All recognizable characters belong to Marvel Comics.
I am reaping no pecuniary benefits of any sort from this work. Unauthorized
reproduction of this work for financial benefit is strictly prohibited.
All standard disclaimers apply.
This isn't terribly serious, but I will rate it PG for language. It's
set sometime in the nebulous years of X-Force a few years ago before
the team went out on their own and some time after Iceman's possession
by Emma Frost.
As with all my stories, feedback is welcome and adored. It can be
sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Friday night I was walking through the lobby of the mansion,
idly amusing myself by making fun of the wallpaper. I don't know who
hung it, but damn, is it ugly. I'm no Christopher Lowell, but
even I wouldn't hang that in my dog's house.
If I had a dog.
If I had a house.
I shrugged as I left the room. So they have ugly wallpaper. It doesn't
really matter anyway -- the odds were the damn place would be reduced
to rubble for some reason or another within the next year or so and
they'd have to rebuild and redecorate anyway.
I paused in front of the elevator, but decided to keep going and
take the stairs. Good exercise, you know, and I had plenty of time
to kill before my time slot for the Danger Room opened. I climbed
the stairs, considering my plans. I had purposely waited until the
end of the day so I could work out in peace, with no interruptions.
It gave me something to do, anyway. The kids were done with 'work'
for the day, and were going out to a movie. Nate was off doing Nate
stuff -- he left a scribbled note and an emergency number, which is
honestly more than I usually get. To be fair, it's more than I usually
I climbed the last stair and left the stairwell, turning down the
long corridor that led to the Danger Room.
Somebody was already waiting outside. It was Iceman, Bobby Drake.
I didn't know him that well, but living in the same house pretty much
made him not a stranger. He's as likable as a golden labrador puppy,
and about as well-trained. He saw me approach and his face assumed
a look that living with a houseful of prank-inclined kids has long
since trained me to recognize.
I greeted him with my usual lady-like decorum. "Drake, if you snowball
me, I swear by all you hold precious that you'll live to regret it--"
"Would I do that, Domino?" He grinned, sandy blond hair hanging over
his eyes. Strangely enough, he was wearing his uniform, not normal
street clothes. This struck me as odd -- Drake's not one of these
purblind idiots that wears spandex all the time. Cotton is his friend,
and I know he wasn't about to work out. I'd seen the schedule,
and his name was nowhere on it. Mine was last, I'd made sure of that.
"Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?" I retorted, then punched
in the code to the empty Command Center and walked inside. I glanced
down at the Danger Room to see if it were maybe empty yet -- no such
luck. Betsy was down there whackin' away at some holographic ninjas,
moving them down like a summer lawn.
Slice. Cut. Swoop. Dip. Braddock's good, I'll give her that. But
all those ninjas? Please. What a show-off.
I left the door to the Center open, and after pausing just a minute
Drake followed right behind me. Keeping a close watch on him, I sat
down, flipping my braid back, and perched on one of the naughahyde
chairs littering the room. I studied the room, preparing for defensive
manuevers. Damn. Xavier's taste in decor leaves a lot to be desired
-- but that was beside the point. The Shi'ar technology was top rate,
and besides, who was I to comment? My last home was called MurderWorld.
Anyway, I was careful to position myself right by the door. Drake
had that look in his eye ... like he was planning something. Something
No mutant alive could possible possess such a serindipidous power.
Gifting the eternal prankster with an array of tools to carry out
his nefarious deeds had to be evidence that Whoever was in charge
out there had a damn good sense of humor.
Bobby leaned against the wall and just smiled that lopsided grin.
"C'mon, Domino, I'm not up to anything. Why does everyone always think
"No reason," I muttered under my breath, still eyeing him with caution.
"So, Icicle, why are you roaming the halls at," I glanced down at
my watch, "Seven o'clock on a Friday night? No teenage girls to stalk
"Nah, they dropped those charges," he flashed me another charmer
smile, then the expression on his good-natured face shifted into something
a bit more serious. "Everyone's going out this evening, so I thought
I'd see if the room was open. Maybe get in a little solo practice
in the Danger Room. You know, stretch myself? Maybe see if I can manage
more than an ice slide or a snowball or two."
The bitterness in his tone was unmistakable. I suppressed a wince.
It was no secret what Emma Frost did with his body, his powers, so
I guess it should have come as no surprise that he was eager to 'stretch
himself'. With powers like those, I suppose there really was no limit
as to what he could do if he really put his mind to it--
Drake's not telepathic, but he's a hell of a lot more observant than
most people give him credit for. He read my face like the Sunday comics
section. The easy conversation turned stilted and formal.
"I don't need your sympathy," he growled. His whole demeanor changed,
and I swear the already cool room turned several degrees colder. "I
might be a slack-ass, but it's my problem, so you don't need to worry
about it." He swirled his chair around and rose stiffly to his feet,
turning his back on me. "I know you're up next -- I'll wait for you
to finish your workout. Take your time."
I paused, not knowing what to say. I finally settled on the brilliant
"Whatever, Drake." Never let it be said that I can't come up with
a zinger. Anyway, I took a step back, unconsciously pulling my arms
to my chest against the cold.
Anyway, he was right. Whatever his problem was, it was none of my
business. Drake's an X-man, and the X-Men are none of my concern.
He's a big boy, and if he wanted to have his ass on his shoulders
about it that was definitely his business.
I went back to fiddling with the computer, preparing my next work
out program. I programmed up one of my old favorites, Merc Melee #
5. It's a good one -- random guns and knives and plasma canons and
flamethrowers and lots of civilians to keep safe. I paused, thought
about it, then threw a few ninjas in the program for good measure.
It couldn't hurt.
When I was done, I glanced over at Drake. He was leaning against
the console, palms pressed flat against part of the steel surface.
His elbows were locked at a funny angle, and he was staring down at
the Danger Room with an almost hungry look on his face.
I thought for a moment he was lusting after Braddock, which would
have raised all kinds of interesting issues on its own, but upon a
closer inspection saw that he wasn't really staring at Betsy herself.
No, he was just watching the way she moved as sliced through those
ninjas like warm butter.
Precise. Efficient. Joyous. Every movement economical, every step
a dance. I pursed my lips. Damn. She really was good.
I turned back to Drake, and wasn't really surprised to recognize
the play of dark emotions I saw on his face. He was going through
a huge change in his life, and she was at the top of her game. Some
reaction made sense. What did surprise me was when those scrubbed
features went perfectly blank and disinterested when he realized just
how good she really was.
Anyone else probably wouldn't have recognized what he was doing,
but I do have some limited experience with burying feelings myself.
When you consider the fact that my partner and sometimes lover of
almost two decades still doesn't know my real name, it should come
as no great surprise that openness and honestly are not my forte.
Accordingly, I know when somebody's hiding something.
I studied him a bit longer, noting tiny facial motions and subtle
body language, then nodded to myself. I was right. For all his talk
about improving himself, underneath that All-American surface, Robert
Drake was seething with self-doubt and insecurities, and they were
eating him alive.
What the hell's wrong with this kid? I thought, then immediately
chided myself. He wasn't a damn kid. He was one of the founding members
of the Xavier's group -- he had to be almost pushing 30 by now. He'd
been at this long enough to know what he was doing -- and maybe that
was the problem.
It's none of your business, Dom, I told myself, exhaling sharply.
I cut a glance at Drake, whose face was now so smooth it'd make one
of Roberto's come on lines sound like a gravel road. Drake was shutting
himself off from the world because he thought he would never be good
enough for it.
As soon as that clicked, I felt something in me twist. I was staring
at the face of a fledgling kindred spirit. I'm not even gonna try
to sort through all the psycho-babble involved there, but I know it's
something about humor as a coping mechanism and self-esteem issues
and not being breastfed as a child and all that shit. Or in my case,
spending my formative years in the combat pits of Madripoor. Either
one, take your pick.
It doesn't really matter -- the results are the same. You learn to
pull your shields up and lock yourself away from everybody else so
no one can touch you. Only problem is, you can't touch anyone else,
I studied Bobby Drake's face, and what I saw there could have been
a mirror image of my own ten years ago. I shuddered. The tricks I've
had to play on myself to keep it all together -- I wouldn't wish those
on my worst enemy.
Well, maybe I would on her, but not on anybody else. Someone as genuinely
nice as Bobby Drake ought not to have to deal with that shit.
I was quiet a long time, battling these things out in my mind until
I finally came to a conclusion. Ah, hell. I'm going soft in my
old age, I thought, then did something I swore I'd never do. I
"Drake?" I asked, meddling. I hate meddlers.
"Hmmmmf?" He looked up, perfectly calm and serene except for tight
lines around his eyes. It takes years to get the look around the eyes
right. Believe me, I know. I buy wrinkle cream in bulk.
I took a deep breath and plunged in, beginning in a neutral voice.
"Take some advice from an old pro. Whatever's eating you -- deal with
it before it gets too much to handle."
He turned, utterly surprised that the enigmatic Domino would dare
to speak of anything so personal as that. Then, predictably, the surprise
passed and anger hit. He carefully hid it behind layers of disinterest.
"You don't know me, Domino. You don't know any of us. Don't presume
that you do, and don't tell me what to do."
I shrugged, nonplussed at this reponse. What did I expect, after
all, him to be happy about my interference? I sure as hell wouldn't
have been. "You're right. I don't know you," I answered bluntly. "That's
why I can tell you this. I'm sure your friends know something's wrong,
but they don't know what to say and don't want to hurt you, so they
say nothing. As a relative stranger I can see that something's
wrong with you and from personal experience I can tell you that ignoring
it or covering it up with jokes won't make it go away."
He stiffened. "Thanks ever so much for that heartfelt advice, Dr.
Laura," he muttered sarcastically. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind."
I'm sure the only reason he didn't throw some pot and kettle remark
at me at that point was simply because he didn't think of it at the
"Do," I responded hoarsely, and I think something in my voice must
have gotten through his barriers long enough to make an impression
on him. "Trust me on this one, Bobby. You don't want to go through
life like this."
He looked down at me, and for a moment the mask slipped. He didn't
say anything, just looked at me with those wide, searching blue eyes.
I could read the reams of meaning there. After a long moment, he nodded,
then looked away.
I didn't say anything else -- my point was made, and besides, what
right did I have to lecture anybody on anything except ass kicking
and maybe a little fashion sense? The very idea of me trying to give
anyone advice on anything like this was laughable in and of itself.
Nate would be rolling right about then, I knew.
So I did the next best thing. I got up to leave before I could piss
Drake off again and undo any good I'd done that day. I quietly reached
over to the Danger Room schedule and marked my name off of the list.
"You go ahead," I told him, gathering up my things. "I'm going back
to my room -- I've got other things to do tonight, anyway."
He looked up in surprise, and I could see that he was working through
some pretty serious issues. "You sure?" He asked after a moment, and
I looked at him closely.
The mask was gone and Bobby Drake again looked through its invisible
walls, a small but genuine smile on his lips. "If you're scared, say
you're scared, Domino. Don't punk out on me just because we shared
a moment." He brought his index fingers together, eyebrows waggling
I couldn't help but laugh. "You call that a moment, Drake? You do
have some things to learn."
He riposted quickly, moving towards the door. "I call that all the
moment I'm gonna risk with you, lady. Cable would kick my ass."
He grinned broadly, revealing perfect white teeth. Of course.
"He's not the only one," I chuckled, and he laughed back. I glanced
down at the Danger Room, and saw that Betsy's sequence was over. She
had deactivated the holographs and was towelling off. I turned to
Bobby, catching him before he left. "I've got a fairly decent no-powers
work out program here, if you'd care to join me."
He paused. "Sure," he answered slowly, obviously working through
some issues in his own mind. "But what about instead of no powers
I just concentrate on some of the newer stuff I've been working on?
Maybe get you to cover me while I try some of my ideas out?"
"Sounds good to me," I answered, and we went down the Danger Room
It was a good workout. We managed to beat the simulation in almost
record time. Nate and I usually do just a little better, but
I saw no need to tell Bobby that. It wouldn't have done any good,
and anyway, he did exceptionally well. There's this thing he's learned
to do with vapor that I still don't understand, but I suppose
it doesn't matter, anyway. It was a good workout.
Now, I won't say one ass-chewing (such as it was) was the magic cure
for all Bobby's woes. I won't say he doesn't have a hard road ahead
of him, but I think he knows now that it's worth trying. Maybe I can
even try to remember that myself every once in a while.
Oh, one other thing -- I'm proud to say that I personally got all
Even the sneaky ones Braddock left behind.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto
you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Do not let your hearts
be troubled and do not be afraid." -John 14:27
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