al vhanhalin?" Still on his knees, he pressed an uninjured hand over against his temple as dark sparkles edged his vision, ebbing and flowing with each labored breath. Broken ribs punctuated each breath as fragmented bones throbbed with each heartbeat. He blinked rapidly, struggling for consciousness as he fought against the eddies of the abysmal blackness of oblivion.

Not knowing who he was or what he was doing, he clutched tightly to the arm that supported him as the world slowly went mad. He cried out as strange smells, strange colors assaulted his senses, and cursed aloud in words that he didn't recognize as what was left of his composure began to crumple.

Softly, as from a very long distance, he heard a woman's voice calling his name, but didn't recognize it, didn't know her. Instead, he focused on what was now his reality. He looked up, but glassy eyes had difficulty adjusting to the darkness and clouded thoughts scattered like ashes in the wind. Swallowing tightly, he pressed his palm against his forehead, groaning in pain, instinctively drawing deeper into himself, searching his mindscape for clues as to who or what he was, trying to make some sense of the madness that surrounded him.

He found nothing but scorched adobe emptiness. He was nothing *but* pain, broken and bleeding and empty in the aftermath of battle. It would be so easy to give up, to give in to the peace and the darkness, to not feel any more pain. . .

Closing his eyes, the man who was Nathan Summers stood poised on the precipice of death.


Elisabeth Braddock stood a bit apart, back turned to the others and eyes squeezed tightly shut, doubled over in pain. Thin arms locked tight against her chest, and her entire torso rocked slowly, back and forth, as she fought to contain the dank shadows the unexpected teleportation had jarred loose from her usual control.

Already exhausted from the battle with Tyler, Betsy cried out as the musty, suffocating iciness of the Crimson Dawn surged once more, face contorting as she struggled to lock the shadows back deep within her where they could do no harm.

Ribbons of black energy swirled around her face and hands, tendrils of darkness stretching Medusa-like into the night. She opened her eyes, and instead of the usual violet and white, they were black on black, swirling eddies and torrents of shadow warring against the light of her soul.

Crying out, she squared her slender shoulders against the siren call of the darkness, summoning up everything that she had, everything that she was to fight against it. Feet firmly planted apart, her entire body tensed with the battle as she fought for her very soul.

Raising her arms high above her head, palms open wide, she cried aloud, and a dark burst of writhing energy swirled around her. With a herculean effort, Betsy jerked once, twice, and with the strange combination of her mutant gifts and otherworldly genes she stretched out her mind to its fullest as she raged against the shadows.

In a shimmering swell, the last of her power emerged in a bright nimbus of energy that shone through her entire body, coursing out with a pure lavender light that burned through the shadows, sending them shrieking away in full retreat, leaving her exhausted and spent.

As the light slowly dimmed, she heaved for breath, lowering her arms, palms clenched tightly to her sides. After a few moments of uncertainty, she shuddered slightly, and with the absolute last of her energy she closed the final lock on the heart of darkness within her before her knees buckled and she collapsed, unconscious.


Oblivious to the battle being fought inside his broken soul, Domino crouched down beside her partner. She grabbed his arm and wrapping it around her bruised shoulder. Cable's eyelashes fluttered shut, and she felt his muscles grow slack. She cursed under her breath.

"Come on, Nate, you've been bodysliding longer than I've been alive," she murmured, ignoring the urge to flee from him, bracing herself against the lingering revulsion she still felt at his touch.

Drawing a ragged breath, she choked "You're a teleporter, this is what you friggin' *do*. Get up, now. We've got to get out of here, Nate, before this place blows, and we can't do that with your dead weight."

Cable slumped again, and this time collapsed unto the ground, curling up in fetal position, murmuring an Askani litany over and over, body shivering with cold.

Domino stuck two clammy fingers to his jugular, and counted the erratic pulsebeat. 'Oh, shit, no,' she thought desperately, her own disgust forgotten as a nightmare straight out of her darkest dreams played itself out before her. She stared at the cold figure before her, watched as his eyes rolled back in his head, saw his lips turn blue. 'He's dying.'

"Dammit, Nate!" she railed, suddenly furious beyond reason. "You're not doing this to me again, you son of a bitch! No! Get *up*! Get *UP*!"She yelled, jerking him upright, genuine anger burning in her voice, the fury and the outrage momentarily overpowering the residual icy coldness left behind by Tyler's tampered memories. "Get your friggin' ass *up*, and let's get the hell out of here! He's not gonna win! I'm not dying here today, and neither are you! We're *not* gonna let him win, Nate. . ."

Nathan drew one last shuddering breath, then was still.

Domino's heart froze, and she inhaled sharply, then again began pounding on his chest as best she could with his injuries, trying CPR yet again on his battered chest. "Oh, fuck, you bastard, don't do this to me, you son of a bitch, you've already done it once today, don't do this, don't make me handle this all by myself, I can't do this, get up, get up, get up, get up. . ." She cried, leaning over his body, voice growing shrill with an emotion she didn't care to name. "Get *up*, you fucker! I can't do this, don't let him win, oh, shit, Nate, don't do this to us. . ."

There was no response.

Almost as an afterthought, Domino yelled frantically over her shoulder. "Betsy? I could use some fuckin' help over here!"

There was no reply. Domino didn't have time to pursue it, but instead slapped her hand down on her arm, activating the torn suit's radio transmitter.

"Logan? Is that you?" She yelled into the microphone, still continuing pushing Nate's chest, praying Tolliver's thugs hadn't altered the frequencies of her transmitters. Glancing down at the watch in her suit, she swore under her breath, eyes glittering angrily in frustration.

"Neena!" Logan's gruff voice came through the transmitter even deeper than usual with worry. "Where th' hell have you been, darlin'? We're waitin' on you-"

Not even Logan's familiar comforting voice could dilute the rampant terror running through her. "LOGAN! We need you, now!"

"What? Where you at? Are Betsy an' Nate with you?" Had she not been overcome with a gamut of emotions, Domino would have detected the thinly veiled tremor in Logan's own usually impassive tone.

The line was silent as Domino breathed for her partner.

"Neena! What's happenin'? Tell me, darlin', so I can help!"

"Logan. . .we're on the . . ." She managed to glace down at the compass on her suit, "Southwest corner of the Fortress. Get here, *now*!

"We're on our way. . .what happened? Are you under attack?"

Domino snarled, still pounding on Cable's chest. "NO! No time! Just. . .get here now!" With a snarl, she severed the radio link and continued breathing for Cable, manipulating his broken chest, pouring out energy from an exhausted well as she tried with all her might to stave off the cold hand of death.

It wasn't working. He had twitched a bit at first under her ministrations, but now thick muscles grew increasingly slack, until his body lay still. All she could do was watch impotently as the man who in the wake of Tyler's violation she hated and feared and oh, fuck, still loved, despite all the hurt and pain and suffering and desecration, all she could do was watch as he turned blue and cold beneath her.

"Fuck you, asshole!" She screamed aloud, voice trembling in fury, oblivious to anyone who might hear. "GET UP, NATHAN, get up right now, or I swear I'll follow you to the next world and rip your guts out myself! Damn you! Damn you, you cowardly bastard, damn you for doing this!" She gasped for air, iron bands squeezing her chest.

"Betsy!" Domino cried over her shoulder, frantic with fear her voice hoarse and cracked in the darkness. "If you don't get your fucking ass over here now I'll kill you myself! Please!"

There was no answer, and no change in Cable's condition. Domino felt what was left of her world tumble and fall away as the ember that was all that remained of their destroyed link slowly began to die out. Unwilling to give up, she continued working on him, checking his jugular again. She felt her soul turn to icy shards.

He had no pulse.

"Dammit! Damn, Nate, come *ON*!" She yelled, redoubling her efforts, pounding on his chest, pressing her lips tightly against his to create a seal as she desperately blew air in his mouth, trying to force life into the clammy shell beneath her. It was to no avail; as hard as she tried, there was no reponse. His body was still.

Realization descended, and she broke away, eyes wide with shock. Wrapping her arms around her chest against the frigid iciness that was already seeping into the tatters of her soul, with something very like a whimper her body bowed in defeat and, broken, she rested her forehead lightly against him.

"Damn you," she murmured into his broken chest, the words muffled by tears and agonized numbness. "How can you leave me alone again?"

There was no answer.


Even as Domino fought to keep him alive, Cable's consciousness withdrew from his body, rising upwards to hover just over the scene. Though he still couldn't remember who he was or why he was here, the pain was gone, and he felt only peace, clarity and an odd detachment.

He looked down on the people below him curiously. There were. . .three figures below, a woman apart and a man and woman together. The woman apart writhed with tension, warring with a barely contained darkness that disturbed him even in this ephemeral state. He turned his attention to the other two, and saw a large man lying curled on the ground and another woman leaning over him. Somehow, there was an odd sort of amusement coupled with the purest sense of freedom as he recognized the body as his own, and knew he was free of the pain it carried. He sighed, sensing the call of the peaceful light that lay just beyond his senses. His spectre drifted upwards, preparing to leave, but for reasons he couldn't understand he stopped. He didn't know who he was, what he felt, but somehow. . .someway, he knew that this was wrong. It was. . .just wrong to leave just now. Something. . .wasn't finished.

He paused, trapped between the choices. He was tired, so tired, so exhausted with the struggle, but . . . something was missing. . . something he'd been put on this eart to do. . .

Frustrated with himself and the indecision he didn't understand, he refocused his attention back on the scene before him, studying the second woman. She was disheveled, and frantic, and she exuded stark terror. He watched as she pushed her hands against his chest in quick, precise movements, breathing for him even though he could tell she knew he was gone. He couldn't hear her, but he watched her lips move as she angrily yelled at him, cursing him even as she fought desperately to save his life.

For the first time since he'd lost himself, he felt a twist of genuine feeling, a hook of thick emotion buried deep in the chest he shouldn't be able to feel anymore. He stared at the woman more closely, studied the tears coursing down her cheeks, the dark hair, the pale skin, the beginnings of wrinkles around her purple eyes. She looked. . .familiar. . . somehow, and some spark of recognition flared within his breast.

He saw her stop her efforts, saw her realize that he was gone. Even here, poised between the worlds, he shivered as an almost tangible bleakness descended on her like a shroud, feeling a faint echo of it in the shattered, unrecognizable peices of his own spirit. The bead of despair and tremendous sense of loss grew ever stronger, burning through even the thick fog of his disconnection to this world and all it held.

He paused, puzzled. How? Why was it that he felt this woman's pain as if it were his own when he was so unbelievably glad to be free of this world and the pain it bore? What was it that made his death mean so much to her? The strained connection between his spirit and his body thrummed lightly, and a single burst of memory coursed unbidden through it through it.

Somehow his frayed mind managed a coherent thought, edged in a dim, faded gold. 'Dom?' he thought dully, then nodded to himself, blinking slowly. Yes. Dom. This was Dom, whoever Dom was.

Something flickered again, and he tilted his head curiously. Other memories began trickling through the fog that shrouded his mind, memories of this woman laughing beside him, fighting beside him, sleeping beside him.

With a jolt of realization that was so sharp it was almost pain, a flood of memories filled him, memories not of this woman at all, but of another woman, a chestnut haired woman and a tow headed toddler, and then of an ancient towering blue evil, then of a red haired woman and a tall man with red sunglasses and then of a very old woman with scars on her face and a small gnarled being who taught him and a large dark man who was his brother and a brightly dressed group of warriors and a slender blond man amongst another younger brightly dressed group of warriors and a man who looked just like him but wasn't him and armies, oh, so many armies and so many dead people and so many live people and such horror and such joy on and on and on and on until he was swollen with memory, so full of the legacy of his life that he felt he would almost burst.

The memories washed through him, filling him, igniting chain reactions of thoughts until his mind, once so barren and desolate, was once more alive and pulsing with the electric rhythm of life. He suddenly had all the component pieces to put together the puzzle that was his identity. Now that he had the tools to do so, he looked deep inside himself, pushing through the pain, peeling back layers and layers of charred thought to find the core of identity that made him who he was.

He breathed a sigh of relief at what he found. Though tattered and abused, frayed edges of consciousness held together by ephemeral wisps of memory and an inner will so strong that the inferno hadn't extinguished it all, *he* was still there, and he was still whole. The faded gold grew brighter, sharper, more intense, and with a silent cry of joy, he took hold of his identity, sliding back into his body, his spirit once more cloaked with all the memory and character that made him who he was.

He was Nathan Summers, the Askani'Son, and he was *not* *going* *to* *die* *today*.

Without warning, mismatched eyes fluttered open and the dead man drew in a great shuddering gasp of air, sucking the oxygen from the woman's lips, then breaking away to breath in deeply of the fresh night air.

Domino's eyes opened wide, and she jumped back, heart pounding in her chest, grabbing for a weapon, any weapon, anything she could use to defend herself. 'Oh shit oh fuck I'm dreaming I've lost it I've totally cracked he's dead he's dead he's not alive I've gone crazy he's dead oh shit. . .'

Cable breathed in deeply, each breath jarring pain, pain that was familiar and his and something to bind him to the present. Looking up, he stared at the woman who had brought him back, and managed to stretch out his hand to her. "Dom?" he whispered gently, "'s that you?". His voice was very small, very hoarse, but it was undoubtedly his. Nathan's, who had been dead.

She didn't even try to stop the tangled expression that twisted her face. Edging over to him, she raised a hand to touch his face, fingers splayed over the raw features. "Nate?" She whispered softly, not even willing to begin addressing the maestrom of emotions welling inside her. "Is. . that you?"

"Who. . .else. . .would it be?" He asked, coughing between breaths, struggling for words, closing his eyes as her fingers lightly traced his features. "Wanna. . .help. . .me. . .up?"

Domino swallowed once, then nodded, taking his good hand in her own. Bending down, she looped his arm around her shoulders again, ducking her head against his broad chest and biting her lip to fight the tears as she helped him to his feet. "Nate. . .I. . ." With a mammoth effort, she steeled herself against the storm inside and, as she always did in times of turmoil, finally was able to assume what she thought was a mask of neutrality. So great was her relief that she didn't notice the dim hum that began to fill the air.

Voice husky with repressed emotion, she bit her lip, fighting back the tears. She glanced down at her watch almost as an afterthought, and bloodshot eyes widened in suprise, and sudden realization dawned. There was no time for the feelings, no time to rejoice in what she thought lost.

No time for anything, really.

"What?" Cable gasped, barely able to breath, mind still clouded with the trauma of all he'd gone through.

"Three fucking minutes!" She swore, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "The explosives are gonna go off in three fucking minutes! Where the hell is Logan?"

Still dazed, Cable's head lolled slightly. "Don't. . . know. . . Where're we? Where's . . . Betsy?"

Domino froze, then swore venomously. "Oh, fuck. Betsy." When the other woman hadn't responded to her calls for help, she'd completely blocked her out of her mind.

Turning around, she shouted "Betsy! Where the hell are you?" There was no answer, and Domino cursed under her breath. Still bearing most of Cable's weight, she began edging around in a circle, searching for the missing telepath- and halted about half way around. "Ah, shit," she muttered, spying her teammate's crumpled body. 'I guess that'd explain not answering me now, wouldn't it?'

"Can you stand by yourself?" She asked Cable, who nodded warily. She swallowed, then slipped out from Cable's arm to go to Betsy, stooping to examine her prone form. He staggered, but managed to hold himself upright.

"There's . . . the . . . PACRAT," he hissed, motioning sharply behind them as the air shimmered lightly to solidify into the comforting form of their plane, the air humming with the deep sound of the aircraft's engines engaging as it began to taxi towards them. "How. . .is. . . she?" he wheezed, holding his good arm around his ribs, leaning on one leg gingerly as Domino checked out their fallen teammate.

Domino looked up, eyes wide with adrenaline and exhaustion. "She seems fine. . . But time's running out! We need to leave here, now!"

"No. . .argument. . .from. . .me. . . there. . ."

Domino nodded, shifting her shoulders to get a better grasp on Cable. Pete and Logan came running out of the open hatch to meet them, the former helping her with her partner, the latter making a bee-line to Betsy, stooping to pick her up in his arms with feral grace.

"Careful, Pete, his ribs are-" Her warning was cut short by a burst of Askani vulgarity, and she finished softly. "Broken."

"Thanks f'r pointin' that out, Dom," the former spy snorted dryly. "How much time do we have, anyway?"

Domino glanced down, grunting as Cable tripped on the rocky soil. "About two minutes, Pete. . . "

"All the . . . time in th' world," Cable murmured, wincing as Pete jostled him towards the waiting hatch of the plane.

"Let's get the hell out of here," Pete muttered, guiding her partner towards their aircraft and into the plane. Domino didn't answer, just pushed tangled hair out of her face as she followed behind them, helping Pete hurriedly strap Nathan into the plane and taking her own seat behind him.

Logan and Betsy were right behind them, the shorter man holding the tall woman close to him, her chin lolling limply against her chest as he cradled her gently in his arms.

Domino leaned her forehead against a transparent window, competely and utterly exhausted, and barely had time to strap herself in before the hatch rose and Kitty's anxious voice sounded over the intercom.

"Buckle up, folks, it's gonna be a bumpy ride. . ."

The PACRAT took off, carrying its cargo towards London and freedom. . . and captivity.

Its passengers didn't look back.


"Neena." Logan entered the pilot's cabin, voice pitched low so as not to startle Domino.

A thin arm crooked outside of the confines of the co-pilot's seat. She leaned forward, almost dwarfed in a chair that had been designed to comfortably fit some of the largest men on earth. She didn't acknowledge his presence, only stared blankly out at the gray sky as the autopilot guided the plane back to London. The light pollution from the heavily urban area illuminated the entire sky, and the blanket of clouds underneath them shone with a sickly dim glow.

Domino closed her eyes, running a hand through tangled hair, then finally murmured "Logan."

She spoke as if from a very great distance, her words sounding strange and tinny to herself. Her mind seemed drenched in the same grey fog as the plane, and she had trouble concentrating. Strange colors tinged her thoughts, and she had to blink to keep tired eyes from closing.

This was more than just post battle fatigue. She knew very well what that felt like, and this wasn't it. Instead, she felt like she'd been leeched of color, sapped of strength, pulled and stretched tight inside herself. The only thing that felt real was the broken shards of the psilink, pulsing a very faint purple and gold alternately, draining what little energy she had left. All she had left was the pain.

'Shit. I can't do this. . .' Steeling herself, she turned around in the chair and motioned Logan in. "How's Betsy?" Her voice sounded strange even to herself.

Logan blinked, but Domino was too exhausted to place the flicker of emotion that creased his face. "She's awake. Ro's lookin' after her now. Apparently her head hurts like a bitch, but she'll be ok- says she wants to talk to you later."

"I'm sure she does," Domino breathed, returning her attention to the dark horizon, head wobbling slightly against her chin. 'I've got some things I need to talk to her about, too.' Raising her chin slightly, she asked in a deceptively disinterested voice, trying to maintain her composure while the broken link thudded within her skull. Somehow talking to Logan, having something to focus on, helped immensely. "And Nate?" The grey inside her soul turned black at the mention of his name.

Logan paused between the chairs, lips set in a thin line, hands in his pockets. "No change since you saw him. He's still hooked up to the emergency monitors, but other than broken bones and a hell of a headache he seems fine- we'll know more when Jardine's docs check him out." Domino closed her eyes, a lump forming in her throat. Now that the immediate fear of losing her partner had faded, she felt raw, empty, confused and lost in the residual storm left behind by Tyler's violations and Nathan's near brush with death. Summoning her strength, she looked down at her lap, intertwined knuckles white with repressed emotion. She looked up, red-rimmed eyes boring into his. "Logan, I- I thought he was gone this time. I thought this was it." He just nodded, dark eyes softening. "I know," he whispered softly, meeting her bleak gaze. "Believe me, darlin', I know."

She met his gaze for a long time, drawing strength from the warmth and strength from the compassion in his eyes. Domino's shoulders straightened, and after a final shudder, she consciously resumed the professional mask- or at least the best semblance of it as she could manage.

"You need something, Logan?" She asked conversationally, though he could still smell her turmoil, feel the frustration rolling off her in waves.

"Just checkin' our course," he replied, lowering himself into the pilot's seat. Leaning forward, elbows resting on widespread knees, his nostrils flared involuntarily as he struggled to sort out the complex mix of scents emanating from her. "Seein' how much longer it'll be 'til we get t' Pete's landing point."

"About. . ." She looked through feathery eyelashes, focusing at the chronometer. "Half an hour." She paused briefly, then with great effort met his gaze. Her eyes were chips of violet ice. "You're not fooling me, old man. I'm fine." Bruised lips curved in a brittle smile, and he could see taut muscles bunched in tension underneath the tight material of her torn bodysuit.

Logan drew in a deep breath, then exhaled sharply. "Whatever you say."

Domino drew in a deep breath, slivers of annoyance shading the lassitude of her tone. "I know what you're trying to do, and I appreciate it, but there's no need, Logan. I'm not a little girl anymore."

The older man shook his head a bit sadly. "You were never a little girl, Neena. Even when you should have been." His shoulders slumped in a slight shrug. Drawing on a wellspring of patience few knew he possessed, he continued in a voice perfectly pitched to be low and rough and comforting. "Mind if I stay in here for a while? It's gettin' a bit heavy back there. Kitty gave 'em another dose of that happygas, and it smells like New Year's Eve in Amsterdam."

At the mention of their captives, Domino stiffened slightly, nostrils flaring in distaste. She quickly regained her composure, but her voice still had a distinct edge, cutting through the stupor he smelled. "They're still unconscious, then?"

Logan nodded. "Yeah. Kitty and Pete are back there keepin' an eye on them, but they're out cold. Most harm we'll get from them is if one of 'em drools on us."

"I think we're all out of anti-venom," Domino muttered, and Logan smiled wryly, appreciating the attempt at humor more than the joke itself. "Has Pete got our clearance codes yet?"

"Yep." He passed a small square of paper with a barely legible series of numbers and letters on it, and she nodded. He continued, "Wisdom just got off the radio with Jardine- just like we thought, his men are gonna meet us at the MI5 landing strip just outside of London and take over from there."

Domino's eyes narrowed, and she twisted in her seat to face Logan. "This isn't over, Logan," she warned, face bleak, paper crumpling in her hands. "I've worked with Jardine's people before- I know what he's like. He'll move in and take over and we'll never see the results of any of it." Her expression darkened. "If that son of a bitch thinks our part in this is done, he can think again. . ."

"We did our job, Neena." Logan met her gaze. "Now it's time to let go and let Jardine and his people do theirs."

She looked at the sky, and blew a stream of air through cracked lips. "Those people in the back of this plane are some of the most dangerous sons of bitches on Earth, and they *used* me, Logan- they experimented with my-"

Breathing heavily, Domino broke off, hands clenched tightly in her lap, red tinging the grey. "Let's just say I have a personal interest in their work."

He just stared at her, craggy features silent and still. She exhaled angrily. "Fuck, Logan, what do you want from me? I'd think you of all people would understand."

It was too much for him to bear. Logan slammed the flat of his palm against the console in exasperation. "Damn, Neena, y' think I don't know what it's like to be fucked with by these bastards?" Six sharp claw snapped out from the back of his hands. Holding them up to the light, he snarled "Remember a little project called Weapon X? I know where yer comin' from, girl, and I know how it feels."

"I-" She swallowed, dark brows knitting in frustration. "Let's not even get into a pissing contest about who's been fucked around more, Logan, I know you'll win," she hissed, eyes narrowing to thin slits. "I'm just sayin' that this goes a lot deeper than we ever thought. Tolliver had links to Black Air, Genosha, AIM- and who knows what else? This doesn't end here, dammit, and I'm not forgetting about this until I *know* exactly what went on back there." He just stared at her, and she paused, anger deflating under the power of his dark stare. "I didn't mean anything against you, dammit."

His expression softened, and he retracted his claws slowly, skin instantly healing over the openings. Stretching across the space between them, he rested one square hand lightly on her shoulder. She flinched, spine stiffening.

He sighed. "I know y' didn't, girl. I ain't sayin' sit back and do nothin', but- give it some time. We've stopped Gene- Tyler for now. Give it some time, let Jardine and his people do their job before we go in half-cocked like we did this time." His expression darkened again. "This was damn stupid. We should have been more prepared, not charging in half-cocked like we did. Ops like this take weeks- months- of preparation. We were *lucky* to get out as easy as we did."

Domino tilted her head slightly and nodded, eyes haunted with the memories of what Tyler had done. "Yeah," she whispered bitterly, "Real lucky."

Logan paused, then arched a shaggy eyebrow. "I ain't gonna ask you what happened back there," he began, voice lowered huskily, "But-"

She cut him off before he could continue. "Good. Because I'm not going to tell you," she replied tersely, eyes narrowing at his sudden shrewd look. Infuriated, she stabbed an accusatory finger at him, pale skin gleaming in the dark of the night.

"Logan, it was nothing! You told me a long time ago that shit like this happens and that if I couldn't take it then I was in the wrong business. We went storming in there today like bare novices, and we paid for it. Simple as that." Her voice was quiet and self-contained, and very, very cold. Anger had burned the haze almost completely away.

Logan shook his head ruefully. "It ain't ever that simple. You know that."

Domino grudgingly inclined her head. "Maybe so. But we walked away from it, and that's more than-" Biting her lip, she looked away. "More than some can say."

Logan nodded in agreement, adroitly allowing her to change the subject. "True enough. I gotta tell ya, though, it was close- we just barely made it out of the blast radius before the whole damn place fell down on itself. Another minute and the shockwave would have pulled us down with it."

Domino, knees still weak from that frantic final flight away from Tyler's stronghold, just shrugged a slim shoulder. "Timing's everything, old man. You taught me that."

Almost on cue, a series of bright lights began flashing at the plane's console, denoting air-traffic control's request for authorization. "See what I mean?" Domino arched a wry brow, rising from her seat, wincing as stiff, sore muscles groaned in protest. Handing him a headset, she managed a small, genuine smile, stuffing the slip of paper back in his square hand. "Pete gave you the codes, so you talk to these assholes. I'll go tell get everyone ready to land."

"You do that, darlin'," Logan shifted to let her pass, reaching for the radio controls even as she moved towards the doorway to the cockpit. "You do that."


Pete leaned against the wall of the plane as Kitty helped several of Jardine's men usher the still dazed captives out of the plane. Logan and Ororo had already contacted the station's medical personnel, and was accompanying those wounded to the station hospital.

They streamed out, stumbling down the hatch in ragged pairs, feet constrained to small steps by drugs and shackles. One particularly cumbersome pair of shoulders brushed him as he passed, and it was all Pete could do not to impale the drugged prisoner with five fiery hotknives.

Instead, he gritted his teeth and slapped the man contemptously, pushing him aside as he stalked down the ramp. "Toerag."

This had been a hell of a trip. Even though it was on paper- if such things were recorded on paper- a complete success, he'd seen the cost of the mission. He'd sat by the Tin Man during the flight and examined for himself the state of his injuries as the other man lapsed in and out of consciousness; he'd spoken briefly with Betsy during a brief period of lucidity before the mild painkiller Logan had administered helped lull the exhausted telepath into slumber.

More than that, though, he'd seen Dom. He'd seen how she held herself coming out of that hellhole, and had seen clouds of shadows almost tangibly descend on his old friend again. He'd tried to speak to her about it during the short flight, but she'd just looked at him with the same old hollow eyes, and he'd known nothing he could say would do any good.

He understood. Damn, he more than anyone could understand how she felt. After all, he'd been there. Ten years of Black Air would do that to anyone, twist the soul and the mind so that the thing you were was almost unrecognizable as the person you were when you started out.

Oh, yeah, he knew what that was like. If it hadn't been for Pryde and the rest of those over spandexed do-gooder wankers, he'd very likely still be in that condition himself. Dark and drunk and alone and hating everything in the world, himself included. 'Not anymore,' he told himself, and thanked the God he didn't believe in that it was actually true. There *was* more to him than duty and shadow now. His life was guided by a stronger force than 'it needed doing'. Whatever else these idealists were, they were believers, and despite himself some of it had rubbed off.

He thought it had on Dom, too. He and his old friend were both realists- nothing would change that- but the way she and Nathan had been acting over the last few days had almost convinced him that they'd both injected a little brightness into a reality that had far too many shadows in its past for all of them.

But now- again, he'd only exchanged a few brief words with her right before they landed, but the way she held herself, the bleakness in her eyes- it looked far too much like the old Dom for his liking.

His mood blackened even further, and he consciously shook himself out of it. 'And since when did I get so fuckin' introspective?' he mocked himself. 'Dom'll do fine. She always does.' Ignoring the nagging guilt, Pete shook himself back to the present and walked over to his lover, taking her gently by the arm. "Things under control here, Pryde?"

She spared him a half-smile, but warm chestnut eyes turned chilly again as she turned to watch the last of the captives file out of the plane, arms crossed tightly across her chest. "Of course," she affirmed, nodding as each confused passenger was counted off and taken into MI5 custody. "As soon as Agents Dixon and Lloyd here sign the paperwork, we're done."

She nodded at two burly black-clad agents, one of whom smiled back at her a little too warmly for Pete's taste, pale eyes running up and down his lover's form. Pete bared his teeth, shaking his head and suppressing his jealousy. "Good," he nodded curtly.

"Yeah," Kitty said.

"Yeah," Pete said, lapsing into silence as they watched justice ensue.


In an examining room, a tall, thin woman in a lab coat finished making the last of several notations on a clipboard. Another woman, clad in a pale green hospital gown, sat on the edge of an examining table, pale legs dangling.

"And you're quite sure you don't want any further scans?" The first woman raised thin, almost nonexistent gray-blonde eyebrows imploringly. "Aside from numerous cuts and bruises, physically you seem fine, but there is some evidence of severe emotional trauma-"

"NO." Domino's voice was calm and clear, if a bit shaky. "No, if you say I can physically walk out of here, then I'm going, Doctor Lowell, and there's nothing you can say to stop me."

"Ms. . . Winters," Lowell's voice dropped dubiously as she read the name. In her position as Chief Physician at this of all stations she had learned to recognize an alias when she saw it but such deception still ran contrary to her nature. "Ms. Winters, I am recommending that you be observed for at least the next 24 hours. . . With all you have been through today I cannot in good conscience agree-"

Domino raised a hand. "Enough, Doc. I understand, I understand, I'm leaving Against Medical Advice, or whatever the hell you Brits call it. Tell me one thing- can I walk out of here and not lapse into a coma?"

Lowell was quiet for a moment, mind racing through all the possible outcomes of the sequences of injuries this patient had suffered. ". . . I cannot say with certainty."

Domino levelled a steady purple gaze at her, and the other woman just sighed. "In my professional opinion, you are an idiot if you do so, but despite what you have endured you appear to be an idiot in complete control of her mental faculties and if you want to behave as such it is certainly your option."

Domino blew a sigh. "Doc. . ."

Lowell sat down on a bent aluminum stool, waving a bony hand. "Go. Get the hell out of here. Jardine told me to make sure you three were given the best care we had, but he didn't tell me to babysit you."

Bruised lips quirked in a wry grin that quickly faded, to be replaced by the same utterly guarded look that Lowell had seen on far too many operatives in this station. "The other two who were with me- they were hurt worse than I was. What's their status?"

Lowell sighed, laying Domino's charts on the flat shelf beside her stool. "You must know very well that I can't release information like that-"

"Don't try that bullshit with me. This isn't County General hospital- you know damn well normal rules don't apply here." She leaned forward, eyes glittering. "If they're well enough to travel, we need to get out of here as soon as possible. *How are they?*"

Lowell shook her head, rolling her neck back, feeling tired vertabrae pop. "I don't know if Doctors Wixtrum and Kerr will release their patients-"

Domino leaned forward. "If they *can* be released, I need them released. Do what you have to do, but if they can breathe on their own, I want them cleared. You're the head honcho around here. Get it done."

Lowell drew herself up to her full height. "And what gives you the authority to demand that?" The wrinkles at her eyes creased imperiously.

"Nothing," Domino murmured softly. "But Jardine sure as hell does. If I've got to call him down here to get this taken care of, I will."

Domino jumped down and her knees almost buckled underneath her. Grabbing the table for support, she managed to stand erect before Lowell saw her wobble. Holding the edge of the bed for support, she glared at the taller woman, who just looked back at her and shook her head longsufferingly.

"Oh, there's no need for such show. Let me talk to Mr. Jardine and the other doctors, and we'll see what we can do." She held up a hand, and waited a few seconds before warning "*If* your colleagues are medically able to leave. I will not, orders from the top or not, release approve the release of any patient if so doing will present a serious risk to that patient's health."

"Understood. *Thank you*," Domino sighed, stance relaxing. "Was that really so hard?"

"Not nearly as hard as it will be for you to go outside in that paper gown. I know you're in a dreadful hurry to leave, Ms. Winters, but perhaps you could spare the time to clean and clothe yourself while I'm making the calls."

Lowell motioned to the adjoining shower and blue jumpsuit hanging on a rack beside it. "I'll see to the arrangments while you're preparing yourself." With that final word, the tall doctor spun on her heel and was gone.

Domino watched her go, a small smile playing on her lips.


Ororo Munroe leaned back on one of the seats that lined the waiting room of the station's small infirmary. She shifted slightly, and the worn naughahyde squeaked indignantly. She didn't even notice, just thumbed through the March 1992 copy of British Vogue, absently skimming the articles.

'I should be accustomed to this by now,' she chided herself, rubbing a smooth hand over her face, stifling a yawn. 'But I am not. No matter how many years we have been doing this, it never gets easier,' she mused regretfully. 'And as long as the X-Men and our . . .' she paused, thinking of the best term to decribe the persons being treated in the adjoining examining room '. . . friends continue to risk ourselves like this, what else can we expect?'

She looked up from her magazine to see Logan slowly pacing around the room. Dark eyes glowed in the flourescent light of the waiting room as he walked up to the glassed-in desk area, stalking the receptionist as if she were prey. "How much flamin' longer are they gonna be in there?" He growled impatiently.

The young woman stationed at the desk blinked, and clutched her skirt underneath the desk. To her credit, however, she merely looked up at him, chin lifted haughtily. "Sir, I've already told you that the doctors will be with you as soon as your companions have been treated. I assure you, they are being given the best medical care Her Majesty's physicians can provide. We will alert you when the examinations are complete."

Noting that Logan's face had assumed a dangerous shade of red, Ororo rose smoothly from her seat and walked over to him, lightly laying a hand on his shoulder and leading him back to his seat. The receptionist breathed a barely audible sigh of relief.

"She's absolutely correct," Ororo told him in a soothing voice, pale eyes soft as she looked down at the shorter man. "You must have patience, my friend. The physicians are doing all they can."

Logan just looked at her.

She chuckled humorlessly. "Perhaps that *is* asking too much, but Logan, you know this as well as I. We are X-Men. We have survived far worse than this."


Domino stood outside Nathan's hospital room, face framed by the small glass window of his door. She was flanked by two figures in white lab coats, one tall and thin, then other stout and short.

She watched him sleeping peacefully, massive shoulders almost hanging over the side of the small bed. His injured arm was bound in a cast, and his side was tightly wrapped underneath a thin hospital gown that was far too short on him, but his monitors were chirping nicely, and the petite, gray haired nurse who lingered at his bedside didn't look worried at all. A plumper nurse stood in a corner, filling a glass of water from a pitcher, keeping a careful eye on the patient.

She raised curled knuckles to the glass searching deep within herself for the shattered remains of their psilink, probing her thoughts like the tongue is drawn to the socket of a freshly pulled tooth. He was there, and she was there, but the chasm between them loomed so large she didn't know if it could ever be breached.

She didn't know if she wanted to try.

The stocky man beside her coughed. "Ms. Winters, excuse me just a moment," he murmured, and she could still detect traces of a Cockney accent in his clipped voice. Domino obediately moved away from the door, and the man took her place. Looking through the pane of glass, he tapped once, and when one of the nurse looked up nodded at him.

Her eyes widened, and she inclined her head in silent questioning. He simply nodded again, and she shrugged and began removing the IV and electrodes from Nathan's still form.

Domino blinked, hands clasped behind her back. "Are you sure he's-"

The short man coughed again. "Ms. Winters, I can assure you, there is no permanent physical damage. Other than tending to some abnormal brain spikes, we've done all we can. Though I would prefer to keep him for observation several more days, Dr. Lowell informs me that you are quite ready to depart."

"That's an understatement," Domino breathed.

"One doesn't have to be a telepath to see how ready you all are to take leave of our hospitality." Wixtrum smiled wryly.

Domino's eyes widened in alarm, and she unconsciously took a step backwards. "*Are* you a telepath?"

"Hardly," Doctor Wixtrum pursed his lips. "We have access to several psis, but no psionic scans have been ordered or approved in your cases," he glanced again at Lowell. "Though it is obvious that all three of you are suffering from psionic damage. It would be best for all of you to have a telepath you trust examine you when this is all over." The man spoke matter of factly, much as a family doctor would recommend a medical specialist. "Besides, Mr. Jardine has to approve all unconsenting E.P.A.s."

"E.P.A.?" Unfamiliar with the jargon, Domino's eyes narrowed. "Explain. Now." Her tone brooked little room for argument.

"Exercise of Psionic Ability," Doctor Lowell supplied helpfully, stuffing her hands in her pockets. "Ms. Winters, there's really no need to worry-"

Domino spun on her heels. "Lowell," she asked warningly. "Did-"

"Did anyone perform unauthorize psiscans of you while you were in this office?" Doctor Lowell finished her question, unperturbed. "Of course not. That is an invasion of the highest sort. If we allowed that sort of business, we wouldn't be any better than that Black Air scum, now would we?" Wixtrum's lips curled in distaste at the mere mention of the former organization, and Lowell went so far as to unconsciously wipe her mouth as if the words had tasted bad.

'A little inter-agency competition, I see,' Domino thought, recalling her days with NSA. 'Only this time they're fighting over more important things than funding and jurisdiction.' She shuddered, memories of Black Air's nastier exploits cutting through even the grey bleakness currently shrouding her soul.

"Besides," Lowell leaned in a bit conspiratorially. "While I will not be so unrealistic to say it never happens, you would not *believe* the red tape involved in obtaining the proper authorization for an E.P.A. Now, they're only used on the grossest offenders, and only in cases of direst emergency."

Wixtrum met Domino's dubious gaze with a soft nod. "All talk of ethics aside, Ms. Winters," he said gently. "No alpha level psis serve on our staff. Our beta level telepaths take their jobs very seriously, though, I can assure you. It only took a few mindfried agents as a result of scanning without proper subject preparation to teach us the dangers of improper procedure."

Domino, unconvinced, just narrowed her eyes. Fists clenched by her sides. "If I find out otherwise, you'll wish-"

Lowell rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes. We'll wish we were never born." She glanced at Wixtrum, who was suppressing a smile. "Goodness, don't they ever get tired of that blustering? It must be exhausting." Turning back to her patient, she shook her head. "There's really no need for threats, Ms. Winters. What we do here is top secret and completely confidential, and we respect the privacy and rights of our agents and allies completely."

Before she finished, the hospital door opened wide, and the older nurse walked out. "He's waking up," she told the doctors in a chipper voice. "We finally found something large enough for him to wear. Goodness, but he's a big one," she shook her head, then refocused her attention on the others. "As soon as he's up, we'll get him dressed and out of here."

Domino ignored her, staring transfixed through the window at Nathan, who was just beginning to stir.

The nurse noticed the expression on her face. "He'll be fine, love," she murmured. "Don't you worry about him." Domino just looked up at her, eyes blank and glassy, and she smiled softly. "You get some rest, dear. You look like you've seen a ghost." Patting her arm and nodding at the doctors, she padded down the hall towards whatever efficient task awaited her next.

Domino only stared at her bleakly, and resumed her position at the door.


Nathan Summers blinked, as his vision slowly acclimated to the light of his hospital room. 'Oh, flonq, I feel like the third day of a two day pass. . . ' A moment later he heard a soft, accented voice beside him as a strong arm gently helped him sit up. He blinked again.

A round dark face was smiling at him, murmuring in the same comforting tones he'd heard from so very many healers over the years. "There, there, Mr. Summers. Do you feel well enough to try to sit up?"

Nathan coughed, then nodded, noting the shiver of pain that still wracked his chest when he moved. "We're. . . at. . . Pete's station?" He whispered through cracked lips, trying to think through the grinding pain in his skull. He was sore, beaten and hurting all over, but he could think and he was alive.

Alive. Alive, and whole, and in his right mind, more or less. Though he could still feel the brown stains of Tyler's taint, he was for the most part free.

The nurse made a small sound, breaking him out of his reverie. "Well, I don't know who Pete is, but yes, we're at the Station. Mr. Jardine gave us all instructions to give you the best care possible, and that's just what we're going to do."

Nathan shifted, breathing heavily. "How's. . . Dom?" He muttered, hoarse words rasping through an overly dry throat, monstrous images flickering through his thoughts. Dom. If he was going through this much pain, then she- he frantically delved inside his mind, probing the broken remnant of their link. It flickered slightly, filling his mind with pain, but there was no hint of the bond he'd shared with his partner. None at all. He swallowed, then broke into a hacking cough. When he could again speak, he muttered "She. . . ok? Everybody. . .else? OK?"

The nurse answered, not unkindly, "Your friends are being taken care of, don't you fret. Let's just think about getting you dressed and out of here, OK?" Despite the doctor's assurances she eyed his arm askance. They'd all seen a lot of strange things working in the Station, but living metal about took the prize. The doctor had cleared him, though, and that was good enough for her.

Her patient didn't respond.


Domino shook her head and turned away from the hospital door. All of her earlier thoughts of staying to supervise Jardine's interrogations of the captured scientists vanished like vapor under the sun. There'd be time later to come back and analyze the data- right now, all she wanted to do was get as far away from this place as possible. She couldn't verbalize, couldn't explain even to herself why she needed to leave so badly but every cell in her body burned with the need to run, to flee, to get the hell away.

Domino shook her head, disgusted with herself. Hide from her memories, hide from herself. To have this damn thing done and over with, and to go on with what was left of her life.

She knew Nate felt the same- during all the years they'd been together, he'd hated hospitals almost as much as she had, choosing instead to take care of his own wounds whenever they could, only seeking professional medical care when it was absolutely necessary. She knew he wouldn't begrudge her this. They'd bandage him up, and she'd take him home, and that would be the end of it. This whole miserable experience would be over.

Right.

She touched her face, uncharacteristically uncertain. No, she wouldn't run away forever. Whatever else she was, she wasn't a coward. She'd be back to deal with this- and soon- but for now. . . She snorted, disgusted, then turned again to the doctors, hating herself for every word she spoke. "I've seen enough. I appreciate you patching us up, but the sooner you can let us go, the sooner we'll be out of your way."

"We've been over this," Lowell sighed. "Believe me, you're not the first impatient patient we've had at this facility. I've spoken with my fellow doctors," she inclined her head at the shorter man, who nodded, "and Mr. Jardine, and he's agreed that you're to be released as soon as possible. Are you happy now?"

"I doubt it," A deep, raspy voice sounded behind them, and the others turned almost in unison to see Nathan, staggering but upright, silver hand grasping the doorframe for balance. He stared at his partner. "She rarely is." His tone was light, but the words masked a deeper emotion, and the broken part of him that thought it was still tied to her shivered.

He ventured a weak smile, then studied his feet. Domino felt the shattered bond cry out at his presence, straining to touch, never quite reaching him. Her mind throbbed a sickly golden color, washes of thoughts with broken sapphire remnants of their link. She doubled over slightly, turning away, raising the back of her hand to her mouth to hold in the choked cry that seemed to rise of its own accord.

Lowell rushed to her side, but she brushed the other woman off, biting her lip and standing upright. "I'm fine," she snarled, jerking her arm away from Lowell's sure grasp. "Leave me the hell alone." The other woman, nonplussed, just raised an eyebrow and complied.

Wixtrum harumphed. He frequently had to remind himself that despite the fronts they put up to the contrary the agents of the caliber that haunted these halls were only human. Wixtrum slowly turned down the hall, and Lowell caught his cue and moved away in order to give their patients a modicum of privacy. The patients in question didn't even notice they were gone.

"Dom," Nathan whispered past the lump in his blistered throat. "You. . . look like shit."

Sick at heart as she was, she had to laugh. "You too, Nate," she told him softly, forcing herself to look up from the floor. One hand rose to unconsciously cradle her chin, a thin forefinger pressed tight against her lips. He met her gaze, a world of loss in his eyes. Summoning his strength, he stepped away from the door frame to extend an unsteady hand to her. She tucked her head to her chest, hugging herself, then looked up, forcing herself to meet his mismatched gaze.

Time slowed to nothingness. The hospital, the doctors, the hallway all faded into a dull background blur, and the entire world narrowed to just the two of them- the man, the woman, two battered figures standing so close together, so far away. Nathan stood still, arm stretched out towards her, a silver bridge between two broken worlds.

"Take my hand," he whispered hoarsely, and the strength in the words was almost enough to banish the demons loosed within her and fill the holes in her soul.

Almost.

She closed her eyes, and the razor sharp slivers within her trembled in the presence of hope. Here it was. The chance, the opportunity to forget what had happened, to join with Nathan again so together they could heal.

"Take it," he whispered, rough voice pitched for her ears alone. "Dom, I know what you went through, what. . . he . . .did. I *know*," he murmured, and indeed he did, for the clone of his son had forced him to experience the horror alongside her, forced them both to believe despite their knowledge to the contrary that Nathan had raped and taunted and violated his partner until the trust and intimacy forged over two decades of partnership were nothing more than a tarnished joke.

Violet eyes narrowed, and monstrous visions sprang unbidden through her thoughts, mocking her with warped nightmare images of what Tyler had done. She swallowed tightly, biting back the thoughts, slamming a lid on the memories knowing all the while that the seal wouldn't hold for long.

She looked up, and noticed that she had taken a few inadvertent steps away from him. "Don't," she looked up at him blindly, holding up a warning hand. "Nate, don't, please God, don't even say it," she choked, turning away. "Not here, not now."

"Dom, I," His own voice broke, and broad shoulders stiffened at memories of his own. "You know that wasn't me. You know I'd never-"

"I said *don't*, Nate!" she snarled, tears streaming down her face She didn't even noticing how her fingers dug into her upper arms, adding bruises to already colored flesh. "Shut the fuck up! We'll talk about this later, all right?" The heat in her voice dissipated, and when she spoke again she sounded very tired and very, very old. "Shit. Let's forget about it, ok? This isn't the time, or the place." She couldn't meet his eyes.

He was silent a moment, and drew deep inside himself for a long moment before shuddering once, then raising his chin. "You're right," he agreed softly, his hand dropping to his side. "I'm sorry. We'll talk about this later."

Somehow the words sounded hollow to them both.

A soft patter on the hard floor sounded behind them and Domino, senses raw from Nathan's presence, pivoted sharply. "Betsy!" She cried, glad for the diversion. Pushing a shock of dark hair to the side, she scanned her teammate's form, asking "How are you?"

Elisabeth Braddock, now clad in a blue jumpsuit similiar to the one worn by Domino, moved slowly down the hall. Her natural grace only slightly impaired by her injuries. "Domino, Nathan," she greeted them as easily as if they were sharing the kitchen at home. "You both look. . . well." She smiled dryly, the arch expression belying her words.

"Glad you could make it, Betts." Domino looked at her, and the unspoken plea in her eyes spoke volumes. 'Don't say anything about what we found,' Domino thought as loudly as she could, fighting past the confusion in her thoughts, using the techniques Nathan had taught her to focus the single thought towards the other woman, praying she understood.

She did. Psylocke just nodded slowly, reading the unspoken question in her teammate's eyes, battered telepathy picking up on the frustration and fear shading the message. Turning away, she managed a wan smile. "I've been examined and cleared, and other than a residual headache, I'm fine." She raised a hand to rub her temple. "If you wouldn't mind very much, I'd like to leave, please."

"Just what I wanted to hear." Domino stared at her another moment longer, something akin to gratitude in her eyes before she tilted her head, waving a hand in the air curtly to get the doctors' attention.

The two physicans returned, nodding at Betsy. "Ms. Braddock?" Lowell inquired. "I've spoken with Dr. Kerr. She'd informed me that you are quite adamant in your desire to depart."

"Indeed," Betsy inclined her head. "Doctors, we appreciate your work. We'll recommend you to all our friends, but I'm afraid now's the time we say goodbye." Lowell paused a moment, but Wixtrum snorted. "Ah, sod it," he scratched a bushy eyebrow. "If the lot of you want to be bloody idiots and go off against our advice, there's really nothing we can do but watch you go. Just promise me," he glared at all three of them. "When you get to wherever it is you're going that you will get proper medical attention. Patching you up won't do much good if you knock our stitches out, and fixing your bodies won't do a damn bit of good if you won't get that psionic damage seen about."

Nathan opened his mouth to protest, but Betsy beat him to it. "We will," she promised smoothly. "And we thank you for all you've done, but now, if you don't mind, we'd like to make our departure. Our friends are waiting on us."

"Be that bloody way, then," Wixtrum snorted, thrusting his clipboard in Lowell's hands. "Doctor, you do the paperwork. I have *patients* to see."

With a slight shrug, Domino waved goodbye, then turned to walk down the long hallway.


Logan and Ororo sat silently side by side for several long moments. Logan watched the clock, counting each individual tick, feeling his frustration rising to an almost tangible level.

Betsy. When he'd ran out of the plane to find her unconscious on the rocky soil outside Tyler's fortress, he'd felt something he'd not experienced in quite some time-true heart-clenching fear.

His chosen lifestyle had more than accustomed him to danger, for only fools didn't fear at all, and whatever else the man called Logan was, he wasn't a fool. Still, though, the danger of battle, the feral thrill and delight of the hunt was one thing. He, his teammates, the people they fought- they were all accepting the risk. They were equals, so to speak, and whatever happened in the course of that behavior happened. They were fighting a war, and people got hurt in wars. You lost friends, lost teammates, you mourned them, you moved on. It happened.

Except that when he saw Betsy lying prone on that dusty soil he didn't see a felled teammate, his friend of so many years. Instead, he saw the woman he'd slept next to the night before, and had felt fierce primal rage and an overwhelming need to protect the woman who'd lain beside him.

Even now, the burning animal need was there, barely held in check, and it scared the hell out of him. Emotions like that were a liability in his fight. He'd known love before, and lost it, and he'd never forget the aching chasm in his soul where that love once lay. He'd felt the rage of the animal who'd lost its mate. He'd borne the loss before, and it had scarred him far worse than a lifetime's battles ever had. He didn't know if he would ever be able to risk that kind of loss again.

And this was precisely why these burgeoning feelings were so damn unnerving, especially when the source of those emotions lay behind a thick steel hospital door.

He blinked, shaking himself out of his reverie. "Damn, I hate this." His voice was low, growling the words.

Ororo nodded, squeezing his shoulder lightly. "I know you do. This is not easy for any of us."

Logan shook his head, a tight, controlled motion full of predatory grace. "Ah, it'll be all right, darlin'. How about you?" He looked up at his long time teammate speculatively. "Are *you* all right? I know that storm back there musta took a lot out of ya. . ."

She smiled gratefully. "I am fine, Logan, if a bit tired. I *am*, however, beginning to worry about Kitty and . . . Mr. Wisdom. They said that they would supervise the transfer of our captives and then meet us here, and that was some time ago."

Logan looked at her, then despite his trepidation full lips split in a wide grin. "You must have patience, my friend," He parrotted her words back to her, and despite herself she had to laugh.

Before she could respond, he tilted his head, then turned away from her towards the door to the examining room, trailing the scuffling sounds heard therein. Ororo, eyes widening slightly, followed his gaze.

Seconds later, Domino pushed through the swinging doors of the waiting room, Betsy and Cable trailing right behind her. All three were bruised and weary, but despite their bandages all three were walking of their own volition.

"Nathan! Are you all right?" Ororo's lovely voice was sharper, higher than usual, and she rushed over to Cable.

Nate waved one weary hand. The other was bandaged to his chest, along with the broken arm. "I'm fine, 'Ro, don't worry about it." Glancing at Logan, Cable's weathered brow furrowed. "Anyone seen the Brit and Kitty?"

Logan didn't answer, just stared at Betsy, a small, delighted grin on his face. He moved slowly to her, and she met his stare with an unreadable expression of her own. Cable grunted and looked away, allowing them what little privacy he could at a time like this. Domino didn't even notice.

"I have not," Ororo murmured. "But I trust they will be along shortly. I am just so very delighted you are well." She smiled brilliantly, and for the first time Domino saw the dark shadows underneath leonine aqua eyes. "I was quite worried about you." She paused, then looked up at the other two women. "About you all."

The dark haired woman shook her head wryly, lips curving in a humorless smile. "I'm fine, Windrider, thanks for asking. Betsy-" She nodded at the other woman, who had pulled apart a bit from the others and was speaking to Logan in hushed tones. "She's fine, too."

"I'm fine, you're fine, we're all fine," Cable grated, wincing as a pain shot through his body and his mind. "So can we please get the flonq out of here?"

"Strange as it sounds, Cable's right," Logan grunted, gently guiding Betsy to a seat. "What say we let whassherhead over there," he motioned at the receptionist, who was blatently pretending not to notice them, "Get on the horn and get Jardine t' get Kitty and Pete's ass over here so we can get th' hell out of Dodge."

"Sounds good to me."


In another wing of the facility, Pete Wisdom and Kitty Pryde sat in a well-appointed office, leaning close to each other, murmuring quietly.

"We supervised the transfer ourselves, Pete, counted off each ratty little head." Kitty pulled away to lounged back in her chair, crossing her legs. "Everything's taken care of. They're all here."

Pete snorted. "Yeah, it's in 'official' hands now. As long as the sheep-buggerin' bastards are put away, I don't care who has 'em."

Chestnut eyes narrowed. "I hope they'll do a lot more than just put them away," Kitty muttered, hot temper beginning to flare as she recalled what she'd read about some of the particular criminals they'd captured. "Pete, some of the experiments they're doing are on a par with Sinister's worst-"

Pete drew in a deep breath. "Don't worry. By the time Jardine's boys are done mindwipin' 'em, they'll need instruction sheets to wipe their own arses."

Kitty nodded, lapsing into silence, thinking of the mission's cost, the bruises and scars both seen and unseen. Cable and Betsy had lapsed in and out of consciousness the entire trip back, and Domino- the bleakness in the other woman's gaze had made her shiver.

She'd seen that look before. The same haunted look had appeared in the eyes of Rachel Summers when she'd first come from the future. She'd seen that expression in the faces of Holocaust survivors as they stared at the Memorial, lost in memories of that monstrous hell. She'd seen the shadows in the eyes of the few Morlocks who had escaped the Massacre.

It was the aftermath of evil, pure and simple, and it left scars that would never fully heal.

'And for a former mercenary like Domino who's seen and done it all- plus two of the strongest psis on Earth-' Kitty thought angrily, thinking of what little she'd been able to glean about what had happened. 'What that bastard must have done-'

Beside her, Pete nodded, meeting her brown eyes with his own dusty sapphire gaze. They didn't speak, only looked at each other, both knowing in their hearts what had been done that day.

A muffled sound interrupted Kitty's thoughts, and she snapped back to attention. The door opened, and Edward Jardine, MI5 Head of Criminal Intelligence, walked into his office, a thick sheath of papers in hand.

"Hello, children," the older man beamed, leaning against the huge mahogany desk facing their chairs. Both just turned and looked at him, identical expressions of annoyance. "No, don't get up." Jardine took his seat, steepling his fingers under his chin.

Pete leaned back in his brown leather chair, drawing deeply from his everpresent cigarette. "Piss off, Jardine," he grumbled. "Why the hell are you making us wait in here while our mates are in the hospital? Pryde's gettin' worried about them." Kitty just looked at him, then wrinkled her nose and waved her hand before her face to swirl away the smoke.

Jardine just shook his head. "Patience, patience, Peter. My people are helping them to your plane right now. You'll join them soon enough."

Kitty cut him a sharp glance, but said nothing. Jardine just quirked a smile but continued scanning his notes. After a few moments silence, he looked up, and his voice was surprisingly deep for so slight a man. "Saggus. Debevec. Martin. Paris. Hart. This is a laundry list of some of the most wanted monsters on the planet. Consider me duly impressed." He shuffled the papers, shaking his head slightly. "These bastards- collectively, there are probably more charges out against them than flies on a field of shit."

Pete shrugged, sharp bones moving against the dusty material of his black jacket. "It needed doin', Jardine."

Beside him, Kitty Pryde shifted in her seat. "Don't thank us. Pete was right- we're not the ones who paid the price for this little trip, Mr. Jardine. And," she glanced down at her watch. "Time's wasting, and we need to get back to Muir as soon as possible, so if you don't mind. . ." She trailed off.

Jardine coughed. "Well, since you've put it like that, I suppose we should go ahead and get started, with or without her."

Pete paused. "Who th' hell you talking about?"

"Domino, of course. I understand she's quite insistent that she and the rest of your colleagues be released from our medical facility immediately. While I have of course instructed my doctors to release them as soon as medically acceptable, I do need to speak to her before you depart."

Pete leaned forward, elbows balanced on his knees. "The hell you do. Between Pryde and me, we can tell you whatever you need to know, but Dom stays out of it for now."

Kitty blinked at the defensiveness in his tone, but Jardine just raised an eyebrow. "I'll need to talk to her about what happened, Peter, you *know* that."

Pete nodded curtly. "Yeah, and I know she's gonna want to talk to you, too, but not right now. Trust me on this."

"Peter." Jardine's voice was calm, controlled. "You know I can't-"

Pete shook his head. "Don't push me on this one, Jardine," he warned. "Not now. I promise you she'll call soon, but not bloody today. I told you before this thing started that this wasn't just any op, and we'd handle this on our terms. Deal with it."

The two men studied each other for a moment, then Jardine drew in a deep breath. "Perhaps you're right, Pete," His voice softened slightly. "Brief me on what happened, and have Domino fill in the gaps later."

And so he did.

And when he was done, Jardine stood up. Because they were professionals, there were no grunts of surprise, no strangled gasps. There was only quiet acceptance and a strange gentleness in Jardine's voice when he said "You were right, Pete. It had to be done-"

"I know, dammit. I know." The former agent's voice was surprisingly deep. "I only wish-"

Kitty reached up a hand, surprised to find a lump in her throat. "Me too," she whispered softly. "Me, too."

The phone on Jardine's desk chose that moment to ring, the shrill sound slicing the silence like a razor. Jardine picked it up.

"Jardine." He paused while the other end spoke, then made an amused grunt. "Very well. Inform them we'll meet them in a few moments." He sat the phone down in its rest, looking up at Pete and Kitty with an amused smile.

"Apparantly your colleagues are *very* ready to depart." He covered his mouth to hide the smile.

"They're not the only ones," Pete muttered, then stood, shaking Jardine's open hand. "We'll be in touch," he promised. "Dom'll call you soon."

The older man held his hand for a minute, staring at him from behind thick glasses. "She'd better," he agreed, and Wisdom heard the steel in the older man's voice. "Give her. . . my best."

Turning away from Pete, Jardine bent to kiss Kitty's hand. "A pleasure, as always, Miss Pryde. I hope one day you realize how much better you can do than this rake and come work for me."

"One day," Kitty smiled, taking refuge in the familiar banter. "If you think you can afford me, that is. . ."

"Ah, cut it out," Pete grabbed Kitty's hand, taking it in his own. Pushing his chair back, he pulled her towards the door, waving his hand in the air. "Later, Jardine."

"Goodbye, Peter," the older man murmured, then sat back down in his upholstered seat. He stared at the door a few moments, a strange, wistful expression on his face, then settled down to do the inevitable paperwork.

Several moments later his thick, reinforced walls muffled the sounds of a single plane ascending into the sky.


PART56

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