by Cascade and Alicia McKenzie
"That's enough!" Tanya cried, leaping to her feet. Reluctantly, Rachel dragged her attention away from the pool, still showing the image of Nathan and Domino sitting by the Eiffel Tower, and gave her friend a worried look. But all of Tanya's anger was directed at their mysterious guide, and if looks could kill--"What are you trying to do?" she snarled at him. "Showing us these two sickeningly happy couples!" She all but spat the words, her voice dripping with venom. "Are you trying to remind us of everything we can't have--everything we've lost forever?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Forever? Pessimistic of you, luv. And just the tiniest bit overdramatic." She bristled, but he continued relentlessly. "You ask yourself, 'Have I lost all chance at happiness?' But that's not the right question, my dear. Better to ask yourself if you will make the most of the chances still coming to you, or squander them."
Tanya paled, actually swaying on her feet. Rachel rose, putting herself between them. "Leave her alone," she said softly, glaring at the stranger. "Hasn't she suffered enough? I thought you brought us here to make a point. Not to--taunt us with these cryptic comments of yours!"
He came to his feet so swiftly that she took a step back. "Taunt you?" he shouted. Somehow, he seemed to tower over both of them like a giant, the expression on his face thunderous. "Taunt you, Rachel Summers? I'm trying to HELP you, you fool! Before the two of you build yourselves a private road to hell, paved with all your noble intentions!" He turned away, and seemed to diminish as he did, back to something more--human. "Damn free will," he said, sounding terribly tired. "Worst bloody idea in the history of the universe."
Rachel cleared her throat. "I--I'm sorry," she said, taking a hesitant step towards him. There was such regret on his face, such profound sadness--"I just--Tanya was afraid, and I instinctively--"
"Leapt to her defense," he said in a dry voice, hunkering down beside the pool again. "Played the role of the elder sister. Protected her, defended her--" He looked up at her, and Rachel flinched at the touch of his suddenly steely gaze. "You should really sit on that urge right now, luv," he said softly, as if for her ears only. "Before you end up dooming yourself and your dream."
Rachel blinked, and glanced quickly at Tanya, who was stalking around the cave, muttering under her breath. I don't think she heard him say that, Rachel realized, and looked back at their guide, who was regarding her intently. She opened her mouth to ask him what he meant, but he looked away and waved a hand over the pool again.
Tanya finally seemed to notice what he was doing. She scowled at him. "If you're going to show us more scenes from a bad romantic novel," she sneered, folding her arms across her chest, "I'll stay over on this side of the cave."
He gave her a sidelong, somewhat disgusted look. "As you wish," he said, sounding like it galled him to be polite. He bent over the pool, staring into its depths. "Some more of the sweetness and light, then," he murmured. "But this time, a little darkness to leaven the taste. For contrast. Maybe you'll both see, then--"
Again, Rachel started to ask him what he meant. But there were new images forming in the pool, and, once again, she found herself riveted.
The phone rang. Jubilee glanced around, but she was the only one in a position to answer it. She sighed, hoping it was someone interesting. She picked up the receiver. "Massachussetts Academy, Jubilee speaking."
"Hi, Jubilee. It's Dana. Can I talk to Paige?"
"Hey, Dana! How're ya doin'?"
"Really well. Really well. You?"
"Can't complain--but I do anyway. I'll get Hayseed for ya." Jubilee put the phone down on the table. "PAIGE!!! PHONE!!!" she screamed up the stairs. Paige came jogging down the stairs a few moments later, and gave Jubilee a dirty look.
"You really don't have to scream that loud." She sighed and picked up the phone. "This is Paige."
Jubilee sat back down on the couch and kept an ear out for Paige's side of the conversation.
Paige was silent on the phone for a moment. "Wait a minute...he asked you? He really asked you? You said yes? Oh my God!" Paige exclaimed.
That got Jubilee's attention. She turned around a looked at Paige. "What?! What did who ask her? What did she say yes to?"
"I can't believe it! You're getting married? This is so great! We're going to be sisters!" Paige was grinning, talking into the phone loudly and excitedly.
Jubilee's jaw dropped. She grabbed Paige's sleeve. "She's getting married? To your brother?"
"Jubilee, hush!" Paige commanded. "Maid of honor? I'm honored! Really! This is so great! Of course I'll do it!"
Jubilee considered this. The last wedding she had been to was Scott and Jean's. Theirs had been all right, but they were adults. Dana was 21, sure, but still--it was odd for Jubilee to see one of her sorta peers get married. She thought for a moment about what it would be like if Everett asked her to marry him. She shook her head. Nah. Too weird.
"No, I won't tell Ma. I'll let you surprise her...You better come over here and show me the ring...Sure, I'll talk to him...Hi, Sam. Took you long enough." Paige chuckled. "Yes, of course I'll do it! I can't even believe you asked me! This is so great. You two are going to be so happy!...That's okay...No, go visit Ma now. No, go!...I told Dana she had to come visit and show me the ring, soon...we can talk then...I don't care if it's cubic zirconia and brass, what matters is that it came from you...I'm sure it's gorgeous...She doesn't sound disappointed...but it's not cubic zirconia, is it?...Oh, good. Okay, we'll talk then. Bye." Paige hung up the phone, smiled, and then grabbed Jubilee by the shoulders. "My brother's getting married!" she exclaimed. "I get to be the maid of honor!"
"I figured that, Guthrie." Jubilee tried to sound blase, but she had to grin. "So when do we go dress shopping?"
"Hey, Ma!" Sam ran up the stairs of the farmhouse and gave his mother a hug, while Dana said hello to the twins.
"C'mere, you two!" She knelt down and hugged them both. "Oh, you're getting so big!"
Sam looked back at her and laughed. The first time she'd met his family, the twins had run her ragged. She'd never had to deal with hyper little kids before. It had taken a few visits, but she could exhaust them now.
She talked to the kids for a while longer and then came up to greet Sam's mom. "Hi, Mrs. Guthrie." The women hugged.
"It's good to see ya both! Come on in!" Mrs. Guthrie held the door open for them and they entered the house. "Ah haveta say that ah'm a mite surprised, though. The only time Sammy dropped by for dinner was once when he was really depressed, and needed some home cooking and his mother." She smiled. Sam looked a little embarassed. She looked at them both as if she knew something was up, but couldn't quite figure out what. "Ya'll look all right t'me--" She chuckled then. "Ah, well. Who am ah to question a visit like this from you two? Ah don't see ya nearly enough."
Sam grinned as he took a seat at the table. Dana sat down next to him. He reached for her left hand and could feel the ring on her finger. It was a comforting little piece of gold and carbon. He waited for the rest of his family to gather around the table. "Actually, there is a specific reason we came to see you."
"Really?" Mrs. Guthrie asked as she passed the bowl of mashed potatoes to her son.
Sam served himself and passed the bowl on. "Yeah." He waited until his mother's hands were empty before continuing. He didn't want her to drop anything. "Ma, ah've asked Dana ta marry me. She said yes. We'd like t'have the ceremony here at the farm."
Mrs. Guthrie looked shocked for a moment, and then smiled. "Well, ah was sort of wondering when ya'd finally asked her. Congragulations. Oh, if ah'd known ah would have fixed somethin' more special for you two."
"Really, this is great, Mrs. Guthrie. This is exactly what I wanted. I've been craving your cooking for weeks. No one at the mansion cooks like you can, and there aren't any restaurants that can even come close." Dana smiled broadly. "This is comfort food."
Mrs. Guthrie smiled in thanks. "But you want to have the wedding way out here? Wouldn't the mansion be better suited--"
"Mrs. Guthrie, I wanted to get married here, because, well, I'm marrying Sam, not the X-Men. I want to join your family. Kentucky feels like more of a home than any other place I've been, and I want to connect myself to it. Even if, someday, the X-Men are no longer a part of our lives, I hope Sam and I will be together, and that I still love it here as much as I do now." She looked over at Sam as he squeezed her hand.
Josh cleared his throat. "Well, ah'd like to be the first one to officially welcome you to the family." He sat on the right side of Dana and gave her a hug.
"So, have you told Paige?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yeah, we called her this afternoon before we came over here."
"So when is the wedding going to be?" Joelle asked.
"Well, it sort of depends on when it's convenient for ya'll. We'd like to have it in the early spring."
Mrs. Guthrie chuckled. "Oh, where will we put all your guests. There's hardly any hotels around here!"
"We'll figure it out, ma'am. We've got time."
"Did you mean what ya said at dinner? About this being home?" Sam asked Dana as they stood out on the porch after dinner.
Dana set her lemonade down on the porch rail. "Yes. I wouldn't have said it if I hadn't. There's an--aura around this place. It's almost a feeling I can detect. It's the feeling of 'home'. It's love and comfort and calm and warmth and I can never get enough of it. Dad's house was always very cold, and the mansion is never exactly calm--" She wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder. "Even when the twins are running amuck, I can handle it. I can breathe here."
He smoothed a hand down her hair. "You too?" She pulled her head back and looked at him. "Maybe that's why ah love you--you're a country girl at heart, even if you were raised t'be an upper-class snob." He chuckled, and met her lips with his own. Mrs. Guthrie was doing something in the kitchen, and had the radio on. Sam started to slow dance with Dana to the country ballad. He opened his mind to Dana, and smiled as she shared the undescribable mix of emotions that she felt.
"This is what I want," she whispered. "I want to feel like this for the rest of my life. I want to dance outside to a song we can barely hear. I want to be full of good food and love, I want to be in your arms in this bubble of American forever."
"Ah want to be your husband."
"Bloody hell, Hawkes, it's you. Why are you grinning like a ruddy maniac?"
"Pete Wisdom, I thought you were loathe to get up before 10:00. What are you doing in the commsuite?"
Pete scowled. "Kitty decided to get up early to play with this computers this morning--and that getting up before the bloody sun would be good for me."
"My heart bleeds for you, Pete," Dana chuckled. "Can I talk to Kitty and Rahne?"
"Pryde and Sinclaire? That sounds like trouble," Pete mumbled as he hit the internal communications to contact Kitty and Rahne.
"I could do without the color commentary, Pete."
"Wouldn't be any ruddy fun for me then, Hawkes."
"Kitty, here," Kitty's voice emanated from the speaker to Pete's left.
"Hawkes is on the comm for you and Rahne."
"Is anything wrong?" Kitty asked worriedly. Usually when the three of them talked nowadays, it was because one of them was an emotional wreck.
"No. She's got a big, dumb grin on her face."
"As opposed to Pete's big, dumb scowl," Dana added.
Kitty giggled. "I'll be right down, Dana."
Pete continued scowling and Dana continued grinning as he contacted Rahne for her. Of course, that was usual for them. Just after she'd joined the X-Men, Dana had spent nearly five months with Excalibur while Meggan taught her to control her empathy. Kitty had made all the overtures of friendship, but it was Pete who'd given her a figurative kick in the ass to get her to stop dwelling on her separation from the X-Men.
Pete had to admit that he liked her. She'd been a depressing pain in the ass at the beginning, but once she'd stopped moping and started acting like a member of the team, she'd been all right--even if he still hadn't heard the end of it for 'collecting' another young American brunette. He had to respect her. She took his jibes as well as Kitty did, even if she wasn't quite as skilled at dishing them out.
Although it had been a little disturbing to have another person on the island who, thanks to her empathy, knew that he wasn't a complete bastard.
"All right. The girls are here--you can go now, Pete." Kitty and Rahne swept into the room and headed directly for the viewscreen.
Pete snorted at the curt dismissal and started towards the door. "Right. Gels do this every time you get together. Likely start talking about how all blokes are pigs, next--" Pete continued to mutter as the girls started talking behind him. "I'll never bloody understand women--'specially when y'get into groups--act like a bunch of silly schoolgirls--"
Just as the door was sliding shut behind him, he heard Dana exclaim: "Sam asked me to marry him!"
Pete stopped. He ran what Dana had said back in his mind, and mulled it over. Then he turned and went back inside to congragulate her in his own personal way.
"Dana, that's wonderful--" Kitty started before Pete interrupted her.
"Are you bloody insane, Hawkes? You're too young for that!" Secretly, he was happy for her, but everyone expected something like this out of him, and he wouldn't let them down. It was going to be hard to be a bastard when Dana was so happy, but he'd accept the challenge.
Gina answered the door. "Dana!" she squealed in delight as she quickly hugged Generation X's visitor.
Dana smiled and returned the hug. "Gina! How are you doing?"
Dana noticed that Gina's attention seemed to wander and her gaze drifted away from her face, down her left arm--Dana sighed, but her grin grew larger as she extended her hand to let Gina have a good look at the ring.
"Oh, that's so romantic. What did he say?"
Dana sighed wistfully. "He said that he wasn't that good with words, but--"
"Dana's here?" Paige came shooting out into the entryway. "Dana!"
The two girls embraced, and then Dana showed Paige the ring. "There it is."
"Ooh! Look at that!" Paige admired the ring from every conceivable angle. "Well, you have to come in and sit down and tell us everything!"
"There's not much to tell," Dana said apologetically as she was led inside by the two girls.
"What do you mean, 'There's not much to tell?'" Gina asked. "What'd he say? What did you say? When and where are you having the wedding? What about the honeymoon?"
Dana grinned and took a seat on the couch in the livingroom. She greeted Jubilee, who was already in the room, watching TV.
"Hey, Dana. I see the 'isn't it romantic' twins have already jumped you."
Gina scowled. "Oh, you want to know about it just as much as we do, Lee."
Jubilee sighed dramatically and clicked the power button on the remote to turn the TV off. "Well, I don't have anything better to do, I guess."
Dana hid a grin. She could feel Jubilee's interest, and she felt that Gina and Paige didn't buy her nonchalance. "Okay, I better make this interesting, then." Dana sighed, and then began to relate the details, as closely as she could remember them, to the girls.
Paige smiled. "That's nice. I always sort of worried that he'd mess that up. He was a little klutzy when he was younger."
"If he'd fallen on his face and broken his nose, I don't think I'd have noticed. I'm walking around in the fiancee haze now. Big dumb grin, left hand always in full view if not directly in the face of everyone who passes--and I keep stopping to look at dishes. I never did that before." Dana paused. "You know, fiancee is a nice word. Almost automatically inspires the thoughts young and beautiful. Wife, on the other hand--I don't know--it's a little daunting."
"No more so than the word husband, I'm sure," Gina said quietly.
Dana smiled softly at the young telepath. "I suppose."
"So," Jubilee started, still trying to hold on to her disinterestedness. "What about the wedding?"
Dana sighed. "Well, I think we'd both prefer to have a small wedding at the farm, but I don't think it'll turn out that way. I mean, we'll invite the X-Men, and Marcus and your family, Paige, and Cable and Domino. Then I'd invite Excalibur, and Sam would invite--" she paused for just a fraction of a second, "X-Force, then we'd at least have to invite you three if not the rest of Gen-X--" She paused in thought again. "I can't think of anyone else I'd invite, but I'm sure Sam has some other friends, which makes at least 50, I'd say. That's not too bad, I suppose, but that's a bare minimum--there's got to be a bunch of people I'm forgetting. How many X-teams are there?"
Paige and Jubilee had looked at each other at Dana's brief pause before saying the word X-Force. Dana's history with Tabitha Smith was before Gina's time, but Paige and Jubilee both remembered that December night vividly. They knew Dana still partly blamed Tab for the kiss she and Sam had shared at the Christmas party, even though there had been no way for Tabitha to know that Dana and Sam were involved. Tabitha almost certainly held a grudge against Dana for 'stealing' her boyfriend, even though Dana had no knowledge of Sam and Tabitha's relationship before the incident.
Considering Tabitha's temper since becoming Meltdown, and the courage and toughness Dana had developed on her trip to the future with Cable, a confrontation between the two of them now would probably not result in Dana running up to her room in tears before Tab had said anything.
Jubilee raised an eyebrow. "You're inviting X-Force?"
Dana looked at Jubilee warily. "Yes," she said slowly. "Sam would like 'Berto as groomsman--"
"All of X-Force?" Jubilee interrupted, looking at Dana skeptically.
"Yes, all of X-Force," Dana replied, mimicking Jubilee's tone. "Look, if you're worried about Tabitha and I, I think we can be adults about the whole situation--"
"Did I say I was worried? I'm not worried. I thought you might be a little concerned."
Dana gave Jubilee a look. "I'm not worried or concerned. I was what, eighteen when it happened? I'm twenty-one now. She's older, too. I think we've both grown up about the whole issue."
"I think Tabby's got a voo-doo doll full of pins with your name on it," Jubilee chuckled.
"I think you're both overreacting. Don't give me that look, Paige, I'm an empath. I know what you're thinking."
Gina cleared her throat. "Okay, now I'm worried. What are you all talking about?"
"Nothing. It's all water under the bridge," Dana said quickly.
"We were just concerned that Dana was inviting Tabitha Smith to the wedding. She and Dana's history together isn't too friendly," Paige explained diplomatically.
"Tabby is Sam's ex," Jubilee added.
"Beside," Dana cut in, "isn't she with 'Berto now? Who's to say that SHE won't be engaged by the time the wedding rolls around. She'll have completely forgotten about Sam."
Jubilee and Paige looked skeptical, but allowed Dana to change the subject.
"What do you think of having Cable walk me down the aisle?" she asked.
"Dom!" Cable snarled over his communicator as he fired continuously from his prone position atop the rock face. "Would you kindly move your ass? I've got Dark Riders coming out of the woodwork, here!"
There was no answer. He cursed, desperately worried, even as he mowed down another gorup of Dark Riders as they emerged from the base, before they could bring whatever mutant powers they possessed into play. "Dom!" Again, no response. Apocalypse had equipped this base, here in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico, with some new sort of psi-baffler that disrupted telepathic communication even at the level of a psi-link. So they were relying on technology, which, as usual, appeared to be letting them down big-time--
Oath, let her be all right, please-- They were alone on this run, so he hadn't had any alternative but to let her go in. If they were powerful enough, psi-bafflers tended to disrupt his telekinesis, as well. Which was a 'Bad Thing', as Domino had so dryly put it.
And these were very powerful. He could feel the effect from out here. It was why he was using his rifle, rather than his powers, and why Dom had gone in to download the information in question from the computer core while he made himself a target out here. The diversion was working--too well, unfortunately, Cable realized as another wave of attackers emerged from the base. Maybe I should stop worrying about Dom and start--
One of the new arrivals pointed in his direction, and the world exploded in Cable's face. He heard a roaring sound in his ears, felt himself falling...
"Nathan!" Crackling with static, the voice in his ear was insistent, dragging him out of that comfortable greyness. Cable opened his eyes and blinked up at the cloudless sky. It really was a beautiful day. "Damn it, Nate, I could use a hand out here!"
Dom? Cable sat up, too quickly, and was hit by a wave of dizziness. Oath, what--? He looked over his shoulder, trying to remember where he was. He was sitting on a roughly oval patch of bare ground, surrounded by debris, huge pieces. Above him was a rock face that might have been the one he'd been perched atop a moment before. Only this one looked like a giant had taken an ice-cream scoop to it. The memory came back, finally. Some sort of sonic attack--but I must have shielded myself as I fell, or I would have been crushed--
"Nate!" Dom's winded, desperate voice snapped him out of his fog. He struggled to his feet, swaying, and saw Dom engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat with a number of the Dark Riders just outside the base. He glanced around for his gun, but didn't see it. Buried beneath the rock, maybe-- But it didn't matter.
Focusing, he teleported himself across the distance between them, popping back out into normal-space right behind a fairly ugly speciman who looked like a cross between Sabertooth and Colossus. The Dark Rider whirled, snarling, and lunged at him--only to impale himself on the sword of one of his fellow Riders, a blade-wielding type that Cable was sure he recognized. All Cable had had to do was step out of the way.
The swordsman pulled his blade out of his comrade and, with a howl, leapt at Cable once again. Cable dodged, but too late. The Dark Rider slammed into him, knocking them both to the ground, and Cable strained to keep the blade away from his throat. Oath--he's stronger than I thought!
They continued to struggle, seemingly at a stalemate, until Cable lost his temper. Oh, this is beginning to piss me off! "Get--OFF!" he snarled up at the Rider, and lashed out with his telekinesis. The blow was pitifully unfocused, this close to the bafflers, but the strength he put into it more than made up for that. The Rider's head snapped back and he went flying through the air. Cable didn't bother to watch where he landed. He pulled himself back to his feet, looking around quickly.
There were dead and dying Dark Riders everywhere. Dom had been busy. I'm starting to feel like a slacker here. But some were still on their feet. Even as he spotted Dom a short distance away, apparently unarmed and wrestling with something that looked like a mutated lizard, two other Riders rushed him. One looked like the twin sister of the swordsman he'd dispatched a moment before, and the other had masses of tentacles instead of arms. Cable let the swordswoman lunge at him. The edge of her blade caught his arm. Ignoring the sudden, fiery pain--something on the blade, he realized--he grabbed her wrist and threw her at the other Rider with all his strength. They went down in a heap, and he headed for Domino.
Just in time to see her break the lizard-like mutant's hold on her and go for her gun, lying on the ground not far away. The lizard-man hissed and then whirled, lashing out at her with his elongated, incredibly flexible tail. Cable shouted a warning, but Dom stumbled as the tail wrapped around her legs like a whip, cutting through the tough fabric of her uniform and into her flesh. She grabbed at her gun, cursing, but couldn't quite reach it. The Dark Rider started to retract his tail, dragging her backwards across the ground.
With a snarl of pure rage, Cable glanced sideways at the unconscious swordsman and reached out with his telekinesis. One of her weapons flew through the air and straight into his hand. He leapt forward, bringing the sword down in a wide, sweeping arc and severing the Dark Rider's tail. Domino immediately crawled forward, still cursing. Grabbing her gun, she flipped over onto her back and dropped the Dark Rider with a single head shot.
Furiously, Cable looked around for someone else to fight, but there was no one moving. As the red haze over his vision faded, he saw Dom trying to free herself from the razor-edged tail. Cursing, he dropped the sword and knelt at her side. "Hold still," he said roughly, drawing his own knife.
"Damn--overgrown iguana--ouch!" She bit her lip.
"Never saw an iguana with a tail like that," he said darkly, wincing as he saw the mess her legs were in. "Like some kind of flonqing whip, but sharp--"
"Thanks for stating the obvious, Nate," she growled. "Where the hell were you?"
He flushed. "One of the Dark Riders had sonic powers or something," he said, trying to keep his voice level. "I was on top of the rock face over there, and the next thing I knew, I was at the bottom." He slashed through the last coil, and threw the pieces of the dead mutant's tail to the side.
Domino glanced in the direction of the rock face, and then looked back at him, a faint, sheepish smile playing on her lips. "You don't quit falling on your head, old man, you're going to do some serious damage one of these days," she said wryly. An apology, in a way, Cable knew.
"I thought I already had," he said, just as dryly. He started to get up, then stopped as a wave of dizziness washed over him. Domino's eyes went sharp with worry.
"Nothing," he muttered, taking a deep breath. His arm was throbbing steadily where the Dark Rider's sword had nicked him. The T-O virus will metabolize it, whatever it is, he told himself. Unless it was something really sophisticated, some sort of nerve toxin--oh, pleasant thought. "You get what we came for?" he asked, and managed to stand.
"Yeah," she said, patting the utility pouch on her hip. "Security layout of that new installation in Labrador. I gave the computer that nasty little virus Nova developed--hopefully, they won't know what I took for a while. If we get this data to Cruz fast enough, he can get a team in there before the project goes any further." She started to get to her feet and winced in obvious pain as she moved her legs. Before she could protest, Cable reached down and lifted her to her feet. He flirted briefly with the idea of offering to carry her, but discarded it as not only unfeasible, considering his own condition, but also dangerous, since she was liable to deck him if he even suggested it.
"We can hope so," he said bleakly. "Not that I don't trust Cruz, but since when did things ever work out according to plan?"
She punched him lightly in the arm. "Think positive is what I always say."
"You do not."
"Fine, but do it anyways. Now let's book, before--NATE!"
Instinctively, he threw a TK shield up around them both. But the bafflers were still active, and his concentration was dulled by whatever poison had gotten into his bloodstream. Even as he turned to see what the attack was, the shield wavered and fell. He found himself staring right at an enormous fireball, coming right for them, and had only enough time to grab Dom--not to push her out of the way, the fireball was just too big for that--and turn the techno-organic side of his body towards the attack as he started to teleport...
They emerged at their fall-back position, a mesa top maybe a hundred kilometers away from the base. Or slightly above the mesa, to be exact--he'd been a little rushed forming the image of their destination in his mind, obviously. He lost his grip on Domino and hit the ground hard. Biting back a curse, he rolled over onto his back.
Didn't get out of there quite fast enough-- Raising his head, he looked down at himself and then winced, wishing he hadn't bothered. The whole left side of his body was scorched and blackened from where the leading edge of the fireball had hit him, the instant he'd ripped himself and Domino out of normal-space. Burning techno-organic fiber had a particularly acrid smell, he noted hazily. Never thought I'd be glad I didn't have much sensation on that side. But it did hurt, in a sort of distant way, as if his T-O incursion was trying to tell his brain there was something wrong, but not having much luck making itself understood.
He sagged backwards and turned his head towards Domino, who was sprawled inelegantly on the ground next to him. The fireball hadn't so much as touched her, thank the Bright Lady. She'd hit the ground awfully hard, though--they both had. "Dom?" he croaked. "You all right?"
She stirred, rolling over onto her back and pushing herself up to her elbows. She blinked at him, as if to clear her vision, and then managed a faint smile.
"Fine," she said hoarsely, wiping blood away from a shallow gash in her forehead. Her violet eyes were more than a little dazed, though.
He said the first thing that came to mind. "You're bleeding."
"So?" she asked, closing her eyes with a wince and then opening them again, peering at him blearily. "That's nothing, Nathan. You're smoking--" Her eyes widened, and she nearly fell on her face in her rush to get over to him. "Shit!"
"Not as bad as it looks," he said, trying to sound reassuring. She didn't look particularly reassured, though. "I don't feel much on that side, remember?"
Her expression was stricken. "That little blond pyrokinetic--damn you, you chauvinist pig!" she raged at him, her eyes flashing dangerously. Cable was suddenly more than a little glad for the pitiful sight he must be at the moment. Otherwise, I think she'd be trying to strangle me. "You--I can't believe you did that! Of all the--" Leaning over him, she kept cursing, casting aspersions on his ancestry and personal habits. He managed to raise an eyebrow in amusement, which only seemed to infuriate her further. "Don't you ever do that again!" she raved at him. "You thick-headed, obstinate--"
He laughed--or tried to. What came out didn't sound quite right, but it cut off her flow of invective instantly. "Dom, light of my life?" he asked weakly.
"What?" she snarled, sounding more upset than angry as she checked his pulse, caressing the unburned side of his face with contradictory gentleness.
"You can lecture me all you want, but could you at least throw a bucket of water on me first? So I stop smouldering?"
"You bastard," she growled, and kissed him on the forehead. "Don't move. I'm going to go grab our packs," they'd left them concealed behind some rocks nearby, "and call for a pick-up."
"I could teleport us--"
"No, you could not, you idiot!" she snapped. "There's nothing in the rulebook that says we can't use mundane transportation once in a while! Besides," the corner of her mouth quirked in what might almost have been a smile, "your aim sucks today."
"Whatever you say," he muttered, closing his eyes and wishing he had that bucket of water. He was so thirsty, for some reason...
Carrying their packs, Domino limped back over to where she'd left Nathan. She dropped the packs and lowered herself gingerly to the ground beside him, not surprised to see that he'd passed out.
Nathan, she called through their psi-link as she rummaged in her pack for the med-kit. Wake up, lover...
"What?" he muttered, opening his eyes and blinking up at her. He looked almost cross, she thought with a trace of amusement.
"Don't you go nodding off on me, lout," she said sternly. "You know better than that." Where's that damned med-kit? she thought in frustration. His burns, dreadful as they looked, would heal quickly. The T-O virus was still as active as a toddler on speed, so it would regenerate itself. Nathan would be pretty uncomfortable for the next few days, but he would be fine--as long as she got him back to the Alberquerque station before he went into shock. "Talk to me, Nathan," she snapped as his eyelids began to drift closed again.
"Okay," he said, his voice slurred. "About what?"
"Anything, I don't care."
"Umm--okay." He blinked up at the sky for a moment. "I think we should go home early."
She frowned at him. "You lost me, Nate." She laid a hand against his forehead, and then checked his pulse again.
"For the--wedding," he said almost disgustedly. "Go home--relax for a while. Wasn't much of a v-vacation we had in Paris--"
"No, it wasn't, was it?" She shook her head with an aggravated sigh, remembering how Olivares had kept coming up with 'small problems' that required their attention. Terribly petty man, that one. "Fine," she went on dryly. "Sounds like a great idea to me. But not for a while, okay? If I drag you back to the mansion looking like you've been charbroiled, the family's liable to get a little upset."
He sighed. "Weddings," he muttered. "You ever regret--"
"Not for a moment," she said, smiling.
to be continued...
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