Paint It Black

by Alicia McKenzie



DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, used without permission.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Set near the beginning of the six-month gap, not long after the Twelve Saga, Cyclops' death, and the whole High Evolutionary mess. And yes, folks, it's technically a songfic. Lyrics belong to the Rolling Stones, if I'm not mistaken. Rated PG for a minor amount of bad language.

He didn't know the name of the song. Nate Grey hadn't had much chance to familiarize himself with popular music, not with how hectic his life had been since the M'Kraan crystal had thrown him from his own doomed world into this one. But as he walked into the dim, crowded bar in Hell's Kitchen, the music hit him like a punch to the gut, raw and driving and frantic.

I see a red door and I want it painted black,
No colors anymore, I want them to turn black. . .

"Take a hike, kid," the bouncer growled. Nate looked up at him, not bothering with a witty comment, and made the man think he looked ten years older. Blank-eyed, the bouncer stepped aside, and Nate wandered deeper into the bar, his gaze roving the crowd, searching.

He was in here somewhere; Nate had sensed him. The telepathic 'buzz' of the crowd was making it difficult to center on him, that was all. His eyes narrowed, the left glowing faintly.

I see the girls walk by, dressed in their summer clothes,
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

There. The hazy, smoky light glinted off a silver-haired, black-clad figure sitting in a corner booth. Nate's jaw clenched slightly, almost involuntarily. He'd come this far. He might as well talk to him. Shouldering his way through the crowd, telepathically 'smoothing' the tempers he ruffled along the way, he caught himself reinforcing his shields, partially to compensate for the noise from the crowd and partially out of sheer instinct, given who was sitting in the corner.

Maybe he shouldn't worry. He'd sensed the other blocks away, and although he knew they both had their telepathy back, he hadn't been hit by any of those painful flashes of intrusive, foreign memory. It hadn't happened when they'd been in close proximity at Akkaba, either; something must have happened during the whole mess with the Shadow King to change things, so that they didn't get all tangled up in each other anymore. He wasn't going to complain, either way.

I see a line of cars and they're all painted black
With flowers and my love both never to come back. . .

"Look who's here," Cable growled, taking a sip of his beer and giving Nate a look that made the younger man bristle, instinctively. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Grey? Did the gods wake up and decide it was 'piss the flonq out of Dayspring' day?"

Nate snorted. "The world doesn't revolve around you, Cable."

"Really? I thought that was the point of the universe," Cable said, his eye glowing faintly, angrily. "To revolve around me, I mean."

"If I'd known you were this drunk already, I'd have kept flying when I sensed you."

"Fuck off, boy."

Nate sat down instead, regarding Cable warily. "I wouldn't really have kept flying. You're projecting all over the place."

"Ask me why I thought living in the same city with you was a good idea?" Cable drained the rest of his beer in one swallow. "How's this? You tell me where you're NOT going to be, and I'll go there. Or maybe you can just go to hell. Yeah--that'd be simplest."

"You done yet?" Nate asked curtly.

Cable gave him a tight, absolutely humorless smile. "In a sense, yes. I'm as done as done can be. How about you, little brother?"

"Don't call me that," Nate muttered.

"Why not? You started it, remember? Sneered at me, called me big brother, and tried to blow me to kingdom come." Cable stood the beer bottle on its head and spun it telekinetically, a cold smile flickering on his lips. "I should have left you in the snow to die that day."

I see people turn their heads and quickly look away,
Like a new born baby, it just happens every day.

Nate blinked. There was hatred coming from Cable, but it wasn't directed at him. It hung around the older man like a cloud, all mixed up with guilt and grief and the blackest despair Nate had ever seen, in this world or any other. "You're not angry at me," he said.

Eyes like mirrors of his own flashed dangerously, boring into him like twin daggers. "You know everything, don't you?" Cable growled. "My omniscent, omnipotent little brother."


"Let me guess. I'm angry at myself--or at Apocalypse. Or at Sl--Scott for dying, right? Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, you arrogant little bastard. If I wanted pop psychology I'd ask for it."

Nate swore under his breath, and reached out, grabbing the beer bottle. "You're really pitiful, you know that?" he said acidly, setting it aside, out of reach, and telepathically 'nudged' the waiter who had just walked by their booth and given him a suspicious look that had loudly, if silently, doubted whether or not he was old enough to be in here. "I think you're more upset with yourself for not winning your private little war than you are about Cyclops dying."


His nose was suddenly bleeding, his vision oddly blurry. Nate realized with a detached sort of bemusement that he'd just tried to break the table with his face.

He managed to focus on Cable, who was glowering, his eye blazing in the dimness. Had he done that telekinetically? Nate wondered a little hazily.

"Hardly," Cable grated. "Didn't need to. You were looking at the waiter, not at me."

"Well," Nate said a little thickly. "Really brotherly of you, there--"

"My last 'brother' was a genocidal maniac," Cable said, each word clipped. "Pardon me if I overcompensate."

Nate snorted, and made a few internal adjustments to stop the nosebleed. At least it didn't feel broken, he thought, prodding it gently. "Yeah, and how much of that was him overcompensating because of you? Hard to compete with the messiah of all mutantkind--"

"I don't think I was finished rearranging your features yet," Cable said in a deceptively mild voice. "Mind scooting over here for a second?"

"You hit me again, I'll hit back."

"I'm quaking in my boots, Grey."

Nate eyed him disgustedly. "Now I know why no one likes you."

Cable actually grinned. It wasn't a pleasant sort of grin. "I wasn't created to be comforting, Grey. Neither were you, when we come right down to it."

I look inside myself and see my heart is black 
I see my red door and it has been painted black

"Besides," Cable continued in a softer, mocking voice. "Some people do like me. And they're not ALL dead."

Self-pitying son of a--"You think you're the only one who lost something?" Nate said, nettled. "I lost my whole WORLD, remember?"

"Join the club," Cable snarled. "Or don't. I don't feel like commiserating."

"I didn't come in here to commiserate," Nate snapped right back at him.

"Then why the hell did you come in here, then?"

"To see if you were all right!" #I thought, with Cyclops--and what happened with everyone losing their powers--#

#That I'd need either cheering up or burying? I'm touched.#

Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts 
It's not easy facin' up when your whole world is black

Nate shook his head slowly. "I don't know why I bothered."

"Neither do I," Cable said, almost conversationally. "Not like we've ever been particularly close, after all. In your place, I WOULD have kept right on flying."

"No," Nate said, without really thinking about it. "If you were going to do that, you would have done it in Switzerland that time. You WOULD have left me to die in the snow."

Cable's expression hardened. "Spare me," he almost hissed. "I had a moment of weakness and thought I was saving my younger self."

Nate laughed half-heartedly. "Yeah? What were you like when you were my age?"

"In diapers," Cable grumbled. "Don't think I fall for the exterior, Grey. I've been inside your mind stitching it back together, remember?"

"I remember."

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue 
I could not foresee this thing happening to you

Nate shook his head again. "No point to this, I guess," he said, more quietly. "I just wondered, when I sensed you--thought I'd see if you were all right."

"Wonderful," Cable murmured. "How about you, Nate? No nightmares?"

Nate flinched. "None of your business," he snapped. The nightmares had almost stopped, but he still remembered the sight of Cyclops and Apocalypse--merging, like that. He didn't think he'd ever forget.

"Probably not. I was--just wondering," Cable said, his biting tone at odds with the inscrutable smile. "Thought I'd ask."

"You really are a bastard."

"Years of practice, kid." Cable looked around, grimacing. "Flonqing waiter--I want another drink."

"What good is that going to do?" Nate asked disgustedly.

"What, drinking?" Cable asked innocently. "You'd be surprised. Oath, if you like, I'll 'convince' the bartender he doesn't need to card you and we can find out whether or not you can hold your liquor." His gaze raked up and down Nate, scornfully. "I say not."

"I'm not going to sit here and get drunk with you, Cable--"


"I've got better things to do," Nate said, letting the scorn creep into his voice.

Cable raised an eyebrow. "I see," he said softly. "Ambitious infant, are you? Take it from me, Nate, Grand Plans aren't all they're cracked up to be."

"Who said I had a Grand Plan?" Nate snorted. "Exactly the opposite, actually."

"Oh, DO tell. I'm hanging on your every word."

Nate blinked at the mental image, and then shook his head. "I just--I thought it was time I started doing something with my powers," he said, firmly. "Something productive."

Cable gestured aimlessly. "Rescue the damsel, slay the dragon, save the world. I've heard it all before."

Nate sighed. "Cable."

"Been there, done that, burnt the t-shirt."

"Are you having a good time?" Nate asked, aggrieved.

Cable shrugged. "I like being flippant these days. Everything's so flonqing serious. Dead fathers and dead futures and near-death experiences--"

"So what, you laugh at everything now?"

"I try. Better to laugh than to cry."

If I look hard enough into the settin' sun 
My love will laugh with me before the mornin' comes. . .

"You can't--keep holding on to all of it," Nate said awkwardly. "If you do, it'll eat away at you--you'll never heal." He wished futilely that it sounded as good said aloud as it did in his head. All the thinking he'd been doing lately, and here he was, fumbling over the words. Talking to another telepath, and fumbling over the words--too pitiful for words, Nate decided with an inward sigh.

"Old soldiers never die, they just fade away," Cable said with a twisted smile. "You'll figure it out when you've lived a little more, Nate. You are your scars. Nothing more, nothing less."

I wanna see it painted, painted black Black as night, black as coal, 
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky 
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black. . .

Nate let the sigh out, this time. "I may be an 'infant', Cable, but even I know that's a bad way to live."

"We all make choices." Cable inclined his head towards the door. "You've made yours," he said dryly. "Go on. I'll be fine. I'll wake up tomorrow and remember all the battles left to be fought, and that's all I need. A battle, or two, to fill up the emptiness."

"There's more to life than fighting, Cable," Nate said earnestly, almost overcome with the sudden, aching need to MAKE Cable see what he'd seen; the potential in the world, in the role he'd chosen for himself in these last few weeks of self-examination.

"Really? I hadn't noticed." Cable waved a hand at him. "Go," he muttered. "I'm sick of talking to you. All this flonqing youthful optimism."

Nate frowned. "I don't know whether I should leave you like this."

"I'm punch-drunk, and I can't get up," Cable said with a cracked laugh, as if he hadn't heard him.

"No," Nate corrected with a sigh. "You're just drunk, period."

"I've never been more sober in my life, actually. Never seen more clearly." Cable met his eyes, unwaveringly. "Just keep telling yourself you can make a difference, Nate," he said brusquely. "You can delude yourself for a lifetime, if need be. Trust me." He slid from the booth and walked, perfectly steady, into the crowd.

Fighting back reluctance, struggling with a wistfulness he didn't quite understand, Nate let him go.


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