by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. Nathan and Domino's daughter, however, is MINE. I'd make Kaylee-style threats about what will happen if you use her without permission, but considering who her parents are, I think she can take care of herself, don't you? ;) This story is set twenty-five years after the end of the Outsider's Arc.
I don't know why. Just me being overly conventional, I suppose. I shouldn't have jumped to any conclusions. He'd always been more Askani than X-Man, after all. And I knew the customs. I'd lived with his people for over a year, seen more funeral pyres than I liked to remember.
It had its good points, the Askani ceremony. Simple, but full of honor and respect. You grieved, but you remembered, too. Still--the idea of Neena holding a twenty-first century version of a thirty-eighth century Viking-style funeral was a little bizarre. Good thing the house was so secluded. Would've hated to have seen the reaction of the neighbours, otherwise.
I should've been here.
I hadn't even known he was sick, damn it! "You never did like sharing these little details, did you, Nate?" I said hoarsely. The last time I'd seen him, he'd been as healthy as a flippin' horse, bellowing at the latest crop of students at the Academy. Finally aging like the rest of us, but still as sharp as ever. He'd lived these last twenty-five years time-locked, so calling him 'old man' had gotten to be more true than derogatory, but any student who got cocky and decided to test their powers against their 'decrepit' old teacher was in for a nasty surprise. Psionically, Nate could still wipe the floor with most of the kids coming through these days, and usually hold his own with the rest of them.
We'd had dinner that day, him and Neena and I. We'd talked about old times, drank and laughed and cursed at each other all night long. That was a good memory. One of the best in a stretch of years full of them.
And now, memories were all that was left.
I'd been out-of-touch for a few weeks, on assignment. In Genosha, to boot--I still wasn't fond of the place, even after the Reforms. Once I'd wrapped things up, I'd gone back to the mansion, looking forward to spending some down time with 'Ven and the twins.
Instead, here I was, standing on the coast of Maine, feeling my way through a grief I hadn't expected, not yet. It was a beautiful sunny day. The ocean stretching out in front of me was calm and blue, so blue that it almost hurt my eyes. Somewhere out there, the ashes of a man I'd fought with and fought beside for over forty years were being scattered by the wind and the water.
That, at least, felt right.
"You and your water fixation," I muttered gruffly, almost smiling. Over the years, he'd started to spend less time doing the whole meditating-upside-down thing, and more time staring out at whatever body of water was handy. I think I'd finally worked out the difference. Meditating was an act of will; letting the waves and the wind do the work for you was an act of surrender. And Nate had been tired of fighting. Especially against himself.
The ocean felt almost like a living thing, here, its waves slapping against the rocky shore with a pulse-like rhythm. It was probably why Nate'd picked this spot for the house. He'd built it himself, the year after Apocalypse had gone to meet whatever deranged deity decided on the afterlife of five thousand year-old Social Darwinists.
The house had been a retreat, of sorts. Not really a home--he and Neena had never spent much time here until the last few years. There'd always been too much to do. A 'new world order' to build.
And this brave new world of ours didn't give up its heroes easily.
I don't think he'd have had it any other way, to be honest. He'd marched right into the thick of things, when all he'd probably wanted to do was let it go and take the century or so of rest he'd earned.
But he hadn't. He'd been there through it all. Working behind the scenes for the Mutant Protection Act; overseeing the Reforms in Genosha as the head of the U.N. delegation; helping Bishop organize a version of the X.S.E more suited to our new timeline and heading up its Temporal Enforcement branch; hell, he'd even stooped so low as to jump into politics. I chuckled. True, Emma HAD bullied him into it, but he'd been damned good at it.
"The fact that your opponents tended to wet themselves whenever you looked at them sideways probably helped, eh, Nate?" I grinned reminiscently.
He had finally 'retired', but only to take over the Academy. I know he was happiest there, these last few years. It gave him the chance to teach kids again, without worrying about having to turn them into soldiers. I think that healed something in him, finally; laid the last of his old ghosts to rest.
My grin faded. I felt a little 'haunted' myself; had, ever since I'd found out. As if I'd hit a big old wall, right smack in the middle of the road of life. Something was missing now, something important. A challenging, irritable, sardonic, aggravating presence that had been part of my life for so long that its absence left a painful hole.
"I can't even remember what the last thing I said to you was," I muttered, staring out at the calm Atlantic. Part of me hoped it had been something appropriate, but I doubted it. Probably one of the good-natured insults that had long since replaced our old, nastier give-and-take excuse for conversation. "Twenty-five years, Nate. I'm glad you had them. You deserved them--hell, you deserved a lot more than that, but you always said you'd never live your life over, even if you could."
"If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard Dad say that, I'd be rich," a soft voice said from behind me.
Shaking my head, I turned, just in time to see her step out from the trees. "You still get an unholy amount of amusement in sneaking up on people, don't you? Just like your mother."
"I was shielding," she admitted. "But you should have at least smelled me coming. Unless your nose isn't as sharp as it used to be." A light jab; more for form's sake than anything else, I thought.
"Had my mind somewhere else," I said gruffly, and embraced her.
A tremor ran through her slender body, and then she hugged me back, so tightly I started to worry about my ribs. "I'm glad you're here," she said against my shoulder. "Mom will be, too."
"How's she doing?" I asked as she drew back. I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer. We'd had broken psi-links aplenty in the last two decades. None of them had been pretty to watch, especially when you knew you'd probably be sharing that fate, someday.
"Actually, surprisingly well," she confessed. "Jean says it wasn't as traumatic as it could have been, since Dad wasn't--since he--" Tears welled up in her eyes, and she brushed them away almost contemptuously. Not one to cry--not her. Even as a child, she'd been a tough little thing. The sort of kid who not only got right back up on the horse if she fell off, but swore at it for good measure. "She thinks he--knew, subconsciously, and shut the link down before--"
"You don't need to explain, darlin'," I said, putting an arm around her. "I think I get the picture." He'd died in his sleep, Cecilia had said. Just drifted away, so peacefully that Neena, sleeping right beside him, hadn't felt a thing until the psi-link had gone dead. But it made sense, that part of him would've known what was happening and taken steps to make sure Neena wouldn't have psionic shock to deal with, on top of her grief. He'd loved her too much to let that happen.
"Mom's been so--quiet," she whispered, and then gave a ragged laugh. "Damn it. I should be glad that she didn't react like Paige--or Betsy--but it's almost worse, this way. She won't even cry, Logan."
"She's a tough lady," I said awkwardly, part of me shuddering at the image of Neena walking around like a living ghost. That was one of the reasons I hadn't gone up to the house, first. I'd needed some time to muster up the courage. "She'll--be fine."
"Define 'fine'," she said sharply, and then bit her lip. "I didn't mean to sound like that." Her grey eyes clouded for a moment, and then cleared again. Those brilliant, endless grey eyes of hers--her father's eyes, I thought with a pang. No--how her father's eyes would have looked, rather, without that little cyclopean quirk he and Nate Grey had shared. Still, too close. Close enough to hurt. "Your assignment went well?" she asked, reverting to a professional tone.
I couldn't help a faint smile at the change of subject. "Darlin', you may be field leader these days, but I sure as hell don't report to you. Scott's already debriefed me, and I don't fancy gettin' grilled twice this week."
There was a steely flicker in her eyes, and she ran a hand through her cropped black hair. "I was just asking," she muttered. "No need to start flinging seniority around."
"And I was just kidding, darlin'! Too bad you had to inherit your father's lack of a sense of humor--"
She smirked, the first 'normal' expression I'd seen from her yet this afternoon, and the resemblance took my breath away, yet again. Except for the black hair, she was so much like the Summers, it was a little surreal. What had been good-looking in Scott and rugged in Nate was striking, if a little too strong, in a feminine version. Not classically beautiful, like Jean or 'Ro or Gina, or the girl-next-door type like Rogue or Kitty or Dana--no, she was different. Unique. Vivid and quick-witted, sharp-tongued and deadly--her mother's daughter, but with every ounce of her father's spirit in her eyes.
"Are you coming up to the house?" she asked finally, when neither of us had said anything for a few moments. "Or would you prefer to stand out here and brood for an hour or so?"
"Look who's talking. This from the girl who racked up more demerits than anyone else in Academy history for the number of times she was caught sitting up on the roof 'meditating' after curfew?"
"Remind me to have a little talk with my father-in-law," she said dryly. "Master of Magnetism or not, if he keeps telling stories I'm going to have his guts for garters--"
I snorted. "Now THAT I'd like to see."
"You shouldn't say that too loudly," she said with a faint smile, looking past me at the ocean. "Like Dad used to say, we shape the universe with our thoughts."
And sweat and blood and tears-- I thought, and then blinked as she nodded at me, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. Catching the thought, I realized, not really surprised. She was the strongest psi of her generation, and every psi even remotely associated with the X-Men had had a hand in training her. I almost smiled again, remembering the first time Nate had put a psimitar in her hands. She'd been twelve years old, eager to show that she was all grown-up. She hadn't really INTENDED to blow up the poolhouse--
"I'm never going to live that down, am I?" she asked dryly.
"Probably not," I admitted with a chuckle.
She muttered something under her breath, and then kissed me on the cheek. "Why don't I go ahead, tell Mom you're here?" she suggested lightly. "Leave you a little time alone with--the Atlantic." She gestured out at the water, almost helplessly.
"Thanks, darlin'," I said softly, and watched her head back up to the house. That was one blessing, I thought. Nate had been able to watch his daughter grow up, and tell her how proud he was of her.
A lot to be proud of, really. More than enough for me to share in it, at least a little. After all, I WAS her godfather. I almost laughed, remembering how stunned Nate had been when Domino had INFORMED him of that fact.
Old habits died hard.
The sun was beginning to go down. I stuck my hands in the pockets of my jacket, memories running through my head like a movie stuck on fast-forward. All those years. Harsh words, misunderstandings. Then toleration. Revelations. Acceptance.
I pulled the medallion out of my pocket. The silver was as bright as the day I'd been given it, all those years ago. A memento of the Clan that had 'adopted' me. I ran a finger over the Phoenix carved in the metal. It was a symbol, too. Hope rising from the ashes, again and again--never giving up.
I took a step back, and threw it as far as I could, watching to see it hit the water.
I didn't need a chunk of metal. It was all there, engraved on my heart.
"G'journey, Nate," I whispered.
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