The Dark Age

by Alicia McKenzie



DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is set sometime early in the six-month gap. Those of you who are familiar with the rest of my work will probably note that this isn't my usual characterization of Cable and Wisdom. I decided to try something a little different, this time.

"Fancy meeting you here," the thin, dark-haired man says sardonically as he stops beside one of the tables placed in front of the small café overlooking the Seine. In a rumpled suit and shabby trenchcoat, he is an unremarkable figure, distinctive only for his obvious distaste for his surroundings.

"It's a small world," the tall, broad-shouldered man at the table says in a deep, gravelly voice as he closes his book. Unshaven, his silver hair slightly shaggy, he studies the younger man with a blank expression. His eyes are hidden behind sunglasses that don't quite manage to mask the dark circles. "Shall we dispense with the bullshit?"

The younger man sits down with a shrug, his lip curling as he looks around. He's not fond of Paris, but the request that brought him here was one he couldn't quite summon up the brazenness to refuse. "Fair enough," he says in a neutral tone, turning his attention back to his companion. "You look terrible, you know. Like something the bloody cat dragged in." He blinks, as if taken aback by his own metaphor, and for a moment, his features twist in something close to regret before the mask returns.

The old man laughs, a soft, harsh sound absent of humor. "Still pining?"

"That's none of your sodding business," is the calm, but cold answer. There is respect between the two of them, but little more than that. In such a relationship, there are lines that should not be crossed.

Shaking his head slowly, the older man takes one measured sip of coffee before he continues. "Look at it as a good thing that you went your separate ways." He smiles again, but it is a twisted smile, so bitter than the younger man shifts in his chair. "The odds you'll both see old age are better this way. It's when you love that you die. Funny how that works out, isn't it?"

The younger man pulls out a package of cigarettes, taking one out and lighting it. His dispassionate demeanor returns after the first few puffs. "I'd heard you'd gone off the deep end, mate," he says conversationally. "That when we all got our powers back, you came out of that cocoon of yours, or whatever the fuck it was, a few bricks short of a load."

"And where did you hear that?" A mild, expressionless question, as if the answer is of no matter.

"Mutual friend. Short, hairy, likes cigars--"

"Ah." The monosyllabic answer is delicately spoken, in no more than a whisper, but golden light flares suddenly and viciously behind the sunglasses, and the warmth of the morning seems to turn cold for a moment. "That--friend."

"Well," the younger man says, trying to keep his voice dry in spite of the subtle alarm he feels at the uncharacteristic flash of temper, "glad to see some things never change."

"Yes. The hairball and I still have--issues we need to resolve."

"Is that why I'm here? So we can resolve our issues?" The younger man snorts, flicking ash off the end of his cigarette. "Didn't know we had any this week, old man."

"Really, 'Professor W'?"

A cough of surprise, a moment of unease quickly covered--or maybe not quickly enough, given that the man seated across from him is a telepath. "So you know. So what?" the younger man counters as soon as he recovers his composure. "You bring me here to warn me off or something? You can save your breath, if that's it."

The older man tilts his head, but his expression doesn't alter. "You really think I'd bother inviting you to Paris to tell you that?" he asks, his voice expressionless.

Shrugging, the younger man takes another puff of his cigarette. "You've got something to say to me, or I wouldn't be here."

"Maybe I do," the older man murmurs. "Or maybe I'm just curious. Why?"

"Why what?"

"Don't jerk me around, Wisdom."

The younger man shrugs. He knew what was being asked, of course. "Because I was asked. Because they're good kids who need a little direction to make sure they live to see thirty. Because they might make themselves useful, if someone takes the time to teach them how the world really works."

"And we didn't?"

"Oh, come off it, old man. We all know you don't live in the same world as the rest of us."

"How poetic," is the murmured answer.

"You're as blind as Xavier in your own way. You were using those kids, just like you use everyone."

"You really believe that?" the older man asks with another faint smile.

"I said it, didn't I?" the younger man mutters. Truthfully, he doesn't believe it. Not really. After spending time with the kids, listening to the way they talk about this man, he can't quite believe that.

"It started out that way at first," the older man admits with surprising candor. "But they taught me better. They might even teach you something if you have the sense to learn." His smile grows a little, but stays just as cold. "Which I doubt you do, personally, but then again, I've always had a low opinion of you."

"I'm hurt," the younger man growls, stubbing out his cigarette. "You're every bit as much of a bastard as always, you know."

"More, according to some people." The glow from behind the sunglasses returns, steadier and somehow more baleful. "Ask me if I care."

The younger man hesitates in the middle of taking another cigarette out of the pack. The wariness in his posture grows more noticeable as the silence drags on for a long, long moment. "Logan had it right," he said finally. "You really--aren't yourself."

The smile vanishes, and the older man makes a quick, violent gesture, sweeping his coffee cup off the table. It shatters on the cobblestones, the liquid glimmering in the sunlight. "I have no interest in what Logan thinks, says, does, or eats for breakfast," he snarls softly. "None. And if I don't work to keep myself disinterested, I'm going to have to go back to Westchester and have a little chat with him about his stint as a Horseman. Given how much that would hurt Jean, I'm trying to avoid that."

"Yeah, and I'm sure she's grateful." He'll risk the other's temper, the younger man decides; push just a little bit more, to see what happens. "So you're avoiding Logan like you're avoiding Westchester? And X-Force?"

The older man gives him a look that suggests he's finished with breaking dishes and is contemplating starting on people. "Are you trying to goad me?" Some of the control has returned to his voice; not all, but enough to reassure the younger man that death isn't an imminent thing.

"Maybe," he answers, shrugging with an indifference he doesn't truly feel. "I'm curious too, you know. Word gets around, and you've had a bad couple of months."

"Your concern is touching." The older man's gaze is curiously steely, now. "But you don't want to have this discussion."

"Why not?"

"Because it would involve me venting. And you don't want to be handy." There is no bluster to his words, no overt threat; just a calm, cold statement of fact.

The younger man takes it seriously. Face-to-face, one-on-one, he is no match for a psi as powerful as the man sitting across from him. "Fine," he mutters, putting the cigarette back in the package. "So are we done? I need to get back to the bloody US of A, and you need to get back to--wherever you're running to."

"Who said I was running?"

"Give me a sodding break," he scoffs. "What the hell else are you doing, old man?"

The older man gives another of those faint, disturbing smiles. "I'm on vacation. And we're not 'done' yet, Wisdom."

"So spit it out. You're boring me." The younger man manages not to jump as his companion leans forward, resting his elbows on the table, that smile lingering on his lips. "You don't have to get in my face," he said irritably.

"Shut up and listen to me," the older man says calmly. "If you're going to do this, do it right. Don't screw up."

"That's all you had to tell me?"

"Isn't that enough?" he counters, his voice growing harder. "You're perfectly right. I used them--I set out to use them, and even when they became more than just pawns on the flonqing chessboard to me, part of me kept right on using them. I know that--oath, I think THEY know that. I didn't leave them because I was afraid, or because I'd gotten bored, or because it was all part of the master plan that I really wish I had, believe me. I did it because it was the only thing I could do for them."

"That what you tell yourself when your conscience bothers you?" the younger man asks with an arched eyebrow, wondering what the answer will be.

The older man's expression goes blank for a moment before the smile returns, a little more tight than it had been before. "I could kill you where you sit, before you even started to form a hotknife," he says softly. "And yet you can still sit there and try to provoke me. You'd be entertaining if you weren't such a pain in the ass."

"I try."

The older man shakes his head slowly. "Never mind. We're done," he says, sounding suddenly tired. "I suppose I shouldn't have brought you all this way to rant at you."

The younger man's expression almost softens, but he swiftly puts on a sardonic smile to hide it. "Can't promise I won't screw up, Nate, but I'm going to try my best to do things right by them. They're good kids."

"I know." The older man's eyes drift to the Seine, going distant. "I suppose I'm worried about losing them too."

The younger man blinks, doubting his hearing for a moment. "You've had a couple of bad months," he says finally, repeating himself and feeling a little awkward about it. "Suppose I can excuse you being a little overprotective."

"You're too kind." A shadow of the old wryness is back in the quick retort; there, but hardly convincing.

"So where are you headed?" the younger man ventures, warily. Back to small talk, he thinks with an inward sigh. But he is curious, and not simply for his own sake.

"East." A half-hearted gesture for emphasis, and another twisted smile. "Somewhere away from familiar places and people. Maybe that is running away, but I think that's for the best, right now."

The younger man nods and rises, placing his cigarette pack back in his pocket. "I won't tell the kids I saw you," he says, more seriously. "They don't need to be worrying about you, and you don't need them on your trail trying to play search and rescue." The older man nods, picking his book up and opening it again. The younger man notices for the first time that the book is a copy of Don Quixote, and reflects briefly on the irony of that.

"It's probably for the best," the older man murmurs, his voice distant, almost indifferent, as if he is forgetting the younger man's presence already, dismissing him from mind.

It irritates the younger man in some obscure way. "Yeah, and you always know what's best, don't you?" he mutters, shaking his head as he turns away. "Later, Nathan." Striding away from the table, away from the Seine, he heads back in the direction of his hotel.

Nathan Summers looks up from his book, watching Pete Wisdom's retreating figure, thinking about his long, strange weeks trapped in the techno-organic cocoon after the High Evolutionary had stripped mutants of their powers. He remembers that eternity of delirious clarity and everything he'd seen, the past and the present and the future, and the connections between all three--

"Watch your back, Pete," he murmurs, sending the words out on a tendril of thought, willing them to reach him. "Watch your back."

Wisdom stops, but only for a moment. Squaring his shoulders, he continues to walk away. And doesn't look back.



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