But Neena had asked, and he still found it damned near impossible to say no to her.
Bridge looked equally disbelieving at Cable's sudden surrender. "That's it?" he demanded incredulously. "You go to all this trouble, and now it's just 'Pull up a crate'?"
"'Us'? I certainly wasn't expecting YOU to show up, G.W.," Cable said sardonically. "Although I'm sure you'll find this terribly amusing." His voice was bleak, so scorchingly bitter that Logan almost winced. He half-expected to see a black cloud hovering over Cable's head, considering the amount of negative pheremones that were pouring off him. "Yeah, you'll get a real kick out of this--" Outside, thunder rumbled, as if in emphasis.
But Logan had to give Bridge credit. Instead of making some smart-ass comment, he merely stared right back at his ex-partner, shaking his head slowly. "Why don't you let me be the judge of that, Nate?" he asked, calmly. "Besides, look at it this way. In all the years I've known you, I've wanted to kill you a number of times, but I honestly can't remember wanting to LAUGH at you very often."
"Very funny," Cable snapped.
"Just trying to lighten the atmosphere--"
"Nathan? There was supposed to be an explanation in here somewhere?" Domino asked, clearly at the end of her rope as far as patience was concerned. Logan had heard that particular tone in her voice before--usually just before some poor bastard was summarily introduced to whole new worlds of pain. Cable glared at her, but she merely folded her arms across her chest and regarded him implacably. Most normal men would have crumbled under that look. Cable, true to form, seemed to take it as a challenge, and didn't say a word.
"We could take turns holding him down so you could beat it out of him, Domino," Kai suggested, and raised an eyebrow at the dark look Cable gave her. "Yes?" she asked blandly.
"You're just determined that you're going to make me pay for this afternoon, aren't you?"
"You bet, pal."
"Kai, he's stalling--don't encourage him," Domino said with a grimace. Kai shrugged, but didn't say anything else. Logan gave her a wary look, wondering what was behind such instant--and uncharacteristic--compliance. "Nate," Domino said, more softly, as she turned back to Cable. "Please. What's going on?"
Cable actually flinched at the faint, pleading undertone in her words. Logan smiled grimly, mentally applauding her tactics. *Turn the tables on him, Neena--that's my girl.*
"I have an appointment," Cable finally said, his voice sounding strained. "With some--old friends."
That had been illuminating. Still, I stepped firmly on the impulse to say that aloud. Whatever was going on, it had Cable more on edge than I've ever seen him, and, as pissed at him as I admittedly still was, common sense said provoking him wouldn't be the smartest course of action at the moment. Not if we wanted him to tell us what was going on.
"An appointment," Logan said flatly, raising an eyebrow. "Care to be any more specific, or do we get to guess?"
Cable scowled at Logan, clearly on the verge of a retort of some sort, but Domino cut in before he could say a word. "I thought the 'old friends' comment was more interesting, personally," she said in a clipped voice. "Are we talking friends from 'home' here, Nate?" she demanded, everything in her stance and expression and tone suggesting that she wasn't going to take an evasion for an answer. Not this time.
Maybe Cable sensed that, I don't know. Or maybe he just didn't see the point in keeping us in suspense any longer. "From home, yes," he said quietly, nodding. Not looking at any of us. "And not precisely what you'd call friends, really."
That was conclusive enough as far as statements went, I supposed. Didn't solve the mystery, though. "Let me get this straight," I said, as patiently as I could manage. "People from your time--people who don't LIKE you--are back here looking for you. And you've--what, agreed to meet them here for a little private discussion?" It sounded even more ridiculous when I said it aloud.
The corner of Cable's mouth tugged upwards. "Depends on how you define discussion, Kai," he said, turning his weapon back and forth so that the light glinted off the blade in an almost hypnotic pattern.
"And why exactly would you have agreed to something so colossally stupid?" Domino hissed, her eyes blazing with violet fire. I was a little taken aback by how angry she seemed. True, Cable's whole plan of action here didn't seem all that bright, but she looked like she wanted to disembowel him.
Their relationship had never struck me as particularly trouble-free, despite its obvious intimacy. Still, they had to have worked out some ground rules, after all these years. I wondered if that was the problem here, if he'd trangressed some unspoken 'law'. Although, from the sounds of it, she had to be pretty used to him keeping things from her--
Cable gave a hollow laugh. "Why, Dom?" he asked. "To keep you and everyone else out of something you didn't need to be involved in. I suppose that part of the plan's a wash, now." His hand went white-knuckled on the staff of his weapon, but his expression was curiously numb as he met her angry gaze. "Oath, why did you have to follow me, Dom? I suppose I should be glad you didn't bring the kids along--"
Domino's incensed expression wavered for a moment, but then hardened again. Less angry, but no less determined. "Nate," she finally said, her voice level but full of resolve. "Who are they, and what do they want with you?"
"Succinctly? Canaanites, and the usual." Domino closed her eyes, and muttered something under her breath; a curse, from the sounds of it. Cable's mouth twisted in a travesty of a smile. "Well, you asked."
"Shit, Nate!" Bridge said with a distressed frown. "Since when did they start coming back here after you?"
"Oh, this isn't the first time, G.W. But it is what you'd call a--special occasion."
Logan was scowling. It wasn't a puzzled sort of scowl, though, which made me think he probably understood at least a little of what they were talking about. Well, good for him. I didn't. And if there was one thing I hated, it was being relegated to the role of 'clueless idiot'.
"Excuse me," I said pleasantly, giving all four of them a hard, sunny smile when they looked at me. "Pardon me for being out of the loop, but what's a Canaanite?"
Domino sighed, rubbing her temples for a moment, as if she could feel a headache coming on. "The 'powers that be' in the thirty-eighth century," she said. "Nate led a rebellion against them for--how long, Nate?"
"Almost fifteen years," he said remotely. His right hand was white-knuckled on the staff of his weapon again, and his left hand was clenched into a fist at his side.
I blinked, finding myself regarding him in a new light. "Shit, Cable, you do like to keep these things to yourself, don't you?" I asked, shaking my head.
"Anytime I do explain something, someone ALWAYS whines that I'm giving them a headache," Cable muttered. "I stopped bothering, after a while."
I glanced at Domino, wondering if that was a shot at her, but although she was frowning at Cable, she didn't look particularly angry. I shook my head again. It was strange, to hear something like this. I had this--image of Cable in my mind as an ex-mercenary, just as unlikely a sort to have been drawn into the X-Men's world as I was--or as Logan was, for that matter. Sure, I knew he was Scott's son--guess that meant he'd been born into it whether he liked it or not, the poor bastard--but that initial impression had stuck. To suddenly be told that he'd been some kind of--revolutionary leader, for lack of a better word, was a little disconcerting.
"Thought your people lost that war, Nate?" Logan said with a frown. Wonderful--the two of them hated each other, and yet Logan STILL knew more than I did about Cable's past. I really had to keep myself better informed. "Least, that's what I remember you telling me and Bishop on Greymalkin that time--"
"We did, Logan," Cable said drearily. "Thanks for reminding me."
"But what do they want with you after all this time?" Logan persisted. "To rub it in?"
"No," Cable said, his voice flat. "It's a lot simpler than that." Carefully laying his weapon down beside him, he looked past us, into the shadows of the warehouse, but there was a distant look in his eyes, as if he was seeing something else entirely--something he would rather have forgotten, to judge by his body language. "Old debts don't die," he said under his breath, almost to himself. "They just get postponed--"
Domino went over and stood in front of him, taking his face between her hands and staring down into his eyes. I shifted uneasily, feeling strangely like an eavesdropper all of a sudden. But there was something almost painfully private about the way they were looking at each other, as if they were alone in the warehouse--or alone in the universe.
"Tell us," Domino said, her tone peremptory yet somehow gentle at the same time.
Cable nodded slowly, took her hands in his own. And told us.
"It happened near the end of the rebellion," Cable said. "In the last couple of years--before things started to fall apart."
His voice was so bleak that part of me just plain didn't want to know what he was glossing over so curtly. I suddenly wished I were somewhere else. I didn't like the idea of ripping open someone else's old wounds, no matter how bizarrely he'd been behaving or how concerned Domino was about him.
Domino sat down beside him on the crate. He still gripped her hands tightly, but otherwise, he didn't seem to even be aware of her presence. "Chalk it up to a classic case of where overconfidence gets you, I suppose--" he said tightly. "My overconfidence, as usual. You'd think I'd have learned from my mistakes, eventually--"
"Nate," Domino said quietly, "this is hard for you. I can sense that. You don't need to make it worse by kicking yourself in the ass right from the get-go."
"Might as well tell the wind not to blow," Bridge murmured.
Cable didn't seem to hear either of them. "There were cities, in the border areas, that got passed back and forth between us and the Canaanites, over the years," he told us. "The fortunes of war, and all that. We'd capture one, hold it for a few months and then lose it again. It was wasteful--destructive."
His voice had grown stronger as he continued--crisp, almost professional. A general's voice, I thought suddenly; the voice of someone used to command, accustomed to analysing his own decisions to find the pros and cons of every situation. The change in his demeanor was total. He straightened, releasing his grip on Domino's hands, a mask of cool composure descending over his features.
"So the next time we retook one of these cities, I decided we were going to establish a--corridor, to link it with the areas more firmly under our control." He gestured sharply. "We could use the corridor to keep the city--Sovia--properly supplied, and move troops down it quickly and easily when--when, not if--the city was attacked again."
"Feel like I need a flaming map," Logan muttered, and raised a defensive hand as Cable gave him a piercing look. "But I get the concept, all right?"
"So what went wrong?" Bridge asked quietly.
"There was only one route we could use," Cable continued. "At one spot along it, there was a Canaanite--" His last word was unintelligible, a blunt, gutteral mishmash of three syllables or so. It was obviously not the same lilting language I'd heard him speak before. He looked a little frustrated at our uncomprehending expressions. "A holdfast," he said, gesturing helplessly. "A--bunker, built right into a rock face."
"Not something you want to have sitting right there on a supply line," I surmised, trying to picture it mentally.
"Right," Cable said. "So we had to destroy it."
I froze, a little startled. "Destroy it?" That seemed a little excessive. It certainly wasn't what I'd expected him to say.
"Entirely," Cable said, grimly.
"Why not just post some of your own people in it?" Logan asked. "Take the advantage away from them and use it for yourself--"
"I couldn't risk it," Cable muttered. I wondered at the way he switched back and forth between 'we' and 'I'--that said something important, I thought. I just wasn't sure what. "That would have been ideal, but I couldn't take the chance. Not once I found out the flonqing place was a terminus." He was starting to sound upset again. Something told me we were getting close to the heart of the problem.
"A terminus?" Domino asked with a frown. "For what?"
"A Canaanite teleportal," he said, scooping up his weapon again. He seemed to take some obscure comfort from holding it, as if it were the equivalent of a safety blanket or something. "Simple teleportation didn't usually work in my time. Artifical methods tended to fail, and mutants with teleportational abilities tended to find themselves materializing in the wrong places or missing important body parts if they didn't have some sort of backup technology. My bodysliding worked because it combined both." He hesitated for a moment. "But it was an exception, as far as reliability went. There were massive disruptions in the earth's EM field in my time, far worse than anything you've seen here--Magneto notwithstanding." He tried to smile, didn't quite manage it. "But the Canaanite scientists managed to establish a few permanent, one-way trans-spacial passages. They were unusable half the time, but they worked well enough during their stable period." He seemed to withdraw into himself even further, but he kept talking, almost doggedly. "We didn't find out about this one until we took the bunker.It wasn't active, at that point, but we had no clue what its cycle was. It could have gone stable in a week, or a year--and whenever it did, there could have been half an army waiting on the other side. For all we knew, the other end of the teleportal opened in New Canaan itself."
"Which would have been bad, I assume," I quipped, and was immediately sorry I'd said anything.
Cable blinked at me for a moment, as if he'd forgotten who I was, and then went on as if I'd never interrupted. "We took the bunker. There was a half-division of Canaanite Elite stationed there--the battle was a mess. The place was a flonqing maze--I lost over thirty people that day. Most of the Elite were dead once the dust settled. I sent one battle-group back to Sovia with the prisoners, and we laid charges throughout the bunker." He shook his head slowly. "Too many charges. It was overkill--all we really needed to do was to bring the ceiling down on the terminus, bury it. That would have made it unusable. But I was so determined to take out the entire place, to make sure that no one could possibly dig through to the flonqing thing--
"The EM distortion didn't just affect teleportational systems," he said, switching subjects so suddenly and brusquely that I felt almost dazed. To judge by the expressions on the faces around me, the feeling was mutual. "Telepathy, too. Jen and I--both of us, our range was cut down to almost nothing when it got really bad, and it was much worse than usual, that day. Even our psi-link wasn't working properly."
Jen? I mouthed, meeting Logan's eyes.
"Jenskot, Kai. My wife," Cable said, his voice bleak again.
His WIFE? I never knew he was married--
"'Was' being the operative word," he murmured, and for a moment, just a heartbeat really, the mask cracked and I caught a glimpse of the terrible grief beneath.
Oh. I swallowed, wondering how long it would take me to get my foot out of my mouth. Only I hadn't said anything, had I? That wasn't fair. I hated telepaths. Especially telepaths who heard things they weren't supposed to and gave you that soulful, wounded look that made you feel like shit--
"What does that have to do with blowing up the bunker?" Bridge asked, his eyes narrowing.
Cable straightened. "We didn't know," he said softly. "We had no idea there was a second sublevel beneath the main bunker. There were no visible access points--"
"Let me guess," Logan said, just as quietly. "It wasn't empty."
It wasn't empty? What the--"Oh, fuck," I whispered, the pieces starting to fall together.
Cable closed his eyes, a look of naked pain flashing across his features. "The Canaanite propaganda machine was always in full swing, in the cities," he said dully. "Large, relatively uneducated audiences, and all that. According to the 'information broadcasts', we drank blood and killed babies for fun. So Canaanite civilians always fled the cities we captured. Sovia was no exception." He opened his eyes, and looked directly at Domino, focusing on her, as if she was the only one of us he could bear to face at the moment. "There were almost two hundred and fifty women and children down there when the charges went off. Most of them died immediately. The psychic backwash--it cut right through the EM disruption. Jen and I both felt it. You can't--" His voice broke. "You can't imagine what it's like to feel over two hundred minds cry out in pain and fear and then go silent--"
"Okay," Logan rasped. I glanced swiftly at him, a little shocked to see how angry he looked. He marched right over to Cable, glaring down at him in something that looked very much like disgust. "That's flamin' well enough of that crap, Nate!"
Cable blinked, and then focused on him, scowling. "What?"
"You were fighting a WAR, dammit! Things like that happen!" Logan took a deep breath, and went on in a marginally calmer voice. I just stared at him, wondering what the hell he was hoping to accomplish with this. "If you obsessed over every bit of collateral damage you happened to cause, I don't know how the hell you managed to lead a rebellion for fifteen years--"
"Flonq you!" Cable snapped, rising. Towering over Logan, he was holding his weapon a little too aggressively for my tastes. Domino, standing right there beside them, looked like she was about to step in, and I thought I heard a curse from Bridge's direction. "You have no idea--"
"Oh, don't give me that 'you can't understand, you're not a telepath' bullshit!" Logan barked. "You think I don't have my share of innocent blood on my hands?"
I swallowed what I'd been about to say. Logan's words struck a little too close to home, even though I knew damned well it wasn't directed at me. But my hands were far from clean, too. I could at least begin to understand what Cable was thinking. Why he'd wanted to keep this private.
Shame was not an emotion easily shared.
"And? Do you think I haven't done worse?" Cable almost roared at Logan. I forced myself to shove my own shadows aside, back into the corner of my mind where they belonged, and focused on the two of them. "Deliberately?"
"But if it was an accident--" Bridge started cautiously, clearly trying to defuse the situation. It was so clearly the wrong tactic that I almost groaned aloud.
Cable whirled on him, livid. "Shut up, G.W.! Of course it was a flonqing accident! Do you think that changes anything? How it happened doesn't make any difference--I still have to answer for it!"
"Answer for it?" Domino said sharply, her eyebrows nearly vanishing into her hairline. "Nate, what the hell are you talking about?"
"It's a blood rite!" he shouted down at her, flushing. "Twelve of them--twelve of the best soldiers in the Canaanite army, each of whom had family in that bunker when it blew!"
A blood rite?
Oh, I did NOT like the sound of that.
"What the hell is a blood rite?" I demanded suspiciously. "Some kind of religious thing?"
His left eye blazing wildly, he gave me a glare that could have melted adamantium. I almost took a step backwards, despite myself. "It's part of the Canaanite battle code," he snapped, tersely. "You avenge the death of a comrade--or in this case, a family member--in combat."
"With twelve of them?" Bridge demanded incredulously. "Nate, if this is some bizarre way of committing suicide--"
"Don't be stupid, G.W.!"
"Then you're going to use your powers," Domino said. It wasn't a question.
"Of course not!" he growled. Her eyes widened, and then narrowed alarmingly. The muscles along her jaw clenched, and Cable suddenly rocked backwards. I wondered if he'd just gotten screamed at through their psi-link or something.
Logan, who either didn't notice the silent exchange going on between them or didn't care, pointed at Cable's weapon. "What the fuck is this, the Middle Ages?" he shouted. "You're gonna stand there and let twelve men hack at you with pointy sticks?" His tone was deliberately insulting.
I really did wonder what the hell he was doing. Besides trying to provoke Cable, of course--well, he knows him pretty well, I tried to reassure myself. He's obviously got a plan in mind here-- I just hoped it didn't end up with Cable losing his temper entirely and Logan finding himself in lunar orbit--
But Cable simply scowled. "This," he said, waving his weapon at Logan, "is a shalmatar. An Askani pike, if you like. It's an unpowered duplicate of a psimitar. A Canaanite would rather eat his own flonqing liver than TOUCH something this!" He swallowed, and continued in a more level voice. "They'll have their own sort of weapons. Bladed, 'primitive' weapons, yes. We used such things as often as a plasma rifle, in battle." His accent, that faint, musical lilt that I'd noticed the very first time I'd met him, was suddenly stronger. "But they won't come at me all at once--I think."
"You think?" Bridge asked acidly.
"Technically if not legally, I'm a Clan Chief. It's considered bad form to stab me in the back," Cable said with a strange smile. "And the challenge was made formally. If they'd intended to treat me as Nathan Dayspring, the terrorist, they wouldn't have bothered with that."
"The tranmission," Domino said grimly. Cable's gaze flickered to her for a moment, and he nodded wordlessly. She bit her lip, exasperated. "Damn you, Summers--"
"Dom," he said impatiently, "don't start--"
"Don't start? You were going to do this by yourself? How the hell do you know that these jokers are going to play by the rules? Especially if they feel they've got such a good reason to want you dead!"
"She's got a point," I said, meeting Cable's eyes resolutely. We had to make him see reason here, get him thinking rather than reacting. If he rushed headlong into this 'blood rite' out of guilt, he'd get himself killed. "You've got to admit that, Cable."
"I don't care whether she has a point or not!" he snarled; rather irrationally, I thought. Pessimistically, I wondered if he maybe hadn't gone someplace beyond the reach of sweet reason. "Oath, NONE of you should even be here!"
"What is, is," Domino said, raising an eyebrow and giving him a very direct look. For a moment, I thought he was going to haul off and slug her, and I took a half-step forward. The last thing we needed was the two of them at each other's throats literally as well as figuratively.
But Cable merely shifted his weight, not even taking a step towards her. "You enjoyed that, didn't you?" he asked nastily. "Throwing one of my own flonqing proverbs back in my face--"
Domino nodded slowly. "You bet I did, Nate." She looked around at the rest of us for a moment, as if seeking support. "I think I speak for everyone here when I say I'm not going anywhere," she said harshly, turning back to him. "I think I understand that you have to do this, but if you're not thinking clearly enough to know that a few precautions are in order--well, that only proves that you need someone watching your back." She gave Bridge a significant look.
Bridge sighed. "Ordinarily I'd let you sort out your own mess, Nathan," he said caustically, "but I suppose you can count me in."
"Lkewise," I said quickly. "Although I still think this whole thing is ridiculous--" Logan growled in wordless agreement, and Cable nearly blew his top.
"Don't any of you GET IT?" he shouted. "I don't want your help! I don't need your help--" He fell silent at the distinct sound of a door opening, squealing on its hinges, on the far side of the warehouse. "Please," he said, much more softly as he stared in that direction. All the color was suddenly gone from his face. "Please stay out of it--please."
He was begging us.
I never thought I'd ever hear Cable beg.
"DAYSPRING!" The voice was harsh, challenging. Full of hatred.
Cable flinched, but then straightened. Shifting his grip on his weapon, holding it out in front of him in a curiously ceremonial position, he walked forward, clearly in an attempt to put distance between himself and us. "I'm here," he called in a neutral voice.
And twelve men walked out of the shadows.
to be continued...