Saying Yes: Part 8
See disclaimers in part one.
Special thanks to Alicia, who's support is always magnificent, and Duey, who always makes me grateful to be writing.
Warnings for language.
Domino had told him on the ride back up to Sydney, half shouting it in his ear, that she was a blitz shopper. One hour to do major damage - after that she got bored. So it was early afternoon and Nathan was casually walking a busy pedestrian mall, not quite sure where she was. It was okay; the mental chatter of the thousands around him kept his mind occupied, at least in trying to keep them quiet.
For the first time in his life, he _felt_ like a tourist. He had long khaki shorts on and a white t-shirt - that morning Dom had told him to wear white, and grinned at him: "I'm a chest girl, you know. Big and broad are my favorite."
"I know what you mean. I'm into big chests myself."
She just rolled her eyes at him, "then you're damn fortunate, aren't you?"
But he wore the shirt and chuckled when she gave him a long look of approval. And as soon as they stopped she bought him leather Tevas, which he couldn't believe he was wearing. His feet looked ridiculous - he doubted his toes had seen this much sun in decades.
"It's a vacation, remember?" She had said almost a half hour ago, standing over him at the shoe boutique as he stared at the leather strapped to his feet. "We're supposed to pretend to fit in and fail miserably."
"Thanks, Dom. Are you trying to ruin my reputation?"
She nearly choked on her tongue laughing. "All right, you're free. Go do something useless. I'm going to get all the required souvenir shit and be done with it."
"Okay." He agreed, sort of numbly considering that he had literally nothing to do. The inside of his consciousness tickled with the thought that this should agitate him, that the mere unfamiliarity of it should have him restless and hungry for activity. But it didn't...he walked through the concrete paths without irritation, and found himself watching people. It was noisy, of course, all of their unfenced minds chattering through his brain, and so often incomprehensible, so often ugly. But someone stumbled in thinking poetry, and he tuned into that if only to block out the rest.
For a psi, it was difficult to find words beautiful. Most of the time, even in everyday speech, he heard the emotions behind each word as much as the word itself, and that always...stained the word, in a way. The obscure, clean beauty of sculpture, or music, or painting or architecture was easier to embrace - themselves devoid of the mind that created them.
And it wasn't as if he was a literary buff, anyway. Honestly, he never had time for it before, although the interest was there...as much as it was with anyone, maybe a little more - you don't go to law school without reading a lot. But reading was always for a purpose, to derive something useful - something that would help in battle. The same as learning chess. Now things were different, and he felt different here, open to bald-facedly contradicting himself. Maybe all that would go away, and he and Dom would return to their house in New York and be just like they used to be.
A bookstore rose up to meet him; he stayed away from non-fiction on purpose, and bought a copy of "A Farewell to Arms." Someone once told him that he would like Hemingway if only because it was safe from sentimentalism, so he bought a cup of coffee at the nearest cafe and looked for a place to read outside. Eventually, after wandering lazily for twenty minutes, he settled on a wooden bench with bird shapes carved into it, next to a jewelry place and across from a t-shirt shop. No one came to sit beside him, although it was hot and there was an ice cream place down the way; had he been anyone else, he probably would have wondered about it. A breeze rolled over his shoulders as he leaned back and opened the book.
At one point, right after Catherine and Henry met, Nate heard Dom in his head, fuzzy and indistinct: "Yeah, I do," she said to someone, and then faded out again. It took the attention away from the book for just a minute. Just beyond the top of his paperback, he saw a pair of small blue shoes walk by, and glanced up; a little girl with curly red hair was holding her mother's hand and staring at him. He smiled at her, a little, and then broader when she smiled back; she started to wink.
Finally he realized what she was doing - he let his eye flash gold, brief and fast, and as the mom towed her away, she gave a delighted giggle. The mother said something - probably "shh" and paused in front of the jewelry shop window. It wasn't long before the girl was winking at him again, eagerly, as if he was a trick she could master. Carefully, he let the light gleam like a six-pointed star, and the girl gave another squeal, clapping her hands. Her mother watched her and then looked at Nate; he watched her through the guard of his book and lowered eyes, and eventually she turned back to the window. The girl, just as eager to be part of a secret, collected herself and peered at him again.
The girl, five years clever enough, managed to sneak closer. "Your eye is a diamond, huh?" She said, Australian accent thick as syrup.
"Is that what it looks like?" He said, adding a little shield to their conversation - mom over there probably wouldn't be happy that her very cute, very sweet and very trusting daughter was talking to a strange old man. And for some reason, he didn't want to get caught.
She nodded, her emerald eyes shining. "Is it 'spensive?"
He considered, smiling a bit. "I suppose so."
"Mum likes 'spensive diamonds. Daddy buys her lots." He glanced up at the mother, who sure enough had a sparkling rock on her hand. "Did someone buy that for you?"
"No," he said.
"What's your name?"
"Nathan Christopher Summers Askani'son Dayspring."
He chuckled, and noticed how much her eyes danced when he smiled. "Nathan."
"Oh. Are you here by yourself?"
"I've got my -" after all these years, he thought, what exactly do I call her? "girlfriend with me. She's shopping."
Suddenly, those deep green eyes turned earnestly sly. "She's pretty, huh?"
"My daddy always says Mum is pretty. 'Perfect,' he says. Is she perfect?"
"I wouldn't let anybody say she isn't." That didn't seem to register, so he tried again. "She's perfect. She loves me."
"An' you love her, huh?"
"Yes." It felt solid saying that.
She nodded as if he had given the right answer, and quickly looked back at her mother. "So how come she's your girlfriend?"
"What do you mean?" He was leaning forward with elbows on his knees, book forgotten.
The mother tugged at her hand, and the redhead's eyes sank to a forlorn green. "Oh, I gotta go. It was nice to meet you..."
"Nathan," she finished proudly, and he got the feeling that she would have shook his hand if her mother hadn't pulled her away.
As the girl trotted away, he heard her thinking: ~how'd a diamond get in his eye?~ And then the mother, thinking: ~Maybe, if I mention how he missed our anniversary that one time...~ He tried to return to the book but couldn't, and leaned back against the bench for a while; people filed by, some pausing, some not, some seeing him, some not. The buzz of their thoughts was easygoing enough; "tourist," thought those who saw him, and miscellaneous personal stuff from the rest.
There was a break in the traffic that lasted about five minutes, when no one came by to distract him. He wandered to the jewelry shop window. An array of diamonds - bracelets, earrings, necklaces, rings - were set out on blue velvet, set in platinum. The idle curiosity of which jewel had the interest of that mom passed through his mind. Which diamond did she wish for? He went inside for a while.
Later, somewhat less fuzzy and less distant, Domino's voice sounded in his mind: *Nate?*
The feeling that rubbed through him was like a long, slow kiss. *C'mon. Let's get dinner.*
For a self-professed blitz shopper, Dom really hadn't done much damage. She only had two bags, both of which were relatively light. He had heard the tales, once from Wolverine's little protégé and a few times from Sam, of his father staggering under the weight of Jean's purchases.
Dom had taken in most of her mai tai - he dared her to drink something fruity, like good tourist - before they ordered. His hand reached across the table to grip hers casually, as if he hadn't even meant to do it and didn't realize he had.
"Still having static?" She asked, biting into a shrimp, keeping her eyes calm. He brought his gaze to focus on her violet irises, and nodded. "Figure out why at all?"
"No. Not yet." Self-disgust sank into him like sand through a hole. "Not quite sure how to go about it."
She leaned back in her chair and finished the mai tai with a single swallow. "I'm no psi. Can't help you there."
"It doesn't feel different to you, though." He asked again.
"Nope. Not a bit. In fact, I heard you today, clear as a bell." She ordered another drink. "Talking to a little girl. About diamonds."
He nearly flinched, then wanted to scream at himself, or at least break bones. "Yeah," Dom continued, biting into another shrimp and swallowing. "She asked if your eye was a diamond. You thought she was cute."
"I couldn't hear much more than that, but I never expected you to be one of those dirty old men, talking to the little girls in the park." He bared his teeth at her as she laughed.
By the time they finished dinner the sun was reaching for the ocean. He bought her ice cream - double fudge something on a cone - and they faked as if they were young kids for a while, walking on a pier without their pasts following them like wolves. When the sun finally lowered itself beneath the horizon, Nate reached for her hand and they walked slowly back towards the Harley.
"Bothering you, all the people around?" She asked at one point, as they passed a large group of strangers through an intersection.
"I'm used to it." She nodded, letting it drop, but oddly - his mouth even felt strange as he formed the words - this silence made him uncomfortable. "Sometimes, I'd like roar at them, let them know they're doing it - that they're so mindblind they don't even know they're telling me all their damn secrets. But it's not really their fault, so I can't hate them." He smiled strangely. "And some of the things they think! Flonq," he ran his metal hand - obscured with the synth skin - through his hair. "Sometimes they're funny. Grown adults, I've caught them wondering the stupidest things, like whether or not the flavor of gum will last longer if they chew it slower. Sometimes they're disgusting - I was in a restaurant once, and I could hear one of the cooks pondering whether anyone could taste it if he peed in the soup."
"And you left without tipping, right?"
"I left after breaking the guy's arm." He grinned dangerously at her, unrepentant. She laughed. "Most accidents happen in the kitchen, after all.
"Most of the time, it's just noisy. Like insects, like buzzing you can't get away from. Out at the place we're staying, that's pretty nice. Quiet, distant. Mellow. Oath, out there _I_ feel mellow."
"Like a day in your life, you've been mellow." She garbled through a swallow of sloppy ice cream. "Unless you do something to...balance out, every day you're running on an edge. Never knew a day you weren't, at least not a day you were conscious. And you know what's funny? The first time I met your father, I thought the exact same thing."
After an ogre-like snort of laughter, Nate tried to shoot her a sober look, but it didn't work. She laughed. "Oh, all right, it's not quite the same. You're on more of a dangerous edge. But he's got it too....the absence of true serenity. Maybe it's just worry. Maybe he's just on this high ledge of worry all the time. With you as a son, I can see why."
"With _everybody_ its worry." He protested, stealing a lick of her ice cream. "Adrenaline is like chemical worry. It's the body's response to fear of losing something - your life, your family, your sanity. Those of us further out on that edge, we've just got more to lose."
"Or less, depending on your point of view."
"True," he agreed, taking another lick. Ice cream was one of those dangerously good 20th century delicacies, even for his relatively bitter tooth. He paused, swallowing the flavor, with a sudden calculation that seemed so intimately known that recognizing it just now seemed like he'd suffered a long personal blindness. "It's been three years and 86 days."
"That long." Her eyes were full of the cautious, instant knowledge of what he meant. Sometimes, he got the feeling that she wanted to wrap his emotions in bubble wrap, as if she would break him otherwise, just by being her. But she didn't dare. She loved him too much for that.
"Three years and 86 days." He repeated; there were something that were never generalized, always precise, exact. Things like this, you never generalized if only because it had demanded so much for so long, and now that it was done - you didn't want to take it for granted, ever.
"Does it feel like it's been that long?"
The streets were still alive with night traffic, the shops closing and the clubs opening, restaurants spilling smells out onto sidewalks. People moved around them with polite disregard, as if recognizing that they would rather watch the world than have it talk to them.
"Sometimes I can't tell. Time never feels like it should. It's over, and sometimes I think that's enough - that time and distance and being alive doesn't matter at all. It's just over. And some days it feels like I'm still half-dead, still blind in my head - my father just died a day ago, and I'm waking up trying to know if I'm fucking ecstatic or if I'm going to throw up. Then there're time when the bastard's been gone forever and I can't remember what my father looks like."
She didn't say anything, so the choke those last words came out on could slide into non-existence if he wanted, but that felt cruel, too, to just let that grief die as if it hadn't been there. So she squeezed his fingers and made it real; made his grief real, real enough that comforting it was necessary. "Emotional Fort Knox," someone once said of him. Of course, that implied his emotions were worth something - worth a lot.
"You've been living your whole life with it hanging over you," she said, keeping her eyes on her ice cream cone. Somehow they had stopped, standing under a streetlight, making shadows everywhere. "It's not surprising that it would be tough to shake, after."
Nod. "After." He closed his eyes. "I could go crazy, I could become a monk, I could wear a suit and tie everyday now. It doesn't matter."
The last of the ice cream cone splattered on the ground, and her hands - one a little sticky - came up to grip his. He opened his eyes, and saw that she was looking up into his face. "There's the part about being a messiah whose work is done, Nate. What you do now doesn't matter to the whole world anymore - you get to be just like the rest of us, now. Where what you are matters just to you." She smiled. "And maybe, to me. If you're lucky."
That smile was too much for him; he picked up her hands and wanted to kiss them both, even and especially the sticky one. "I know this isn't easy for you, Nate," she said, the streetlights lamping off her black hair to make her glow half-bronze, "but you're not doing that bad, you know."
His chest hurt, in a near indescribable way, without a locus to the pain. Like he was breathing too large, like his heart was going to push free of his ribcage. "I always thought it was mine to make. My sacrifice. That that was my reward, in a sense." Domino frowned at him. "I was born to it - the flonqing Chosen One - and I lived knowing that it was my end. For all my bullshit about choice and destiny, underneath all the psychology and philosophy and faith, I always thought that the sacrifice would be mine. I was ready to pay it." His chest was tightening, compressing like a cord was wrapped around him and pulling tight. "It was mine to pay. It was my - reward."
Her frown twisted down further, and she looked unhappy, confused; he _felt_ unhappy, confused. He didn't know how to explain it the way it should be explained, and make her understand. "I think I had it in the back of my head - I know I did - that no matter what I lost, what got sacrificed to get that bastard out of the way, I would get it all back. I looked forward to dying, because I'd wake up in the damn Elysian fields. Everyone I lost would be there: Aliya," his breath shuddered a little, "and Tyler, and all my people. All the people whose deaths I got through by thinking it would be over, it would be worth something someday, when I finally faced Apocalypse and ended it." His knuckles were white, squeezing her hands.
"That would be my reward - what a bullshit, narcissistic thing to think. That I could handle my wife and my son dead as long as I ended up with them in heaven. Some sort of heaven, any kind as long as they were with me, as long as I could see them again. Oath, Dom, how many years did I wait? I knew, I thought about it - that I couldn't be close to anyone because eventually I'd be dead, and I didn't want any regrets?" His deep bass had roughened. "For decades I couldn't see anything but Apocalypse - and it wasn't even seeing him, it was seeing behind him. I could see what was waiting for me if I just got past him. Once Apocalypse killed me - and of course he would, that was flonqing inevitable - as long as I killed him by dying then I'd finally be free."
Her hands reached up and touched his cheeks; he didn't realize, as her fingers smoothed away the wetness, that he'd been crying. His chest still hurt, that tight ache.
"It was my sacrifice to make. Mine. Not Scott's...or Jean's, or anybody's but mine. And I should be angry - I should be so fucking angry - that I didn't get to make it. And I am...for Jean, for me. He was my _father_." Australia seemed to leave them; the street, the ocean and the sky, the footsteps on concrete as people walked; the world left them alone, holding itself back from interfering. "The end I fought for...and I didn't get my damn reward. My father dies. It was supposed to be me - I was the one who trained for it, I was the damn Chosen One. And my father dies. Not me."
He shook his head. "Self-pity. I'm reveling in it, flonq it all."
"Nate," she murmured. His head was bent, and she still had her hands on his face. "Your reward is still there. Just because you're not dead now, doesn't mean you won't have it. She'll be there, and so will Tyler, as he was, as your son, not as anything else. It'll still be there. You just have to wait a little longer."
Her eyes were open, not hiding anything. "That's not the point, though," he breathed. "Even if it is still there, if my selfish dream actually exists...the point is, I want to be alive. And that changes everything."
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