Future Pluperfect: Chapter 12


Textual Poaching Alert: Marvel owns everyone but Mirrin, although Social Services would have stripped custody long ago...

Hank had finally gotten fed up and thrown him out of the med lab. Warren would have put up a fight, but he heard Betsy laughing in his mind that he was being a nag and she'd see him in the morning. So he had left.

It had been afternoon when he had descended the stairs into the basement complex, but there was only moonlight through the kitchen windows as he made his way back up. There were two plates covered in tin foil on the counter and a note from Bobby saying that one was for him, the other for Hank, and don't be a dweeb and forget to take the tin foil off before reheating in the microwave.

He ate in silence. A curious silence, considering the usual cacophony of the mansion when this many people were in residence. But not an unwelcome one as it gave him time and space to think.

"Don't be mad at Cable," Jean had implored him earlier. "Or Mirrin. They didn't bring the Kurioon here. And we'd be a lot worse off if they weren't here themselves."

To be honest with everyone including himself, Warren hadn't considered whether or not he was mad at Cable. But he supposed he was; Jean would know and she wouldn't say those sorts of things otherwise.

As he chased errant macaroni across the plate, Warren pondered. He wasn't angry... but he was resentful. And the more Cable was around, the easier it was for Warren to focus that resentment towards him.

He was resentful of being dragged away from his business during busy season - it was the end of a financial quarter, for crying out loud. He was resentful of the ungrateful wretches the X-Men had been saving left and right ever since they'd figured out what the hell the Kurioon was. He was resentful of how Scott and Jean and Bobby and Hank and even (especially) Betsy had automatically assumed that they could sound the alarm and he would just drop everything and run to Westchester and pull on a uniform.

But most of all, he was resentful of how casually everyone seemed to be taking the fact that with the group itself, casualties were starting to mount. Betsy was only a few days removed from lying charred and senseless on a bio bed, but she was already planning on wheedling Scott into letting her back onto an away team. When did we go from defending ourselves and our kindred to... this? Shipments of guns, fancy artillery, battle tactics... For some reason, these things bothered him more than time-traveling soldiers from the future, either the ones on his side or the ones on the other. Why this was still Cable's fault, however, Warren wasn't sure. Old habits.

A dim cry from somewhere else on the floor shook Warren from his maudlin reverie. It was a cry of laughter, however, so Warren, sick of his own thoughts, dumped his dishes in the dishwasher and drew a cup of tea from the samovar and followed the noise.

Warren didn't consider him an especially social member of the team; he oftentimes didn't consider himself a member of the team at all. But after a week spent mostly in the med lab with only the mutterings of a Hank immersed in his Legacy Virus research and the rasp-rasp of the ventilator on which Betsy had been dependent, he was in the mood for some sort of socializing. Especially if it distracted him from these kinds of moods.

Wandering down the hallway towards the entertainment room, he could hear voices and music. A loud, deep laugh that sounded like Scott (but could have been Alex) was offset by a squeal that could only belong to Rogue and a voice raised in indignant protest that sounded suspiciously like Sam.

Warren turned down the hallway that led to the voices and the music and nearly collided with Mirrin. For a telepath, the woman (girl?) looked remarkably surprised - from his experiences with Charles, Jean, and Betsy, Warren knew that telepaths tended to either always know that you were coming or be unwilling to admit that they didn't.

"Didn't mean to startle you," he said as he raised his hands in apology, taking care not to spill his tea.

"I was not paying attention as well as I should have been," Mirrin replied with a shake of her head and a wry smile. "My mind was elsewhere, although not in the usual telepathic sense."

He chuckled in spite of himself. While he still saw the cold-blooded warrior every time he looked upon Mirrin, Warren was aware that she did actually have a personality. One that tended towards sarcasm, apparently, but she seemed to be willing to aim it at herself as often as anyone else.

"You're looking at the photos?"

The hallway was lined with pictures of the various X-Men lineups.

She nodded.

"You're not going to find Cable in any of these," he said as he gestured with his free hand at the wall she stood before. "The other teams are on the other side. Nathan's never stooped to join the parent squad. Although that would be a little too literal for him, so I suppose it's understandable."

"I know Nathan well enough to not need to see his picture," Mirrin replied. "I am trying to identify everyone else. To put legend to face, as it were."

"Legend?"

"The Xavierites, the X-Men...They -- you - are the stuff of legend in my time," she said softly, an embarrassed smile playing across her face and then disappearing. "Some are the characters in stories village cronies tell little children, some are heroes written about in books long since destroyed... To see what everyone really looked like, to meet the people who you were never quite sure existed..."

"A mixed blessing, I suppose. Heroes knocked off pedestals and all that." But Warren had to admit to himself that he hadn't supposed at all. He hadn't thought much about whether Mirrin knew who any of them were apart from Scott and Jean. "Cable's certainly gotten down to what he thinks is wrong with our time."

"Nathan is not one for sympathies either given or received," Mirrin said simply. "He has suffered unimaginable pains and knows that they are unimaginable to those who have not - who do not - live through them as he has. That, and he's notoriously short on etiquette." Here she rolled her eyes as Warren swallowed a chortle, "And he tends to equate niceties with hypocrisy. Warriors deal only in truths and Nathan has forgotten how to be anything but a warrior."

Warren couldn't think of anything appropriate to say to that bit of insight.

Mirrin must have sensed his discomfort and turned back to face the photos on the wall. "Is this the earliest portrait?"

"Yeah," Warren confirmed and pointed out the faces. "Scotty's gotten better glasses since then; Bobby can grow facial hair now, at least I think he can; Jeannie really hasn't aged a bit; that's me in my short-hair days; and Hank before he stopped dressing like a kid from Dunfee." He waited a beat, until her brow furrowed in confusion. "Hank and I didn't turn blue until later on. Separate self-inflicted incidents."

Mirrin looked consideringly at the photo for a moment before she let Warren guide her to the next few pictures. While she had paused momentarily in front of the group photo that had had Kitty Pryde standing an inch too close to Piotr Rasputin, the photos didn't seem to fascinate her as much as the first one had until they were stopped before the fifth picture.

"That's right before the Morlock Massacre," Warren began, trying to keep his voice even. But wasn't sure how well he succeeded and knew that the telepath standing next to him would have picked up on it. "The little picture tucked into the corner is the first X-Factor, which is really just the five of us from the beginning, except with better uniforms. There's a bigger version behind us, with the rest of the satellite teams. That's Storm still in her punk phase; Rogue's got a new haircut yet again; Wolverine, Piotr, and Kurt don't ever change; I can't remember if Kitty's calling herself Shadowcat by this point or if she's Ariel or Sprite or whatever Charles tried to call her; and that young lady is yet another twist in the Summers family tree. Her name is..."

"Rachel," Mirrin whispered, then added something else in a language that Warren couldn't even begin to place. "I'd know the Mother Askani anywhere. She hides her scars here." Mirrin touched the photo gently, almost reverentially.

"Hm? I'll have to take your word for it. I didn't really meet her until Jean and Scott's wedding." Warren was again unsure of what to say. He had known about Rachel's involvement with Scott and Jean's time in the future, but the whole story had only been pressed out of Scott after too many beers one late summer night and since Warren hadn't been around much when most of the events had occurred, it had all sounded somewhat... abstract.

"Hey, there you guys are," Bobby called as he turned the corner, shattering the fragile peace of the moment. "Mirrin, want to get some more cultural exposure? Watch Rogue and Alex fight over music videos. Logan said it's a cure for anyone who ever gets nostalgic about Australia."

I thought I heard young Master Guthrie," Warren said, covering up for his introspectiveness and wondering why he did so. Not that Bobby wouldn't see through him in a heartbeat anyway.

"Sam's trying to defend the Allman Brothers. Rogue's siding with Alex on that one," Bobby laughed. "So whattya say? Or have we scared you off again, Mirrin?"

Mirrin smiled weakly. Her reasons for avoiding such group activities had been closer to the opposite - she knew that the others did not yet accept her as anything other than Nathan's lieutenant.

"C'mon, you've not been entertained until you've seen a Summers squirm," Bobby cajoled, giving her his best lopsided grin. "Well, you've probably seen Cable squirm, which is undoubtedly more fun than watching Alex make pained faces. But Cable's not around, Scotty's off with Jean, so Alex will have to do. And he does, oh, he does."

Before Mirrin could say anything, Bobby looped his arm around hers at the elbow. "And yes, Warren, I know I get too much fun out of bothering Scott's little brother. But I don't have a little brother and after what the four of you did to me, I deserve it."

"Did I say anything?" Warren asked with what he hoped was an innocent, dewy expression. Not that torturing Alex hadn't been all of their amusement at one point or another earlier in their X-days.

"You were about to," Bobby accused with a delighted smile. "I'm not even the telepath, but I could tell. You're coming, right, Mirrin?"

She smiled. "I will join you in a moment, if that's all right?"

"That's fine. It'll give me time to work on getting Logan to take his boots off the coffee table," Bobby agreed and headed back in the direction from whence he had come.

Warren started to follow behind, but then paused. "Mirrin?"

"Yes?" She turned from where she had gone back to examining one of the photos.

"I... I just wanted to thank you. For saving Betsy. I know she's been... we've been a little distant towards you, but..."
 
"But nothing," Mirrin demurred. "Psylocke is a compeer and regardless of her feelings towards me, my obligation is to keep her alive."

"Just doing your job, huh," Warren sighed, then nodded. The moment had indeed passed. "Then just accept my apologies for my behavior. I know you've probably got something wise and pithy to say about that, too, but it'd make me feel better to just get the words out."

With that Warren turned to follow Bobby and Mirrin was left to stare at the photograph of a young woman who would grow up to be a deity.

***

I should have paid more attention during physics lectures, Jean Grey-Summers mused to herself as she played with the hem of her shirt. Maybe that way, I could have even a vague clue about what's going on.

"That won't work," Cable was saying with a frown as Jean shook her head and tried to follow the proceedings once more. With a rare night off, she and Scott had gotten home later than intended the previous evening and Jean was starting to feel it.

Forge's face replaced the schematic on the video screen as Cable continued speaking. "The cyborgs' processor has a multi-channel variance built in. In my own time, we tried scramblers a lot more complicated than that."

It was a three-way conference call between Forge's workshop, Muir Island, and the mansion. The official purpose of which, after a discussion about Betsy Braddock's health, was to collaborate on ideas for weapons and defenses. The unofficial purpose, Jean had ruefully decided, was to out-geek the average Star Wars convention.

In theory, it should have been a dynamic moment with Cable's experience serving as complement to Forge's, Brian Braddock's and Kitty Pryde's technical expertise. In practice, it was four very strong personalities each with supreme confidence in their own knowledge. Everyone thought they were right and very little productive conversation was taking place.

Jean was here ostensibly to facilitate the process, as she knew each of the four better than they knew each other. But in reality, it was to serve as referee. Just in case. I'm going to kill Hank. At least he'd be able to contribute something. Me, I just sit here like a dumb mute.

But Hank had pleaded med-lab duty, even though both Gambit and Psylocke were out of any danger and nobody else was suffering from anything worse than residual soreness. And so Jean was left to ponder whether it would be ethical to give her long-time friend a migraine. Just because.

"...but maybe if I could figure out why those EM packs didn't work, then we put some kind of randomizer...," Forge mused aloud. He looked tired to Jean's eyes. While they were all running around and getting shot at, he was doing his own fair share of the work - shipments from his workshop had them on a first-name basis with all of the local FedEx drivers.

"Did you check to see if you were shorting out the ion accelerator," Brian asked with sudden interest. "You modified the equipment from a standard plasma rifle, correct? They come with enough anti-EM safeties that even Magneto himself would have a time of it to get one to so much as leak..."

"Although he's probably been practicing," Kitty semi-grumbled as she typed something on a keyboard in front of her. The Muir Island monitor was suddenly covered with scrolling numbers. "Ooops, sorry about that. Meant for it to sidebar... there. The most random randomizer known to man." Numbers and symbols scrolled along the side of the screen.

Cable stared intently at the rapidly rolling sequence. "That looks almost like the battle language," he muttered, turning to Jean.

As Jean squinted to look, Kitty giggled. "It's a combo of numbers and the alphabet in WingDings font. Word processor cryptography, sorta. Here, I'll send you both the code."

After a moment, Forge laughed deeply. "It's ingenious, in it's own garden-variety-desktop-like way. Very stylish coding."

"It was Rachel's idea," Kitty said softly, but proudly. "And Doug's old randomizer program."

"That's what she used to play with on the old toaster," Brian said, realization dawning happily. "When she wasn't changing the bloody password."

"Rachel..." Cable furrowed his brow as he looked over the number sequences that much more closely.

"Don't worry, Nathan, I don't think the Askani battle language derived its written form from WingDings," Jean comforted, trying not to laugh as he glared first at the screen and then at her. "But about those electromagnetic pulses, Forge..."

"Yes?"

Jean tried not to be hurt at his surprise at her participating in the conversation other than to shut someone up. "You said that you couldn't get them to work. They worked just fine for us. In fact, Alex..."

"I played with them," Cable interrupted. "They didn't work when we got them, so I fixed them."

"And you didn't see fit to tell anyone," Brian bit off.

Jean groaned. Things had been going so well for a moment...

"I was about to bring it up before Kitty started with the randomizer." Cable failed to sound repentant.

"So what was it?" Forge was, as ever, more concerned with the technology than any slights, real or perceived. "Braddock's right about the ion accelerator. I checked them out with a voltmeter, but couldn't see the problem."

"You tested the EM pulse first," Cable stated.

"It made more sense that way; I could see the effects of the pulse and the bullet before the plasma incinerated the target... of course," Forge sighed. "I can't believe I overlooked it."

"Hey, I think the six hour turnaround between request and shipping was pretty good," Kitty protested.

"Nathan, what did you use to block the accelerator?" Brian asked, the same look of sudden illumination upon his face.

"Next time Xavier's on-planet, someone should make sure that he doesn't look too closely at the pewter service in the dining room," Cable suggested.

There was general laughter, especially Jean, who knew how much Xavier hated that tea set. There was a running joke involving cockroaches about how that tea service had survived every single mansion destruction.

"What made you think of adding an extra layer of shielding?" Forge asked as the schematic for the rifle came on-screen.

"Before we left for Brazil, I shot off a few rounds to see if I could fix whatever the problem was," Nathan began. "Havok was doing some last minute target practice..."

"Cripes," Brian yelped. "Good thing you're half metal. Or do you conduct?"

Jean tried very hard to shake the image of Cable's left hand as an electrical plug.

"I grabbed the teapot and did the modifications on the way to Brazil," Cable finished, ignoring Braddock's question and sending Jean a dirty look.

"How did... never mind," Kitty said and shook her head. "T-O tops tea service, gotcha. So now we've got working EM rifles, plus a randomizer to keep the Kurioon from immediately adapting..."

After a few more minutes of conversation, Jean stood up. "I'm going to resign my position as committee mascot. Promise me you won't kill each other, okay?"

The others bid farewell and Jean breathed a sigh of relief as she exited the monitor room.

"Now all we need is an effective communications disruptor..."

***

"You sure you're supposed to be doing that?" Bobby stood hovering over the lounge chair with hands on hips in frank disapproval.

Remy opened his eyes and blew cigarette smoke in Bobby's direction. He had heard Drake coming, but hadn't thought that his purpose was to talk to him. "Henri said I couldn't go up on the roof to smoke, not dat I couldn't smoke."

Bobby sighed heavily and took a step back so that he wasn't looming.

"Hank didn't say you couldn't probably because he didn't think you were dumb enough to try it," he said irritatedly, waving the smoke away. "Ten days ago you were coughing up blood because your lung had been perforated and collapsed, and now you're smoking. Unbelievable."

Bobby had been thinking about saying something for a few days now. Ever since he had noticed that Remy was sliding into that insular funk that he had been when he had first returned to the mansion after Antarctica. But a good moment hadn't presented itself, then he had been called away on a mission, then Rogue had wigged out...

But somewhere along the line, probably on the flight back from Kenya, Bobby had realized that if he was going to be a do-gooder, he'd have to make the right moment. Especially since Remy seemed to possess the mutant ability to avoid being caught for awkward-but-necessary conversations.

"If it makes you feel any better, dis is my first since Lebanon," Remy offered, nevertheless putting the cigarette out. "'Sides, all those Shi'ar toys made me good as new."

It was almost true. The devices in Hank's chamber of horrors could probably bring back the dead. Actually might have done so, if Psylocke had been anywhere near as bad as she looked. But Remy had only let McCoy zap his lungs back to the pink of health. Once he was no longer coughing up blood, he had fled the med lab before anyone could get on him about the broken ribs. Everyone knew he was no fan of the med lab and had let him slide. Everyone, it seemed, except Bobby.

"Then how come your ribs are still taped up, huh?" The man in question asked. "And why are you flopped out here in the backyard instead of off on your bike?"

"Cluck, cluck, cluck. You a regular mother hen, y'know dat," Remy ground out (without any real anger) as he tried to sit up, then thought better of it.

"And you're a self-destructive pain in the ass," Bobby replied as he sat down in one of the chairs next to Remy and sighed heavily.

"T'be honest, why do you care?"

The sun was hiding behind the high clouds for a moment, so Remy took off his dark glasses and gave Bobby a scrutinizing glance. Remy had always assumed that the joking that went on between the two of them had been Bobby's usual cheer - Bobby would crack jokes with anyone, Remy just happened to be a convenient foil. It hadn't ever crossed his mind that Bobby had put any consideration into the matter.

"In theory, because you are my teammate and as such, I'd prefer it that you were in one piece," Bobby said. He didn't know whether or not to meet Remy's penetrating-but-curious stare. "In practice, because it disturbs me to watch you try to pay off a debt that you don't owe."

"You don't know, Drake...," Remy began, rolling his eyes in frustration.

"What don't I know?" Bobby asked sharply, leaning forward so that his elbows rested on his knees. "I was in the tunnels after the Morlock Massacre. I saw what went on..."

"So what're..."

"Don't interrupt," Bobby cut him off with enough sharpness that Remy raised his eyebrows. Bobby looked at him challengingly. "I saw the Alley, and I saw Warren... and I also spent a lot of time with Rogue. I know."

"And?"

"And if you actually succeed in your quest for unnecessary martyrdom, neither of them will be able to live with themselves." Bobby looked absolutely serious as he spoke; the twinkle in his eyes that usually accompanied his deadpan routines was nowhere to be seen.

"Getting yourself killed rescuing Betsy is not the way to make up with Warren," Bobby went on, then chuckled almost coldly at Remy's surprised expression. "What? You didn't think anyone would figure that one out? Cyke even got it, and we all know about Scott's time-delay mechanism when it comes to interpersonal relations. It was so not-subtle as to risk damaging your rep as the Super-Smooth One."

"'vrybody else was tryin' to get to Psylocke as well," Remy protested without conviction.

"That may be," Bobby agreed, sitting up straight. "But Rogue's invulnerable, Mirrin teleports, and Wolverine's got a healing factor. What was your excuse?"

Remy didn't have one, so he kept quiet.

Bobby paused a moment before continuing. "Not only would Warren not be able to live with himself knowing that you practically committed suicide to pay up a debt even he realizes (somewhere in his bird brain) you don't owe, but we wouldn't be able to live with him, either."

Now, before he put his glasses on to deal with the re-emerging sun, Remy could see the change in Bobby's expression that foretold a joke. "I know you'll be dead and you won't care, but, well, since you're being so nice and catering to his needs, consider the rest of us as well. Please, please, please don't make me have to go through Warren's self-flagellating phase again. It's so not pretty to watch. And Rogue..."

"Yes?" Remy realized he had been grinning, but abruptly stopped when that name was spoken.

A long sigh as Bobby noticed the other man's reaction. "Promise not to say anything? I mean really promise, not a 'sure, I won't go through your things when you're not looking' kind of thieves' promise," he said. Remy noted that the smirk was gone again, replaced by a questioning look.

"Never gone through your stuff, Drake. Got nothing interesting." Remy shrugged as lightly as his healing ribs would allow.

"Then how do you know whether I've got anything interesting?"

"Thieves' sense. Now what's the secret I ain't supposed to be talking about?"

"How much do you remember after you got hurt in Lebanon?" Bobby asked, leaning forward in his chair.

"Got blasted into a tree trunk, managed to pick off a few more of de bad guys, then they took out the building I was shootin' from," Remy replied as if he were giving a mission report. "Rest is kinda blurry 'til Henri's got Roguie holdin' me down to shoot me up wit' whatever he was shooting me up wit'."

"That was three days after you got back," Bobby told him. "You don't wonder why Rogue was around to keep you from killing Hank?"

"Wasn't thinkin' too clear at the time." Although now that he did think about it...

"She didn't leave your side," Bobby replied. "Not from the minute she pulled you out of the rubble, according to Scott. Maybe Mirrin can give you a telepathic replay of the whole scene, but..."

"Was as there as I'd care to be," Remy said, waving his hand lightly. But his furrowed brow indicated something else going through his mind.

"She stayed in the med lab with you until Hank threatened to have Mirrin teleport her back to her room." Bobby shook his head remembering the scene.

 "S'how come she won't be in the same time zone wit' me since I've been conscious?"

"Rogue's got issues to consider right now," Bobby said after a moment of consideration. Remy was a concerned party, but Rogue had come to him in confidence and Bobby couldn't break that trust, even if it was for everyone's own good. "Joseph tried to reach her a few times while she was sitting with you. That's public record, so that's all you're getting from me."

Remy nodded. That was food enough for considerable thought. Not to mention considerable fantasy.

"Which brings me to another point concerning your well-meaning-if-lunatic attempts to regain favor." Bobby's eyes twinkled as he spoke. "Our bouncing blue Beast would most definitely second my plea to keep yourself in one piece. Not only because he's the one who'll have to put you back together, but also after a week in the med lab with both Warren and Rogue hovering over his every move... you know that Onslaught program we have in the Danger Room?"

Remy nodded.

"Hank is using it to relieve stress. By watching it, not participating in it. Lots and lots of little holographic X-Men are dying, Remy. And only you can save them. Think about that."

With that, Bobby got up off his lounge chair and dusted himself off before walking back towards the house.

And Remy was left with his thoughts.

***

"Computer, freeze program."

In the Danger Room below, the scarred landscape and the cadre of Prime Sentinels suddenly disappeared and Sam Guthrie was left hovering in the middle of a blank room. The sense of danger didn't fade, just change. Domino wasn't one to stop programs in mid-course.

"What'd Ah do wrong this time?" He blasted up to the control room window to find his former teacher standing hands-on-hips.

"What's the first rule of fighting solo, Sam?" Domino asked angrily as she indicated that he should come around to her side of the glass.

"If you don't watch your back, nobody's gonna do it for you," he said in a monotone as he headed for the trap door that opened into the hallway next to the control room. A few moments later, he was sat heavily in one of the chairs before the console. "Ah thought Ah was doin' all right on that account."

"You're not thinking at all, Sam, that's the problem," Domino snapped. "Your brain has been excess baggage since you got back from Lebanon."

She hadn't meant to start off sounding so... waspish. But while it was one thing to be sulky and sullen during down time - hell, Nate had that down to an art - it was another to be distracted while fighting. And if she and Nathan had gotten anything through the X-Force kids' thick skulls, it was that you treated practice runs as seriously as you did the real thing. For Sam, of all people, to be so preoccupied... "I don't care if this unit treats Danger Room time like an hour at the gym. You know better..."

"And Ah still got the scars to prove it," he replied sullenly, giving Dom that duly chastened look that made most normal people immediate start to regret yelling at him in the first place.

But Domino wasn't normal people.

"Apparently, those scars have faded. For someone who's supposed to be almost invulnerable while blasting, you were approximately... thirty-eight seconds away from testing out just how many pieces you can be in before your ability to not stay dead craps out." She pointed to the appropriate monitor, which was still flashing red warning messages.

Sam's shoulders sagged further, something Domino didn't think was anatomically possible. "Load 'er up again. Ah'll do better this time."

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because you're not screwing up for lack of practice," Domino explained as she sat down in the other chair, elbows on knees. "You're screwing up because your mind is elsewhere. So there's no point in trying again until you find out wherever the hell it went and bring it back to the task at hand."

Sam looked at the floor balefully.

"Spill, Guthrie. Before I have to use the bamboo."

He looked up at her and almost immediately wished he hadn't. Domino had only met his mother once or twice, but it had apparently been enough for her to pick up the Guthrie Stare of Truth Divination, or at least a real good approximation of it. With a sense of resignation that he hadn't felt since the last time he tried to blame Josh for stacking the firewood wrong, Sam knew he wasn't escaping.

Domino watched Sam's posture go through about six different and equally eloquent positions and knew that she had broken him. So now it was just a matter of getting him to start talking.

"I had been a merc for a year before I got my first kill job," she began after the silence grew heavy. "Up until then, it had just been simple sabotage and spy crap.

"Matteo Malpighi. He was an art dealer who had ripped off some bankers. The guy had a couple of real good bodyguards. Real good. I watched him for a week before I figured out where my best chance was... Guy had two bodyguards, but six kids. Every day, he'd come home to his villa and the kids would swamp him. Guards just couldn't stay close then."

Sam was watching her closely now. Domino rarely ever talked about life before X-Force, even around Cable. And never spoke about herself like this. Sam wasn't sure whether to feel uncomfortable or honored that she did so now.

"The few people I hung with back then, they warned me about making sure I was ready," she went on. "But the money for S&D was - is - so much better than just blowing up secret hideouts or starting civil wars. And I was bored. And I was not going to let some old men steal my glory by making me think I was still a little kid who couldn't handle the big time.

"But I wasn't ready. I did the job - you blow an assassination contract, your life is forfeit - but I didn't take any jobs that promised a body count for months," Domino said, the distant look in her eyes disappearing as she locked glances with Sam.

"You can be a cold-hearted merc or you can be a freedom fighter or you can be a simple peaceful citizen who just gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the first time you have to take somebody's life intentionally, it's going to get to you. The trick is coming to terms with it and learning to look yourself in the mirror again."

Sam could only nod. That Domino - and undoubtedly Cable as well - should know what was bothering him really shouldn't have been a surprise. "Ah've killed people before, but..."

"But those were collateral damage. This was committing murder." She said the words knowing that they would make Sam cringe. And they did. "You thought you were ready."

"But Ah wasn't."

"I'll let you in on a little secret, Guthrie. Nobody ever is," she said gently. Then, smirking, she added, "At least nobody who doesn't later turn into a raving sociopath."

Sam gave a half-chuckle, but didn't say anything.

"Look, if it makes you feel any better, killing is a lot like sex. It's only a raging disaster the first time. After that, you can deal with it, good or bad," Domino explained as she sat back. "Don't get all flustered at me, Guthrie. I know exactly how far that innocent farm boy routine of yours goes - and doesn't go."

"Ah didn't say a thing," Sam said, shaking his head to hide his smile. Domino had always amazed him with her ability to go from concerned maternal figure (although heaven forbid she should ever hear the M word uttered in relation to herself) to... well, Domino, in the blink of an eye.

He didn't think everything would be okay now, this wasn't a magic cure speech, but Sam now could accept the possibility that they could be. Which was also completely Domino. She wouldn't chase away your demons for you, but she'd get them moving so that you could finish the job on your own. In the meanwhile, she would slink away and then pretend she didn't know what the hell you were talking about when you tried to thank her. Cable did the same thing, which made it all the more odd that the only people they couldn't help were each other and themselves.

Satisfied that she had done more good for Sam than damage to herself by talking about her past, Domino left Sam to his thoughts for a few moments, busying herself by resetting the Danger Room computers and then scanning the program roster to see what else was available to play around with. She and Cable had run through a Madripoor program that just had to be Logan's, but there were some other tempting ideas on the list.

"Uh, Domino, would you mind sittin' through one more run? Ah'd like to end on a high note, so to speak." He stood up and looked down at her. They met glances and he let out a tiny sigh of relief that whatever Domino was looking for in him, she apparently found.

"Just watch your back this time, Guthrie. Else the only high note you're gonna be singing is soprano."

***


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