When Flowers Just Don't Cut It

by Alicia McKenzie

DISCLAIMER: All the characters in this story belong to Marvel. It is set just after X-Force #50.

"Caliban is confused," Caliban said forlornly as he took a carton of milk from the refrigerator. "Cable-Nathan didn't seem like he was mad at us."

"Yeah, like Cable's the type to come out and admit it," Tabitha Smith scoffed from where she sat on one of the high kitchen stools, her feet dangling in mid-air. Chewing her gum noisily, she stared moodily at the wall. "We're talkin' about a man who makes plans for what's going to happen two thousand years from now, Cal. He's just biding his time." A morbid look settled over her delicate features. "Wait and see. I bet he runs us into the ground at tommorow's practice session."

"Tabitha, he runs us into the ground at every practice session," James Proudstar said patiently. He stood beside the stove, cooking a frying pan full of bacon. "You're just being paranoid."

Sitting on the counter beside him, Theresa Cassidy wrinkled her nose at the smell of the frying bacon. "Ach, Jimmy, isn't it a wee bit late at night for that?" Almost as one, her teammates rolled their eyes. Terry had been flirting with vegetarianism lately, and kept making half-hearted efforts to convert the rest of them.

"I don't remember eating much while we were under Shaw's control," Jimmy said defensively. He sighed, turning the bacon carefully so it didn't burn. "Too bad I couldn't manage to forget some of the other details." Theresa, sympathy in her green eyes, laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"Aye," she said wryly. "Using m'scream on Cable is nae goin' t'be one of me fondest memories, I'm afraid."

"You weren't the one who used him as a punching bag," Jimmy muttered, a distressed look in his eyes. "And the damned thing is, I enjoyed it while it was happening, too."

"At least none of us ran Domino through," Tabitha said with a gleeful savagery as their two missing teammates entered the kitchen. Roberto Dacosta shook his head ruefully, while Shatterstar, the sword-wielding maniac in question, gave Tabitha a puzzled look.

"What point is there in going over and over what happened?" he inquired mildly, although there was a flicker in his usually impassive eyes that suggested he wasn't taking what had happened on that rooftop with Domino quite as calmly as it looked. "We cannot change the events of tonight. We can only learn from them."

"Sure, like we really needed to know that trying to murder your team leaders is a bad thing," Roberto said sarcastically, taking the stool next to Tabitha's. Shatterstar hovered uncertainly in the middle of the room, as if he wasn't sure what to do. "Thanks for the tip, 'Star. But I doubt any of us would have done what we did if we'd been in our right minds at the time."

"'Star's suggestion makes sense t'me," came a familiar drawl from the doorway. X-Force turned as one to see their former team captain, Sam Guthrie, studying them all with a mixture of amusement and concern. "You should listen to him."

"What're you doing' down here with us peons, Guthrie?" Tabitha asked sarcastically. Sam winced. Their relationship had been rapidly cooling down ever since he'd been 'graduated' to the X-Men. "Come to gloat? I suppose the X-Men have never had any trouble with mind-controlling enemies, have they? Oh, wait. I'm forgetting Mastermind, and the Shadow King, and--"

"All right, Boomer, y'made your point," Sam said dryly, moving forward into the kitchen. "Such as it was." He leaned his elbows on the counter, studying his former teammates thoughtfully. "Really, guys, what point is there in rehashin' what happened? You've gotta move on. Besides, it ain't like Cable or Dom blame any of you for what happened."

"Easy for you to say, Sam," Jimmy muttered, taking the frying pan off the burner. "You're not the one who's going to have to walk into the Danger Room tommorow and go through combat drills like nothing happened."

"There's not going t'be a practice session tommorow," Sam said patiently. They all looked at him, and he appeared startled. "Thought you'd be happy to hear that. The lot o'you certainly do enough bitchin' and complainin' about the schedule Cable puts y'through." His smile was oddly nostalgic. "As tough as Scott is, he kind of pales in comparison."

Theresa frowned, looking worried. "But Sam, Nathan told us t'report to the Danger Room first thing in the morning."

"Well, that was before Hank checked him and Dom out in the medlab," Sam interrupted. He saw the looks of alarm growing on the faces around him. "No, it's all right," he said hurriedly. "Didn't mean t'scare y'all, there. They'll be fine, but Hank--ah, suggested that they both take at least twenty-four hours off. Dom's not gonna be able to use her arm very well for the next couple of days, and accordin' to Hank, Cable's got a pretty nasty concussion." Jimmy flushed a dark red, and Sam gave him an amused look. "When Hank told him, Cable muttered somethin' about being hit by a truck."

"Caliban thinks we should do something for Patch-eye and Cable-Nathan," Caliban suddenly put in. Everyone looked at him, and he seemed to shrink into himself. "Caliban just remembered that sometimes people do things to show they're sorry. Like Cyclops, when Jean was mad at him. He brought her pretty flowers." When no one said anything, Caliban muttered under his breath, then continued with a mournful expression. "Never mind. Caliban is stupid--"

"That's not a bad idea, Cal," Roberto said quickly, a thoughtful look on his ebony face.

"Yeah, right," Tabitha cracked. "Can you just see us giving Cable flowers? We'd probably be eating them a second later. And Dom'd just laugh in our faces."

The look that Roberto gave her was just short of withering. "I didn't mean flowers," he said in the sort of tone you'd use to a particularly stupid child. Tabitha bristled, but said nothing. "But I'm sure we could think of something to do for them. Especially if they're both going to be laid up for a couple of days--"

"Aye," Theresa said softly, cocking her head as she considered his suggestion. "T'wouldn't have t'be anything major. Just something small, to say we're sorry." She gave Roberto a brilliant smile. "'Tis a bonny idea, 'Berto. D'you have anythin' in mind?"

Tabitha suddenly seemed to get into the spirit of the conversation. "We could give Domino 'Star's head on a platter." She smiled prettily at the ex-gladiator, who glowered at her darkly. "I think she'd like that."

"Tabitha!" Theresa said reprovingly, flinging her red hair back over her shoulder. "Ye're not helping!"

"I'm not trying to help, Cassidy! It's a stupid idea! Do you really think either of them wants to be fussed over?"

"We all know your opinion, Tabitha," Roberto snapped. "The whole mansion knows it. Half of Westchester Country knows it--"

"Up yours, Dacosta!"

Theresa watched stonily as the two of them started hurling insults at each other. Her fists clenching at her sides, she closed her eyes and screamed. Not very loudly--she didn't want to blow out the windows--but the sound had the effect of someone scraping their nails on a chalkboard. Everyone jumped, and Tabitha and Roberto, who looked about ready to come to blows, stepped back from each other and looked at her warily.

"'Twill be quite enough o'that," she said in a quiet voice, preferring to save the volume for when it was absolutely neccessary. "Saints preserve us, sometimes the lot o'ye can act like such bodachs--"

"Who died and put you in charge, Screaming Mimi?" Tabitha demanded, clearly not ready to give up on her bad mood quite yet. She shot Sam a warning look as he approached her casually. "Keep your distance, Guthrie, unless you want me to shove one of my timebombs where the sun doesn't shine." She gave a surprised squeak as Caliban stepped in front of her, a curious expression on his face.

"Why is Boomer so mad?" he asked her. Her expression softened, and she gave Caliban a faint smile. Even with her quick temper, Tabitha had the same inability as her teammates when it came to getting angry with Caliban. He was so childlike, it was difficult not to feel protective.

"I'm not mad at you, Cal--"

"Caliban knows that," the massive Morlock said softly. "But Caliban remembers what Cable-Nathan said to us when he fixed our memories. Caliban doesn't think that Boomer remembers."

They were all silent for a moment, remembering how Cable had pleaded with them to remember who they were and everything that had gone into making them a team. Sam laughed, breaking the silence, and the attention of the others switched instantly to him.

"Another one o'his profound speeches, huh? Ah sometimes think he practices them late at night and saves them up for the right moment." He went over to the fridge, shaking his head as he fished out a leftover sandwich. "If mah opinion matters to any of you anymore--"

"It does, Sam," Terry assured him. Tabitha coughed, but Terry gave her a killing look and continued. "It always will. X-Man or no, ye will always be a part of this team."

Sam looked touched. "Thanks, Terry." He started to unwrap the sandwich, still smiling. "Anyways, what ah was going t'say was that a good way to pay Cable and Dom back for what they did--if y'all are so convinced y'have to--might be to stop all this snipin'." He very noticeably did not look at Tabitha.

"That's a nice idea, Sam, but I think they'd probably see right through it if we started acting all sweet to one another," Roberto pointed out wryly.

"Caliban thinks we should try."

"Ah didn't mean you, Cal. You're probably the best-behaved of the bunch--"

"Oh, like you never talked back to Cable, Guthrie!"

Sam gave Tabitha a severe look. "That's not what ah meant, Boomer, and you know it." He gestured around the kitchen. "When ah said snipin', ah meant what goes on between you guys. Ah'm not tryin' to sound all superior, here. The X-Men don't always get along, either, but in X-Force, it's like y'all have made a religion of it."

Blushing, Terry glanced sideways at Jimmy, who gave her a faint smile. Tabitha muttered something under her breath, while Shatterstar stared off into mid-air, still looking moody. Roberto snorted.

"Maybe so, Sam, but it's not something you can change with a snap of your fingers."

"Right, but the first step in solvin' a problem is recognizin' it."

"Don't tell me I wandered into another group therapy session?" Cable grumbled from the doorway, startling them all. He stalked into the kitchen, giving them all a penetrating look before he went over and started rooting in one of the cupboards. "I thought we all agreed there'd be no more of that."

"Hey, big guy!" Tabitha said brightly, her voice a little too loud. Cable winced.

"Could you stop shouting?" he asked almost planitively. Taking an aspirin bottle out of the cupboard, he opened it and shook out two into his hand. Then, after a moment of consideration, he made it four.

"Ah, Cable, sir--" Jimmy said hesitantly. "Are you sure you should be taking that many?"

"Shut up, Proudstar," Cable growled, giving him an accusing look. "My head hurts. Besides, it's not going to hurt me--my metabolism'll burn it off almost as fast as yours would."

Jimmy flushed, but Sam gave his former teacher a curious look. "Sir, didn't ah hear Hank offerin' you something stronger than aspirin if you wanted?"

Cable gave Sam an evil look. "What McCoy doesn't know won't hurt him."

"In other words, ye didn't want t'be caught complainin' about a wee little headache," Terry said with a sudden, mischievious smile. "Grin an' bear it, eh, Nathan?"

Cable rolled his eyes at her and then winced, as if the movement had hurt. "Hah, hah. Consider me doubled over with laughter." He frowned. "What are you up to, anyways? I thought I told you to get some rest."

"Oh, we were just talking," Roberto said, looking uncomfortable. "Sorting things out, you know--"

"Celebrating the fact we dinnae have a practice session in the mornin'," Terry added impishly.

Cable smiled thinly. "Don't get too excited. I intend to make up for it the day after." A chorus of groans greeted his words. "And I don't want to hear any whining, either," he said sternly. "That little display in Central Park was pitiful."

"Pitiful?" Shatterstar nearly exploded. "Sir, we nearly killed you!"

Cable raised an eyebrow. "You're sure about that?" he asked mildly.

Terry looked distressed. "Nathan, ye're not saying ye let us--"

"Of course not, Theresa. I don't have a deathwish. But I certainly wasn't fighting back as hard as I could have." He scowled. "Except for the TK shield so that Boomer didn't blow me to kingdom come, of course."

"I don't get it," Tabitha said in a troubled voice.

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Cable asked rhetorically. "I'm a novice telepath, kids, and that little trick I pulled with your memories was a first for me. I needed you close, to reverse the mindwipe, and the only way to make sure of that was to make you all think you had me at your mercy." He winced. "Which you did, I think. I'm not sure I could have gotten another TK shield up in time."

Roberto scowled. "That's insane, Cable! How could you take such a chance? What if we had--"

"It's called a calculated risk, Dacosta. Call me an idiot, but I thought freeing you from Shaw was worth it." He gave them an almost playful smile. "I admit, Jimmy probably would have killed me earlier on if Dom hadn't been there to save my ass. But once you lost the advantage of surprise--"

"How can you be so blase about all of this?" Jimmy demanded.

"Because I'm too damned tired to be brooding over 'what-if'," Cable said with a sigh. "And quite frankly, in my history of bad days, this only ranks at about a three." He put the aspirin back into the bottle and dropped the bottle in his pocket. "What is, is. And it came out all right in the end, so let's put it behind us, shall we?" He headed for the door, moving rather stiffly. "Now go to bed. It's been a long night."

On his way through the door, he froze. Then, he started to laugh. The members of X-Force looked at each other in bewilderment as Cable absolutely roared with laughter, so overcome that he had to use the doorframe for support.

"Ah, sir?" Sam asked hesitantly when he didn't stop. "Sir, you okay?"

It was a few moments before Cable got control of himself enough to answer. "Fine," he said in a shaky voice, wiping his eyes. "Just fine." He turned to face them, and apparently the sight was enough to set him off again.

"I think you hit him a little too hard, Jimmy," Roberto said doubtfully.

"Or maybe he's being mind-controlled now," Tabitha said, sounding very paranoid all of a sudden. Cable abruptly stopped laughing, and gave her a reproving look that was somewhat marred by the wide grin that he couldn't seem to stifle.

"I can see you're the only one who wasn't taking part in the idiotic discussion I interrupted," he said. "So keep exhibiting good sense and shut your mouth, okay?" He looked around at them all, still grinning like a maniac. "Who started it?"

Everyone looked at Caliban, who frowned. "Started what, Cable-Nathan?"

"This nonsense about how to 'atone' for nearly killing Dom and I." His eyes narrowed as he looked at Caliban, and he shook his head, starting to laugh again. "Some advice?" he managed.

"S-sure," Jimmy said when no one else spoke up.

"I don't think Dom would mind if someone made her breakfast in the morning. But if any of you wake me up before noon tommorow, for any reason up to and including Apocalypse stopping by for coffee, I'm going to shoot you all."



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