by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only.
Past midnight, and the lights in the medlab were dimmed almost to nothing. To the young woman sitting huddled in a chair beside the sole occupied biobed, listening to the soft bleeping of the monitors and the hiss of the respirator, the darkness only seemed fair. Tabitha Smith felt like she'd been lost in the dark for three endless weeks, like she hadn't stopped crying since that awful afternoon in Genosha.
There just wasn't--any way through this. No way out. No trick or reprieve or act of God that could erase the last three weeks and make things right again. No matter what happened, Dom would still be dead. Tears trickled down her cheeks in the near-dark, and she hugged herself tightly, trying to keep the sobs locked away inside. Hank was dozing at his worktable on the other side of the medlab, and she didn't want him to wake up and hear her crying.
Wiping her eyes, she pulled the chair a little closer to the bed and reached out, taking Cable's hand and squeezing it tightly. His hand was so cold--too cold. If she hadn't been able to feel his pulse--Tabitha swallowed, staring desperately at his pale, still face.
"I ought to kick your butt, big guy," she whispered hoarsely, sniffling. And part of her was angry--no, not just angry, FURIOUS with him. They all wanted to help him, they'd been trying to help him all this time, and all he'd done was turn in on himself, run away from everything. That's what this was. Running away. She should know; she was an expert on the subject. But she'd never thought she'd ever see Cable do it. Not the man who'd taught them that you faced your demons--that you took on the whole world, if you had to, but you didn't back off. Didn't give up.
"This isn't fair. You're not being fair," she whispered, sniffling. "We can't lose both of you, it's not fair--" She trailed off with a soft, sad laugh, shaking her head in disbelief at her own words. Whoever said life was supposed to be fair? In her experience, it had been anything but. She shouldn't have expected that to change anytime soon. It was just the way things were--
"I remember when you first showed up again. After we thought you'd died on the moon, I mean. I looked at you standing there, and all I could think of to say was 'you're alive!'" Tabitha laughed shakily. "And then you gave me that 'well, obviously' crap--I still don't know why I hugged you instead of hitting you."
Hank started to snore softly, and Tabitha smiled faintly, glancing over in his direction before she looked back at Cable. "You've got everyone worried, you know. Even the people who don't like you." She gave another weak laugh. "You just--no one's used to seeing you like this. You're supposed to be the strong one, remember? The guy that doesn't let his feelings get in the way, the one who picks himself up and keeps fighting no matter what." Her lower lip was trembling; she could feel it. "You're not supposed to be--lying here slipping away like this, damn it!"
Sitting here with him, she felt like she was watching him fall off a cliff--only in slow motion, slow enough that she could reach out and pull him back, if only she knew how. Not like it had been with Dom. Tabitha closed her eyes, more tears leaking out. Cable could blame himself all he wanted, the rest of X-Force could call Magneto a murdering bastard until their faces turned blue, but it had been her time-bomb. Her explosion that had caused the debris that Magneto had accidentally deflected in Domino's direction.
Everyone's fault. No one's fault. It had all happened so fast. The Acolytes had shown up, then Magneto himself had come floating down out of the sky snarling at Cable. It wasn't as if they'd been looking for a fight. They'd gotten the Genengineer's records, all they'd wanted was to fall back and get out. That was what Cable had ordered them to do, but the Acolytes hadn't backed off. She thought she remembered Magneto shouting something, ordering the Acolytes to pull back as things had started to get ugly, but she wasn't sure. It was all just a blur, angry faces and screaming and explosions--just like any other battle.
Had there been any way around it? She didn't know. At this point, she didn't really care, either. It didn't matter.
It was over. Over. Dom was gone. Hurt that badly, you could probably say she'd been dead before she'd hit the ground, leaving her only a few minutes of agony, one last snatch of time to say goodbye. Just enough time to let them all realize what they were losing.
Over. It was all over. No more late-night talks with the resident 'den-mother' whenever you needed some advice or a shoulder to cry on. Tabitha took a sharp, indrawn breath, something escaping that was half-laugh, half-sob as she remembered her last 'midnight conversation' with Dom. It had been about Sam and Berto--so stupid, the whole thing! If she'd known that she'd be standing at Dom's funeral a week later, she'd have changed the subject.
She'd have told the other woman how much she meant to her, how she was a friend and older sister and mentor all rolled into one. She'd have told Dom how good it felt to know that someone trusted her even as 'Meltdown', that someone understood what it was like to be young and angry and confused and was willing to stick by her, no matter what stupid tricks she pulled.
It had meant--SO much to her. Tabitha swallowed, squeezing Cable's hand, the tears pouring freely down her face again. She didn't know what she was going to do, how she was going to fill up the hole in her life--but she did know damned well how much harder it was going to be if Cable--if he--
"You used to piss me off, you know," she said softly, fiercely. Willing him to hear her, wherever he was. "You always drove us so hard--expected so much of us. We used to bitch and complain all the time--hell, you probably heard us. I mean, it's not like Ric or Bobby were ever careful about watching what they said. But I knew--I think we ALL knew--that you were doing it FOR us. That you wouldn't be pushing us so hard if you didn't think we could do it. Don't you think that works both ways? You think we're going to let you off the hook so easy, Cable? We need you, damn it--you're not allowed to go. We're not going to LET you go--"
He'd left them before, more times than she liked to remember. But he'd always come back. Back from the 'dead', back across the centuries. Back from a shorter distance, the distance he'd put between himself and them when he'd left them to let them go their own way after O:ZT. This time, it hadn't been a sense of duty or some such thing that had brought him back.
They'd asked him. They'd finally realized, with Domino's example in front of them, that just because they didn't need a teacher anymore didn't mean they didn't need him, and they'd asked him to come home.
And to see the way Cable and Dom had looked at each other, when he'd shown up at the warehouse, had been like seeing the whole thing signed, sealed and delivered. Nothing dramatic, not from the two of them. Just a smile, a nod, a wry look. Telling Tabitha and the rest of their gleeful audience all they needed to know, without saying a word.
Still crying, she leaned forward and laid her head against his chest, listening to his heart. Counting. "I need you--I need you to tell me you don't hate me," she whispered in anguish. "I'm sorry, Cable, I'm so sorry--I should have been more careful. I didn't think, I didn't see what Magneto was going to do--it was a stupid move, so stupid--"
She couldn't hold the sobs back any
longer. Sitting there in the dark, still squeezing his hand, she
listened to his heartbeat, all the things she'd never said to the
man who'd been more of a father to her than her own running
through her mind as she watched him slip away.
continued in Cry In The Wilderness
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