A Gathering of Gatherings
Author’s Note: This story contains scenes of adult male transhumans having consensual sex and being very much in love. It his concept bothers you, or it is illegal for you to be reading this, please hit the “Back” key on your browser and go read something else. All copyrights belong to the author whose pen name is Cobalt-Blue.
This story is part of my Atlantis Unleashed Universe which also includes the stories:
What Once Was Lost (not an adult story)
For stories set in my Cadre:5 Universe, go to:
Cadre: 5 Issue 8 The Seduction of Sawyer Jackson Grey
Cadre: 5 (Non- Adult stories)
answered the door, a large mixing
bowl of potato salad in his arms. "Hey little bro," Sara kissed him
on the cheek and came in with her son in tow. Behind them, Robbie was
a huge watermelon.
"Put it on the table," Seth nodded toward the table ladened with barbeque supplies. "Everybody's out back, and Dusty's having a ball at the grill." He looked down at his six-year-old nephew, "Hiya, Lee." Whatcha' got there?"
The dark haired little boy looked up at his uncle with serious eyes and held out the toy he was carrying, "It's Feral!"
Sarah was blushing a deep red, "Don't look at me. Robbie gave it to him. I'm still trying to figure out why he has it."
"Because they just re-released the whole series of action figures, and I figured Lee would like to have the complete collection." He winked at Seth, "Feral just happens to be his favorite."
Seth laughed and nodded his head, "Feral's one of my favorite too." Looking down at the little boy, he told him, "The rest of the kids are out at the pool. You did bring your swim trunks didn't you?"
"Uh huh," the boy nodded, and ran toward the back door.
Seth turned to Robbie, and tried to keep the worry from his voice, "When did they re-issue the Academy action figures?"
"They hit the market this morning." He smiled, "I've had this one on special order for two weeks." He smiled wickedly, "every boy should have their own action figure of their mommy." Robbie's demeanor changed, "Why? What's wrong?"
Seth just shook his head sighed, "I'm just worried that with everything going on right now, it might remind the UN that we exist. They might come looking for us now." The two men returned to the kitchen where Seth continued with the barbeque preparations.
"I think it might just be somebody trying to recapture some of the old glory," Robbie told him, "After all, whether the President wants to admit it or not, there's nobody out there who can stand up to the UN Team anymore." Putting the watermelon down he continued, "To be honest, I think that most people think we're not around any more." He smiled and teased Seth, "that is except for Moonwind- everybody remembers him from his days with ParaForce-1. The rest of us have just faded into obscurity."
Seth could not force a smile this time, "I know. Sometimes I worry that I might end up leading UN to you guys." He did not tell his old friend that he'd been having nightmares about what had happened to ParaForce-1. The past few nights they'd expanded to include his old friends from the Academy. He really didn't think it would be long before the US found itself at war with the rest of the world for not turning it's parahumans over to the International Parahuman Resource Registry."
"Did you register when you left ParaForce-1?" Robbie asked.
Seth shook his head and then looked around for any of the half-dozen of his friends' children, "Hell no."
"Then you aren't going to lead them to us." Robbie replied, "That is unless, you go out and announce who you and we are." He gave him a sly smile, "You're not planning on doing that are you?"
Seth threw a potholder at him. "Okay, enough with the worries. Today is not for worries."
"Right," Robbie told. "We're here to celebrate that fact that you and Dusty have finally got this monstrosity you call a house built." He threw the potholder back, "So when are you and he going to start trying to fill up all those bedrooms?"
"That's what we've got you guys for," He handed Robbie a plate of steaks, "We get to be the favorite uncles who spoil your kids. You guys get to change the dirty diapers."
"Nah, haven't you heard the latest?" Robbie took the plate out the door.
Following him onto the patio to join the other six adults Seth asked, "Heard what?"
"I don't know about the state-run adoption agencies, but the one the firm I work for deals with has had an upswing of same-sex adoptions. With all the chaos going on in the world, I guess the courts are finally deciding that a loving family taking care of a child, even if it is same-sex, is better than no family at all."
"What, are you guys thinking about adopting?" Tabitha asked.
Seth shook his head, "No, I think Robbie's trying to drum up some business, though."
"Hey, we've got some very special kids that need families," Robbie said, as he picked up Lee. "Little guys who really need mommies and daddies and mommies and mommies, and even daddies and daddies that can meet the special challenge of raising them. And I think you and Dusty are more than up to that challenge."
Dusty wrapped his strong arms around Seth from behind and pulled him close, "Right now, Seth and I would rather play uncle than daddy," his lover repeated Seth's earlier comment.
"Just thought I'd mention it," Robbie said, putting Lee down.
"So, you two finally finished with the house?" Lionel, asked, trying to change the subject. "No more disappearing for whole weekends at a time?"
Dustin grinned, "I can't guarantee that, Lionel." He chuckled and squeezed Seth tighter, "Just, we won't be building the house."
Everyone chuckled and the darker mood was broken. "Tell me something Dusty," Miguelena shooed hers and Richard's oldest daughter back toward the sandbox.
Dusty raised an eyebrow, "what?"
"When did it start?" She indicated Seth setting up the table, "Seth won't give us any details. When did you two really start seeing each other?"
Seth watched as his lover seemed to consider the question. Finally, Dusty answered, "I guess it was at Tabitha's mom's wedding."
"Don't you mean Tabitha's wedding?" Sarah asked indicating their Asian friend.
Dustin smiled and laughed aloud, "No. Tabitha was just the one taking the vows. That wedding belonged completely and wholly to her mom. That woman could single-handedly run a small country."
"My mother does run a small country. It's called my family. Just ask Lionel," Tabitha told them.
"Okay, let's just say when Tabitha and Lionel got married." He picked up the plate of steaks and put them on the grill. Mouthwatering smells began to waft through the air as he continued, "You know, we were all sitting around and wondering if Seth was even going to make it in for the wedding."
"Hey, I made it. I wouldn't have missed it for the world," Seth told him defensively.
"Yeah, but we didn't know that. You hadn't really been in touch with anyone for over four years." He looked over to see if the children were listening, "That was while you were still off being Moonwind on ParaForce- 1. We didn't even know if you'd gotten the invitation. At the time, Tabitha's dad was just sitting around with this dumb smile on his face and didn't say anything to anybody." Actually, it had been right after Seth had tendered his resignation to the team. He had asked that the team delay the announcement of his resignation for a few days. He didn't want anything to take away from his two old Academy friends' wedding.
"That wasn't a dumb smile," Lionel interjected, "That was pain. He was starting to get the bills."
FIVE YEARS AGO
Dustin opened the door to allow Lionel to escape while Robbie and Richard distracted the girls. Dustin couldn't help but think to himself, "How in the world do I get myself into these things?"
"Well, look what the cat drug in," Lionel said in surprise.
"No, my sister hasn't drug me anywhere in a long time," a voice Dustin hadn't heard in over four years said.
"Seth!" There was a roar of excitement at the sudden appearance of their old Academy friend. Forgetting himself for a moment, Dustin too pulled the smaller man into a hug. Smaller really wasn't the word for it. Seth had never been big, but even as an adult, it seemed like he was still waiting for that proverbial final growth spurt.
"Whoa there big guy!" Seth told him. "I need those ribs."
"Ah they'll heal," he replied.
"Yo! Bro!" Sarah called from the door. "Glad you could make it." Dustin turned to see Sarah standing in the door. "Forgotten how to write? How to use a phone?" There was a half threat to her voice and Dustin realized that his friend had failed to stay in touch with even his twin sister.
"I know how to write," he smiled. "But wasn't sure you could read." She threw a diaper at him. Dustin thought it had been considerate of her not to use a dirty one.
He watched as the small blond rushed forward and swept his much larger sister into a hug. "It's good to see you, sis." Dusty couldn't help but notice that the man seemed much surer of himself. He guessed four years on ParaForce-1 had helped him find his way in the world. He felt a twinge of jealousy for whoever had been able to finish what he'd started. "Now' where's that nephew of mine?"
Dusty saw a look of surprise cross Sarah's face, and realized that although Seth had not been in touch, he'd at least kept up with family news. Maybe he knew something the others didn't- like the identity of the baby's father. "He's inside bird-brain," she told him. "And who told you?"
Seth just smiled, "Mom never could keep a secret."
The two left the room talking. For the millionth and a half time, Dustin wondered at what quirk of genetics had created such opposite looking twins. Dustin- with his tiny frame, blond hair and blue eyes contrasted his sister's more traditional Native American appearance with dark hair and eyes. The two could never be mistaken for being the twins that they are. Nor could the bond they shared as siblings be mistaken for anything else.
Ten minutes later though, Seth was being pushed out the front door by that very same twin along side the rest of the men. "This is a hen's only night, bro," she'd told him. "You go out with Lionel and the boys, and entertain him on his last night of freedom, while we girls give Tabitha a good washing down." Dustin got the distinct feeling that on both sides, the most washing that was going to happen was of the internal variety, and it would involve large quantities of alcohol.
Dustin watched as Seth glanced over at the other four men and seemed to blush. For just a moment his and Seth's eyes held each other and Dustin felt something old and familiar stir inside him. "Very well, sister dear," there was a playful threat to Seth's voice, "but don't come to me looking for a hangover cure tomorrow. I know what that cheap rum you like so much does to your rather sensitive noggin."
"Ah, no cheap rum for me tonight. I'm the designated driver," she gave him a wicked look, "You know, breast feeding mommies and all."
Seth closed the door behind himself and shook his head at Dustin, “THAT was an image I did NOT need."
"Think that one is bad, try walking in on her," Dustin told him.
Seth grinned up at him, "what you two been playing I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours again?" The smaller man reminded him of the prepubescent games the three played many years, and a lifetime ago.
"Not quite. She lived with me for a little while when she first got back from where ever it was she disappeared to." Dustin told him.
"Oh?" Dustin could hear the unasked question in his old friend's voice.
"She and the baby needed a place to stay and I had the extra room. Everybody else was living in apartments. I bought the old Cooper place." Dustin told him, trying to head off any misunderstandings. "She didn't want to live with your folks, and I had room."
Seth, just like old times, took his place at shotgun in Dustin's 'Vette. "So where're we taking Lionel?"
"The one place in town where if our mothers knew we were going, even today they'd turn us over their knees," Dusting told him, "The Purple Pirate."
"God," Seth said in surprise. "That place still open?"
Dustin nodded, "Yeah, Richie and Robbie want to buy him a lap dance. They want to find out just how faithful to Tabitha he really is." Seth just shook his head. "I know, I know. They haven't quite figured out the obvious yet. Lionel and Robbie did the same thing to Richie when he and Miguelena got married- and they'll probably do the same thing to Robbie when he gets married. It's sort of a payback thing."
Two hours later, Dustin found himself sitting alone at a table with Seth. The other three were engaged in a drinking contest that Dustin just didn't feel like joining. Funneling beer was not his idea of a fun way to spend the night. It wasn't in college nor now. "So how long did you get leave for?" he asked Seth.
The smaller man just smiled for a moment then laughed as he leaned back in his chair, "Permanent."
"You quit the team?" he asked. "Why?"
Seth shrugged, "I got tired of the politician trying to tell me how to do my job," he shook his head. "Besides, there was one part of my contract that they were insisting on renegotiating and I'm not negotiating."
"Good for you," Dustin told him. "Those are your inventions, not theirs."
"Anyway," Seth leaned forward, "The administration was going out of its way to make life difficult for us. Our esteemed President has always made clear his disdain for anything military." Dustin heard Seth mutter under his breath, "that draft-dodging son of a snake."
"So what are you going to do now?" Dustin asked.
"I don't know yet. I've had a few offers to do some serious research here in San Medilla." Seth replied. "Really, I don't have any plans for right away, except catch up with old friends." He looked over at the other three- Robbie and Richie pouring Coors into a funnel leading to Lionel's mouth. "Let's see, Lionel and Tabitha are finally tying the knot, and Richie and Miguelena ran off and eloped last year." He smiled, "I half-way suspect Robbie is already considering asking Sarah out again." Leaning forward he put his beer down, "so that leaves you. Anybody special in your life?"
"No, not right now," Dustin had told Seth. "Life's been pretty empty the last few years on that front." He shook his head, "Just can't find anybody I'm really that interested in." Turning the tables on Seth, he asked anxiously, "How 'bout you? Anybody caught your eye in DC?"
Seth had smiled ruefully, "I thought so for a while." He shook his head and took another sip of his beer, "but it didn't work out. He and I were just too different." Dustin could see the wait in Seth's eyes. He knew Seth was expecting some kind of recrimination for revealing his not-so- secret secret.
Dustin drained his beer and smiled, "Well since you're not attached, how about dinner tomorrow night after we get him safely married off," he thumbed toward Lionel.
He watched the surprise race across Seth's face, "You asking me out on a date?"
"No, I'm asking you to come play GI Joe," Dustin replied sarcastically. "What do you think?"
Seth laughed, "Wasn't sure. Just wanted to make sure that I wasn't getting any wrong signals." He gave Dustin a wicked look, "Besides, I've still got my GI Joes. Shipwreck's still in his original packaging."
"Well, I got mine too," Dustin told him. "But I also went out and bought the bigger and better versions."
"Bigger and better versions?"
"Yeah, the anatomically correct ones," Dustin told him blushing. Dustin let his voice go serious, "So, did you know in high school?"
"Know what?" Seth asked him.
"That you were gay."
Seth nodded his head. "You wouldn't believe how horrible it was."
"It couldn't have been that bad," Dustin teased him.
"Wanna' bet. You ever noticed Robbie and Richie's butts in spandex?" Dustin told him.
As a matter of the fact he had. He'd never told anyone before though, "Oh yeah man."
"Well, toss in showers after practice and it was everything I could do to avoid staring."
Both men laughed, and something passed between them. Dustin blushed deeply, "Theirs wasn't the only butts I noticed at the Academy too," He ordered another beer.
"Yeah, Lionel was real beef-cake material," Seth told him.
"Wasn't talking about Lionel, Rabbit," Dustin used the old nickname that tagged Seth with when they were in elementary school. "You managed to star in quite a few of those teenage fantasies yourself."
Dustin watched Seth turn several shades of red, his usually light skin showing the deep embarrassment. "Well, I guess you realize you've starred in more than a few of mine as well. Then again, Mr. All-American-Boy starred in the fantasies of most of the girls at school too, so I'm guessing you're pretty used to that idea."
"Oh please," Dustin told him. "I was never fantasy material."
Seth raised an eyebrow and upped the ante, "Oh yes you were. Right after you got your Challenger uniform, I must have gone through a bottle of hand lotion in a week."
FOURTEEN YEARS AGO: 2nd WEEK OF FRESHMAN YEAR AT THE ACADEMY
Seth stood meekly between Sarah and Dustin, hoping not to be noticed by the others. Everyone else on the team towered over him like giants- even petit little Tabitha Nokamura was taller than he was. On the dais before them stood Dr. Green- headmistress of the Academy and their taskmaster. "You eight represent this year's beginning class of parahumans. Ahead of you is four years of hard work and instruction. You will be given one of the finest educations in the world alongside intense training in the use of your parahuman abilities." Seth found himself caught up in her enthusiasm. She obviously had for her job.
The Stryker/Norris Academy for Advanced Academic Studies was known throughout the world as one of the finest private secondary schools that money could buy. What was not known to the general-public however was that the school also took on a small number of parahuman students with each class and trained them in the use of their unusual abilities. Ironically, this year's class was entirely from the local population of San Medilla. The woman continued, "When you graduate you will walk out of this school with the academic credentials to qualify you for entrance into any institution of higher learning in the world. You will have a level of skill and understanding of the use of your powers, both individually and as a group to qualify you for both the US National Para Team, or any of the numerous Corporate teams across the country." She let her eyes slowly meet each of the students. It did not escape Seth's attention that she missed him in her sweep. "Any questions?"
"And if we don't want to go on to ParaForce-1 or any of the corporate teams?" Tabitha had asked.
"Then you will have the academic background to go into what ever field of study you should desire." Dr. Green came off dais, "Don't misunderstand me. This is not Mutant High, and we're not some exclusive private school in upstate New York, catering to only to those with powers. We want you to be able to choose any life path you might want. Mainly we don't want you to become a slave to the gene that sets you apart from general population."
"So that's why, for the next four years, you're going to put us spandex?" Lionel had asked.
"Part of your training will involve a certain amount of contact with the public. The spandex, as you call it, is a way of protecting the identities of not only yourselves, but that of your classmates as well. It also helps protect the school from too many prying eyes." She casually walked over toward the table where several large boxes were stacked neatly. "For your first few months you will wear the standard uniform of a first year class. As your control develops, and your own understanding of who and what you are becoming is clearer, you will be able to modify your costumes to fit your own tastes." She took a second to look over to her assistant as if considering an inside joke, "within the boundaries of acceptable dress for young ladies and gentlemen."
She gave each student a box, with the codename they'd chosen on it. "You have twenty minutes to change and be back here. She indicated the direction of the locker rooms, "Boys through there," then pointing to the opposite side of the room, "girls over there." As they turned to leave she called out, "Oh, Seth and Sarah,"
Seth turned to face the woman, "Yes, ma'am."
"I want you out here in full costume. I know you've spent a great deal of energy hiding the physical manifestations of your powers. However, during these training sessions, I want you to grow accustomed to those manifestations."
"Yes, ma'am," he and his twin replied simultaneously.
Ten minutes later, he found himself in the locker room with four other well- developed young men, in various stages of undress. Fighting to keep his eyes down, and not be noticed by his teammates he pulled on the black and gray costume. "Whoa, check out half-pint over there," one of the two brothers, Robbie or Richie -he couldn't tell the apart yet- said. He wondered at what twist of fate had put two sets of twins on the team.
Seth felt himself turning bright red as every eye in the room turned to him. "Man, what a waste," the other of the two twins had said. "It's not like he'll ever get a chance to use that thing."
Seth turned his back to the group to hide the tears that were threatening to well up in his eyes. "Shut up you assholes," he heard Dustin's voice behind them.
"Just because he's got more down there than you two got combined, doesn't give you the right to pick on him. Remember, he's on our team too. One day he might save your lives," he heard Lionel say.
"Hey we're just having some fun, we didn't mean anything," one of the twins said. "It's just he's so small otherwise. It looks freakish."
"You don't know freakish," Seth said under his breath fighting back tears. That last comment had cut right to how he'd been feeling lately. How different he felt from the other kids at the Academy.
"Leave. Him. Alone." Dustin said, stressing each word separately.
"Just take it for a fact that some of us developed differently that you two." Lionel said.
"It's all right Lionel," Seth told them as he turned around. He relaxed the part of him that kept his more prominent features out of sight. He felt a sense of relief- both physical and psychological- as his great black wings grew and unfurled from his back and ankles. "Their bedroom attributes isn't the only place they are lacking," he walked out of the locker-room hiding the hurt he felt beneath a veneer of apathy.
Dustin set the last of the steaks on the table and sat next to Seth. Looking around the yard where the children of his friends were playing and eating, he felt a long missing sense of contentment. Something deep inside him though knew that it was going to be short lived. There was too much going on the world, and he knew it was only a matter of time before the UN decided to come after them. Someone was going to have to do something, and he had a bad feeling about who it was going to have to be. Next to him, Seth's sister asked, "So, when are you two going to take that trip to Vermont?"
Dustin felt himself blush, "We'll get around to it," he replied.
She waved a fork at him, "Just make sure that you do. It's about time you made an honest man outta' my brother." Lately Sarah had been really pressing him with making his and Seth's relationship official- or at least as official as it could be.
"Did you ever stop to think that I may not want to be an honest man?" Seth asked.
Sarah shook her head, "Doesn't matter Rabbit. You need to be legal. If for no other reason, to make sure that if anything happens to Dustin the force can't shut you out."
"Can we talk about something else," Dustin asked. "Nothing personal, but this is supposed to be a celebration, not a discussion of my benefits on the police force."
Sarah blushed with embarrassment, "Sorry, I guess that was kind of a downer wasn't it."
"Not a problem sis. We'll get around to it eventually." Seth told her.
"So what are you two planning for the summer?" Richie asked.
"Don't know yet," Dustin could hear Seth trying to keep his voice neutral, "I might take a trip to DC."
"What for?" Tabitha asked with an underlying concern in her voice.
"I've been asked to speak to a Special Presidential Commission on how to deal with the UN situation," Seth told her.
"Since when did you become an expert in dealing with international affairs?" Robbie asked.
Seth shook his head, "My part has nothing to do with politics."
"You'll be in Washington, every thing there has to do with politics," Sarah told him sarcastically.
"You're right," Seth smiled and looked around. Dustin could tell that he was making sure there were no children to hear. "But they want my input on how long it would take to rebuild ParaForce-1."
"You mean if you could find enough paras willing to stick their necks out to get them chopped off by the UN?" Lionel's voice dripped with sarcasm.
"I don't think they're going to have choice. I think that this country has become the last stand for parahuman rights. If the US capitulates, then I'm afraid our rights will be the just the first lost. The UN has made it clear, that it doesn't like the concept of our Constitution." He shook his head, "It's become a question of individual rights over group rights. According to the UN, the individual's rights have to take second place to the group."
"No, that's not what I'm talking about," Lionel said. "What I mean is that the paras out there that want to help, can't because some little non-para shrink who knows nothing about the stresses of being a para says we're unstable." He smiled and cut into his steak, "that would be like me telling you that you can't be a physicist because I don't understand what the job is." He shoved the piece of steak in his mouth and began to chew. Smiling at Dustin he said, "Good piece of meat."
"Don't tell me you're still bitter after all these years about us not making the national team?" Robbie asked.
"Not bitter. It's just that that one psych profile has followed me to every interview for any team I've ever applied for." Lionel told him. "Because I'm not on a national or corporate team, they won't give me a new one to find out if the first one was wrong."
Dustin watched Seth shake his head, "At the risk of getting slammed through the back gate here, Lionel. You ever thought that maybe it wasn't wrong?"
"Right or wrong, shouldn't I get the chance to try? Should one person keep me from helping out?"
Seth shook his head, "That's not what I mean. Look at us, we're sitting here doing exactly what that shrink said we would." He indicated his friends, "Ten years after graduation we're still together. We've paired off inside our group, and probably would have trouble with anybody from the outside trying to get in. We really don't play well with others. At least not deep down."
"When you've gone through what we did together, then being tight is something unavoidable. It's not every Academy class that went to hell and back- or at least war- and survived." Robbie reminded them of the one mission that changed their world-view forever. It had also made them so reliant on each other that the bonds between them would forever be forged in the hardest steel.
"What good do you think you can do in Washington?" Miguelena asked, trying to redirect the conversation.
Seth sighed, "Somebody's going to have to stop the UN team." He shook his head, "there's no question about that. The military can't move fast enough to bring enough fire-power to bear to stop them. There aren't many of us left who even stand a chance against them. Runeclaw and Avalon maybe, but they’re just two people. Those paras that could, have either been killed or taken into UN custody and sent to re-education camps in Riyadh."
"You volunteering us?" Sarah asked.
Seth sipped his soda, "No. I don't have that right."
"Then what?" Dustin suddenly had a bad feeling, "'Cause I got news for you. You're not going against the UN team without me. So you can just put that notion right out of your mind."
Seth turned and looked at him, "I couldn't ask that of you. I've been there. I've seen what they can do, what they're willing to do to bring the US under their heel." Dustin watched his lover take a deep breath, "I won't let them do that to Lee and the others. I can't ask the rest of you to risk yourselves. You've got too much at stake. The kids need their parents. I'm expendable." Before Dustin could reply, "And, I'm faster than you are. They'll have a hell of time catching me." He held up a hand to stop Dustin's protests, "If I fail, you'll be needed here. I've always known that I was just the back-up muscle for you." He smiled, "Besides, I already know that Moonwind is on their list to bring down. They've forgotten about the rest of you."
"So we use that to our advantage," Dustin told him.
"I can't believe what I'm hearing here," Robbie protested. "You are not going out and getting yourself killed just to keep those bastards off our backs." The man stood, "It's too dangerous. We won't let you do it."
"And just how do intend to stop me?" Seth asked defiantly.
"By going with you and making sure you don't get yourself killed," Richie told him.
Seth shook his head, "that won't work. That'll just remind them that this team exists." He winked, "I went to a lot of trouble to erase you guys from the official records when I was on PF-1. That's the only reason I took the job. I'm not about to see you put yourself back into danger and undo all my hard work."
"As I see it," Tabitha told him, "You don't have much choice in the matter. You either take our back-up, or you don't go."
Seth smiled and played his trump, "And just what do propose to do with the kids while we're gone?"
"Hide them in Little Tokyo or out on the Res." She smiled. "They spend half their summers shuttling between the two anyway." She gave him a wicked look, "And pity the fool that goes out that Reservation or into Little Tokyo looking to kidnap a group of children, especially from our parents. It took them too long to come grips with some of our relationships. I don't think they're willing to give us up just yet." Dustin remembered Tabitha's father's reaction to the idea of her marrying Lionel. At first, everybody thought it was because he was African-American and she second generation Japanese. It turned out that the man just didn't think Lionel worked hard enough to support his daughter the way he thought she should be supported. Of course, when Lionel finished college, he changed his tune completely. Then Lionel made detective, and the man spent a month bragging about his son-in-law the police detective. As for Dustin's and Seth's relationship, it took a while for the two of them accept it, much less let anyone else know about it.
FIVE YEARS AGO
Dustin had picked him up for their first date with his usual punctuality. Seth was reminded how the bigger man had planned their missions down to the second when they'd been in the Academy. Today he'd been thankful for that obsession with time because it made sure that they got Lionel to the chapel on time. It had been close but they'd managed it. Seth couldn't help but think of a Georgia Satellites song popular on the country charts at the time about a groom being late for his own wedding.
Sitting at the restaurant, he caught himself watching Dustin. The bigger man was as usual his competent commanding self, and Seth had to be careful not to get caught up into being a follower again. He'd spent a great deal of the past five years forcing himself out of the habit of trying not to be noticed, and of going along with whatever anyone else suggested. It'd been difficult, but with Brandon's help, he'd managed to learn to go after the things he wanted without feeling guilty about it. "So, since you retired, you planning on staying in town or moving up to LA or down to San Diego?"
Seth shook his head, "Planning on sticking around for a while. Like I said, I've had a few offers here in San Medilla. I think I might go into research for myself." He smiled, "Besides, this is home. This is where my family is."
"You told your parents yet?" Dustin asked.
"Told them about what?"
"That you've retired," Dustin replied.
Seth nodded, "Yeah. They support the idea. Dad's just glad to have me back around the house."
"Found a place to live yet?" Dustin asked.
Seth nodded, "I'm staying with Sarah until I can find a place I like." He smiled, "She told me if I didn't, she'd hunt me down and pluck me."
"You looking for an apartment or a house?" Dustin asked.
"Haven't decided yet," Seth told him, "A lot depends on which job I take."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if I take a short term position just to get established, then I'll get an apartment. If take a long term one, I'll buy a house. If I decide to go into research for myself, I'll get the apartment for a while, until things settle down and then buy a house." Seth laughed and indicated himself, "Let's face it, I don't need a lot of room."
"Question is, do you want a lot of room?" Dustin was getting at something, but Seth was unsure of what.
"A lot of room for me, can be shoebox, Dustin." Seth told him. He leaned in closer, "I've gotten much better at that particular aspect of my powers."
"So what, do you have your whole apartment from DC packed into a shoe box at Sarah's or something?"
"Something like that," Seth told him. Actually it was all packed into a suitcase- furniture and all.
"Remind me to come and talk to you the next time Lionel and I have to go undercover."
"Do that." Seth told him.
"So, you told your mom that you're seeing guys yet?" Seth knew the question would catch Dustin off guard, but at least it would get him away from what ever it was that he was driving at.
"That's not a subject that mom and I discuss. She's still in deep denial." Dustin told him.
"And your dad?"
"Dad's following the advice of your former boss. You know, "don't ask, don't tell, don't bring it home." He smiled, "and above all else, never let them answer the phone. Not that I've brought anybody home in the last four years to answer the phone."
"Not my boss," Seth told him. "He was just somebody who ran the government while I worked for it."
"Did you love him?" It was Dustin's turn to catch Seth of guard.
"Who? The President?"
"Whoever it was that was in your life in DC," Dustin replied.
Seth thought about it, "In a way I guess. He'll always have a special place in my heart. He helped me come to grips with being gay." Seth looked and smiled, "He also helped me finish the job you started."
"What job was that?" Dustin asked, although Seth already knew he knew the answer.
"Learning that my size didn't make a difference in my value as a person." Seth chuckled and continued, "Learning to assert myself, and not let people walk all over me." He couldn't help but smile, "learning to use that combat training Dr. Green drilled into us all those years in the Academy."
"I never thought your size did make a difference in your value as a person," Dustin told him.
"You didn't. Sarah didn't," Seth told him, "But I did. And because I believed it, other people did too. I had to learn that using my abilities to defend myself wasn't cheating."
"Do you mind if I ask you a question?" Dustin asked. Seth could sense something important in Dustin's voice.
"Why you?" Dustin asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Why did they ask you to join the team and not the rest of us?"
Seth looked down, "Because I was easy to run roughshod over. Because I was the team joke, the one everybody had to rescue all the time. They needed a brain, and I fit the bill. Because my own self worth was so far in the basement, they figured I could be molded to be part of their team without you guys." Seth shrugged, "I guess they didn't expect me to show my talons every now and then. I have you and Brandon to thank for that."
"Brandon?" Dustin asked.
"Brandon, the person who helped me finish what you started." He blushed, "My former lover." Seth wasn't comfortable talking about a former lover to a prospective future one. He smiled at Dustin, "And to answer the question you want to ask, but won't because you're too polite: he's a very former lover. It's been over for a long time."
"You really did come into your own in DC didn't you?" Dustin smiled at him, and Seth wondered how he could get him to do it again.
Seth nodded and smiled back, "I had to spread my wings and fly on my own. It made me grow up. Take responsibility for myself, and not expect someone to come and save me all the time. I finally realized that there were innocent people counting on my being able to do my job. If I didn't, then there was nobody else to do it, and those people could die."
"You sound like Dr. Green now," Dustin told him.
"Is it any different than what you do as police officer?" Seth asked.
"Well, I don't usually face people who juggle Buicks," Dustin told him.
"If there's anything you taught me Dustin, it's not to denigrate the contributions of other people. No matter how small, they all make a difference." He smiled, "And if for nothing else, and trust me there's plenty more, you'll always hold a special place in my life for it."
He saw Dustin's face fall, "But would I be someone you'd be interested in having a relationship with?"
Seth was shocked at the idea of him having a chance at a relationship with this man he'd secretly loved since he was thirteen. Momentarily he was caught off guard, and all the progress he'd accomplished over the past few years just crumbled. He felt the blood rise in his face as he looked down at his meal, "I'll be anything you'd want me to be." he half-whispered.
"What if I just want you to be yourself?" Dustin asked.
Seth screwed up his courage and looked his best friend in the eye, "Are we having two different conversations here?"
"I think so," Dustin told him. "Why don't you tell me which one you think we're having. Because I know which one I'm having."
"Well, at first I thought you were hinting at maybe us getting together as…, a…, a…, couple." He felt himself blush.
"Well, that's the conversation I thought I was having," Dustin told him. "But it seems that the conversation has taken a weird turn somewhere along the way."
Seth sighed, "Do you want to see if we can be a couple?"
"Would I have asked otherwise?" Dustin told him. "You may not have spoken to me in five years, but I haven't changed all that much."
Seth thought about it for a moment and realized that Dustin was right, "No you wouldn't. You always did go after what ever it was you wanted." He sat and stared at his steak for long moments. This was it. His chance beyond chances to have what he'd always dreamed of, but believed out of his reach. He was about to blow it and knew it. He could sense Dustin's gaze on him. Finally he looked up said decisively, "I want this." He was surprised at the growl he heard in his voice.
Dustin smiled at him and pointed to the steak, "Eat your dinner. You're going to need your strength."
Seth looked down at his food and then back up at Dustin, "So, if you were interested in me, then why didn't you say something in high school? I'd have done anything you wanted then."
"Because once I had you, I wasn't going to let you go," Dustin replied, "and I knew neither of us were ready for that then. Because you would have done anything I wanted then, and I want you to do it because you want it."
Seth smiled at him, "That's some compliment."
Two hours later, Dustin was nervously leading Seth into his living room. "Seth, I've got just one quick question."
The smaller man looked up and smiled, "Yeah?"
"You a top or a bottom?" he felt the blood rise to his face.
"What do you think?" Seth answered.
"I'd say versatile, but give me an answer." Dustin told him.
Seth smiled, "I've done both." Dustin could see him considering something, "But to be honest, I prefer to be the top."
Dustin found himself both surprised and relieved, "Good." He took the smaller man and led him to the bedroom in the back of the house.
"I take it you're a bottom then?" Seth asked.
"For the most part," he smiled over at Seth. "But if I remember correctly, this may take a little getting used to." He pulled the smaller man into his arms and kissed while running his hand over the large bulge in the front of Seth's jeans. "It's been a while since I've bottomed." He began to undress the blond, "and never with anything that big."
"Dustin," Seth kissed across Dustin's neck while running his hands under Dustin's shirt, "we don't have to go that far if you don't want to."
"Bite your tongue," Dustin told him. "I've been waiting to get my hands on you since high school."
Seth pushed the shirt up and gently locked his teeth on the nub on Dustin's chest, "How 'bout I bite this instead?"
The effect sent a shiver of electricity down Dustin's spine directly to his groin. He heard a tearing sound at the front of his jeans as he sprang to hardness. He realized this was one of those times when parahuman levels of strength were not an advantage. "I hate to break your stride here, but I need to get out of these before they start chaffing."
He felt Seth's hand encircle him. "Looks like you're already out of them." Seth pushed him back onto the bed. Before he stopped bouncing he felt something warm and wet slide over him. He was surprised at the smaller man's aggressiveness in bed while small hands worked rapidly to remove the rest of his jeans.
Lying back he was content to let Seth set the pace. For just a moment, he wondered if he would be able to keep up. Seth never let up his ministrations, yet he managed to completely undress the bigger man. "You know this is supposed to be a mutual grope session."
Seth pulled off Dustin for a second, "I've wanted to do this since I was thirteen. Shut up and enjoy it. I know I am." Then he returned to what he was doing.
"Then do us a favor," Dustin told him. "Swing around. You're not the only one who's been waiting years for this."
Dustin heard the sound of ripping cloth, as Seth adjusted himself. He felt something light tickle him as a large mass brushed across his face. Looking up, he saw that Seth had lost his concentration and let his wings unfurl from their normally shrunken places on his back and ankles. A sharp musky odor met his nostrils as the object of his quest hove into view.
Dustin reached out and joined Seth in the mutual administering of pleasure as he felt his own passion rise.
For long moments, he and Seth rocked back and forth. Each rising to meet the need in the other. Their lovemaking was everything he'd ever dreamed and more. Slowly he felt the pressure in him rise, and just before he'd go over the edge, Seth would back off, and nibble for a while. Finally, when he was sure he could take no more, Dustin felt Seth release his own passion in tandem with his own. As he felt the body over him spasm in ecstasy, something lashed out over them and struck the light, plunging the room in darkness. "Ooops," Seth said, as his wing settled back down.
"I guess that's the hazard of making love to an angel," Dustin told the smaller man pulling him up to snuggle on top and to allow the wings to unfurl. Off to the side, he heard his alarm clock swept from the nightstand by an errant wing.
Seth snuggled in close and wrapped his wing over Dustin, "I'm no angel."
FOURTEEN YEARS EARLIER: THE ACADEMY
Dustin watched as the rest of his team closed with the sophomore class. They'd been practicing their combat maneuvers for several weeks, and Dr. Green was finally letting them go toe to toe with live targets. Now was his chance to try out some of the tactics they'd been practicing. The only problem was that their targets had a year's experience on them.
Today's mission was a simple one: search and destroy. The sophomore team was to avoid detection and capture across the simulated city block while his team was to find and subdue them. He'd sent Moonwind into the air for aerial recon with his twin Feral on the ground. He had Morn, Edge and the twins Eclipse, and Scream fanning out behind her. Stride had stayed back with him to act as quick back-up as they made their way through the simulated concrete canyons of a major American city.
Up above him, he saw a flash of dark as Moonwind left what they commonly called stealth mode- which was in reality a size reduction to only a few inches tall- and went into a stoop- their pre-arranged signal to let the others know he'd spotted something. At the last minute, Dustin saw the smaller boy pull out of the dive and disappear again.
"Eclipse, you and Scream give Feral some back up." He directed the others to flank the target. His plan was simple, keep his people together- he knew the opposing team had a shape shifter with them- and pick off the sophomores one by one.
Suddenly, a scream of energy cut the air, and he looked up to see a dark winged form spiraling out of control from above, smoke trailing behind him. "Stride, Moonwind has been hit, check him out!" Before the sound of his words had died away, the tall black boy who would one day become his police partner was gone in a streak.
A second bolt of energy split the air. He dove for cover as the electrical charge passed harmlessly overhead and punched a hole through the concrete wall behind him, "What the hell! They're using live fire! This is supposed to be a training exercise!"
Coming out of his roll, he looked up to see Feral standing behind Red Scorpion, the sophomore team's blaster. The tall Hispanic boy was collapsing to the ground with a rather satisfying thud. "Moonwind's down for the count, boss man. Looks like he took one of Scorpion's blasts full force in the face." Lionel's voice came over their com links.
"See if you can get him to safety, and then get back here. This is not supposed to be a live fire exercise. Somebody changed the rules on us, and I'm going to make them pay for every second Seth's out."
"Yes sir," and before the static in his earpiece cleared, Stride was back beside him. "Seth's at the infirmary station. Dr. Green looks fit to be tied."
Suddenly something came barreling out of a nearby building. Shoving Lionel out of the way, he turned and faced the charging form of the opposing team's brick. The tall girl, code named Granite, with her rock- hard gray skin had built up a lot of momentum with her charge. Dustin used it against her. Ducking the rather clumsy feint to his head, he side- stepped and blocked the more dangerous blow to his midsection. Clamping down on her wrist, he twisted and whip-lashed her into the metal door of the warehouse off to his right. It made a satisfying clang as she went through it leaving sparks to fly from her skin as she skidded across the concrete floor.
Before she could get up, Lionel was on her with a length of nearby heavy-duty cabling. In a matter of seconds, he'd wrapped her from head to toe in the stuff. "Count her as down and captured, boss man!" Lionel gave him a satisfying wink.
Another flash of darkness caught his attention. Turning back toward the building where the others had been closing he saw it was now completely hidden from sight. "Eclipse, if the rest of your team can't see, then the darkness doesn't help!" he sent over the com.
"Chill out Challenger, we got it worked out," Eclipse's brother Scream radioed back. "We got them right where." he never finished his statement. There was an intense of flash of heat and cold, and then the darkness dropped. Looking over he saw Scream lying on the ground, along with the rest of Sophomore team. Feral, Morn, Edge, and Eclipse were all standing there looking rather pleased with themselves.
Feral leaned down and helped Scream to his feet. Dustin got the impression that he didn't like what ever it was she told him, because his eyes went very wide, and the color drained from his face. Looking closely at the scene he noticed a thick coating of ice all along the floor and walls. Embedded in the ice were the remaining members of the Sophomore Team, all immobilized by Morn's ice-wall. "Good work Team. Top marks. You are the first freshman class to ever survive this exercise intact." Dr. Green's voice came over the com links. "Now if you would kindly release your captives, we'll proceed with the debriefings."
The next several hours were spent discussing what tactics had been successful and what hadn't worked. Dustin kept looking around for Seth, but the smaller boy never appeared. Finally, at the end of the session, he'd approached the headmistress, "Ma'am, I've got a team member missing. How's Seth?"
"He's been taken to the infirmary. He took a pretty hefty blast to the face, and then a very long fall," she'd told him.
"Is he hurt bad?" Dustin asked afraid of the answer he would hear.
"We're not sure. We don't think so. He heals pretty fast. Doctor Wells wants to keep him overnight for observation though."
"What happened today, Doctor Green?" Dustin shook his head, "This wasn't supposed to be a live fire exercise."
The tall woman put a hand on his shoulder, "No it wasn't. Someone didn't understand their instructions. I'll take care of it though. It won't happen again." Dustin got the feeling that someone on the sophomore team was going to be in for some serious trouble.
"Thank you ma'am." He turned to go back to his team.
"Oh, and Wallace?"
"You did good out there. I've never seen a team come together this fast," She told him. "You guys have real potential."
"Thank you ma'am."
"You're not going alone," Dustin told him flatly, as they entered to the kitchen.
"I can't take anybody with me, Dusty." Seth replied. "Especially you."
"Why not?" Dustin demanded.
"Because, somebody has to stay here and look after the children. Like it or not, you're the team leader. They'll look up to you. They'll follow you in case I fail." Seth told him.
"Without back up you will fail Seth," Dustin took a deep breath, "You can't do it alone. That UN team will eat you alive."
"I have to do it alone. If they have any inkling that you guys are still around, they'll come after you. They'll come after Lee, and the rest of the children. You know what Riyadh is like. I won't subject my sister and the rest of the girls to becoming that." Seth had seen the reports of what it was like for women, even paras in the Saudi concentration camp the UN used. He would not allow his sister to become breeding stock.
"It won't come to that," Dustin told him. "Besides, if you're captured you know what they'll do to you." Seth did know. His features were particularly popular in the breeding program run by the radical Muslim regime in Saudi Arabia. When his particular genetic code came to light, and they realized he neither could nor would perform with a woman, then he had no allusions as to what would happen to him.
Seth took a deep breath and looked Dustin in the eye. This was one subject he couldn't lie to his lover about. He owed him that much, "I know this is probably a no-win scenario, Dusty. I also know that there is no way I'll ever let them take me alive." He drew his shoulders back, "If it comes down to it, trust me, you guys won't have to rescue me this time."
"And it won't come to that either," Dustin was almost shouting. Seth hated to do this to the man he loved more than life itself. It was because of that love that he knew he had to. "I won't let it. You're not going alone."
"How do you intend to stop me?" he asked coldly.
Whatever Dustin's answer might have been it was lost in the sound of the doorbell. Dusty gave him a "this isn't over look" and answered it, "What?"
A tall balding man in his late thirties wearing a three-piece suit was standing at the door, a small black briefcase in hand. "Is this the residence of Seth Plainwalker?"
Dustin nodded, 'Yes."
"I'm James Knox. I'm from the Office of Homeland Security. Can I speak with Mr. Plainwalker?" The man had the definite appearance of someone who'd come hat in hand to ask a favor, he didn't want to ask.
"You're ride's here," Dustin told Seth angrily.
"I don't understand," Knox said. I'm not here to pick up anyone."
"You'll have to excuse my partner, Mr. Knox. You've come at an awkward moment."
The man looked at both of them, "It would seem so. But I have to speak with you tonight, Mr. Plainwalker." He looked around nervously, "Is your partner fully aware of your previous employment?"
Seth smiled, "Mr. Plainwalker, I take it you're from the Commission?" Seth waited for the man's nod. "Trust me Mr. Knox. My partner knows all about it."
"Good. Then this won't be as difficult as it could be. He probably needs to hear this too." The man said as he looked past them and out toward the back area of the house. "Is there some place where we can talk in private?"
"How about the study," Seth told him. He took Dustin's hand, hoping to call a truce until they were in private. He hated airing dirty laundry in public.
"That would be fine," he followed the two men into the large room, he and Dustin had designated a study, mainly because library sounded too ostentatious. It was simply a quiet cozy room with a stone fireplace, several comfortable chairs, and walls lined with books.
Knox went over to one of the low tables at the edge of the room and opened his briefcase. Pulling a laptop from it, he went about setting it up. "You understand that what is said in this room, must not leave this room, don't you. Until you are told otherwise, this conversation never took place."
Seth and Dustin nodded, "We understand Mr. Knox."
"Good," turning he faced the two, "I wont' be doing the talking however. What has to be said, has to come from the top. I'm just a messenger of sorts." Behind him the screen of the laptop leapt to life to reveal the Seal of the President of the United States. He turned back to the laptop and spoke into the microphone on its side, "Go ahead sir.'
The seal cleared to reveal a man to whom he never in a million years would have considered speaking. "Hello Mr. Plainwalker," the man said in a soft Texan drawl.
"Good evening Mr. President," Seth told him. "This is an honor, and something of a shock."
"I'm sorry about that, and please forgive me for interrupting your barbeque, but this is urgent. Short of flying you out to DC, which would have tipped my hand, this was the best I could arrange. I understand that you developed the encryption codes that make this a secure line."
Seth nodded, "yes sir."
The man smiled, "Good work. Now, on to the business at hand. You've been asked to attend that Conference day after tomorrow. I want you to turn it down. I have another favor I need to ask of you."
"Go ahead Mr. President."
"Knox tells me that your Academy class is the only one that has so far evaded being captured by the UN's forces. I have my suspicions as to why there is no record of your class's graduation or even existence in Dr. Green's files. But for now that's a good thing."
"Yes sir, it is." Seth told him. Then nervously he continued, "I wonder why you consider it such though."
The man on the screen smiled, "I like that. You're cautious, you don't even trust me. That's good."
"With all due respect sir, under the circumstances I don't trust a whole lot of people. It's not like certain members of the other party were willing to protect people like me from the UN. The wife of your predecessor went out of her way to try and turn us over to Riyadh."
"That's completely understandable."
"What can I do for you Mr. President?"
"I want you to head up your old Academy Team. We need somebody to stop that God-forsaken UN team before we're forced to stop them in a matter that could bring the whole world to the brink of war."
"Mr. President," Seth began slowly "Surely you've read my ParaForce-1 psyche profile. You know I'm not a leader."
The President laughed, "Never did trust those damned things. Too many people trying to mull around in your head can cause no end of trouble." He returned to the subject at hand, "Mr. Plainwalker, I'm asking you to contact your old teammates. On behalf of the American people I'm asking you put that team back together and help us kick the UN's collective butt into next Tuesday sideways."
"Mr. President," Dustin spoke before Seth could answer, "I'm Dustin Wallace, Seth's partner. What kind of support would this team get from the US Government? I mean, will they be sanctioned as law enforcement officers or as a military unit? Will they be given access to intelligence files on the UN team?" Dustin stepped forward, "Most importantly, what kind of accommodations for the safety of their families can the government offer? I mean we're talking about a group of paras who've been denied the right to serve so they've gone on with their lives. They have families, including children to worry about."
Seth watched as the President considered Dustin's questions, "You raise a good point, Mr. Wallace. The team will be treated as a paramilitary branch of the FBI, with broad law enforcement powers. They'll be given access to the latest technology, and intelligence information. As for the families protection, we've considered that." The man gave both him and Dustin a broad smile, "We are prepared to move in a crack team of MI agents to protect their families."
Dustin looked over at Seth and smiled. "May we have a few a few minutes, Mr. President." He glanced over at Seth, "We need to talk."
"Of course," Seth got the impression that the President knew exactly what was going on. No matter what the opposition might think, the man was not stupid.
"Please wait here Mr. Knox," Dustin asked their visitor while leading Seth from the room. Reaching the kitchen, "you have to give the others a chance at this. You don't have the right to turn it down for them. The government is willing to protect our families while we do what needs to be done."
Seth knew his lover was right. He didn't have the right to take this away from them, even if he thought it was wrong. "Very well," he turned to sink, "you ask them. You explain it to them."
"Okay, I'll be right back," Dustin replied but he stopped at the door. "Why are you fighting me on this Seth?"
Without turning he answered, "Because I love you. I don't want to see Sanchez do to you what he did to Block."
He felt Dustin's arms encircle him and pull him close, "I have my own issues with Jorge Sanchez. I know he was responsible for hurting your friend, but I've got a much older grudge with Red Scorpion. He won't do that to me or any of the others." Dustin squeezed him tight, "Let's talk to the them." Seth nodded his head.
FIVE YEARS AGO
Dustin lay with Seth's slight form atop him. He marveled at just how little Seth actually weighed, but realized that it was a side effect of his aerial nature. "You know this changes everything," Seth whispered into his ear.
Dustin nodded, "Uh huh. Any regrets?"
"Nope, you have no idea how long I've waited to get you right where you are now," Seth told him snuggling in close. "I'm not about to regret it."
"What now, then?" Dustin asked him.
Seth began kissing across his face and down his neck, "Oh, I think we can probably think of something." Dustin felt himself begin to respond to the little kisses and bites.
Dustin pulled Seth's face up and kissed him, feeling his lover respond. Reaching down, he stroked the slighter man, eliciting a slight groan from Seth. Looking up he told Seth, "Make love to me." Seth grinned, and smiled as he moved to accommodate Dustin's wishes.
scooted his body down the length of
Dustin’s much larger frame. He reached
down and rubbed the remains of his previous ejaculation over the head
rather large member, and then grinned and dropped a large dollop of
spit on it
as well. Looking over at Dustin, he
winked at him and then suddenly began to shrink his body.
As he became smaller, so did the long member
sticking from juncture between his legs, until it was no longer than
middle finger. Seth then leaned in and
placed the head of his manhood at Dustin’s entrance and pushed in. When he was buried to the hilt, he leaned
over Dustin and began to grow back to his normal size.
Dustin had bottomed before, but it had always taken time after the initial pain of entrance to become pleasure. This was a smooth transition, with a simple stretching that left him with a satisfied feeling of being full. A gasp escaped Dustin's throat, as waves of pleasure pulsed through is body. "My God," he found himself half-shouting as Seth began to enter and withdraw from him.
Seth smiled above him, "vocal aren't we." Twisting in an almost impossible angle, he bent down and kissed Dustin, his tongue probing deeply.
Slowly Seth made love to him. When it became almost too much for Dustin to take, the smaller man would stop or shift his angle to hold back the rising wave of pleasure that threatened to break too soon. Dustin was amazed at how well this man could read his responses, answering his every need, almost before Dustin knew what they were himself.
He could see a reflection of what he was feeling reflected in Seth's face over him, as their passion rose. He felt/heard Seth groan loudly into his mouth, as the blond began to increase the power and speed of their lovemaking. Something crashed around them as he felt his soul suddenly explode into a thousand fragments, as Seth reached the same point.
Collapsing on top of him, Seth whispered into his ear, "You know I've always loved you."
Before he could answer, the phone rang on the floor. Looking around the bedroom he realized it was a wreck. The bed had collapsed and the ceiling fan in the room was rocking back and forth wildly. "This is Dustin," he said into the phone.
"This is Joe Martin," his neighbor's voice came over the phone, "Is everything all right over there? It sounds like somebody's throwing the furniture around."
Dustin blushed, "Everything's fine Mr. Martin. I'm sorry to disturb you. It won't happen again."
"As long as you're having fun," the man chuckled. "I just wanted to make sure there wasn't a fire fight or something."
"Thank you Mr. Martin." Dustin told him. "Goodbye Mr. Martin." Dustin hung up the phone and burst out laughing.
"We got a little too loud I take it," Seth rolled off him, and Dustin suddenly felt empty.
"Mr. Martin thought I was tossing the furniture around." He looked around the room, to see the wreckage. "I guess this is what happens when two people who can juggle Buicks make love." Dustin realized that he'd never been able to cut loose with a lover before. There had always been that sense of holding something back for fear of hurting them. With Seth, he'd let himself go without even realizing it, because deep down he knew that he'd never hurt him.
"Sound proofing for the bedroom sounds like a good idea," Seth told him.
"Better yet, move the bedroom to the basement," Dustin replied and kissed him. "That trick with your shrinking."
"What about it?" Seth asked.
"It was the most sensuous thing I've ever felt." Dustin told him. Then he smiled, "And by the way, the feeling's mutual." Seth smiled and kissed him again.
THIRTEEN YEARS AGO: SOPHMORE YEAR AT ACADEMY
Seth stood in the shadows watching his teammates on the dance floor. For the most part, his friends had already paired off. His sister had surprised him though, by dancing with Robbie Anderson and not with Dustin. Seth, Sarah, and Dustin had been friends since they were in kindergarten, and he had always thought that the two of them would become a couple. Instead, Dustin was dancing with a shy red-headed girl with a Scottish accent from the visiting school.
Lionel and Tabitha were dancing alongside Richie and Miguelena, and Dustin and his partner were off in a corner. He savagely crushed the brief flash of jealous hatred for the young Scot that welled up inside him. "You always sit in the darkness and watch your classmates?" a voice said from behind him.
Turning he found himself staring directly into the rather prominent chest of one of the chaperones from the visiting school. Looking up he saw that she was a pretty woman with flaming red hair, and green eyes. "No ma'am." He smiled, "I'm just not a very good dancer."
The woman leaned back against the wall, crossed her arms and looked out on the dance floor. "Some how I get the feeling there's more to it than that," the woman told him.'
Seth shrugged, "There's a limited number of appropriate partners with which to engage." Seth found himself hiding behind the dictionary that was his vocabulary.
"Or perhaps the one partner, isn't available?" the woman smiled at him.
Seth found himself blushing deeply. When the woman looked at him, he got the feeling that she was looking directly into his soul, "Perhaps I'm just not accustomed to the rhythm and style of the selection," he lied.
"Maybe you should ask someone else to dance and see if you get a reaction out of your quarry," she told him.
Seth shrugged, "who'd want to dance with me?"
"Who've you asked?"
"How do you know that you don't have thousand of partners out there waiting to dance with you," she smiled at him.
"Because there are less than two hundred participants in this particular event," Seth told her.
"Okay, then maybe tens of potential partners." She smiled, "I'll tell you what, let me introduce you to someone." She gently guided him out of the shadows to where a brunette girl about his age was standing. Seth got the impression that she wished she was somewhere else entirely. "Seth, this is Katherine. Katherine, this is Seth, he's looking for a dance partner. I thought you might like to oblige him."
"Hi," she said shyly, as the teacher moved off.
"Hi," Seth told her, "Sorry about that. She found me trying to hide in the shadows. I'll go away if you want."
"You too huh?" She told him. "No, this is a time when I think there might be safety in numbers."
"You might be right," Seth told her shyly. "You look about as comfortable here as I am."
"So how did you get drug into this?" She smiled, "Me, it was kicking and screaming."
"This is where my friends are," Seth shrugged. "I didn't have any where else to be." He looked off to where Dustin was talking to the little red-haired girl.
"Don't worry. Your friend's all right. She's harmless. She wouldn't know what to do with a boy if one bit her."
Seth blushed deeply, "So, you wouldn't want to dance with me would you?"
Seth watched her think about it a second, "Okay, but I've got to warn you. I've got two left feet."
"You don't have to if you don't want to," Seth told her.
"Will it keep the chaperones from stalking us?"
"Maybe," Seth told her.
"I'm willing to give it a shot." she replied leading him out onto the dance floor.
Seth was surprised at how much he enjoyed the dancing. He wished he was dancing with Dusty instead of this girl, but at least he was dancing. Katherine was a safe alternative to what he wanted, and after a few minutes he found himself lost into the strains of "Bat Dance". "Why don't you go get something to drink shrimp," a male voice with a Spanish accent interrupted his dance, just before he was shoved to the side. Looking up from where he landed on the floor, he saw a tall dark skinned boy standing over him. Before he could get up, the boy lifted Seth off his feet and carried him to the edge of the dance floor to a large garbage can, "Better yet, why don't you just sit this one out." Seth was rather ungraciously dropped feet-first into the plastic can.
As he climbed out of the can he felt himself steadied by someone else, "Why didn't you wipe the floor up with him?" Dustin asked.
"Because we're not supposed to use what Dr. Green is teaching us at the school," Seth told him trying to hide the humiliation he felt.
Seth felt Dustin pull his head around to face him, "To hell with Dr. Green. The next time someone picks on you, you defend yourself. Because if you don't, they'll just keep doing it. Dr. Green doesn't have to live our lives."
Seth just nodded and looked around. "I'll try to remember that."
First chance he got, he slipped from the party. Returning to his room, he cried himself to sleep that night- hating what he was, and what he was wanting.
Dustin led Seth back out to the pool area. By now, the adults had all joined the kids in a vicious game of water polo in the shallow end. He watched Seth nervously approach the edge of the pool, and squat down by the water. "Uh guys, can we talk?"
Robbie tossed Lee to his mother and answered, "Sure, what's up Long John?"
Dustin watched Seth turn several shades of red, as he blushed deeply at the old jab. "You know what we were talking about earlier?"
"Yeah," Sarah caught her son and looked at him, "and the answer still stands. You aren't going without us."
Dustin crossed his arms and smiled to himself. It was about time that Seth finally realized that although he might think he was expendable, none of the rest of the team did. Seth sighed, shook his head and continued, "It just got a whole lot more complicated. You won't believe who just asked me not to go."
"Your mother?" Miguelena joked as she leaned into Richie who had their daughter Melissa on his shoulders.
Seth shook his head, but before he could answer, Dustin decided it was best to come to his partner's rescue. This was after all serious, "The President," he told them.
Several eyebrows quickly went up, "Of the United States?" Lionel asked. "You know, one of the three surviving countries where we aren't sent to concentration camps?"
"That would be the man," Dustin replied as he went over and sat on the pool's edge next to Seth. "He's got a proposal for us." He grinned, "Actually it was for Seth to propose to us, but I wouldn't let him turn it down until he asked you guys."
"You'd do that to us, Seth?" Lionel asked.
Seth nodded, "If I thought it would keep you alive and out of Riyadh: in a heart beat." Dustin could hear a steel in his voice that surprised even him. Then shaking his head, he continued, "But Dustin's right. You do at least have the right to know that the proposal is on the table."
"What proposal?" Tabitha asked.
"He wants us to become the new Para-Force 1," Dustin told them.
"Does he now?" Richie asked pulling himself out of the pool. "And what did you tell him?"
"I haven't told him anything yet," Seth told him. "I've got him waiting on hold."
"On hold?" Lionel asked. "You put the President of the free world on hold." Shaking his head he chuckled, "Boy you are one warped little bird."
"He's willing to give us broad enforcement powers and send in some MI specialist to protect the kids." Turning he looked over at Dustin and there was something in his eyes that sent a chill down Dustin's spine. "I wouldn't have even considered it, without some kind of protections for them."
"What's the man's proposal?" Robbie asked.
"We're to deal with the UN team. Take them out." Seth told him. He shook his head, "This isn't an Academy exercise. People are going to die in this one. Hopefully, it won't be as bad as our last mission for Dr. Green, but some or all of us could end up dead."
"And these MI specialists?" Sarah asked as she handed Lee to Dustin and began to pull herself out of the pool. "How far can we trust them?"
Seth shrugged, "They're US military special-forces. I've dealt with them before when I was on Para-Force 1. They're dedicated, and they're good."
"Somebody higher up is not going to get the bright idea to use our kids as bait are they," Miguelena asked.
Seth shook his head, "I don't know. I can't guarantee to you what some mid-level bureaucrat is going to do. I can tell you that these guys are not likely to take their job of protecting the kids lightly. They've done this kind of thing before."
"As long as they don't mind being sent to the Res or Little Tokyo," Tabitha told them.
"They're good at keeping themselves hidden," Seth told her. Dustin could see pain in his eyes, "They took care of a friend of mine's kid when I was on the team. I never really knew they were there."
"All right," Sarah looked over at Robbie who nodded to her, "If something happens to them, I'll eat them."
"Cool! Mom's gonna' growl!" Lee beamed up to Dustin. "And I'm not even in trouble this time."
Dustin tousled his nephew's hair, "Yeah, your Mom's going to growl kiddo, but you can't tell anybody about this conversation."
"Not even the grandmas?" he asked.
"Especially not the grandmas, you let us handle the grandmas." Tabitha told Lee taking the boy from Dustin. Looking over at him she asked, "How about keeping them here. Didn't you tell me you bought all the desert land between the Res and Little Tokyo?"
Dustin nodded. She was right of course. He and Seth had gotten a really good deal on the land that stretched from the suburb of San Medilla known as Little Tokyo out to edge of the Reservation. Somehow, the little guy had talked him into buying it all. Of course, the money they'd used had been primarily Seth's but they did discuss major purchases, and that much land was a major purchase, even if it is desert. Seth had said he wanted his privacy. Dustin suspected he just wanted a place where he could fly without being seen. Dustin just wanted a place where he could lay out with nothing on and soak up the sun. "Yeah, your brother insisted that he wanted his privacy."
Sarah shook her head sand smiled, "I know my brother. He just wanted a place where he could have you all to himself."
Dustin watched Seth blush again, "Then there is that."
"Nah," Tabitha said. "He just wants Dusty without tan lines."
"Uh guys," Robbie said, "Long John has the President on hold."
"Yeah, but that discussion is on hold. We're onto something else." Lionel smiled.
"Uncle Seth, why does Robbie call you Long John?" Lee asked.
Everybody turned to face Robbie, and Sarah finally broke the silence,
"Well Lee, it's like this. Your Uncle Seth takes a long time in the john," Robbie smiled and lied.
"Oh, you mean like Mommy when she's getting ready to go out with you?" Lee asked.
"Yeah," Sarah told him.
"What should I tell the President?" Seth asked. "That you aren't interested and that I'll just have to do it by myself." He added quickly turning to leave. Dustin lashed out and grabbed him by the back of the collar.
"Move Bird Boy and I'll turn you into a scratching post," Sarah threatened. For a second Dustin wasn't sure if she was kidding.
"You can go tell him that we'll be happy to take care of his problem for him, as long as he can take care of certain security matters that meet with our approval."
Seth stopped, and Dustin saw his eyes harden as he turned and faced them all, "You know, there's no way to do this, and keep your identities from the government." He shook his head, "I went to a lot of trouble burying you guys." He sighed, "You also realize that we're not seventeen anymore. We've been out of action as a team for ten years."
Dustin sighed, "There are some things you don't forget Seth." Looking around at his friends, "and working with these guys is one of them. You'll see, we'll be back to clockwork in no time."
Seth shook his head, "I'll give the President your answer." Pulling away from Dustin's grip he headed into the house, head bowed.
"You aren't going with him?" Richie asked.
Dustin shook his, "No. This is something he's got to do on his own."
"Why's he fighting us about this?" Robbie asked as he shooed the children toward the play area.
"Because he's at the top of the UN's hit list, and they're going to make a special point to come after him as soon as he sticks those black wings of his out in the open." He sighed, "And because he's right. Once we take that step, we can never go back. We'll be a team again, but our lives will be changed forever. The government will always know who we are, and where to find us from this point on. We won't be able to slip back into obscurity. From this day forward, the kids will always have some kind of security detail." He turned and looked at the kids, "And he doesn't want to see what happened to Block happen to any of us. He won't admit it, but that is the biggest factor."
"Why is he so obsessed with what happened to Block?" Sarah asked, Dustin could hear something else in her voice, a worry all her own.
Dustin sat down and looked over to make sure the kids couldn't hear. "I don't know if I should tell you this or not."
"But you're going to," Sarah ordered. Dustin nodded, "Block and Seth were lovers when Seth was on Para- Force-1." He watched the color drain from Sarah's face.
THREE YEARS AGO:
Seth looked over at the others gathered in Dustin's backyard and swallowed hard. Over the past five years, he'd faced more costumed paras bent on everything from taking over the world to cornering the world's cheese market, but never anything this difficult. Dealing with the world as Moonwind was sometimes a whole lot easier than as Seth Plainwalker.
He'd moved into Dustin's over a year ago, and the two had been pretty much inseparable. Although he suspected that some of their friends might have begun to guess the nature of their relationship, neither man had yet to confirm or deny anything. For the most part, they kept any displays of affection private, and rarely gave any indication that they were much more than the best friends that they'd always seemed to be. "So what's the big news?" Tabitha asked as Lionel helped her slowly lower her very pregnant form into a chair under the shade of an elm.
"Uh, Dusty and I are going to build a house," Seth told her.
"So what's the big deal about that?" Richie asked, "We all figured that you two would buy a brothel somewhere in Nevada and split the girls between you." He laughed and dodged the diaper bag Miguelena threw at him.
"Somehow I don't think that particular idea appeals to either one of them," Sarah smiled as she put Lee down and gently tapped the side of her nose. Seth knew he'd never be able to hide the nature of his and Dustin's relationship from her sharp olfactory senses.
"Why not?" Richie asked. "They're both healthy unattached men in the prime of their lives."
Lionel smiled and chimed in, "that's just it Richie. They're not unattached." Seth watched with a smile as Lionel pounded Dusty's back. "I think they're trying to tell us that they're getting married."
Richie gave Lionel a strange look, "To whom? Neither one of them have brought anybody around for us to meet."
"Don't you mean approve or disapprove of?" Miguelena asked.
"Well that too," Richie told his wife. "I mean it'll take somebody pretty special to fit into this group."
Dusty smiled, "I don't know about Seth, but I think I've found somebody pretty special."
Seth felt himself turn a deep shade of red and nodded, "I'd say mine's pretty special too."
"Then when do we get to meet them?" Richie asked.
Seth looked over to where Robbie was clearing his throat, as his eyes widened in realization. "I think you've already met both of them."
Richie looked confused, "when?"
"Oh, I'd say the first day of school back at the Academy. You know when Dr. Green introduced us all."
"I don't understand. There's never been more than three females on this team."
"Exactly," Dustin told him. He put an arm around Richie's shoulders, "Maybe we weren't interested in any of the females on the team. We figured we'd leave that to you, Lionel, and Robbie."
Richie looked up, the situation dawning on his face, "Whew, that's a relief! For a while there, I thought we were going to have to break in an outsider."
"So you guys are cool with this?" Seth asked tentatively.
Robbie shrugged, "Why wouldn't we be. I have to agree with Richie, we'd much rather see you two guys together than have to adjust to someone from outside trying to come in."
Seth had always wondered about that. He'd always suspected that Dr. Green and the PF-1 psychiatrist were right about their inability to accept outsiders in their group. They'd become so close as to be almost a family. "I'm not sure how to take that, Robbie. I mean are you telling me that you're happy for us, or that it is the lesser of the two evils that might include someone else taking an important part in our lives."
Seth watched his friend consider his question. Finally, he smiled and pulled Seth into a hug, "Both. I'm glad you're happy and have found someone, and I'm glad it's someone we already know and love."
He felt himself passed off to someone else, and recognized his sister's scent immediately, "I'm happy for you too Bro. Although I'm a little hurt that you felt you had to hide it from me for this long."
"Who's hiding?" Seth asked. "I just didn't feel like talking about my love life to my sister. After all, she hasn't exactly been all that forthcoming about hers with me."
"Touché," she replied. "But then again, I don't go around smelling like Dustin all the time."
He smiled up at his taller sister, "that's a good thing. Otherwise we'd really have that fight grandfather always said he was afraid we'd get into."
"Nah, you can keep him. He's too muscle-bound for my tastes."
"Gee thanks, Sarah." Dusty told her.
"It's the truth. I've had enough lovers who can bench press a tank." She winked at him, "too many bruises in places that are difficult to explain."
Seth just shook his head and laughed, "that's TMI sis- too much information."
TWELVE YEARS AGO: JUNIOR YEAR AT THE ACADEMY
Dustin gave Mr. Bin Sahid a hard look, "Would you like to explain that to me again?"
The man blinked at him, and Dustin got the distinct impression that he was not used to being questioned, "I thought my English was perfectly clear. Your teammates were unfortunate casualties of a conflict with a rogue Iraqi contingent left behind after their retreat. There were no survivors."
Dustin felt as if he'd been hit in the gut, his voice came out barely above a whisper, "I want to see the bodies."
"That won't be possible." Bin Sahid began but Dustin cut him off.
"Don't tell me what is possible, and what's not." He felt the blood rise in his face, as he locked eyes with the man, "That wasn't a request."
"I am a Prince of the Saudi."
"I don't care if you're Mohammed himself," Dustin replied, "I want to see the bodies of my friends. Either you arrange it, or I'll take this city apart" he growled, "starting with you."
"Obviously, you are upset, perhaps when you speak with Dr. Green."
"I think you'd better do as he says Mr. Bin Sahid," Dustin could hear the controlled anger in Lionel's voice. Tabitha was a part of Seth's team dealing with the fires started by Sadaam Hussein's forces as they retreated from Kuwait. That team had been sent from Riyadh into the Kuwaiti oil fields to put out the fires. "We are in no mood for platitudes. We came to help deal with the environmental disaster here, and you're government has been less than hospitable."
A low growl came from somewhere behind Lionel and for just a moment, Dustin feared Sarah's reaction to the news more than his own or Lionel's. "I want to see my brother, Mr. Bin Sahid."
Dustin could see the man stare past him at the Sarah's pseudo-cat form, "I don't take orders from. girls."
Before Sarah could react, Dustin lashed out and shoved the man against the stonewall. He felt a rush of wind blast through the room and knew that Lionel had disarmed the Kalishnakov-carrying body guards of the Prince. "You will take orders from me, and take me to my friends or you'll be a dead Prince."
"The King will not stand for this." He could hear the fear in the man's voice.
"It doesn't matter what the King will stand for, you'll be just as dead, and this city will be a rubble pile." Dustin was surprised to realize that he meant it. Where his friends were concerned, he was willing to kill.
Prince Bin Sahid swallowed, and nodded. "What of the UNIPACT forces? Do you think they'll let you get away with this?"
Dustin lifted the man off the floor by the front of his robes, "I'm not worried about the UN forces. They're all a bunch of Deltas. They're not even in the same league as us."
Dustin slung the man across the room, and watched as he skidded across the polished floor. He was getting fed up with being treated like a second or third class citizen by the people whom he'd come to help. Now they wanted to tell him his friends were dead, and he couldn't see the bodies. Something stunk here and Dustin suspected it wasn't the burning petroleum fields. He turned to look at his friends, "We start looking for them now."
"Dusty?..." Seth's weak voice was coming over the radio link in his mask and for just a moment, Dustin felt his heart soar. They were alive after all! At least Seth was.
Without replying, he nodded at the others to follow him into the courtyard. Waiting until safely out of the Saudi's sight, he resisted the urge to reach up and touch the earpiece. "Seth, that you buddy?"
"Groggy., they used some kind of gas., room won't stop spinning," came the weak voice of his oldest friend in the world. He felt a huge sense of relief wash over him.
"Where are you? What happened?"
".surrounded in the fields. Hit us with some kind of gas before we could ." suddenly he was cut off by a thud.
"Seth!? Seth!?" he whispered into the hidden microphone. Finally turning to the others he said, "I guess you heard that."
Lionel nodded, "Somebody's lying to us."
"No duh," Sarah said, as she walked past him to stand in front of Dustin, "And you want to be a detective." Looking up at Dustin, she gave him a sharp-toothed smile, her tail twitching nervously behind her. "You're the boss, Challenger. What you want us to do?"
"We find our friends." Dustin replied.
"How?" Richie asked as he looked nervously over at his own twin, Robbie.
Dustin shrugged, "the only way I know how. We bust some heads until somebody talks."
"Sounds like as good a plan as any," Sarah said as she turned back toward the low-slung dormitory they'd just left. Dustin noted that the six-inch claws she normally kept carefully sheathed were peaking from the tips of her fingertips "I'll start with Prince Bin Sahid."
"Just don't kill him," Dustin told her as she disappeared into the building.
Several cat screams later Dustin and the others entered the room behind her. All four of the Prince's bodyguards were lying in a large heap off to one side. The Prince was blubbering to himself in a corner. Dustin caught the distinct odor of urine in the room. "Now tell me where you've taken my brother, and I may even let you get out of here," she raked a single claw up the side of his robes from kneecap to groin, "and you might even escape intact."
The man muttered something in Arabic and looked over her shoulder toward Dustin. "Challenger, you can't let this happen."
Dustin smiled, "You don't understand Prince bin Sahid, I've known Feral and Moonwind most of my life. She's never been very stable where her twin is concerned." He shook his head, "If she decides to kill you, there's really very little I can do about it. Except maybe make her apologize to your family. I would tell her what she wants to know."
"I don't know where they've taken the detainees."
"Detainees?" Lionel asked, anger apparent in his voice , "Since when are Academy students detainees?"
"Since they were seen uncovered and unescorted in the oil fields," Bin Sahid blubbered. "We tried to explain to the Imam that they were guests dealing with an emergency situation, but he insisted on prosecuting them under Wahabi law.
"So you told us they'd been killed by Iraqi forces?" Dustin shook his head. "This doesn't make sense Mr. Bin Sahid. You're still not telling us everything."
"I'm just telling you what I know," the man seemed near panic.
"You can tell me where they are," Sarah leaned down in the man's face.
"I don't know where they are," the Prince was almost pleading.
"Then you can tell me who does know." Dustin came over and asked. "I won't ask again."
Dustin could see the conflict in the man's eyes, "Allah forgive me," he finally muttered. "They are being held at the UN facility in Medina."
"Damn, that's the other side of the desert." Robbie said.
"So?" Lionel asked. "I don't care if it's on the other side of Africa. They've got Edge and the others, and I for one am going to get them back."
"Do you really believe you are capable of evading the Saudi military for hundreds of miles, break into a UN facility and break-out three drugged parahumans?" Prince Bin Sahid asked.
Dustin looked down at the man, "Thank you for that little piece of information. Now it's starting to make sense." Dustin knew that the UN had been pressing the US and other governments to turn over their parahuman populations to them for world distribution. He just didn't know they'd go this far to get them.
He let Stride pull him off to the side and whisper, "Do you really think we should do this on our own? I mean we could report it to Dr. Green and get the senior team in here and help us?"
Dustin smiled at his old friend, "I wouldn't let that bunch of losers try to rescue a cat out of a tree. I think that by the time they were ready to move, they'd have moved them. I think we're going to have to hit them hard and fast." He looked around, "Didn't I see an old Huey gunship out there?"
"You're not thinking of trying to fly that thing are you?" Lionel asked. "It looks like it's Vietnam surplus."
"If it's got wings I can fly it," Dustin told him.
Lionel just smiled, "I'll be sure to tell Seth that."
Dustin felt himself blush deeply and wondered to himself if Lionel suspected just how deep his feelings for the little guy really ran.
Seth pulled the leather vest across the back of his wings and tied its laces. Sitting down, he pulled the tall doeskin boots up and then folded the tops down to hide the Velcro fasteners. Finally, he adjusted the long loincloth hanging in front of his buckskin leggings before fastening the large medicine bag he carried to his hip. His sister always kidded him that although she had the traditional Native American looks, he had the soul.
Reaching into the bag, he pulled out the half mask and pressed it to his face, adjusting the static pressers that held it into place. It took a second or two for his eyes to adjust to the glare resistant lenses embedded in the black material. Finally, he clamped a small charm bracelet on his wrist, just below the gauntlet he wore. If things went well, that bracelet would give him just the edge he was going to need. "You look good," Dustin told him,
Turning he saw Dusty standing next to Lionel- both were now dressed in updated versions of their old Academy uniforms. Seth smiled to himself at the sight of Dustin wearing the red, white, and blue again. He always was something of a Captain America. He gave a low whistle, "that's enough to make me want to go out and join up."
"Nah, you couldn't pass the height requirement, Rabbit."
"You'd think that you two had never seen each other in uniform before," Lionel shook his head.
Seth chuckled, "it has been a while. I wasn't sure that it would still fit."
Dustin stretched his arms backward and Seth couldn't help but notice how the star-spangled material clung to his shoulders and chest, "trust me Dusty, it still fits."
Dustin smiled over at him, "you just keep your mind on business."
Seth blushed, saluted, and smiled, "yes sir, Bossman sir." Turning to Lionel he said, "I must say, you haven't lost your tone either."
Lionel smiled at him, "Thanks," then after a second of contemplation, "I think." He looked back over his shoulder to see if anyone one was listening, "Look guys, with the others not around, I want your honest opinion. Seth, you probably know more about UNIPACT than the rest of us. Do you really think a bunch of thirty-something epsilon class paras who with one exception haven't worn their costumes in ten years can do this?"
Seth took a deep breath and glanced over at Dustin. After several seconds of consideration, he decided to be as honest with his friend as he could. "I'm not sure. UNIPACT may only be a bunch of deltas, but they've got us outnumbered, and they've been in action a whole lot more than we have lately. On top of that, I know they've got a complete file on me and what I can do." He sighed again, and plunged ahead with the news that he knew was going to upset Dustin, "And I know that there is a standing order that if I'm encountered, that under no circumstances am I to be allowed to escape. If they can't capture me, they've been ordered to kill me."
Seth watched as the blood drained from Dustin's face, "Why?"
Seth looked his lover in the eye, "Because they figure if I won't give my R and D stuff to them then I shouldn't give it to the Defense Department either. The thing that sticks in the UN's craw more than the fact that parahumans have protected status in the US is that we refuse to turn over advanced military technology to them." He shook his head, "the collectivist attitude isn't the most conducive to serious research." He shrugged, "I guess by taking away monetary incentives to develop any new products, they've destroyed their entrepreneurial spirit. There is a very good reason that the US has been able to stand against the rest of the world for the past few years. They've got the numbers, but we've got the technology."
Dustin came over and Seth was forced to look up into his lover's eyes. "Is this why you kept insisting that you should do this by yourself?"
Seth nodded, "I wasn't going to put you into danger because they wanted me, and I didn't want to make you and Sarah have to watch whatever they tried to do to me."
Dustin pulled Seth to him, "It's not going to happen, Seth. I won't let it."
Seth felt another hand on his shoulder, and could feel Lionel pull both into a hug, "None of us will, Seth."
"No, no, no," Tabitha's voice came from the door. "No making time with my man."
Dustin snapped his fingers in mock anger, "Drat!"
"Caught again," Seth finished, and they all smiled and separated from the embrace.
"What's going on?" Miguelena asked as she and the others joined them.
"Dustin and Seth are attempting to make time with my man again," Tabitha accused. "I really wouldn't mind, but damn it they won't even let me run the video camera."
"Now that's just selfish." Sarah said.
"I know," Tabitha replied, "what are we going to do with them?"
"Now that's a loaded question if I ever heard one." Seth heard Sarah say.
"You could all back out and let me do this the way I want to." Seth told them.
"Eh?" Lionel said. "No. You're stuck with us."
Seth shrugged, "Okay. I tried," was all Seth said. He had very bad feeling about the coming encounter.
"Yes you tried," Dustin told him. "But you're family, and you have to remember that we don't let family go off without backup."
Seth raised an eyebrow, "I seem to remember going off on my own once without backup."
"Yeah, but that was something you had to do on your own. This isn't." Dustin told him.
Seth just shook head, "You're the boss."
Dustin put his hands on his hips and gave Seth a strange look, "I'm beginning to wonder about that."
Two hours later, the whole team was gathered in the hold of a jet, winging its way east. James Knox was setting up a slide presentation and looking somewhat surprised. "I really didn't expect to be bringing the whole Academy team back. I thought it would take more to convince you than this."
"Oh, what made you think that?" Sarah asked.
"Because someone," he gave Seth a long look, "went to a great deal of effort to erase you from as many files as they could. To tell you the truth, the President wouldn't have even thought about you if his niece hadn't insisted on getting those new action figures they've been advertising."
Sarah shook her head and groaned, "Could we not talk about the new action figures please?"
"I knew I those were going to be a problem," Seth muttered under his breath.
Knox stopped what he was doing and gave Seth a serious look, "I'm just glad you're on our side Dr. Plainwalker. As it is, you could end up on charges for hacking."
"I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about," Seth dared him to prove who erased them.
Knox smiled and finished loading the files, "I see your point." He turned back to the overhead projection screen and brought up the picture of a male para wearing a UN blue and white costume with the UN symbol on his left breast. "This of course is Sentinel. Your team evidently came into conflict with him back during the Gulf War. Then he was classified as delta level para, but due to his experience, he's been recently upgraded to epsilon class. Granted he's no more powerful really, just more experienced." Knox turned and looked at Dustin, "I suspect he'll be particularly interested in bringing you down Challenger. He has something of a hate on for nationalistic themed paras; Americans particularly."
"So nice to know he dislikes me without me even trying."
"Don't underestimate him Challenger. He's a powerful brick, and has a lot of combat experience" Knox said. "We think he's romantically involved with this woman." The picture shifted to show a tall raven haired woman wearing a white short skirt over white hose with black boots and cloak. "You all probably recognize Shift. She's the reason this team can strike deep into the heart of US territory and get out before we can respond with the military. She's a teleporter of considerable power."
"Sounds like a priority target," Robbie said.
Knox nodded, "She is. But keep in mind that when the original Paraforce-1 team tried to take her out, Sentinel ordered UNIPACT into killing combat."
"Yep," Sarah said, "they're involved."
"That's when they tried to kill Block?" Seth asked.
Knox shook his head, "They didn't try to kill Block. They left him the only survivor for a reason. They wanted to remind us, and him that they could do anything they wanted, and there was little we could do to respond. We've got tapes of Sentinel ordering Stonewall and Red Scorpion to leave him alive for just that purpose."
As Knox went on to the rest of the UNIPACT team, Seth felt a deep anger begin to fester in his soul. He would not allow them to do this with impunity. He would do what ever it took to stop UNIPACT." Knox continued through the rest of the active UNIPACT team. "You of course recognize Red Scorpion from his days at the Academy."
Dustin nodded his head, "Yeah. Jorge Sanchez is one particular elementalists I'm going to take a great deal of pleasure in bringing down. I wasn't happy to hear that the UN pardoned him for those years he worked for the Medilline Drug Cartel."
Knox only smiled, "I know. We protested that particular appointment to no avail." The scene changed, "This is Speedstar. Our intelligence identifies her as Loraine St. Sebastian. She's been clocked at speeds in excess of mach 1. She's also been quoted in European news agencies as having a desire to see the US broken into fifty independent countries to make us easier to govern."
"Sounds like a nice woman." Tabitha's voice dripped with sarcasm. Seth was reminded that she was even a bigger US patriot than Dustin. He suspected it came from being a first generation American immigrant.
"This is Growl," the picture that appeared on the screen was of a classic Hollywood werewolf. "He's a gamma or delta class feral. We know that he has heightened senses, as he was observed tracking the invisible form the parahuman Dreamweaver in Florida. It is unknown whether he has any vulnerability to silver, but Mrs. Martha Corsair of Carlton, Florida reports that he is susceptible to pepper spray. Evidently, he charged through her azaleas and as she put it, she “Let 'im have it with the pepper spray my son gave me."”
"Next up is Abdul Kabir." A picture of a middle-eastern man in red, orange, and yellow silks appeared on the screen. He was on fire and flying. "He calls himself Agni after the Sumerian god of fire. He's given a great deal of indication that he actually believes himself to be an avatar of a god. He joined the team back in nineteen ninety-six and has been involved in the kidnapping to Riyadh or murder of over a hundred US paras."
"Well, he's flaming. I wonder how he will deal with cold," Morn said. "probably afraid of the dark."
Knox just smiled and continued. This time the man who appeared on the screen had granite gray skin, and Seth was briefly reminded of a girl from the Academy named Granite. He was wearing olive drab fatigue pants and a rainbow tank top. "This is Stonewall. We don't know what his real name is, only that he comes to the team from the Sichuan Province of Red China. He's classified as an epsilon or theta class para with enormous strength and damage resistance. He was responsible for destroying the US Space Shuttle Endeavor on the launch pad a few years back. He can generate a barbed spear that he uses like a staff, and has been responsible for killing over fifteen American parahumans." Knox looked at Dustin, "Unofficially we want him liquidated with extreme prejudice." Seth saw Dustin nod slightly.
Again, the picture on the screen shifted to reveal the dark gray furred form of a man with great bat wings on his back. His face and ears were misshapen to resemble a bat. "This is Nocturne, a delta class feral with some sonic based powers. We know his claws can penetrate plate armor."
"I wonder how those ears would react to your voice?" Miguelena asked her husband Richie.
"We'll make it a point to find out," was all that Scream said in reply.
"Last but not least," this time a young dark skinned African male appeared on the screen. His costume was the red, gold and green of the African flag. He looked to be no older than seventeen or eighteen. "This is UNIPACT's newest member. Code-named Artillery, he can generate at range, several types of damage from armor piercing to explosive effect. He has been observed flying under his own power, but never at above forty-five miles per hour."
"What about him?" Seth asked. He really wasn't comfortable with the idea of fighting children.
"All we know is that he's powerful. We don't think he's very experience though." Knox seemed to realize what Seth was worried about, "If you can capture him without killing him, then do it."
Seth just smiled. Despite himself, he was beginning to like James Knox.
THREE YEARS AGO
"Dustin, can we talk?" Dustin's father asked him out at the property, about two weeks after he and Seth told the rest of their friends about their relationship. From them he'd not been too concerned about what they thought. Deep down, he knew that they would always love them no matter what. His parent's he wasn't so sure.
Taking a deep breath he turned and looked over to where his mother and father were surveying the land where he and Seth were planning on building. "Sure Dad."
He watched his father glance nervously over toward his mom, and then back at him, "You know we've always wanted what was best for you. I mean that's why we sent you to that Academy." Dustin started to say something, but was cut off by his father's hand, "Hear me out. I know things didn't work out so well there, and for that I'm sorry. But your mother and I are concerned about the path you seem to be choosing now."
Dustin looked at him, "what path?"
He watched his dad again glance nervously over at his mom who picked up where his father left off, "This thing that's going on between you and Seth. You know we like the boy. You two have been friends since you were kids, and you know our concern has nothing to do with his status as a feral. In reality, the boy is like another son to us."
"I know mom." Dustin was afraid of where this conversation was heading.
"We are concerned about you getting romantically involved with him. I mean he's had a pretty public career up until recently."
Dustin was shocked. He couldn't believe he was hearing what he thought he was hearing, "You know about Seth and I?"
His dad chuckled, "We're not blind son. I won't lie to you, we'd both be happier if he were a girl, but he's not. We recognize that you love each other and that you really are good for each other. We're just worried about your safety."
"I don't understand," Dustin began.
"What if the UN comes looking for Moonwind? What then?" his mother asked.
Dustin shook his head, "Then we'll deal with them." His father started to say something but this time it was Dustin's turn to cut them off with a raise of his own hand, "What if some crazed para broke into the house with just you and mom there?" He leaned back against the front of his car, "What about Seth? What if some guy I busted two years ago comes to the house with a gun and a bent for revenge?"
"Somehow I get the feeling that Seth can take care of himself," his dad told him.
"What if Lee's there?" Dustin asked.
"Kill them," his mother said flatly, as both her son and husband turned to look at her in shock. Dustin was surprised at the sincerity of her voice, "It's one thing to come after one of you guys, but the kids are a different story."
"So what if the UN comes looking for Seth while Lee's there? Should I stay out of it because you don't want me to get hurt?"
"Hell no son, your mom's right. Where the kids are involved, you guys have every right and responsibility to help each other out."
"Same thing Dad, I love Seth, he loves me. If they come looking for him, then they'll have to deal with me, and I'll guarantee they won't walk away. They won't walk, they won't teleport, they won't they won't get away."
"You sure about all this son?" his dad asked.
"Yeah, Dad. I'm sure." Dustin told him. "The only reason I didn't snatch him up in high school was because he had things to do and I had things to do first."
"Fine, son" his dad told him. "I just wanted to make sure you're solid on this."
Before Dustin could reply his mother asked, "How about Seth? He feel the same way?"
"Yes," Dustin replied. "But if you'd like, you can ask him."
His mother smiled, "I may do that." Turning back to the property, "Now tell me about this house you want to build."
Two days later, he was sitting beside Seth in the Plainwalker's living room on the Reservation. He and Seth were discussing their plans with his parents. Once again, he was surprised at the confidence his lover was showing. He'd changed a lot since high school. "So you see, we've decided to go to the next step and move in together," Seth told his parents.
"I thought you already were," Mr. Plainwalker commented, and once again, Dustin wondered where the blond hair and blue eyes came from.
Seth shook his head, "No, not the his and mine, but the ours. I'm not moving into his house, and he's not moving into my house, we're moving into our house."
"That's one way to look at it," Seth's mom said. Then the dark haired woman smiled, "And I guess Sarah will lose her built in baby- sitter."
"Huh?" Dustin asked.
"You know, drive one street over and drop Lee off while she and Robbie go out," Seth's Dad told them.
"No. Now she'll just have to drive a little farther," Seth told him. "I've gotten rather attached to the little fella' lately. He reminds me of an old friend," Seth told him. Then taking a more serious look at his father, "You don't have a problem with this?" he asked surprised.
"No son. We've suspected your dual spirit for a long time. Why should we have a problem with the way the Spirit made you?" his mother replied.
Dustin looked over at Seth, "I think my mom and dad talked to your mom and dad, or your mom and dad talked to my mom and dad." He smiled, "It's a conspiracy of them knowing before we did."
Mrs. Plainwalker smiled and shook her head, "It's nothing like that Dusty. We've always known Seth and Sarah were going to have a difficult life. After all, they were born in their spirit forms. We're just glad that they've found a group of friends off the Reservation who accept them," she paused and gave him a serious look, "and love them for what and who they are." Dustin knew that what Seth's mother meant by being born in their spirit form, meant being born feral- in Seth's case that meant with wings out. Both of Seth's parents tended to look at the world in through the eyes of Native American mythology, much like Seth himself.
"I guess I'm just a little surprised at how easily you are taking the fact that your son is gay." He shook his head, "It took my parents a long time to accept it. For the longest Dad didn't want to talk about it. I mean Seth is the only boyfriend I've ever had that I can take home."
Seth's mother smiled, "We've had longer to come to accept it than your parents have. We've known since Seth was ten." Dustin could see the surprise in Seth's face, as him mother continued. "What? You don't think we can read signs too. It was pretty obvious after your Mystery Walk what you are."
"Mystery Walk?" Dustin asked.
Seth nodded, "Think vision quest, or spirit walk. You remember my telling you about it."
"Yeah, but I don't remember you using that term."
"I didn't. Dad is Apache, mom's Choctaw. Dad uses his terms, mom uses hers. Since I live on an Apache Reservation I tend to use Dad's."
"Yes, and it's aggravating to no end," his mother said.
"Now dear," his dad began.
"You just can't get over the idea of a matriarchy," Seth's mother teased.
Seth's dad looked over at Dustin, "You may not know this son, but Seth's had to put up with a clash of two cultures in his home. His father is an Apache medicine man and his mother a Choctaw healer. It's made for some interesting home dynamics."
Dustin told both of them, "Personally I'm glad for those dynamics. They make him who is." He watched Seth blush beside him. Looking over at Mr. Plainwalker he smiled and continued, "Besides, she can tell me what to do anytime she wants to. I'm afraid of her."
TWELVE YEARS AGO: JUNIOR YEAR AT THE ACADEMY
Seth shook his head, trying to clear the fog that was masking his will. Try as he might the room kept spinning, and he couldn't get his bearings. From somewhere in the distance a strangely accented voice kept speaking to him, but for the life of him, he couldn't make out the details.
"Where am I?" he pushed himself up from where he was lying face down on the floor. His arms felt like spaghetti, and for some reason he couldn't focus to bring his wings back down.
"You are in the custody of the United Nations International Parahuman Acquisition and Control Team, at our facility in Medina," the voice finally broke the fog. Some part of his brain registered that the voice was speaking French.
"Why am I here?" he answered back in the same language.
"You speak French? Very good, I am surprise to hear an American speak anything other than English."
Again trying to focus his will, he pulled himself up to a kneeling position, and closed his eyes. He could still feel the vertigo, the gas was causing. That was it, he'd been hit with some kind of gas while in the fields with Morn and Edge. "Why am I here? Where are Morn and Edge?"
"You are here to be re-educated," the voice said, "to become productive members of the world community. You are here to learn to serve the world's needs," the voice told him.
Seth shook his head again, and immediately regretted, as his lunch threatened to make a second appearance. "What if I don't want to serve the world? What if I want to be left alone?" he asked simply to buy time until his healing factor could clear the fog from his head.
"Now why would you want to do that? You owe the world your existence," the voice told him.
"I owe the Great Spirit my existence, the world I owe respect." He shook his head, "When it earns it."
Seth felt a flash of pain in the side of his head, before he felt his whole body slam into the cool stone of the wall of the room. In an explosion of red and black light the world around him winked out. Just before he went unconscious, he felt something in the side of his mask click.
PRESENT DAY: A SMALL OFFICE ON DUPONT CIRCLE OF WASHINGTON DC
Dustin couldn't believe the level of top brass sitting in the room with him. Half of the President's cabinet was here, plus the heads of the FBI, CIA, and the NSA, as well as several members of the various armed forces. Knox had been right: they were planning to give his team all the support they needed.
"Moonwind," the National Security Advisor asked in a deceptively soft voice, "Are you sure you want to go through with this?" The woman looked over at the rest of the team, "It would basically be setting you up as bait."
Seth nodded and smiled at the light-skinned African American woman, "I'm sure ma'am. If it'll give us a clear shot at Sentinel's team, I'll take it."
Dustin cut in, "Besides, it puts him in the best position to knock their feet out from under them right off the bat."
"Very well, we'll let leak to the press that Moonwind will be attending the Presidential Commission." the woman said.
"Not leak, confirm." Edge told them. "It's a pretty sure bet that the UN has a complete list of who has been invited to speak and who hasn't."
A man wearing an Admiral's uniform chuckled, "Yes, but if you let it leak, then they think that we won't be prepared. If we confirm it, then they may think it's a trap."
"But wouldn't this be like any other celebrity coming to speak before Congress?" Dustin asked.
The National Security Advisor smiled, "Not quite. Any other celebrity isn't on the top of the UN's most wanted list."
"True, but is Moonwind himself supposed to know that he's on such a list?" Feral asked.
"Not really, but considering his well known level of intelligence, you bet it's assumed by the UN that he does know. There is already speculation in the press about when they'll be hunting him down," the woman replied.
"So what's the probability that they know he's already in town, because they saw him come in from the air field," Eclipse asked sitting close to Feral. "After all, if I saw someone as high ranking as Mr. Knox hustling out of town and then back within a few hours I'd be curious enough to have him followed."
Mr. Knox smiled, "But I'm not a high ranking member of Homeland Security. I'm just a low level attaché. That's why I was sent."
"Doesn't matter, you're Homeland Security. The UN is watching your every move."
Dustin had had enough, "We're sitting here debating whether or not the UN knows we're here. Unless we go and ask them, we can't be sure either way. The best we can do, is assume they don't and plan for that they might."
"Challenger is right," the Admiral commented. "We can't let our lack of intelligence paralyze us. We have to make some kind of move. So far this is the best plan I've heard."
"Okay, so where's the layout of the building where these meetings are going to take place, and what' your security like?" Scream asked.
With that, the team spent the next several hours putting into place everything they were going to need to try and eliminate UNIPACT. Dustin was unsure of just how much time had passed when Feral came up next to him. "This isn't going to get my brother hurt is it?"
"Can't guarantee it, but I'm trying to work it so that it doesn't." Challenger told her. "You know I'd never deliberately put him in danger, but I'm not going to put him on the sidelines either, no matter how much either of us love him. Your brother has grown up a great deal in the past few years. I think he can take care of himself."
"Yeah, but if anything happens to him, who's going to take care of you?" Feral asked.
"We'll just have to make sure that nothing happens to him," Challenger replied.
Across the room, he heard Morn tell her husband, "You of course realize that if anything happens to either one of them, the other is not going to leave anything left of the UN standing."
Scream replied, "We'll help."
ELEVEN YEARS AGO: JUNIOR YEAR OF THE ACADEMY
As the rotors on the old Huey began to bite into the air and lift the copter off the ground, Dustin turned back to look at the rest of his team. It was all Eclipse and Scream could do to keep Stride and Feral calm. He could feel his own anger settle like a hot fire in his belly. He didn't like the way he and his team was being treated here, and he didn't like being lied to.
Suddenly a squawk went off on his radio followed by a woman's voice speaking in French, "Was it really necessary to hit him that hard?"
A man's voice answered, "We must destroy the cult of the individual. The good of society must take precedence."
"I don't disagree with you Etienne, just your methods. He's only a boy," the woman's voice answered.
"A boy who will not become a man if he does not keep a civil tongue in his head," the man named Etienne answered.
"You do not have the patience for this, Sentinel. Why don't you wait outside and let me deal with Moonwind." There were sounds of movements, "He is very light. I would be surprised if he weighed thirty kilos. No wonder he hit the wall so hard." Again, there were more movement sounds, as Dustin slowly began to realize about whom the other voices were speaking.
Looking over at Stride, he muted his own radio and brought the chopper down low over the desert. "How about you taking to the ground on a Northerly course. We can triangulate their location with the radios' range finders."
He watched as the tall black youth leapt from the chopper and headed off, at top speed across the desert. In less than a second, he was out of sight. Ten minutes later they were homing in on Seth's radio signal, all the while picking up the sounds of what was happening to him. Dustin made a mental note to himself, that should he get the chance, Sentinel would pay for hitting his friend. He would pay, and pay through the nose.
As the chopper cut through the desert evening, he listened to Stride's reports on the building he'd discovered deep in the desert. "It looks like there's a contingent of British troops guarding the base," Lionel's voice came back over the radio. "If I were you, I'd fly low, and set the chopper down about a mile south, and come in on foot."
"I've got an idea. Tell me about the British troops."
"Looks like a company of infantry with a squad of armor protecting them." Stride told him.
"I don't want to have to take on the British."
"They might not know what they're guarding."
"Doesn't matter, they've still got their orders. They won't let us in without a fight."
"We could tell them we're on a mission of mercy," Stride joked in his best Carrie Fisher voice.
"Somehow I get the feeling the Big, Bad, Brits won't buy it."
"How about we go in without asking, and then worry about getting out?" Feral leaned forward and growled into his ear.
"You really want to try and carry Morn, Edge, and your brother out under fire?"
"It's worth a try. Especially if we can cause a big enough diversion, to cover our escape," Feral told him.
Dustin considered her suggestion. It made sense and he had just the thing to create a diversion. Turning back to the rest of his team he yelled over the sound of the rotors, "I'm going to set you down here. Move up as close to the compound as you can get. In.," he looked down and checked his chronometer, "four minutes I'm going to give you the diversion you need. Meet me at Seth's signal. We'll go from there."
He watched the other team members nod and disembark from the old gunship. In a matter of seconds, they were gone from sight, and he knew they'd cover the intervening mile very quickly.
Three and a half minutes later, he brought the chopper back into the air. Tilting the canopy as far forward as possible, he gunned the engine and literally flew top first toward the compound. He noted when his air speed hit 140 and held it to cover the intervening distance in the same amount of time as his friends starting their attack.
As the compound grew quickly into view, he aimed the ship at the compound's radio/lookout tower. At the last second, he leapt from the ship's cockpit to the ground. Rolling to absorb the impact of hitting the ground at a hundred forty plus miles an hour, he aimed himself toward the main body of the building becoming a human battering ram.
Crashing through the concrete wall that was bunker's main protection he came to a stop in a long hallway. As his hearing cleared from the sound of the blast that was echoing outside, he could see men with Kalashnikovs scurrying toward the main door. One stopped to open fire in his general direction, as he dove for cover. He felt several rounds rake along his side, and was surprised that they had little more effect on him than a slap- he was still unused to the concept of being bullet-proof.
Coming up against the wall he'd rolled into, he checked his radio range-finder and got a general bearing on Seth' location, just before a second bullet ripped the device from his hand. Cursing himself silently, he took off as fast as he could in the general direction of the indicator, ignoring intervening obstacles such as desks, chairs, and the occasional wall.
Crashing through one reinforced wall, he caught himself before he barreled into a long table where Seth's unconscious form was lying strapped to a table. The blue and white garbed form of Sentinel, hero and spokesman for the UN was tightening the straps down. Secured to two other tables were the unconscious forms of both Edge and Morn.
Sentinel looked up in surprise as Feral came crashing through the door from the left. Seizing the opportunity, Challenger launched himself across the table and kicked the larger man solidly in the ribs. Perhaps it was the heat of battle, maybe it was his anger, but the blow was a lot more powerful than even he expected. Sentinel was literally knocked through several reinforced walls and out into the courtyard. Without thinking, Challenger snapped the restraints on his unconscious childhood friend, and hefted him onto his shoulder. Indicating the other two, he told Feral, "Cut 'em loose and let's get out of here."
Keying the radio in his mask, he spoke, "Packages recovered. We could use some help in extraction."
Stride was at his side a split second before the sonic boom that followed. "I'm here, Bossman." As the compression wave followed the tall youth into the room, Challenger watched his friend gently take Morn from Feral and shield her from the blast with his own body.
"We'd better get out of here. Pretty soon that British commander is going to figure out that the helicopter crash was just a diversion, and start lobbing shells at us," Challenger told him.
Stride just smiled up at him, "Not for a little while yet, Challenger. Right now they've got their hands full with the Destructo Twins out there." He looked over at the unconscious form of Miguelena, "for some reason, Richie is rather upset about this whole situation." He shrugged, "And you know how the twins are. You piss one of them off, you piss 'em both off."
Challenger just smiled and headed toward the door. "Israel's that way," he pointed north. "Let's go."
"Not to rain on your parade Challenger, but why Israel, and do you realize that we have to go through Jordan to get there?" Feral asked.
"Because it's the only democratic country in the region. It'll be easier for us to get out of there, than going back to Riyadh, or Kuwait City." He turned and smiled at her, "And yes, I know we have to go through Jordan to get there. I did pay attention in Geography class." He shrugged, "The Jordanian military has been pounded enough, that I don't think we'll have too much trouble slipping past them into the city of Elat at the Gulf of Aqaba. From there we can contact the Academy and get home."
Feral smiled at him, "Oh, and Challenger?"
Her eyes hardened, "Next time you get it into that thick skull of yours that crashing a helicopter into a building is a good distraction you better give it another thought." She grabbed him by the front of his costume, "Don't ever put me in the position of having to tell Seth that you got yourself killed rescuing him."
For just an instant, Dustin wondered if Sarah could see into his heart and know what he was feeling. He looked down and muttered, "Will do."
PRESENT DAY: US PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON PARAHUMAN INTERNATIONAL REPSONSE- UNDISCLOSED LOCATION- WASHINGTON DC.
Seth looked across the room, and felt the old fear of being small once again threaten to wash over him. Steeling himself, he directed his attention back to the junior Senator from New York. She was asking, "How can you justify putting the entire population of this country at risk in order to protect a small number of people? "
Seth smiled, "Ma'am, since when did we decide that the Bill of Rights apply to only part of the American citizenry?" He asked. "The last time I checked, parahumans were still American citizens. What gives the UN the right to kidnap, murder," he felt the anger at what happened to Brandon well up inside him, "and maim our citizens with impunity?"
He saw the woman draw back at the venom in his words, "We have to do away with the cult of the individual. The good of society must come first," she stammered into her microphone.
Seth smiled at the woman, "And a country that will not defend its citizens is not a country. I'm sorry Madam Senator, I have to agree with a rather famous fictional character here: The good of the one outweighs the good of the many." He leaned in, "Because the many are made up of a bunch of ones. I realize that for some reason, you've got some kind of hate on for parahumans, I honestly don't understand why that is, but I will not let your hatred of us send us to death camps in Saudi Arabia."
Suddenly Seth felt the air pressure in the room change. He reacted instinctively as nine forms winked into existence around the room. A relaxing of his mind, and a quick mental signal and the world suddenly grew to huge proportions around him as the area where he was sitting earlier was suddenly inundated with energy, and the chair where he was sitting exploded.
Dustin felt the change in the room's air pressure too, but was slower to respond before the seat in front of him where Seth had been sitting earlier was literally blasted into pieces by the combined attacks of Nocturne and Artillery. He noted that the tall dark haired form of Shift had appeared just a few feet in front of him. Stonewall's own attack came just a second or so behind his comrades, and the heavy stone spear was suddenly hurtling toward what was left of the seat. Of course, the fact that Seth and the seat were no longer there, meant that the spear was now aimed at her.
Remembering what Knox had said about Shift being a priority target, he started to let her take the blast meant for his lover. However, the hero in him took over and he did what his conscious told him. None too gently, he tackled the woman as the spear passed over both their heads. As he rolled over on top of her, he slammed her head into the marble floor just hard enough to insure her incapacitation.
To his right he heard an inarticulate scream, and realized that Sentinel had seen what happened. Rolling off Shift, he threw his identity to the wind and came up tearing the three-piece suit of a Secret Service Agent off to reveal his Challenger uniform under it. Falling back into a crouch, he looked over at the enraged Frenchman, "It stops here, Sentinel. You're under arrest for kidnapping, murder, and for acts of terrorism against the people of the United States. You can surrender now and be treated humanely and face a fair trial. I do warn you however that I and my team have been authorized by the Justice Department to use deadly force if you fail to do so." The last was something of a stretch of the truth, but Dustin knew the Attorney General would back him up.
Sentinel just screamed and leaped at him clearing the whole room in a single bound. Locking down, he lashed out with a vicious round-house kick to the man's face. He heard a satisfying crunch as the pride of UN was slammed into an oblique course away from him. Challenger set down after the kick thinking, It's good to be back in action. What he said was, "EVERYBODY! CLEAR THE ROOM!"
Off to his right he saw a streak of UN blue paced by the darker crimson of Stride. "Herd her this way," Miguelena's voice came over the radio. Even he was surprised at how quick his team was remembering their old battle maneuvers.
Turning back to face the battle he scanned the room for Seth to come out of stealth mode, but saw no sign of him. What he did see was a large cloud of darkness surrounding where Artillery was. Good work, Eclipse. Blind their sniper and protect your teammates. He felt a wave of Morn's cold suddenly erupt from the darkness as ice began to creep out from its edges. Dustin noted with some irony that sometimes his team's best partners were not necessarily the ones that were married.
Suddenly the UN's primary feral, Growl came crashing through the outer wall flailing his huge clawed arms in every direction while Feral sat blithely on his shoulders slicing at his face with her own claws. Dustin recognized her attacks as being more designed to annoy than do actual damage. They were painful, enraging, and possibly even incapacitating, but not deadly, which is more than can be said for Growl's reputation. That particular werewolf wannabe had been known to tear into civilians without the slightest provocation. Feral was giving him plenty.
He watched Sentinel slowly get up from where he'd landed against the granite wall. A crack now ran along its length from floor to ceiling. The man shook his head and felt his jaw, "That was a mistake, Challenger. Now we're going to finish you off. There is no place left in the world for your brand of nationalism." Looking over at where Stonewall and Red Scorpion were staring at Challenger in disbelief, he yelled, "Don't just stand there you fools! Kill him!"
As the two began to move toward him he saw Seth suddenly flash up out of stealth mode, and draw back a bow he'd never seen before and release the arrow. There was a flash of something and suddenly Stonewall was screaming holding his knee. Looking down, Dustin noted the steel shaft sticking out of the leg had pinned the stone-skinned man to the floor. "That's for Block, you son-of-bitch." Before anybody else could react he flashed back into stealth mode.
Red Scorpion skidded to a halt in front of Dustin as the former Academy student realized his back up was pinned to the floor behind him. "Hello, Jorges. Long time no see."
"Uh, hi Challenger," Dustin enjoyed the sudden fear he saw in the man's eyes.
"You know, you spent a great deal of time picking on somebody I cared an awful lot about back in high school. I see you haven't grown out of being a bully."
Red Scorpion smiled up at him and suddenly leaped back, firing his own burst of energy at Dustin. Dustin felt it rip at his costume and pour around him, seeking to gain purchase on the skin and flesh underneath. Before the smaller man could react, Dustin darted in and grabbed him by the front of his body armor. Pulling the smaller man to him, Challenger spun on one foot and suddenly hurled Red Scorpion into the charging form of Sentinel. He heard a satisfying snap of his former classmate's spine as he was literally wrapped backward around the UN's primary brick. Challenger smiled, "That's four down, Sentinel. Your team is dropping like flies."
Dustin watched as Sentinel shoved the broken body of his fallen teammate aside, "I don't care how many I have to go through Challenger. You are the last of the hold-outs. I have all the time in the world." He charged Dustin again this time connecting with a powerful roundhouse punch to the jaw. Dustin felt himself lifted off the ground and hurled backwards through the wall of the chambers, across the hall and finally through the outer wall and into the street beyond. Dustin got up and shook his head as Sentinel came leaping out of the building at him.
With a quick thrust of his feet and a backwards roll, Dustin flipped Sentinel over. Grabbing the other brick's wrists, he pulled back hard, forcing Sentinel into the ground flat on his back. Kipping up, he twisted around to catch Sentinel slowly getting to his feet a dazed look in his face. "I've eliminated your escape route, Sentinel. There's no getting away this time. It's either face me or US Special Forces. Trust me. I'm nicer, I'll even keep Moonwind from gutting you. They won't." He kicked out and caught the UN team leader squarely in the jaw. He heard a satisfying crunch as he felt the other man's teeth grind under the force of the blow.
Sentinel was driven back against a late model SUV by the kick. Twisting around he grabbed the vehicle by the side, his hands crunching the steel like so much tin foil and lifted it over his head. With a loud grunt, he brought the Ford down across Challenger's head and shoulders. "I'm not afraid of your military. Soon it will be dismantled and answerable to the whole world."
Dustin waded through the twisted metal and plastic, brushing it aside like so much tissue paper. Sentinel wasn't the only one here with the strength and damage resistance to handle this kind of punishment. He grabbed the awestruck Frenchman by the front of his costume, drew back and landed a solid punch directly to jaw, "What's the matter, Sentinel? Not used to a team that fights back? Not used to not being the big boy on the block?" He felt the other man ripped from his hands by the force of his own blow.
He watched as Sentinel sailed across the street back toward the building they'd left. Crouching and leaping, he hurled himself forward to land just a few yards short of the bouncing form of his opponent. He watched with some satisfaction as Sentinel's limp body slid across the marble floor to stop against the far wall.
As Dustin entered the room he saw, Speedstar's body lying in two halves across the room, a razor thin piece of bloodied metal was stretched across the doorway behind her. Notcurne was flapping horribly against the back wall, his broken bat-like wings torn to shreds by small metal pens, paper clips, and various other office supplies embedded in the wall behind him. There was blood running from his huge bat ears down the side of his head. Dustin looked over to where Miguelena and Scream were high-fiving.
Off to one corner Feral was holding Growl to the wall, her claws slowly sinking into his throat. He could see blood from a thousand vicious cuts all over his face and body. He noted that she'd managed to hamstring both his legs and his left arm was hanging loosely at his side. "Go ahead Fido, give me a reason to put you down like the rabid dog you are," Feral growled.
Motion in the center of the room caught his eyes, as Stonewall continued to pound at Stride while Lionel dodged out of the way of each blow with a taunting ease. The big man was bleeding from where he was peppered with a dozen steel-shafted arrows embedded in the stony material that made up his skin. Evidently, Moonwind's bow was designed specifically for his own awesome levels of strength. In the meantime, Seth had grown to full size and landed on the other side of the room. With a deliberate slowness, he drew the strange looking bow and took aim at the heart of the last of the UINPACT members. Dustin yelled, "Seth, no!"
He saw his lover turn and face him, tears streaming down his face, "He deserves to die. He helped kill ParaForce-1."
Dustin walked toward the smaller man, slowly and calmly. "But you're not a killer. Don't take this route. Look at him," Dustin pointed to where the bigger man was beginning to slow down. "He's barely standing. He's lost a lot of blood. He's down. You don't have to kill him."
He could see Seth's eyes tearing up, as he slowly lowered the bow. "Is it really over?" Dustin realized that his lover had been so intent on taking down Stonewall, that he didn't even realize the rest of the UNIPACT team was down. A shiver went through Dustin as he realized just how close he'd come to losing Seth. If he any of the rest of the UN team had realized it, they could have taken him out without even trying.
Seth suddenly came tumbling into his arms, sobbing. Dustin felt his own emotions slowly released in a rain of tears as he kissed his partner's head. "So much for a secret identity I guess," he muttered.
Dustin felt Sarah come up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder, "Now will you take him to Vermont?"
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