Disclaimer: not mine. Rating: PG. Notes: This is set after the second Domino LS, but not in current X-Canon. It's pretty much in the same universe as 'Trying to be 5,000 Years Younger' and 'Little Victories'. Totally swiping the title from a book. And being vaguely mocking.

Dedication: Eh. This one's probably for Timey and Shai and Drea. Just 'cause.

After Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by ALC Punk!

The night was clear and calm, almost cold. But then, it was mid-October, and even Westchester had to get cold sometime. It was late enough that one almost suspected the sun to rise shortly. The stars danced briskly above the world, falling into and out of patterns long ordained by them in times long ago.

She moved slowly, her breath fogging as she wandered around the darkened mansion. It might have been late, but she was bored, not tired. She should be tired, she was certain of it.

But then she never had been one to follow orders, or even heed the needs of her body unless fate demanded it.

The crisp air felt good after hours and hours spent inside a bus. Of course, since the bus had left her at the gates long ago, one could wonder why it had taken her so long to approach the mansion. Even she wasn't entirely sure why she was here. Why she had come back to this place that had no hold on her.

Domino didn't belong to the X-Men, and they certainly didn't belong to her. But there was a strange sort of symmetry, coming back here at this time.

As if fate were happily muddying the waters with blood in swathes of crystalline red.

Or perhaps it was simply that she was tired, and couldn't sleep.

Halfway around the mansion, she stopped, eyeing the shrubs and plants clustered at the base. They seemed neglected, as if months had gone by since they had last been properly tended. It must be hard to keep gardeners when the place blew up every other week.

Deciding, suddenly, that she didn't want to go in, Domino let her napsack drop to the ground and stepped up to the plants. There were weeds choking the hardy foliage, and she began loosening then pulling them out.

It felt good, in a way, to do something that wasn't destruction. Mindless as well. She merely had to pull and prod, throwing the refuse over her shoulder.

A pile began to grow as she moved her way down the row in the semi-darkness.

She had reached the corner of the house when a footstep nearby caused her to tense. She listened as the person approached, and decided they were wearing slippers. Not a threat, most likely.

Pausing to inspect her handiwork, she waited for the inevitable arrival. Who would it be? Not Chuckles, he would have hovered out, his chair making a mockery of the beautiful silence of the night. As far as she knew, Nathan wasn't here. And most of the X-Men would not have noticed her arrival. Bishop, maybe, but the steps weren't heavy enough. Hank never left his lab. In the end, there was simply only one possibility.

"Domino?" Jean Grey's voice sounded slightly concerned, although it should have sounded tired, and didn't. As if she had actually been awake when she'd noticed this new intruder.

Giving herself a shot of tequila (to be drunk later), Domino sighed, "Evening, Jean."

"What are you doing?"

Finally turning, Domino shrugged, "Gardening." What did it look like, after all?

"Ah." Jean nodded, as if this answered some strange imponderable question. "Would you like some help?"

"Nah." Stooping, Domino scooped up a handful of soil then let it fall through her fingers, admiring the texture and feel of it as it rained down into the grass. "I think I've got it covered."

"Okay." Apparently satisfied, Jean turned to go, then paused. "Would you like some coffee when you're done?"

"Sounds nice."

"I'll start it then head back to the boathouse."

Surprised, but feeling oddly touched, Domino smiled, "It's not Nate's coffee, is it?"

"No." Jean chuckled, "And, Domino?"

"Yeah?" What did Grey want now, the names of her firstborn children, a cozy chat? Or simply to pry.

"I like the haircut. And it's nice to have you back." The words were spoken with a soft sincerity, and Domino watched the red-haired woman disappear towards the kitchen door with the strangest feeling.

She scowled. Being around telepaths could become damned annoying. Perhaps she'd go find out when the next bus left from Salem Center.

But there was still weeding to do. And moonlight to do it in.

--

Scott Summers turned over, and found that the side of the bed which normally contained his wife was empty. It wasn't completely unusual that she wouldn't be there. Until recently, he hadn't really been there. Dealing with the memory of Apocalypse taking over his mind, body and soul had changed him. Made him forget that there was more to life than feeling like he was the last man on earth. Jean helped him remember. He reached for the nightstand and picked up his ruby-red quartz glasses. Placing them on his nose, he opened his eyes and eyed the still-warm spot.

His wife was definitely not there. And, unless he missed his guess, she wasn't in the rest of the boathouse, either.

There was no sense of her, no noise that indicated she'd gone to use the bathroom or make herself a cup of hot cocoa. Tentatively, he reached out, touching the link she had long ago made for them. It might have become truncated over time, and he wasn't sure he wanted it anymore, but it was slowly coming back to them. Like an old pair of sweats, they fit each other comfortably. Although the occasional moments when it felt more like a new pair of combat boots that were too short were sometimes jarring. He wondered if this would be one of those times. ::Jean?::

Silence a moment, then a soft chuckle echoed in his head, ::Yes?::

"Where are you?" he asked aloud, just to hear the sound of his own voice in the empty room. She would 'hear' him just as easily if he thought it.

::Outside.:: She replied calmly, her voice still amused.

Scott considered this, then eyed the clock. It told him it was barely past four in the morning. "Why?"

::I'm gardening.:: There was definite laughter in her voice again.

Feeling slightly worried, Scott dragged himself out of bed and pulled on the faded blue robe Jean had given him for their first wedding anniversary. Technically, it had only been the first week. But they'd spent 12 years in the future as man and wife, she figured that they owed each other a few extra presents. Besides, it was cute.

He wondered if Apocalypse would have understood the fundamental cuteness that underlay his world. Perhaps not. He had seemed to be more concerned with death and destruction.

::You don't have to come out, dear, I'm perfectly fine.::

Scott raised an eyebrow, but continued, searching out his slippers. "I don't?"

::No, dear. I'm fine. Really.::

He shook his head, "I'm still coming out."

::As you will, dear. Bring me out some tea?::

A chuckle escaped him at her plaintive tone. "With honey and lemon?"

::Yes. Thank you, darling.::

Scott busied himself in the kitchen making tea. Ever since the advent of the microwave, people at the mansion had been making it the quick and dirty way. He preferred using a kettle and steeping the leaves in a tea pot. Ten minutes later, he stepped out the door of the boathouse, two mugs of honey-sweetened tea in his hands. For a moment, he eyed the sky, wondering if the light in the distance were merely his imagination or if dawn truly was approaching.

"Yes." Jean said, appearing from the side of the boathouse. Her hands were dirty, so were her slippers. She made a futile gesture to wipe them off on her dark green robe, then sighed. "I should have come in, I suppose. But it's so much nicer out here."

"Nicer? It's cold, Jean."

"So it is." She shot him an impish look. "I hadn't noticed." She took the mug he was holding out and blew on it.

He chuckled and sat down on the porch, careful not to sit on the nail head that stuck up ever so slightly. Jean sat next to him with a contented sigh, her eyes going distant as she stared into the east. "Penny for your thoughts?"

"That's a ridiculous saying, you know."

"Mmm." He nodded and slid an arm around her shoulders, happy when she snuggled into his side. It still amazed him that being with her like this could make him so happy and content. They'd been together for so long, it might have been like an old pair of shoes.

Jean sputtered, "Shoes?!" She pulled away and looked up at him, "I'll thank you not to compare me to an old pair of shoes, MR. Summers."

"Mmm. Yes, ma'am." He smirked, eyeing her, "But then, you shouldn't be so casually reading my thoughts."

She narrowed her eyes, mock-glaring, "And you do such a wonderful job not shouting your complacency to the skies every time I'm near you, then."

"Ah, Mrs. Summers, you do make a man's heart grow fonder," He replied and took a sip of his tea.

An elbow jabbed him in the side, and he yelped as the rest of the mug upended itself all over his lap. "Jean!"

"Serves you right," She said with a grin.

He stared down at himself, then chuckled, "What were you doing out here, anyway?"

"Gardening." As if they hadn't been fighting, she leaned against him, one hand straying up to play in his hair.

"What gave you that idea?" He tilted his head to the side and nuzzled at her neck.

"Domino's here."

He paused, lips touching the pulse points of her throat. "And that makes you want to garden?"

"Yes."

Scott laughed, "I'm married to a lunatic."

"A lunatic who's going to make you sleep on the couch if you don't stop that line of reasoning this instant."

"Hrm." He pulled back and eyed her. "Yes, I can see that." He clambered to his feet and held out a hand, "It's too early to be awake. Shall we go back to bed, Mrs. Summers?"

She accepted the hand and stood gracefully, "Only if we can take a shower first, Mr. Summers."

"Your wish is my command."

"I certainly hope so."

They weren't perfect, Scott decided. They would never be perfect. But perhaps that was a good thing.

--

The sun was coming up when Domino finished weeding the herb garden someone had planted behind the mansion. The kitchen door was nearby, and she suspected Jean of being its owner. But when you're having crises every other day, you tend to neglect things. With a sigh, she made her way up to the door and stepped in.

For the moment, there was no one around though she rather thought Storm and Rogue would be down soon. Both of them were odd morning people, and even enjoyed watching the sun rise. They had once convinced Nathan to wake her up and drag her to the mansion roof to witness this 'glorious' event. She hadn't spoken to either of them for a week. Nathan, she had ignored for about two days until he was all cute one evening in the Danger Room (while she was kicking his ass) and gave her chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Domino was surprised to realize how much of the X-Men's habits she'd noticed while staying at the mansion last time. Granted, X-Force was pretty hands-off, but she'd felt so isolated from the vaunted X-People. She'd mocked them, considering them sillier than any of X-Force. It happens, when you're a career mercenary, and you see people fighting for a cause and being really bad at it.

Not that she wanted them to consider her their best friend. That sort of sappy sentimentality would have driven her to the south pole quickly.

But some of them had respected her. Even if they weren't entirely certain what to make of her.

She chuckled as she poured a mug of the coffee Jean had started. Bobby had played exactly one prank on her. He'd learned his lesson the next week.

It had been rather amusing, all told.

The coffee tasted good, the heat slipping down her throat and warming her from the inside out. It had been kind of Jean to make it. She sighed, then, disturbed by the sense that she was about to become involved with something that might be more complicated than the last twenty years with Nathan had been.

Between Stryfe, the kids, Six Pack, getting blown up in the Yucatan, getting chained to a wall for a year, and the recent discoveries about her past, Domino was finding that she needed something solid. Perhaps to break the monotony of a life spent without ties.

Footsteps sounded in the hall, and she refilled her mug before turning to see who had gotten up at the crack of dawn. Her running bet was Storm or Rogue.

She lost it when Gambit shuffled in and then stopped, blinking at her. "Mornin'," he mumbled, eyeing the pot of coffee next to her.

Apparently, it was early enough in the morning that Remy LeBeau had no energy to flirt. Domino was surprised. She'd always thought he could flirt, even while being held underwater with a ball gag in his mouth after a month of starvation and a week of sleeplessness.

Raising an eyebrow, she waited for him to finish pouring his coffee. "Late poker game?"

"Early," he said, voice still low and imprecise.

"Ah. You lost?"

He eyed her with bloodshot eyes and a slightly superior gaze. "Never, Lady Luck. You smiled on me all night, M'belle."

"Only in your dreams, LeBeau. Unless there's something you're not telling me." She arched an eyebrow. "Is Bobby keeping you warm at night?"

A chuckle escaped him and then he absently stirred some sugar into his coffee.

Domino sighed, "Heathen."

He wrinkled his nose at her, "It be strong coffee, chere. Besides, sugar? Good for energy in the morning."

"I seem to recall Jubilee making the same comment. Although she said it was useful all the time," a voice said from the doorway.

They both watched Storm walk into the room. Her back was stiff, her posture completely perfect. She glided, as if there was a platform underneath moving her forwards.

"Mornin', Stormie." Remy tipped his mug to her.

A snort came from her, "I believe, Remy, that we have discussed not calling me that."

"Oh, c'mon, Storm," Domino said, "It's a cute name. Besides, doesn't it make it easier to remove the concrete pole from your ass when you've got a cute nickname?"

The first salvo was fired. Even Domino was surprised at how cantankerous she sounded. Of course, the X-Men as a whole could be so touchy in the morning -- though, really, nothing compared to Nathan when he hadn't had coffee (especially when there was no promise of any. Ever). Storm had frozen in the middle of the kitchen, her expression going from vaguely polite to completely cold. A sigh came from her, and Domino felt a slight breeze slip through the room.

"I had hoped, Domino, that you would have learned some measure of grace while you were gone from the mansion."

"And that I would stay away forever, too." With a shrug, Dom set her mug down on the counter. "I'm honestly not sure why I'm back, but, hey, if you're going to continually react like a stone-cold bitch, I'm gonna call you on it."

Something that might have been a faint smile touched Ororo Munroe's lips, and then she chuckled softly. "I had nearly missed you, child." The sudden sparkle in her eyes would have disturbed people with less fortitude. Gambit eyed the two of them, then shook his head.

With a groan, Domino poured herself more coffee. "There isn't any Irish cream around, is there? Brandy? I don't think my brain can take undoctored coffee and cheerfulness this early in the morning."

"No, dear, I'm sure it can't." Ororo replied sweetly before fixing herself a bowl of muesli.

"You two," Remy began.

"Us two?" Interrupted Domino, shooting him a slight glare. "I'll thank you not to link us as though we were lovers."

Storm mock-shuddered. "Perish the thought." She eyed Domino with speculation in her eyes, "Not that you're unattractive."

"Neither are you."

Remy threw up his hands, "Women."

"Can't live with us, can't throw us down the river?" Domino suggested.

"Heh." He poured himself another cup of coffee. Then paused, "You back to stay, Lady Luck?"

"Not if you keep calling me that."

"I would hope, Domino, that you would understand the need for certainty in your permanence." Storm said.

"Hey, I'm as permanent as the bullets shot at me."

Remy made a sound, "I believe I retire from the battlefield, now."

The two women watched him leave the kitchen. Storm chuckled, "I shall return to my meditations."

"You do that."

Domino stood in the kitchen of the X-Mansion, and considered the course her life was taking again. A slight smirk touched her lips. At least it looked like it might be interesting.

-f-