by Alicia McKenzie

DISCLAIMER: All the characters in this story belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. This story is set after the Psi-War, somewhere around Cable #58. A bit of a departure for me, since I and my fictives parted company with Marvel continuity after O:ZT, but considering the possibilities of the subject material, I couldn't resist. Feedback, as always, is appreciated.


Restless, I turn over and stare at the clock beside the bed. 3:10, it reads. A line of poetry drifts through my mind. The bleak hour of the morning, when all dreams are ashes. . . A twenty-third century poet, I think. And too flonqing appropriate at the moment. Pessimist that I am, I feel very much like my dream's gone up in smoke.

Dream? I wince. Did I just use that word? Damn, I must be more tired than I thought. I'm a soldier, not some starry-eyed idealist--

Great. Now I'm arguing with myself. The first sign of creeping senility--

I should be sleeping. Even by my standards, my life's been hectic lately. New York, London, Switzerland, Wakanda, Egypt, Greece. Oath, it was so much easier when I could bodyslide. I close my eyes, trying to relax, but my mind races, endlessly replaying the events of the last few weeks. New York, London, Switzerland, Wakanda, Egypt, Greece.


To hell with 'the why of any situation'! I want to know what happened to me while I was facing that lunatic Rama- Tut. Blaquesmith mutters something about 'disturbances on the astral plane', but I don't think he knows any more than I do. At least, not yet.

So quiet. I used to think that was something I wanted. Even when Madelyne had me trapped on the astral plane, I remember feeling so--at peace, while we were in her re- creation of Alaska. But this is different. This--emptiness in my mind is too much. I'm alone in my own mind, lost in a gaping void deeper than silence.

I open my eyes, staring up at the ceiling. Pull it together, Nathan. It doesn't matter--I can't let it matter. My mission hasn't gone away just because something's shut down my powers.

The battle's not over. The battle's never over, for me.

But how much longer am I going to be able to fight? Without my telekinesis, I can't control the T-O virus. I can feel it spreading already, icy tendrils of pain beginning their steady advance through my body--

No. Don't think about that. Pleasant thoughts. Happy--oh, to hell with it. I can't pretend that nothing's changed. Whatever happened to me might not have ended my mission, but it's certainly derailed it, at the very least. Losing my powers has cut down on my effectiveness, no matter how you look at it. The Askani's precious weapon, for the time being, is firing blanks.

I use my pillow to muffle a laugh. Damn, Dom would be killing herself over that little image. I can just imagine the Freudian parallels she'd make--

Thinking of her sobers me instantly. Where did she go, when she left the hospital? Is she all right?

Did she feel the psi-link go dead?

Even if she did--she's thought I was dead before. Hell, she's probably wished I were dead, more than once. But with the lives we lead, you don't assume anyone's dead until you've seen the body--and then, of course, it's never a sure thing. Dom won't jump to any conclusions.

No, this is me being selfish. I--miss her. To me, the future's always been an enemy, something that needs the shit kicked out of it before it'll settle into an acceptable pattern. But right now, I'm afraid of the future. And I need to admit that to someone. Someone I can trust. That's a very short list, with Dom right at the top. Hell, maybe I just need a shoulder to cry on.

Bullshit. Be honest, Nathan. You need her to kick you in the ass and tell you what a maudlin, self-pitying, morbid bastard you're being.

That's just a little twisted, isn't it? I sigh, turning my back on the clock quite deliberately. At least it's not as bad as that other instinctive urge, to call Scott and Jean and run home like I was twelve years old again. I feel my face heat with embarassment. Damn it! Stop being such a flonqing child, you moron! It's not like you haven't dealt with worse than this before, on your own.

But I feel so alone. Irene's still all but a stranger to me, not someone I'd feel comfortable confiding in. And Blaquesmith, as usual, is on the opposite end of the spectrum from 'comforting'.

Jean--could this have affected her, as well? I'd be egocentric to think that this was directed at me and me alone. True, Blaquesmith's telepathy is still functioning. He admitted as much, when we'd freed ourselves from the temporal anomaly. But I wouldn't lay odds that his powers are in perfect working order, though. Not when I heard him muttering to himself in the battle language tonight when he didn't think I was listening.

If this was a major disruption of the astral plane, logic suggests its effects were equally far-reaching. My eyes widen as I contemplate the possibility. What if other psis have been crippled as well? Jean, Psylocke, the White Queen and her telepathic students, Xavier, wherever he is--

Nate Grey.

I can't help shuddering. Oath, that is an unpleasant thought. I admit, ever since I met the kid, I've been regarding him as a sort of back-up, in case I fail. Blaquesmith and the Askani may be willing to dismiss him as an abomination, but I think there's more to the boy than is easily seen. He's not just a hot-tempered teenager with too much power for his own good. No, there's real strength there, beneath the hostility and loneliness.

But maybe it's a good thing, if this has happened to him as well. It's almost ironic. Losing my powers is threatening my life, but losing his would probably save his life. I somehow doubt that he'd be able to put it in that kind of perspective, though. He is--enormously dependent on his powers, I think. Anyone with the potential of the Phoenix would be. The lure, the temptation of having enough power to change the world--

So what does that make me? Not the same as him, identical DNA and psi-signature be damned. I suppose I've always been crippled, in a sense. I might have learned to focus, to use what I had more efficiently, but the T-O virus was still there, still sapping all but a fraction of my power.

Will, resolve, sheer bloody stubbornness--call it what you want. That's what let me hold off the T-O virus--what helped me fight a 'hopeless' war for half my life--what drove me back two thousand years to make sure my future never comes to pass.

And that hasn't changed. If I recover from this, I recover. If I don't, and my powers never return, so be it. That would make things harder, but my life has never been anything but hard. The odds against me have always been impossible--you get used to it, after a while.

If the T-O virus spreads, it spreads. When the time comes for me to finish my mission, if I can't walk out to 'meet my destiny', I'll crawl.

And if I have to kill Apocalypse with my bare hands, I will.

I won't give up. I never give up.


I can't sleep. It's after midnight, here on the West Coast, and here I am, standing at the window of my hotel room and staring out at the lights of the city as if they had some secret solution to my insomnia.

I should be sleeping. I'm still feeling the effects of the beating Blockade gave me. I've been making discreet inquiries, but I still don't know who hired him to kill me. In any case, it's going to take me a while to recover, mutant physiology or not.

That's why I came out here, to lose myself in the crowd while I got back on my feet. Not just in a physical sense, either; my whole life's been in an uproar lately. I need to get my balance back. So I've been 'on vacation'. I've gone shopping, taken in a few shows and gone on a large number of long walks. Hell, I've got enough money stashed away that I could take the next twenty years off to get my head together and not make a significant dent in my reserves. I've never been one for the high life, after all.

Actually, I was shopping when it happened. I was standing in a bookstore, leafing through an Anne-Marie MacDonald book, when I felt that flash of pain, so intense that it drove me to my knees, and heard Nathan cry out across our psi-link.

Then, nothing. Silence. A clerk and one of the other customers helped me up and made some noises about calling for an ambulance. I must have looked pretty terrible. I couldn't stop shaking. It felt like someone had just kicked me in the gut and dropped me into the Arctic Ocean. I certainly wasn't up to answering questions, so I reassured them as best as I could and made my escape.

Back here, where I locked myself in and spent the next six hours trying to reach him through a psi-link that just wasn't there anymore. I'd gotten used to feeling his presence in the back of my mind, even when we were thousands of miles apart, but even that faint awareness was gone. Where the link had been, there was this--emptiness that made me want to burst into tears every time I faced it.

I worked up the courage to call the mansion, finally, thinking that the X-Men might know what had happened. But no one was home, and I could hardly leave a message on the answering machine. What would I have said?

Hi, Scott, Jean, how've you been? By the way, I think I might have just felt your son die?

I lean forward, my hands tightening on the windowsill until I half-expect to hear the wood crack. No. He's not dead. He can't be.

Not when we parted on such bad terms. I still don't know what I had in mind when I tracked him down, what I thought I needed to hear from him. But before I knew it, I was dragging up everything that had happened to me in the last few months, throwing it in his face as if it had been his fault. And the conversation went downhill from there.

Why did I push so hard? And why in God's name didn't I shut my mouth and listen to the man? The more I think about it, the more I'm sure he was trying to tell me something. Maybe even what I wanted to hear, in his own charmingly obscure way. All that business about having forgotten what he was fighting for--

But I left. I let my anger, my hostility take over and ran, right back into the fortress I've built around my heart. And while I was fighting that little internal war, I walked right into Blockade's ambush. Stupid, amateur mistake. I remember fighting, falling--

And dimly, very dimly, Nathan's voice in my mind, raw with emotion as he begged me to stay with him.

Nothing much after that, until I woke up in the hospital. I don't know who that woman with the laptop computer was, I've never seen her before in my life. But she was obviously there to keep an eye on me. I should really have asked her, I suppose, but my instincts were telling me to get somewhere safe. The hospital room was too exposed.

And Nathan wasn't there. Maybe that was why I could convince myself that he really didn't care, that I'd imagined what I'd heard him say. Wishful thinking, delirium from the head injury--hell, I thought of plenty of excuses.

But since the psi-link went dead, the excuses seem pretty hollow. I wish I'd realized that sooner. Impeccable timing as always, Dom. Lack of patience, lack of faith--whatever you want to call it, I gave in to it. I left. And now something's happened to him.

Something I might have been able to stop, if I had been there. My eyes sting, and I rub at them angrily. He was so alone. I left, X-Force left--I had been half-hoping that he'd gone back to the mansion, to the X-Men. But instead I find him in that rundown safehouse in Hell's Kitchen. And mixed up with Blaquesmith again, too? Always a danger sign.

But I was too wrapped up in my own problems. And now--

I can almost hear Nate say 'what is, is'. He'd be disgusted if he saw me standing here wallowing in remorse. He always faced the consequences of his actions head-on, no matter what came. That was one of the things I--I admired about him, even when I wanted to kill him for it.

I have to do the same. I have to accept the possibility that what I felt was Nathan's death. I've faced that before, more times than I like to think about. But this is different! I protest silently. The other times, I didn't feel it. The psi-link wasn't there, to tell me that he was afraid and confused, not knowing what was happening to him, and in terrible pain. The other times, I had this same ache where my heart used to be, but never this terrible sense of bleakness, as if part of me had been ripped away forever.

Something occurs to me. Could this have been 'it', the battle with Apocalypse that he's been moving towards for his whole life? The fulfillment of that damned destiny the Askani seemed determined to shove down his throat?

No. Something tells me that if that was the case, the whole world would know. Hell, they'd probably have heard about it as far away as the Shi'ar Empire. A seven-thousand year conflict isn't going to be resolved without side effects of biblical proportions.

Strangely enough, that gives me hope. Nathan wouldn't die without finishing the job. He wouldn't let it end that way, he's too stubborn.

Defeat's not in his vocabulary.

I sigh. Maybe I'm just deluding myself. Maybe I'm grasping at any straw I can, simply because I can't picture a world without him in it.

One way or another, I have to find out what happened. I can't go on like this, wondering. I have to know. Closure, you might say. It's not as if I haven't lost people I care about before. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. I've lost so much--

And this loss would be the hardest of all, I admit to myself with brutal honesty. Harder even than Milo. When Pierce killed him, I mourned. But part of me had already moved on, so it wasn't quite as difficult as it might have been.

But with Nathan--I've tried to move on before. To leave him behind, to put him out of my mind, out of my heart. More than once, he's given me good reason to turn my back on him forever.

But I never managed it, no matter how hard I tried. Irritating, cryptic, ruthless, unpleasant to be around and brutally single-minded--Nathan can be all of that, and worse. But he's more, too. Behind that cold mask, there's an abandoned child I want to take in my arms and comfort--a born leader who I'd follow into hell and thank for the privilege--my best and dearest friend, who trusts me so deeply that I've learned to trust myself--a man whose courage and sense of responsibility takes my breath away.

Warts and all, he's in my blood. I would be so much--less if I'd never met him. And I would give anything to know that he's alive and well, staring up at the stars somewhere--or somewhen. Or just a moment or two, long enough to say--long enough to tell him--I realize I'm grinning like a maniac, that the city's blurred in my vision again. This time, I don't wipe away the tears. I feel a peculiar mixture of sadness and joy.

We were both so hung up on the words! As saying them was the only thing that made it real. Crap, such crap--we knew each other too well for that. Words don't matter when you can see beneath the masks, behind the walls, straight into each other's hearts.

Even if you're both too pig-headed to admit the truth.

"No goodbyes, Nate," I whisper. "I'll never say goodbye."



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