by Alicia McKenzie
This story was written for the 'Happy Endings' Christmas Challenge on OTL, but it's also another post Psi-War story, set just after this year's Christmas issue of Cable, when Nathan tells Irene his life story. This was an exercise in wish-fufillment for me--too bad Marvel seems bent on leaving poor Nate angsting away all by his lonesome. :)
It was snowing in Hell's Kitchen.
Even after twenty-odd years in this era, Nathan Dayspring had never quite gotten used to snow. In his time, the earth's climate had been substantially warmer, so he'd only seen snow twice, maybe three times before coming to the past. Consequently, it often evoked a sort of--awe for him.
Funny. He didn't feel particularly awe-struck tonight. Only cold. Flipping up the collar of his coat, he continued to wander aimlessly down streets that most people would have been afraid to walk during the day, let alone in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, when the streets were even emptier than usual.
Non-issues like personal safety--any criminal unfortunate enough to pick him as a target would wind up wishing they'd never been born, after all--were the last thing on Cable's mind. All he could think about was his 'interview' with Irene, earlier that evening.
In some ways it was a relief, to have finally given in to her request and gotten it over with. For an ex-reporter who'd been dragged headlong into the mess that was his life, Irene had held up like a trooper. He suspected that she had had more than a little to do with breaking the story on the rogue SHIELD faction that had captured him, although she wouldn't admit it.
He'd owed it to her, the whole tortuous tale--owed it to her both as his chronicler and as his friend. That hadn't made it any easier, of course. Reliving all those memories, all that pain--he'd come close to losing it, more than once. She'd been very quiet, not pressing too hard for information, but still--
I wonder if this is what people mean when they talk about a 'blue Christmas', he thought sourly. Irene had been hunched over her laptop, typing like mad, when he'd left, and Blaquesmith--well, Blaquesmith had just been gone. He shouldn't be surprised. He might not have spent much time around his engimatic teacher for a few years, but he well-remembered the old Askani's habit of periodically vanishing, sometimes for days at a time.
Still, it made for an awfully lonely Christmas Eve. It wasn't a holiday he celebrated, but that didn't mean he was immune to the seasonal melancholy. Like so many of the people in his life had pointed out, it was in his nature to brood. He gave a cursory glance in both directions before he crossed the street, but there was nothing coming. The streets were all but abandoned now, all the storefronts dark and locked up tight.
In the distance, he could hear church bells. He glanced down at his watch; almost time for midnight mass, he supposed. The thought of all those families heading out to celebrate the holiday together led inevitably to thoughts of Scott and Jean.
Maybe he should have gone up to Alaska, shown up on their doorstep. Hey Dad, Mom--guess who's home? They probably would have liked that, he supposed. But one thing would have led to another, and he'd have found himself right back where he'd started, entangled in the affairs of the X-family just when he needed all his energy to deal with his own mission--his own problems.
Oh, you'll just take any excuse to indulge in emotional cowardice, won't you? his conscience said accusingly. Why not be honest, Nate?
He was being honest. He didn't have time for Xavier's dream, not anymore. Sure, living in the mansion, playing at being part of the family had felt suprisingly good for a while--but that had been an entire different situation, being there with X-Force. He couldn't have gone back by himself. He--wouldn't have fit.
Sure. Tell me another one. You know very well why you're hiding here. All the business you spouted to Dom, about 'remembering what you're fighting for'--garbage, all of it. Your problem is, you're afraid, and you don't want anyone else to know.
Afraid? That was ridiculous--well, all right, maybe not. Like the Askani said, 'only a fool is fearless'. But admitting that didn't change the fact that he was doing the right thing here, dedicating all his attention to the mission. It was better this way--
Easier this way.
Ah, now the truth comes out, the voice said thoughtfully, and then fell silent.
Truth? Nathan laughed harshly. He didn't think he'd know the truth these days if it came up and bit him on the ass. Shaking his head, he pulled his coat tighter around him and continued down the empty street at a steady, ground- eating pace, ignoring the snow, wishing he could outrace the aching loneliness that seemed to have taken up residence where his heart used to be.
Irene Merryweather straightened with a satisfied sigh, and scanned the pages of text quickly before she saved the document to disk. Done, the former reporter thought happily, and then almost laughed. Not that it really mattered. It wasn't as if she had an editor waiting for this one. Although Nathan's life-story was just unbelievable enough that it might have found a spot in the pages of the Inquiring Eye--nah, willing suspension of disbelief only goes so far, she thought with a laugh. And what does that make me?
Closing her laptop, Irene stood up, stretching, and started with surprise as she saw the clock. She'd been at it for hours! "Nathan?" she called tentatively, remembering hearing him say something about going for a walk. There was no answer, and she sat back down, frowning.
He does NOT need you worrying about him, Irene, she told herself sternly. But she couldn't help it. The interview had been emotionally draining for him, she'd seen it in his eyes. And he'd been through so much in the last few weeks. She certainly hadn't planned to do this tonight, but he'd come to her, asking, and what was she supposed to say, no? After she'd been nagging him for it for so long?
She got up to make herself some coffee, to keep herself occupied. No sooner had she finished, and sat back down to review some of her other notes than she heard the pleasant chime of the security system announcing an authorized entry, and the sound of a door opening.
Springing up from her seat, she went out into the front hall. "Nathan, where have you been--" she started, and then trailed off, seeing who it was. "Oh," she said, rather lamely. "Um--hi?"
By the time Nathan made his way back to the safehouse, he was even colder, and a little grumpy at his own foolishness in staying out for so long in such weather. Good thing I'm not prone to hypothermia, he thought rather crankily to himself as he entered the right security code to open the side door of the safehouse. Irene's probably wondering where the hell I've been.
Inside, this part of the building was dark. Maybe she gave up and went to bed, he thought, walking down the hall to the central room where he'd left her, working at her laptop. Damn it, he hadn't even wished her a Merry Christmas. He could have done that much, at least. There was no rule written down that said he HAD to be antisocial.
The door slid aside, and he stepped into the room, as always noting, even in the dark--his night vision was better than most suspected--the little additions Irene had made, to make the place look more 'homey', as she'd called it. A moment later, he froze.
There was a Christmas tree in the corner of the room.
He went over to it, fingering one of the branches almost suspiciously. It wasn't decorated, and there was still snow in the needles. It couldn't have been here very long. Okay, so maybe she decided to do some decorating instead of hitting the sack. But where the flonq did she get a tree at this time of night?
The door, which had closed behind him, opened again. "Hey, the lights went off again," an exasperated voice said. "What gives--whoa!"
Cable whirled, and nearly collided with a very startled Meltdown, who was carrying a box full of what looked like the decorations for the tree. She stared up at him for a moment, and then, very carefully, set the box down and gave him a tight hug.
"Sam and Bobby were just about to go out looking for you," she said against his chest. "Jeez, you're cold--"
"Tabitha?" he asked, telling himself to calm down. To say she'd startled him would be putting it mildly--his heart was going so fast he was surprised she couldn't hear it. Oath, I hate not having my telepathy!
"And company." Dani Moonstar walked in the door, carrying another box. She stopped, hitting the control pad beside the door, and the lights came back on. "Everyone else is still getting stuff out of the van," she said, walking over and setting her box down on the table. She turned, regarding him with an odd smile. "What did you do, sneak in the back?"
"Everyone else?" he asked rather plainitively. There was a flash of understanding in Dani's eyes, and he remembered that her powers were psionically-based as well, and had probably been affected by the feedback from the astral disruption the Shadow King had caused.
Letting go and taking a step back, Tabitha gave him such a sympathetic look that he nearly cringed. She was about to say something when the door opened again.
"Nathan!" Theresa said with delight, dumping her armload of parcels on top of those James was already carrying, provoking a grunt from Warpath. She then proceeded to emulate Tabitha, even more enthusiastically. Then, of course, he got the lecture. "Ach, look at ye!" she scolded, pushing him in the direction of the couch. "Ye're all but frozen, ye daft man. Were ye out of yer tiny mind, to be out there in such weather?"
"That's our Cable," Tabitha said with a grin. "So single- minded he doesn't even notice the damned blizzard going on around him."
Before he knew it, he was sitting on the couch, his coat off and a cup of coffee in his hand. Tabitha was sitting on his right, regaling him with the tale of their trip, while Jimmy patiently strung lights around the room and Terry and Dani argued about how best to decorate the tree.
"--and we just thought, hey, why not surprise him?" Tabitha chattered. "Only it was supposed to be a NICE surprise, not me scaring you out of your wits--I'm really sorry about that, by the way--"
"Tinsel first," Dani said firmly.
"Ye're not serious," Terry scoffed. "Everyone knows that ye put the lights on first--"
"Why not flip a coin?" Jimmy suggested with a long-suffering sigh. Cable raised an eyebrow at the tone of the question. He'd wondered how Terry and Dani would work with each other, whether a rivalry might not develop. They were both too used to being in positions of leadership--
Someone was waving a hand in front of his face. "Cable? Hey, you listening to me, big guy?" Tabitha asked. He turned, seeing her concerned smile. "Since when did you start spacing out like that?" she asked lightly.
"Just thinking," he muttered, disturbed by the comment. He had been 'spacing out' a lot lately. Not when he was fighting, thank the Bright Lady, or he'd have been dead several times over in the last couple of months, but all too often when he was trying to analyse something, like the hints of competitiveness in the way Dani and Terry spoke to each other. It was as if his brain was instinctively trying to process information that he would normally have picked up with his telepathy, and--stalling when it couldn't find that particular sort of sensory input.
The door opened again. "Sure," Roberto said irritably. "You guys are in here decorating already, leaving us to carry--hey, Cable," he said casually.
"Heck, sir, what did ya do, teleport in here?" Sam asked with a grin. "And here ah was, playin' lookout--"
Cable waved rather bemusedly at the two of them. He wanted to ask Sam what he was doing here, why he wasn't with the X-Men, but the question froze on his lips. It just felt right, to see Sam here with the others--"Is this 'everyone'?" he asked instead.
"Dom's still out talkin' to Irene," Sam said, setting his load down on the table and coming to sit on the couch. Not beside Tabitha, Cable noted.
Then, his mind processed Sam's words, and he nearly choked on the sip of coffee he'd just taken. "Dom? Talking to Irene?" he wheezed, starting to get up.
Tabitha pulled him back down. "Uh-uh," she said severely, shaking a finger at him. "They were having a very nice little conversation."
"Aye, Nathan," Terry said, pulling a string of lights out of one box and sticking her tongue out at Dani, who threw back her head and laughed. "Irene was filling us in on what ye've been up to, these last few months. I think Dom wanted to grill her on a few things--"
"Irene seems nice enough," Roberto said, digging in one of the boxes. "You two aren't--" He glanced back over his shoulder, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
"We certainly are not!" Cable almost exploded.
"Just asking," he said, turning back to the box. "This looks like food--one of you women want to deal with it?" Roberto asked casually.
Tabitha made a rude noise. "You chauvinist pig." She patted Cable's arm, clearly trying to be soothing. "Don't worry. King Jerk over there asked Irene the same question--"
"In front of Dom, no less," Jimmy rumbled in amusement. Cable found the urge to groan.
Tabitha gave Jimmy a repressive look. "Anyways, she gave him the most evil look I've ever seen and said she was just your chronicler."
"What do you need a chronicler for, Cable?" Dani asked quizzically, holding a bag of tinsel in either hand, one silver, one gold. She gave Terry a questioning look.
"Lord in heaven!" Siryn sighed. "Gold tinsel--now, that's what I call garish."
"What?" Roberto asked, sounding offended. "I thought it would be nice, for contrast--"
"Why am I not surprised?" Terry glanced heavenward, as if looking for divine intervention. "As always, 'Berto, what ye call taste just astounds me."
"Very funny, Irish."
"I should really go out and--um, say hello to Dom," Cable said a little desperately, trying to get up again.
This time, Tabitha took one arm and Sam the other, preventing him from rising. "Don't worry, sir," Sam said reassuringly. "Ah'm sure they'll be in in a minute."
"Right," Tabitha said. "You just drink your coffee and take it easy."
Cable gave them both an irritated look, beginning to see where this was going. "Is this some kind of conspiracy?" he demanded. "Look, kids, I'm not old and decrepit quite yet--"
"No one said you were," Jimmy said helpfully. "But from what Irene tells us, you're overdue for some downtime."
"Yeah," Tabitha said darkly. "Damn, I'd like to get my hands on those SHIELD dorks--"
"What's with SHIELD, anyways?" Roberto asked, shaking his head as he started to unpack one of the boxes. Christmas presents, already wrapped, Cable noticed bemusedly. Sure looks like they went all out-- "They got something against the Summers family? I mean, it wasn't too long ago that we were rescuing Cyclops from them--"
"It wasn't really--" Cable started.
"Irene told us about that business in Latveria, too," Jimmy said, his expression grim. "I'd sure like to know how Stryfe showed up there after I saw him in Hell not too long ago."
"You and me both, James," Dani said.
"Wait a minute," Cable protested weakly. "Jimmy, what were you doing in--"
Sam laughed. "'After ah saw him in Hell'," he said, shaking his head. "Ah've missed you guys--the X-Men were never this much fun."
"Were, Sam?" Cable asked, confused.
"Took you long enough to realize that, Guthrie."
"Oh, like ya really missed me, Tabs?"
"Let's not start this again," Terry said firmly. "It's Christmas, remember?"
Almost as if on cue, the door opened again. This time, Cable did get up, noting, as if from a great distance, that his hand was shaking so badly that he was in danger of dropping his cofee cup. Tabitha, seeing the same thing, took it from him quickly.
"Hello, stranger," Domino said quietly. Behind her, Irene's eyes narrowed as she saw the look on his face, and she glanced around the room thoughtfully.
"Didn't I see food somewhere?" she asked lightly. "Whoever's in charge of it, I can show you to this place's excuse for a kitchen."
Cable barely noticed Terry, Tabitha--and, surprisingly enough, Jimmy--follow Irene to the kitchen. Sam, Roberto and Dani busied themselves decorating the tree and trying not to be too obvious in their eavesdropping.
Domino didn't give them much. Slipping off her coat and throwing it over a chair, she strode right up to him, eyeing him in a way that made him distinctly uneasy. He saw none of the hesitancy that had been in her manner when they'd parted ways after Zero Tolerance--none of the frustration and anger she'd displayed when she'd showed up here, weeks ago.
"Hi, Dom," he said unevenly.
"You don't look too much the worse for wear, all things considered," she said mildly, still studying him with that alarming intensity. "I actually talked to G.W. last week. He filled me in on a few things." She trailed off, raising an eyebrow, as if waiting for a response.
Are you still mad at me? he wanted to ask, but didn't. It would have sounded ridiculous, and he still had his pride, after all--
Plus, he just couldn't seem to collect his thoughts. Not while those violet eyes were boring into him. Her hair had grown out a little since he'd seen her last, he noted inconsequentially. The style made her look younger. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him, but if he looked closely enough, he could almost see her as she had been, eighteen years ago, the first night they'd met.
He shivered as she suddenly reached up and touched his cheek. Her expression had changed, too. The look in her eyes had softened, and she was giving him that wonderful, warm, wry smile that sometimes haunted his dreams.
"Merry Christmas," she said softly.
Looking back on the night, Cable found it something of a miracle that the safehouse was still standing once the kids went to bed. The kitchen looked like a hurricane had hit--Terry had been determined to make all the preparations she could ahead of time for Christmas dinner, so she wouldn't have to worry about anything besides simply cooking tommorow. Tabitha had tried to help, but had ended up getting so frustrated with the stuffing that she'd almost blown up the turkey. Jimmy had promptly picked her up and carried her out of the kitchen, which had only made her lose her temper entirely. Only a sharp word from Domino had prevented her from causing some serious structural damage.
The decorating was done--he could hardly recognize the room under all the lights, garlands and other seasonal decor. Then, of course, they'd nearly had a fight between Sam and Bobby over the foot-tall singing elf Guthrie had picked up when he'd bought the rest of the decorations. Bobby had accused him of being entirely without taste, and threatened to smash the thing if he heard it sing 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' once more. Sam had reacted with an unusual amount of heat, promising to do the same to 'your empty head if ya even think about it, DaCosta!'. Cable supposed the elf really hadn't had much to do with their argument--no, to hear Terry tell it, the reason for the uneasiness between them was Tabitha, who'd just sat and watched the whole thing, a disgusted look on her face.
Again, Dom had gotten things calmed down. But then Terry had broken out the board games. Two heated games of Trivial Pursuit, one of Chronology (which he'd won hands down, to no one's surprise) and three games of multilingual Scrabble later, the kids had finally called it a night. Irene had gone to her room at the same time, muttering something about 'having heads on silver platters' if anyone woke her up before noon tommorow.
It was nice and quiet, now. The tree was rather pretty, actually, with its blue and gold lights, silver tinsel (Terry had shoved the gold tinsel down the garbage disposal) and ornaments that looked like colored soap-bubbles. Cable might have been enjoying himself, if not for one thing.
"Want a beer?" Domino said, coming back into the room. He nodded, and she handed one of the two she was carrying over. "Damn, the kitchen's a mess," she snorted, sitting down beside him. "So where's the little rat?"
"W-What?" he asked, startled by the question.
"Blaquesmith," she said with a sigh. "Who do you think I meant?"
He shrugged uneasily. "Don't know. Pulled a vanishing trick, again--"
"So," Dom said, raising an eyebrow. "He's not doing any better at keeping you in the loop, then." It wasn't a question, and she didn't sound particularly surprised. "You know, if it was me, I'd get really tired of that after the first decade or so."
"You get used to it," he said evasively.
"Right," she said, leaning back into the cushions of the couch. He shifted uneasily, oddly discomforted by her closeness. It seemed so--wrong, to be so near her and yet not be able to sense her presence. "Got rid of Gryaznova's inhibitor, did the kids tell you?"
"Really?" he asked, surprised but pleased. "I thought it couldn't be removed?"
Her mouth quirked. "Now, how did you know that? Keeping tabs on me, old man?" He flushed, and her smile grew. "Never mind." She explained to him about Jesse Bedlam. "So, the damned thing's still in there, but it's not working anymore."
"I'm glad to hear that, Dom." It sounded like such a lame thing to say, but she seemed to take it for what it was worth.
"You and me both, Nate." She took a long sip of her beer, contemplating him in silence for a few moments. "While we're on the subject of things that don't work anymore--we all know about what the Shadow King did. Sam gave us all the details." He stiffened, and her voice grew gentle. "How are you holding up?"
"Fine," he said tensely, staring straight ahead, anywhere but at her. "Dom, I don't really want--"
"Dani seems all right, but all things considered, I honestly don't think she lost as much as you did." Her hand came down on his shoulder, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. "Damn, you're jumpy," she said, leaning over and setting her beer on the end table. "That bad?" The question was sober, her tone curiously professional all of a sudden.
Cable felt his mouth twist bitterly. "I keep feeling like someone's sneaking up behind me," he muttered. "And I tense up every time I walk through a door--"
"Tough to be human, huh?" And she was back to being Dom again, needling him subtly, forcing him to face up to his own feelings in her own inimitable way.
He sighed. "Dom, I get enough of that from Irene, all right?"
"Fair enough," she said softly, and changed the subject. "You know, G.W.'s still beating himself up pretty bad about what happened to you after SHIELD took you in. You might want to give him a call one of these days, talk things over."
"Oh, that'd look good, wouldn't it?" he asked with a brief, humorless laugh. "I just about cost him his job once already this year--"
"It was his choice," Dom pointed out calmly. "Ask Irene if you don't believe me." She was silent for a long moment. "She also tells me you went after the one who attacked me that night--Blockade." He made a non-committal noise, not wanting to talk about it, and she smiled faintly. "You're going to have to tell me more about this 'blood rite' thing some day."
"I'd rather not," he said a little stiffly.
Her smile grew, turned mischievous. "Tell me, Nate, is that a stick up your ass, or are you just happy to see me?"
He laughed; he couldn't help it. And when he got started, he couldn't stop. Her silvery laughter joined his a moment later, and they snickered like a pair of schoolkids for what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, when he had controlled himself to the point where only an occasional chuckle escaped, he leaned back and watched her play with a bit of left-over garland. He was so glad she was here, he thought to himself in a moment of perfect honesty.
"I missed you." It slipped out before he could stop himself.
Instead of a smart comment, she merely smiled and leaned back against his shoulder. "Likewise, Nate," she said, her eyes twinkling.
Something made him go on. "And the kids, too--even if they were acting like they needed to be sent to bed without their suppers tonight."
Domino laughed. "It's been a long day, and I think they weren't entirely sure how to act around you." She sighed and shifted around, until she was nestled comfortably against him. "But they've missed you too, Nate. They might be ready to be out on their own, but that didn't mean you had to drop out of their lives--or mine," she concluded in a much quieter voice. "Then again, the latter's as much my fault as it is yours, isn't it?"
Cable swallowed. "More mine than yours," he said awkwardly. "That day--you didn't want a philosophical discussion, when you came here."
"Hell, Nate, I'm not even sure what I wanted," she sighed. "I was angry, and I wanted to take it out on someone." Her shoulders shook in what might have been a laugh, or a suppressed sob. He wasn't sure which. "Cost me a few sleepless nights, actually, after the psi-link got broken. I kept wondering what I was going to do, if--"
"What-ifs," Cable said with a sigh. His nights had been full of them, lately. "They don't do any good, Dom."
She suddenly shifted again, staring up at him, and the look on her face was deadly serious. "Maybe so, Nate. But set those Askani principles of yours aside for a minute and indulge me, all right?" She paused for a moment, and then apparently took his silence as consent. "Okay. What if you came back to San Francisco with us? You could tell Blaquesmith to take a flying leap and all that--hell, bring Irene along if she likes. She seems like a pretty decent sort, good head on her shoulders. Although I'm still not sure why you need to be carting around your own chronicler--"
"Delusions of grandeur," he said, that odd ache in his chest returning.
"Thought that might be it," she joked rather weakly. "Seriously, Nate, what are you doing here than you can't do on the West Coast?"
He managed a brief laugh. "Dom, I'm not even sure what the flonq I'm doing anymore."
It was true, if painful, and he looked away from her intent gaze, unable to bear the hopeful look in her violet eyes. Before the psi-wave, she would have sensed what he was feeling, understood it without needing to ask. It would have been inevitable--there was no keeping emotions secret from someone you had a psi-link with.
So why couldn't he share it with her now, of his own accord? Why couldn't he find the words?
"You--might not want to be around me," he said, his voice sounding odd, even to his own ears. "Next year's liable to be--eventful."
A slim hand reached up, turning his head back around until he met her eyes. "Nathan Dayspring Summers," she said, sounding just short of exasperated, "name me one year, since I've known you, that HASN'T been."
"But--" This is different, he wanted to say. I don't want you to get involved. I don't want the kids involved. If any of you got hurt-- Sometimes he thought that one more death on his conscience would be too much to bear, that it'd finish him off entirely, kill whatever good was left in his soul.
She laid a finger over his lips. "But nothing," she said firmly. "Think about it, all right?" She suddenly grinned. "Besides, if you say no, I can't guarantee that the kids won't truss you up and throw you in the back of the van anyways. They have minds of their own, you know."
She had always been so damnably hard to say 'no' to. But he did have his pride. "And I suppose you'd just stand there and smirk, wouldn't you?" he grumbled, feeling the tension draining from his body. It felt so good, the old familiar banter--
"You bet, pal," she said happily, relaxing against him. "Hell, I might even cheer them on."
"You're terribly witty, you know that?"
"Hey, I've got a reputation to live up to."
"At my expense?"
Okay, so maybe it was a little early, Tabitha reflected to herself, but she was just getting into the Christmas spirit. No one else was stirring yet, but that didn't bother her. She just wanted to sneak down and have a good look at the tree, maybe play 'guess what's in the package'. Not like I ever had much chance for that when I was a kid.
She was more than a little startled to find Cable and Domino on the couch. Still in the clothes they'd been wearing last night, they were both dead to the world, so deeply asleep that neither of them so much as twitched when she entered the room. Domino was curled up against Cable, smiling a little in her sleep. He had his arms around her, a surprisingly peaceful look on his face.
Tabitha smiled softly to herself, The thought of going back to her bag and digging out her camera didn't even occur to her. She wouldn't have disturbed them for the world.
She turned and went back out the door, stealing one last look at them as she went. "Merry Christmas," she whispered. She hated to be corny, but seeing them like that, in each other's arms, made her feel like, for this morning at least, all was right with the world.
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