Things That Are

That Which Is
(A Joshua Epilogue)
by A.j.


In the end, he'd really overreacted. Not that he'd ever admit it. Well, yes he would. To some people. These days.

There were times when it was hard to believe just how much time he'd spent alive. As the years went by, those times hit harder and faster. Time was a merciless bitch and infallibly chose your weakest moment to broadcast a reminder.

Maddy had looked beautiful. There was no doubt about that. When she'd opened the door in that silver gown... For the slightest moment, he had seen his partner where their daughter stood. Thirty years younger and twice as reckless, he'd seen her. Dark hair, fair skin, and eyes that could touch a man's soul. 'Thank the Bright Lady they did.'

The anomaly hadn't lasted long. A blink and the eyes he was staring down into were no longer a violent purple. Instead, they were his own stormy blue. They'd been that way from the day of Maddy's birth. At the beginning he'd hoped they'd change to match her mother's. It had only been around Maddy's fifth birthday that he'd let that particular wish go.

The girl had been something of a surprise her entire life. He should have realized that her completely unexpected birth only heralded the *beginning* of a completely fascinating, always moving, NEVER boring life. Dom, and he, had been floored to find out she was carrying. Nate was fairly sure the deed had been done during a particularly pleasant truck ride from some point in the middle of Whothefuckcares to an outerlying point in the same region.

They had been on some unimportant, if bloody, mission to retrieve a certain 'package' for a certain 'person' in the middle of nowhere. The ride had been long and the truck's suspension had been shot since 1970. Cold, tired, and extremely bored, Dom had him under a tarp and had her wicked way with him. Not that it had mattered who'd initiated the tryst three months later.

Nate had the scars to prove it.

He still didn't know what had brought Domino back into his life after such a long absence. They'd had a few close encounters in the years between her original break with X-Force and their ultimate reunion, but nothing *too* close.

He'd been trying to find her for months when, out of nowhere, she'd waltzed into his safe house, shut his dropped jaw with her index finger, and started an argument with Blaquesmith. The situation had been too surreal to do anything but accept and try and catch the furniture as it flew by.

Looking back now, he knew she'd done exactly what needed doing. In the course of their relationship, tangled as it was, that had pretty much always been the way. Dom had always been the one who glowered, kicked him in the teeth, and finished the loose ends. He hadn't realized how much he'd relied on her until she'd left. And then... well, then all hell had broken loose.

It still hurt to think about his father. Not many people could say they killed their parent. And of that group, even fewer could boast they'd done it twice. True, the first time he hadn't killed Scott's body... just his soul. The second time... Some would argue that a body without a soul isn't really alive. That made no difference to Nathan.

He hadn't been well when she'd come back. Everyone had seen it. Even Wolverine had tried to be comforting. That had been an interesting evening, even if it WAS pretty blurry. But when she came back... Something inside him shifted. Settled.

It had probably been after she'd beaten his ass into the floor. Prior to that, he'd been sulking and she'd been shouting about how stupid it was to wallow when he had a hell of a lot of living to do. The first punch had come as something of a shock. Her punches usually were. But, somewhere between one of the many roundhouse kicks Dom's mantra of 'Your father would be backing me up now for all this shit' had sunk in. He'd been wallowing and his father would have called him on it months before. The others had probably been trying but none had quite the same brand of argument Dom had.

Of course it hadn't hurt that after the last punch she'd sat on his lap and held him while he cried.

Nate had needed something to live for. His world had, yet again, been smashed into little pieces by the whims of fate. That time though, he guessed they'd decided a little too much had been taken. In return for his father's life, he'd been given three blessings. The renewal of a love he'd thought lost and two amazing children. More than he'd hoped for a price he still wasn't sure he could bear.

But things had turned out... okay. After eighteen years, he could say that.

Domino's pregnancy with Maddy... Oh, had that been a trip. He described it, usually when she was in another country, as eight months of unadulterated "YOUGOTMETHISWAYIWILLMAKEYOURLIFEHELL."

She hadn't succeeded. Oh, she'd tried. She'd done everything in her power to make him pay for putting her into a position of responsibility. None of it had mattered though. He'd known that she didn't really mean most of it. Yeah, she was scared, but what future parent wasn't? Especially future parents with the last name 'Summers'. He'd known though. Known that she wanted the baby. That desire had been plainly illustrated during her first sonogram.

Sitting there, flat belly covered in cold goo, listening to the steady whir-whir of their child's heartbeat, Dom had cried. Well, as close to crying as she'd allow herself to get. He'd seen a few tears so it counted. He'd realized then a new chapter in their lives had started.

Six months, and a considerable amount of cursing, later he'd been a parent again. The labor hadn't been too hard on Dom. She'd cornered Hank, somewhere around month five, and sworn him, on penalty of Danger Room time, to find her the best anesthesiologist in the world. Taking a bullet was one thing, but pushing a watermelon out a keyhole? That was just insane.

Hank had been good on his word and Dr. Agnathea Ingram had been comfortably settled into her rooms for seven hours before Domino's first labor pains had struck. Domino swore the worst she'd felt during the whole ordeal was the initial needle prick.

She *had* been pretty loopy. He'd almost been tempted to let Drake keep the blackmail tape. Almost. Then again, it wasn't just a Dom-centric blackmail tape. There'd been some pretty incriminating Nate stuff on there too. He'd fried the entire camera, just to be sure.

That night, right there in front of God, the X-Men, and everyone, Nathan had stared into his baby's big, trusting, blue eyes and sworn on everything holy, he would do right by his daughter. Then he'd gone and done the unthinkable. He'd cried. In front of his mother, no less. Strangely, holding his little Madeline, it hadn't mattered.

Neither he or Dom had planned on Maddy. Hell, considering his health problems, her health problems and age, plus about a billion other reasons ranging from their jobs to the environment, they'd both assumed safety from that little issue. But when it had happened... They both just knew it was just another bump in the interesting road labeled 'LIFE'.

Said interesting little bump had quickly been followed by another, larger bump. Not more than two years after Maddy's birth, an X-Men raid on one of Sinister's new playrooms had turned up something amazing.

An hour after the tired Xcrew and filed in the hanger doors, Cecila Reyes had handed him his third child, Janna. She had been the only thing alive when the X-Men had finally busted through the titanium lab doors. Drake had told him later that when they'd burst in powers blazing, Janna had blinked, sneezed and giggled.

Of course he'd been unsure, at first, about raising a genetic recombinant child. Sinister was as predictable weather. Plus, add to that, the baby had been alive, alone, and nearly gift-wrapped for the X-Men to find. But, being the soft-hearted group they were, they'd packed the kid up and hurried her off to the closest geneticist.

How shocked Hank had been when the test had come up with both Dom's and his gene signatures.

How shocked HE'D been when Dom and picked the tyke up and popped a bottle in her mouth... Well, he *was* the first to admit that his partner could still surprise the hell out of him, even after thirty eight years.

But, well... Janna was another story. This was Maddy's night, no matter how much he disliked her date. Before him, a vision in silk and beading, she represented everything he had ever hoped for. Everything he'd believed beyond his grasp. 'But Gods, luck, and time have a really weird sense of humor, don't they?'

"You look beautiful, Maddy," he'd said. He'd meant it too. She was. Even if she'd dressed up for the nerd downstairs.

The annoyed glower she shot him confirmed the suspicion that she'd been 'listening in' while he'd been in the parlor.

"What?"

"Dad, that was completely uncalled for." Maddy's glower deepened and a tightly sheilded portion of Nate's mind noted that she really *did* look like her mother when she was annoyed. "Joshua's a wonderful person. You know I wouldn't be dating him if I didn't think so."

"I know sweetheart. It's just..."

"What? Just what? You don't trust my judgement?"

"Maddy, I do trust your judgement. But I'm your father and-"

Maddy crossed her arms over her chest and pinned him with the ultimate tool in the Summers arsenal. Until he'd had its full effect turned on him, he'd never understood its power. The puppy dog look. It was chilling how strong the thing was.

"Don't you try that, young lady!"

Her eyes only got bigger.

"Madeline!"

They started to mist up. If there was one thing worse than the puppy-dog look, it was the puppy-dog look with tears. There was only one thing he could do.

"Fine, Maddy. I'm sorry I scared your date."

Maddy's eyes instantly cleared up and a bright smile flashed across her face. "Thanks Daddy. I knew you'd see it my way." Impishly, she stood on her tip-toes and kissed him on the cheek. Nate detected the slightest hint of cinnamon as she pulled away. His baby really was beautiful. As she settled on her feet again, she smiled brightly. "Besides. I *can* take care of myself."

"I know, but I'm your father! It's my *job* to protect you."

Her foot connected with his shin before what he'd said had a chance to register in his brain.

In another lightning change of mood, one he SWORE she got from her mother, Maddy snarled out a rejoinder, "DAD! That does it. I have had ENOUGH of this!" Grabbing the small beaded purse resting on the table next to her door, the enraged brunette advanced. "Was it, or was it not YOU and MOM who me off to the wilds of Chile last fall on that stupid mission!?" Her right index finger speared his chest, making sure her points were driven home. "Was it not YOU who 'accidentally' dropped me out of a plane in the middle of Alberta? Did I or did I NOT spend my teen years training with the lot of PSYCHOS we call family!? Dad, we just rebuilt this flonquing house after a 'too enthusiastic' Easter with the extended relatives! I think I can take care of MYSELF at a *dance*! I'm probably safer *there* than I am *here*!"

His hands raised in a placating gesture, Nate tried to fend his daughter off. "Maddy, I know. It's just, I'm your father and I worry." Deciding turn about was fair play, he turned the puppy-eyes on her. Full force. After all, you really weren't supposed to beat on your decrepit old dad, right?

Unfortunately for him, the Look didn't work nearly as well on Maddy as it did on Dom. His child put her hands back on her hips and kept glowering.

"Don't even try it, Dad. I know you worry, but that is *no* excuse for intimidating Joshua. He's a NICE person. If he weren't I wouldn't be dating him, and you know it."

"I know, I know, Maddy. It's just... couldn't you have found someone less... well... geeky?"

The flabbergasted look on his daughter's face almost made up for the entire evening. Of course her immediate tumble into hysterical laughter erased any of the effect whatsoever. He'd had to wait nearly a minute for her to catch her breath and stop giggling enough to form a sentence.

"D-dad, I DON'T believe you-you just SAID that!"

"Well, it's true! You're a beautiful girl with loads of appeal! Lord knows you look just like your mother..." Although he'd meant it as a backhanded comment that last sentence served to stop the random giggling. Eyes wide, his daughter was staring at him with a mix of appreciation and happiness. It had the effect the Look had been aiming for earlier. Try as he might, he couldn't stop the melting in his chest.

"Daddy. Thank you. I don't know when you've ever said anything nicer to me." Maddy gave him a watery smile and hugged him tight, reinforcing the warm fuzzy feeling decending over his heart. "And I want you to know that Joshua is a handsome guy. Just not on the outside."

Nate sighed quietly into his daughter's hair and let go of the situation. 'What is, is and all that.'

But that had all happened a half hour ago, and a lot had happened since. Now, he was standing on the main stoop of his, newly rebuilt, home watching his oldest daughter duck into a beige Saturn. Next to him, his partner of over thirty five years was waving madly, nearly bouncing on the balls of her feet. While the movement was interestingly distracting, considering the peasant blouse she'd managed to stuff herself in earlier, Nathan found himself unable to turn completely away from Maddy.

The boy, Joshua, had helped her into the passenger seat and was hastily moving around to the driver's side. Nathan couldn't really blame him. He laid it on a bit thick. Maybe the negative broadcasting he'd subconsciously pushed on the lad had been a bit overboard, but Maddy was his baby. There were few privileges allowed a father and scaring the hell out of her prom date was one of the more enjoyable ones. Joshua's retreat gave him a full view of his daughter's profile. Eyes bright and smile broad, she looked the picture of anticipation and joy. She was happy, and Joshua made her that way.

It was enough for him. Barely.

Still, after twenty years of weilding a psimitar, when that door had opend, his palms had been itching like mad for a nice, big pulse rifle.

Almost not clearing the door, Joshua settled behind the wheel and turned the ignition switch. The engine fired, maybe a bit louder than it should have, and the car was in motion.

There were times when things changed too quickly for his liking. Not that it really mattered. In the grand scheme of things, that is.

A gentle poke to the hip indicated his partner's interest in their departing daughter had waned. Using considerable effort, Nathan turned away from the retreating tan Saturn and focused on the lady next to him. Smiling brightly, Domino slowly linked her arm around his waist and gave him a tight squeeze. 'Ironically, it feels good to be here. To be doing this. It feels right.' Nathan shook his head and leaned closer until his lips rested against Domino's ear.

"Go ahead and do it, Dom. You've been wanting to all night."

"Have not."

The psi-bond, glowing a tight deep violet, flared, disguising none of his partner's amusement. The constant repressed chuckle he'd felt building in her all night rippled over the bond and broke free. Strangely enough, instead of grating on his nerves, the sweet chuckle floated across the jagged edges, soothing as the notes disappeared into the late afternoon sky.

Ever so slowly, a smile grew across the hard planes of his face, leaving a relaxed, self-deprecating expression. Nuzzling her ear, he let out a responding chuckle as she tried to squirm away from him. "Domino, you are such a big liar. You've been trying not to laugh at me all night."

Giggling, she smacked his nose and stopped trying to move away. "Nate, I try not to laugh at you on a daily basis. What makes today so different?"

Nate looked back at the street just as Joshua turned onto Magnolia, a move that would take him towards the more expensive Wharf district. At least Maddy was going to get a good meal out of the night. As the last bit of tan fiberglass disappeared from view, the tall man quietly answered Domino's question.

"Because today I was being a total ass."

Domino's mouth twitched, as did the link. "Again, this is different from most days how?"

The solid tap on her black-clad flank produced the expected squeak. Chuckling, he stared down at the woman he'd loved, fought and laughed with for almost forty years. 'Not all of them were good years, but they outweighed the bad.' His lip quirked. 'Mostly.'

A sharp elbow reacquainted itself with his rib cage.

"Woman, I swear, that elbow of yours has worn a groove."

"Serves you right." Domino tenderly plucked a stray lock of hair away from his forehead. The intimacy of the gesture resonated through their link and the light-hearted feeling of the previous minutes slowly dissolved. "You knew she had to grow up sometime, Nate. And I'd say going to the prom with Josh ranks considerably higher than any of the ways we did."

At his responding grimace, Domino smoothed her hand down the side of his face to cup his chin, a smile playing at the corners of her lips. "You're gonna have to start the letting go process, Nate. She's not gonna be your eight year old moppet with big teeth and pigtails forever. Hell, when I was her age..." Domino's lips twisted. "I believe when I was her age I was seducing a certain MUCH older man by squeezing myself into uniforms tight enough to restrict the circulation of an anorexic."

"That was what I was worried about."

"Oh, I think all the pizza the kids stuffed down her and Janna pretty much eradicated that little foible. Besides, she's like your mother. Jean can out eat *you* and model agencies are still beating down her door."

"Dom, there are times when I could swear you were put on this earth just to confuse the hell out of me."

Beatific 'Mona Lisa' smile firmly in place, Domino gave her mate another happy pat on the chin. At least he was smiling and, from what she could tell from the link, he wasn't about ready to challenge his baby sister's blossoming telekinetic power in an attempt to drag his little girl back home.

#I don't really feel like explaining to Jean why I beat up on her baby girl trying to retrieve my own.# Sarcasm and resignation tingled and skipped themselves down the link in a purplish-gold stream.

Hasn't stopped you before, moron.

This drew a sad chuckle from the tall man. He knew he was being a bit silly, if that was believable. It wasn't like his daughter was wandering around, lost in the wilderness, with nothing but her wits to keep her alive. No, she was just going to dinner and a school dance with a sweet, if nerdish kid who was completely devoted to her.

In the end, that had been the main reason he'd relented. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, Joshua was a nice kid. That hadn't been the only reason. Maddy *had* grown up. He'd realized it when she opened the door tonight. Somewhere between the nappies, braids and tea parties, Madeline Kathleen Summers had become more than Nathan Summers and Domino's daughter. She'd become something new and amazing and entirely unique: herself.

A sharp tap upside the head interrupted Nate's quiet contemplation of the universe's psychotic sense of humor. He jerked and, faster than the human eye could see, snapped a hand out and caught the offending limb. Suavely, he redirected its path to intercept his lips. Turning the neatly manicured hand over, he grazed the tiny bit of skin just below the thumb webbing. Just as swiftly, he returned the hand to her side and broke into a broad smile.

#You're right, Dom. She grew up.#

It's about time you figured that out, Nate. An entirely too smug expression stretched across her already smiling face. You do realize she's heading off to college soon. We're officially... old...

A weary but good-natured sigh was his only response. "How did we end up as parents, again?"

"Nate, if you've forgotten that, you've taken one too many blows to the head. Insert tab A into slot B, wait for the sticky part? Ring any bells?"

"Oath, woman..."

Eyes serious, she rubbed his arm lightly. "I know what you meant, Nate." The raven-haired woman turned towards the street, facing in the direction of their child's departure. Those beautiful, violet irises grew distant, reflecting some hidden conflict. "I wonder, nearly every day, how we ended up so damn lucky."

A soft smile tugged at Nathan's mouth. His life had been a long, strange trip, peppered with more pain and suffering than any person should be forced to bear. But somehow, someway... Life made up for it. The time stream may be a vicious bitch, but every now and then, it sucker-punched you with exactly what you wanted. Even if you didn't know you *did* want it.

"I think it runs in the family."

Ever so gently, the man -the tired, broken, undeserving man- pulled his lover into a tight embrace. Emotions too rarely expressed in words surged down the link, marking, branding, and revering. Behind his own eyes, Nathan felt a stinging. He wasn't entirely sure if the sensation was his or his partner's. All truth told, it didn't matter in the least.

#Love you, Dom.#

Love you, Nate.

Slowly, the beautiful woman in his arms pulled away. Violet encountered blue, and the moment passed. Sensing the shift, Domino smiled crookedly and carefully tucked the again errant strand of silver bang back into its rightful place.

"C'mon." Her voice was reassuring and, in the back -under the light tone- a little sad. "I'll call down to Angie's and get a super vegetarian delight for the girls and a meat lovers for us. THEN you can tell me just what Maddy said that got you out of your bitchy mood." A mischievous smile broke across his mate's face, highlighted by a raised ebony brow.

"And if you're good, I'll call Storm and tell her to quit it with the 'inconvenient' fog." Slowly, realization dawned, overshadowing his apprehension at relating his and Maddy's conversation, and Nate started to chuckle. Leave it to Dom to work him over, then do exactly what he wanted. Bright Lady how he loved this woman.

"Oh, TRUST me. I can be *very* good..."

Wrapping his arm, casually, around her shoulders, he leaned down and brushed a soft kiss over the crown of her skull. Together, they turned and moved back through door as one. The spring sun twinkled happily from its far-away perch as Dom's final statement drifted back over her shoulder and out into the shady street.

"In that case... It's only six o'clock. The Blackbird can make the trip by one, no problem."

Fin

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Last modified 9/11/00