kiev4am: (underwood)
[personal profile] kiev4am
The mayhem continues.

Title: Force Of Habit, pt 2 of 3 : Quality Time
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: 2,845
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

As he watched his dupes charge into the warehouse, Jamie sighed. He'd seen X-Force in its 'glory' days. He'd more or less expected the row of burning jeeps and the firecracker noise of torched munitions and the occasional whiplash earth tremor as Rictor yanked the ground from under someone's feet. He wasn't surprised by the melee on the warehouse floor or the dirty static of gunshots, blows and curses that barked against the tin roof or the cleanly severed hand that lay in front of him, still clutching an otherworldly eyesore of a gun. Didn't mean he was okay with it, though.

But then Terry pointed upwards, and he most certainly was surprised by Longshot and Monet nonchalantly swinging their feet atop a pile of crates, sipping champagne from crystal tumblers and playing chess on Monet's iPod.

"What the hell are you two doing?" he demanded when Terry flew them up there.

"I don't know what he's doing, but I'm winning," said Monet complacently. "Skill beats luck, every time."

"That totally shouldn't work," Longshot groused.

Pip crackled into view, leering at Monet's neckline. "Findin' space in that costume for an iPod? Now that's ski - ackkk!"

Monet flexed her fist delicately as Pip fell, limbs flailing to teleport before he hit concrete. She gave Jamie a withering look. "And you pay the little creep a salary."

"For crying out loud!" Jamie yelled. He waved wildly at the mess below them. "Why the crap aren't you helping them?"

"D'you think they need help?" Longshot asked curiously.

Jamie opened his mouth and then shut it, his gaze drawn helplessly downwards. The crates stood everywhere in tall stacks, sleek silver pods etched with outlandish symbols that said ACME GUN CO. in somebody's language, giving excellent cover to the men in masks who were shooting, throwing missiles and darting out in tight little knots to join the brawl in the middle of the floor. At the far end of the warehouse towered an industrial teleportation rig like a giant iron collar on its edge. It wasn't hard to find his errant teammates; they fought back to back, a few feet apart, in the dead centre of the fray. 'Star shone like a flare in his white jacket and he moved like some fiery djinn with his own gravity, his own physics, so fast sometimes that he flickered out of sight, tracked only by bodies collapsing in his wake or bullets piercing empty air where he'd somersaulted a nanosecond before. His elegant severity made every strike look like a dance move, except the men reeling off his fists and blades had none of his grace and were either unconscious or missing parts. What unnerved Jamie most was the unashamed passion of it, the obvious fact that 'Star loved this, viscerally and instinctively, loved the speed, the complexity, the gameplay exchange of pain, the thousand razor-sharp moments of risk. Behind the blur of his swords his face wore a closed, blissful expression, as though he were meditating.

Rictor, on the other hand, was one of the scrappiest and dirtiest fighters Jamie had ever seen, and he was anything but zen. Hatless now, he was swinging a gun like a baseball bat and headbutting people when the gun didn't work; he wasn't above using it the right way either, as evidenced by the kneecapped thugs writhing on the floor around him. What he lacked in style he made up for in grit, cunning, unpredictability and being just too goddamn stubborn to fall down when he was supposed to; and when all that failed there was plain old cheating, which was where the earthquakes came in. After a while, Jamie worked out that every third or fourth tremor was less a combat move than a way of buying himself time to watch Shatterstar fight. His sappy fanboy grin in those moments was nearly as unsettling as 'Star's refined brutality.

"We've been picking off the strays and back-stabbers," Longshot explained. "But they're really doing fine without us. Also, this is better than the cinema," he added, holding out the champagne.

"Where'd you get that, anyway?"

Longshot pointed behind him at a steel chiller beaded with condensation. "They were going to toast their big deal with some of Mojoworld's finest. Seemed wasted on them."


"Best champagne in the universe," Longshot said proudly. "It's fine," he said to Terry's wrinkled nose. "There's no alcohol."

Jamie raised the bottle and sniffed. It smelled okay. He took a gulp and coughed until his eyes watered, trying to stop his brain whirring into the stratosphere. It tasted like cocaine and limousines, red carpet and camera-flash, ice sculptures and diamante and the heart-stopping evening gowns of a million premières; in short, it tasted like very, very expensive television.

"Dear lord. If that kick isn't alcohol, what is it?"

Longshot grinned. "Best not ask."

Jamie looked at him, then had another drink. It was that kind of day. He looked back at the fight, fretfully wondering how two against two hundred could possibly work when the bad guys declined to queue up nicely like they did in movies. His dupes were in the mix, but they were separated from Ric and 'Star by dozens of men, and the bastards kept coming from behind the crates as if they were duplicating too. Ric and 'Star carved their ragged circle of safety over and over again, piling up the bodies but always almost swamped. Then Jamie blinked and suddenly he got it, the method in their mayhem. 'Star's bullet-time deflections aligned with Rictor's punches and shockwaves, moves fitting together so smoothly they covered each other without seeming to try; just as Shatterstar's opponents found their guns jamming or the floor jumping or a well-aimed shot ruining their day, so nobody made it onto Ric's blind side with all their limbs intact. When 'Star lobbed a handgun in Ric's direction he plucked it out of the air without actually looking at it, shot the man in front of him then whipped round and hobbled four others, shooting straight through the place 'Star had been in an eyeblink ago; with no overt communication, he'd dodged to enable the shot. They were a unit, a spinning multi-armed Swiss knife of carnage. Gradually, inexorably, they fought closer to the portal and the small group of men who were backing up to it, no doubt protecting their leader.

"How are they even doing that?" Jamie said.

Terry smiled. "Force of habit. It's how they learned. And, y'know, chemistry."

Longshot cocked his head. "There's something about that level of coordination that's very, uh... intimate. I feel I shouldn't be watching."

"Gah!" Monet punched his arm. "Can't unsee it, damn you."

"I see something else." There was an odd note in Terry's voice, and Jamie looked at her. She gestured at the fight. "Look at him, Jamie. He's only using his powers as a last resort. I think we forgot... the same thing he forgot, without them. He's a hardcore Cable-trained junkyard dog, and a lot of the time we treated him like an amputee. Maybe if we'd put him in the front line more, he wouldn't have been so depressed."

"Now wait a minute," Jamie said. That we of hers was a kindness, and he knew it. He was all ready with his defence - how he wasn't in the business of getting his people killed, how he had to put the right person on the right job, how Rictor was invaluable whether he was punching heads or a keyboard and it wasn't Jamie's fault if he was too damn macho to see that. Then he looked down at the small, joyous engine of destruction that was Rictor on the ground. As he watched Ric took a swipe to the face, went down, kicked the other guy's legs out from under him, smashed the falling jaw with his other foot and bounced back up like a kid's toy on springs as his opponent hit the dirt. Shatterstar yelled something and they shared a look; Jamie couldn't see, but he knew perfectly well that Ric was grinning like a maniac through the blood on his face. He might not walk for a month, but it was his body to break if he liked and he was doing the job that needed to be done and he was winning. And there Jamie had always prided himself on not being Scott Summers, not setting himself up as the wise strategic Risk-player with other peoples' lives, always claimed the improvising and individualism and sheer backbiting messiness of X-Factor was a badge of honour, the ultimate expression of trust in his team. But... he hadn't quite trusted Ric to be himself without his powers, and so he hadn't been. "Okay," he said quietly. "Fair point."

Terry patted his arm. "Well," she said cheerfully. "I suppose it wouldn't spoil their fun too much if we backed them up, now would it?"

Everything happened very fast for a while. It didn't take long to mop up the dregs; the last group gave a little trouble - they were clearly some sort of elite team - but their ferocity was no match for the integrated randomness of X-Factor and they soon joined their colleagues on the bloody floor. The last man standing was gun-runner-in-chief. He looked incredibly ordinary except for the eyes, which had the ball-bearing sheen of cybernetics. Rictor glared at him with undiluted loathing. "In case any of this was unclear, shithead, you're closed for business."

Jamie put a hand on his shoulder. Both Ric and 'Star looked like absolute hell, begrimed and bloodstained from head to foot, and he was furious with them; but now wasn't the time to break ranks. "He gets it, Ric. We'll call S.H.I.E.L.D. I'll bet this guy's on their Big List of Interplanetary Assholes."

The arms dealer laughed. Under his bruises, he looked coolly at his captors. "Go ahead and call. You're just a hiccup, nothing more. You have no idea what's going on here."

There was a thin singing noise, and Shatterstar's blades were at the dealer's throat. He didn't do cool in these situations. He did the sort of manic, sharklike grin that would make Patrick Bateman back away quickly. But the dealer didn't look at him. His gaze went right past 'Star to the portal rig that loomed behind them.

As if on cue the rig activated, its wide arch filling with dense metallic light. The air hummed at an escalating pitch that made their ears pop and their eyeballs ache.

"What the hell...?"

The dealer smiled. "They're coming. The buyers... they're finally here. And you won't like them. Not at all. You'll think our little squad was a touring party."

"He ain't kidding," Pip said. "There's a reason that thing is so damn big. They're comin' in force!"

"I can't switch it off," Longshot yelled from the controls. "It's bio-locked, a DNA remote. Only he can do it."

Rictor grabbed the dealer by the lapels. The man's teeth began to rattle. "Turn it off or I'll milkshake your brains." The dead steel eyes didn't flinch, just watched the portal with evangelical triumph.

"Great," Jamie muttered. "A gun-runner and a fanatic."

Shatterstar laid a set of swords on each side of the man's neck, braced until they drew blood. "Turn it off or you'll think decapitation is a paper cut." Ric snorted. 'Star looked sheepish. "That one sounded better in my head," he admitted.

"Oh, for heaven's sake." Monet tapped Rictor on the shoulder. "Excuse me, mister knock-their-teeth-out-then-punch-them-in-the-stomach-for-mumbling. There are other ways of making people do things." She gestured at herself and Terry. "Step aside and let the artists work."

"No need," Ric said. Suddenly he was relaxed; he let go of the dealer and backed away. "C'mon, guys. Let's get some distance and watch the fun."


"Damn straight." Ric's eyes glittered. "I wanna see what these super-scary buyers do to this guy when they find out I filled all their shitty death boxes with alien-armament soup."

For the first time, the dealer blinked. "What?"

Ric pointed. "'Star, would you mind?"

"Not at all." 'Star walked over to a fallen crate and sliced it open with a flourish. Out poured an indecipherable scree of cogs, tubes, chips and lenses, fine as a shower of beads, chased by orphaned bits of metal casing. It was as if someone had put the guns through a high-powered blender; which, in a way, they had. He'd simply shaken them to pieces.

"Your merchandise seems to have developed some faults," 'Star said pleasantly. "And just in case you think he's bluffing..." He punctured a dozen other crates at random, all with the same effect.

Jamie leaned over to Rictor. "When did you do that?" he asked under his breath.

Ric grinned. "Soon's we got here. That's what made the wall fall down. Made a good entrance, too."

"No," the dealer was mumbling. "No, no, no. Can't happen. Not this deal. No."

"So turn the portal off, asshat."

The dealer looked around him at his fallen men, then back at Rictor. A spasm of rage twisted his face and was gone, replaced by a kind of crazed serenity. "If you knew them as I do, you'd wish for this too. You'd beg me to take you with us."

"You're going nowhere."

The dealer smiled coldly. "Trust me, nowhere is preferable to what you're about to face."

"No!" Jamie yelled. He wasn't fast enough. The dealer slumped to the floor, white froth dripping from his mouth, some suicide pill or implant. The portal kept running. Jamie felt for a pulse, knowing he wouldn't find one. Under his hands, the body's temperature spiked. Longshot pulled him away just in time; he watched in appalled fascination as the body blazed white-hot then sank to a long heap of fine, dark ash.

"Holy crap..."

"Auto-incineration," Longshot said grimly. "Another DNA control. If I'm not mistaken, we should step back now."

"What...? Oh God, no." All over the warehouse bodies were dissolving in white light. There were pitiful screams from men who were only wounded, still conscious as they burned. It was over in seconds. The warehouse stood empty except for X-Factor, the crates, the teleport rig, and scattering drifts of noxious black ash.

And the portal was still open.

"Jesus," breathed Jamie. "He went out like that rather than meet these 'buyers' empty-handed. We've got to shut that thing down."

"How?" said Terry. "The DNA it's coded to just went up in smoke."

"Not all of it." Shatterstar held up his swords, edged with blood. He looked at Rictor. Neither of them said a word. They started running.

"Guys, wait!"

"No time!" Ric yelled. The light inside the portal was moving, thickening into three-dimensional shapes. Jamie thought he saw tentacles, nightmares right out of Lovecraft roiling from the between-channels murk. Rictor stretched his hands towards the rig, throwing a wave of interference at whatever frequency it pulsed on; the shapes receded, but only so far. 'Star tore the metal panel off the controls, reached in and pulled out a tangle of circuitry surrounding some kind of sphere. He typed something on the control keys then raised his swords, a jagged play of white light round his hands like a smaller version of his teleport aura. The drone of the rig scaled to nosebleed pitch; the swords flashed, and with a shriek the portal deactivated, its screen of light pulling inside out and disappearing. Silence rushed in, almost unbearable after the portal's whine.

Monet stared at the portal. "How did you do that?" she asked Shatterstar.

'Star shrugged. "The technology's familiar. The controls require a DNA signature. He must have had some sort of bioengineered transmitter to do it, but it can be done manually if you know how to apply the code. In other words..." He waggled his swords and grinned. "I hacked it."

"Uh, 'Star?" Rictor was still at the portal, fussing with the controls. "Is this timer supposed to be counting?"

'Star looked thrown. "Counting...?"

Oh crap, Jamie thought. "Up or down?" Ric's face said it all.

Shatterstar said something hideously vulgar in Cadre. "I'm an idiot. I should have known there'd be a self-destruct."

X-Factor backed at speed away from the rig, taking refuge among the crates. "Why would somethin' like that have a self-destruct?" Pip demanded.

'Star looked at him in annoyance. "Anything misusable has a self-destruct. Anything of potentially villainous application. I should have remembered."

"Cable teach you that?" Jamie asked sarcastically.

"No, Phineas and Ferb." Then he looked at the rig in horror. "Rictor!"

"It's okay! I can stop it!" Ric was hammering away on the portal's keypad.

"Get back!"

"Nah, I've seen kids' calculators harder than this. I can fix it, I'm sure... Oh." He looked up, his face pale. "Maybe I can't."

Shatterstar flung himself back towards the rig as Rictor started running. Maybe they met before the countdown finished, maybe they didn't - Jamie was never sure. The explosion was deafening, and it seemed to wipe them out like dust.

Date: 2011-12-05 03:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I LOVE it! Your descriptions of their fighting styles was so brilliant!

I really can't wait to read more, especially with that cliff-hanger!

Date: 2011-12-05 10:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! It took me a while to get the fighting bit exactly how I wanted it, so I'm very happy you liked it. I started with this very clear image in my head of 'Star fighting with all his gladiator finesse and Ric just whaling on people Die Hard-style XD

Part 3 really just needs tweaking, so ought to be up sooner than later. Glad you're enjoying it!

Date: 2011-12-05 02:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
it's my pleasure to read it :)

oh dear lord cliffhanger

Date: 2011-12-05 03:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
you're a great writer and you use of imagery and metaphor for STar and Ric's actions was fantastic. elegant severity, so love that. and Jamie's thoughts on how he held back Rictor when he was depowered were thoughtful and made perfect sense in his canonical relationship with Rictor and Ric's own past behaviors in X-factor.

i am REALLY looking forward to the next chapter!

Re: oh dear lord cliffhanger

Date: 2011-12-05 10:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Aw, thank you so much! I'm really happy their fighting stuff worked for you, it's really the image I started out with for the whole fic. I've been waiting in vain for Ric and 'Star to get a badass couple moment in the comic, or some callback to the fact that their shared formative years were spent learning to kick the crap out of bad guys together. And yeah, I guess the Jamie bit came from my slight regret that Rictor's badassery got rather sidelined in canon. I loved angsty depowered Ric, but it seemed like his getting into fistfights and stuff was gradually phased out of the book in favour of the emotional storylines - which of course I've been loving too but still, I missed scrappy Ric.

/ ramble ;)

Date: 2011-12-05 04:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Excellent writing. Wow.

Date: 2011-12-05 10:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! I'm really glad you liked it. This is only my 2nd RicStar fic so the positive feedback is really awesome and encouraging. Part 3 ought to be up soonish.

Date: 2011-12-05 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiifty. Love Ric beating the crap out of people instead of just superpowering them into oblivion. :D

Date: 2011-12-05 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! :D

The action-hero stuff seemed in character somehow, especially if he was fighting alongside 'Star. In my head a big part of the X-Force training was good old-fashioned ass-kicking and not just powers. If I had to think, I'd say that in this story he's had his powers back long enough that he's *just* stopped using them every chance he gets ;)

Date: 2012-01-05 09:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wow, this was gorgeous to read. I loved how you described Rictor and Shatterstar fighting, and their intimacy. And Jamie's realization that maybe Rictor would have been better off on the frontlines. Nice plot and dialogue too, enjoyable :)

Date: 2012-01-06 11:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the fighty stuff - as you can probably tell, I've been wishing for something like this in the comic for a long time :)


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