Cable: Clear As Midnight
By Alicia McKenzie (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. Set sometimes roughly in current X-Men continuity. The lyrics included are by Edmund H. Sears, circa 1849.
The fact that he was sitting here talking to one was mildly disturbing. But it had seemed like the expected thing to do. He laid the rose Ororo had given him on top of the stone, then gently brushed the clinging snow away from the inscription.
"In Remembrance," it read, with Scott's name and the pertinent dates beneath. Not much of an epitaph, but neither he nor Jean had been -- available for consultation when Xavier had put this here. Jean had been -- lost in her own private world of grief, and he -- he'd been running, from everything he'd done, and hadn't done --
"The flower's from Ororo," he said, his voice sounding even harsher in the textured silence of the falling snow. "I don't know why. It'll just freeze and die out here."
This was insane. Scott couldn't hear him. There were better ways to honor his father's memory than sitting out here in the snow and holding a one-sided conversation with a chunk of marble. More productive ways. He'd joined the X-Men, was fighting for Xavier's hopeless dream, in his father's name. In his place and in his honor.
That was enough, wasn't it? It should be -- but it wasn't, he admitted painfully to himself. His heart wasn't in it, and therein laid the problem.
"You wouldn't approve," he murmured, before he could stop himself. The words wanted to come out. Who was he to deny them? "If you don't believe in what you're doing, you shouldn't be doing it, right? That's what you'd say. I always tried to stick to that, but -- it's just hard, Slym." So hard--
Hearing his voice break, Nathan stopped and closed his eyes, swallowing past a sudden lump in his throat. He shouldn't have come out here, he thought, adjusting the collar of his leather jacket as the wind stirred the snow into a gentle whirlwind around him.
But he'd needed to get out of the mansion for a while. He had absolutely no desire to bake cookies, wrap presents, or mess around with the flonqing tree. It all seemed too much like overcompensation this year.
It was too ironic, really. When you separated it from its social trimmings, this particular holiday was all about new beginnings, about hope coming into the world. All the things he'd once dreamed he'd be celebrating, after Apocalypse's death. But here he was, feeling as if his world, his life, had ended months ago, that he was just living out some sort of endless gray coda--
"I miss you," he whispered, an admission he hadn't intended to make. But there was no one out here to hear him. Getting to his feet, he took a deep breath and looked away from the tombstone, up into the cloudy night sky. "G'journey. F-Father."
Before his control could break any further, he turned and headed up through the snow towards the mansion, trying as he went to convince the dull ache in his chest to go back where it came from. That was done. He'd paid his respects. He could go back inside and pretend to tolerate the festivities now. Appearances had to be maintained. Surely putting on a good show for Christmas was within his capabilities.
The Christmas music was audible ten feet away from the back door. He was seriously considering just turning around and walking right back out into the snow when he felt Jean's mind brush his lightly. The contact was wordless, but enough to convey that she'd really prefer it if he came back in. With a muttered curse, he opened the door and stepped in, careful to knock the snow off his boots before he did.
While he was wrestling with his coat, the song that had been playing ended, replaced by one in a minor key, a chant haunting enough to make you shiver. It didn't sound particularly festive. He liked it.
# Stop being such a grouch, # Jean said softly in his mind.
# I'm not making any promises, # he said, half in jest, as he walked down the hall and into the den. It was empty, but the table that had been loaded with food this afternoon showed clear signs of having been attacked by a ravening horde or three. He went over and poured himself a glass of eggnog. Usually he hated the stuff, but he'd seen Drake spiking it earlier. # Where is everyone? #
# Wrapping presents and so forth. # Jean sounded distracted. # Drink your eggnog and get warm, Nate. You were out there in the snow for an awfully long time. #
# I like the snow, # he sent back, somewhat sulkily.
The telepathic equivalent of a tolerant chuckle passed down the link between them. # Did you change your mind about coming to church? #
# Ask me in an hour. # Wrapping presents -- what fun. Some charity group or another had been wrapping gifts at the mall when he'd gone on his single shopping trip, so he'd let them do it, and given them a nice donation in return. So his were all wrapped. Except his gift for Jean, which he'd gotten in -- where the flonq had he been, Kazakhstan? One of the places he'd visited during his weeks of wandering. He supposed that really did need to be wrapped--
# Something came for you in the mail today, # Jean said, almost offhandedly. # I put it under the tree. #
# Thanks, # he responded, and felt her presence fade out as she turned her attention back to whatever she'd been doing. Approaching the seven-foot, over-decorated tree somewhat warily -- he'd seen it topple three times while Logan and Hank had been trying to fasten it in its base -- he peered beneath, spotting the small, square packet in an incongruously cheery Christmas envelope. His name and address were printed on the front in a straight, blocky hand that looked somehow familiar.
Bringing it to his hand with a flicker of telekinesis, Nathan went over and sat in the chair next to the window, sipping at the eggnog and frowning down at the packet. Who would be sending him something through the mail? He raised it to his ear, cautiously, and shook it.
Curiosity got the better of him. He opened the envelope, and found that all it contained was a flat, glossy black box the size of his palm. Setting his eggnog down and tossing the envelope aside, he lifted the top off carefully, ready with a telekinetic shield in case there was anything unpleasant inside.
Nothing blew up in his face. Inside, there was a small card sitting atop a layer of soft cotton. There was clearly something else in the box, judging by the weight, but his heart rate jumped as he lifted the card with a hand that shook slightly, despite his best efforts to keep it steady.
This handwriting, he recognized. It was efficient but graceful, flowing but compact, with a slight tilt to the side. She must have had one of the kids write his address, so she wouldn't tip him off. He swallowed and read.
The lump in his throat seemed a lot bigger all of a sudden. He wondered what she was trying to tell him. It was a verse from a Christmas carol, wasn't it? Turning the card over, he saw another verse written on the back.
There was no signature. Nathan took a deep, shaky breath and closed his eyes. Oh, Dom, he thought. She'd always been the more optimistic of the two of them, and he could see what she was trying to tell him, he thought.
He just wasn't sure whether he was ready to hear her, yet. Whether he could believe that all of this had a purpose, that there was something brighter at the end of it--
Setting the card down on the arm of the chair, he drew the back of his hand across his eyes with a muttered curse and lifted the cotton gently.
It was a watch. A silver pocket watch, and from the color of the silver and the weight of the watch, it had to be at least a hundred years old. They didn't make watches like this anymore, he thought, studying the detail on the case with something very close to quiet awe. There was a tiny set of initials he couldn't make out, and a date -- 1880, he thought.
He opened the case carefully, to see the face. Roman numerals, and the hands were so delicate, so fragile-looking -- yet they kept moving steadily, just as they had for a hundred and twenty years.
Marking time, since a century before his birth. Nathan snapped the case closed and held the watch in his hands for a moment, feeling the weight of it, the reality of it. Knowing, without a doubt, what she'd meant by sending him this.
Life went on. Time went on, and there was nothing even a time-traveler could do to recapture the hours and days and months and years that had passed you by.
What is, is. And you couldn't let the future slip through your fingers while you mourned the past.
She wouldn't have sent this if she didn't think it was time for me to see that. Maybe it wasn't a question of him being ready to hear the truth or not. Maybe he just had to trust her -- trust himself -- enough to listen.
Nathan's eyes blurred, and he rubbed at them half-heartedly. He felt -- raw. Exposed. Like he was back out in the snow at Scott's grave, the wind and the cold battering at him. All the protective numbness was gone, and he it would be easy to just--
The tears fell, and he let them. He could count on the hands of one hand -- all right, maybe two hands -- the number of times since he was thirteen years old that he'd let himself cry. Only when there'd been too much grief or pain to keep inside -- always unwillingly, and he'd hated it afterwards. Hated the weakness.
But this felt different. Maybe because he wasn't fighting to hold them back. He had no one to put on the stoic mask for, nothing to prove. He watched the falling snow through his tears, and something eased inside him.
The pain didn't go away. But it eased.
It had rarely snowed in the future. But he could remember one time, so distant in his memory that he couldn't have been more than four or five. The snow had fascinated him, and he'd played in it until exhaustion. Then Slym had carried him back into the shelter, and he'd drifted off to sleep, watching the fire dance--
There was a large, blue-furred, clawed hand resting on his shoulder. Nathan blinked and shook his head, not quite believing that he'd gotten so lost in thought that he'd missed McCoy coming into the room. He looked up at his teammate, not bothering to wipe the tears away, and met Hank's concerned look with a faint smile.
"I was just -- wondering if you were coming with us to the Christmas service," Hank said, so hesitantly that it was perfectly clear he hadn't said what he'd first had in mind.
Nathan thought for a moment, and then nodded. "I think I will," he said, glad the words came out more strongly, and felt the smile grow, almost despite himself.
"I'm glad," Hank said, the concern melting into an answering smile.
"Yeah, I think it's time I stopped being the grouch who stole Christmas--"
Hank's smile quirked oddly. "The grinch, Nathan."
"What's a grinch?"
Hank opened his mouth and then closed it again. "A green, skinny version of me, without fur," he finally said, almost whimsically.
Nathan blinked at the image, and then shook his head. "I'm glad I wasn't around for long enough as a kid to hear some of these stories, I think--"
"Oh, I read that one to you. More than once, if I remember," Hank said, his eyes twinkling.
"No wonder I turned out this way." Hank laughed, and Nathan grinned. "Merry Christmas, Hank," he said, and then glanced down at the watch. Set to local time, and if it was right, he had just enough time to wrap Jean's present before they had to leave.