Sun, 1 Oct 2000
DuAnn Cowart ibelieve@rocketmail.com
Just Lucky, I Guess 57

Standard disclaimers apply. See earlier chapters for full disclaimer.

As always, copious thanks to the wonderful Luba Kmetyk and Alicia McKenzie for kind betaing. Special thanks to Luba for catching D'oh-level errors in this one. :)

Feedback is gratefully received at ibelieve@rocketmail.com


Just Lucky, I Guess

57/?

DuAnn Cowart

 

Golden fire streaked across a blue sky as Sam Guthrie ran through his morning workout, dipping and rolling across the mansion's airspace in complex aerial maneuvers designed to keep his mutant powers at their peak. Muscled thighs met his chest as he somersaulted through the air, working through the kinks of a particularly difficult exercise program.

He twisted in a tight corkscrew formation, ducking and dodging imaginary opponents, graceful as a dancer in the sky. An aerial ballet like this was second nature now, but it wasn't so very long ago that he'd been merely a gawky teenager staring wistfully above, praying to heaven that he wouldn't blast out of control and hurt himself or somebody else.

So much had changed since those early days. His face, taut against the wind, twisted in a pained smile. He'd been so awkward and naive back then, completely awestruck to be living in the same house as figures as world-wise and exotic as the Wolverine and Storm. Now, he'd seen and done as much as any of them, and the insecure boy had given way to the confident man.

The confident man snorted, amused at his own vanity. He finished the maneuver with a graceful flourish, then leveled out to soar smoothly through the sky. 'Don't know who I'm trying to show off for. Nobody's up here but me and the birds, and they don't seem real impressed.' With that in mind, he relaxed his muscles and spun lazily in the air, exulting in the sheer joy of flight.

Without the distraction of concentration, his mind was free to ponder other things-- like where the hell Cable was and why Emma Frost's private jet had taxied into the hangar first thing this morning, waking up the whole house.

'Speakin' of the good old days,' Sam thought wryly, discomfited at the thought. He paused, suspicion making the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. ‘I hope nothing's wrong.'

After all these years, Emma Frost still made him nervous. His sister's protestations to the contrary, he still saw her as the White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Wealth and power and money wrapped up in white lingerie straight out of a sixteen year old's erotic dream, that was Emma Frost. Like most men, he had no idea whatsoever about how to deal with her.

'I know we're supposed t' forgive our enemies, but she just. . .' He sighed, annoyed at his own rationalizations. 'No buts. If we can't be forgiven, then there's no use for any of us gettin' out of bed in the morning, and I'm a hypocrite to my faith.'

He nodded, resolved to give her the benefit of the doubt, and returned his thoughts to the present situation. ‘This visit's unscheduled, so it's got to have something to do with Cable and Dom coming back this morning,' he thought, keen eyes scouring the horizon for a glimpse of this PACRAT. Sam spun in a complete circle, searching in all directions for the telltale glimmer of distortion that indicated the returning plane.

'Don't know what they ran into over there, but it musta been pretty bad. There's a heck of a welcome wagon waiting for them when they get here.' Sam frowned at the thought of the collected telepathic firepower currently gathered in the mansion's medlab awaiting his mentors' return. 'Xavier, Jean *and* Miss Frost. It's not every mission that ends up with that sort of psionic cleaning crew.'

The thought was not encouraging, but after a few moments he chided himself. 'Have a little faith, Guthrie. So what if they're banged up a little bit? Nate and Dom can take it.' He stared down at the mansion, a red brick jewel set among the manicured grounds. 'They can take it,' he reminded himself uneasily, then continued his workout, scanning the sky all the while. ___________________

"Scott, darling, sit down." The words were soft, hushed, and tinged with more than a bit of impatience.

Scott Summers stopped pacing the hall outside the Medlab long enough to glance over one bunched shoulder at the exquisitely beautiful woman waiting with him at the other end of the hall. "Hmmmm?"

Jean Grey-Summers sighed and stood up, stretching her arms high above her head in a tired yawn. She walked towards her husband, laying one hand on his shoulder. "Scott. I know you're worried about Nathan, but in her call last night Kitty *said* he was fine. Charles, Emma and I are here to take care of whatever injuries he and the others might have sustained, so there's absolutely no need to do this to yourself."

Scott's shoulders slumped and he nodded miserably, taking his wife in his arms. "I know," he murmured into her thick red hair, nuzzling the soft skin behind her ear. "I do. And I know better than to tense up like this every time my son goes out on a mission. It's just-- something about this one is really worrying me. He rushes out, not telling us where he's going, and comes back needing psychic surgery, so soon after that incident last week--"

Slender hands stroked ruffled hair as she wrapped her arms around him, pulling him closer. She smiled, feeling the comforting rhythm of his heartbeat against her cheek. "I know, darling. You just worry about him. I do, too, Scott, but he can take care of himself. He made his own decisions long before we came back into his life."

There was the mental equivalent of a sigh. *I know. It's just that every time he comes back hurt like this I think I'm going to lose him all over again.* His words echoed in her mind as he projected through their psionic link, and strong arms squeezed her tighter as if he were afraid that she, too, would be taken from him again one day.

It was a familiar fear. In response, she gathered up all the love and confidence she could muster and returned it to him, letting the warmth seep through her husband's insecurities and strengthen him as he had her so many times. He'd had so many people he loved taken from him, his parents, his brother, his son, even her, it was difficult for him to truly believe that this fragile life they'd built for themselves wouldn't one day come crashing all around them.

She smiled as he relaxed in her arms, allowing the powerful sway of her emotions and her sheer physical presence to comfort him. They were quiet like that for a long time, savoring the quiet moment of solitude that was all this life of chaos allowed.

The warm silence was broken by a cultured New England drawl. "What a perfectly charming domestic scene," Emma Frost sighed, one arm leaned against the doorframe as she stood silhouetted against the entrance to the Medlab. Clad from head to toe in pristine white, she surveyed the couple with cool blue eyes, a bemused smile resting on perfectly painted lips. "I do declare, it almost makes me want to find a suitable partner and settle down myself."

Jean fought the urge to pull away from her husband like an errant schoolgirl. Instead, she simply cupped his face in her hands and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead before releasing him, turning to face the former White Queen as she mentally framed a response. As Emma gazed at the two of them, Scott surprised her by retorting absently "Your kind eat your mates, don't they?" He reached down to take Jean's hand in his, lacing her fingers between his own, squeezing it defiantly.

Emma blinked, then surprised them both by bursting out in low, rich laughter. "Touche', Mr. Summers. Nicely done." She crossed her arms over her chest, and the white patent leather of her sleeve squeaked against the white patent leather of her tight bodice. She tossed her head slightly, and a wave of straight platinum hair fell perfectly over one shoulder. Behind her tightest mental shields, Jean couldn't help but wonder how many times Emma had practiced that particular maneuver.

Smile fading, Emma continued "Now that we've completed the obligatory bantering phase of this encounter, Scott, I must ask Jean to come with me."

"Why?" Scott asked cautiously, tightening his grip on his wife's hand. Despite two years of near perfect behavior and Sean's assurances that the woman had indeed changed, few of the X-Men could bring themselves to regard their former enemy with anything warmer than mild suspicion, a fact of which the lady in question was well aware.

Her lips still curved in a perfect cupid's bow, but a brittle edge crept into Emma's voice. "Because your son's plane has just landed and unless I'm terribly mistaken as to the reason Sean and I dropped everything to rush over here in the middle of the night, we need to make preparations for some astral surgery relatively soon, no?"

Scott drew in a sharp breath. "You're right," Jean nodded curtly, then squeezed Scott's suddenly clammy palm and released it. She paused for a moment to study Emma's elegant features, forcing herself with some effort to see beyond the cold surface to the woman whose tortured memories she'd glimpsed when their psyches had switched bodies so many years ago.

Reminding herself that things were not always as they appeared, Jean managed a small but genuine smile. "Thank you, Emma. In case no one has said it, we really do appreciate your help with all of this."

Something in the other woman's expression thawed slightly at the small kindness. "You're quite welcome," she murmured automatically, somewhat unsettled by the unexpected reaction. "It's nothing." There was something of an awkward pause, then Emma looked up. "However--"

Jean met her eyes, finishing her thought. "-we do need to get started, you're quite right. Scott, why don't you go see about helping get Nate and the others to the Medlab while I go with Emma?"

There was no reply, for he was already gone. Jean saw a glimpse of blue as he hurriedly turned the corner of the corridor, racing to the hangar to see about his son, then squared her own shoulders and followed a shrugging Emma Frost back into the Medlab.

"CABLE! You're all right!" Sam Guthrie swooped down from the sky to touch down beside the plane in a textbook perfect landing. In other circumstances he might have congratulated himself, but the scene before him was far too grim for any such nonsense this morning.

His mentor lay prone on an antigravity litter. Storm had both hands balanced on the controls, guiding the hovering craft, and a skinny dark haired man Sam recognized from photographs as Excalibur's Pete Wisdom stood a few feet away, eyes fixed on the cockpit of the plane.

'What the hell's *he* doing here?' Sam wondered as Storm maneuvered the overburdened carrier down the PACRAT's ramp, pausing at the base of the ramp. ‘I didn't know Excalibur was involved in this mission of theirs.' While other teammates exited the plane slowly, Sam hurried to Cable's side, surveying his teacher's injuries with a worried expression. Cable opened his eyes and fixed blearily on his face. "Sam?" he murmured weakly, voice so low and scratchy that the younger man had to focus to understand him. "'s that you?"

Sam smiled brilliantly, relieved beyond words. "It's me, sir." Seeing the pain on Cable's face, he sobered, and leaned down to whisper a message meant for his teacher's ears alone. "What can I do, sir? Just name it, and it's done."

"Dom," Cable's face twisted in a grimace of pain. His undamaged hand stretched over his body to grip Sam's wrist, and gray eyes focused through numbing drugs to stare at him intently, boring into his soul. In a thick voice, Cable mumbled, "Dom, Sam. See. . 'bout. . .Dom. . ."

"You got it, sir," Sam murmured earnestly. Cable stared at him a moment longer, then silver eyelashes fluttered and the metal hand on his went slack as Cable lapsed back into unconsciousness. Ororo exchanged a worried glance with him, and Sam stepped back, rubbing his wrist absently.

Logan, cradling an unconscious Psylocke in his arms, pushed past them all, a single minded expression etched across his craggy features. Kitty Pryde trailed right behind them, pausing only long enough to cast a worried look at Wisdom before following the two into the interior of the mansion.

Troubled aquamarine eyes watched her teammates pass, then Ororo addressed Sam in a gentle voice. "I know you are concerned, Samuel, but the best possible thing we can do now is get Nathan to the Medlab where he can get the care he needs."

Sam nodded gratefully at her, then turned to the dark haired stranger. Instinctively polite, he asked "Sir? I hate to bother you, but do you know what put Nate in this state?"

Pete blinked, then turned away from the cockpit, hands in his pockets. "Huh? Oh, yeah, Nate. Long story, kid, but don't fret. Th' big lug's been through way worse'n this. He'll be fine."

"That's real nice to hear, sir, but it doesn't answer my question." Sam brushed a lock of bright hair out of his eyes. Squaring his shoulders, he met the other man's frank gaze. "We haven't been properly introduced. I'm Sam Guthrie."

Pete bit back a laugh, hearing the tension in the forcibly-polite voice, the frustration seeping through an accent thick as molasses. "Pete Wisdom. Just another smarmy git who's givin' y' advice y' don't want or need right now, I know." Seeing the stark worry in the young man's eyes, he attempted a bit of badly needed levity. "But seein' as we're here on the hallowed halls of X, it might be more appropriate t' call me Professor W."

Ororo visibly stiffened, but Sam just rolled his eyes, forcing himself not to smile. "Not in this lifetime, Mr. Wisdom."

Pete grinned. "I figgered so, mate. Fine, then. Call me Pete."

Sam inclined his head, ingrained manners finally kicking in. "It's real nice to meet you, Mr. Wisdom, but I hope you don't mind me asking what are you and Kit doing here? Long story or not, if you know what knocked Cable out like this, I'd appreciate your tellin' me."

Pete sighed. "Some other time, Guthrie." He glanced around, surveying the grounds. "Is that everyone? I saw Braddock with Logan, but has anyone checked on Dom?"

Sam's eyes flashed. "I thought he was just ramblin', but Cable was right? Domino's hurt, too?" He growled. "Dom doesn't *get* hurt."

Wisdom winced as pinpricks of familiar guilt bombarded him. "Not on the outside, kid." Without further explanation, he took a deep breath and turned to Storm. "Munroe- have you seen her leave th' plane yet?"

"I do not know," Ororo answered quietly, gently pressing the back of her hand to Cable's forehead. She looked up, lovely face creased with worry. "He has a fever, Wisdom," her voice was not quite accusatory, and distracted as he was Sam sensed the tension between the two. "He needs medical attention, soon."

Before Pete could answer, the doors to the hanger hissed open and Scott Summers came barreling through, face impassive underneath a thick red visor. Seeing his son was unconscious, he turned to his deputy leader. "Storm, report!" he snapped. "What are you all doing just standing here? Get him inside, now!"

"Y'all go ahead," Sam stepped back, making room for the near-frantic Cyclops. "I'm goin' to check on Dom."

Pete nodded approvingly. "I'm comin' with you. She ain't gonna want to do it, but we need to get her to the infirmary here. She needs lookin' at worse than Nate does, if my guess is right."

"Fine." Cyclops barked, taking control of the litter from Storm. There was no hesitation in his voice. "You two do that. I'm taking my son inside."

Sam ducked his chin rapidly and stepped out of the worried father's way, too preoccupied to see the tightness around Ororo's eyes as she paced alongside of the litter, waving Sam and Pete to the side. Scott just grunted and motioned impatiently, urging the antigravity litter forward. With a last look at his fallen mentor, Sam turned away, looking around the plane for Domino.

Pete Wisdom watched them go, staring at the back of the red visored man who had to be Cyclops. When they reached the doors of the mansion, Storm inclined her head, and a gust of air opened the doors. As Cyclops and Storm guided the litter through winding hallways, Wisdom caught his first glimpse of the interior of the mansion and almost goggled at the complexity of the compound within. The place was covered floor to ceiling with some of the most advanced technology he'd ever seen.

'Looks like something out o' th' top Black Air compounds. I knew these bleedin' wankers had a nice set up here, but *damn*, this is some friggin' top of th' line shit.' His lips curved with a wry smile, remembering the origin of the Shi'ar technology. 'I guess snoggin' an alien princess might have other fringe benefits 'sides the obvious.'

He glanced up at the cockpit of the plane again, wishing he could see through its mirrored windows at the woman within. Sighing heavily, he turned to study the blond man beside him with jaded eyes, immediately identifying him as Cannonball, field leader of Cable and Domino's outlaw X-Force. 'Interestin',' he thought, cataloguing the young man's expression, his features, his body language. He recognized the type- earnest, idealistic, and way too damn young to have eyes that old. 'Boy's seen a lot, but he's still clean. I hope to God he stays that way.'

Nodding his head, he turned to the young man. Motioning behind him, he asked a question that had been preying on his mind ever since he'd learned the truth of it several years ago. "Hey, mate? That feller back there with the red glasses- that was really Nate's da?"

Sam tilted his head curiously, surprised at the question, then laughed aloud. "Sure is. Living around it makes me forget just how weird it really is, but yeah, Cyclops is Cable's father."

Pete shook his head, still amazed. "So that's him, eh? It wasn't just a rumor. . . Nate's da is half his age." He grinned. "And I thought *my* family was fucked up. We've got nothin' on these sods."

"You don't know the half of it, sir," Sam inclined his head, humor fading from his eyes. "I'll make you a deal- you tell me this long story about what happened to Nate, and I'll tell you all about it. What do you say?"

Pete grinned, amused at the steel behind the pleasant words. "Not getting away with it that easy, am I then, kid?"

Sam met his eyes, face utterly impassive. "Not a chance. Nate and Dom are real special to me and mine. Anything that hurts them, hurts us. I want to hear all about their little trip back there."

Pete grunted. "You've been in this business long enough to know that most of this shit is on a need to know basis, kid, but if you help me get Dom t' your infirmary, I promise that I'll tell you what I can." He paused. "That fair enough?"

Sam followed his gaze to the plane, and then looked back, meeting the other man's eyes. Recognizing what he saw there, he nodded cautiously. "It'll do for now."

The two men walked over to the plane and began climbing the ramp, Sam following Pete, who spoke over his shoulder. "Dom's gonna say she's fine, but don't let her outside fool you- most of the damage for all three of them," he gestured at the direction Betsy and Cable had taken, "Was psionic. They all need attention, soon, or the effects of whatever was done to them's gonna get even worse."

"Gotcha," Sam nodded at Wisdom, finally understanding the need for the cadre of telepaths waiting downstairs. He ducked his head to enter the plane, looking around for his former teacher. "Domino? Ma'am? You in here?" Sam's voice echoed through the now empty plane. He threaded the chairs, walking to the back of the plane. "Ma'am?"

There was no answer. Golden eyebrows furrowed, but Sam kept his voice mild. "Domino? I didn't see ya come out, and last I heard you couldn't teleport." He walked back up to the front of the plane to stand beside Wisdom, who was waiting for him outside of the cockpit door.

The two men paused outside of the cockpit. After exchanging a worried glance, Sam nodded, and Pete tapped heavily on the door. "Dom? Come on out. We know you're in there."

There was a muffled sound, and the door opened to reveal Domino, arms akimbo, staring at the two from behind blank eyes. "What do you want?" Her voice was as cold and inflectionless as either had ever heard it, and Sam inadvertently took a step back. Pete stood his ground, but a pained expression flitted across his features when he saw the darkness in her eyes.

Sam swallowed and tried to smile, injecting as much good ol' boy charm in his voice as he dared. "Just t' check on you. You all right?"

Domino just stared at him, expression flinty and hard, and Sam fought back a shiver.

‘What the hell happened back there?' he wondered, deeply disturbed by what he saw. ‘She's not too beat up, but she's actin' like a zombie. Whoever fought ‘em must have been a hell of a telepath.'

"I see you brought reinforcements," Domino growled Wisdom, who looked as discomfited as Sam did. She smiled dangerously. "What's the matter? Didn't think you could handle me by yourself?"

"Never hurts to have a back-up with you, Dom," Pete addressed her softly, knowing the irritation he felt was aimed at himself for getting her into this situation to begin with. "Y' know that. I need t' get y' to th' infirmary here. Those London docs did all they could, but y' know damn well y' need more. Quit being such a stubborn bitch and come with us."

Sam blinked, surprised at the bluntness in the newcomer's words, but Domino just narrowed her gaze, voice cracking in exhaustion. "Fuck you," she murmured quietly, in a voice devoid of emotion. "I'm fine. I wish you all would just leave me the fuck alone."

Sam studied the two as amethyst and sapphire eyes locked in a battle of wills that he didn't begin to understand. No words were spoken between the two, but the air was so tense that he almost gulped for breath.

After an indeterminable time, Pete broke the silence. "Y' know I can't do that, Dom," he replied gravely, voice low and almost ashamed. "I got y' into this, it's my place t' get you out. You know that."

The icy mask on Domino's drawn features cracked, and Sam saw her jaw set in a familiar clench. He wasn't surprised at all when her bruised lips curved in an acid smile and her words were coated with thick sarcasm. "Oh, so this is about *you*, now, is it? I ought to go down there and put on a show for those self-righteous pricks just because you feel responsible?" Domino's voice rose incredulously, and purple eyes flashed fire. "Watch it, runt. Between dealing with Nate and his fucked up misfit of a son, I've just about had all I can friggin' take of dealing with misplaced male ego." She jabbed an elbow in Pete's chest, pushing him into the wall as she stormed down the center aisle and out of the plane.

Sam didn't wait for him to catch up, just ran to follow Domino, almost stepping on her heels. He didn't understand what had passed between the two, but he knew pain when he saw it. Even if she wouldn't appreciate the effort, he couldn't bear to see her hurt like that, and he knew he had to do something.

Domino stopped abruptly at the end of the ramp, and only his quick reflexes kept them from colliding. She sighed, and through clenched teeth muttered, "I'm fine, Sam. No need for the mother hen routine from you, too."

"I'm glad to hear that, ma'am," Sam replied uneasily, hovering a few feet away. Staring into hooded eyes, he extended his hands palms up. "I swear to you this isn't male pride, but can I *please* get you to go inside? I promise I haven't got any ulterior motives, I just want "

"E tu, Brute?" Hands on her hips, she studied him intently, then looked away, unable to bear the earnest concern in her former student's gaze. She snorted, and then with a wry smile murmured, "You're about as subtle as an anvil, Guthrie, but you're probably the only one in the world I'd believe that of right now."

"Not like th' rest of us thoughtless wankers, eh, Dom?" Pete stood at the exit to the plane, lighting a cigarette with a delicate flame extending from his index finger. It finally caught, and he took a deep draw, exhaling smoke into the air. He glanced down at the two from the top of the ramp. "Is it safe to come down?"

Despite her irritation, Domino smiled tightly, the expression strange and out of place on her drawn features. "I don't know. You gonna keep being an asshole?"

"Probably." Pete's thin face split in a lopsided grin, and he deftly maneuvered down the ramp, pointing at Sam. "Come on, Dom, look at ‘im. How could y' say no to a face like that?"

Sam grinned, and gave her his best puppy-dog look, overdoing it with a flourish, hoping to make her laugh. "Please? I promise I"ll be good."

She just grimaced, shaking her head at both of them. "Sam, don't hang around this bastard long enough to pick up any of his habits, please. He has a tendency to corrupt innocent young minds." Looking away from both of them, Domino stared at the empty plane for several long moments, occasionally glancing into open doors of the long hallway leading into the mansion. In a quiet voice, she murmured "I'm fine, both of you. No need for these theatrics-- you can go now, really."

Sam's voice was equally quiet, and just as sure. "I think I'll wait with you, ma'am, until you get yourself seen about. Mr. Wisdom here's right about that much."

"I'm right about everything," Pete added as an aside, but both ignored him.

Domino stared at Sam, and dark brows beetled in annoyance against too-pale skin. She unconsciously crossed her arms over her chest and sighed. "Damn, you're persistent."

Sam smiled softly, a warm light in his eyes. "Wonder where I learned that from?" He swallowed, and then added, "Dom, please, come let ‘em check you out. I made a promise that you would."

"To who?" she asked absently, staring at the tops of her shoes. "Pryde? Logan? I thought they were too busy looking after Braddock to bother with me."

Pete opened his mouth to reply, but Sam beat him to it. "Cable," he answered bluntly. "He was pretty well knocked out, but he stayed awake long enough to make me promise I'd get you to th' Medlab so the telepaths can help you, too."

Domino flinched, turning away as if Sam had slapped her. "Oh." Spine stiffening at the name, she spun around, dark hair whipping across her face, stinging her eyes. Even in as much pain as she knew he was in, Cable's thoughts had been of her. He had made Sam promise to help her when he could not. Nathan, her partner, her lover, the man who had given her everything and cost her all, still found the strength within to reach out to her when she didn't even have the strength to reach into herself.

It was more than she could bear.

The blessed blankness that had coated her with protective apathy vanished in an instant. Her scorched and barren mindscape was subsumed by a tidal wave of mental sewage at the mere mention of his name. Images from Tyler's manipulations suddenly burbled up through a fissure in her mind like scalding lava, searing her soul with stains that would felt as if they never fade.

And they wanted her to submit to a psychic exam. *This* would be what the telepaths who examined her would see, these nightmare images of her past, evidence of debasement of the worst sort. Tyler had taken her memories and warped them into a mold of his choosing. Her worst nightmares and darkest fears had come to life under his hands, and whatever telepath even dipped into her brain would see that, see her privacy laid bare and dignity stripped away to nothingness. They would see what Nathan had done to her, and a lifetime's worth of pride and independence would vanish in an instant. Domino raised the back of her hand to her mouth, gagging against it. Wrapping her arms around her chest, she bit bruised lips, fighting the urge to scream.

Sam was beside her in a moment, heart in his throat, horrified to see his stoic teacher falter. "Dom, what's wrong?"

Pete was there too, a cool, strong presence at her side. He touched her arm gently, reaching to comfort her, but she jerked it away as if his touch burned. Hollow purple eyes turned flinty, and she pushed past them both, clutching her stomach, anxious to get as far away from human touch as possible.

While both men stood helplessly beside her, Domino rubbed her eyes with her fists, considering the situation. To live with the warped memories, shadows of a past already so dark and black that it absorbed all light it touched. . . it was unthinkable. But the alternative was to have Xavier or Jean in her head, to see what she'd done, what had been done to her-- Domino shivered. The mere thought of those two paragons of virtue peering inside her broken mind sickened her.

What other option did she have, though? What other telepaths could possibly be adept enough to clean out the demons in her mind? She'd trusted Betsy before, and that trust had not been misplaced. After that last battle with Tolliver, though, Betsy was as ruined as she.

Nate? Domino gagged again at the thought of Cable inside her, bringing with him the aura of violation, the twisted depravity that Tyler's nightmare version of her lover had wreaked on her soul. The past they'd shared had turned to vinegar, and the place in her mind where their bond had been now throbbed with gangrenous agony. She squeezed her eyes shut, blinking away angry tears. Although her conscious mind knew it all to be false, the mere thought of Nate anywhere near her filled her with a primal outrage that had no part in intellect. She'd die before she'd let Nate back in her mind right now, even if he were in any shape to help her.

She stumbled away, walking blindly to the side of the house, where she cradled her head in her hands, dark hair falling across her face, blocking out the sunlight and the sight of Sam and Pete's worried faces. They were too vivid, too strong, too anxious and caring about her, and it was more than she could take.

"Go. . .away," she muttered, barely able to stand, much less think. "Get the fuck away from me, and just let me be." She'd held the mental chaos in check this long, but if the mere thought of Nate was enough to set this off, release was forthcoming. She didn't want it to be against someone as innocent as Sam, and the part of her that was still sane knew that Pete couldn't bear anymore guilt for her pain.

"But ma'am," Sam protested, shifting his weight like an anxious cat. He held out his hands, imploring her with a voice that cracked at her heartbreak. "You're *not* fine. Please, Dom, you're hurtin'. Let us help."

Pete growled, hands clenched in fists at his side. "Dammit, Dom, come on! Enough is enough! Xavier and Frost are in there waitin' for y', so let's bloody move, now!"

Domino looked up, dull eyes blinking several times, fighting the explosive pain that wracked her skull. "Frost?" she coughed, voice hoarse and unsteady. "Emma. . . Frost is here?"

Sam nodded warily, unsure of where this was heading. "She's in there with th' rest of them now."

Domino closed her eyes, biting the inside of her cheek until she drew blood. Not Jean, not Xavier, never those two. They lived in a world of their own choosing, a world that had nothing to do with her reality, or the shadows, old and new, inside her.

Frost, though. . . . Frost lived in the real world. Frost had seen– and caused– her share of pain, and if half of the things Domino had heard about her childhood were true, then the shadows that tainted Domino's soul would be nothing new to her. It would mean giving the woman a card over her, baring a vulnerability of the highest sort, but at least it would be a bargain between equals, between peers.

Emma would understand, if nothing else. And if it meant silencing a single one of the rancid nightmares that seared her soul. . . it was worth the cost.

Domino bowed her head and squeezed her eyes shut. Drawing in a deep breath, she made her decision, and voiced it before she could change her mind. "Take me to Frost," she rasped through cracked lips, steeling herself against the pain.

Pete nodded curtly, his dark head bowed so that she couldn't read his face, couldn't read his reaction to her calling for the woman who'd hurt him so badly. "Frost," he repeated, nodding decisively. "Fine. If that's what it takes, let's go."

Domino stared at him, another person with a past like her own, a man who'd lived in darkness as long as she had but who still had found the strength to step out of the shadows. She'd crawled out too, made her way out of the abyss, but Tyler's savagery had pulled it all back onto her and called back up the shadows, darker than before. Domino swallowed, ashes in her throat, and looked away.

Sam leapt forward to take her arm. Sunlight cast a golden halo around his blond hair, and the light shining around him was so brilliant and pure that Domino had to look away. In the depths of the night that surrounded her, his brightness was just too much to take. She bowed her head and forced herself to stand, forced her knees not to buckle from the pain that consumed her.

Pete reached out to take her other arm, and poised between the two, the light and the dark, Domino allowed herself to be guided into the house.


PART58

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