A Kiss Before Battle

From the Story Arc: Battle Stations!

Previous Story in the Arc: Calm Before the Storm by Bestial Boy (Saturday, April 08, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Waiting Game by Waitron9000 (Saturday, April 08, 2006)

(posted Saturday, April 08, 2006)

The room burst into a flurry of activity again. The heroes separated into their individual teams, discussing their part of the assault on the headquarters and the zone entrances. After his second briefing, this time from Moj, he walked over to the wall where the equipment tables had been set up. Time to ruck up.

Several of the more 'mundane' heroes, the SWAT, and some Longbow were doing the same. Nightvision goggles, distraction devices like flashbangs and smoke grenades, slip-tie handcuffs and Longbow 'port tags; everything went into load-bearing gear pouches. John had dropped his regular patrol uniform for something a bit more practical. Generic black armored vest, reinforced fatigue pants, his boots, and some spare webbing gear from the SWAT locker. No capes for this mission; this was all business.

Two heroes whom he didn't know were at the table where some of the more 'serious' hardware was located. What caught his eye were the machine guns and grenade launchers they were inspecting. After a few moments, they placed them back on the table. John ambled over after they had moved on to finish their own preparations, picking up an M16 that still stank of cosmoline and Breakfree oil. He pulled back the slide, making sure that the chamber was clear. Releasing it, it slammed back in place with a satisfying snap. Ain't been so long that I've forgotten, at least. John finished function checking the rifle before slinging it over his back. Four thirty-round magazines filled the front equipment pouches on his web gear. Only enough ammunition for a REMF, but then again he wasn't planning on using it.

::Beloved?:: he sensed, rather than saw, Sera behind him. She was eyeing the rifle with trepidation. ::...why?...::

Sera was across the room, a few paces away from their childrens' team. John walked over, drawing his wife close to him. He leaned back still holding her. "The Council isn't playing games, love. I'm not aiming to kill any of them, nor am I going to allow anyone else I'm with tryin' it. But..." He shook his head before meeting her eyes again. "If it's between one of our comrades, one of our friends dying, and one of the Council...I don't much care if there is a no-kill order. I'll do what's necessary so far as to protect my teammates. Rifle might be the quickest and most effective way of doin' that."

"Besides," he said, shrugging. "It's more there as a 'just-in-case' sort of thing; I'd rather have it, and not use the damned thing, than to not have it, and need it. Do you understand, love?" He searched her eyes, concern furrowing his brow.

Slowly, she nodded. "...no one here thinks that the order means we are to die rather than take a life," she said, slowly. "Only that we are to take prisoners rather than kill. Anything else would be foolish." She reached up and gently laid her palm along his cheek.

He placed his own hand over hers, holding it there. "Don't worry, love. I want these Council to get real justice, not some half-cocked vengeance, for what they've done. I won't let things...fall to their level."

Wordlessly she folded into the arms held out for her. Wordlessly she let all the thin veils between them fall. Wordlessly she let him know that she knew--whatever happened, they would never lose each other.

John sighed, the last of his anxiety about the coming fight disappearing. The equipment, the gun, the briefing; it didn't matter. Now he was prepared to do what needed doing; he was ready to rescue his comrades.

Mojiotok had always enjoyed his superficial relationships with women. And there had been plenty of women. Raised as the heir-apparent to his Soviet Hero father, women had been falling at his feet since he was old enough to notice.

But anything beyond the superficial? Nyet! He had seen what life had been like for Red Saviour Senior and his mate. He had never seen a match more made in hell. And other relationships, in his viewing, had fared no better. Women...didn't understand that men needed danger. Clinging and whiny...or like Natalya, more man than woman...he loved Natalya, truly he did, but the barest notion of becoming involved with someone like her...it made him shudder.

And so he had always thought. Knowing that Zachary Marlowe was involved with this Aura person, who he had only seen once or twice before going back to Moscow, a slender little slip of blue with soft voice and softer ways...he had shuddered to think what was going to come of that. And her a Commissar! Oh, yes, Natalya had thought she was suitable but...

At the first sign of danger, real danger, it would all come apart. Or with Zach always in Washington, she would be lonely and have affairs. Or...be whining and clingy. He had been certain when he stepped off the plane that this was what he was going to have to advise Commissar Bestial Boy about. That, and the other close couples on the team, one, govno! with children! Disaster in the making, surely, surely.

And then had come the call. And he had thought, despite the relatively calm voice on that phone, that he would be picking up a melted pool of Commissar-in-tears when he arrived at Paragon City.

Instead...instead he arrived to find...efficiency. A Command and Control center being prepped. A way into the Zone found. Command already established. A working team of Commissars. He switched his opinion and expected to have to fight a virago like Natalya for command. Instead, command was wordlessly and without question handed over to those with real combat, real war experience. And the blue healer with the glowing eyes had gone on to help sort which volunteers were best suited on which team, showing intimate knowledge of their allies.

Now...now, though, when it was time to move,,,now would come the tears, the clinging, the Hollywood-decadent-movie farewell--


And Belladonna Aura was folded into the arms of Bestial Boy, her head resting above his heart, just as Moj would have expected.

But then...

She looked up at him. "Do what you have to," Moj heard her say. "Then get your perfect buns back to me. My couch will be lonely for them."

Zach Marlowe grinned. "You got it, babycakes."

She kissed him. Hard. But with no tears. "No planting for Bella. I'm gonna have too much to do with rewiring everything after this is over."

Zach held her again, tightly, then let her go. They both stood back a pace, and saluted. And Bella went to her team without a single glance backwards.

Keeping his jaw from dropping only with an effort, Moj caught sight of the other "problem" couple just beyond. John Murdock and the supposed "angel," caught in an embrace that shut out the rest of the world. Ah now, there, there would be--

But there were no tears. No recriminations. No plaintive demands.

And absolutely no doubt in his mind, looking at them, that not even death would end what they had.

A wash of raw envy rose in him. He looked from his Commissars, to the couple only now slowly separating and back to his Commissars who were--

--doing what needed to be done.

All right, one more, that damaged creature Victoria Victrix. Her paramour was on the same team. Surely there would be--

"...we ought to keep you from planting too many times in sewer water, Big Red," he heard her say cheerfully, as she expertly examined a handgun, obviously considered taking it, then wordlessly shook her head and picked up a shotgun and beanbag ammunition. "Gonna take any hardware?"

Red Djinni shook his head. "Gonna have my hands full as it is. You just keep the magic comin' darlin'."

"I will," she promised, and stood on tiptoe for a quick, hard kiss. "Both kinds. Let's get this show on the road."

No tears. No "don't worry, I'll protect you."

Was it possible? Could even--he--find a strong woman who wasn't half she-wolf? One with courage to match his? To match these?

He shook back the thought. The Victrix woman was right. It was time to move the show onto the road.