by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. Setting and continuity should be self-evident in the course of the story; rated R for semi-explicit m/m sexual themes. Many thanks to KJ for literally holding my hand every step of the way, and to Dia for giving me the nudge I needed to get started. :)
The storm was in its death throes. Sitting cross-legged beneath the broken half-arch of the concrete overpass, the man once known as Wolverine watched, unblinking, as the lurid colors faded from the sky, the churning black clouds withdrawing like a curtain into the west.
The sun would be out soon. Maybe. It had been a long time since you'd been able to count on such things like the sun rising and setting where it should. Logan thought maybe ten years, but he couldn't be sure. Time didn't work the way it should anymore, either, thanks to Apocalypse. A bitter smile pulled at the corner of Logan's mouth for a moment as he wondered if the old bastard was happy with his work, or whether he was sitting there in Egypt, cowering in his citadel like a spider in the middle of an unraveling web. Sunlight flashed out from the edge of the clouds, and Logan shielded his eyes against the sudden dazzle of light.
A few feet away, where the rainwater dripping off the remains of the overpass had left a puddle, water started to fall upwards.
Logan watched in a sort of sick fascination as each perfect crystalline drop emerged from the water and ascended steadily into the air. After a moment, his vision blurred, and when it cleared the water was falling normally once more.
That was the problem, he thought, hauling himself to his feet. Hank had pointed out, after that second battle with Apocalypse - the battle that had torn reality apart at the seams - that it was 'as much a problem of perception' as anything else. They couldn't trust what they saw, anymore. Their senses were as corrupted as everything else.
That should bother him more than it did, he supposed. It had, once upon a time, but he'd gotten used to it.
He couldn't rely on his senses.
He couldn't rely on anything.
In a way, it wasn't all that different from the way he'd once lived his life, all those years ago, before the X-Men. Part of him had hoped there'd never be an 'after the X-Men', for him. But here he was, wandering the abandoned roads of a world that seemed emptier by the day, with only his memories to keep him company.
He didn't even know if this was the same world, anymore. All those years, all these shifts. . .he could be walking further and further away from 'his' world by the day, off into some alternate that had never been anything BUT empty. That might explain why he saw so few people these days. Abandoned cities, old corpses. . .he'd seen plenty of those, mind you. The few living people he'd run into had been mad, or as lost as him.
Logan didn't even know why he kept moving. Some instinct, probably. It wasn't as if there was anything chasing him. . .except his guilt.
He managed to get a fire going, amazingly enough. It was a nice change, after all the cold nights he'd spent lately. Logan tossed some more kindling onto the flames, flinching slightly as sparks spat outwards and then abruptly changed their paths, dancing wildly into the starless sky.
The flames settled, and he pulled his ragged cloak around him more tightly, remembering watching the mansion burn. There'd been too much violence, after the second gathering of the Twelve. Too many terrified people, lashing out at everything and everyone around them as their world fell apart. By the time anyone had tried to stop it, things had been too far gone. Logan closed his eyes, the memory of Magneto's red-armored form falling from the sky into the arms of a crowd screaming for his blood seizing him so vividly it was almost painful.
Red. Like Jean's hair had been when he'd found her. . .
He swallowed, pushing that memory away to the corner where it belonged. Some things hurt too much to remember.
#Truer words were never spoken.#
For a moment, Logan thought the voice was his own. After all this time on his own, he had taken to talking to himself more often than not. A little embarassing to admit, but it wasn't as if there was anyone around to hear him.
But the voice wasn't his, and he hadn't heard it, he realized abruptly. Not really. Jumping to his feet, his claws coming out instinctively, Logan stared out into the dark, searching frantically. It had been so long since he'd heard a telepath in his mind, he'd almost forgotten what it felt like. . .
"Who's there?" he snapped. "Show yourself!"
"Don't be so impatient," a voice out of the darkness said softly. "After how long I've been chasing you, hairball, I'm a little too tired to ask how high when you say jump." The sound of the familiar voice sent a shiver up his spine.
No. . .way, he thought dazedly.
The man who stepped into the firelight was someone Logan had never expected to see again. "Cable," he said blankly, half-expecting him to vanish like a mirage at the sound of his name.
But he didn't.
"You were expecting someone else?" Cable stood there, staring down at the fire for a long moment, those weird eyes of his strangely dazed as they watched the flames dance. "Pretty optimistic on your part."
He didn't look all that different, Logan thought, still staring at him, stunned. A lot thinner than he had been. More worn around the edges. And that haggard, hunted look was like nothing he'd ever seen on Cable's face before. He had the look of a man who'd been chased by his nightmares for so long that the only thing that made any sense anymore was running. But then, he was here. . .
"You've been chasing me?" The question came out harsher than he'd intended. Especially considering he wasn't particularly mad about it. . .
Cable took another step forward and sank to his knees in front of the fire, as if he couldn't manage another step, or stay on his feet any longer. "More or less," he murmured. "I felt you, and I followed you. You kept. . .fading, in and out. I wasn't sure it was you, but here you are."
Logan sat back down, not being able to think of anything else to do. "I thought you were dead," he muttered after a moment. Bad assumption on his part, maybe; after all, this was a Summers he was talking about, and he never had seen a body.
He just hadn't imagined Cable could have survived this long. Something had happened to the Twelve, after that last battle, and none of the rest of them had been able to figure out what. It was as if something had been missing in each of them from that day onward, as if Apocalypse had done more than stolen their powers for those few fateful minutes. All of them had. . .faded, somehow, and all the rest of them had been able to do was watch. . .
"Maybe I am. Are any of us really alive?" Cable asked ironically, stretching out a hand and reaching right into the fire. Logan lurched forward to yank him back, but stopped in mid-motion when he saw the flames licking harmlessly at Cable's hand, almost playfully. The sight was somehow mesmerizing and disturbing at the same time. Cable leaned back after a moment, smiling oddly at him. "Life and death stop meaning what they used to when reality breaks down. You know, I saw Jean a while ago?"
Logan stared. "Jean's. . ."
"Not our Jean," Cable continued, as if he hadn't heard him begin to protest. "A Jean. Just for a moment. She turned a corner and I lost her." The smile tightened. "I shouldn't jump to conclusions. I don't even know if you're my Logan."
A gravelly laugh escaped before Logan could stop it. "Does it matter?" he asked roughly, studying Cable almost desperately. Was that it, then? Was this not the Cable he'd known?
Did it matter?
"I suppose not. One way or another, it's still us. I think." Cable shuddered, wrapping his arms around himself and edging closer to the fire. "I've been trying to get to him, you know," he said abruptly. "To Egypt. All this time. But I can't even get to the coast. I think I've been walking in circles. . ."
"It'd be suicide," Logan snapped. "Even if you could find your way there." Suicide. A useless, hopeless waste of life, and after so long thinking everyone who'd worn the 'X' was dead, even the thought of what would happen if Cable ever made it to Akkaba and faced Apocalypse on his own. . . Logan shook his head angrily. "Forget it," he growled. "There'd be no point." Given the chance, he wouldn't mind seeing Apocalypse die - the more unpleasant a death the better - but it wouldn't undo the damage, or bring any of the dead back. And maybe he was getting pragmatic in his old age, but dying in a lost cause didn't make much sense.
Cable laughed emptily. "Maybe not, but what a way to go." He half-shrugged, almost apathetically. "There's something to be said for winding up unfinished business. . ."
Logan growled a few profanities under his breath. "You that eager to die?" he demanded.
Cable looked up at him, his gaze unfocused, eerie. "Funny," he said, his mouth quirking in that odd smile once more. "It used to bother me, you know."
"What?" Logan asked almost defensively.
"You thinking I was a fanatic. Then again, I always thought you were a hairy little self-righteous beserker, so I shouldn't complain."
"Me self-righteous?" Logan snorted, shaking his head. "Look who's talking. You got any idea how often I wanted to pop you one when you got started on the whole 'I'm here to save the future' crap. . ." Cable's expression went blank, and Logan bit off the rest of what he'd been about to say, cursing himself. "Nate. . ." he started awkwardly.
"Right," Cable whispered, his gaze dropping back to the fire. "Did one hell of a job, didn't I." Before Logan could say anything - not that he knew what the hell he would have said to that - Cable took a deep breath and looked back at him with something like that old analytical squint. "You're looking pretty well, all things considered," he said, his voice level, but brittle-sounding.
"Surviving. Can't ask for much more, these days." Logan regarded Cable for a moment, returning the favor. "You eaten lately?" he asked finally, unable to think of anything else to say. It was a safe question, at least, not something that could stray into dangerous territory.
"Yes, actually." Shivering, Cable drew closer to the fire. "I found a supermarket a few days back, can you believe that? The power was on, all the produce was fresh. . .flonqing place looked like it was waiting to open up for the day. Wasn't anyone in there, of course. I don't think I could have dealt with ghost cashiers. . ." He shook his head almost irritably. "Took away as much as I could carry, but I had a pack full of rotted food in the morning."
Logan blinked at the mental image. "Weird," he commented dryly, provoking a faint laugh from Cable.
"Goes without saying." Cable shrugged again. "I should have expected it. Perishables don't fare well if you carry them across a shifting zone." He started to trace something in the dirt. Logan leaned over to look, but didn't recognize the symbols. "There are rules, you know. I'm sure you've figured some of them out by now. Always a little bit of order, even in chaos. . ."
Logan chuckled wearily. "Never thought I'd miss you spouting philosophy at the drop of a hat."
"I've missed having someone around to dazzle with my oblique excuse for wit," Cable muttered, and then drew his hand over whatever he'd just been tracing, his left eye flashing an angry gold. He took a deep, unsteady breath. "I'm tired. I've been following you for. . .I don't know how long it's been."
"Would've stopped, if I'd known you were out there," Logan said quietly. "Anyway, get some sleep. I wasn't planning on going anywhere."
"Plans backfire," Cable whispered. "That's one of the rules." He blinked at the fire for a few moments longer, and then shifted into a familiar cross-legged posture, his eyes closed and his hands resting lightly on his knees.
Logan sighed. "Nate."
"Go to SLEEP. I'm not in the mood to watch you floating upside down all night."
Cable's mouth twisted in a humorless smile, but he didn't open his eyes. "Flonq yourself, Logan."
Logan shook his head. "You sure haven't gotten any better-tempered."
"Look who's talking."
He wasn't sure what woke him up. Instinct, maybe, his subconscious telling him that something was wrong. Had to be something like that. . .or maybe it was the dead silence, the calm before the fucking storm, like always. . .
He pushed himself up to a sitting position, blinking at the shift line running right through the middle of the fire. It had missed where he'd been lying by a few inches, no more, and Logan growled under his breath, shaken by the realization of how close he'd come to something that might have been worse than death.
A moment later, he swore, leaping to his feet. On the other side of a shift was a blizzard. That half of the fire was cold and dead, and Cable was sprawled unmoving on the ground, half-buried in the snow. "Nate!" His shout seemed to hang in the air, almost visible, and Logan swore again, this time desperately, as Cable didn't so much as stir. Shit, he probably can't even hear me. . .
He plunged forward, into the shift line. . .
. . .and staggered, choking, as air that smelled like rotten apricots filled his lungs. . .
. . .and fell upwards, into the sky, the air getting thinner and thinner as he ascended helplessly. . .
. . .and floundered helplessly in thick, viscous water, struggling to swim. . .
. . .and slowly
fighting for breath
every cell in his body straining to explode
as he slid
of the world. . .
Powerful hands clamped down on his shoulders, yanking him backwards. The pain was incredible. He felt himself stretch and warp, caught between one reality and another. . .and emerged into bitingly cold, clean air that almost seared his lungs as he gasped it in.
He twisted out of the grip of whoever had him, lashing out blindly. His claws caught on something, and the pained curse that echoed inside his mind snapped him out of his daze instantly. Blinking, trying to clear his vision, he stared in shock at Cable as the other man staggered backwards, one hand clasped to his side and blood seeping around his fingers.
"Nate. . .shit. . ."
"Cute. . ." Cable grated. "Remind me to let the shift rip you apart next time." He straightened, wincing. "What the flonq did you think you were doing, anyway?"
"Trying to get to you before you got turned into a human icecube!" Logan snapped, hands clenching into fists at his sides. There was a light blanket of snow everywhere, but the sky here. . .wherever here was. . .was perfectly clear. "How bad?" he asked tautly, taking a step forward.
"Don't flatter yourself," Cable muttered, taking his hand away and looking at the blood as if he'd never seen anything like it before. "Just a scratch."
Somewhere amid the hard, cold knot of fear tightening in his chest, anger sparked to life, and Logan took a step forward. "Bullshit," he growled shakily. "Let me see."
"Never MIND, Logan. . ."
"You couldn't have told me it was you or something?" Logan snarled as Cable backed away. He followed; maybe not the smartest thing to do, to push like this, but he wasn't letting Cable just brush this off. At least not until he was sure he hadn't done any serious damage. "I could've. . ."
Cable's eye flashed gold again, and Logan grunted as he was knocked to the ground by the telekinetic equivalent of a fist to the jaw. "I said I'm fine," Cable said shakily as Logan struggled back to his feet, cursing. "Just. . .back off, all right?"
"Dammit, Nate, let me take a look. . ."
This time, the fist that came at him was real, a half-hearted swing he could have dodged easily enough, or countered even easier, considering how wide Cable had left himself open. Instead, he started to sidestep, just enough to be able to catch Cable's wrist. Cable lurched forward, off-balance, and Logan nearly recoiled at the tangle of emotions that hit him like a slap to the face.
"Easy," he rasped, still holding onto Cable's wrist, reaching out with his other hand to steady the bigger man. More physical contact just made the psychic thunderstorm battering at him stronger, and he gritted his teeth, trying to ignore the echoes of anger and despair and pain that it provoked within him. "Nate. . .look at me, okay?" Mismatched eyes, not quite focused, fixed on his face, and Logan swallowed. "I know, all right?" he said, as gently as he could. "I know. . ."
"You don't. . .you can't." Breathing raggedly, Cable tried to pull away. Logan didn't let go of his wrist, and the other man sank to the ground, trembling, broad shoulders slumped in a strangely defeated posture. Logan knelt down beside him, still maintaining that contact. Waiting. "I had to. . .you were caught between shifts, and I had to rip through them to get to you. . ."
"I'd say I owed you a beer, then," Logan said quietly, studying Cable's face. His words had been strangely disjointed, that weird accent back stronger than he'd heard it for longer than he cared to remember. "How long have you been able to affect shifts?"
"You don't understand!" Cable said almost violently, trying to twist free of Logan's grip. Logan didn't let him, and got a few snarled Askani curses for the effort. "Apocalypse is everywhere. . .I can feel him, every time I try to affect anything! The psychic stench of him is wound up in the flonqing fabric of reality. . ." Cable trailed off with something that sounded almost like a choked sob, and Logan watched helplessly as the other man seemed to shrink into himself somehow, withdrawing before his eyes. "I had to create a new path through the shifting zones to get to you, force them to change," Cable muttered almost feverishly. "The only way, but I can feel him on me, inside me. Like I'm never going to be clean again. . ."
"I know about feeling tainted, Nate." His voice came out harsher than he'd intended, rough with the memories that flooded back. He still couldn't shake the guilt, even after all these years. What he'd done, as Death, his arrogance, thinking he could fight Apocalypse from the inside, that he was strong enough to hold onto himself. . .Logan took a deep, shuddering breath. "Been carrying him with me, all these years. I look around at all of this, and. . ."
Cable looked up at him, and Logan stiffened, trapped by that glowing, eerie gaze, like a deer in the headlights of a truck. "I hated you," he said, his voice a bitter, broken rasp. "Absolutely despised you, you know that? I could hardly stand to be in the same room with you."
Logan thought back to the time between the two battles with Apocalypse, Cable's brief tenure with the X-Men. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but he could remember those days like they were yesterday. As if they were the last vivid thing in the world.
"I know," he said roughly. "Sort of surprised it didn't get either of us killed, to be honest."
Cable didn't seem to hear him. "Hated you, hated Jean for stopping me from killing Apocalypse. . ." Even in that ravaged voice, the words came out slow, almost dreamy, as if he was reciting some litany. "Scott for being so. . .so stupidly heroic. . ." Cable trailed off, and Logan shivered as the air seemed to darken and crackle around them.
He could feel what Cable was feeling again. Emptiness and despair, so thick and oppressive it made it difficult to breathe. Or maybe it was his own, he couldn't tell anymore. It was so long since he'd let himself feel. Longer still since he'd looked into someone's eyes and seen his own reflection like this. . .
"Nate. . ." he started unsteadily.
"Myself, more than anyone," Cable murmured, that detached edge back in his voice. "But it. . .dies, after a while. And then you can't feel anything, not even the pain."
The sheer desolation in his words made Logan flinch. He swallowed past a lump in his throat. "Numb," he said, with difficulty. "You feel. . .numb." It was hard to force the words out, hard to think past. . . "You're still bleeding," he said roughly, struggling to focus as he reached out.
Cable's hand closed around his wrist. "Leave it alone," he said softly. "It's not that bad." A strange almost-smile flickered and died on his features. "Proves you're real, at least. I never thought pain would feel this good. . ."
They sat there facing each other, the silence dragging on, somehow lacking any trace of awkwardness. Logan was almost overwhelming aware of the strength of Cable's grip on his wrist, of the rapidness of the pulse that beat beneath his fingers where he held Cable's other hand.
Push him away, pull him closer.
So safe to do one.
So. . .tempting. . .easy. . .to do the other. . .
"Real," he whispered hoarsely, shivering as Cable's grip loosened and his hand drifted upwards, tracing the outlines of the muscles in his arm slowly, almost languidly. "You thought I wasn't?"
He didn't get an answer to his question. "It is, isn't it? Real. It has to be." Cable hesitated, a soft laugh escaping him, hollow and slightly wild. "'I am half-sick of shadows'. . ." he said unsteadily, a sudden, violent shudder running through his body. "Remember that?"
"I remember all of it," Logan whispered. The world they'd known, not the ghosts they walked through now. Maybe that was all they could now. Remember it. There sure didn't look to be any way of bringing it back. . .
"Funny what you m-miss." The faint stammer was even more of an admission than the sharp, indrawn breath that he took as Logan shifted forward. . .the not-quite gasp that turned into a soft moan as Logan reached up, brushing his fingers over the spot at the base of Cable's neck where his pulse suddenly jumped, and then drawing his hand downwards along the line where he could feel cold techno-organic metal giving way to warm flesh, even through layers of ragged clothing. "Logan. . ."
Not quite a protest, almost a plea. Either way, contradicted by the way Cable leaned towards him, trembling, as if he was straining against some last bit of resistance that wouldn't give up and die.
Preemptive strikes were good things, Logan thought, absurdly, and cut off any more words in the simplest way possible, putting every bit of his need into the kiss, pushing it out there with mind and body both, to where Nate couldn't ignore it. Daring him silently to respond. . .
And then there was no resistance left, just a tidal wave of fierce yearning that nearly swamped his self-awareness, a blazing sea of sunlight that reached out and dragged him far beyond the reach of any shore. Not even a moment's hesitation as clothing was hurriedly shed, sacrificing that longed-for closeness for only a moment before they were pressed against each other again, drowning in the sheer sensation of touching and being touched after so long.
The snow suddenly swirled up and around them, and the bottom seemed to drop out of Logan's stomach as a wall of warmer air hit them, the ground beneath them turning from snow-covered grass to cracked and broken barren earth as the shift rolled over them like a blanket. Cable shuddered in reaction, but before Logan could do more than hesitate and begin to look up at him, he'd shaken it off with a vengeance, pressing the advantage as if this was years ago and they were back in the Danger Room, once more walking that thin line between sparring and the no-holds-barred battle they'd somehow, inexplicably, managed to avoid, time after time after time. . .
No conflict here. No hesitation. Not even the beginnings of rueful amazement at the shape this desperate need had taken. . .or the way all the old barriers and hostilities had melted away, like ice in the blazing heat of the noonday sun that shone down on them, inside this shift. . .
Not much conscious thought at all. Only the shock of impact against the hard, dusty ground as they toppled, locked in each other's arms, every touch an anchor as they explored each other's bodies, seeking reassurance that this was real, more than anything else. . .the desperate need to be sure, to be certain, coloring every movement, adding urgency.
The tiny part of Logan's mind still functioning normally marveled at the contrast between heated flesh and cool techno-organic metal, both criss-crossed with countless scars, a few of them his doing, in that other life. . .he stiffened, something halfway between a growl and a gasp escaping him as Cable's hands, demanding yet oddly gentle, glided unerringly from one sensitive spot to another, as if he knew how Logan would react before Logan himself did.
Absurdly, it infuriated him, and he shifted position, waiting until he had just the right leverage and then flipping them both over, pinning Cable. Before the other man could react, Logan very determinedly went about shattering that restraint. Wasn't the time to be THINKING, here. . .
Before long, it had the desired effect, and control went someplace else as desire took over. Logan groaned, heard Cable echo it. Everything was echoes, mirrors. Every movement, every sensation, reflected, as they fumbled towards a more satifying completion of this, both in unspoken accord that this wasn't enough, that there had to be more. . .
. . .closer. . .
. . .harder. . .
And then there was nothing but that golden haze, swelling to fill all the empty places, driving away the cold. Bodies and minds both linked, both one, wave after wave of that endless sunlit sea crashing over him, Cable beneath him crying out something in Askani, music to match the rhythm building between them, and God he'd forgotten it could be like this never thought he could feel like this again. . .
Over the edge, together. Not falling, not drowning, but soaring, free of the shadows, lost in the light. . .
It seemed like a very long time before he could think again. Breathing heavily, muscles trembling with a pleasant weariness, Logan shifted over, stretching out beside Cable but very deliberately not letting go. He could feel Cable inside his mind still, golden warmth wrapped around him almost protectively, and it felt too good. He didn't want to give that up. Not quite yet, at least. . .
"Not going anywhere," Cable murmured almost sleepily, and Logan let the air in his lungs out on a long, shuddering breath.
He thought of saying something. Of admitting. . .of telling him . .but his head wasn't quite clear yet, and by the time it was, the air was getting heavier, that foreboding hush falling over everything again, and. . .
. . .another shift swept over them, and the ground beneath them grew softer, damp with dew, the brutal sunlight fading into something gentler. Rather pleasant, as shifts went. . .
A hoarse cry burst from Cable, his whole body spasming, thrashing wildly for a moment before he went rigid again, beginning to curl into a fetal position. That golden presence fled from Logan's mind, projecting overwhelming terror and shock as it hid behind hasty shields. . .Logan wasn't sure how he felt it, but he did. There had to be something of the connection they'd made a few minutes still there, letting him see what was happening. He cursed and pulled Cable closer, ignoring his attempts to pull away. "Easy," he murmured, stroking back sweat-damp silver hair. "It's okay. . .stay with me here, c'mon. . ." He kept murmuring encouraging words, and finally the bigger man began to relax into his arms, that alarming rigidness dissolving into violent trembling that slowly eased.
"J-Just caught me off guard," Cable finally muttered, weakly. "Had my shields down. . ."
Logan's arms tightened around him almost protectively. There wasn't anything he could say to that, nothing he could do to take away whatever it was Cable felt in the shifts.
But he still wasn't ready to let go of what they'd shared here, not yet. Just a few hours, without Apocalypse's shadow. . .that wasn't too much to ask, was it?
"Listen," he said abruptly, his voice gruff, and then fell silent.
"To what?" Cable asked shakily.
"The birds." Birds, singing in trees. . .real, living trees. The sound was as sweet to his ears as anything he'd heard in what seemed like a lifetime. "Smells like spring, too," he said softly. "Think I might like this shift. Nice place to stop for a while, at least."
"I could go for some rest," Cable admitted, his voice breaking a little.
Logan chuckled wryly, closing his eyes quite deliberately. "Then go to sleep. Catch you floating upside down and I WILL kick you in the head, I swear. . ."
#Don't make threats you can't keep,# Cable's voice said inside his mind, a little more strongly. Logan snorted again, but the obvious reply died unspoken as he felt Cable's presence in his mind again, a little more hesitantly than before.
A little bit of the old, out here in this uncharted territory they'd stumbled into. Familiarity might breed contempt, but sometimes a little nostalgia went a long way.
"Yeah," Logan murmured wryly. "We'll see." He let go, feeling himself drifting away on that vast golden ocean of light, the birdsong lingering in his ears as he fell asleep.
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