by Cascade and Alicia McKenzie
Rachel leaned back, away from the pool, feeling a curious sadness. She knew Nathan would be all right--there was concern evident in Domino's briskness, but not frantic worry--but still, there was something about the battle she'd just seen the two of them fight that triggered a dull, wistful ache in the vicinity of her heart.
Their guide was watching her closely, sympathy in his eyes. Waiting for her to speak, she realized. "He seems so--matter-of-fact about it," she said haltingly, not sure how to express what she was feeling. "Like nearly getting himself killed isn't a big deal--and as if killing those Dark Riders was just part of the job." She bit her lip. On the surface, her objections felt like hypocrisy. After all, she had killed--and worse. But she wasn't judging Nathan, who probably had even more blood on his hands than she did. No, it was something else--a remnant, maybe, of the old protective feelings she'd had towards her baby brother. A forlorn wish that his life should be something else, something better. Not an ongoing war. "When he was born, I remember wishing--I wanted him to have the sort of life I never did--"
"A normal life?" Tanya suddenly asked, her voice sharp and scornful. Rachel gave her a startled look, stunned by the disapproval on her friend's face. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of real pain cross their guide's features, vanishing in an instant. "Rachel, wake up! We've both seen some of the alternate timelines that happen because of Apocalypse--"
Timelines, yes. Specific events, no. From within the timestream, you couldn't see individual events, even pivotal ones. All you saw were broad patterns, which were illuminating in their own way, she supposed. The timelines Tanya was talking about, where Apocalypse survived for centuries, were shaped by patterns of terrible suffering and destruction, beyond anything Rachel had experienced in her own time.
"What if your brother really can stop him?" Tanya continued challengingly. "Don't you think you're being a little selfish, whining about the sacrifices he might have to make? What's one man's life if it's lost destroying an evil like that?" Tanya folded her arms across her chest, her jaw set in a stubborn line.
"You're being awfully cavalier about this," Rachel said bitterly. "He's not YOUR brother."
Tanya raised an eyebrow. "Maybe not," she said scornfully. "But it looks to me like he's pretty determined to do whatever has to be done. Maybe he feels the same way I do--"
"Good Lord," their guide murmured, breaking the tension. "The two of you are at it already." He gave a strange, weak laugh, and waved a hand over the pool. "I think I'll lighten the mood for a time."
"Wonderful," Tanya said sarcastically. "More of the lovebirds?"
"There's as much to be learned from them as Rachel's brother and his beloved." Their guide's tone was flippant, but there was an edge to his words that Rachel didn't miss. "They're all tied together, you see--"
"Would you stop it?" Tanya demanded. "I'm getting so sick of your cryptic comments!"
"Tanya!" Rachel snapped, fed up. Tanya's head whipped around and she gave Rachel a furious look. Rachel didn't let it bother her. She was feeling perilously close to losing her temper, herself. "Would you shut up and watch?"
"I couldn't have said it better myself," their guide murmured ironically, and new images began to appear.
"Sam called me last night," Roberto DaCosta said as conversationally as he could to his assembled teammates over breakfast.
"Really? What did he have to say?" Jimmy asked absently, most of his attention on his plate.
Roberto glanced at Tabitha. She LOOKED disinterested, but he could have sworn her eyes narrowed for just a moment. Grumbling internally, Roberto reflected that it was a little disconcerting to have your girlfriend still 'involved' with her ex-boyfriend--even if the emotion in question was intense dislike. The issue of Sam usually came up in any argument between them--and was yet another reason why Tabby disliked having anything to do with the X-Men. Not only was she waiting for an excuse to blow up at Sam and Dana, but Roberto thought she was still touchy about the whole Sabretooth affair. There was some residual guilt on her part about what had happened to Psylocke, he was sure. In any case, she claimed that the X-Men always looked down of her because of the incident.
He cleared her throat. "Umm--well, he kind of invited us to visit him in the spring. In Kentucky."
Terry raised an eyebrow. "Kentucky in the spring? Why?"
Roberto noticed Tabby's fingers tighten almost imperceptably on her spoon at the mention of Sam's name. He swallowed. "'Cuz that's when he's getting married."
The explanation came out as almost an apology. He looked at Tabitha for a reaction. To her credit, there was no outburst--no exploding kitchen appliances, no trees disintegrating in the back yard-- but he knew her too well. Her jaw was clenched, and her knuckles were white as they gripped the spoon. She looked at him evenly, but Berto could have sworn she was glaring at him slightly for bringing it up. Berto glanced away at his other teammates. They showed no reaction,instead looking at Tabitha and Berto for clues on how to react. After a moment, Tabitha stood.
"How nice for him," she said emotionlessly. She dropped her dishes and silverware in the sink with a clatter and left the room.
"I think she's mad," Jimmy said with a sigh.
"Gee, you think?" Berto snapped back. "It's been five years, you'd THINK she could get over it! But no, every time she runs into Sam and Dana, she goes at it again. She is NOT going to be fun to be around for the next few months."
"Weddings. I do not understand them." Shatterstar said with a frown. "They are put on with as much care as a production on Mojoworld, and yet they are not televised-- and they are so very predictable."
Rictor seized on the change of subject with visible eagerness. "You're not going to want to miss this one, 'Star. If Tab goes, it could get very unpredictable. A very interesting cat-fight could develop." Ric grinned slyly. "Maybe we could get them to mud-wrestle--"
"Cat-fight? I was aware that Guthrie had such animals on his farm, but I assumed them to be more docile--"
Roberto winced, shaking his head. "Okay--first, 'Star, it's a saying. Idiom--it means girls fighting each other. There's usually a lot of clawing involved, that's why they call it a cat-fight. Second, Ric, that was--that was--I don't even know what to say to you, that little mental image was so bad! From now on, keep that sort of thing to yourself!"
"Lads," Terry said in a soft, warning voice. Roberto bit back the rest of what he'd been about to say, and Rictor merely replied with his usual cocky grin.
"There's something else, too," Roberto said with a sigh. "I'm supposed to be one of the groomsmen, so they invited me to come to the mansion a few weeks ahead of time and help with the preparations."
"Tab is not going to be happy about that, 'Berto," Dani pointed out warningly.
"I know, but Sam is my best friend. I love Tabitha, but it's been almost five years! I can't let her problems with Dana ruin that friendship. I told Sam I'd come and help and I will."
"Great, Tabitha's going to be pissed off at you, and she'll take it all out on us while you're off helping Sam pick out wedding invitations," Ric sighed.
"Oh, I promise your sacrifice will not be in vain. While there I will do my best to be very influential in the planning of the bachelor party," Roberto grinned slyly, trying to lighten the mood.
"All right, Bobby!" Ric leaned over to give Roberto a high five. The women scowled.
"What good does that do for us?" Dani asked waspishly.
"What is a batchelor party?" Shatterstar asked, confused.
Cable opened his eyes with a sigh, staring up at the ceiling. Well, I give up, he thought resignedly. Domino murmured in her sleep and snuggled closer to him with a rather aggrieved-sounding sigh. She was deeply asleep, he could sense that through their psi-link, but she still knew, on some level, that he was awake. Again.
Insomnia had been an ongoing problem for him lately. He just couldn't seem to clear his mind anymore. His thoughts were always racing, working feverishly away on every little problem, plotting ways around obstacles and devising new strategies. Sheer exhaustion was just about the only thing that would let him drop off, and he wasn't quite at that point tonight. Domino was convinced that his insomnia was purely psychological, and entirely his own fault. She was always making acid observations about his 'inability' to delegate responsibility.
I know how to delegate, he thought in weary amusement. I just don't like doing it. And when necessity drove him to it, as it had last month when he'd had to take a week off to recuperate from the burns he'd suffered in the attack on Apocalypse's New Mexico base, he usually found himself climbing the walls within a very short period of time. Inactivity did not agree with him.
All those years I sat back and watched things happen, and now I've gone right to the other extreme. Blaquesmith would be raving at me, if he were here now. Cable chuckled. Sometimes he missed having someone around who told HIM what to do. Total freedom of choice was something he'd always longed for, but sometimes it was as unnerving as it was exhilarating.
Domino stirred, and Cable felt her mind drift into a half-awake state. "Go to sleep, Nathan," she muttered against his chest.
"I'm trying," he said with another chuckle. She pushed herself up on one elbow, her black hair falling forward over one eye, and regarded him disgustedly. In the faint moonlight coming in through the window of their bedroom, here in the Niagara safehouse, she was beautiful enough to take his breath away. Even when she was giving him the mother of all evil looks. "I'm too keyed up to sleep."
"I could break a chair over your head. Would that help?"
"I have a thick skull, remember?" he said with a smile.
"You're right. It would be a waste of a perfectly good chair." Dom muttered what might have been a curse under her breath, and laid down again. "How you manage to function on so little sleep, I'll never know."
"One of life's great mysteries," he agreed blandly. "Especially considering how you tend to wear me out, you shameless woman."
"What did I tell you about that excuse for a sense of humor of yours, Summers?" But there was no sharpness in her words, just a wry amusement.
"It was just a joke," he said, making an attempt at a meek tone. She snorted, and he surprised himself with a yawn. "Huh," he said in mild surprise. Dom lifted her head, giving him an amused look. "Wonder where that came from--"
"Your body's smarter than you are," she said ironically. "It knows that you've sleep-deprived, even if you're too mule-brained to admit it."
"So now I'm mule-brained, am I?" he asked humorously. "It always amazes me how you manage to avoid repeating insults. Used to be you just called me an idiot every second sentence--"
"What can I say? I'm getting creative in my old age." She shifted, moving up on the bed until they were eye-to-eye. He frowned at the considering look she was giving him.
"What?" he asked with a sigh.
"Why did you change your mind? About going back to the mansion sooner, rather than waiting until the spring, I mean." He half-shrugged, and she sighed. "I still think that would be a good idea. We both need a break, Nate. Hell, Gwen flat-out asked me yesterday if you were trying to work yourself to death."
"There's too much going on right now," Cable protested. It sounded weak, though, even to him. "I can't afford to be out of touch, Dom, you know that--"
"Right. The mansion's com equipment can reach flonqing Chandilar, and you're worried about being out of touch?" She turned over onto her back, staring up at the ceiling. He sensed a sudden, slightly apprehensive tension from her. "You're regressing, Nate. You've been acting a little too much like the 'old you' lately for my peace of mind."
"Don't be ridiculous!" he said with a growl, wondering a little wildly what had put that into her head.
"Was I?" she challenged, sounding unamused. "You might not be running around hallucinating or sharing mind-space with any of those other personalities you have rattling around in there, but you've certainly been acting on the obsessive side recently." Her eyes were sharp and penetrating as she looked up at him. "And don't think I've missed the fact that you've been having trouble meditating, either."
:"You're too observant for your own good, you know," he said ruefully. To say he'd been having 'trouble' meditating was putting it mildly. If he didn't stop losing focus and falling on his head, he was going to do some permanent damage. "I just--I'm not ready to let go of things just yet, Dom."
He'd discovered that being totally honest, after all those years of keeping secrets, usually threw her, especially if they were in the middle of an argument. This time was no exception. She turned back towards him with a sigh, a wry smile playing on her lips. "All right," she said quietly. "I won't nag. Anyways, you'd probably just pace and stew and swear at me under your breath if I dragged you back to the mansion before you were ready to leave. But when we do go back, we stay for a while, okay?"
"Sounds good," he said, echoing her sigh as he began to feel exhaustion creeping up on him, finally. It was always so sudden, like his body was carrying out a sneak attack or something. Her smile turned into a satisfied smirk, and she curled up beside him, tracing idle patterns on his chest.
"Good. And if you try and change your mind, I'll set the kids on you. Then you'll be in for it," she chuckled. He felt a little ripple of pleasure along their psi-link. "Damn, it'll be so good to see them again."
His brain made a series of somewhat alarming connections. X-Force, at the wedding. Tabitha, at the wedding. Tabitha, Dana, and Sam, in close proximity. Fatigue momentarily retreated, and he stiffened, feeling the beginnings of a gnawing anxiety. "Dom, what if Tabitha--"
"Nate?" she interrupted.
"What?" he asked, frowning.
"Stop worrying and go to sleep. Before I hunt up something that WILL put a dent in that thick skull of yours."
It was a long winter that year.
From Westchester, the X-Men continued to go about the business of protecting a world that hated and feared them. Strangely enough, none of the myriad of crises they faced that winter were world-threatening in nature. It was as if their major enemies had decided to take a vacation, Bobby Drake observed one night around the poker table. Bishop, more pessimistic, speculated that the lull meant something very bad was about to happen, at which point Bobby threatened to turn him into an icicle if he didn't keep such thoughts to himself.
In San Francisco, on New Year's Eve, X-Force celebrated the fact that they'd been at their current base of operations for a full year without having to move. Shatterstar bemoaned the loss of their 'edge', now that they were no longer being actively hunted by the authorities. Siryn told him to bite his tongue. Tabitha, however, threatened to stick a time bomb where the sun didn't shine.
On Muir Island, Kitty Pryde and Rahne Sinclaire had frequent transatlantic chats with Dana Hawkes to discuss the wedding. Meanwhile, Pete Wisdom became conveniently deaf anytime anyone mentioned the word around him.
At various safehouses across the world, Cable and Domino bullied and chided network operatives into obedience just as efficiently as they carried out missions against Apocalypse's bases. Cable continued to have trouble sleeping, and Domino wondered if the spring had ever seemed so far away. They both had their share of close calls in battle that winter, but the war went on.
And in Westchester, Dana Hawkes and Samuel Guthrie accepted resignedly that most of the wedding preparations were going to have to wait until things settled down a bit. Sam pointed out that the Shi'ar fabricators could come in handy if their schedule got really tight. Dana wondered somewhat doubtfully if that wasn't cheating, in a way. Sam, with a perfectly straight face, assured her that he wouldn't tell if she didn't, at which point she laughed and kissed him to within an inch of his life.
Spring arrived with a great deal of cold rain, as if winter was being peevish about giving up its hold on the world. But the rain revived the land, as it always did. Trees began to bud, flowers began to grow. New life sprouted wherever you looked. Even the gray, seemingly omniprescent clouds were not a permanent fixture, and the sunny days soon came to outnumber the gray. It was the perfect time for a wedding, a celebration of love and life.
None of those who came for that celebration had any idea how much different their lives would be by the next spring.
"Dana! That's great! You trust me to plan the bachelor party?" Marcus grinned, feeling another surge of the delighted glee he'd first felt back in the fall, when she'd given him the news. His little sister was getting married. It was time to break out the heavy duty credit cards.
"Me? No. But Sam seems to--" Dana sighed over the phone. "But then, I've known you for longer. I give Sam a few more years before he discovers your dark, mischievous side."
"Ha! And how long before he discovers your dark side?"
"Marcus, I am an innocent little empath. And a superhero--at least by some people's reckoning," Dana said wryly. "I don't have a dark side."
"Sure," Marcus mocked, "tell that to Mr. Bear. Remember? You were pissed at me one day, and he paid the price." Marcus gave a mock sniffle. "I still have nightmares about walking into my bedroom and finding stuffing scattered all over. Then his poor little broken body, in the closet--He chuckled. "I think my wedding advice to Sam should be not to leave stuffed animals unattended around you."
Dana snorted. "That crime remains unsolved," she said primly. "I was never convicted." She couldn't help a laugh. "Besides, Dad bought you a replacement, didn't he?"
"Yeah, but it wasn't the same." He paused for a moment. "Dana, what about Dad?" he asked tentatively. "Do you want me to tell him?"
Dana was silent for a while. "No. I don't want him or Douglas to know. He'd probably send the FOH to break up the wedding." She chuckled humorlessly. "I don't trust either of them."
"Dana, this could be a way to bring him around," Marcus said, not sure why he was taking up for his father like this. "I mean, you're still his daughter, no matter what he says. Somewhere, deep in his heart, I know he wants to see you happy--"
"Maybe." The pain in Dana's voice made Marcus wince. "But not if it comes with any cost to him personally--or the company. That always comes first, remember? Besides," Dana's voice grew more confident, "I want Cable to give me away."
Marcus found himself speechless for a moment at that pronouncement. "Umm--oh?" He'd only met Cable a handful of times, and really knew very little about the man. He knew that Cable had trained Dana in the use of her abilities, both when she'd first come to the X-Men and later (and much more intensively), during the year she'd spent with him in the future. Personally, he found the sort-of X-Man more than a little intimidating, but he knew Dana cared about him a great deal--
"Don't sound so surprised," Dana said with a sigh. "He's my teacher, Marcus--it's an Askani thing, you probably wouldn't get it. But more than that, he's been there for me--" She sighed again, and Marcus heard frustration in the sound. "Dad never had time for us, Marcus. He--micromanaged. Governnesses and tutors and nannies--I don't know, sometimes I wish things could have been different, but it would never have worked. Dad can't be something he's not. He's a bigoted corporate suit, the same way I'm a mutant. It's unchangeable."
"You remember the old days?" Sam asked as he skipped a rock across the lake. "All us kids running around in the mansion. We had some fun, didn't we?" He glanced up at the grey sky, wondering if it was going to start raining again. At least it's getting warmer. Was startin' off to be an awful cold spring there for a while--
Roberto, who'd decided to come to the mansion even earlier than he'd planned--mostly to escape Tabitha's increasingly foul temper--chuckled. "We're too damned young to start reminiscing, Sam. But yeah, we did have fun."
"Ah wonder if they'll all come to the wedding," Sam mused. He'd sent them all invitations, of course--but you never knew what might come up, he reflected a little sadly. "It'd be nice to get together again."
"Like you'll have any time to visit," Roberto scoffed. "You may not be too busy now, but by the time the wedding rolls around you'll be swamped."
"And how would you know?" Sam asked in amusement.
"Because that's the way it always is with big events," Roberto said rather pedantically. "Weddings are basically like every other big party, but with a priest."
Sam chuckled. "Now there's an interestin' way t'put it." Hearing footsteps behind him, he turned, and smiled to see that it was Dana. Flushed, breathing heavily as if she'd run all the way down from the mansion, she grinned at them and tried to smooth her windblown hair. She probably had run down here, Sam reflected humorously. She had WAY too much energy these days, and tended to get rid of it in these spurts of frantic activity.
"Hi, guys," she said, once she was within speaking distance. "Not interrupting anything, am I?"
"Nah, we're just shooting the breeze," Roberto said, smiling at her.
She stopped right beside Sam, giving him a kiss on the cheek as he slipped an arm around her. "I just came to tell you lunch is almost ready." She turned to Sam. "And your mom called. She said your pastor's schedule is pretty flexible, but we should decide on a definite date soon."
"Oh good," Sam said in relief. "Ah was worried about that." With everything that had been going on this winter, all the little crises that had sprung up, wedding plans kept getting pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities. He'd have been real disappointed, though, if his family's minister hadn't been able to do the ceremony because they hadn't asked him enough ahead of time.
"I know," she said. "That's why I came out to tell you." She kissed him again, then gave Roberto a sly look. "I'll let you two get back to your male bonding. Sorry for interrupting." She left, stopping to wave at them when she was partway up the path.
"So when is she going to move in?" Roberto asked as soon as she was out of hearing range.
Sam gave his friend an incredulous look. "Ah beg your pardon?" He couldn't help blushing.
"Oh, come on," Roberto scoffed. "Every time she comes near you, you have to touch her. I refuse to believe that you're letting her sleep alone, so when is she going to move all her stuff to your room?"
"We're moving into a bigger room in the mansion after the wedding," Sam said defensively, still not quite believing that he was discussing this.
"So she's just coming over every night?" Roberto asked, giving him a surprised look. "Isn't it inconvenient to have all her stuff in a different room?"
"She's not coming over!" Sam exclaimed, throwing his hands up helplessly. "'Berto, we're not sleepin' together, alright?"
Roberto raised his eyebrow and sighed, managing to sound rather disappointed. "I suppose you two aren't even fooling around." He shook his head. "I don't know about you sometimes, Guthrie. I mean, you're engaged, she looks willing enough. What are you waiting for? Did she already tell you no, or something?"
Sam stiffened. He really didn't like 'Berto's casual attitude towards the whole thing. "Just never came up," he said. "It was always a sort of understandin' that we would way, ah suppose."
"Well, if you don't ask her, how are you going to know?" Roberto made it sound so logical.
"Ah kinda like the way things are now," Sam retorted rather defensively. "Ah'm not sure we should go messin' with a good think. Besides," he said jokingly, trying to lighten the conversation, "ah kinda counted on the fact that ah'd have a while before ah had to worry about what ah look like naked."
Roberto shrugged. "It's just a way to make sure you can live together--to find out if she hogs the bed or takes up too much closet space or something. Or wants to re-decorate." Roberto actually shuddered. "Call it a test drive."
"Ah dunno, 'Berto," Sam said doubtfully. No, this didn't sound right at all. "Might work for some
folks, but ah don't think ah want to treat Dana like a car. Ah asked her to marry me, and ah don't
plan on goin' back on that just 'cause she moves in and organizes mah dresser doors a new way.
It wouldn't be right to put her on the spot like that," he said firmly. "It shouldn't be a test."
to be continued...
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