"They're gonna start ta figure out we know more than we're sayin'."
Rachel sat down on the back steps next to Sam, and followed his gaze upwards to the thin sliver of moon. The wind was biting, but he seemed not to notice. Odd, for a southern boy, but then, maybe he just needed to get away. He hadn't been around much, of late, checking on X-Force, and, she thought, trying to ignore the mansion politics. She was still trying to get her bearings. Being back in this time was comforting in its own way, but there was a deep feeling of disquiet that continued to plague her. She wished things could be more like she remembered them. "I'm sure Charles already does," she sighed. "Look, Sam, it doesn't mean that much, in the end. We know Domino's with him, yes, but I tried looking for her, and came up with nothing. He's got to be shielding her the same way he's shielding himself. And even Blaquesmith has admitted that Nathan, most likely, has a few safe houses even *he* doesn't know about. At this point, short of doing an exacting search of the entire *planet,* I don't see how we, or anyone else is going to locate them."
Sam tilted his head towards her. "So you're sayin' we should just give up."
"I'm *saying* we should stop dwelling on it so much, and wait until there's something we can actually do. Shielding like he is has got to be difficult, even for Nathan. He might slip up. Or maybe he'll just... give up? I don't know, Sam. But I do know that giving ourselves ulcers over this isn't going to do anyone any good."
"You're probably right," he replied. "Doesn't make me feel any better 'bout it, though."
"It wasn't really supposed to."
He glanced at her again, smiling wryly. "Well, least *someone's* honest 'round here."
It was almost a normal breakfast, if she ignored their stark surroundings and the relative simplicity of the meal. If she ignored the tension between them, and the ever-present anxiety that had seized a portion of her brain. Sure. Perfectly normal.
"So...how long is this little self-imposed exile of yours--ours," she corrected, "going to last?"
"Don't know," Nathan replied with a shrug. "Why?"
"I'm just... I don't know. I miss real food." True, they had dried goods, plus what little they'd brought with them, but it wasn't the same. "Not reconstituted eggs..." She stirred her cereal idly. "And I never got used to powdered milk. Y'know, I want orange juice. Real stuff, not made from orange-flavored syrup."
He set his spoon down. "Well, I may end up sending you back out. Depends."
He frowned a little, looking up at her. "Circumstances. You could have all the orange juice you wanted then."
"Yeah." Domino set her spoon in the bowl and pushed it away. "Look, we should probably talk about that. What we're going to do, and all. If I am--"
"Dom..." He reached across the table and took her hand. "Your choice. My mistake, your choice."
She pulled her hand away. "It was *our* mistake, Nate. And I'd like to think we can act like reasonable adults here, instead of stupid kids." She bit her lip, then sighed. "Look, if this were anyone but you, this wouldn't be hard. But damnit, Nate, present circumstances aside, this isn't as big a potential disaster as it would have been two years ago." She muttered something under her breath and rested her head on the table. "This sucks."
"Hey." He got up and walked over to her side of the table. "With any luck, you won't have to *make* a choice."
"With luck," She lifted her head and smiled thinly. "Yeah."
The days had piled together in a horrible wreck, broken pieces piled high. It felt as if there wasn't room to breathe. Time stretched and accelerated at irregular intervals, making Domino feel as if her life there in the safehouse with Nathan was one extended hallucination. Nathan faded in and out of the periphery of her day, sometimes there, seemingly sane as he'd been in the old days, at other times far away, though his body remained. Everything seemed to be falling apart as their lives ground to a halt.
Dom sighed. She lay on the floor, the cold seeping through the thin cotton of the sundress she'd bought back in town, frigid on her arms and shoulders, the backs of her legs. The industrial lights burned into her eyes like counterfeit suns.
She turned her head to the side, enough to see the lower half of Nathan's legs. "Do you remember what dying feels like?"
He kneeled down next to her, and brushed a few stray strands of hair out of her face. "Not really. I suppose I haven't ever--not like you mean it."
She sat up, drawing her knees to her chest and giving him a haunted look. "The woman Sam met in Skopje said you died."
Nathan frowned a little. "I don't really remember that. I don't think that's what really happened. But you did."
"Mm." She nodded slightly. "It was only a few hours, admittedly, but I was dead." She hunched her shoulders. "I wish I could forget it, Nathan, but I can't. And it seems such a stupid thing to be stuck on, really. But I keep--I don't know. I feel like the inside of my head has been scrambled sometimes, like I can't *think* anymore."
"You could have said something."
"What? Was I supposed to say 'Sorry, Nate, but I had this alien hitching a ride for awhile, and sure, it brought me back from the dead but no one--myself included--is quite sure if I'm all there anymore'? You needed me."
"Something. You needed someone, too."
"It doesn't matter, Nathan."
She shook her head. "What difference does it make? We both have things that can make us scream in our sleep. Why does it matter *what* they are?"
"Because I can't fix them if I don't know."
"You can't *fix* it at all, Nathan. What we had is dead and gone. There's only this, now, and we have to live with that." She wrapped her arms around herself. "It would have been better if you'd died."
"Probably," he admitted. "I don't know how this will end."
He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and hooked his chin over her shoulder. "You never gave up on me, Dom. Don't do it now."
She dropped her head to her chest, and stared at the floor. "I don't want to, Nathan. Especially now--I want everything to work out. I just don't think it *can.*"
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because we're free, now, Dom."
"We're hiding, Nate. That's not free."
"We will be, eventually." He smiled slightly, and pulled her closer. "What are you going to do with the rest of your life, Dom?"
"I don't know. It's... I could start over. That's the one thing that damned space lizard gave me. I could start over and try 'normal' for a change. Except I know I couldn't do it, and that's the worst thing of all. The universe decided to stop fucking me over, but I'm too messed up to take advantage of it. I suppose you had something in mind?"
"Only if you want me around."
The dark of their bedroom was absolute. There was not even the glow of a clock to pierce the heavy black blanket that enfolded them. Had he wanted to, he could have seen every last detail in the room, he knew. The blank walls and ceiling, Domino curled up against him like something impossibly fragile. He preferred the dark, however. There was something comforting in the void. It was nearly as silent as it was dark, with only the constant hum of the generator and the soft sound of their twinned breathing. If he listened hard enough, he thought, he might have been able to hear Dom's heartbeat. In the silent moments like this, he could almost forget that they were hiding here. It still seemed so natural after so long--to be with her, to hold her.
He marveled at how completely they'd become entangled over the years, to the point where separation, no matter how hard they tried, seemed to be a temporary thing. They always came together again like planets in orbit. They had no sun to revolve around so they orbited each other, eclipsing, moving apart, nearing again, inching closer it seemed, to inevitable collision. Strange to think that after so many years, so many struggles against insane odds, that in the end they just might end up annihilating each other.
She murmured disquietly in her sleep, and he reached out, rubbing a hand gently along her back while he tried to quiet the dreams--nightmares that pricked and cut at him with their violence, tried to drown him with their malevolence. It hurt at some primal level that he hadn't really felt how deep the damage done to her ran, and that she hadn't asked for his help. She'd never be able to fight it forever on her own.
He spent the rest of the night guarding her sleep as best he could, trying to gain her a measure of rest he saw now had been lacking for so long. He held on to her until long after his internal clock told him the sun had risen above them and she finally moved away, nestling into her pillow with a murmured sigh.
The bedroom was empty when Domino awoke, as it had been most mornings since they'd come to the safehouse. She stretched, and padded off to the bathroom for a shower before heading out to the small kitchen area. Nathan wasn't there either, which meant that he'd gone topside already. She fixed herself a small breakfast, and loitered over a cup of coffee before finally heading up the stairs that lead to the building above.
Nathan was sitting cross-legged on the ground, his back to the door. She leaned back against the cinderblock and lit one of the cigarettes she'd liberated from her luggage before coming up. The white smoke spiraled up into the washed out sky. Nathan stood and brushed his hands on his jeans, turning to face her.
"I wish you wouldn't."
She snorted. "Come off it. Out here, I'm not hurting anyone but myself."
She arched an eyebrow. "You know something I don't?"
He shook his head. "No."
"Fine." She tossed the cigarette down in annoyance and scrubbed it out in the dirt. "Christ. You're a real pain in the ass, you know that, Nate?"
"It's a bad habit, anyway."
She sighed. "What were you doing?"
"Everything." He leaned next to her. "It's like an orchestral piece. There are... layers to it. Depth. If I ignore the individual voices, concentrate on hearing the whole thing, not just parts..."
"Is that such a good idea?"
"It is if I can master it. Listen to *all* of it, reduce it down to a hum in the back of my head. It's just like the link, Dom. The way you're always there, but I only listen in when I want to. The scale is larger, but it's the same thing. My shields..." He paused, looking her in the eye. "They're failing. But I don't *need* them. I can tune it out. We've been doing it wrong all along. The way I was trained. I see things I couldn't before, Dom. I understand things..."
"You're crazy," she said flatly.
"Maybe a little." He reached out, turning her towards him. "Dom..." Her eyes were brittle, and it hurt him. He wanted to kiss her but didn't think she'd allow it. He ran his palm along her cheek instead, tangling his fingers into the thick waves of her hair. "What did they do to you?"
"Me? Nothing, Nathan. I'm nothing special, never have been. Spend more time worrying about what was done to you. That's more important."
"No, it was the way things had to be. That I understand, at least."
"I haven't forgiven them for what they're trying to do now, no." He ran a hand along her back. "It hurts, doesn't it? What they did to your head. Aentaros, and the other one." She didn't make a sound, but her acknowledgment was implicit in the way her body went slack, all tension gone in an instant. "I can make them quieter," he murmured. "The memories. I won't try to erase them--I don't want to hurt you--but I can make them quieter." The drop of her defenses on the other end of the psilink was the only consent he needed. He sunk himself gently into her thoughts, the touch more intimate than they'd shared in ages, far more so than the hasty joining back at the hotel.
Distantly, he felt her body tense against his, then relax, though the feeling was muted and disjointed. He smoothed over the ugly rends caused by the Undying and the other one she thought of as 'Junior.' Morbid, that she should have named the thing. He brushed lightly over the faint trace of suggestion he recognized as Xavier's, unsurprised by it, then stumbled, catching another--more recent and tantalizingly familiar. It made him itch with elusive recognition, until he stopped, and remembered where she'd been.
"Hmm?" Dom moved against him slightly, almost drowsily. "Nathan?"
"I know," she murmured. "She was only trying to... help, I'm sure."
"But she *didn't* help," he replied. "She could have, and--"
"Not me, Nathan," she sighed. "She was trying to help you."
"I don't *need* her help. She wouldn't agree with what I'm doing, with what *I* want, Dom. We're better off now."
She took a breath, and held it for a long moment. She wanted to believe him so badly. He'd admitted, after all, that things weren't working the way he'd hoped. But beneath his calm surety, she sensed real fear in him, hidden in a place too deep for him to acknowledge.
She knew how he felt. She knew what losing your mind could feel like. She'd lived for months on end with that terror as she'd tried to flee Marcus Tsung's relentless pursuit, and before--in the dark when the bloody memories of the creature that called itself Undying oozed through her dreams.
She reached for his hand. "Let's go back downstairs. I'm going to bake out here."
Domino was sleeping soundly, for the first time in a long time, he was fairly certain. He wanted to stay there beside her, but he could feel the weakness clawing at him from the inside, and knew he needed to act if he wanted any chance at saving himself. He had to--he was too afraid of what would happen if he gave in to the madness that wanted to swallow him up with every breath he took. He would never let Dom know just how close to that edge he stood, though he knew that at some level, she sensed it. His state of mind was not helping hers, and he would have ripped the link in two again for her sake, if he thought it would help. It wouldn't. He needed to pull himself together.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stared down at the floor for a long moment before finally standing to pull on his jeans, and make his way silently out of the room. He climbed the stairs and exited the building above, wandering across the clearing and out into the untouched land beyond. The air was cooling now, and he walked for what seemed like miles--far enough that Domino would not follow, though he gently shut his end of the link just to be certain. He needed the solitude, more than anything now. Finally, he picked a spot, and sat down in the long grass.
He could feel himself receding. He released a held breath, and felt himself flowing outward into the abyss that wanted to swallow him up. Insidious, how it could come so silently, yet pull with such hunger. Easy to see now why so many went mad. In the vast wash of consciousness, there were pinpricks of light, familiar to him in the darkness. He ached to reach out and touch them, to scream how lonely this void was.
He was surrounded on all sides by minds: bitter, hostile, sad, or just indifferent. Happiness seemed to drift as a calm undercurrent he could not quite reach. He wanted to come back again, ground himself in the world, but he thought that if he did, he might never cure this weakness in himself, and lose his mind. He was peripherally aware he might have already. He knew now why Rachel had been afraid. There was no room in the world for a madman with the power to knock planets from their orbits and step through time. He had become his own enemy, a nightmare to the waking world, silent and still coalescing. He doubted he could shut himself down if he wanted to. His powers had refused to let him die on the garish carpet of a Macedonian hotel, he doubted they would allow a mental suicide. He didn't want to, anyway. There was still a violet light tethered to him, like a planet on as crazed an orbit as his own, though still holding the promise of better things. Of peace after and ever changing, never-ending war. Between the space of heartbeats, a thousand thoughts pulsed and crowded. He could not shut them out anymore, and he could not shove them away--that silence would come at a horrifying price. He drew another breath, and let himself go.
The world rocked shut around him, and he fell backward with the long grass surrounding him and the stars above. Stars nearly the same as the skies he saw in his time-lost past. The voices were the angry buzzing of bees now, reduced from the roar of oceans, someday to be merely a low hum, if he could last that long. The world turned beneath him, and fate stalked the heavy shadows.
Darkness engulfed her dreams, images flashing out of the abyss, sharp and unexpected as the shards of a mirror, reflecting memories as they cut; hers, and the oily conjurings of the demons who'd swallowed her life. Suddenly, silently, that remembered flash of pain consumed her whole and plunged her into nothingness. She awoke violently in the pitch-black room, its stark walls and ceiling a tomb encasing her, tangled sheets a shroud.
There wasn't a trace of Nathan. Not around the safe house, and not in her mind.
She sat above ground during the day, sheltered in the rough shell of a building, and at night, dreams haunted her sleep in the crypt-like bedroom below. After three days he walked out of the wilderness, shirtless, like a sunburnt god. The sun had glinted brightly off the few remaining patches of T-O even before she could see him clearly on the horizon.
As he approached, she was struck by the sheer power evident in him, though she'd realized long before that he had been restored as she had, and that the death of the virus had given him a physical well-being he hadn't had in years.
"Where did you go?"
He stood in the doorway, blocking out the sun. A smile crossed his face. "Everywhere."
He was gone. The look on his face screamed it louder than a thousand other actions ever could have. He was in control but some part that made him *Nathan* had vanished. Cable--soldier, outdated martyr--was watching her now, but Nathan Dayspring had died somewhere in the Australian wilderness. In the end, there was a kind of symmetry there. She hadn't been herself in years.
She slinked upright, graceful, assured, and walked to him, taking his hand. "I've been waiting for you."
"Shhh." She pressed a finger to his lips. "It's okay." In the faint light from the half open door, her eyes were bright. "I just--need this." She removed her finger and leaned in to kiss him. He could feel the sorrow in it, and realized how much she'd been suffering here. How much she feared the end for them was approaching. His arms slid around her, cradling her gently as he kissed her lips and face, drawing her down with him until she lay beneath him, dark hair pooled around her on the pillow. There was an ache in his chest that felt as if it might just kill him. "Dom..." He murmured again, past the paralyzing sense of helplessness that filled him. He reached down and caressed the side of her face lightly, and she turned her head, pressing her cheek against his palm.
She smiled sadly. "Nothing matters. Just... be with me."
He slept beside her afterward, the sleep of the dead. Her fingers traced along his shoulder lightly, leaving ephemeral trails on his skin. The burn would cool to bronze by morning, she knew. His hair was shockingly white against his forehead.
She closed the door and lay back down in the dark, Nathan's mind a deep throb across the link, almost a color to her closed eyes. The weight of inevitability seemed to press her into the mattress. A part of her was trying to bargain with a god she'd never believed in, except when she needed someone to hate.
It was too soon. They needed more time, *she* needed more time before he was gone, truly gone. He couldn't leave her alone here. She rolled, and lay against his side, the heat of his skin something concrete. She couldn't tell if she was losing her mind here, or finding it, but she could feel time sweeping like floodwaters around them, and rising. There wasn't much time left.
He was pulled awake suddenly, a moment of alarm passing quickly as he realized it was Dom, sitting upright in the bed next to him, breathing hard. He reached out and laid a hand on her arm, which was trembling slightly. She pulled herself away and got up, walking in a controlled but careful way out of the bedroom.
His stomach twisted in a knot.
Over the sounds of Dom--sick in the bathroom--he sent the whisper off into the dark. 'Here I am.'
Things had come undone.
"It was just a nightmare," she said when she returned, sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the blank wall.
"It was." She was cold all over.
"I know," he replied, and pulled her against his shoulder.
"It's too soon for--"
"I believe you," he murmured, and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
There was sunlight pouring over the estate in Salem Center, giving the day a certain amount of cheer despite the cold. Water was dripping steadily from the boathouse eves as Jean stood at the kitchen sink, washing the dishes left over from lunch. She dried a plate with care, eyes half on the sun-drenched winter scenery. As she turned to set the plate on the counter, a familiar voice rippled out to her from the astral plane. She froze, and the plate shattered, all but forgotten, at her feet.
"Jean?" Scott's concerned face appeared in the doorway, and he strode quickly to his wife's side as he saw the stricken look on her face. "Jean? What's wrong?"
"Scott--I... I know where he is."
"Wh--Nathan? You found him?"
"He found me," she replied quietly. "Scott, I know where he is. He *wants* us to--"
#Jean?# Rachel's concerned mental voice interrupted her, and she realized she hadn't been the only one to receive the summons.
#I know, Rachel. I heard him.#
"He found Rachel as well. Scott, we need to go *now.* I don't know how long he's going to wait for us. I don't know how long we have, before..."
She shook her head. "I just have a very bad feeling about this, Scott. And that frightens me."
Blanket wrapped around her, Dom sat against the cinderblock wall, the Australian sky stretched high and vast above her, stars winking like a thousand scattered diamonds. It was early morning, the sun only the barest whisper of light on the horizon, and she felt sick—a feeling of dread coiled tightly in the pit of her stomach. She sat that way for an hour, head tipped back to watch the skies as the land woke around her before Nathan emerged, sitting beside her wordlessly, arms draped over his knees.
"They're coming, aren't they?"
He nodded slightly.
"What are you going to do?"
"Whatever I have to."
That was the feeling that wouldn't leave her—a sense of the inevitable, of being cornered with nowhere to go. The realization that there was one future before them now, and not even she could do anything to alter the outcome. She got up, and walked inside, descending below ground and retrieving her gun. Tucking it securely into her waistband, she went back outside, took her place beside Nathan again, and settled in to wait. "How did they find us?"
"I let them."
"You were right, Dom. We couldn't hide from them forever. At least this way, it's on *our* terms." The smile he gave her was frightening.
They watched the Blackbird circle twice in the brightening sky, the roar of the engines growing louder as it landed several meters off from the small building. Nathan was on his feet, watching as it settled in the grass with an expression that was frighteningly blank. The feeling that had lain like a stone in her stomach all morning burst wide, and spread throughout her, making her limbs sluggish and slow to respond. She touched the grip of her gun for reassurance, and followed him, hanging a few feet behind.
Slowly, four figures emerged from the plane. Jean, Scott, Rachel, and Sam. She was unsurprised. Nathan, after all, had called them here. He wouldn't have called anyone else.
"Nathan..." Cyclops took several steps forward, approaching cautiously, trying to gauge the situation. Domino watched it all like a slow-motion horror film. She could feel it coming-- "We want to--"
Malice bloomed behind her eyes, cold and alien--his. The world seemed to stop then, not slow, but freeze dead in its tracks, impending disaster something she could taste. Nathan's anger bubbled darkly through her brain, they were caught, feedback looping to infinity. She watched the scene before her as through water, playing out with sluggish inevitability. Things stuttered, started, and she regained a sense of self, fighting against gravity itself to move.
One, two, from the gun she only knew she held as the recoil shuddered up her arms. The shots slammed into his unguarded left side from behind, tearing muscle, breaking bone. The world tilted dangerously around her then, the ground suddenly beneath her bare knees as she watched detachedly Jean kneeling at Nathan's side--an almost biblical snapshot--the gun's last report reverberating up to the china-blue sky.