Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?: Part 3
Disclaimer: Marvel Comics owns the characters and universes drawn from their publications and has not given permission to use them. These versions are somewhat modified. This story is a work of fan-fiction and is not intended to produce any profit other than what enjoyment or other value may be found in the writing and reading of it. The Shadowlands are Alicia McKenzie's variation of a collection of alternate universes; Oasis is the one in her story "Oasis," as if anyone was likely to fail to realize this; her versions of characters mentioned in "Oasis" still populate Oasis; she did give me permission to use them; and this sentence now contains far too many independent clauses. Amy is still my invention but doesn't show up in this chapter. Hatshupet still belongs to Redhawk, who is still graciously lending her to me, and does show up in this chapter. What a shock.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if you wish to send feedback or to archive, pop-up, or MST the story.
Franklin looked up as Cable stalked back inside, noted that Cable was still in one piece, and looked back down. Then he looked up again. En Sabah Nur was missing. "Cable...? Not to be difficult, but didn't you leave with somebody?"
Cable flopped a very dusty object disgustedly onto a nearby table. It clanked dully. Probably spare parts for something; if he couldn't pick up a member of the Twelve, at least he wouldn't bypass the opportunity for a decent scavenge. "Yeah, I left with somebody," he growled. "He called out something completely unintelligible, waved, and plunged off into a rampant shift-zone. Oath, there must have been fifteen in the space of three-by-three meters. I couldn't even track him."
Franklin blinked. It couldn't exactly be called reversion to form, since this version of Nur had been distinctly different from Apocalypse right from the moment they first saw him. For that matter, it didn't sound like Apocalypse's normal behavior anyway....
There was a thump from outside, and then the door opened with more violence than was strictly recommended for the level of structural integrity possessed by the building.
And a blue-gray man who remained clearly recognizable despite the differences from most versions of Apocalypse in appearance (for one thing, this one had hair and was usually shorter, not to mention the lack of body armor or technological implants) entered, arms full of some object he was carefully sheltering with his cloak.
Franklin raised an eyebrow. "There you are. Thought we'd lost you. Not that you're usually too hard to miss, but still."
Nur strode across the room, head high and appearing not to notice everyone shrinking or scooting a little farther away from him as he passed. They were starting to get used to him, but up until now he'd been making it as unnerving a process as possible by showing almost no signs of temper.
He leveled a rather baleful glare at Cable. "Where," he inquired dryly, "did you go? I thought I was going to have to go back out and look for you."
Cable spluttered and slammed down the drink he had just started. "Where did I go?! I could ask the same thing. Where did YOU go? You're the one who went haring off by yourself for no reason."
"I went to extract my wife, or rather an alternate thereof, from a battle before she was killed either by that or by a bad shift. I said I would be right back; didn't you hear me?"
Cable succeeded in looking nonplussed, faintly chagrined, and aggressive all at the same time. It was, Franklin noted irrelevantly, a very interesting combination. Nur unwrapped his cloak from the bundle, a complex process that led Franklin to wonder a bit flippantly if Nur had ever wrapped a mummy.
There was general silence as those who had been surreptitiously eyeing Nur turned to stare openly at him and the young Egyptian woman revealed as the content of his bundle. She was dark, not surprisingly, and not unattractive -- but badly wounded. Franklin hissed between his teeth and quickly hopped off his stool to heal her, all impulses toward flippancy banished -- he was sure Nur had gotten back as fast as he could, but the girl wasn't going to last much longer.
Finally recovering his voice, Cable retorted, "I heard you say something. I had no idea what it WAS, since you decided to revert to Ancient Egyptian or something to say it." The grumble lacked the heat it had probably been going to have before.
Franklin pulled bloody fabric away from the deep wound in the girl's side to put a hand over it. She moved weakly as Nur set her on the table, and Franklin winced at the thought that she could feel this. He sped along the healing process, carefully, and lifted his hand away to reveal traces of blood but not so much else as a scar left of the wound itself.
Nur stroked the woman's hair with a gentle hand, then looked up and blinked thoughtfully at Cable. "I suppose speaking a language you understand might tend to help, come to think of it," he admitted, mildly enough.
Nathan didn't get a chance to express agreement before the young woman's eyelids moved slightly. Her eyes didn't exactly open, not all the way -- she very cautiously kept them most of the way closed, but there was a little glimmer under the dark eyelashes now. Nur leaned over her, and she opened her eyes the rest of the way and sat up, looking surprised but not exactly frightened.
She looked around, eyes widening as she caught sight of Franklin and a little more so at Nathan, then turned back to Nur with a puzzled expression and asked him something. In Egyptian, which left everyone else completely out of the loop.
He started to speak, then stopped and started over. Whatever explanation he was giving seemed fairly elaborate. The girl listened attentively, if a little incredulously, looking away from him at one point midway through to investigate her vanished wound. Her response wasn't quite another question, but it sounded a bit skeptical.
Nathan couldn't help laughing when she frowned, reached up, and felt Nur's forehead as if she thought he might be feverish.
Nur rolled his eyes and replied in patient tones. Nathan was just contemplating whether to try lifting a summary, or translation, of the conversation from the girl's mind, when Franklin interrupted politely. "Nur? Just to simplify communications, how about if we teach her English?"
Nur looked thoughtful, then nodded. "That would be helpful." He turned back to the girl and said something else, probably regarding the impending linguistic operations. She looked surprised again, then even more so as Franklin concentrated and her synapses were smoothly adjusted to accommodate another language.
"This is --" she started, then blinked and mouthed the words over, then something else unreadable, before continuing. "This feels... very strange." She gave Nur an odd look, then transferred it to Franklin, slightly admixed with awe. "He said you were going to do this. How?"
Franklin looked slightly disconcerted. He wasn't quite prepared to explain the mechanism. "Uh -- that's what I do. I change reality... within limits." To his surprise, she accepted this without further inquiry, at least for the moment.
"Oh. He said you healed me, too -- thank you." She turned back to Nur, stopping for a moment to stare curiously toward Domino, who was starting to get the feeling she was arriving late on the scene for almost everything interesting recently. She made a slight gesture in the pale woman's direction and asked a bit worriedly, in a low voice, "Ah, is she... diseased?"
Nur looked in the indicated direction, then shook his head. "She is well. Only oddly colored."
Apparently this was sufficient reassurance for the girl, coming as it did from Nur who could very legitimately be called "oddly colored" himself, and she only gave the somewhat affronted Domino one more glance before sliding off the table. "It's all right, for a town, what I see. How long are you planning to stay?"
"I do not know, yet." Nur glanced towards Franklin. "A few days at least until the next extended venture outwards."
She frowned, a rather puzzled expression. "You make it sound as if you're living here. I meant how long until you planned to move on --" She stopped suddenly and looked guarded. "Is any of the rest of the tribe here?"
"No. You and I... are the only survivors."
"Oh." She looked a little bit sad, and very young for a moment, but then sighed. "I suppose that's not very... not very surprising. At least Baal won't come tell me not to talk to you." She frowned. "I thought you were with him. Neither of you was at the battle when it began."
"No. He won't." There was a pause; harsh as he might have been, speaking of Baal's death still pained Nur. "He was killed as well. The... collapse, that nearly carried you and whoever had held the spear that wounded you both out of my reach...." He stopped and frowned. "Why were you on the field? Most I saw were warriors; were the rest not sent out of the way?"
"Some were. Some of us remained. Likely those who did leave would have been hunted down eventually. Anyway. I was thinking that when you moved on perhaps you would take me with you."
"Hatshupet. I am living here, much of the time. I still roam, periodically, with purpose or simply to explore, but the world has changed, and outside this oasis is much harsher now than the desert. You cannot leave here safely."
She stared at him in astonishment. "What do you mean, I can't leave? What should I do, stay here? Live as a city-dweller?"
"Yes. Franklin's influence extends only so far; if you leave it you risk being torn apart by --"
"I can take care of myself, Nur! If need be I'll come back, but to stay in one place all the time?"
This Nur may not have been particularly tall in comparison to twentieth-century humanity, but he had several inches on Hatshupet and loomed over her so that she ended up backed against the table. "You may well be unable to find your way back by the time you realize you need to. You are NOT leaving this place," he thundered.
"Ooh, trouble, I see," Domino whispered to Nathan. "Who is she?"
"Apparently, an alternate-timeline version of his wife."
Oblivious to the side conversation, Hatshupet let go of the edge of the table and folded her arms, dark eyes flashing and then growing a bit more thoughtful. "I... didn't realize you were quite so adamant about it," she said carefully.
Hatshupet lowered her head slightly in an acquiescent nod.
"Nur," Franklin intervened gently. "We don't make a practice of forcing people to stay here."
Nur turned and gave him a deeply exasperated look.
"He is the only surviving man of my tribe, as he told me," Hatshupet interjected demurely. "He has the right to speak on where I go, or do not go as the case may be."
Domino raised an eyebrow, but didn't get a chance to speak as Nur wheeled on Hatshupet at the too-formal tone and tilted her chin up to look penetratingly into her eyes. "You plan to try to depart when I'm not watching you," he stated. "Do you deny it? I've heard that tone before; do not forget that I have seen you ignore orders before, and you can hardly say Baal did not have the right to give them."
Hatshupet gave up the pretense and looked up defiantly. "No, I don't deny it," she admitted. "You didn't precisely object to my disobeying Baal, either, at the time." Her gaze was challenging, but the next question sounded perfectly serious. "Will you have me flogged for it too?"
"Flogged?!" Franklin sounded startled. The two Egyptians ignored him completely.
"You know better," Nur replied, less harshly. "But I do not intend to see you disappear into the shifts again."
"A term for the world-changes: the other worlds, things that might have happened but real, are called shifts. The passageways -- or curtains -- that have developed," he did not look at Nathan, "will kill you if they open where you are. Some of the worlds will kill you outright as well."
"So might-have-been goes to is, as you told me before -- but the desert will kill you if you aren't careful and sometimes if you are. So will a city. Life is a test. Why are you so worried?"
Nur sighed. "You know the desert. You do not know the shifts. The likelihood of your surviving them for a time is higher than that for some, to be sure, but the rules change in every world and some... leave you no chance at all. And you could not sense their coming."
"You've managed," she pointed out, giving the distinct impression that she thought she should be able to do as well.
That got him to smile. Nur moved sideways, releasing the girl from her position trapped against the table, and leaned on it instead. "I have never been a good point of comparison, and you know it."
"Well, yes." There was a glimmer of amusement in her eyes as she relaxed slightly. "You've always been annoying that way."
The smile turned to a slight grimace. "So I noticed."
"It's all right, I like you anyway." The glimmer had matured into full-fledged mischief. Domino choked on a laugh. Nathan stayed very quiet and tried not to look dumbfounded. He didn't succeed very well, but nobody was paying his expression much attention anyway.
"Thank you," Nur replied wryly.
"You knew that," she replied with a shrug and a slight smile that faded after a few seconds as she eyed Nur speculatively and appeared to be waiting for something. Whatever it was failed to manifest itself, however, and in a moment she glanced towards Franklin, looked him up and down thoughtfully, and turned back to Nur. "I'm wondering something...."
She gestured towards Franklin. "I know we hadn't been talking anymore, but this I would think I'd have noticed." She looked a bit perplexed. So, for that matter, did Franklin. "When did you buy a Greek sorcerer?"
There was a tiny flash of light as some individual with a camera and great presence of mind took a snapshot of Franklin, who was looking somewhere between nonplussed and indescribably dumbfounded. A stray thought crossed Nathan's mind, suggesting that if it ever managed to get developed, the picture of that particular instant would probably be quite highly prized, just for comedy value.
Franklin's expression shaded to slight irritation as he looked across the room and met the eyes of the girl with the camera, who smiled weakly at him and took another picture. He lowered his eyes and looked down and to the left for a moment, mouth quirking oddly, and at the third flash gave up and laughed.
"I didn't," Nur began.
"Oh," Hatshupet returned brightly. "Did you steal him?"
"No, I did not!" Nur replied, glancing towards Franklin with mingled apology and amusement. Franklin looked back quite cheerfully, having by this time composed himself. "First, he is not mine -- that is, he is not owned. Second, he is not Greek, and third, he is not a sorcerer."
It was Hatshupet's turn to look nonplussed. "Well, what is he, then?"
"He is from farther away than Greece, and he is a mutant."
"That... does not help."
Nathan could see why.
Nur admitted as much and tried to clarify. "A mutant is someone who is born so that they have unusual powers or other differences beyond the usual range in people -- though they may not realize it for some years. There is no magic involved, and whether it's a gift of the gods is a matter of some debate at times." He paused for a moment. "Some consider it a curse. It depends on the form the mutation takes."
Hatshupet visibly thought this over. "He said he changes reality. Surely that isn't considered a curse?"
"Not for him," Nur replied a bit cryptically. Cable thought about Kevin MacTaggart and Jamie Braddock. "Not for the others here, either -- Franklin maintains this town; he keeps the world-shifts from tearing it apart or making it impossible to live in. He's responsible for the air, the water supply, the sun being as we know it -- there are some of the worlds where even that is changed."
The glance Hatshupet cast Franklin's way bordered on awe. "Are you sure you don't mean he's a god?"
"I think he's more powerful than is attributed to some of our gods," Nur replied carefully. "But no, he isn't one."
"Are you absolutely sure about this?"
"Yes, he's sure!" Franklin interrupted decisively. That was the last thing he needed... well, besides, say, an assortment of Nur's less pleasant alternates deciding to storm his shields. Fortunately Hatshupet appeared inclined to take him at his word.
She studied him carefully for a few moments longer, then turned to Nur and proceeded to examine him. "Differences, you said. And powers. Are you a mutant too?"
"That I am."
"Is that why you wound up better at everything than the rest of the boys?"
Nur hesitated. "Yes. In part. Not the only reason." What was that in his voice? There was another pause. "And it came to number many of the men, too," he added with a slight lift of his chin.
Hatshupet laughed aloud. "I wasn't disparaging your skills," she informed him archly between chuckles. Nathan had trouble not joining her. Nur was proud, he'd known that, but this one didn't make a habit of boasting. Interesting, that tiny almost-defensiveness -- it appeared this Nur didn't care to attribute all his successes to mutation.
"Good," Nur replied, gravely but not quite perfectly seriously. "You should keep them in mind, because if you should attempt to leave here after all, they will be instrumental in retrieving you."
He received in answer an irritated glower. "If I were foolish enough to leave the protection of this camp -- ah, town," Hatshupet asked slowly, "instead of listening to your warnings -- wouldn't you say I deserved whatever happened to me?"
"Perhaps," Nur conceded, eyes narrowing. "On the other hand, that would not obligate me to leave you to it. I have missed you."
Hatshupet looked at him oddly, although with a hint of being obscurely pleased, and raised an eyebrow. "It hasn't been all that long."
"It has for me."
"Surely not." Evidently she thought he was exaggerating, and had relaxed enough to decide to tease back. "You don't appear to have aged any --"
"I don't age." She blinked at him. This was going to be interesting. "There is something more you should know about the shifts," Nur told her slowly. "The different worlds are not necessarily entered at the same time. In my world, it's been nearly five thousand years since you died of old age."
Hatshupet, understandably, looked stunned.
"Do not faint," Nur added firmly as she paled a bit and shrank away. The admonition seemed possibly necessary, and appeared to serve its purpose. Hatshupet rallied and looked slightly indignant, though still wary and not a little shaken.
"That can't be true. You --" she broke off. "Are you a sorcerer, then, after all?" The index finger of one hand stretched out as the rest curled, pointing in an oddly ritualistic gesture. Nur captured the hand and regarded it a bit sadly. The fingers seemed to wilt slightly, then folded together determinedly.
"No. Not in the least." He sighed deeply. "Hatshupet, now do you see why I said you don't know the shifts?" He released her hand and watched as it slipped away and went to clutch at the hilt of the knife she'd managed to retain through the battle. "That is not even the strangest phenomenon you might encounter there, and certainly not among the most dangerous. And -- not only do I not age, I do not readily die of hunger, or thirst, or the heat of the sun, and when subjected to enough injury that I should die after all, I survive anyway -- or live again. Still I would prefer you not stab me."
She let go of the knife and crossed her arms in front of her, each hand going to its opposite shoulder -- they jerked slightly, wrists turning, at one point before she settled them against her body, as if she'd thought of doing something else. Nur appeared to know what it was; Cable thought he almost looked stricken for a second. "I don't plan to stab you, if I don't have to," Hatshupet said in a low voice. "What you claim, though...."
"Is the truth. I've neither gone mad nor begun to want to harm you -- if those could be called different things -- nor taken on any mysterious evil. You don't need to ward me off, even if you could. I never have wished you harm." He shook his head. "I am still the friend you knew. Only," with a faint smile, "older. And you were never afraid of me before."
"It's not you I fear now, but what you might have become. You never claimed to have seen me die before!" she pointed out, logically enough. "Or to be immortal, for that matter."
"It really wasn't my idea."
That made her laugh hard enough to cause several watchers to suspect hysterics, but she calmed herself after a little while. "I don't think, somehow, that you should object. An advantage in life's tests, at the least. Are you really so old? You look unchanged." Her arms dropped to her sides and she rested her hands on the table again, apparently relaxed again. Mostly.
"Yes. And you should know, for most of the people here, the time and place from which I plucked you is -- as for me -- thousands of years distant. For them, long before their birth." He smiled wryly. "As it turns out, we are yet before the time from which Rama-Tut launched himself."
Hatshupet frowned, and looked a little as if she wanted to spit at the name. "Launched? He was from -- later still?" Nur nodded. She sighed. "Ugh. He should have stayed there, the treacherous -- hmmph. Or should I say 'then'?" A headshake. "This is all very strange...."
Nur laid a hand on her shoulder and looked slightly relieved when she only looked up, without flinching. "It is, I am sure. Perhaps you would like to come and see the camel? Her name is Nelly."
"Nelly?" She frowned over the name for a moment, mouthing it, then shrugged. "This is an odd language. The camel? What, do you only have one?"
"Only one has found its way to this place, and I have not yet encountered others among the shifts." He looked up at Nathan. "That is a little odd in itself, come to think of it, given the frequency with which we find deserts."
"Not really. We don't often find people there, either."
She grinned slightly and proceeded towards the indicated door. "One camel." She looked over her shoulder as Nur started after her. "You'd best find another soon if you don't want her to run looking for a mate."
"I know how to look after a camel, girl," he told her good-humoredly.
"Yes, then do so -- Nur, that's not fair; I can't call you 'boy' if you're so ancient."
"Oh, don't let logic stop you...."
Cable stared at the door as it closed behind them. "I don't think I believe this."
Domino came and leaned over his shoulder as he slowly sat down. "Nate?"
"Do you think he'll tell her they were married?"
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