Future Pluperfect: Chapter 8


"AAH!" Rogue yelped in surprise as she slammed the refrigerator door. "Y'all couldn't knock or somethin'?"

"Sorry," Alex mumbled, still too dazed to appreciate the absurdity of the moment. One minute they were dodging lasers in the desert, the next he was standing in the kitchen in Westchester. "I think I need to sit down," he wobbled towards the table and dropped into a chair.

"<Stab your eyes, Mirrin! What the flonq did you do that for?>" Cable yelled loudly in Askani as he wheeled sharply. "<I was needed. Nobody here-and-now knows how to fight the Kurioon...>"

Rogue edged away from the refrigerator and out into the hallway, running quickly through the dining room to re-enter closer to the table where Alex was and further away from where Mirrin and Cable were glaring at each other. She was partially invulnerable, after all, so it probably wasn't too seemly to appear to be cowering. "If looks could kill," she murmured to Alex, who looked at her tiredly, but nodded in understanding.

"<They know how to run, which is what we were doing. You are needed here, Dayspring>," Mirrin answered, completely unfazed by Cable's massive form standing almost on top of her. This wasn't the first time Nathan had taken issue with her actions and presumably it wouldn't be the last. "<You are needed alive.>"

"<I would have stayed so without trouble, Ay'el.>" He used her battle name mockingly. She had dragged him away after scorning him for wanting to avoid a fight?

"<I chose not to take that chance, Askani'Son.>" The same mocking tone echoed back and Nathan narrowed his eyes in irritation.

By now they had drawn a crowd, but neither of them was paying attention. Hank and Warren had come in from the drawing room where they had been watching BritComs (contrary to popular opinion, Hank did leave the lab) and while Warren was happy to block most of the doorway with his massive wings, Hank was crouched before Alex trying to look him over.

"<It was not your decision to make>," Nathan growled. Mirrin never pretended to be very good at following orders. At least his orders. "<You can't keep me away from the battle forever.>"

"<I've done sufficiently well so far.>"

"<You've yet to succeed! Tonight was just the latest - I've been in the battle since you accidentally left Evensea Isthmus on that list for Gambit. It was only chance that Dom and I didn't face anyone.>"

"You haven't figured that out yet?" Mirrin laughed cruelly and Nathan eyed her closely. Mirrin had never been tolerant when it came to people understanding or not understanding her and he had so rarely been on the wrong side of that line.

"<What out?>"

"<I knew that that place is called Corinth in this time>," she explained impatiently. "<I also knew that there would be no Harvesters there. You are predictable, Askani'Son. I knew you would go there only with your most trusted soldiers. I meant to keep you and yours sufficiently away from the fighting so that if your compatriots could not handle the battle, you would still be safe.>"

Cable didn't reply. Instead, he just stared at his clanswoman with a cross between disbelief and something approaching disgust, his gold eye glowing dangerously bright, shaking his head slowly. Finally he turned towards the door, ready to storm out, but then turned back on his heel.

"<You would play coward for me? Hide me while mine were slaughtered? You were there, Ay'el, you were there with me when the therm went off. How the flonq could you do that to me again?>"

The room echoed with his bellow and Rogue, Warren, Hank, and Alex exchanged a nervous glance.

"<I had no intention of letting anyone get slaughtered, Nat'an>," she sighed, intentionally using the name that she had called him in her youth even as she continued in the formal speech that Askani were trained to use around the Chosen Family. "<That is why I was attendant at both fronts. I had to make sure that your cohort could handle things without casualty. I would have time-ripped over and over again to assure that no one was harmed seriously. That's why they got me. I was too tired to stop Psylocke from shooting me with that dart.>"

Nathan took a deep breath and ran his hand over his face, but the anger remained. Burning slower, but with no less heat.

"<You can't keep me from everything. I can't sit around and watch you fight the Kurioon. I won't be that helpless again and I won't run and hide. You'll just have to work with me instead of around me... and I'll boot you back there-and-then myself if you try anything like that again. I'm not the man you left behind there-and-then.>"

"<I am charged with keeping both of you alive. I will not be derelict in my duty>," she replied fiercely, then suddenly dropped to a near whisper. "<I would rather draw your ire than fail and be forced to honor your memory in your stead.>"

Cable's golden eye flashed blindingly for a moment and the spectators braced for another bellow in a language none of them knew. But what followed instead was hardly more than a whisper, one which carried much more of a threat than any shout.

"<You can't play both sides, Ay'el. Not like this. You are welcome to stay as my clan-mate, but I won't let the Sisterhood pull my strings. Not anymore. Don't dishonor the Clan Chosen by using them to further Askani aims.>"

Mirrin's eyes blazed, but she said nothing.

"<Choose wisely whom you represent, Ay'el>," Cable continued, emphasizing her battle name, "<Because neither side will take well to your turning traitor.>"

"<How dare you accuse me of dishonoring the Clan!>" she hissed, the obeisant posture all but gone and replaced with a challenging stance. "<How dare you forget all that I have sacrificed, all that I will sacrifice. You are not the only one who hurts, Dayspring. Don't make me the villain just to ease your passage. We all have deserts to cross.>"

Nathan started at her words. How much did she know? But her defiant glare chased away those thoughts. "<Then start acting like a warrior for Clan Chosen. You left injured comrades behind>," he ground out.

"<The High Lord will live>," Mirrin said, backing off and shrugging. "<It is what he does.>"

"<You also left no one to shield. Cannonball is almost wiped out. Their back flank will be open until they reach the plane. If the Blackbird doesn't get shot down.>"

"<The ice will function well enough and the jet is supersonic. When did you get so dubious of your unit's ability to fight without your presence? Have you not left the battle raging there-and-then?>"

Cable was about to respond when a loud clearing of a throat silenced him.

"Are you two finished yet?" Jean asked in a too-sweet voice from where she was standing, arms crossed, in front of Warren. "You've probably woken half the neighborhood."

Mirrin looked mildly chastened, while Cable looked indignant. "My apologies, Redd," Mirrin said, bowing her head.

"That tickles," Alex muttered as he batted ineffectually at Hank, who was trying to check his pupils. "I'm just tired. I made much plasma...," he almost giggled.

"Is the rest of the team all right?" Cable asked, not breaking his cold stare at Mirrin, who was pretending not to notice.

"A bit pissed that she didn't teleport all of them," Psylocke said as she appeared in the doorway, indicating Mirrin with a jut of her chin. "But they're back to the Blackbird. Drake was saying something about wringing blood out of stones."

"Water out of the desert," Alex offered, still more than a little lightheaded. He hadn't noticed the effect of teleporting down the cliffside, but he felt more than the usual buzz from heavy use of his powers. Or maybe you're just out of superhero-shape... Cable and Mirrin certainly didn't seem to be affected. But of course, one of them must be used to it and the other, well, was his nephew...

"It seems Robert is getting poetic in his adult years," Hank commented cautiously, hoping to prevent any backsliding into further argument. "I am a good influence on him, after all."

"Yeah, an' that's why the boy's got a Twinkie addiction that he just can't quit," Rogue added from her corner.

"Twinkie?" Mirrin looked at Jean, not at Cable, for an explanation. She had the feeling whatever it was wasn't that important, but it would keep Nathan from being able to continue haranguing her. He had stopped glaring at her, but she could still feel the anger coming off of him in waves. They would continue this argument in the future, just as this chapter was but a continuation of past fights. The frustration would keep.

"Ah, my fair maiden of the future," Hank began as he stood up from where he was crouched by Alex. "Twinkies are one of our time's greatest delights."

There was a bark of laughter that echoed throughout the kitchen and McCoy frowned in its face.

"Surprised the damned things didn't last until your time," Betsy quipped. "They certainly've got enough chemicals in them."

The Beast pointedly ignored his colleague and extended an arm out to Mirrin. "Why don't I treat you to one of my special supply whilst I survey your vital signs. Shall we adjourn to the med lab?"

"I am not injured," Mirrin protested.

"There will be no repeat of last evening's unfortunate misunderstanding," Hank shook his head, guessing correctly at the emotions flashing across hooded eyes. "For which I still have not adequately apologized..."

"<Go with him>," Nathan spoke in Askani battle language, not any of the dialects used within the Clan Chosen. He had not forgiven her yet. "<You need to be looked at.>"

"<I am just tired>," she told him, shaking her head. "<I did not sleep last night and it has been a long day.>"

"<Go, before I tell him that you passed out teleporting before.>"

Jean stood primed to interrupt if the argument exploded again, as it looked like it was about to judging by the matching expressions and the tension that almost crackled between the two warriors. But Mirrin just muttered something in Askani and followed Hank towards the med-lab.

Ten minutes later, after Betsy had gone back to Cerebro, Alex had wandered off to the living room to crash, and Warren and Rogue had gone off to rooms unknown, Jean and Nathan were left alone in the kitchen.

"What did Min do?" Jean asked hesitantly as she guided Nathan to the kitchen table. He and Mirrin hadn't been speaking any language Redd Dayspring had known, but basic human instinct led her to believe that Mirrin had contravened orders.

"She acted like an Askani sister, not like a Clan Chosen fighter," Nathan replied, his anger spiking back up again even as he let himself be led. "I'm not going to be treated like a flonqing infant by someone I sponsored through the Rite of Passage."

Jean nodded in sympathy - she was all too familiar with the Askani tendency towards autocracy. And then she changed the subject. "You sponsored her?"

The Rite of Passage was a somewhat mystical tradition in the future, an attempt to recreate a formal recognition between childhood and adulthood that the tale-tellers said went back to the dawn of civilization. The ceremony varied from place to place, but the basic idea was the same - the intended's elders vowed before the group that their child was able to assume responsibility. It was supposed to be a parent's honor and joy, if they went for that sort of thing, and Scott was still upset that he never was able to perform that service for Nathan. Killing Apocalypse had been a sort of substitute, but that was small comfort in light of having to abandon him so quickly afterwards.

"Tetherblood's a kinsman, but he had been nearly incinerated by a landmine the week before, so Aliya and I stood in," Cable replied, allowing his anger at Mirrin to be transmuted into something more personally painful. Just seeing Mirrin had put him out of sorts and he had yet to adjust.

Jean nodded. "Were they close? Aliya and Min?" Jean felt bad for dragging Nathan towards what where undoubtedly unpleasant memories. But, as much pain as she knew she was causing, she knew that there was work to be done once Cyclops and the others returned. And an introspective Cable was easier to deal with than an irate one.

"Like sisters. Beyond the Askani allegiance." Aliya and Min, Dawnsilk and Hope... Fierce warriors all, but without lifting a plasma rifle the quartet had had most of the men in the Clan Chosen's inner circle wrapped around their little fingers. The four of them, T-blood had said, would be the death of he and Nathan both. Yet in the time Nathan had left, two of the women were now dead, one impossibly damaged, and the fourth raged against Nathan at every opportunity. And Tetherblood and Nathan remained, untouched except for the soul, to bear witness to memories of happier days long gone.

There was a long, thoughtful silence before Jean spoke again. "Do you want to wait until everyone gets back to debrief?"

"Not much to tell," Nathan shrugged, still deep in thought. "We got there about an hour before they would have gotten Alex, we ran into some trouble, and we got out of it."

"We'll wait, then. I'm sure Domino and Sam can add details to whatever you and Alex have to say," Jean replied. Just because she had succeeded in depressing him didn't mean she had to cater to it. It made her feel slightly less guilty that way.

"I'm going to check on Mirrin," Nathan said after another long silence. He stood up slowly, as if just realizing how drained he was. "I have questions for her. And I don't want her 'convincing' McCoy that she's fine."

"Is she not?"

He shrugged. "I doubt anything's really wrong. She's exhausted and she's probably still loaded up with whatever Psylocke shot her full of to take her down. She never reacted well to sedatives... What are you laughing at?"

"You. Mirrin is acting just like you do and you're acting just like Scott and I do."

Nathan paused for a moment and then shook his head. "I love you, Redd, but if you tell Scott that I'm turning into him, I'm going to have to kill you both."

Jean failed to curtail her giggles and shrugged as she left the room.

***

"<Okay, Min, time to talk>," Cable said as walked back in to the med-lab. Hank had allowed him to stay as long as he kept quiet, but had thrown him out the moment he had tried to interrogate Mirrin. Now that McCoy was finished and waiting for the results of the blood tests he had started, Cable was allowed to return.

"<You look good, Nathan.>" Min surprised him by smiling gently and without sarcasm. It did not escape her notice that he had finally switched from the Askani battle language to informal speech.

Argument or not, both of them knew that Mirrin could no more deny her Askani vows than Nathan could reject his place as the Askani'Son. Most of the time, the two identities - member of Clan Chosen and piece of the Askani puzzle - could exist in uneasy peace. Nathan Dayspring had never really understood how treacherous it was to negotiate the border, but Nathan Summers had a growing appreciation for the difficulty.

"<You look more alive,>" she elaborated. "<I'm glad to know that you don't spend the rest of your days as you were when I left you... although I can still sense it. The darkness, I mean.>"

"<I've had a long time to think and to experience,>" he said too casually, tightening his mental shields as well as he could. "<The... pain isn't gone. It never will be. It's just been a while since I left...>"

He didn't want to think about that time, not with a powerful telepath so close by. Shielding from Mirrin was much different than shielding from Jean or Betsy. Mirrin was subtler in her techniques, more ready to use them, and had always had a greater freedom of access to his thoughts than anyone but Aliya. Not only would she know he was hiding something, but she'd also be suspicious about why.

"<No offense,>" Mirrin prefaced as she reached out to touch his face, "<but I can see the years.>"

"<As do I when I see none on you>," he murmured, returning the gesture. When he allowed himself to think of Mirrin, this was how he remembered her."<When are you coming from?>"

"<You know I can't tell you that.>"

"<You always pick the damnedest times to obey Sanctity, you know that?>" It was less question than comment and carried only a fraction of the bitterness that had been on display earlier in the kitchen. They had had this discussion countless times before and both knew that Mirrin would have it countless times again with his younger self. "<What can you tell me?>"

"<I'm here to keep you one step ahead of the Kurioon,>" she replied with a knowing sigh. He wasn't going to stay angry with her over withholding information.

"<Who sent it?>"

"<The retro-cogs don't know. At least they didn't when I was sent back. We don't even know how they got here-and-now. It wasn't by Tinex.>"

Cable ran his fingers through his hair and nodded. There wasn't really anything else to be asked - that Mirrin would answer, at least - that hadn't been covered earlier. Except...

"<How did you know Sam was a High Lord?>"

"<He feels like one?>" Mirrin offered weakly with a shrug she knew didn't pass as casual. She knew she had erred by referring to Cannonball as such, but had hoped Nathan hadn't picked up on it.

"<Barely,>" Nathan replied, shaking his head. "<And not strongly enough that you'd know what it was if you weren't looking for it. He's just come into his own with that. How did you know, Min?>"

Mirrin weighed her options. She could feel how protective Nathan was of the young High Lord - hardly surprising from what she knew - and knew the odds of getting him to drop the subject were slight. At least without a mind wipe, and that wasn't an option she'd like to choose. If he persisted, however, there was a chance Sam might become suspicious...

"<Because he told me.>"

"<What? When?>" Cable tried to think of any time that day that Sam and Mirrin had been together without his being present. Being an External certainly wasn't a fact that Sam was comfortable with, let alone enough to bring up in casual conversation.

Mirrin's chuckle answered the question, however.

"<You've met him in another time, haven't you?>"

"<If I say yes, will you drop the subject? I'm not going to tell you anything about it.>"

Mirrin sounded amused more than defensive, so Nathan felt comfortable in pushing.

"Why won't you?"

"<Because I don't want you flonqing anything up, Nate. And if I find out that you've tried, I'll send a timestream full of sisters back to knock you into submission.>" Despite the similarity to the threats that had been levied before, this one had a smile attached to it. Not that Nathan doubted for a moment that she was serious.

"<I knew letting you go back to Ebonshire was a mistake,>" he sighed half-heartedly.

Mirrin shrugged. "<You always blame Ebonshire for everything.>"

"And I'm usually right. Re-forming the colony was probably one of the worst moves we ever made. Aliya and her nostalgia... she forgot that she hated the place while she was there." He fought off both pain and love as he remembered a few of the arguments with his wife that had been centered around the re-establishment of the Askani sisterhood's traditional home. There hadn't been much left after the original massacre and even less after the sequel brought on by 'Strator Umbridge's betrayal, but Aliya had insisted. And Mirrin had backed her up every step of the way.

"<Or maybe she just knew more than she was telling you, Askani'Son.>"

"<Don't start, Min, please don't start,>" Nathan implored. Privately, he chastised himself for his... nervousness. The very idea that Mirrin and Aliya had had some plan...

"There you two are," Cyclops said as he walked into the med lab. "Hank sent me in to make sure you weren't recreating the Spanish Inquisition in his precious lab." Actually, Jean had been more concerned that the two of them would be doing telepathic damage to each other, but Hank had asked.

"Is everyone all right?" Mirrin asked, hoping to distract Nathan before he said something rude.

"We'll be shaking sand out of our hair for a while, but otherwise, yeah," he replied, looking around as if the room was unfamiliar to him. "Why don't you two come upstairs? It's more comfortable..."

Happy to flee both the medical lab and Cable's questions, Mirrin hopped down from the bed she had been sitting on and moved towards the door. She could feel Nathan glower behind her, but heard his footfalls on the steps as she came upstairs.

The de-briefing was informal and mercifully short. There wasn't much to be done until morning, and after Mirrin and Cable convinced the others that the soldiers would not look around for substitutes having failed to capture Alex, the group broke up for the night. Jean was relieved to notice that Nathan was cooled down to a barely noticeable seethe.

"<Min, do you want to stay here?>" Cable asked as he eyed Domino stifling a yawn. "<I'm going to take Dom back to my place in Manhattan.>"

"<You don't stay here?>" It was stupid question - Mirrin having stayed in Nathan's own bed - but she didn't think Nathan was in the mood to know just how close she had been.

"<Not if I can help it,>" he replied, making a face. Switching to English, he added, "You can come if you'd feel more comfortable away from here..."

"Mirrin is welcome to stay," Scott interrupted, mildly irritated at Nathan's blatant attempt to guilt them all. "We have plenty of space that's not reminiscent of a prison."

Mirrin herself fiddled with the sleeve of the sweatshirt she had been given to wear ("We can fabricate something that will fit you better or I'm sure one of us can loan you something..." "This is fine, thank you." "But it's so big." "But it's made from plants.") and looked at Nathan thoughtfully. "I'll stay here," she said, perfectly aware of how much her presence was disturbing him.

"I'll see you in the morning," Nathan replied, almost successfully hiding his relief.

"Dream well," she said, getting up from her seat to embrace him gently. "You as well, Domino," she added.

Domino smiled uneasily and nodded. She jingled Jean's car keys ("No, Nate, let Domino drive. It will take me a week to get the driver's seat re-adjusted if you sit in it.") and she and Nathan left.

There was an awkward silence in the aftermath of their departure.

"So," Bobby said as he stood up and clapped his hands in anticipation. "Is this where we drag out Cable's baby pictures and get Mirrin to tell everyone about all of the embarrassing things he did as a teenager?"

"No," Hank replied with a bemused frown. "This is where we find something for Mirrin to eat before Rogue takes her up to the spare room next to hers and lets Mirrin sleep away some of the exhaustion that she is fighting off."

"I am fine," Mirrin protested, but a growl from her stomach argued otherwise.

"And some food energy would be a good idea for Alex as well... where is he?" Hank wondered, looking around.

"Asleep on the couch," Cyclops reported as he came back into the kitchen. "I'll go get him."

"Okay," Rogue announced as she opened up the refrigerator, idly remembering that this was exactly what she had been doing just when all the excitement had begun. "There are bagels, probably some leftover pizza, some of the spaghetti from before... that looks like Betsy's tuna salad, and ya don't want that..."

"Eesh." A groggy Alex made a face as he staggered into the kitchen, half-pushed by his brother. "You woke me up for Betsyfood? I'm not the one with the cast iron stomach, Scott."

"Miss Braddock is a remarkable woman of many talents," Hank explained to a confused-looking Mirrin. "But despite her exposure to many cultures, she still maintains the culinary tastes and commensurate cooking skills of a Briton."

"That's fancy talk for saying that Betsy's still English and the English can't cook," Bobby explained without removing his head from the cabinet he was currently rummaging through. "Ooh. Hot cocoa and a bag of mini-marshmallows. I'm set. Get out the milk, wouldya please, Rogue? Want some, Mirrin? It's good stuff."

Before Mirrin could say anything, Scott broke in. "It's not what it looks like, Min. Milk is a child's drink here..."

"Milk is everyone's drink," Hank contradicted sternly. "Everyone needs calcium. And it has many other good things that would be beneficial for an overtired time traveler."

"What did we say, Mirrin?" Alex looked at her from across the table, not sure whether to be concerned or amused at her wide-eyed expression. "Or is the general lunacy just getting to you? We're a bit much even for people who didn't just pop in from the thirty-eighth century."

"A cultural difference, that is all," she replied, clearly embarrassed in her confusion. "In my time, milk is consumed only in establishments of... somewhat less that sterling repute."

"So I just offered you watered down beer, huh?" Bobby asked, cheerfully awed at the idea of milk being an illicit substance. "There's some instant soup if you'd like that instead."

"Actually, I am in a milk bar sort of mood," Mirrin replied with a sly smile. "But what are you accompanying it with?" She gestured to the bag in his hand.

"Great delicacies, especially since no one ever bothers to get the mini kind," Bobby answered sagaciously as he tore open the bag of marshmallows carefully.

"Go shoppin' sometime, Bobby, 'stead of naggin' everyone else," Rogue retorted as she carried the gallon of milk to the counter. "The mugs are right behind ya, Mirrin, in the cabinet on the left. If ya don't mind..."

Mirrin stood up and found the mugs. Reaching in with her left hand, the first mug simultaneously appeared in her right one, which was stretched out towards Bobby and Rogue. When nobody took it, Mirrin turned. Everyone was watching and Mirrin blushed, concerned that she had committed some sort of breach in etiquette for using her powers so frivolously.

"Neat trick," Alex barked out a laugh, breaking the silence and sparking everyone else into motion. "That's better than lighting cigarettes or anything I can do."

"I find it useful on occasion," Mirrin replied with an embarrassed smiled before turning away to get the rest of the mugs.

After the hot chocolate was finished, the group that was left in the kitchen sat silently. It had been a long day, a long week, for them all and finally armed with a little knowledge of what was going on, they could sleep a little easier.

Rogue finally stood up and waved at Mirrin. "C'mon, sugah, Ah kin carry you, but Ah suspect you'd rather walk. And since ya ain't got what ta sleep in, let's go find you a pair of PJ's."

The two headed off to the women's wing, Rogue slowing down so as to let Mirrin look around curiously, stopping off in Rogue's room to pick up a pair of pajamas.

"Do you know if Gambit might still be awake?" Mirrin asked once they were in her own temporary room.

Rogue shrugged. "Ah suppose he is. Prob'ly up on the roof smokin'. Does that after a mission. Why?"

Mirrin sat down on the bed and leaned over to undo her boot laces. "Many things have happened today and I have yet to thank him for all that he has done."

"That's Remy for ya," Rogue replied with a casualness she knew wasn't going to fool a telepath. "Doin' on the sly."

Mirrin sat back up after toeing off her boots. "Why do you hate him?"

"What?" Rogue spun around from where she had been looking out the window.

"When I found him, your hatred of him was on his mind. It distressed him more than dying of exposure," Mirrin explained.

"Ah don't." Rogue stumbled over the words. "Ah did, at least Ah thought Ah did, but Ah don't... Ah just haven't gotten 'round to tellin' him that... Ah gotta go. Sleep well."

Rogue fairly fled from the room.

"Thank you," Mirrin called gently after her. That hadn't been the intended reaction, but at least Mirrin now had a better understanding for the situation. "Same for you."

Sitting down on the bed, Mirrin extended her thoughts carefully. There were many people in the house, some still conscious, but finding him was easy enough.

#Gambit?# She was careful of his shields, which she had found were much stronger now that they were in the presence of other telepaths.

Oui, chère. He sounded tired and a little suspicious.

#I wanted to thank you. I cannot say I understand your feelings of guilt, but I better appreciate now what you risked by aiding me.#

De rien. Suppose I'm just a sucker for a belle fille. The suspicion was gone, replaced by mild amusement.

#She is pretty. Patience, friend Gambit. Patience.#

He chuckled sadly in her mind, then wished her good night.

***

"What's bothering you?" Domino didn't take her eyes off the road. "Apart from Mirrin yanking you out of New Mexico."

"I'm almost past the teleportation," Nathan replied too casually. "She's always gone Askani on me at inconvenient times. It was too much to home for that this wouldn't be one of them."

"And the rest of the reason you're somewhere between maudlin and suicidal?"

"Huh? There's nothing." He didn't stop looking blearily out of the passenger window. "I'm fine. Just tired."

Domino muttered obscenely to herself before turning her frustration outwards. "Nate, if you're going to lie so pathetically, do me a favor and re-block the link so you don't throw it in my face?"

There was silence for a moment, and Domino counted three overpasses before he sighed.

"She's dead. And now, for however long, she's not." And I don't want to go through it again.

This was pretty much what Domino expected. The pain that had poured down the link when Nathan had first seen Mirrin had been heart-breaking. Almost as bad as when they had encountered Jenskot.

Domino slowed down and let a Porsche pass her. Past experience told her that Nathan was going to shut down once they got back to the safehouse, so the more time spent talking here... "It's been a while, then."

"She was... is... only a few years younger than me. Six years? Seven years? Always acted older, though..." he trailed off. Always acted haunted, actually. "Long ago enough that I can't figure out when she's coming from... She looks like how I remember her, but I don't know at what point I took my mental picture... It was a few years after Aliya. At least it started then."

"It started?"

"The first time she died," Nathan explained with a humorless laugh that sounded close enough to hysteria that Domino took her eyes off the road to watch him. But he didn't look like he was about to lose control, so she went on.

"She died twice?" She'd be perfect for the X-Men, Domino thought idly.

"The first time, we just thought she was dead. Or as good as dead. The second time... we knew for sure," he answered. His voice was gravelly, not breaking, but definitely wavering.

Domino didn't know what to do. Nathan was so against any display of weakness, so uncomfortable with showing his emotions, that she didn't want to make a point of recognizing that he had by doing something like take his hand. And yet she didn't want to do nothing... She ended up compromising by sending vaguely comforting vibes down the psi-link. She was rewarded by a half-smile.

"Is that why you didn't want her to come with us tonight? There certainly was room for her..." Domino angled the car into one of the EZ-Pass lanes.

"It was my fault," Cable began after a long silence.

"That she died? Which time?" Domino asked, mentally frowning. She was not about to let him start one of his epic bouts of survivor's guilt. Not after the day they'd had. He'd be up pacing until morning and she'd never be able to sleep with his agitation buzzing in her head.

"Both," he laughed mirthlessly, the edge of hysteria returning. "I got her killed both times."

"Did you throw her in front of a bullet meant for you?" Domino didn't bother to hide the sarcasm.

"No. We went on a raid together. It was just the two of us. We made a body-slide into a Canaanite mech-lab in Lavaar to grab what we could and destroy the rest. She was going to set the charges because I had to carry the toys we were taking. I slid out, she was going to 'port out."

"But," Domino prompted as she exited the West Side Highway.

"But the room was psi-dampened. I could body-slide because it's basically technology. But she couldn't teleport."

"And then boom," Domino finished. "Did you know about the psi-dampening?"

"No."

"So how was it your fault?" She waited for Nathan to play garage-door opener with his telekinesis.

"I had insisted that she come with me, even after we had been angry with each other the entire time we were fighting over the city. She wanted to go back to Ebonshire and work on whatever they were doing, but I bullied her into taking one last mission before she left. Had anyone else been in her shoes, I would have had to wait for them and we would have slid out without a problem. We might still have had we not been angry..."

"You do realize that this was just an unfortunate accident, don't you," Domino asked rhetorically as she parked, not giving him time to protest. "There are such things as no-fault accidents."

"There was a lot more in play. I found out later."

They said nothing more as they went into the residence part of the safehouse.

Once inside, they followed a routine that was eerily familiar despite its being out of practice. He took out a shirt and a pair of shorts with a drawstring for her to sleep in. She dug out the tube of gel-type toothpaste that she knew he thought was too sweet but kept around anyway. He took advantage of her penchant for wandering while she brushed her teeth and used the toilet. She waited for him to find the floss before returning to spit and rinse. They accidentally caught eyes in the bathroom mirror, Domino ruining any sort of moment by sticking out her tongue.

They knew they'd be sharing a bed, had done it enough times without expectations to avoid any nervousness. They got under the covers and he turned off the light. And he just lay there, eyes staring unseeing at the ceiling.

Domino figured she'd give him a few minutes before calling him on it. Let him sulk for a fiver before expressing her irritation. It wasn't that she didn't understand how he felt about seeing Mirrin, just that, well, for a guy who was so intent on changing the future, he spent an awful lot of time wallowing in the past.

"Okay, Nate, out with it," she sighed.

"Go to sleep, Dom."

It was a voice that brooked no argument, one that had sent both mercenaries and mercurial X-Force members scurrying. But Domino persisted.

"I'd like to, but that isn't happening for either of us until you get whatever is sticking in your craw out."

"I can block the link." A threat rather than an offer.

"You get restless when you're upset. It wouldn't matter. Just talk to me, Nate, please?"

Silence. But just before Domino was about to reach over and poke him, he spoke.

"Mirrin didn't die in the mech-lab."

"So I figured," Domino replied, shifting around in the darkness to face his voice. "She had to be around to die the second time."

A pause. "Remember this afternoon, when we were talking about how the Canaanites used the forms of women and children as decoys and Trojan horses?"

"Mirrin shot a few of them and everyone freaked, right?"

Another silence. "They used Mirrin."

"What, as a plant?" Domino sat up, her night vision having adjusted well enough so that she could see that she was almost eye-level with Nathan. As eye-level as she could get considering the height difference.

"To help us call their bluff," Nathan confirmed. "Except, for once, they weren't bluffing. They knew we knew about their methods."

"The Canaanites?" She could see him nod.

"They knew we knew they didn't take hostages," he sighed. "They knew we wouldn't try to rescue Mirrin because we thought what we were seeing was a cyborg or a clone." Again, the soulless laugh. "They'd parade her in front of us every once in a while, chained and wearing inhibitor bands."

"You ever get close enough to see for sure that it was her?"

"If they had cloned her, we wouldn't have been able to tell anyway. But we never got that close. We tried, the first few times, just in case. But she was psi-blocked and I couldn't even read her signature," he said, sounding helpless. "I was such a weak telepath then. Relying on Aliya or Mirrin to do the hard stuff... And when the time came, I couldn't do it on my own."

The self-loathing flowed like bile down their psi-link and Domino held her breath as it flowed over her and away. "How long did they keep her before killing her?"

A bitter snort. "Ten years."

"Ten years? That's an awful long time to play the same joke on someone."

"General Haight is easily amused," he replied. "They... did things to her. She was a plaything. Mirrin wasn't really a soldier for the Clan Chosen. She was a spy of sorts, for us and for the Askani. Getting information and sabotaging things. She was very, very good at that."

"So she had a lot of enemies."

"As far as the Canaanites were concerned, it was even better than if they had gotten Aliya. And when they finally got tired of Min, they threw her back to us. In pieces."

"But not before making sure you knew what was happening."

"They made sure we watched."

Domino shifted on the bed so that she leaned against his torso. She was sure she didn't have the words to make things any easier, but even a little warmth, just body heat...

"Right before they killed her," Nathan went on, surprising Domino by pulling her a little closer. "They took off the psi-blocker so that I'd know it was really her. She said not to worry, that I'd see her again."

"That would be now."

"That would be now," Nathan agreed. "She had already come back to this time, obviously. I didn't think about what it might mean then... And then they killed her."

A silence fell.

"Does she know what will... what has happened to her?"

"Oath, I hope not." He shook his head slowly, his chin against her forehead. "I suspect she knows she doesn't die in her bed surrounded by grandchildren, but what she does know..."

"She seems normal enough. Not burdened down by the past and the future..."

"Like I am?" Cable finished with an amused snort that sounded so happily normal that Domino almost breathed a sigh of relief. "Min's always been too well-adjusted for her own good. She adopted 'what is, is' as her personal motto, I think."

"She is Askani, Nate. Isn't that what you're all supposed to do?"

Neither of them said anything, the silence stretching on until Domino was wondering if Nathan had finally fallen asleep. The fingers which had at some point started stroking her hair had stilled.

"What Tolliver... Tyler did to you... it was supposed to remind me of Mirrin," he said in a hoarse whisper. "It was supposed to be a kind of calling card. Take someone I care about, use them without me realizing it, and then rub it in my face. Payback for what they convinced Tyler that I had done to him. It was how I got Min killed. And it was how I nearly got you killed."

"Nearly being the operative word here, Nate," Domino said, sitting up a little and reaching out to tilt his face towards her. "Tyler didn't kill me, although there were distinct moments when I wish he had. And you found me. It doesn't make it any better for Mirrin, and I really wish it did, but I'm glad as hell that you made the most of your second chance."

He put his arms around her again and she leaned back against him, loose arm stretching around to touch his techno-organic side. And they just sat there until they both fell asleep.


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