AN: Well… here we go again. Part II of the 'Horsemen Series' … or whatever I'm calling it until I find a name I like. If you haven't read the first, I strongly suggest you do. You'll be lost otherwise : )

I hope you guys can bear with me – the last story had been mapped out for months when I started writing. This one is a WIP as far as plot goes … Newsies (my wingman… well, I hope he's okay being my wingman) is my go-to man as far as brainstorming goes. Get pumped, Newsies. I am.

Without further ado, Part II – Systems Upgrade


[2052]

Three months ago, Jade West stumbled upon a secret that would change her entire life. In a forgotten room in a long abandoned factory she discovered her grandfather's proudest and dearest accomplishment, Tori Vega, a young cyborg whose existence inspired an insidious plot that would ultimately bring about Armageddon. At the moment of her discovery a race began – Jade and Tori scrambled for freedom, for sanctuary against those that hunted them, while the ruling powers sought to capture them both, ensuring their dark secrets would remain buried.

With the help of friends the two girls were able to escape, exacting their revenge in the process. Bloodied and broken they retreated to safety to recover, to build a life they had both been denied. Things have never been better.

A storm, however, is brewing just beyond the horizon and once again Jade and Tori find themselves directly in its path.


Jade sucked air through her teeth as she stifled a whimper of pain, not wanting to disturb her lover passed out beside her. The pale girl rested against the headboard, barely illuminated by the nightlight weakly glowing in the bathroom. Tori was face-down on the pillow next to her, muttering lightly in her sleep, a curtain of hair covering her face. Her arm was half draped across Jade's lap, robotic fingers twitching as she dreamed. They were both naked, and Jade shivered in the night air; winter was well on its way. She had never experienced a Canadian winter before, having become quite fond of the mild California weather all year-round. So far she wasn't a fan.

With her good hand she dragged a jacket off the floor and pulled it around her bare shoulders, making a mental note to not hurl their pajamas across the room in the throes of passion when the temperature was dropping. It made it incredibly difficult to motivate herself to get up in the mornings when it was chilly and her shirt lay crumpled in a chair ten feet away. Comfortable for the time being, the scientist returned her attention to the reason she was awake in the first place, and not resting comfortably in the Latina's warm embrace.

Her hand was throbbing.

The cast had come off a few weeks ago. She had been in physical therapy since, trying to restore strength and dexterity to her crippled hand. It was a slow, frustrating process that seemed to be getting her nowhere fast. The doctors encouraged her to continue treatment, promising that, over time, she would regain most of the function she had once possessed. Most.

But they didn't have to deal with the pain. With such extensive nerve and tissue damage Jade would often be struck with a sudden ache, one that was almost crippling. It felt as if someone was grinding the bones with a cheese-grater, or like the muscles had been stretched too far and were snapping like rotten rubber-bands under her skin. It was frustrating, excruciating, and made her want to give up therapy all together. It was at its worst at night, when the muscles seized up with inactivity. She often found herself sitting up silently trying to work out the pain.

Tori's hand twitched again in her lap and Jade scowled, envious of the cyber-prosthesis that functioned without pain, that operated without feasible limitation. The two had been arguing since the cast was removed – Jade wanted to amputate the hand at the wrist and install a mechanical prosthesis of her own. She was tired of the pain that, more often than not, was so intense it made her want to vomit. Tori adamantly disagreed, urging her girlfriend to continue with therapy. It was going to take time, she argued, her injuries had been serious. She was lucky Chase hadn't ripped her whole hand off.

At this point, Jade wished he had.

She turned her gaze back to her weakened and scarred appendage. Her fingers were fully extended, a rubber band loosely wrapped around them. She slowly began to spread the digits, the tension in the elastic providing a slight resistance – this was supposed to build back her muscle, which had been atrophying for weeks in that cast. The more she did it, the better off she would be (said the doctors).

Mostly, it just hurt like a motherfucker. She couldn't detect any improvement.

Suddenly her hand locked up, frozen in a hideous claw-like position. Her muscles and tendons burned under her skin and she whimpered, biting the knuckle on her other hand to muffle herself. The damage was done though; Tori awoke with a start, pushing herself upright and focusing a sleepy gaze on the paler girl. "S'everything okay?" She yawned, tugging the covers over her chest and tucking them under her arms once she realized she was still nude. "Your hand again?" She frowned, taking it gently in hers and massaging her tender joints.

Jade nodded, finding herself inexplicably frustrated with Tori. The brunette was the one thing standing in her way at this point and, despite her good intentions, Jade was tired of it. "Aching like always." She grumbled, wincing as Tori hit a few sore spots.

Tori frowned, well acquainted with Jade's cranky tones by this point. "Maybe it's the cold. We'll go back to Dr. Crenshaw in the morning and see if he can help."

"You know he can't, Tor." Jade sighed, sliding back under the covers and lifting her arm, allowing the older girl to rest her head on her shoulder. Jade wrapped an arm around Tori's waist and watched with mild apprehension as she massaged her wounded hand between hers.

"Maybe he can." She replied softly. Jade felt her titanium hand begin to radiate heat – a trick she'd apparently learned a few years ago. With her hand toasting warmly between Tori's the unbearable pain began to fade.

"Doubt it." She decided she wasn't going to allow Tori the final word tonight. She wasn't in the mood to be hopeful. She pulled her hand free of the cyborg's grasp and slipped it under the covers, resting it just above her navel. Tori, undeterred, found it again and laced their fingers together; she nodded off again still emitting a soothing warmth.


Hours later Tori stepped into the midday sun, squinting. For the past three hours she'd been hunkered down in a dimly lit study reviewing her blueprints with Norris, one of the town's founders. He had worked at NASA shortly before Armageddon and had been a godsend as far as understanding Patrick's plans; he was the only one Tori found herself comfortable discussing such sensitive materials.

Upon arrival at Sanctum, study of Tori's schematics had been neglected. Everyone, Jade and Tori especially, had wanted to enjoy their new freedom – not bury their noses in Tori's history and be reminded of the dark secrets that had just been uncovered. They wanted to be regular kids. Besides, Jade's recovery had been a big issue and a lot of their energy had focused on that.

Consequently, it had only been in the past month or so that Tori had taken Norris up on his offer to help her decode and translate Patrick's notes and designs – it all went over Tori's head. Even Jade struggled with the information, and she had been versed in "tech-speak" since she was young. Normally the pair made the walk to the older man's house together, it being just as much Jade's business as hers, but today the injured girl had a doctor's appointment to discuss further treatment for her hand.

Tori frowned as her thoughts wandered to their current predicament; she felt like she was holding the leash of a charging dog chasing a wounded squirrel. Jade was practically foaming at the bit to take such a drastic measure and Tori simply couldn't understand it. She remembered the pain she had endured having two limbs amputated and replaced, the diseases and illnesses she contracted from taking immunosuppressants so the prostheses would take, the arduous months of therapy she had to undergo.

It was absolute hell.

She desperately wished Jade would listen to her; for once Tori actually had experience in something her girlfriend didn't. The pain she might be enduring now would be nothing compared to the agony she'd face if she followed in Tori's footsteps. So they fought, and they fought a lot. Neither refused to budge on the issue and, after facing stalemate after stalemate, Tori feared Jade was losing patience. She worried Jade would come home one evening with a new hand despite her pleas.

"Tori!" A voice snapped her out of her reverie, and she spied Andre leaving a local market. At hearing her name a few people turned, beaming and waving at the Latina. She was still something of a local celebrity, being the only cyborg in their midst. People often approached her and Jade while they were out just to chat, much to the annoyance of the anti-social girl. Tori thought it was flattering, if a little unnerving, and gladly humored them. "Need some help? Stuff looks a little heavy." Andre offered, reaching to help alleviate the burden from her box of files.

"Thanks." Tori smiled. Andre hefted the container from her arms and nearly toppled backwards under the weight.

"Damn… Forgot you aren't like regular girls." He wheezed, grappling with the edges and taking a hesitant step forward. "Which box is this?"

"Number two. Just two more after this." Including the giant box they had dragged from Phoenix's archives, they had remembered to grab the rest of the stuff Jade had found in Patrick's secret room.

"Find out anything yet? Did we finally uncover the reason you survived a major zap?"

"Actually…" Tori smiled. "I think we may be onto something. Patrick apparently coated all my electronic insides with a specifically designed film… gel… stuff that doesn't conduct electricity. It blocked the majority of the damage."

Andre raised his brow. "That's what saved you? That's it?"

Her face fell. "Well… that's part of it. I'm sure there's other stuff. I mean, I've still got to go through the rest of that box, and there're two others." She was disappointed that he wasn't as excited as she had been when they had first discovered that. She supposed she shouldn't hold it against him though – after all, he wasn't into the technology stuff. He was a musician.

"I didn't mean for it to sound like that, Tori." He apologized, bumping her shoulder with his own. "It's just… from how Jade tells it, you came back from the dead. I was hoping it'd be a little more climactic than that, you know?"

"Yeah, yeah." Tori smiled, shrugging off her disappointment. "That story gets more epic every time she tells it. Next time I'm sure I'll fight off a horde of ninjas."

"Or a mecha-triceratops. With cannons for horns. From Boston."

The pair spent the remainder of their walk discussing potential villains for Tori to battle and, by the time they arrived home, they were struggling for air through their laughter.

"What are you clowns chuckling at?" Jade was home and very obviously in a bad mood. Tori frowned – the doctor must have given her news she didn't want to hear. She reclined in a patio chair, rolling her lit cigarette between her fingers. A pack lay crushed on the ground, a handful of butts discarded around her.

"Well good afternoon to you too, sunshine." Andre chimed, depositing the box on the front steps. He was clearly aware of her sour disposition and didn't plan on sticking around. "I'm going to see if I can't find Cat in town. She's been trying to convince some of the neighbors to take her to find a moose. I need to try and curb her enthusiasm before someone takes her out there and leaves her." He punched Tori in the arm lightly and gave her an encouraging nod before retracing their steps, disappearing around the corner in the direction of town.

Tori watched him go, wishing she could follow. Dealing with an angry Jade was often nerve-wrecking, and she could tell this occasion would be no different. Reluctantly she began her ascent up the stairs and leaned against the railing, judging herself to be a safe distance from any explosive, violent outbursts. "You think after the world almost ends people would kind of forget about cigarettes and focus on more important things." She joked, shoving her hands in her front pockets. Jade stared at her, unblinking, as she took another deep drag. She pursed her lips and exhaled, a white stream billowing in Tori's direction. She was decidedly unamused.

"Um… how was the doctor? Good news?" Why are you still talking? Run. Run while you can. That small voice in her brain cried.

"Yes, it was excellent news at the physician – that's why I've smoked 12 cigarettes in the past hour and dumped a bowl of soup in Robbie's lap." Jade drawled in that accent that was supposed to resemble Tori's own.

The Latina knitted her brows and huffed angrily. "You know I don't talk like that." She breathed, snatching her hands from her pocket and crossing her arms defensively. A lopsided smirk flashed briefly across Jade's face before the scowl returned. Misery loves company. Tori reminded herself as she bolstered for the next attack. "Well, what did he have to say?"

Jade shook her head as she dug in her coat for another pack of cigarettes, ripping open the box and lighting the end of one with the dying cherry of her current one. She flicked the butt in the direction of the plastic tub at the foot of the stairs. "Find out anything new today?" Tori happily accepted her less than subtle change in subject, if only for the moment; she was excited to tell Jade what she'd learned, knowing the scientist would appreciate the information.

"Shock-resistant gel coating around my circuitry." Tori explained, retrieving a notepad from the box and passing it to her. She'd written down the technical details as they found them. Cigarette dangling from her lips, Jade snatched the pad and scanned the page, nodding as she did so.

"That's pretty simple… pretty effective though, judging by the experiments. Finish up the box today?"

"Yeah. I'll probably catch up with him next week to start a new one." Tori nodded as Jade flipped through the pages, resisting the urge to perch on the armrest next to her and read over her shoulder. Panther-Jade was still prowling beneath the surface and ready to pounce. "Want to come with? Norris hasn't seen you for a while. He wants your opinion on something he's working on." Stroking her ego often helped soothe her temper, Tori had learned.

Jade didn't glance up, focusing far too intently on the words in front of her. Tori sighed and shook her head, dark curls bouncing lazily. The pale girl had seen straight through her attempts this time. "Give it some thought." She said, hefting the box into her arms and heading towards the door. "It's my turn to cook dinner tonight – I'd love some help, pretty girl."

The door clacked shut behind her and Jade finally tore her unfocused gaze from the notepad. She hadn't been reading the information anyway, she just needed something to hide behind. She tossed the book into the chair to her right pushed herself to her feet, staggering with the sudden wave of lightheadness and nausea that hit her. She groaned and squeezed her eyes shut till it passed, knowing she had overdone it on the smoking for the evening.

She took a deep breath to bolster herself and took the steps two at a time before adopting a brisk pace around the corner of the house, making a beeline for the edge of the lake for solitude. She eased herself down onto a low stump and crossed her legs, staring angrily out across the scenic landscape. "Stupid Canada. Stupid doctors." She stared down at her hand tucked gently against her chest. "Stupid hand."

Crenshaw hadn't offered her any promising news, just the same garbage he always spouted: keep up with therapy and things can only improve. You're not going to get back to 100%, Jade, but we'll get as close as we can.

Jade refused to accept anything less than 100% - she couldn't live with the pain, the lack of dexterity. She wanted her hand back, the one that could hold a screwdriver or soldering-iron without cramping, the one that wouldn't start shuddering and seizing at odd intervals, the one that could gently cup her lover's face while her other was … busy elsewhere. She was handicapped with this broken appendage.

That wasn't what was frustrating her though; Crenshaw's news was business as usual. No, today had been different. If you're not pleased with our current treatment… there may be another option. Crenshaw had informed, immediately sparking Jade's curiosity. I know you've been eager to opt for a cyberkinetic prosthesis… we may have the means to provide you with that now. A doctor is en route to Sanctum. I haven't been informed on all the details, but he's just been released from incarceration. Prosthetics are his specialty. We can arrange a meeting with him if you like, he should be here …

Jade had interrupted with a resounding YES. Yes, she wanted to meet the man that could fix her, provide her with the opportunities these quacks couldn't. She'd planned to meet with him as soon as he arrived in town a few days from now. For the first time in weeks the injured girl had left the doctor's office with a smile on her face, and that smile had lasted until she got home.

Then she remembered Tori.

Tori and her reluctance to entertain the idea. Tori and her adamancy she remain fully human. Tori and those stupid gorgeous stupid deep stupid eyes that would plead with her until she capitulated.

Her mood had immediately darkened. She had dug through her room and Beck's to find any and all nicotine there was and planted herself on the front porch to seethe and plot. Mostly seethe. Now, however, she realized the clock was counting down: the doctor would be here in a few days' time and she needed, wanted, Tori's approval before she pursued any treatment. That was going to be the challenge.

A sudden gust of wind cut through the thin fabric of her jacket, causing Jade to shiver and turn her back to the wind. Dark clouds climbed over the horizon – a storm was coming, and would probably be at their door by nightfall. With a frustrated sigh she climbed to her feet again; brilliance wouldn't strike her now, not with the mood she was in. She'd sleep on it and tackle it early in the morning. The best she could do tonight was be as sweet as she could be in hopes of luring Tori into a more receptive state of mind.


Jade pressed her chest into Tori's back as the Latina labored over the stove and watched with mild amusement as her grip on her spoon tightened apprehensively, her body following suit. "Have I told you how good you look in that apron?" She purred into her ear, reaching around and tracing the looping pattern on the fabric over Tori's chest.

"You're up to something." Tori replied cautiously, intertwining their fingers and holding them in place.

"It's a rare occasion I'm pleasant so soon after a bad mood. Do you really want to question it?" She pushed her low ponytail aside and ghosted kisses across the back of her neck, causing the older girl to shiver against her.

"With anyone else I wouldn't." Tori breathed, turning to face the younger girl; her jaw was clenched as she tried to maintain composure, but Jade saw desire dancing in her copper eyes. "But you're rarely pleasant at all. I have every right to question it."

Damn. This was the one thing Jade missed about dating a boy – they tended to lose focus on all else as soon as blood drained out of the brain in their skull. Tori was clearly suspicious and trying her best to resist temptation… It wouldn't be long before she submitted though. Jade always won in the end – she knew where to kiss, where to dance her fingertips, where to apply the right amount of friction to strike her companion senseless. It was a game… A game she had gotten very good at.

"The more you worry about it the less you're going to enjoy this evening." Jade whispered, her lips making brief contact with Tori's. She dropped her arm down and tightened it around the Latina's waist, unknotting the apron before sliding her hand up her shirt.

"Jade." She warned weakly.

She dug her nails lightly into the tender flesh below Tori's internal access panel, smirking triumphantly as she watched Tori's head tilt back and her eyes flutter closed. She took the opportunity to attach her lips to her tan neck, nipping lightly at the pulse point and reveling in the sounds she began to make. Almost there. The game was almost over – Tori could barely contain coherent thought, let alone suspect any trickery.

As she continued her assault on her throat, Jade felt a hand tugging at the waist of her pants. She shifted to give Tori better access and felt a sudden sag as the cyborg managed to both unbutton and unzip them. The pale girl froze as delicate fingers brushed across the most sensitive of areas and she rested her head against Tori's collarbone as her knees began to quake. "Leave this for Beck. I'm sure he won't mind cooking again tonight." She breathed.

Tori cupped Jade's chin and raised her head and stared at her under hooded lids, searching her still. Jade removed her hand from her waist and grabbed the back of the Latina's neck, crashing their lips together. The last of her resistance melted away and, in an act of animalistic passion, she effortlessly hefted Jade into her arms and headed towards the stairs and the privacy of their own bedroom.

Works every time. Jade thought triumphantly as Tori tossed her onto the bed, pulling her apron and shirt over her head. Her entire purpose of seducing her girlfriend was forgotten, however, as the Latina climbed on top of her and tugged down her pants.


Tori's hands knotted in Jade's fuchsia-streaked hair one final time as her hips bucked and she threw her head back heavily into the pillow. "God, JADE!" She moaned, her body shaking as she rode out a wave of ecstasy. A smug Jade pushed herself up with her good hand, trailing kisses up her glistening, tan torso before collapsing next to her. Tori's chest heaved and she forced her eyes open, an exhausted smile spreading across her face. "That…"

"Probably got the neighbors' attention." Jade smirked, tugging the Latina closer to her as her already deep flush spread further down her throat. She gingerly took Tori's hand in her injured own and laced their fingers as she leaned, breathing hot air into her ear. "Wish I knew Spanish so I could understand what you were screaming." She licked the ridge of her ear before nibbling on the lobe. Tori giggled and tightened her grip on the hand in hers suddenly, eliciting a wounded yelp from her lover.

Sharp pain radiated up Jade's arm and she jerked away, cradling her hand against her chest and clenching her eyes shut. She took a deep, shuddering breath and held it, willing the pain away. "Oh, Jade. I'm so sorry." Tori apologized hurriedly, pushing herself up and glancing towards the nightstand. "I completely forgot. I'm sorry. I think your pain meds are just over – "

"No, it's fine. I'll be fine." Jade shook her head, flexing her fingers gently as the stabbing sensations began to fade to a dull, burning ache. "Just going to have to get used to it, I guess." Her eyes snapped open as the conversation with Crenshaw came trickling back. Oh right. She mentally facepalmed. There had been a reason she had seduced Tori despite being in a horrible mood all day. She glanced at her injured hand before turning her attention to the Latina still hovering worriedly over her.

Lines of concern deepened. "Get used to it?" She breathed, easing herself onto her side gently. She tugged a sheet over their naked bodies and cuddled close, mindful of Jade's hand. "Is that what the doctor said?"

"Something like that." Okay, so it was only a half-lie. "He said to never expect it back to 100%. Looks like I'm stuck with the claw." She examined her scarred hand in the dim light, glancing between her extended fingers to gauge Tori's reaction. The Latina was frowning. "It wouldn't be so bad if it didn't hurt all the time." The frown deepened, and for a fraction of a second Jade felt the pangs of remorse; normally she had no problem manipulating those around her. In fact, she was an expert at deception and coercion; they were skills that came easy and ones she prided herself on.

It troubled her, however, Tori was the victim. A tiny voice in the back of her mind began to chastise her. She imagined it was her conscience – something she thought she'd killed off years ago. It nagged and nagged and nagged, encouraging her to do the right thing. Sometimes it made enough noise Jade couldn't focus on anything else.

But that didn't mean she always listened to it, and it didn't mean that she would now either.

"Crenshaw offered the cyborg option again." She muttered quietly. Tori sighed and rolled onto her back, focusing her attention on the ceiling.

"Jade – "

"Tori." Jade interrupted, knowing if she could continue she had a better chance of winning her over. "It's a serious procedure, I know that. I'm not discrediting that. But I can't keep living like this – "

"You don't know how serious it is." The Latina said, causing Jade to curse inwardly. "I still have ghost pains sometimes… and that doesn't compare at all to the procedure I had to go through. I was on immunosuppressants for months. I got two really bad infections that almost killed me. I was in so much pain that no amount of morphine could ease it… and that was with a whole team of experts in facilities specifically designed for my treatment. You don't have any of that… our "hospital" here can barely handle anything worse than a nasty case of the flu. If you got sick and they couldn't take care of you…" She trailed off, biting her bottom lip. "If we couldn't get you to someone who could… I'm worried, is all. I just think it's going to be more trouble than you realize, more than you can handle."

Jade bristled. She knew Tori meant well, but she deserved more credit than she was being allowed. "And if you hadn't gone through the operations you would have died. Point 1 for cyber-prostheses." She replied quietly, watching as the gears turned in Tori's mind.

"I would have… but you won't."

Jade groaned and pushed herself up. This is, without fail, how this conversation always went. "I think I need a shower… Maybe see if Beck needs help in the kitchen." The sheet fell away as she rolled out of bed and she shivered in the chilled room. Part of her desperately yearned to crawl back into her lover's arms but a larger part protested. Why would she want to take comfort if the arms of someone who wasn't even trying to understand the pain she was going through?

"Jade."

"Just leave it alone, Tor." The bathroom door clicked shut behind her and she leaned against it, releasing a deep exhale. She turned on the shower and stepped into the running water before it had warmed, needing a distraction to quell the rage boiling in her heart. Jade was quickly running out of ideas and, more importantly, patience.

She had hoped to win Tori over to her side before she agreed to the surgery some way or another – she'd much prefer to have someone so important to her support her decision. But at every turn she was denied, at every attempt she was shot down. She was slowly arriving at the point where she wasn't concerned with what the cyborg thought about the situation anymore.

After all, it was her body. Tori would just have to accept it.


And so concludes chapter 1. Thoughts? Concerns?

Is Jade really going to go through with it without Tori's permission? ... Probably.