Author's Note: This story is based after X-Men Annual 2001. Strangely, it's
worked itself in rather well with the new SoldierX continuity and with Domino's
sudden and total disappearance from the Marvel roadmap. (Yes, I'm bitter about
the LS, but let's not discuss that, okay?) At any rate, this is a revised
version of the one posted on both Outside the Lines and the Dayspring Archive.

Angst ahoy!


Close Encounters
by A.j.


You've known something was wrong for years. To be truthful, there's been
something wrong since the day you met.

The sun is bright and clear this morning. You were in too much of a rush
last night to close the shade properly, so there's more light than there should
be. It streams in underneath the crazily tilted mini-blind. God's flashlight
is on you, little girl.

Your head hurts, even though you didn't have so much as a single drop of
alcohol last night. Maybe it's just used to feeling that way. Everyday last
week, you woke up to the headache to end all headaches, and a slowly emptying
bottle of brandy mocking you from your bedside table.

The bottle is still there. There isn't any missing.

There's something missing inside you though. You know what it is, you just
don't want to admit it.

Carefully and slowly, so as not to jar the mattress and your head and a host
of other problems, you turn your body to look at the ceiling. You look up so
you can't look at the bottle or the shade or him. Because then you'd have to
think about them. No matter that you're already doing it.

You don't know how you got here. By all rights, this emptiness inside you
shouldn't be there. You've lived life on your own terms. Decided your own
fate. Every move you've made has been one you either chose or
circumstances forced you into.

You knew you weren't the type of girl that would end up with 2.5 kids and a
white picket fence. You made your peace with that shattered illusion years ago.
But there was still that little part of you that wanted Prince Charming to come
and hold your hand. You wanted that. Someone to help you, and love you, and be
there for you when all your precious decisions came crashing down around your

But you don't have that. No, all you have is this bed.

He shifts beside you, stirring the sheets in his slumber. The scent of sex
raises around you, and suddenly staring at the ceiling isn't helping. Images,
cold and clear play behind your eyes and it's all you can do to stop yourself
from crying. You don't cry. You can't.

Last night started as it always does. He was in town to take care of some
things. He stopped by to say hello because he has to. You've been friends too
long for him to be in town and not at least stop by. It would be rude.

And there are days you find that brutally funny.

Before you even opened the door you knew it was him. Only he can knock on
your door like that. Strong, assured. And like always, you clung to the
doorknob, mind conflicted, deciding whether or not to open it. Because you
knew, just as you know now, that if you opened it, there was only one way
for the night to end.

You knew you'd be staring at this ceiling, listening to him sleep. But you
still opened that door because you needed something of him. Something that is
just yours and his.

Because even if you don't want to, you still love him. Just not enough to
let him go.

Not too long ago, before your life and his life crashed to the ground, you
thought maybe he was it. Maybe he was your Prince. He had all the
qualifications. He was your friend. He was someone you trusted. He let you be
yourself. And when you did something incredibly stupid, he just shook his head
and let you pick up the pieces. Sometimes, you even let him help.

Somewhere in all of that, friendship changed. It became a different kind of
love. One that was sharper and less careful. One you didn't know how to

One that broke you both and left you with nothing but lacerations and a habit.
So you opened the door. And you smiled at him, a dead smile. And he smiled
at you, his eyes not warming like they used to. You talked then. Another
habit, the talking.

"Hello, it's good to see you," you said.

He nodded and said, "It's been awhile, Dom."

Then you were eating. A meal that tasted of cardboard and ashes. This is
part of the ritual too. You eat mechanically, listening to him not talk about
all of the things he's doing. He chews quietly and watches you ignore the wine
he poured for you. All of it, even the air, is brittle.

And you can't help but think things didn't used to be like this. No, before
you'd laugh and tease. He'd smirk at you, and you'd grin at him because you
knew what he was thinking. You knew he wanted to hear what you were saying,
because it made him feel good. And you were happy in those moments because of

But everything changed. It wasn't enough to save either of you, that
happiness. All it did was make the wounds deeper and more impossible to heal.
He shifts beside you, still unconscious. You're glad for that at least.

You noticed, last night, that he didn't seem well. The dark circles under his
eyes seemed more pronounced than they used to. He's been working too hard,
doing the impossible in a way only he can. He doesn't sleep enough. Some
things don't change. But you gave him this, at least. Rest in a place he can
feel safe.

Because that's what you are. You're safe. You're something he can trust
his life to, if not his heart.

That's one of the things that burned the most. Not because of the
situation, but because he did trust you with his heart once. And you dropped
the ball. You ran away because you were scared. He offered to help carry your
load and you turned away. And neither of you can forgive that.

You close your eyes now. The sun and the ceiling are too much. His
breathing is too much. You remember the look in his eyes when you walked away
from him all those years ago. That raw pain and complete disbelief. This was
something you'd wanted but it was something you couldn't find the strength to
accept. And because you couldn't, you became unworthy.

He'd given his love to someone before. His wife. Her name is an anathema
between you. Before you left, it was because she was first. She was bright
and distant in his mind. Something he fought for. A woman so wonderful and
right, that she gave up her own life for something he believed in. After, it
was because you couldn't speak it. She accepted him. Took him in. She was
better than you are.

But he didn't leave you. Not completely. He didn't leave because he had
let you in, and you were special. He couldn't take that back. You had to hand
it over free and clear.

But you can't do it.

You can't let this go. It's too important.

So you let him lean over after the dishes are in the sink and the candles
are doused. You let him put his lips on your own, and it's your hands that
reach up and run themselves through his short hair. And neither of you protest
when his fingers work their way up your shirt and it's you reaching into the
night table's drawer to make sure no one else enters this twisted little circle.

And for awhile, while he's in you and you're trying like hell to bring him
closer, you can believe that this is okay. That this hollow space inside you
can be filled with these nights where he comes to you and you give him space
away from whatever demons are driving him this time.

But then you wake up, and the only place you can look is your ceiling. And
you won't cry because that would make it all more real. If you did, then you'd
have to admit that you have to let this go because it's killing you both.

So you close your eyes tight to the truth and roll into his warmth for just
a little longer. Because when you open your eyes again, you know he'll be gone,
and you'll be left in this place, alone, to do a job you hate. Because it's
something else you thought, maybe, could make this all right. And just before
you let yourself go back to the warm darkness of sleep, you think you feel
something wet on your face. But you just don't want to know.