Disclaimer: See Chapter 1.

Double Helix: Twin Divide
by Andrea and Persephone_Kore
Chapter 2/2

"Mmm. I thought I would be annoyed that Nathan had returned, because he would take up your attention again. But if the result of his return is that you are this... affectionate, I will have to conspire to keep him here longer."

Stryfe chuckled and pulled Aliya closer to him, running his hand along her arm. "I'm glad you approve."

"Oh, definitely."

"Anyway, you're the one who locked us in...."

Aliya shrugged. "You needed to finish your argument. Besides, it's not as if either of you would have had any trouble tripping the lock from inside."

"True enough. I...still cannot quite believe he actually had the gall to contact Apocalypse. But...he seems very optimistic about his mission."

"It's certainly... disconcerting, but I suppose it's a logical step based on his goals. If he's trying to get Apocalypse's original life mission right, it would hardly be productive to have him fouling it up in all the same historical ways...."

"I acknowledged the logic of it, once I worked past the...emotional response."

"Which I realize was difficult," Aliya murmured.

"...Extremely."

"I think some of the Askani would deal with the idea less well than you did, and with less personal reason."

"I had more personal reason to deal with it."

Aliya smiled and twisted up to kiss him lightly. "Nathan has been very good for you, I think."

"Does that mean you're not annoyed with him after all?"

"I didn't say he was never annoying," she retorted with a grin.

"As it happens, I agree with you on that point." Stryfe winked. "But he is very good at...making me think of things in a way I hadn't before."

"Useful. I gather from your tone there's something of current significance?"

"How long have we been together now?" he asked rhetorically. He, of course, remembered every moment of their time together. Although he thought he probably would even without his telepath's memory. He wrapped his arms and mind around her warmly. "Nathan begins to ask when he will have nieces and nephews to spoil."

Aliya blinked, then started laughing even as she returned the physical and mental cuddle. "Sometime when we are NOT going into combat on a regular basis. Especially me, for about nine months."

"Well, yes, I did rather expect that. But I still began thinking that...perhaps we should make things more... permanent. I know I love you as I love no other."

Aliya tilted her head at him, smiling. "You wish to bond, then?"

"Yes." He raised an eyebrow at her. "Provided you are amenable, of course."

Aliya grinned. "Does this mean you take back what you called me when you first woke up here?"

"No. I simply think your good points outweigh it now," Stryfe replied blandly.

"Do you actually remember what you said?"

"...I remember insulting you quite freely. But I suppose that wasn't when I first woke up. Very well, what was it? It's not really fair of you to hold it against me now, you know."

"...Actually, to my lasting embarrassment, I still haven't found a translation."

"Hmm...Well, perhaps if you told me, I could translate."

"Very well." She repeated a phrase in an oddly guttural language.

Stryfe raised one eyebrow, then the other. "Ah...no, I don't believe I'll translate. But consider it revoked."

"...Now I definitely want to know what it meant."

"No."

"That bad?"

"...I was in a VERY bad mood when I woke up."

"I had noticed that."

"I thought you might've." He shifted slightly so he could face her and looked at her seriously. "I never got an answer to my question, you know."

"No... no, you didn't." She smiled. "I am very much amenable."

The Askani'Son dignity Nathan loved to chide him about vanished as Stryfe's face broke out in a broad smile. "And I am very, very glad that is the case."

"Mind you, if I find that I regularly can't get your attention away from Nathan, I may have to bond with him too."

"...I certainly wouldn't mind. But you probably wouldn't care for having one bondmate in another century. And while brothers are supposed to share, I wouldn't mind keeping you to myself, either. And you would have some heartbroken Sisters to deal with."

Aliya permitted herself to giggle, which was comparatively rare. "You really should have seen your expression when I first said that...."

"Just wait until you can see Nathan's face when I relay it to HIM."

That was, Stryfe decided, a definite snicker. "This should be entertaining."

"Yes, it should. But if you don't mind, I'd like to enjoy the moment with you for a short time before involving my brother."

"An excellent idea."

He smiled and kissed her gently. "I thought so."

*****

"What IS this thing?"

Hope looked up from her own heap of mysterious plastic and metal to squint at the piece Nathan was holding up. The fact that they had already restored the device for time travel didn't mean that they were going to stop trying to figure out what the various other equipment salvaged from far-flung sources was supposed to do. Or, failing that, make it do something else. "It's a bolt."

"With a hat?"

"Well...."

"Or a hood, anyway. A bonnet?"

Hope laughed at that, which left the question of bolts and millinery unanswered by the time their respective siblings entered the room hand in hand. "When you two start laughing, I don't know whether to hide or ask 'can I help?'" Aliya mused, smiling down at them and taking a seat cross-legged on the floor.

"I'll hide; you help," Stryfe advised. "The only thing that truly frightens me is all THREE of you working together."

"Nathan's speculating on bolts with headgear," Hope explained with a wave of an utterly irrelevant piece of metal. "What are you two up to?"

"Looking for both of you, actually. And we've succeeded." Stryfe looked over Aliya and raised his eyebrow. "Does that mean we can leave again?"

She grinned. "Tell them."

"Tell us what?" Hope asked eagerly.

"If you'd stop asking questions, I might answer."

Hope pouted at Stryfe for a moment, but obediently remained silent.

"Ahem. Thank you. Aliya and I have decided to bond."

"HAH! Finally!" Nathan crowed. "Which of you got around to suggesting it?"

"Ah. That reminds me." Aliya grinned and leaned over to kiss Nate soundly. "Thank you for reminding him."

"I guess that answers that question," Nate replied after recovering from the initial moment of shock.

Stryfe grinned. "I suppose that answers OUR question as well, Aliya. If he looks that surprised at a kiss, I don't suppose he'd be willing to bond with you as well."

Nate blinked. "What?"

"Aliya threatened to bond with you as well if you continue occupying too much of my time."

"I'm assuming she was threatening you, not me...."

"A little of both, I think."

"Okay, I don't think being bonded to her constitutes a threat, and you'd BETTER not...."

"I certainly don't think it's a threat. Don't try to get me in trouble. A double bond, however, is fairly unusual, even among the Askani."

"I wouldn't really try to get you in trouble with Aliya; I like you." Nathan grinned. "And yes, it is."

"But it's not all that uncommon with twins," Aliya put in, smiling. "Since they often don't want to be separated."

Stryfe and Nathan exchanged glances. "...That's not such an issue with us," Nate said softly.

"Well, alternatively," Hope observed, "it can be creepy to have them inseparable but only be bonded to one."

"We're hardly inseparable," Stryfe replied shortly.

"Psionically you seem to be, especially to hear my sister tell it."

"Not when Nate's in the 20th century."

"Ah, I see."

"I wouldn't look anyway," Nate protested, affronted. "I don't NOW. It doesn't matter if we're linked."

"Hm? Oh, that's not what I meant." Hope grinned. "Just the general closeness."

"There's a different closeness with my brother than with my wife." Stryfe lifted an eyebrow at Aliya. "Or at least I certainly HOPE so."

Hope sighed. Loudly. "She's MY sister; you don't have to take everything I say wrong."

"But it's so much more fun that way."

"And she's almost my sister," Nate added with a grin.

"Hey! Mine!" Hope yelped mock-indignantly.

"If she's bonding with my brother, she gets to be my sister. So if it's all the same to you both, I think I'll pass on bonding." He winked at Aliya. "I like you, but I've never been quite sure how much of it has been Stryfe!"

"Fair enough."

"But congratulations. And may I add that Natalie is a great name when you have a daughter?"

Aliya laughed. "We'll keep that in mind."

"Are they not allowed to have a son?" Hope asked with a grin.

"I thought all Askani wanted daughters?" Nate laughed. "Besides, they'd probably name a son Slym...."

"Or Tyler," Aliya suggested thoughtfully.

Nate tilted his head. "Why Tyler?"

"After...an old friend. My grandfather, actually."

"Ah. It's nice. I just hadn't heard it before."

"We'll pick something."

"Not that we're planning on needing to for a while," Stryfe put in, looking vaguely panicked. "We didn't think of having children yet while things are so unstable."

"No, we weren't -- so you can stop looking so alarmed," Aliya informed him with amusement.

"Have one soon," Nate said softly. "I'd like to play Uncle Nate for a while."

Stryfe looked haunted. Aliya reached over and squeezed his hand. "We'll see what we can do. You WILL be here for the bonding." She fixed him with a stern look. "No matter what you must arrange. That is the beauty of time travel."

Nathan smiled at her. "I wouldn't dream of missing it."

"It's just as well you aren't bonding with both of them, Aliya," Hope observed, leaning back on her hands and smiling. "The bonding of ONE Askani'Son will be quite enough ceremony for us to deal with. Two at once might be too much."

"True, true -- unless you're hinting in roundabout fashion that you'd like him?"

Hope laughed; Nathan spluttered. "I'm not some prize to be passed around, you know!" he protested.

"I made no claims that you were," Hope said innocently. "...Stryfe was the prize. You're the consolation." She laughed and held her hands up in defense.

"Ouch. If I didn't need you as a technician...."

"You still wouldn't harm me. We ARE practically family."

"I was thinking more of avoidance."

"Lucky me. I get you around instead."

"Which you don't appreciate nearly enough," Nathan replied loftily.

"Sounds like she appreciates it about as much as it deserves," Stryfe observed with a grin.

"Hmph. I could get out of your way, here...."

"NO!" Stryfe snapped, much more intensely than he'd planned.

"...Hey, calm down."

"Oath, aren't you leaving soon enough?"

"It'll be a while yet before it... has to be permanent," Nate replied quietly. "There'll be some warning."

"Warning is one thing we have plenty of."

"I suppose so."

"...Never mind. We don't need to talk about it now."

"By the time I'd be gone for good you'd probably be too busy to think about me anyway," Nathan tried halfheartedly.

"Never." Losing Nate would be...losing half of himself. It would hurt worse than his supposed father trying to kill him. But...he couldn't think about that right now. "I can't be that busy. Ever."

"...Probably right. And I'll probably keep wondering what kind of trouble they're getting you into without me."

"And I'll be wondering what kind of trouble you're getting into all by yourself without me."

"You know, I'm the one who's supposed to get YOU into trouble...."

"I thought that was my job."

"Well, you got it mixed up."

Stryfe smiled faintly. "My apologies. But I have no doubt you'll be getting into all sorts of trouble without me."

"No doubt. I'm talented that way."

"...But I won't be there to get you OUT of it."

"...I'll survive. I'll do my best, anyway."

"And the Chosen One's best," Aliya interjected firmly, "is the best any of us can hope for. I have no doubts you will succeed."

"You may wind up with more assistance than you expect," Hope observed. "I think at least to some degree you have managed to bring the Askani around to thinking this is a good idea, rather than simply something in which they indulge you."

~I'm not sure I want that much Askani assistance!~ "At first, at least. Before the timelines get too unstable. I'm glad you all don't think I'm crazy."

"Hey, I didn't say that...."

"Thanks a lot."

"Your new ally might make things interesting, of course, but there would be advantages to having a comparatively nearby timeline where we didn't have to fight him."

"A novel experience," Stryfe muttered.

Aliya slipped her arm around his waist. "But potentially useful."

He leaned against her slightly. "I wasn't arguing that."

"I didn't think you were."

"All right, all right." Nate grinned. "So I'm crazy, but a useful crazy. I guess I have to deal with that."

"I like it," Stryfe muttered.

"What, they think you're crazy too?" Nathan asked with a grin.

"Probably. Though I don't ask too often."

"Wise decision," Aliya murmured.

"Hmph."

She patted his knee reassuringly. "I still love you."

"Well, I'd hope so....!"

"That's why she's bonding with you, you know," Nate said solemnly, then grinned and patted his brother on the back. "Congratulations, little brother. ...And now I'd better get back to work." He eyed the machinery piled around them with distaste. "A lot to do. And not much time to do it in."

"What are you trying to build now?"

"We don't know."

"So why is it so urgent?"

Aliya patted Stryfe's knee again. "As much as I enjoy seeing you two spar, we DO have a meeting shortly."

"And there I'd been hoping to spend the rest of the day in the Jungle of Spare Parts."

Nate grinned and tapped his temple. "I'll share."

"Frightening thought -- unfortunately, I'll probably have to pay attention."

"So multitask."

"I'm not as talented as you, big brother." Stryfe stood up reluctantly and offered his hand to help Aliya rise. "I'll see you at dinner. If we're lucky."

Nate extricated himself and stepped over a small jumble to hug his twin. "I'll see you at dinner. If they keep you that late I'll save you something."

"I'd appreciate it." Stryfe hugged him back. "Try not to put together anything that will blow up the Cloisters, all right?"

"We'll do our best."

"And start thinking about the bonding ceremony," Aliya said with a grin to her sister as Stryfe draped his arm around her shoulders and they departed.

*****

"I think the Askani measure time differently," Nate muttered, resealing his bag after he finished rechecking the contents.

"How do you mean?" Hope asked, turning from where she was examining the time travel matrix a few feet away.

Nate smiled sourly. "Stryfe's still stuck in a meeting. He said it would be over in 'just a minute', but it was considerably more than a minute ago."

"Ahh. No, that's not an Askani phenomenon -- it's known as Meeting Time. The final scheduled minute of a meeting is almost infinitely extensible."

"So I've discovered." Nate sighed. "Well, I'll just check out these components again. I might have forgotten something. Redd trained me to be thorough."

Hope raised an eyebrow when he turned to a bag of supplies he'd checked twice already, but held her peace.

#Stryfe?# he sent hopefully. #Any progress?#

Faintly, through the link, he "heard" words in a woman's voice -- The report from our operative near Hebron states... -- before Stryfe's weary thought answered him. #Yes, but apparently not toward actually getting out of here.#

#The TDC's fully charged, and I have everything assembled. I really need to leave soon...# Nate sent helplessly.

#I'm trying, Nate, really I am.# ...Power structure in New Canaan less than entirely stable. Current factions include... #Oath. I'll have to pay attention to this part; I probably know some of them -- can you wait a little longer? I'm trying --#

Nate bit back a sigh and kept his disappointment firmly shielded. #I'll try. I'm re-checking everything I packed as it is.# He cut off the contact, afraid he wouldn't be able to keep his annoyance with the Askani Council in abeyance if he didn't. It seemed those women did nothing but TALK!

...Still. Just because his own mission was rather centered on action at the moment didn't mean that Stryfe's should be as well. He shouldn't transfer his own chafing for activity onto his twin. Power struggles were good, weren't they? Stryfe had mentioned destabilization as a goal; either it was working, or the targets were doing it all by themselves. Somebody had to be doing something. Spies did something, even if it was just watching. He was doing a fair amount of observation himself, when he was in the twentieth century.

Speaking of observation... he carefully eased the link back open far enough to eavesdrop.

--can probably expect to bear fruit within six months. Shanor is already separating from the other High Lords. We can expect more discord in coming months.

Well. That was interesting. So one of the High Lords was already starting to pull away? Nate knew from Stryfe and Aliya's discussions that this was definitely a good thing. Maybe it wasn't an entirely useless meeting. And maybe that was the most important information, so they could end the meeting soon.

Fifteen minutes later, he had done all the checks again and was reluctantly letting go of that particular hope.

And speaking of Hope, she had been very patient with his newfound assiduous care, but Nate was aware that she was beginning to tire of humoring him. "I know you want to say g'journey in person, Nathan," the chronophysician said softly, "but your equipment's better off not spending indefinite amounts of time in a state of readiness -- and you are nearing the end of the optimal departure window. You do want the timelines to allow as many trips back and forth as possible."

~So now I get to decide if I want to say goodbye to Stryfe or SEE him more? Grand,~ Nate thought morosely. "I know. I just...want to run one more check." #Stryfe? Little brother, I'm sorry, but I really DO need to leave soon. I really can't delay much longer...#

#I know.# Stryfe sounded unhappy. #They just keep bringing up one thing after another....#

#Well...it's not as if we really NEED to see each other to say goodbye...# Nate leaned against the link hard. It was always hard, though, going back into the twentieth century knowing that stepping into the TDC meant the same as shutting away half his self. It was like wrapping part of his mind in cotton, and he didn't LIKE it. He'd wanted the last chance to...recharge. But it didn't look like he'd get the chance. Not this time.

#There's no time left, is there.# Stryfe's voice only sounded sad and wistful at first -- then Nate was startled by a rush of anger. #Flonq it -- SOME of this could have waited, surely --#

#I don't know,# Nate replied honestly, fighting against the urge to say, "Of COURSE it could have waited!" That would only bring up old arguments, and he wasn't about to waste time with that NOW. #I'll be back before you know it, honestly. I'll have to be back for the bonding ceremony, after all, or Aliya would follow through on her promise to force-feed me my teeth,# he joked weakly.

#That would be a little hard to swallow.# Stryfe leaned into the link as well, his attention fading dangerously away from the meeting. #G'journey, Nate.#

Nathan wrapped his brother's mind in a fierce hug. #Be well. And--if you ever get a sudden desire to visit the twentieth century...You're always welcome.# His throat felt suddenly tight. He picked up a pack and swung it over his shoulders to disguise the emotion from Hope.

#I know.#

Their minds clung together along the link until the timeslide left each grasp empty.

***The End***