Future Pluperfect: Chapter 13
"Where are you going?"
"Out," Domino replied, a little less smoothly than she intended as she pushed off of the kitchen doorway. She really hadn't thought Nathan would ask. "I'll be back later. You know how to find me."
Nathan just glared at her, which, come to think of it, was about all he had done since that morning, when Domino had suggested that he and Mirrin spend some quality time together. Even though she had been careful to wait until fifteen minutes after he had finished his coffee.
"She's supposed to be one of your oldest friends, right," Domino had pointed out to him. "Yet you keep her up in Westchester and you hide down here. You're not inspiring a lot of trust in her, Nate."
"She's used to that." He had half-shrugged. The physical reaction had been studied casual, but Domino couldn't help but catch the flash of guilt that Nathan had tried to keep away from the psi-link.
"It's time to stop taking your guilt out on Mirrin, Nate," she had said. "She's not dead yet. Even if it wasn't completely obvious that you've been avoiding her ever since she got here... And don't give me that crap about the two of you having a self-sufficient kind of friendship - if someone I thought I'd never see again popped up on my doorstep, especially if I thought that they were dead, even I would try to spend a little time with them." She had been thinking of both Milo and Theo when she spoke and knew that even if Nate couldn't see who, he'd feel something on the link.
He had said nothing in response and she had puttered about the kitchen cleaning up for a while, waiting for the grudgingly given response that would either be a confession or a start of a fight - and after cleaning all of the breakfast dishes instead of putting them in the dishwasher, Domino had been ready for either. But Nathan had instead finished his bagel and gone off to the bank of monitors and computers in the other room without another word.
She had followed. "Speaking to your metal half, since the human one obviously isn't listening, you're putting us all at risk." That had gotten him to wheel around and face her. "Right now, you two are running on parallel tracks. And since neither of you really feel the need to let the rest of us in on your plans, that's an extra set of secrets to go around. And that's dangerous, Nate.
"At best, the two of you get all mysterious and figure out some plan to stop this fucking Kurioon so that we can all go back to our real lives. At worst, you get her to stop using Sam because you're not around. Don't give me that surprised look. She's playing on Sam's loyalty to you, Nate. She may prefer to jerk you around, but she's not above seeking a substitute."
There had been a long silence then, punctuated only by angry keystrokes on the computer keyboard and the belching of the printer. After a few minutes had gone by without even a whisper on the psi-link - Nathan was blocking her totally - Domino had grabbed her jacket and the keys Nathan had given her. And with only that four-word delay by Nathan keeping her, she had marched out the door.
After enough time had passed that he was sure Domino wouldn't be returning for any forgotten items, Nathan wandered back into the kitchen feeling only mildly guilty for having chased her away. Idly noticing that Dom had been pissed off enough to pour out the contents of his coffee cup and wash out the pot, he settled for a drink of water and headed up the stairs to the back room.
This safehouse had once been a warehouse, and as such, was not much in the way of exterior architecture. But there were windows along the back wall, giant levered ones that, despite Blaquesmith's fervent opposition, Nathan had opted to spend time and energy securing rather than remove.
Practical considerations had prevented anything useful being placed in the long room that was bordered by the windows, however, and in time the room had become (were Nathan honest) a bit of a luxury. It was generously apportioned in a fashion unlike the military bearing of the rest of the safehouse. Soft couches, beautiful rugs, lamps, and tapestries made for an almost exotic environment. It was not wasteful, Nathan had argued with Blaquesmith, because it served a function. The soldier with no reminders of life outside the war soon lost his edge. Blaquesmith had opted to make a snide remark about that particular lesson taking too long to sink in rather than continue the fight about security measures.
Of course, Nathan didn't entertain company here, so the room's primary function was that of a place of meditation. The room did project a feeling of calm; even Dom had been able to find some quiet here. And while Nathan could - and had - meditated almost anywhere, this was probably his favorite spot in this time to do so. It was the only place where he did not need to levitate to achieve the required state of tranquillity.
Settling down on one of the rugs, Nathan began the mantra to clear his mind. While the Askani had their own versions, he instead used a few lines from a children's song Redd had used to sing to him. Not that he'd confess that to anyone. As Nathan first established and then extended his consciousness in the astral plane, he quickly found who he was looking for.
Nathan had never understood how Mirrin could find calm in creating such a complex place on the astral plane to meditate. Most telepaths built themselves some variation of a glass room, a place that could keep the consciousnesses of others out without feeling restricted. The rooms were usually decorated, not enough to distract, just enough to make it comfortable. During Onslaught, he had seen Xavier's Victorian study; Jean's was something closer to a rustic farmhouse; his own was a recreation of the very room his body was sitting in (or, really, the other way around); he hadn't dared ask anyone what Emma Frost's might look like.
But Mirrin... Mirrin had created not a room, but a terrarium. There were tall purple mountains to border green meadows and blue streams and rainbows of flowers. Nathan had always found it all the more striking because he was quite sure that Mirrin had never really seen any of these things. (Although now that he had a greater understanding of the extent of her time traveling...) Mirrin's unit network had come from the Med-Asiatic Pact, a region rendered desert centuries before either of them had walked the planet. Even in the places where he had encountered her, first as children in the North Country with Redd and Slym and then in Ebonshire, there had been nothing so wondrous as a maple tree. And there had certainly been no such verdant valleys in any place the Clan Chosen had made camp. Nathan had often wondered if there were any such places left on the planet they had known.
Feeling prickles as he passed through Mirrin's shields, Nathan looked around even as he saw in his peripheral vision the dark blue glow that was his hostess. A rather cherubic-looking squirrel ran by and Nathan had to sidestep him. He was still chuckling as he made his way to the bank of the stream where Mirrin, dressed in her clan's traditional costume and with neither a stitch of Askani detail nor a mark of Clan Chosen war paint in sight, lay on her back with her feet dangling in the rushing water.
"You've been redecorating."
"Well, it did seem somewhat necessary," Mirrin didn't open her eyes as she spoke. "Now that I know what colors things actually are supposed to be, it would be a shame not to incorporate them. They are far nicer, I think."
Nathan grunted agreement as sat down next to her. In hindsight, the place had probably looked like one of those colorized movies Sam would periodically rant against - the sun too yellow, the blue sky too electric, the pink flowers too garish to be anything nature had ever intended. But it was an understandable mistake - by the thirty-eighth century, nature's intentions had long since fallen by the wayside.
A familiar scent wafted gently on the breeze. "Since when do you like gardenias?"
"Ororo has several. She's letting me keep one in my room. They smell nice." Mirrin opened her eyes and peered at Nathan. Whatever she saw, however, she didn't feel the need to comment on it.
They sat there for a while, not speaking. Mirrin periodically kicked her feet to splash the water and Nathan gave in to the urge to lay back next to her and watch the clouds pass through the (newly) pale-blue sky. It was nice, this, he had to admit to himself. Just the two of them, the way it had been too rarely even when they were both in their familiar time.
Dressed as they were in 'casual' attire - not their usual choices for appearances on the astral plane - Nathan could feel Mirrin next to him and appreciate the moment. They lay there enjoying an artificial nature not as Askani Sister and Askani'Son, not as Clan Chosen leader and soldier, instead just as Min and Nate, troublemakers at large and telepaths on the prowl. When had it stopped being so simple? Had it ever been such?
"Have you tried a sunrise or sunset yet?" Nathan asked idly. Mirrin's valley really didn't need darkness to thrive, no more than the plants needed rain or the trees a change of seasons. Mental constructs were nice that way.
"Dawn was a little sloppy," Mirrin admitted with a kick of her feet in the stream. "Dusk really was nice. I'll have to show you later."
"No surprise about the dawn. You're not really a morning person. Between you and Aliya... what joys you two were whenever you had second watch," he chuckled, then grunted in protest when Mirrin hit him on the arm closest to her. "What was that for?"
Mirrin pulled her feet out of the stream as she rolled onto her side to frown at Nathan. "For not letting go."
She'd been meaning to have this conversation with Nathan since her arrival here, been wishing that she could have had it in the time they had both had left - especially now that she saw how little her dear friend had recovered from the losses he had endured. Even this little opening was enough for her to start in.
Nathan didn't even try to pretend to misunderstand. "It's hard, Min," he admitted after a long pause. "Especially since I'm not sure of the alternative."
"Living life for the present and the future instead of the past?" She snorted. "The horror..." Mirrin gave him that flat stare that she used whenever she was incredulous. Nathan knew it well.
Back in the time she had left, Mirrin had had to watch her tongue for fear she would let slip information about the future that lay ahead of both of them. But here, now, with her future as Nathan's past, there was no such need for discretion. And she could finally give in to the urge to strangle the man so intent on strangling himself with his own grief. Should it get to that, of course.
"What happens if I let go and there's nothing left? Of me, of her... of you." There. He had said it, even if he had done so in a way that it could be misinterpreted. And Nathan wished that she would misunderstand, for that would mean that she didn't know.
"All these years and you haven't learned a flonqing thing," Mirrin sighed and leaned back. "Can you honestly imagine losing Aliya by thinking of her life without thinking of her death? How could you ever forget her by making hers a happy memory instead of just another means to hurt yourself? I swear, Nat'an... Just because we're no longer with you in body doesn't mean that we're no longer with you in spirit."
Now it was Nathan's turn to eye his companion critically as he fought the catch in his throat. Did she know? And if so, how much did she know?
"I don't make every memory of the Clan Chosen a painful one," he said carefully. "I still remember that trip T and I made to Park Haven..."
"But Tetherblood's still alive in your timepath, Nate. And when he's not, you'll do the same thing to his memory as you've done to Aliya's. And to mine."
There was a long pause. The words may have been simple enough, but their meanings were not. And no matter how long each of the two had carried around the knowledge that they were now sharing, no matter how artlessly casual the words were spoken, to hear them aloud was painful for them both. Pretenses were comforts and the truths, once let loose, couldn't be hidden away.
"How long have you known?" Nathan finally asked.
"That I'm back from the dead as far as you're concerned?" Mirrin's voice was a whisper now, devoid of the buoyant confidence that she'd been using to banter with before. "Since before I came back. Although you were dropping heavy enough hints when you first saw me. You must have given poor Domino quite a headache."
"Before you came back... you know about how you're going to die and you still just...?" Nathan leaned back against the grass and sighed heavily.
"And I still just live my life, Nat'an," she finished for him. "We're all going to die. And I don't know when or how. Just why, which is already too much even if it's a reason I can live with. Or not live with, as the case may be... You've convinced yourself that you're going to die facing Apocalypse, there's really no difference between us."
Nathan pursed his lips in distaste. "How can you be so flip about it?"
"What are my choices, Nat'an?" Mirrin shook her head and gave him a sad smile. "I admit that I didn't take the news that I would not be living to my old age too well at first, but it's somewhat comforting to know I don't die eating bad meat or some other... graceless method. A warrior wants a brave and noble end, right?"
"You shouldn't have been a warrior, Min."
"None of us should have been," she replied emphatically. "But what is, is."
There was a silence again. It had a different tension than before, the weight of the unspoken being replaced by the weight of knowledge now admitted.
"That doesn't make it better. Knowing that you know," Nathan finally said. And it didn't. Ending up a martyr to the cause was one thing, even if - and Mirrin was right about him here - you had prepared yourself for the eventuality. But knowing that you were sending someone else off to their pre-appointed fate... "Why didn't you say anything?"
Mirrin chuckled humorlessly. "And make you even more miserable than you were already? It gutted me, Nate, to see you after Aliya died. More than you can know," she emphasized darkly. Nathan picked up his head to eye her closely, but her face was shuttered to him. "You gave up on living then. You existed, that's it. And maybe it's all that Askani training, but I didn't say anything because I didn't want you doing something... well, more stupid than you were doing already. You can go back to living from merely existing. But it requires a little more effort when you're starting from 'dead'."
There was nothing Nathan could say to that.
"If it makes you feel better, I didn't just accept my fate like it was already writ. I did investigate the alternatives," Mirrin admitted wryly. "Some of the others were... unpleasant."
"Investigate... you're not... How'd you..." Nathan looked over at Mirrin, who was back to watching the clouds.
"Some things I can't tell you even now, Nate."
He pounded the fist that (in the corporeal realm) was techno-organic steel against the ground. "Nothing that will allow me to do anything about it, you mean."
Nathan would never accept that the Askani sisterhood felt that it could toss him around like a rag doll; that they took decisions out of his hands the way a parent extracted bone china from an infant's grasp.
But what was normally a slow burn flared into a raging fire whenever it was thrown in his face that he wasn't the only one that they did this to. And that it was Mirrin who, despite her training and her mutant powers and her refusal to follow anyone's rules simply 'because', would end up being sacrificed to serve their aims... That she would allow them to do it. Enable them...
"You know I would have come to you if I could have," Mirrin said quietly after letting Nathan seethe. "Flonq the Sisterhood, flonq the timestream, flonq it all... I would have run to you if I could have lived with the results... But trust me on this, Nat'an, I don't want you involved. My destiny, my choices."
"But nothing. You're not the only who gets to keep their own counsel," she cut him off and gave him a meaningful look. "Now you know how the rest of us felt."
The clouds rolled by slowly, driven by some spectral breeze, and the air smelled faintly of gardenias and fresh grass. And Nathan wasn't quite sure how long the two of them had been lying there when Mirrin turned to him, that impish smile back in place, and asked him if he wanted to see her sunset now.
"Do you remember that time when we crossed the Mao-Sino Province border. T-blood had that head cold?" Nathan asked as Mirrin concentrated on turning the horizon delicate shades of rose and fire.
"Remember?" Mirrin coughed out a laugh. "How could I forget? T was sniffling the entire time, Tyler was teething, and Hope was still mooning over whatever-his-name-was... It was probably our worst convoy ever. And the Canaanites got the province anyway... What made you bring that adventure up?"
"The two of us snuck away that one time in the Mao Pass... We grabbed a skin of sour milk...," Nathan reminisced as the blue sky overhead faded into periwinkle edges.
"T's milk," Mirrin added with an amused snort. "We told him he wasn't going to be able to appreciate it if he couldn't unblock his nostrils..."
"And we ended up on that bluff..."
"...Watching the sunset," Mirrin finished. "At least until Aliya sent 'Silk up after us armed with a double-barrel plasma cannon... I think 'Silk was just upset that we didn't bring her with us."
"I don't think I've thought about that night... in years," Nathan admitted.
"Afraid to remember everyone before they were... lost?"
A pause. "Probably."
They were quiet again, watching the sunset and then making it rise again. Nathan used some of his psionic energy to help Mirrin smooth out the dawn reds and eventually it was daylight again.
"I used to wonder, you know," Mirrin said gently, as if she was reluctant to break the silence. "Who was better off: the ghosts or those who had to live with them?"
"Come to a decision?"
"No," she admitted. "But I'm starting to."
"Seeing me is making you decide that martyrdom isn't so bad?"
"No. Well, not like that," Mirrin hastily corrected with a sour tone as she turned to face Nathan. "I've never walked in your path. I don't know that I would do any better carrying your burden... I don't know. You're in your native time here-and-now, you've found your parents, you've got a woman who loves you..."
"Don't let Domino hear you say that, Min," Nathan warned.
"That almost doesn't matter," Nathan replied, reluctantly admitting the truth of it to himself. "It's... it's just not a place either of us are really comfortable being in."
"So you'd rather hold off, hoping that you'll both be proven wrong about the other," Mirrin laughed sadly. "There is something to be said for being on a tight schedule. No time for wasted opportunities."
That was a lesson he had learned too late and still ignored when convenient, Nathan mused. "Speaking of Domino, I suppose I should go look for her. We... had words. She was right and I was stubborn."
"Story of your life, Nat'an, story of your life," Mirrin replied, then rolled away as Nathan made a grab for her. "Be nice to her... I like her."
"You would," Nathan sighed as he stood up and stretched.
Mirrin merely smiled innocently as she stood up next to him. Without a word, they started walking in the direction Nathan had come from, even though he could 'pop out' from anywhere. A habit from the corporeal world, Nathan thought.
Nathan looked down at Mirrin and wrenched his face a little, scratching the back of his head in a delaying tactic he belatedly realized she'd recognize. "Min... thanks."
She took a step forward and hugged him. "Getting to kick you upside the head has been the highlight of my time here-and-now," she replied as she stepped back
He left Mirrin then, walking back through the valley in the direction he had come from however long ago. As the smell of gardenia and grass faded, a different smell replaced them. Jasmine tea.
Opening his eyes, Nathan saw Domino sitting on one of the couches. She was holding a large Chinese mug, steam coming from the top. She was trying not to let on that she had been watching him, instead staring too intently at a book open on the couch next to her. Another Chinese mug, lid on, was sitting on the table closest to him.
"You're back," Nathan said as he unfolded his legs and reached for the tea.
"So are you," Domino replied.
She had stopped being angry with Nathan by the time she had walked down to the Village, which was no short stroll. Checking out the record bins in the used music place on St. Mark's, she thought she was just giddy from finding the Ramones' first album (in great shape), but realized that it wasn't her who was so happy. And, well, since Nate being that tickled normally meant large quantities of explosives, she took the A back uptown. And found the big lug sitting peacefully on the red Persian rug, tears running down from one eye even as he looked so... beatific. It had been disconcerting. Which was why she had made tea.
"Did you talk to her about Sam?" While getting the two warriors from the future to make peace was certainly high on the priority list, Domino had started the fight over Sam, so it was only fair that it ended over him as well.
"I didn't have to," Nathan said as he re-covered his tea. "We sort of came to an understanding, of sorts."
"Mm-hmm," was all Domino trusted herself to say. Not that she didn't think that Nate was telling the truth, just that... she strongly suspected Mirrin would find another loophole. "You two made peace, then." A statement, not a question.
"More like we mutually agreed to stop tearing ourselves to shreds in private," he corrected with a shrug to indicate the difficulties of the situation. "She knows, Dom. She doesn't know the specifics, thank heavens for that, but... "
"Are you jealous?"
"Jealous of what? That she dies so young, or that she's basically functional despite the knowledge?" He stood up and stretched his legs, not knowing how long he had been meditating but judging it to be quite a while from the stiffness.
"Either one." This wasn't a flippant question for Domino. Ever since she had realized that Nate had slipped past her carefully constructed defenses and into her... affections, Domino had worried. Duty was duty, but there was a difference between not being afraid of death and welcoming it with open arms.
"I'm not jealous. I'm disappointed, maybe," he admitted slowly. Reminding himself that there was nobody else to talk to about this and keeping it bottled up hadn't done him any good the past few decades. "I don't think Min's ever let me see just how deeply she follows the Askani teachings. I don't know if she's embarrassed or what, but... I'm not the only one with the martyr thing... I just that wish she knew better. She does about so much else..."
Domino stood up as well. She didn't want Nate falling into a funk again. Not when he had been so... at peace earlier. "You set a shitty example. What else is new?"
Nathan chuckled then, coughing out something like a 'heh' and then nodding slowly. "Nothing, as Min has seen fit to remind me. I am predictable in my old age."
"You didn't need to go to the astral plane for that."