Portals

From the Story Arc: Red And Blue

Previous Story in the Arc: Murky Clouds at 20000 feet by Bestial Boy (Sunday, July 17, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: What Dreams May Come by Belladonna Aura (Thursday, July 28, 2005)

(posted Thursday, July 21, 2005)

It was not the first Portal mission that Bella had done. Now that she had begun to come into a good set of powers and skills, she had begun to find that even those in the upper strata of skill and experience wanted her along.

Or, as she would tease them, "You only love me for my perma-AM!" She'd begun to relish the trips to Peregrine Island and Portal Corporation, since no matter what happened, it would be an adventure just getting there. And going through the Portal felt like being in a Stargate episode.

It wasn't even the first Portal Mission with Zach; he'd taken her on a Rikti hunt back when John Murdock had first been diagnosed and she had emoted all over him and Communard. Poor Bossman! He hadn't known what to think when she'd started crying and couldn't stop. It had been such a relief for him to turn the wet mess she was over to Zach. Zach's solution had been to go hit things. It had been a pretty darn good one. He was a fast mover and while he was on the move, she had all she could do to keep up with him. It wasn't until John had called her on the comm that she'd lost it again--

The differnce was that this had been the first Portal mish in a while where she hadn't been preoccuppied with something else or where there hadn't been a full team and she the front-line defender. Which meant there was nothing to distract her from Commissar Bestial Boy--

Distract? He'd been playing tank. Which mean she was right up there within arms'-length of him. Close enough to touch, oh my yes. Not that you could see anything through that weird power of his that made him look like a column of smoke but--but she could feel him. Sense the wild exhileration he got from fighting, the triumph every time he took another enemy down, a feeling she actually shared, which was why she liked being an "offender" rather than a strict defender. Standing there throwing heals was not her idea of a good time, even though she did call herself a healer. There was a kind of feral pleasure in it, and she felt that same feral, cheerful pleasure from Djinni, and especially from Zach.

---Zach---

He's not free. And even if he was, he probably thought of her as a kind of little sister. Or a buddy.

And even if he was free, you're not safe. She was still radioactive. And despite what Nat said about how resilient he was to radiation--

But that didn't stop her sunconscious from wanting, and even her treacherous body from longing. She struggled through the whole mission to keep from paying too much attention to him. It had been worth faceplanting just to hear him call out her name the way he did when she dropped. And now it was over and they were all standing on the home side of the Portal, and the first thing he did was stretch and pop his neck and the first thing he said was, "I need some shuteye friends."

She could have sworn. She knew nasty words in five languages, and it sure felt as if now, if ever, was the time to use all of them. But instead, she said, looking back over her shoulder at the roaring Portal, "They said we can name the place. I vote for 'KEEP OUT'."

She didn't think he'd noticed, but he laughed. "Nice one Bella! Or....we could be mean like the vikings and name it 'Scenic beachfront' like they did with Greenland."

She forced herself not to stare at him, though what she wanted to do was the opposite. She wanted to go lurk somewhere that she could look at him to her hearts' content. No one would know; it would harm no one.

Damn it, why did he have to be taken?

What was it about him? Besides the sense of humor? Oh, he was handsome enough, but most heroes were good-looking. It had to be the animation in his features. So many guys were into this bust-on-a-pedastal, show-nothing routine. Zach wore his heart on his sleeve and the rest of his emotions on his face. His expression was always changing.

All the time she'd been watching-not-watching him, an entire conversation had been going on without her. SHe only realized it was happening when he replied to something Calignous Storn saud.

"That scares me, Cal." he said. "Scared to death of boredom...I'll freely admit that."

"I'm heading out too. There's something waiting for me," Red Djinni said, coyly not mentioning that the "something" was Bella's neighbor and friend, Vic. Bella shared a wall with Vic; it was as clear as glass that Djinni and Vic were closer after only a month than most couples were after a year, and a flash of envy was quickly drowned in an ocean of melancholy. Thea has Star....Red has Vic.....even Flame had John....why can't I....

She swallowed hard. She was so not going to start feeling self-pity now. She was going to enjoy what little more she got of Zach's company, then go home and---

And Zach turned his head to look at her just when she was fighting that feeling. "You Okay Bella? You seem off somewhere...."

"Um....just thinking," she temporized, as the rest of the team with the exception of Djinni headed down the hall and for the exits.

He put his hand under her chin before she could back away, raising it. His fingers felt warm and strong and gentle. "Chin up kiddo! Things are turning around! Zach is back in town!" The touch of his hand on her face made her shiver, and she forced herself to grin like the impish little mascot he thought she was.

When all the time what she wanted to do was to kiss him---well, more than kiss him, but that would be a start. She looked into his eyes; they twinkled, and crinkled at little at the corners when he grinned.

Oh gosh, and I want to kiss him so bad.....

A strange expression--surprise, and something else, flitted over his features just as she thought that. She wondered briefly what had surprised him. But only briefly, as she was still tangled in her own thoughts.

--dammit--

Another look of surprise.

"Er.....that's funny.....hmmm," he muttered, his expression like that of someone who hears an odd sound and can't track down where it's coming from.

--and now thanks to Shyft I can at least kiss him without hurting him--

"Kiss who?" Zach said aloud, startling her.

"What?" she blurted.

He let go of her chin and eyed her. "Didn't you just say something about that?"

"About what?" He couldn't possibly have been reading her thoughts. Fluke. That was what it was.

zach shook his head. "I could have sworn....I must be tired....."

Red Djinni gave them both a strange look. "I'll... uh... be outside."

Zach watched Djinni go, and she thought she heard him mumble something. "So hard to read strange looks in firey eyes---" Then, "Sorry," he said aloud and muttered, "Am I losing it?"

She sighed. "Sometimes I think I'm losing it," she confessed shyly.

He spun and stared at her. "Whoa! You definitely read my mind there Bella!"

She blinked at him, nonplussed, as some random hero pestered them about joining her mission. "Wha--?" she replied cleverly. "No-- That's silly. I pick up some emotions sure, but mostly from Triste--Flame--"

But he gave her a penetrating look. "Yes....that's the fourth time you've 'heard' something that I just thought."

Not possible. Maybe it's that he really is so tired he's saying things out loud. "I'm really good at reading body language, I always was," she protested.

He stared at her, then turned away and muttered again. "You are busted if that's true buddy boy."

She sighed. She seemed to be doing that a lot.

"Hmm....but I could have sworn...." he said aloud.

But her thoughts were preoccuppied with the muscles of that strong back, the way his hair lay over his collar. If he ever figures out how much I want him....Kid Crisis is nice but Zach? ohmigod. Oh my god. He makes my toes curl.

"It was almost like I could.....hear....." he said thoughtfully, then suddenly the back of his neck blushed bright green.

Her thoughts turned melancholy again, as she watched a full team of what was obviously couples queue up and leap through the Portal. Why is it that I'm always the one on the outside?

He was speaking aloud, still, and it sounded as if some of her melancholy had leaked over to him. "I'm not sure what's going on here...so many changes...." He held his head in his hands for a moment and she ached to comfort him and knew she didn't dare. Instead, she looked off to the side to allow him a little privacy.

Bad enough being a radioactive freak.... her thoughts continued bitterly. Who'd really want me?

He turned back, and his expression changed to one of concern just as she tried to get a grip on herself. Stop it Bella. You know better than this. Get cheerful---

His eyes softened. "Hey! I hate seeing that face get all sad....c'mon girlie, chin up!" He touched her chin again, just tilting an index finger under it.

She had not been expecting that; not twice in the course of a few minutes. Her stomach knotted up. ---ohmigod.

He looked deeply into her eyes; she couldn't have looked away if a Rikti Swordsman had been standing right next to them. "Things can only get better, right?"

Her heart started pounding. "Y---" she faltered. "--right---better--"

His eyes smiled at her, though his mouth looked a little sad. "You'd be surprised.....John's not the only one that's had some changes...."

He has the most wonderful green eyes....

"Being down in DC gave me some time to think---"

---beautiful green eyes---

"About what's important...and what yer just holding on to because you're afraid..."

And at that moment, that worst of all moments, she saw on the team monitors that Djinni had gone red. With a squeak, she leapt backwards, keyed him, and teleported him out of danger and back into the room beside them, firing off three healing auras in quick succession.

"Yeesh," he said, ruefully rubbing the top of his head. "Damn illusionists."

"They should send them back to Vegas where they belong!" Zach said, covering the awkward moment, the even more awkward interruption.

She felt horrible. Granted, they weren't in mission but---they were still teamed, and that meant she had fallen down on her duties. "Jeezus Red, I am so sorry!" she exclaimed apologetically. "I wasn't paying attention---"

Djinni shook his head. "Nah, I was being stupid."

But she wasn't having any. "Healer's job to always watch the monitors! I am so sorry!"

Djinni gave them both an odd look, as if wondering what it was that Bella had been paying attention to if not the monitors. Zach blushed bright green again.

"Don't worry about... you okay Zach?" Djinni said, eyeing Bestial Boy searchingly.

"That was an awkward moment for Red to show up!" she heard him mutter, then say louder, "...yeah, no problems here!"

She felt pretty warm herself Dammit, why did he have to go red on me RIGHT THEN?

"Anyway....I've got to hit the hay..." Zach was saying, as Djinni's eyes went from his face, to hers and back again like someone watching a tennis match.

"Ooookay," Djinni said, still watching them like a spectator at some event.

She didn't care. Djinni already knew how she felt. And he had been an unwelcome but dead-on voice of caution.

"Oh gosh, do you?" she said, her face falling. "It's so good to have you back---"

"It's good to be back...what was I saying before...?" He shifted restlessly. "Anyway....er....well, lets just say that I really appreciate all that you've done for me....er...everyone."

She flushed, but felt oddly disappointed. "Oh gosh, I don't do that much--" she murmured.

But he was still talking. "And being away in DC...it just gave me time to realize what I missed....and what I might be...missing out on. The thing is.....Well...I have to take care of some things, but you should know that ...er..."

She gazed deeply into his eyes. She really didn't care that he was just telling her he appreciated all the reports and the organization, as long as it meant he was still her, with her, for a little longer....

She thought she heard a murmur from somewhere. "Just tell her that you can't stop thinking about her, stupid!" But of course, it couldn't have been Zach, because he was still talking....

I can't stop thinking about him. And I don't want to....thinking never hurt anyone.

"No..I need to take care of something first..but just know that I've been thinking alot about you Bella....and what you mean. To me."

She blinked. "Me?" she faltered.

He grinned. "See any other gorgeous blue skinned defenders around? Didn't think so."

It was her turn to blush, hotly.

"We'll talk," he said, "....but it isn't right to do it like this...I need to talk to..she should know first......I.....I've just got to go."

But instead of going, he grabbed her hand. She'd gotten smaller jolts from Tesla Knights. She was surprised she didn't do the Sparky Dance then and there.

OHMIGOD!

She began to babble. "I---I---I'm glad I---I mean, I'm glad you like what I did on your computer and---"

Her mouth stopped working. But he laughed in that way she loved so much. Not at anything. At life.

"My computer???? You think that's what this is about?" He laughed again.

Djinni began to edge away. Quickly. "You two seem... busy. I'm off ta find my lady then, Safe Journey to you both."

Her mind had gone into meltdown. He still had her hand. He wasn't letting go of it.

This was not about reports and computers.

---ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod---

He squeezed her hand. "Jeez bella....you never fail to make me smile.....but like I said, we'll talk later."

---we'll talk later---

"Um....ok" she said faintly.

---don't Bella, don't do it, don't---

Zach looked over to Djinni, who was already on the stairs. "I'm just heading off, Red..sorry to steal Bella away."

Djinni shook his head. "No no, you didn't. For some reason, I felt like I was imposing, actually."

Zach leaned in towards her. She was going from hot to cold like a malfunctioning fridge.

---don't----

"Don't be silly...." he said to Djinni, with his eyes still on her. "I'm just all messed up over hearing about so many changes."

---don't---even---think about it---

"Lotta paperwork to go over," Djinni said from the entrance to the hallway. " I can relate. G'night you two."

They were alone. Not even the Portal attendants.

He leaned over so closely she could feel his breath on her cheek. She closed her eyes.

He kissed her softly, warm lips gentle on hers. Gentle---and carried a jolt like the Clockwork King himself.

---oh hell yes!---

"What the hell..." he murmured, "...alls fair, right?"

....ooooooh hell yesssssss....

"Now do you get it?" he whispered in her ear, slipping his left arm around the small of her back.

Both her arms went around his neck, as his right hand moved up to the nape of her neck, pulling her close for another kiss. She wasn't---exactly---the most experienced at kissing. In fact, she'd only had one romantic kiss in her life, her buddy Josh, back in the desert, back just before she'd met Nat. But she'd dreamed of this so often---and if vickie herself had written this, it couldn't have been more perfect. No awkwardness with noses, not to hard or too tentative, every nerve she owned was on fire and she flung herself into the kiss with an abandon that might have scared her if she'd stopped to think about it.

Finally she came up for air.

And a nice big dose of guilt.

He chuckled richly. "Right here girlie...."

"---oh Zach--" she began and he stopped her words with another kiss that was somehow better and more intense than the last one.

...whew..... she thought she heard him whisper, in tones of excitement and wonder.

But guilt was now in the saddle and determined not to be bucked off. "Oh dammit Zach---" she said unhappily when they had to breathe again.

He held her close, her head cradled against his shoulder. "Dammit?"

"Zach," she mourned, knowing this was the only right thing to say---and hating it. "I don't poach--I---"

He shushed her, as another team came in, talking noisily, to take the Portal. "I know, I know...but its not like that.....just let me take care of things.....I promise....I....."

"I don't want to make anyone else unhappy--" she said, very near to tears now herself, and feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve standing outside her burning house....

And the hard, cold voice of reality interposed itself and drove a stake in the heart of her hopes.

"Don't I know you, Beastial Boy?"

Zach looked up sharply, letting Bella go. "Do you?"

It was a stranger to her, but evidently not to Zach. "Aren't you dating Carpathia?" the interloper demanded, hard-eyed.

She fled. She was crying before she hit the security gate and sobbing as she took to the air. It was a good thing that habit made her fly high, because the worst sniper in the world could have picked her off, she was that blinded by tears.