Saying Yes: Part 9
See disclaimers in part one
Finally, the end. Thanks so much to everyone for all of your unflagging support of what usually seemed like a meandering, long-winded story, especially Morrioghan, Alicia, Duey, Lynxie and D Benway.
Her silence hung between them on the ride back; even the roar of the bike and air couldn't make it seem comfortable. Her cheek was warm against his back, just under his shoulderblade, and her arms held his torso loosely. The static was louder than ever, so that even if she hadn't been shielding tightly, he couldn't have heard her thoughts.
Truthfully, that befuddled him. Oath, this whole trip he'd talked non-stop, he'd said things he'd never even said to himself, much less anyone else - and he'd said them to Dom. About Aliya, and Tyler, and himself and the past and the future and how he lived in both, and what he was afraid of and what he regretted. Shouldn't that make a difference? If the interference was just his head playing tricks on them, wasn't he moving in the right direction to clear it out? Emotionally unlocking, and all that shit?
He decided, with curt finality, that he would do it tonight; he would make sure it was just him, he would probe both ends of the link to see if some psionic damage had been done. And if he couldn't figure it out, he'd go to Jean for help when they returned - and he'd even tell Dom about it first, so she couldn't get pissed at him for springing an intrusion on her. Enough fucking around - his procrastination disgusted him, because it meant he was afraid.
When they got back home he tried to talk to her some, but the words felt as awkward as the silence and she went to bed without him; she murmured goodnight and disappeared into the bedroom, wearing a pair of old shorts and a long t-shirt. That in itself told him he wasn't exactly welcome in their bed - every other night, she slipped between the sheets without so much as a stitch on her. He looked down the hallway towards the bedroom; the light was out.
Maybe I'm overdoing it, he thought negligently. Telling her too much, sounding crazy. Maybe she doesn't want to know all the bullshit in my head. Who the flonq would?
But he remembered the look in her eyes as she watched him tell it, tonight on the sidewalk in Sydney and before in the kitchen, and he knew that wasn't true. She wanted to hear it.
Out on the deck, he watched the ocean scrub the beach, the waves coming up silver under the moon's bright eye. As much as he didn't love water, he enjoyed the quiet power of it. Before long he wandered out to the beach, standing just beyond the waves' reach. The moon hang out above the water like a great silver clock, and the stars sparkled around it like they were the quantity of years the clock had already counted.
After a while, he sat down, sand crawling onto the wrinkles of his jeans. This time, it wasn't hard to find that soft-edged place where he could make everything quiet, and this time the dreams stayed out. It felt so good - like the first hot shower after being in the field for a month - that he realized, with their absence, how tense he'd been, how much he needed to relax. His chest creaked with the freedom, and his breathing was deeper, able to reach its depths again. It would occur to him, later, that in his desire to seek emotional balance, he'd let his body take on too much stress without relief.
It was nice to not trick his body into it - after so long without being able to comfortably meditate, he thought he might be out of practice. Usually it was a matter of convincing his conscious mind to be stopped, chasing images out of his mind with effort and determination and stubbornness. But here, the images evaporated as soon as he stilled, leaving him in the perfect quiet.
He paused, collecting himself before he spilled out into the almost-nothing that always came with falling in deep. Work first.
The interference crackled, hissing at him like an endless snake. Her side first, more as thoroughness than anything else. He reached across, feeling the static prickle in his mind, and sank himself into her, lightly.
She was asleep, and at another time he would have noticed how smoothly he had landed there, to not wake her at all. Her shields stood as strong as ever, maybe even a bit thicker than usual, but she didn't even take an uneven breath as he felt along her edge of the link. It didn't feel like an invasion - and it wasn't one, but he whispered the quiet knowledge of his intent into the base of her consciousness anyway, hoping it wouldn't wake her up.
It didn't. As he expected, her side was fine, clear, unimpeded by damage or anything.
So he withdrew, trailing something like a psi-kiss on her. With something like a sigh he moved into his own mind, letting the normal sensations of smell and touch and sight collapse inward until they were gone; he opened his mental eyes to the astral projection of himself.
It was blue - mostly blue, with a few multicolored spots in certain places, and holes of red or black in others. The landscape itself was mostly tidy, but he could see the wear, the small fissures and the scar-lines of cracks that had been sealed. Just by looking at them, he could name each crack, each canyon that had been cemented together by time or tricks or faith. And the ones still open, heavy and deep midnight blue inside, and their low breathing. He gave them their berth, focusing on what he could fix. He hoped.
He knew where it lived instinctively, and frowned a little as he turned to it: there was a bright light in front of where the link should be. Standing before it, this suspended ball of dancing white light, hands raised up to take a hold of it, he wondered if it could be so simple as removing a little eruption on his psyche. Somehow, he doubted it, but he plunged his hands into the light; it seemed to reach back for him, and wrap him in the white-gold of it.
It burned ferociously, like touching the coldest ice, but he didn't let go, even as a tide of memories came up to meet him.
Cold twelve year-old eyes; her hand pressed to his bare chest; the redness that swelled out of that skier's face as he choked on nothing; the smooth white of her skin as she leaned against him under the trees. A split second of being able to hold her up, as they faced the refrigerator. Holding the muscles of his stomach as hard just to not throw up. The smooth white skin of her face peeling away, and Aliya underneath. Pinning her down on the staircase. Soapy wet on the floor with her heel to his throat. "I don't want you to think that you have to pretend to forget her just because I'm around."
The hang of her shaved head as she told him they were through.
That hungry, explosive kiss in the Negev.
Blood running down her arm, under fire outside of Tashkent.
The horrible sound of his son's name in her nightmares.
Her fierce grin, when she crouched beside him and bullets rang over their heads.
Aliya, smiling, watching him as he held Tyler, giggling, up to the sky, and how the sun rang off his boy's head, crowning him with gold.
The ring, half-buried in sand, and the ring beside it.
Blood staining the sand, a littering of corpses that stretched for miles, and his voice echoing back at him in anguish.
The ring of flowers in her auburn hair, as she smiled up at him and he smiled back, and people cheering around them.
"So how come she's your girlfriend?"
The iron bell of Tyler's voice, forgiving.
His father, arms tight around his lanky frame just before leaving.
The surprised look of fear and rage on Apocalypse's face.
Jarring shock as the virus ripped through him, and the horrible, razor-ache of driving himself back under control.
Sam, and Caliban and Tabitha and Roberto and Jimmy and Theresa and Dani. And Dom.
Love doesn't need forgiving.
There was no ocean, no splash and roar against the earth; no crickets or night-chatter of insects, no gentle-footed animals seeking food or safety in the dark. Just his soul under the moon. When the answers came, they weren't really words; he didn't hear them, but knew them as if they were already in him.
Will always love her.
It was worth it. It's enough.
The light let him go, or he let it go; either way, it was gone. He came out of it exactly when he wanted to, without sluggishness or shock. His heart pounded even and easy in his chest as he climbed upright, shaking off the sand. The ocean and sky watched him as he took off his shoes - those leather sandals he'd forgotten about - and started to jog down the beach. His feet sank into the wet sand and made slurping sounds as he ran, but he didn't mind the extra impediment - he wanted to run, easy and careless. The wind swirled in his silver hair and the ocean splashed hard on a cornice of rocks, spraying water across him. He ran for miles without feeling tired at all, even without the forgiveness of adrenaline; he stopped on a beach he didn't recognize. The moon gave him his only light. Breathing hard, yes, but facing the ocean and sky, smiling. Free.
Gauging Domino's mood wasn't easy. He couldn't get much out of her, although she'd rolled over when he came to bed. "Busy, huh?" she murmured, and he saw the moonlight hit off her eyes; she was enough awake to have been so a while.
"Yeah," he said, leaning over to kiss her. When he woke that morning she was long gone, and he milled about the house, collecting everything he'd need. He even found a way to cart it all to the beach without breaking - but for now he just tucked away where she couldn't see it and ask questions.
By chance, he came across the book he'd bought in town. It was laying on top of one of Domino's shopping bags - he wandered out to the deck and settled on a lounge chair, then opened "A Farewell to Arms" and eventually rediscovered the page he'd last read. The progress of the sun seemed a lot slower than it was; he paused, realizing he'd gone through most of the book, and that it was heavy into afternoon. And Domino still wasn't back.
He went over to the ledge and looked out towards the beach, but there was no sign of her. Reaching through the link wasn't quite warranted; he didn't want to risk her fury if she thought he was checking up on her. Something had upset her, from their conversation yesterday, but he didn't know what.
You've talked her ear off this whole flonqing trip, he chastised himself. You're not exactly acting like your morose, aloof self.
But you're the one who wanted to take a vacation. Maybe you just wanted the excuse to pretend you're not yourself, so you could talk the way you've talked.
He snorted derisively at himself, and walked back to his cushiony chair, which groaned a little as he sat down. His feet hung over the edge and the chair arms weren't long enough, but he didn't care. The sun threatened to set behind him and the ocean was already reflecting early stars.
The motorcycle crunched gravel as she roared up the driveway; he moved to the ledge to watch her ride up, then went inside to meet her. By the smell alone he knew she bore dinner with her, and his stomach grumbled gratefully, and the back of his mind noted how perfectly this would work out. "Hey," she said, pulling off her helmet and dumping it on a table in the entryway. In her hand was a plastic bag laden with take-out.
"I got dinner," she said, as if just to say something, stripping off her boots and peeling away her leather jacket.
"Yeah. What'd you get?"
"Italian." She looked up, and he searched her eyes; the nearest town was at least an hour away, and the nearest town with an Italian restaurant was probably further than that. "Hungry?"
He nodded, crossing the wood floor to take the bag from her hand. She tipped her head to miss his eyes, and hurt unfurled in him like a flower. "Dom," he started, not knowing where to finish; but she lifted her eyes and met his, reluctantly. But she did it, and he reached out with his free hand to touch her face. Then they walked to the kitchen.
"What do you say we eat on the beach?" He said, and she muttered an agreement. When she went upstairs to change, he hurried to his pack, slipping in a set of dishes and silverware and even, to his own surprise, remembering napkins. Suddenly, he felt nervous, to the point his palms were sweating.
When Domino came wandering down she was looking at her feet, obviously absorbed in her own thought, so when she looked up her expression burst into perfect shock. The sun had set for good and had finally taken twilight with it; Nate stood just outside a loose circle of six torches. He had a smile - which almost seemed anxious - on his face, and he didn't have any shoes on. As she came closer she could see the blanket spread out in the center of the circle, two place settings with the food already served, and a bottle of red wine wedged upright in the sand. Nate had his hands clasped before him as if he'd just invited God to dinner.
Her gait changed to a saunter, and she grinned at him. "I think you're going to need to offer me the world's largest bribe, you know. So I don't tell people back home that you, Cable, did something romantic."
She had thought he'd bristle immediately; instead he just offered her a strange smile. "I suppose that can be arranged," he said, and reached for her hand. "Shoes," he pointed at her feet, "off."
Her eyebrow quirked. "Fuck," she pointed at him and grinned like she was bearing teeth, "you." He chuckled, and rephrased to make it a request, which she toyed with ignoring but decided against it. Recklessly, she flung her sandals out towards the dark, and settled onto the blanket before her plate. He'd split the entrees, not knowing which she wanted; the pasta primavera or the shrimp scampi. Even after a long distance trip and reheated the food smelled pretty good. With Nate across from her, Domino sat cross-legged and took the first bite: not first class, but awfully good. They both ate a little until she extracted the cork (noisily) from the wine bottle and poured some for both of them.
She lifted her glass to him. "To what has to have been the most uneventful vacation of our lives," she said, smiling and tinging her glass on his. They drank; he kept his eyes on hers, watched the firelight undulate along her irises.
"Uneventful in a good way," he added, drinking again, then refilling his glass. He still felt nervous.
She gave an agreeing nod. "Yeah, in a good way. Uneventful doesn't mean bored."
"Then you haven't been. Bored, that is," he murmured as he topped off her glass. She shook her head, her black hair shimmering with orange under the torches.
"No. I've been thinking too much to be bored." The water rushed up to the beach, as if it could capture her words and take them back out to sea. Nate wedged the bottle back in the sand and took a few more bites of his food, and Domino seemed close to finishing off her shrimp.
He wanted to say the right thing. "It's not so bad, thinking." Her left eyebrow just about hit her hairline, and he wished there was something a lot harder than sand around, so he could go hit his head against it. Repeatedly. But he smiled.
"Mmm..." she said, biting into her last shrimp to cover her amusement, "no, not so bad."
As nervous as he was, he didn't feel afraid. Not really. Something had unknotted inside him, , and the charge of restlessness that had coursed through him for as long as he could remember had disappeared, untraceably.
He cleared away the dishes when they finished, and they moved to sit next to each other, knees touching. "Something wrong?" He asked eventually, when she still seemed tense and quiet.
"No. Not really." He didn't believe her.
"I said something," he murmured, looking out at the ocean, where it met the stars. "Yesterday, I said something that made you feel...whatever it is you're feeling."
She didn't deny it outright, at least, but she didn't look at him, either. "I don't think I've been fair," he said abruptly. "I told you to take this trip, to let you relax. And all we've done is talk about my bullshit problems."
To his surprise, she smiled at him. "That's not _all_ we've done..." So he smiled back, and she bumped his shoulder once as they chuckled. "Everyone's allowed a midlife crisis."
"Is that what you think this is?" He choked, incredulous.
"In a way - not the way you're thinking," she backed him off quickly, gripping his wrist. "But your life has changed and it's about time you dealt with it. I'm sorry if I'm...having more trouble with it than you expected."
"Why would you have trouble? Why would it...upset you?" His brain swirled in circles, confused.
The sigh that came from her was so heavy and long he felt blind. Why hadn't he seen her more clearly - he hadn't paid attention to her reactions, to her thoughts about all the things he had said. He'd been too wrapped up in his selfish hurt - like a goddamned kid - to watch how she was feeling. She didn't quite look at him as she spoke. "Because it made me see how much I didn't know you. I never saw how deep it went in you. I guessed that you weren't afraid of death, and that maybe you wanted to be free of your, burden, I guess. But I didn't know how deep it ran. I didn't know that you wanted to die. That you truly wanted to die. Most people...they say they wish they were dead, wish they could die, but they don't mean it. They mean they're tired, that's all, and want it to be over. But you honest to god wanted to be dead. For good reasons, too. It would be like...crossing the finish line. How can I argue with that, even if I don't believe in an afterlife? How can I say you don't deserve to die gloriously, in some huge fucking moment, and then get everything you want in the end? Get your Elysian fields? Christ, Nate, you deserve it - all of it, every little thing you asked for, and if God doesn't give it to you, then He's a bastard. But we know that already."
She took a deep breath, as if she'd been talking fast. "You do deserve it. All these years, I've been secretly smug, chastising you for being so goddamned morose and shit. Underneath, I was a just a, a....jealous bitch. All along, I thought - I thought that you'd be willing to stay alive for me. And I never deserved that. Miserable as you were, I should never have wished that. After everything, you shouldn't have to regret anything. Certainly not me."
He put his arms around her shoulders and she tensed, a block of wood in his arms, but he didn't let go. "Don't," she breathed, her chin down.
"Dom, do you know how ridiculous you sound?" He said lightly.
Her head whipped around, the glare in her eyes positively murderous. But he continued before she could get really mad. "You're saying that you feel guilty for wanting me to be alive. Why in the flonq should you feel guilty over that? How are you supposed to want me - dead? Dom," he brought her chin around with a finger, "as many people in the world as you want dead, I'm pretty happy you want me alive."
She moved out of his arms, rising to her feet and walking towards the water. He followed her, standing a few feet behind.
"You're not being selfish, you know," he murmured, his voice washing over her like a ghost in the dark. She snorted.
"I'm supposed to want you happy, though. If I really love you, and all that crap, then I'm supposed to want you happy. I know what it would really be, happiness for you. And I don't want." She swallowed, closed her eyes. "I want you here."
"I am happy, Dom," he breathed, coming closer; his words stirred her hair, and touched her neck. She shivered. "And until I'm dead, I don't know what's going to happen. Why should I get what I want - why in hell would I deserve perfect happiness, my pipe dream about Elysian fields? I've hurt people - betrayed and killed and done horrible things. No matter how good the reason, I've caused just as much pain to people as I've spared to them. Well," he smiled ruefully, "maybe not just as much, but a lot. I can't erase that. But I'm happy, Dom, with you."
He saw her neck moved as she swallowed convulsively, and in the shadows of the moon he could see that her eyes were closed, her mouth turned down.
"I'm not going to live my life guessing," he said, touching her hair. "I'm not going to live out my time wishing for what's over. What is, is, Dom. It's time I start actually believing that." His other arm crept around her waist, slowly, as if moving any faster would spook her. "And it's time I stopped treating you like you were second, like I'd stop feeling this way if I could have Aliya back." Her whole body turned to stone in his arms, and his throat felt thick. "I couldn't, Dom. I haven't been fair to you, ever. Not one day. All the times I pushed you away, that I shut you out, there was a cruelty there I didn't see. I was trying hard - so hard - not to betray Aliya that I didn't think about you. If I'm being an arrogant son-of-a-bitch here, then you can punch me. But you never deserved the way I treated you, and no matter what, I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm not going to feel guilty for being in love with you."
He was shaking as he held her, and she was still frozen in his embrace. "Aliya would understand," he whispered, putting his face in her hair. "I just hope that you do, too."
Stiffly, she turned around so she was facing him, still in the tight circle of his arms. Her fist slammed right into his zyphoid process - she always did have a strong inside punch. Gasping, he took the hit and didn't let go of her. "You're always an arrogant son-of-a-bitch," she murmured, cupping his face in her hands. "I shut you out too. And I wouldn't have accepted it, or listened, if you had let me in. I would have ran, too. You still think it's all about you, you know," there was no malice in her voice. "There's plenty of it that's just me. We're both fucked up. But," her voice caught, just the tiniest little bit, like it would have if she were about to cry, "if that's an apology, it's the best one I ever heard."
Her toes dug into the sand as she raised up on them to kiss him, and as her eyes closed so did his; it wasn't the defiant kiss of the Negev, or the starving first kiss after Apocalypse died, or the passionate kiss of wanting. It was an innocent, perfect kiss from two people who had never been innocent, and had never known perfect.
Maybe they kissed forever, until the ocean evaporated and the stars crumbled out of the sky, and the sand blew away.
When Domino opened her eyes, he was smiling at her in a way she had never seen before, his eyes bright with it. The glittering black of night framed his head and shoulders, and the moon made his silver hair shine blue. "I may not do this right," he said without unhappiness, sounding strong with the waves hitting the beach distantly.
Then he lowered himself before her, on one knee - she sucked in a breath of air so big it might have choked her, and realized that he was kneeling on nothing, that the ocean was far beneath them and they were high in the air. "Say yes." He opened his right hand; resting there in his huge, rough palm was a shining silver circle, crowned by sparkling white.
When she didn't say anything, he had the first moment of real fear; up to now, he hadn't really thought she might say no. And she was right - he was an arrogant son-of-a-bitch. He looked up at her eyes, the color hidden in the shadows of the bright moon above her.
~Please, say yes.~
Her eyes closed, and her mouth; she didn't breath or move.
In his head, it was a shining, crystal word, loud and bright.
It stretched out in a long echo around them, filling the sky for all that it had no sound. She reached out and carefully took the ring from his hand, and slipped it onto the second to last finger of her left hand.
The moonlight hit the diamond just right; it sat, proud as a cherry, on her hand.
He rose to his feet, reached to take hold of her right hand with his left, and clasped them together; then he slipped his free arm around the small of her back. The ocean rushed beneath them as he turned her in a circle, and they danced until the sun made the stars crumbled from the sky.
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