kiev4am: (underwood)
[personal profile] kiev4am
Third reel!

I have really enjoyed writing this story. And I think it's not bad. The title's apt; I may have a new, hard-to-shake habit. Thanks for reading, guys.


Title: Force Of Habit, pt 3 of 3 : Clockwork
Fandom: X-Factor
Pairing/Characters: Rictor/Shatterstar, Jamie Madrox, Banshee (formerly Siryn), Monet St. Croix, Longshot, Strong Guy, Rahne Sinclair, Layla Miller, Pip the Troll (all Marvel Comics)
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Swearing. Reprehensible amounts of comic-book violence, but mostly off-panel ;)
Words: 1,856 (total 6,240)
Comments: This is a lot more fun than my last one, I promise. It's an angst-free three-act action movie of Rictor and Shatterstar getting their X-Force on and demonstrating their awesome old-school teamwork to the rest of X-Factor. Uh, which teamwork would of course be measured in cracked skulls, property damage, creatively interpreted orders and other frankly appalling mayhem which Terry might have warned Jamie about if she'd thought about it in time. Poor Jamie; exploding warehouses are so not noir. In my head this comes with a David Yardin cover showing Ric and 'Star in scowling badass mode, back to back, surrounded by soon-to-be-terribly-sorry bad guys. And that hat is my personal fanservice. Somebody in X-Factor ought to have a fedora, right?

For catch-up: 1. X-Force Rules, 2. Quality Time


3. Clockwork

Fire, fumes, choking heat, the scrapyard clatter of torn metal raining down around them. Jamie scrambled to his feet, blindly reabsorbing dupes. "Everybody, call out!" One by one they replied, drawing together out of the smoke, coughing, shaken but unhurt. Everybody but Rictor and Shatterstar.

"Ric! 'Star! Goddammit..." He couldn't see a blasted thing.

Terry ran up. "Did they - ?"

He gripped her arm, too worried to answer. There was an icy, sinking moment that seemed to last for hours and nobody, not even Pip, had anything funny to say. At last, they heard something. Two voices floated lazily out of the acrid gloom, followed at length by two dishevelled silhouettes.

"It's Friday."

"Yes, it is."

"We oughta do this every Friday."

"Will it count as a date?"

"If you buy me a beer, it'll count as a date."

"If beating people up and then drinking beer is a date, we started dating a lot sooner than I thought."

"Not soon enough. C'mere."

The smoke cleared and there they were, unrepentantly smooching in front of the flames and wreckage. They both looked like Wile E. Coyote after a barrel of dynamite, but neither seemed to mind.

"Sheesh. Who said romance was dead?" Pip said sourly.

"I'm going to kill them," Jamie muttered, dizzy with relief.

'Star leaned back, but didn't let go. "You taste like raw steak."

"Mmph." Ric spat out a tooth and grinned. "Sorry."

Okay, it was definitely time for the riot act. But as Jamie got ready to stomp over there, a small hand clamped around his wrist. He turned round and came face to face with Layla. Behind her Guido and Rahne surveyed the debris with, respectively, envy and resignation. "Heavy traffic, was it?" Jamie hissed.

"Wait," Layla said simply.

Like an echo, Shatterstar said it too. "Wait." When Rictor turned back to him, he reached out and held Ric's shoulders. "I just wanted to check... that you know something," he said slowly.

"What, 'Star?"

"That we could have done this - this, or something very like it - before. Before you got your powers back." Rictor ducked his head and scowled, but 'Star cupped the side of his head with one soot-blackened hand, looking so fiercely sincere that the sneering yeah, right never made it out of Ric's mouth. "Tell me you know that," 'Star insisted softly.

There was a brief, loaded silence. Then Ric puffed out a breath and leaned against him. "Yeah," he mumbled. "Okay. Maybe."

Shatterstar smiled. It wasn't the feral widescreen smile he used on his enemies; it was his real smile, shy and grave. "Maybe will do," he said. "For now."

Layla turned to Jamie. "Get it out of your system, you'll feel better," she said calmly.

Jamie searched his mind crossly for words she wouldn't see coming. As usual, he couldn't find them. "'Quality time,'" he said. "Seriously?"

"Yes. Seriously. They got the job done, and it was good for Rictor. And who says teamwork shouldn't be fun?"

"You call that teamwork?"

"Yep. And so do you." She smiled brilliantly. "The X-Factor. Expect the unexpected. If that's really your philosophy then everything happened exactly the way it should. You trust people to make it up as they go along, the right way, and they do. Look at the end result. Chaos in process, but clockwork in hindsight."

Jamie glowered at her, trying to stay angry. She was voicing his exact train of thought from earlier, and it was just as creepy as it always was. Rictor and Shatterstar slouched up, arms draped around each other more for support than affection; they were both limping badly. 'Star was mopping at a horrific gash on his forehead that was probably healing, but currently showed bone; Rictor's right eye was swollen shut and his nose, cheekbones and lip were black with drying blood. The X-Factor be damned, Jamie thought; there was no way on this earth they weren't getting yelled at.

"You stupid jerks. You could've been killed."

"Well, we weren't." Ric tried to shrug, but grimaced. "Ow."

"You ignored a direct order."

"Not at all," Shatterstar said. "You told us not to think about it. So we didn't. We just did it."

Jamie peered at him with narrowed eyes. He'd long suspected 'Star of using his your-Earth-ways-are-strange-to-me shtick to weasel out of anything a normal person would have had to answer for. 'Star was pulling his most humourless poker-face, but there was almost certainly a gleam in his eye. Head on 'Star's shoulder, Rictor was smirking. His eyes were dreamy and glazed from the adrenalin comedown. Jamie threw up his hands. "I give up. I just freaking give up. I don't know which one of you's the worse influence on the other."

Ric and 'Star exchanged a glance then pointed at each other, deadpan.

Jamie rolled his eyes. "At least you lost the damn hat," he grumbled. "Small mercies."

"Oh!" 'Star held up a finger. He unzipped his jacket, tugged out a very crushed, somewhat charred fedora, punched it into shape and, very carefully, settled it on Rictor's head. He regarded the effect solemnly, and then he smiled. "There."

Ric beamed at him drunkenly. "My hero."

"You look like Marty McFly in Back To the Future 2," said Jamie. "I hope you know that."

Ric flashed him a middle-fingered salute. "Talk to the hat."

There was an ominous creak overhead. "Can we leave this deathtrap before it buries us?" said Monet.

They ducked out of the leaning warehouse and started across the compound, shaking dust out of their clothes and hair. Halfway to the gates Shatterstar paused suddenly, pulling Ric to a standstill, looking back at the warehouse. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "a person could reconstitute those guns. I mean, if that person had the time, and the money, and the technology... it's possible. They were very specialised. They'd actually be easier to rebuild than source and buy again."

Rictor frowned at the building. "Crap, you're right. Hadn't thought of that." Distractedly, he disentangled himself from 'Star and walked away, staring intently at the ground. The others watched as he shuffled about, retracing and doubling back, muttering softly to himself, occasionally crouching to run his hands over the hard-packed mud until he gradually zeroed in on a particular patch. Green light crawled faintly on his hands, but no-one felt a tremor.

"What the hell's he doing?"

"Shh." The look on 'Star's face said, approximately, I could watch this all day.

"Okayyyy." Ric straightened up. "You guys might wanna back off a bit," he said. He waited until they'd moved, and then he stamped one foot.

Nothing happened.

"Aw, c'mon," Ric said, coaxingly. He moved two inches to the left, and stamped again.

The ground lurched. An intense muffled tearing noise zigzagged from Rictor's feet all the way to the warehouse and the whole thing sagged, folding inwards with a screech of buckling metal. An immense crack yawned from inside the building, wider and wider until the walls collapsed across it and the roof sank on top of them and X-Factor collectively staggered as a bone-rattling quake engulfed the compound and the air filled with the roaring sound of what might have been thousands of steel crates sliding into an abyss. Ric brought his hands together like an orchestra conductor and the ground began to close, great jaws of earth and rubble ripping up warehouse panels, grinding the crates and their fatal contents like so much salt. There was a last sigh of shifting plates and then a vast, cloudy silence. What was left of the warehouse, stabbing up from the ground in crumpled ruins, looked like something designed by Frank Gehry.

Ric brushed off his hands and resettled his hat. "Reconstitute that," he said smugly. Then abruptly he wavered, staggered and sank to his knees, his face slack with surprise. "Whoa." His eyes rolled white and he keeled over in the dust, out cold.

"Rictor!" 'Star was there in seconds, hugging him against his shoulder, shaking him. Under the blood and dirt he was sheet-white, his voice a terrified monotone. "You've overstretched. You forgot your limits, you're still relearning. We spoke about this. Damn it, Julio, wake up..."

Oh shit, Jamie thought. Automatically he looked at Layla, his mineshaft canary. Her face was infuriatingly blank. Rictor twitched, coughed, cracked one eye and squinted up at Shatterstar. There was the weakest ghost of a cocky grin. "Nag, nag, nag," he whispered.

'Star let out a huge breath, kissed the top of his head, and glared at him. "Don't ever do that again."

As 'Star helped Ric up, Longshot turned to Rahne. "Is this really how X-Force does things?" he asked.

Rahne looked away. "Different X-Force," she said sadly.

Ric heard her. He snaked out his free arm and pulled her close, landed an awkward kiss on her cheek. "X-Force veterans' day," he said gruffly. "C'mon. Drinks on me."

"Eejit." But she scraped up a crooked grin.

Guido clapped a huge hand on Jamie's shoulder. "Think ya could handle a beer, fearless leader?"

Jamie covered his face. "Oh my God, yes."

"Actually, I'd like tequila," said Shatterstar.

"NO!" shouted everybody else.

'Star looked hurt. "What's wrong with tequila?" he asked huffily. "And what's so funny?"

Ric squeezed him, trying (not very hard) to keep his face straight. "The fact that you can't remember what's wrong with tequila? That's what's wrong with tequila, dude."

Guido pointed at them. "You two Expendables wanna get served at all, you better clean up on the way."

"That vile karaoke place isn't far from here," Monet said. "If we're not banned yet."

"We're not banned," Terry answered slyly. "But Jamie has to promise not to sing 'Me, Myself and I' at me again."

Jamie blushed crimson, to crows of delight from the peanut gallery. "I thought we agreed we'd never mention that!"

Terry took his hand. If there was pain under her impish smile he couldn't see it, and he wondered yet again at the strength and heart that made it possible for her to go on liking him - teasing him, even - after everything he'd put her through. They fell into step with Layla and Monet and Guido, following Rahne, Rictor and 'Star towards the compound gate; behind them Longshot and Pip, passing the last bottle of Mojoworld's finest back and forth between them. Terry called Jameson, then S.H.I.E.L.D., then the Avengers, explaining what had happened in her most melting tones until the giant mess behind them became a wily and daring peacekeeping mission, flawlessly executed. It was, Jamie realised, a beautiful afternoon: steel-blue sky and an autumn moon and late sun lengthening the rooftops' shadows and fewer guns and gangsters in the universe than there had been this morning. And his team was horrible, and insubordinate, and awesome; exactly the kind of team he'd wanted, perhaps even the kind of team he deserved. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he knew that he could hit himself for a week without creating a single dupe who wouldn't love this moment. Layla caught his eye and winked. In spite of himself, he laughed.

"Clockwork, my ass," he muttered.

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kiev4am

May 2012

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