by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story belong to Marvel Comics, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. This story is set after Cable was captured and experimented on by SHIELD (the 'Nemesis Contract' in CABLE), but I'm ignoring the remarkably ill-conceived Cable/X-Man crossover. I'm also assuming that Betsy actually resigned from the X-Men, rather than just vanishing.
I flipped idly through the book, toying with the idea of buying it. I'd always enjoyed Rohinton Mistry. The man's writing had such wonderful texture and depth, reading it was sheer, hedonistic pleasure.
But I'd been indulging in such escapism too often of late, I supposed. Warren was beginning to notice--and worry. He got a very distinct crease, just between his eyebrows, when he frets about something. So clear an indicator, that little crease, that I didn't need my telepathy to know he was concerned. Or wouldn't have needed it, rather.
If I had it.
Which I don't.
I sighed and set the book back on the shelf, firmly extricating myself from that particular mental loop. One would think it would grow easier, as time went on. That the sense of loss would grow more distant, at the very least.
You're a self-pitying mess, Braddock, I told myself sternly, and turned to leave the bookstore. Warren was absolutely right. What I needed was to get out of the loft and get some fresh air. To enjoy the city, to remind myself than I am alive, and not a blind shell of the woman I'd once been. Well--he hadn't actually said THAT. I suspected he would have, though, if he hadn't been so concerned about my feelings.
They all were. All the X-Men. Never a harsh word about how foolish I'd been to fall into the Shadow King's trap on the astral plane. They talked about the 'tenacity' with which I'd fought him after the mind-trap had been sprung. My 'sacrifice' of my telepathic abilities in order to imprison Farouk once more in the void. Listening to them, you would have thought I was the heroine of the piece. Not the pawn, the foolish child who'd let her injured pride run away with her and had ended up crippling all of her fellow telepaths, friends and foes alike.
No accusations. No recriminations--at least not in my hearing. Not even from Jean, still in Alaska. I'd expected it to be otherwise. At least I still had my ninja skills--she had nothing left. Her great gift, far greater than mine, stripped away from her in one moment. The Phoenix's wings clipped, perhaps forever. But she'd called, the day I'd resigned from the team, called specifically to speak to me. The conversation had been a trifle--awkward, but I hadn't gotten the sense that she wanted me dead, or anything along those lines. Even though she would have had every right.
No, she'd wished me well. Told me that she hoped Warren and I would be happy--that part of her ENVIED me. I hadn't known what to say. I'd heard true sincerity in her voice--I think. I smiled bitterly, shaking my head. Amazing, how much of what I'd thought I could read in people's voices and in their body language had been spillover from my telepathy. I used to think of myself as insightful. The thought almost made me laugh.
Smiling perfunctorily at the clerk, I opened the door to leave, and nearly collided with a very large someone on his way in. "Excuse me," I said softly, keeping my eyes on the ground. I'd been doing that a lot lately. It hurt, to look up into strangers' faces and see nothing, sense nothing--only impenetrable masks.
"It is you. I thought so. The purple hair's a dead giveaway." The voice was deep and rough. And very familiar. "I saw you a few blocks back, and then lost you in the crowd."
I looked up. "Hello, Nathan," I said, hating how uneven my voice was, on those two words.
Cable's smile was little more than an ironic flicker, dying almost instantly. "Betsy," he said. "Have a few minutes to talk?"
We settled on a cafe, just down the street--the cafe where I'm supposed to meet Warren for lunch. Part of me hoped that Cable would be gone by then. Warren was still uneasy around him. I knew why, of course. The image of Stryfe gunning down the Professor, then firing off the shot that had damaged Warren's wing and taunting him as he teleported away--it was still imprinted on Warren's mind. He couldn't let go of it, even though he knew, intellectually, that it hadn't been Cable that day.
Odd. When I'd had my telepathy, I'd seen that and understood it, recognized that there was nothing I could do to change it. Now, though, it merely irritated me, as if part of me thought Warren was being childish, clinging to an irrational dislike. The understanding, the acceptance, was gone.
"I've been doing that a lot too," Cable said cryptically, sipping at his coffee. I blinked at him, startled, and he gave me a faint smile. "Staring off into space, I mean."
I stared at him, folding my hands together in their lab to still their trembling. This was absurd. My telepathy might be gone, but I was still a ninja, still perfectly capable of defending myself. Why, then, was I suddenly so afraid of this man?
"Are you all right?" I asked finally, settling on the first of the many questions that was screaming away in my mind.
He raised an eyebrow. "Define 'all right', Braddock." There was no anger in his voice, but then again, Cable had always possessed an impressive amount of self-control. He could be ready to jump out of his chair and throttle me, for all I knew.
"Nathan--" I swallowed. "Jean--when it happened, she lost her telekinesis, as well as her telepathy. We--the X-Men, I mean--were concerned about you. Because of the virus. But no one knew how to reach you, where to find you--and then we heard you were aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier when it nearly crashed--"
"I was," he said calmly, setting his coffee cup down. I stared across the table at him, feeling as if I'd never seen him before. When I'd first met him, he'd been an enigma--impossible for me or any other telepath of this time to read. Then, once his abilities had started to emerge, what had struck me most when I looked at him was the raw power he possessed. I had been a little envious, if the truth be told.
But all I saw now was the man himself. He tilted his head in a way that reminded me of Jean, smiling a little under my scrutiny.
"Checking for metal bits where there shouldn't be any?" he asked dryly. "Don't worry. The virus is completely under control. Actually, those SHIELD scientists probably did me a favor--there's a lot less of the T-O incursion, with the amount they hacked out of me--" I winced; I couldn't help it. His smile grew. "Of course, I didn't particularly enjoy it at the time. Flonqing painful, the little bit I was conscious for. But that and the neural dampeners they gave me saved my life, Betsy. The virus would have killed me a few days after--whatever it was happened, otherwise."
So he didn't know. I took a deep, shaky breath, and tried desperately to control my expression. If I could only keep him on this subject for a while longer, gather up the courage to tell him--"But you have the virus under control now?" I asked. He nodded. "I don't understand--how?"
Cable glanced around, as if making sure that no one was watching, and then nodded. He turned his attention to his coffee cup.
Which floated into the air for a moment, perfectly steady, before he telekinetically set it back down again.
I gaped at it, and then looked up at him. "How?" was all I said.
"My telepathy is gone. Permanently, according to Blaq--someone who would know. Apparently, losing it was enough of a shock that my telekinesis shut down as well. But it was a psychosomatic reaction, that's all." He shrugged again. "When I--had to use it again, while I was on the Helicarrier, I did. Simple as that." He picked up his coffee cup, this time physically, and took another sip. His expression grew thoughtful. "I should really call Jean and tell her that. She could probably break that block, too, if she wanted it badly enough. She and Scott are still in Alaska, right?"
"Call her and--you should call her and tell her and Scott that you're all right!" I said hotly, suddenly feeling the urge to reach out and shake some sense into him. "Do you have any idea how worried they are about you? No one's heard from you since just after Zero Tolerance, and then this happens--they're your parents, Nathan! They deserve to know that their son's not lying dead somewhere!"
"Betsy," he said calmly, and I closed my mouth with a snap. "Whether or not I call Scott and Jean is my business. Not yours." He leaned back in his chair, his expression growing almost chagrined. "That was rather thoughtless of me," he said gruffly. "The cup, I mean."
"What?" I asked faintly.
"Flaunting it, like that." There was a flash of compassion in his eyes. "I wasn't thinking. Your telepathy was your only mutant ability, and you lost it."
"Don't apologize," I whispered, staring down at the table. "I--I'm just glad you're all right, Nathan. I don't know whether I could have lived with myself if--" I bit my lip. It had come out before I'd been able to stop myself. I forced myself to look at him.
He was frowning. "If what, Betsy?" he asked. I froze, and he folded his arms across his chest, a remarkably familiar stubborn look growing on his features. If I hadn't known better, I could have sworn I was looking at an older version of Scott. "What is it?" he persisted.
I took a deep, shaky breath, and told him. All of it. Right from the beginning, when Storm had received that strange statue, to the springing of the mind-trap and our eventual victory. Such as it had been, at least.
I fell silent when I had finished, feeling as if I'd just run a marathon. Reaching up impatiently, I brushed tears away, embarassed that I hadn't been able to hold them back, had failed to be as stoic as I'd wanted to be.
His face was a study. "It can't have been easy for you to tell me that," he finally said in an unreadable voice.
I couldn't help the faint, wild laugh that escaped me. "No, I'd say that would be putting it mildly."
"Better to know, though," he said calmly.
I stared at him disbelievingly. "What?" Of all the reactions I'd anticipated, this hadn't been one of them. "You're not--"
"Angry?" He sighed. "Braddock, if people were blamed for what others manipulated them into doing, I would be the absolute last person in the world who should throw the first stone." Another one of those strange smiles, this one with real humor behind it. "I'm glad you told me. I knew this was something with wide-ranging effects--some sort of astral disruption, but it was bothering me, not knowing exactly what happened."
Let me get this straight--he was grateful to me for satisfying his CURIOSITY? "Nathan," I said, absolutely floored. "I don't--I could have ended up killing you!"
He laughed, shaking his head ruefully. "Here I go playing the hypocrite again, but really, Betsy, you can't take responsibility for what Farouk did. HE set up the whole thing, he created the mind-trap. All you did was fall victim to it." He snorted, taking another sip of his coffee. "Damn. I should listen to myself sometimes--I really make sense."
"You're not making any sense to me!" I said irritably. "Blast it, why can't anyone just be ANGRY with me about this? Rather than trying to spare my feelings--"
He leaned forward over the table, an odd glint in his eyes. "Braddock. If I was really, honestly pissed about this, do you think I'd worry about sparing your feelings?"
"And a gold star for the British ninja." He leaned back in his chair, a smile playing about his lips. "I think I understand. You WANT someone to be angry with you, so that you feel like you're justified in kicking yourself in the ass--"
"I am not--"
"Am--" I swallowed, closing my eyes and saying a brief prayer for patience. When I opened them again, he was grinning at me. It was such a--bizarre sight that I couldn't help the next thing that came out of my mouth. "Are you SURE you're all right?" This certainly wasn't characteristic behaviour for the Cable I knew. He seemed almost--light-hearted, and he was certainly exhibiting more of a sense of humor than I'd ever suspected he possessed.
He didn't answer me for a moment, just flexed his left hand, staring down at the techno-organic fiber thoughtfully. "I've had a bit of a--change in perspective," he finally said. "Losing so much of the virus--it's had some sort of weird effect on me, Betsy. I feel different."
"Different--better?" I ventured.
"Different--different," he temporized, and then shrugged. "It's not important." He regarded me intently, and I squirmed under his scrutiny. Telepathy or no telepathy, he had an uncanny way of seeming to look right into your soul. "What is, is," he said. "The why of any situation is secondary to the situation itself. You might want to keep things like that in mind."
I felt my expression tighten. "I'm afraid platitudes aren't going to work in this situation, Nathan."
All things considered, he took my insulting his 'religion' fairly well. "Whatever. But you can't go on blaming yourself for what happened." There was a very bleak look in his eyes for a moment. "Guilt--poisons you, after a while."
I met his eyes resolutely. "Would you be able to just--move on and put it all behind you, if you were me?" I asked levelly. "I--crippled countless people, Nathan. You, Jean, Emma and her telepathic students--people I know, people I'll never know." I gave a helpless laugh. "I'm not sure which is worse."
Cable shook his head. "It's like talking to a brick wall," he muttered, and then continued before I could object to his analogy. "No, Betsy, I probably couldn't put it behind me and move on. But then, I'm morbid and obsessive." He gave me a deadpan look, and quite against my will, I laughed. "Do you want to be either of the above?" he asked more soberly. "Because once you start, once you let yourself be pulled down into the shadows, you can't back out on a whim. You can't suddenly decide that you're going to live again--or love again. The way back gets very hard, after a while." He spoke with such conviction that I was momentarily floored.
"I've spent my share of time in the shadows, Nathan," I said in a quiet, controlled voice, remembering Slaymaster and Spiral, Kwannon and the Crimson Dawn.
He nodded. "I know you have," he said calmly. "But you fought your way back out. You have a life, Braddock. You even have Worthington, prize that he is--"
"Bite me." Again, I laughed. "Seriously, Betsy. Don't let go of what you have. Hold on as tight as you can." That sadness was back in his eyes, and my amusement melted away. "All we have is the now, Betsy. The future's fluid. Everything you care about could vanish in an instant."
"This is supposed to be comforting?" I asked in a poor attempt at a joke.
"I'm not here to be comforting," he said, and there was some greater significance to his words, I could hear it. "I'm here--hell, I don't even know why I'm here."
I knew he wasn't referring to his presence here in the cafe, with me. "You don't strike me as the type to be comfortable with such--uncertainty, Nathan."
"Certainty's an illusion," he said almost briskly. "Certain means you're certainly wrong."
"Eventually," he said rather cryptically. I gave him a level look, and he sighed. "Repeat after me, Betsy. 'I don't want to know.'"
I chuckled helplessly. "I don't want to know."
"Might want to hold on to that one, Braddock. It's an all-purpose mantra to deal with anything that relates to me, Dom says." His face fell.
I stiffened in sudden awareness. "When you lost your telepathy--you lost your psi-link with her, too."
"No kidding," he said softly. "I don't even know whether she knows if I'm alive. Or if she cares--" He shook his head slowly, his mouth twisting bitterly. "All those years--I'm a prime example of someone who didn't hold on to what he had, Braddock. Don't make my mistake, all right?"
"I'll try." I whispered. It was all I could say, all I could promise. I wasn't silly enough to think that I could wave a magic wand and make my life right again. But Nathan was right; I owed it to myself to at least live my life, damaged and diminished though it might be.
He nodded, as if satisfied, and then looked out at the crowd on the street again. His smile was strangely wistful. "I've been thinking a lot about all of this."
"Go on," I said, taking a sip of my coffee. He'd listened to me vent, and I got the sense that he needed to do the same. It was the least I could do for him.
"Doesn't it seem to you like something has really changed, here--" He looked irritable for a moment. "This isn't coming out right." He gave me an almost apologetic smile. "I'm not much on speechmaking."
"You could have fooled me," I said primly. "You were making a pretty good one to me a minute ago."
"Right. I'm going to give up on the reluctant mutant messiah gig and take up a career as a motivational speaker," he said dryly. I smiled, and he shook his head. "I'm trying to make a point here, Braddock."
"All right," I said briskly. "Fair enough. Something has definitely changed, Nathan. We're walking around with vastly reduced perceptions--"
"No, this is just part of it," he said, waving his hand dismissively. "It started with Onslaught, I think. I've been feeling, ever since, like something's--ending. Like we're coming out of a--golden age, or something. All of us that fought for Xavier's dream--and don't give me that look, woman, I was just doing it in a different way than the rest of you--we're drifting apart, in a way."
I tapped a finger against the table, thoughtfully. Nathan had a point. I thought of Excalibur, dissolving. X-Factor, going underground. X-Force, going out on their own. What seemed like half the roster of the X-Men, leaving. Including me, I reminded myself. I'd made that choice. My remaining skills would still have been an asset to the team, but I hadn't trusted myself not to use my telepathy in battle, in the crunch. So I'd chosen to leave, and Warren had come with me.
We were drifting apart. The old boundaries were changing, old allegiances shifting. The Professor was gone--everything was in flux.
"That's a grim thought," I said finally.
"Why?" he asked sharply. I gave him a surprised look. "Why does it have to be 'grim', Betsy? There's not always something good on the other side of a great change, but there's always something new."
I tried to smile. "I--suppose you're right. But it feels strange, don't you think? Sort of like the end of the Lord of the Rings, the breaking of the Fellowship." All those brave heroes, leaving to follow their own paths, joyful, but with a certain sadness as well. An awareness that things would never be the same.
"But the Road goes ever on," Nathan said dryly.
I raised an eyebrow. "I didn't expect you to get that reference, actually," I admitted.
"What?" he asked humorously. "You think I don't read? Me big tough guy, me love my guns too much to appreciate literature? I love Tolkien, Betsy."
"Actually, maybe that doesn't surprise me as much as I thought," I said with a faint smile. He tilted his head again, and I smiled. "A happy ending, Nathan."
"I'd drink to that," he said softly, and then glanced at his watch. "I should probably go. Got people to see, things to blow up."
I laughed. "I'm almost certain I don't want to know."
"Good call." Cable rose, glancing around at the cafe as if he wanted to imprint this moment on his memory. When he looked back at me, he had that same thoughtful look on his face. "There's no such thing as an ending," he said abruptly. "If I've learned anything in all my--travels, it's that." He gave me an almost sheepish smile. "Maybe that's still a platitude, but take it for what it's worth, Elizabeth."
"So," I said, lifting my chin and meeting his eyes, trying to ignore the fact that my own were stinging with tears again for some unknown reason. "It's not the end of magic, then?" I meant it as a play on the Tolkien reference, nothing more, but he seemed to take it quite seriously for a moment.
"I hope not," he said, and smiled at me. "I like leading a charmed life."
Back to Archive