by Alicia McKenzie

DISCLAIMER: All the characters in this story belong to Marvel. Although it's unclear exactly when Tyler's funeral took place (other than just before Cable #31), I've chosen for the purposes of this story to place it after the X-Men retrieved Wolverine in Wolverine #101 and X-Force returned from their battle with Selene in X-Force #54. The verses at the beginning are part of a poem from the book The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay.

Do you remember
my name? I was lost
in summer turned winter
made bitter by frost
and when June comes December
the heart pays the cost
You'll bury your sorrow
deep in the sea
but sea tides don't tame
that easily
there will come a tommorow
when you weep for me.

Death's something you have to come to terms with, in this line of work. Fighting to protect a world that hates you isn't the safest job in the world. Whether you want to call it a dream we're trying to build or a war we're fighting, I've lost friends to it. Illyana, Doug--people I miss every day of my life. But you grieve, and you move on. You have to. It's the only way to honor their lives--and their deaths. A wise man told me that, once--

But it's one thing to mourn a friend. It's another thing to mourn an enemy. Worse, when the enemy was someone who should've been a friend, maybe even more than that. Maybe even a brother. Someone who would've been fighting right beside you, if things had fallen out the way they should have. If the world had been fair, instead of cruel.

Things should have been different, Tyler.


Usually when the Blackbird launches, it's a hot scramble, with us X-Men rushing off to save the world or some such thing. But today was different. Today it was headed to my family's farm in Kentucky, on just about the saddest mission it's ever flown.

I stood near the entrance to the hangar, watching Jean use her telekinesis to lift the coffin into the Blackbird's hold. Hovering a few feet above the flight deck, she didn't look once in my direction. The shadows couldn't hide me from a telepath, I knew, but something about the way she kept her back to me made me wonder if she even knew I was there.

Made sense that she'd be a little distracted, after everything that had happened in the last couple of days. She looked to be holding up pretty well, though. I envied her. I felt like an old tin can someone had been kicking around for a year or so. And she'd been the one up all night, trying to deal with everything that had happened. While I'd gotten a full seven hours of sleep. I felt like a slacker.

Finally, I couldn't just stand around anymore. I'd had quite enough of feeling helpless lately. I needed to do something productive. Walking over to join her, I tried to make myself sound as business-like as possible.

"Jean, is there anything I can do to help?" I asked. She didn't answer, and I frowned, wondering if I was interrupting a telepathic conversation or something. "Jean, you all right?"

She finished securing the coffin, and then looked down at me with a faint smile. Her eyes were red, as if she'd been crying. "Sorry, Sam. My mind wandered for a moment there." With a strange little sigh, she telekinetically closed the hatch and floated down to the floor. "There. That's done," she said tiredly. "Too bad 'out of sight, out of mind' couldn't apply in this case."

I knew the feeling. "How's Logan today?" I asked, hoping she wouldn't realize that I was trying to change the subject. She did, of course, and gave me one of those penetrating looks that wouldn't have seemed out of place coming from Cable. It's funny, but it's sometimes easier to believe that Jean's his mother--even though she's not, technically--than to accept that Scott's his father. Maybe it's just because they're both telepaths, but they both have this sideways way of looking at you, as if they're seeing right to the bottom of your soul. "Is he any better?"

"I'm afraid not," she said quietly. "Hank and the Professor--they--" She swallowed, as if she was fighting to stay calm. "It's going to take time," she said finally. Looking up at the hatch, her face crumpled for just a second. "And not just for Logan."

I swallowed, blinking quickly. I am not going to cry. "Have you--seen him yet this morning?" I asked hoarsely.

Jean didn't need to ask which 'him' I was talking about. "He came down at breakfast," she said. "He sat at the table for a few minutes and stared at the wall. Then he got up and left. He didn't even drink the coffee I poured for him." She gave me a limp smile. "You know Nathan's in bad shape when he's got no interest in coffee." I tried to smile, but didn't quite manage it. Jean sighed. "It was very good of you and your family to offer him a place to bury Tyler."

I cast around for something to say. Some neutral subject that would distract me from the guilt that was gnawing at my soul like a hungry badger. "Did they--bury people in the future?" I asked desperately. "I mean, I know different cultures have different customs--"

Jean's green eyes went faraway for a second. "No," she said softly, "they didn't bury their dead. They-- gave them back to the earth." She must have noticed the puzzled look I gave her, because she sighed again, shaking her head. "Sam, people didn't get any smarter in twenty centuries. By the time of the Askani, the environment was in pretty bad shape. Only the upper caste had access to technology, and most of the population had gone back to subsistence farming. But the soil was barren--where it hadn't eroded away completely. You--used what fertilizer you had." If I hadn't been listening, I would've missed the little catch in her voice.

I'd always known that Cable's future had to be pretty bad--after all, you don't travel two thousand years into the past if you're happy where you are--but something about what Jean had just told me struck me as so sad and awful. I wondered if she and Scott'd had to--compost any friends during the twelve years they'd spent raising Cable. My mind winced away from the image.

"A lot of it was sad and awful," Jean said softly. "But there were some wonderful things." She looked like she was about to say more, but suddenly her expression froze. I looked around quickly, and saw that Cable, Domino, and Scott had just walked into the hangar. In full uniform, just like Jean and I were. When it came to burying our dead, the X-Men had a few traditions, and Tyler, no matter what he'd done, was still part of the family.

Scott was exhausted, I could tell. Of course, he'd taken a pretty good knock to the head fighting Ozymandias, but I knew Tyler's death had to be taking a toll on him. It must be hard to say goodbye to a grandson you'd never known except as a psychotic villain. Family's a touchy issue with Scott in the first place, and this had to be stirring up a whole lot of bad memories. True, Scott had gotten his son back eventually, but I doubt that made remembering what happened any easier.

As for Domino, the best word I could think of to describe the expression on her face was miserable. I really felt for her. A blind man could see how much she wanted to comfort Cable, but how could she? We were, after all, talking about a man who she'd have cheerfully killed with her own two hands. After Tyler had kept her prisoner for a year and done God only knows what unspeakable things to her, she couldn't be honestly sorry that he was dead, no matter how she tried. And it must be mighty hard to keep feelings like that from Cable, him being a telepath and all. If he knew and she knew that he knew, it probably was just making her more upset.

Finally, as the three of them came across the hangar towards us, I couldn't avoid looking at Cable anymore. From what Jean had said, I'd expected him to look like the walking dead or something, but he didn't. He was kind of pale, but so calm that it was downright eerie. It was like this was just another mission, as if he was going off to fight Sentinels or the MLF. Not to bury his only son. Part of me was shocked at how cool he seemed, but I knew it was just a mask. I remembered last night all too well.

We'd waited for hours; Scott and Jean had been awfully worried. I couldn't blame them. After all, their son had taken off on his own to fight this kid, X-Man, who was basically the same person as Cable, but with no T-O virus and full access to his powers. It hadn't helped when Dom had told them about how Cable had shown up to help X-Force against Selene, only to collapse near the end of the fight and vanish into thin air. Hearing that, Jean had gone so pale that I'd been half-afraid she'd faint.

But he had come back eventually, looking dead tired but pretty much intact. You could tell he was expecting a real tongue-lashing, though. After all, it's not nice to mess with your family's minds, even in a good cause. When he saw us all together--the Professor, Scott, Jean, me, Bobby, Hank and Domino--he must have figured that he was really in for it. I really do think he'd known he was wrong to go off like that. If he'd really thought that he'd done the right thing, he'd have told us all to take a flying leap and gone right about his business. Cable's not the self-righteous type, but he's as stubborn as they come.

Instead, he got all defensive, trying to explain why he'd gone along with Blaquesmith. He'd gone on for a few minutes, sounding pretty rattled, before he'd finally realized there was something wrong. I was still sort of worried about how bewildered he'd looked. Cable's not usually that slow on the uptake. Right then I started to wonder if he really had walked away without a scratch from his run-in with that lunatic kid. Something was wrong with him; it just wasn't something obvious.

I didn't have the chance to ask him, though, because Scott chose that moment to give him the bad news.

I'm sorry, Nate, but there's no easy way to say this, he'd said, without making any attempt to beat around the bush. Typical Scott Summers, even under these circumstances--the man was as straightforward as his son was complex. Tyler's been killed, he'd said, and then gone on to tell Cable about what had happened in Apocalypse's citadel. How Tyler had tried to brainwash Logan and restore his adamantium. How I'd stumbled into the whole thing like some damned amateur, ending up at Tyler's mercy, which had made Logan go totally feral and kill Cable's son right then and there.

Through the whole thing, Cable had just stared at him, as if Scott's words weren't making any sense. Jean, tears pouring down her face, had taken one step towards him. He'd backed away, and she'd stopped.

Then he'd turned and looked right at me. He knew, somehow. Probably because what had happened was right there at the top of my mind. I'd remember the look on his face for the rest of my life. He just stared at me, white as a sheet, but the anguish in his eyes burned right through me. For as long as I'd known him, Cable's always been in control of his emotions-- except maybe for the few times he'd lost his temper when one of us know-it-all rookies pushed him too far. I'd never seen him look so devastated, as if his whole world had just shattered around him.

But in the next moment, it was like walls had slammed up behind his eyes. Watching him shut away all that pain had really scared me. He was going to have to grieve, sooner or later, and the longer he put it off, the harder it was going to be.

He'd asked Hank if he could see Tyler, and we'd given him some time alone. But he didn't take it. He came right back out the infirmary door less than a minute after he'd gone in, and the look on his face had been just as cold. I had asked him about the burial site, then, and he'd accepted my and Mama's offer with one quick nod. Hank had told him not to worry, that he'd take care of the--arrangements. Cable had left without a word. I hadn't seen hide nor hair of him from then until this moment.

As the three of them came across the hangar floor, he didn't even look at me. Part of me was upset at that. Did he blame me? I sure as hell blamed myself.

But then I realized he wasn't looking at anyone. He was staring at the cargo hatch, and for just a moment, I saw something flicker in his eyes. But it was gone just as quickly as it came, and when he spoke, I wondered if it had just been my imagination.

"I think Dom and I'll take one of the mini-jets," he said in a clear, calm voice, not looking at the Blackbird. Domino glanced sideways at him, her eyes narrowing, but she didn't say a word. I wondered if they were talking on their psi-link, but he didn't even look at her.

Jean was getting worried, I could tell. "I thought the two of you would ride with us."

"I'd prefer to take another aircraft." Still that same alarming serenity, as if this was no big deal. I wondered if he was still in shock. But his next words absolutely floored me. "We may not be coming right back to the mansion afterwards."

Scott opened his mouth to protest, but Jean reached out and laid a hand on his arm, giving him a warning look. The two of them really amaze me, the way they can talk without words (and I'm not referring to telepathy, either). Scott looked rebellious, but Jean's eyes flashed, and Scott bit back whatever he'd been about to say.

"It's up to you, of course." Jean finally said, turning back to Cable. My jaw nearly hit the floor. She was going to let him go wandering off by himself, in this state? Considering the type of trouble he gets himself into on a regular basis, that was like giving a toddler a gun and telling him to have fun! "But I'd prefer it if Domino piloted the jet."

"I have no problem with that," he agreed. He finally looked at me, almost measuringly. "Good morning, Sam," he said in a neutral voice and then turned and walked towards the nearest mini-jet.

Domino shot a dismayed glance after him, and then looked back at me. Something of what I was feeling must have been on my face, because she scowled, plainly distressed.

"He doesn't blame you, Sam--"

"He should," I said, past a lump in my throat. Scott gave me a surprised look, and I felt Jean trying to soothe me telepathically. I slammed up the shields Cable had taught me, and continued stubbornly. "If I hadn't been there, Logan wouldn't have had to rescue me, and Tyler wouldn't have died--"

"And if you hadn't been there, Guthrie, Logan would probably be Apocalypse's new paladin by now," Domino said sternly. Her violet eyes were as hard as amethyst, and I couldn't look away. Dom might have been our 'mother-figure' in X-Force, but that didn't mean she wouldn't kick your ass if she thought you needed it. She and Cable are so much alike, it's scary. "Playing what-if is pointless, Sam," she went on, her voice like iron. "Tyler got the chance to change. Hell, I was there! Nate gave him that chance, practically begged him to take it. But he didn't. He chose to continue down the dark road Stryfe had set him on." She sighed, sadness in her eyes. "He had to be stopped, Sam. The only good I can see in this whole situation is that Logan did it before Nathan had to do it himself. If it had come to that--I don't think he could have lived with himself afterwards." Across the hangar, a mini-jet's engines fired up, and Domino looked anxiously in its direction. "I'd better get over there. I'm not sure that I trust him to fly by himself."

I stared at her, stricken right to the heart by what she was implying. She raised an eyebrow.

"Even the strongest heart eventually breaks, Sam," she said quietly.

Her words stuck with me for the whole trip. The idea that Cable--no, I wasn't even going to think about that. But Dom was right. He'd been through an awful lot in his life, probably more than any of us knew. I remembered the argument we'd had back in the early days of X-Force, when he'd let Bobby leave without a word of regret, as if he meant nothing to him. I'd gotten mad, and said some things I shouldn't have. He'd snapped, threw aside the book he'd been reading and told me not to talk to him about losing friends. Then he'd said the thing that I could never get out of my mind, the words that for so long had shaped the way I thought about him.

My whole life has been about pain and loss.

It was then that I'd seen what I'd already been starting to suspect. He'd come across so cold at the beginning, as if he didn't care about any of us, only about the 'war' he was trying to recruit us for. But that wasn't true. Even back then, part of him had wanted to make a deeper connection with us, I think, but he'd been afraid. Gun-shy, you might say. When you've been hurt, you naturally want to avoid getting hurt again. And he'd been hurt so often, lost so much--

What if Tyler's loss turned out to be the last straw? I sighed, and Jean swiveled around in the co-pilot's seat and looked at me worriedly. I tried to smile at her, but it wasn't very convincing.

By the time we'd reached the farm, we'd flown into clear weather. Scott landed the Blackbird in the field behind the house, and as we got out, I looked up at the blue sky and cotton-ball clouds a little sourly. It didn't seem right for the afternoon to be so beautiful.

Mama and Josh were waiting for us. I assumed the rest of the family was inside. When I'd talked to her yesterday, I'd told her we wanted to keep this as quiet as possible. Not just because of the circumstances of Tyler's death, either. The simple fact was, my family's as big and boisterous as they come, and stressed-out telepaths don't do well in crowds. Cable and Jean needed some space. It wasn't much, but I was going to make sure they got it.

"Oh, Samuel!" Mama said tearfully, hugging me so hard that I could swear I heard my ribs creak. I knew I should've given her the bare minimum of an explanation over the phone last night, but for some reason, it had all come pouring out--

"I'm fine, Mama," I said awkwardly as Scott and Jean came up behind me. "You remember Scott and Jean Summers, Mama."

"Of course," she said, taking a step back and giving them a sympathetic look. "I'm so sorry for your loss."

Bless you, Mama, I thought gratefully. The expressions of sympathy back at the mansion had been a little awkward, all things considered. Most of the rest of the X-Men hadn't been able to get past what Tyler had done to Logan.

"Thank you, Mrs. Guthrie," Jean said, but she was scanning the sky worriedly. I realized she was looking for the mini-jet. Before I could react, it appeared through the clouds and made a neat landing beside the Blackbird. Dom had always been a hell of a pilot.

The two of them got out, but stood by the jet for a minute or two, making no move to come over. I wondered what they were saying to each other. Domino reached out and took Cable's hand, and he leaned back against the side of the jet, as if he didn't trust his knees to support him.

"Jean?" Scott asked softly, but she shook her head.

"No," she said. "This might be what he needs. Leave them for a minute."

But as she said it, we watched Cable pull away from Domino, gently but firmly, and go over to the Blackbird. He opened the hatch to the cargo hold, and telekinetically lifted the coffin out. Domino followed him as he came towards us.

Just before he reached the spot where we stood, though, he stopped, an odd expression on his face. He lowered the coffin very carefully to the ground, his eyes strangely unfocused.

"Jean--could you--" His voice sounded strained, and beads of sweat stood out of his forehead, as if the simple effort of carrying the coffin for that short distance was too much for him. The only time I'd ever seen him look more shaky after using his telekinesis had been when he'd actually collapsed after he and Jean had lifted the Pacrat out of the debris after Murderworld had exploded.

"Of course, Nathan," Jean said. I glanced over at her; she looked about as worried as I felt. Something was wrong with him, something that had happened when he'd fought that kid. Now wasn't the place or time to get into it, but I knew from the look on Jean's face that she wasn't going to let it slide for long.

"We--got a place ready, up on the hill over there," Mama said softly. "I'll show you."

She'd certainly picked one of the prettiest places on the farm. You could see nothing but trees and green, green hills for miles. When I was a kid, I'd sometimes come here when I needed some time to myself, to think things over. The sunrises from up here were a thing of beauty. Part of me was suddenly so glad that Mama had thought of this. No matter what he'd done, Tyler Dayspring deserved a little peace, even if it only came at the end of his life.

The burial itself didn't take long. Jean lowered the coffin down into the hole that someone, probably Josh, had prepared. Then she reached out and took Cable's hand, and the two of them joined their powers together to cover the coffin over with dirt. When they were done, Mama stepped forward and laid some flowers on the grave. At that point I started to feel a little awkward. Wasn't someone going to say something? I looked over at Cable expectantly. But he was staring down at the grave, and something in his eyes made me decide to keep my mouth firmly shut. The walls were still there, but you could almost feel him struggling to hold it all in, fighting to keep that mask in one piece.

Jean was braver than me, though--not too surprising, all things considered. "Nathan?" she asked gently. He looked down at her as if she'd startled him. "I think I remember a few of the Askani prayers for the dead."

He shook his head, and then turned his attention back to the grave. In a calm, almost detached voice, he spoke briefly in Askani, one of the strangest and most beautiful languages I'd ever heard. His words had a real rhythm to them, and I wondered if this was one of the prayers Jean had mentioned. He stopped, and for a moment I thought he was going to translate what he'd just said for us non-time-traveling types. But instead, closing his eyes, he added a few more words in Askani, sounding very different than the rest. At his sides, his hands clenched into fists.

I heard Jean make this strange sound, like a choked-off sob, and as I looked over at her, she turned to Scott and buried her face in his chest. Scott put his arm around her, looking pretty shaken. Cable opened his eyes and glanced at them almost curiously. Then, he pulled something out of the utility pouch. It glittered gold in the sunlight.

It was an Askani medallion, just like the one he wore. Tyler's, I suddenly knew, as if someone had whispered it in my ear. My soul nearly shriveled up in horror. Damn it, sir, I thought miserably. Had he been carrying it around for all these years, just to remind himself of what he saw as his failure as a father?

He stepped forward and laid it gently on top of the tombstone that Josh had made. Then, in a sudden, violent motion, he brought his fist down right on top of it. The dull crack echoed like a gunshot, and I jumped.

He moved his hand away, and I saw that the medallion had been driven right into the stone. I soemtimes forget how strong Cable is--a side-effect of the T-O virus, according to Hank. He knelt down beside the tombstone, brushing away the dust and bits of stone almost mechanically.

"It's only right," he said in a strange voice, as if answering a question that no one had asked. "No matter what he did, he was still part of the Clan. He was still--" He trailed off, taking a deep, shuddering breath.

"I--know, Nate. We'll--give you some time," Scott said helplessly, leading the weeping Jean away. Mama and Josh followed. Domino stepped forward and laid her hand on Cable's shoulder for a moment. He didn't even seem to notice. She looked at me with a helpless expression, and then backed away.

As they headed back to the house, I turned to follow. I didn't get very far.

"Sam," I heard Cable whisper. "Wait."

I froze. For a moment, I didn't think my knees were going to hold me. "Yes, sir?" I asked without turning to face him. I couldn't remember ever being more scared.

"Look at me, Sam."

I obeyed, still terrified. He was still kneeling beside the tombstone, and my jaw nearly hit the floor as I looked down into his eyes and saw what looked like a gleam of amusement there for just a heartbeat.

"You're being just a little ridiculous, you know," he said in a conversational voice. I just kept staring at him, feeling like I'd been struck dumb. He sighed. "Do you really think I blame you? No, don't answer that. I can see for myself."

"But I--" I swallowed hard, fighting back tears. He stared up at me with that same unnatural tranquility, waiting. I gritted my teeth and changed the subject, feeling more than a little like a coward. "What was that you said? Jean talked about prayers for the dead--"

"A prayer is not exactly what I'd call it," Cable said, sounding very weary all of a sudden. "More like a farewell--or a way of saying thank you." He shrugged almost diffidently. "The Askani look at the world in a different way. Their--our language is almost impossible to translate into English."

"And--the other thing?"

His eyes flashed. I took a step backwards, wondering how exactly I'd just put my foot in my mouth. He did answer me, though.

"An apology," he said curtly.

"To Tyler?" I wasn't sure why I was persisting. There was a voice in my head screaming at me to shut up and leave him alone. There were some people you did not push, and Cable was number one on that list. I had no desire to test my immortality yet again.

"No," he snapped. "To Aliya." He rose, and stared across the grave at me. I saw the anger in his eyes, but it was all for himself, fierce and merciless like a fire that would char his soul to ashes eventually. "I made her a promise I couldn't keep. I told her I'd take care of Tyler." He suddenly looked up into the sky, as if expecting to see an answer in the clouds. "I never understood why she was so afraid," he said slowly. "Why couldn't she trust me? I loved both of them with every bit of strength I had. It never mattered to me, not for one moment, that he wasn't really my--"

All the color drained from his face, and he looked at me wildly, realizing what he'd said. What he'd admitted at last.

"Dear God," I whispered, and saw him flinch. I'd always wondered, after all the times he'd contradicted himself about Tyler. I opened my mouth to finish his sentence, to say the words--but I couldn't. I couldn't do that to him. Whatever had happened, whoever Tyler's real father had been--and a small, sickened part of me was beginning to suspect I knew who that was--it was something Cable had tried very hard to bury. So hard that he'd half-convinced himself that it wasn't true.

"You tried," I said, appalled at the sound of my own voice. "You offered him your help. You couldn't make him take it--"

"I should have tried harder," he said, his voice suddenly flat and full of self-loathing. I opened my mouth to tell him that he shouldn't be so hard on himself, but he cut me off before I could say a word. "Go away, Sam."

I'd turned and started down the hill before I even realized what I was doing. Gritting my teeth against a sudden surge of anger--how dare he do that to me?--I turned around and marched right back to the gravesite.

"Permission to speak freely, sir?" I snarled sarcastically, getting even more angry at the baffled look he gave me. I plunged on, knowing this was either the only way to get through to him or the very worst--and probably last--mistake I was ever going to make. "The way you're talking, it sounds like what you're mourning is the broken promise, not Tyler."

He stared at me in shock. "That's not true," he protested, his voice actually breaking.

"Prove it," I said harshly, extending my hand. He looked at it as if it were a poisonous snake or something. "Psi-link with me. Show me what you're thinking--what you're feeling. Tell me the truth for once!"

That stung; I could see it in his eyes. "You want the truth?" he asked in a voice rough with pain, and suddenly that shattered look was back on his face. I let my hand fall back to my side. "What do you want to know, Sam? About how I used to come back from battle and sit up all night watching him sleep? Or about how I bragged so much about his first word that Tetherblood finally slugged me and told me to shut up?" He gave a hard, almost hysterical laugh. "Or maybe you'd get a kick out of knowing about how I nearly got my head blown off during his first battle, because I kept trying to protect him even though I knew he didn't need my help?"

"Yeah," I said softly when he fell silent. "I would like to hear about all that someday. But not now." He knelt down beside the grave, his fingers tracing the letters of Tyler's--of his son's name. "I think there's someone else who needs to hear about those things right now." When he looked up at me, not understanding, I pointed at the grave.

"I can't," he whispered hoarsely.

"Why the hell not?" I exclaimed. "You've got to believe that he's out there somewhere, in a better place." He shook his head, and I nearly screamed. "Damn it, your whole life's been a leap of faith! Someone who travels two thousand years into the past because he thinks he can single-handedly change the future shouldn't have any trouble believing in something beyond death." He gave what seemed to be to be a guilty twitch, and I frowned, wondering if it had something to do with what Tabitha had told me. Selene claiming that I wasn't an External after all, that it had all been some trick of Cable's--no, he wouldn't have done that to me. Not deliberately.

Funny. When I first found out about him being a time traveler, I saw him as some kind of master manipulator, playing us like puppets to make the future turn out the way he thought it should. But he's not. He's more lost than any of us, I think.

"I was wrong to think that I could change the future," he said quietly. It nearly killed me to see the defeated look on his face. "Hope always told me that my fatal flaw was arrogance."

I didn't know, or care, who Hope was. "Stop kicking yourself, dammit! You can't change the past!"

He looked up at me, a mocking smile on his face. "If only that were true," he said. "Maybe then I could live with it."

I stared down at him, fresh out of things to say. Goddamn it! I thought resentfully. It's like talking to a brick wall! He finally gave me a faint, humorless smile.

"I appreciate the effort, Sam. But I'm afraid that I'm not ready to put things in perspective just yet."

"'The why of any situation is secondary to the situation itself'," I said desperately. He laughed, sounding almost rueful.

"Quoting Askani philosophy at me? I always have trouble with that one, but hell, let's give it a try anyways!" His voice was suddenly so savage that I flinched. "Let's see, now. When you take away the guilt and recriminations and broken promises, the situation is pretty clear. He's g-gone, and I'm never going to see him again." I watched one tear slide down his cheek, and suddenly he turned away from me, his shoulders shaking. "Now, will you please leave me alone?"

This time there was no hidden telepathic command in his voice. It was a simple request, full of a quiet dignity that broke my heart. I stared down at him.

"Sure," I said awkwardly. "Sir--I'm sorry."

"Don't be," he whispered, still turned away from me. "I think I knew after what happened at Akkaba that it would come to this. I just thought I'd end up with his blood on my hands to match the stain on my soul."

I left him there at the top of the hill, beside his son's grave, and went to join the others. I felt like slapping myself. I'd been wrong, wrong and foolish, to try and throw words at those walls of his. Even if it had worked, it still would've been wrong.

Clever words couldn't heal a wounded soul. Only time and love could do that. Admitting that to myself, I started to feel a little better. Because if I'd accomplished nothing else on that hilltop, I'd let him know that I'd be there for him, that I cared. It was a small victory, but I was content.


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