This Year I: Long December
by Janete
June 2001

Disclaimers: If they belonged to us, we wouldn't just
fucking *forget* about them.

Spoilers: X-Force 115, the last real one.

Summary: After that last battle...

Ratings Note: R

Authors' Note: Two years after the Wild Things series ends
(and it's not finished yet), shit has happened, as it is
wont to do.

Feedback builds strong bones and healthy muscles.,



Nathan settles into his seat in the Blackbird and does his
best to look as though he's thinking about anything but
what he's actually thinking about.

X-Force walked. A long time ago, actually, and somehow he
didn't notice. He was distracted, they were grown up now,
Dom was looking after them. And then Wisdom, who managed
to be a good man mostly by virtue of being a bad one. And
again, they were adults, and it was their choice, and if it
made Xavier furious, it was probably that much better a

And he was almost too broken at the time to worry about it.

Nathan's still, nominally, an X-Man. Less so with with a
living father than he was with a dead one, but he hasn't
walked out yet, not quite. Other people have. The teams
are as estranged as he's ever seen them. And yet, on some
level, they're still together in this.

On a practical level, that was the Dream, for most of them.

This is the death of it.

There are X-men around him in the plane. Nathan wonders how
many of them saw the Dream in Xavier, and only him. Wonders
what it did to them to learn he was only one flawed man in a
world full of them.

Knows what it did to him.

Logan flying. He's in Scott's chair. Scott who's this
raw, mind-raped, strung-out shell of who he used to be.
The year with Apocalypse carved up most of the rigid team
leader and left the bits showing that people aren't
supposed to see. Orphan, runaway, adulterer, murderer.
General. Who gets up in the morning and practices
fly-casts in the lake but wouldn't come with them on this

Jean and Hank in the back keep checking the mobile triage
unit, like they believe it'll make a difference.

Storm poised and ready for a battle that was by all reports
both over and spectacularly final.

The bloody, ugly end of X-Force. The team that Nathan
stole from Xavier, trained and led for a while. A long

Whatever's left of them is in that indifferently sealed-off
crater. The authorities, such as they are at a point when
most of British Intelligence is also a steaming hole, have
barely touched anything. Respectful or relieved, whichever
one works at any given moment, to let the mutants take care
of their own. And if this is what happens whenever they
brush up, Nathan doesn't blame regular humans for wanting
to avoid the metas as much as possible.

The thought crosses his mind that they've sent a
hand-picked plane load of X-Men to collect dead who belong
to no one. Not even him.

It's a strange settling on his mind, a blankness there
whenever he tries to wrap his mind around the whole of it.
There've been betrayals, and casualties, and attrition, but
somehow it never quite seemed possible to lose them all at

Even when his own needs and plans got in his way, even with
the Dark Sisterhood on his heels, X-Force was always
*there*. In the way that a silent and preoccupied lover is
present despite her distraction, always available to

Domino. He can't feel her at all. Knows that doesn't
necessarily mean anything, knows he's going to dwell on it

Just, maybe, not right now. Not until he knows for sure.

Purest arrogance, of just the perfect variety for a
careless commander. He took what he thought he wanted by
leaving, and now it's time to pay. Another dead clan.
Another dead... son? Lover? Friend?

And of the bodies they recover, only one shows any signs of
life, and that's fading. Barely recognizable as male under the
burns, and quickly blocked from his view by Jean and Hank.

Nathan crouches among the body bags. Maudlin, self-pitying,
and pathetic. Just what he needs.

And happens to be right there when Sam rips his way out of
the bag, screaming and flailing, bleeding and healing,
stray bits of charred flesh flying, teeth missing... only
recognizable as Sam because Sam is the only one with a
history of resurrecting himself and Nathan catches himself
on the verge of backing away, running away, mouth open and
mind overfull.

Just a few minutes of the horror, but it's enough to remind
Nathan of a dozen things he's been very successfully
repressing for a few dozen years. Forces himself to move to
the boy, close enough to grasp the one whole arm. Just
hanging onto him -- Sam -- while he heals. Frightening and
inhuman power, and cruel, because it only comes on the edge
of death.

Opens himself to Sam, not trying to communicate so much as
make his mind something peaceful, something safe to respond
to, and the first wash of thought *is* horror. Parasites,
Tabby's face, oh God Tabby's face...

Almost a relief when the thing moves, and there's nothing
left to see but that slick, pulsating *flesh*, covering the
staring blue-eye -- alive, Nathan realizes, she was still,
had been still, and Sam's hands it's his hands it's his
hands and he's trying to slip his fingers beneath the thing
and he *knows* what's thudding on his back but if he can get
his fingers under he could pull it *off* --

Strange, so strange, that everything's red. Face is hot.
Sticky, and wet and where is her *face*?

And it's everything Nathan has not to pull back again, not
to pull away, because Sam's own eyes are.

Milky-white and pushing at the black of the ruined lids,
wide as Tabby's had been and terribly, horribly *aware*.

*Sam --*

*Nathannathannathan it *BURNS**

*Shhh. Sam listen to me. Just me. I know it hurts, come on,
stay with me*


Both psychic and audible. Jean, somewhere just out of
reach, is frantic from the pain Sam's projecting, terrified
at the body rising from the dead. Because Nathan didn't warn
her. Because he didn't *know*, hadn't *realized* -- no.
Thought. Action. "Shut up, Jean."

*Shh, Sam. Easy, buddy. It's going to be OK*

**TABBY*ohgodNathanTabbytabbytabbyshe's allofher

New flesh when he opens his eyes again. Silky pale-golden
Sam, enough of him there now to hold on to. Nathan pulls
the boy into his lap. Concentrates on creating psychic
space between the void Sam's rising out of and the pain
he's reaching toward, and holds them there. Horrible images
of Aliya's last moments keep pushing in, though. Images of
everyone who's died on him, and he's trying to hold them
back, to hang onto the single one who's managed to come

Selfish gratitude that bleeds through and Sam pulls back,
forcing himself away from Nathan, strength clearly
returning as quickly as flesh. One horrified look and then
there's no one in Nathan's mind but himself as Sam curls in
on himself, still half swaddled in the body bag.

Hands over his eyes. Hand and... growing hand.

*Dammit, it's enough that you're alive! It *has* to be!*


*There is no. Other. Choice.*

A touch, then awful, cracking laughter. Nothing a non-psi
should be able to produce in another's mind, save that
Nathan's taught Sam all he needs to know in order to
communicate silently. All, and too much more.

*You didn't burn with us, Nathan. You won't ever know.*

Half-cracked poetry in the moments before Sam passes out.

Hours after that, holding him.



There's this broken-up piece of time in which Sam's almost
aware that he's being carried. Of waves of antiseptic and
the smell of Nathan's body, which he would have thought
he'd forgotten by now.



Sam's been awake for a while. Long enough to note Nathan's
presence and let the itch of his continued healing feed his
glare. Sam hasn't decided whether or not to talk to the man,
and so he just watches.

Waiting for it. The silence and jaw-clenching began a while
ago. That's standard. After that, it'll be either the
starkly concerned Nathan who pretends to shed his commander
self before asking him how Sam is, or the commander himself.
Lecturing, asking questions he already knows the answers to
just to trap Sam into a half-truth.


Nothing revealed. Neither a question nor a command, but
demanding his attention. Not quite gently.

One big hand reaches out and brushes the uneven mess of
hair falling over his forehead. Still dyed black in the
patches that somehow didn't burn. He's seen a mirror.

Once was enough.

Not as tender a gesture as it would have been from anyone
else, and when Sam flinches Nathan pulls his hand back.
Lays it in his lap and glares at it a moment, like it's

"What were you thinking, exactly?"

"You gotta be a little more specific than that, Nathan."
Hates himself a little for the fact that the only steel in
his voice is confidence. Couldn't help being... *affected*
by that little glare.

Like if Nathan opened a link he could hear the man scolding
it. Bad hand! Bad!

Tiny flinch that he learned a long time ago is Nathan-speak
for I-don't-know.

"You got a question to ask, spit it out."

Glare. "What were you thinking, taking five lightly armed
individuals into a government-supported military
installation against an opponent you knew to be capable of
using lethal force? She'd already killed a hundred and
thirty people just to get to you!"

"And we fought her to a standstill."

"Against conventional soldiers."

"So what should we have done?" Not a real question. Hard, a
little mocking. He didn't do anything that he didn't learn
from a master. The numb part of him knows that they didn't
make any wrong decisions. Almost drowned out by the
screaming grief, but just barely audible, and confident in
its assessment. Except.

Tabby. Jesse. Jimmy. Dom.


Little spasm of pain through his chest that he grinds his
teeth against. He doesn't keep Nathan from noticing it, but
he keeps his face steady, and Nathan doesn't try to touch
him again.

"What should we have done?"

The look is familiar.

"You think we should have waited for you."


"Nathan, you left us. Two *years* ago. We didn't know where
you were." *We wouldn't have asked if we'd known.*

He hurts. All down his back. The nerves reasserting
themselves, flesh regrowing. Pulls his knees up tighter to
his chest and glares at Nathan over the bare curve of them.

The flinch is his reward, a nasty little goad for both of
them. Nathan's guilt and his own anger, because Nathan's
guilt lasts only as long as the wait for the next mission,
next battle, next trip off to God-knows-where to settle all
his messianic angst.

Two years is a long time. More than long enough to figure
how much a young and moderately illicit boy-toy weighs
against The Fate of the Chosen One.

Not a whole fucking lot, when you get right down to it.

And that hurt, but it sure didn't kill him. That was the
lesson he could take out of all of this, everything from
Sauron on -- nothing is fatal.

Not for him.

And so... what? Pointless missions, pointless angst until
he let Tabby -- oh, God, Tabby -- finally show him what it
was like to be a man in *her* world. Time to think, too.

The only thing that gets results in this world is fear.
Fear makes you angry enough to beat your enemy down, or
build Sentinels to do it for you.

Against that, the Dream. And what did that do?

Reformed a few killers into working tirelessly for the Good
Guys, never snapping a neck with inhuman strength, never
driving them mad. Them.

Never burning them to death.

Until there was a point -- and even Mother Mary Jean had
hers -- when tireless became just plain tired, and all that
happy peace and love suddenly smelled like a dirty barn in

And Nathan just sits there, staring at his lap, waiting for
him. His own little protege, little friend, little *fuck* to
make a move. Tote that barge, mend that bridge.

But see, Sam has long since realized that he has a choice,
and he's damned well taken it. Oh, yes. So...

"Fuck you, Nathan."

Hard glare. "That was uncalled for." Hard face behind it.
Flash of the adult scolding the child.

Sam pulls himself up to a sitting position. It's hard. He
doesn't think it ever hurt this much, coming back before.
But before there was more of him left to come back *from*.
Knees in front of him only because he doesn't want the
vulnerability that comes with nakedness in front of this
man. As long as he's sitting up straight, he's got the
advantage of height when he answers.

"*Fuck* uncalled for." Angry and sparking. Agony on his
skin and under, and he's feeling vindictive enough to
broadcast it. Let Nathan feel a little of how *angry* he
is. "You *left*. You decided that we weren't *yours*
anymore. Yeah, Dom came back, but she came as a *friend*.
Not our mother or our keeper or our leader. You want this
clear? *I* was the leader of X-Force. It was *my* call."

Waiting for Nathan to tell him it was the wrong call. Gears
himself up for it. It has to come, doesn't it? Any call that
winds up with everyone dead *except* the field leader...
well, that's pretty much the definition of a bad call. And
really, he wants to hear it, because he *knows* Nathan now,
more than he ever could've if he stayed.

Even with everything Sam's learned about the Clan, Aliya,
Tetherblood, even with the image of a blood-stained little
boy left to starve amidst the ruins... well, it's never a
complete picture until a shakeup comes. He's learned that,

Crises bring things into focus the way that peace never,
ever can, and Nate's doleful little letter of farewell was
all the crisis the Sam he used to be ever needed.

He knows Nathan, and he knows the man will tell him *why*.
Point out every obvious little thing Sam missed before
leading them all to their deaths.

And he wants to know, really.

To be pragmatic about it, the next time he's in a
leadership position -- and he will be, and he has his own
External destiny to brood on while he heals -- he'll know
how not to do this. And the next batch of superpowered
idiots who trust him just might not die.

It would be... it would be wonderful to just dive into
every mistake he made. Tease the little knots apart and
wallow in the threads of his failure. Learn them inside and

It would be so nice to have reasons to blot out Tabby's
ruined face and that eye. Rolling like a panicked horse.

Hits him again like vertigo. He's off the bed before it's
moved down from his head to his stomach, into the bathroom
before Nathan can even reach out a hand to him. Retching,
again. He knows Hank's worried about his current inability
to keep anything down for more than a couple of hours, and
he doesn't think his current brand of gallows humour helped
much. Nobody expects it of him, even now. It drives home
exactly how long he's been Outside. Not an X-Man. And for
the last six months, nobody at all. Legally dead, invisible
on all but the most sophisticated of radar.

Cold tile on his knees, and water-cold porcelain against
his arms and forehead, and he thinks maybe they should have
stayed in Buenos Aires. The hotel's quiet colonialism. Hours
swimming and sleeping and plotting. Thinking about what they
could do next, as long as they were all-powerful and
invisible. The fan in his room was nice. Their room.
Tabitha's naked body against him in the night. Her body
under him in the smoky dryness of the evening, sweat-damp
against him and kissing him, this new understanding of
what, exactly, it could mean to be in love with a woman.

As an equal. Someone as powerful as she was, as
intelligent, as capable. Just the faintest flashes of her
fear of his immortality, and it was something he hadn't
thought about for weeks at a time.

He'd made a point of never thinking about what it would be
like to outlive people.

Nathan's hand settles on the back of his neck. Steady and
cool enough that it must be the techno-organic one. Silver
fingers massaging his flesh while he shakes. He knows he's
broadcasting. Images of pain. Of Tabitha. Sometimes of the
others but mostly her.

Nathan pulls him to his feet eventually. Just this moment
when he turns and Nathan doesn't and he finds himself
chest-to-chest with the man. Naked and isn't this a lovely
moment of deja vu?

He doesn't reach out. Nathan hugs him anyway. Tight and
fierce, making his ribs ache. Hand on the back of his neck,
in his hair. Tangling. This he remembers. He needs to refuse

"Oh god, Sam. I'm sorry."

Sam pushes him back. "You don't speak sorry, Nathan. I
remember that much."

Stalks back through the infirmary to bed. Hank put the
temperature up so he could sleep any way he wanted, but for
the first time in two days he's sick of being naked. There's
a blanket in the cupboard above the bed. There are medical
scrubs in the closet. Not Hank's size or Cecelia's, which
makes him wonder who might have been working down here, but
it's clothing. He gets dressed.

Boosts himself up onto the bed after and sits with his feet
hanging down and the blanket around his shoulders. Nathan
comes back in, but stays out of reach. Across the room, and
watching him, very obviously aware of his own uselessness.

"People change."

Sam laughs. Barks with it. Laughs until his ribs hurt.
Almost screaming, aware that he's hysterical but content to
be that way for the moment. He's going to hit Nathan back if
the man tries to slap him.

He doesn't. Just stays low and watches. Crouching,
actually, like when they used to work in the bush, in this
country or that one. Sam knows the man can stay still for
hours, if he wants to.

His clothes are itching. He pulls the scrub shirt off and
throws it on the floor.

"You'd rather be naked?"

"Just doing mah Yossarian impression. Maybe I'll go sit in
a tree."

"I *gave* you that book."

"And I read it. If you didn't want me to know those things,
you should've started hiding the big, ugly world from me as
soon as possible."

Long, slow blink, more eloquent than *sorry*, but less
startling. Sam can't settle, and eventually pushes the rest
of the scrubs off. Sits naked on the bed with the blanket
draped loosely around his shoulders.

He remembers, he used to get a kick out of being naked.
Something like freedom, because there was no way to attach
an X to it. And he was naked, that first night, with
Nathan. He remembers that.

He'd left Nathan's old shirt balled at the back of a
splintering old drawer some months back, having beaten a
hasty retreat. 'Strategic regrouping,' Wisdom had called
it, smirking and obviously wired on that day's danger.

Sam had replied with a smirk of his own.

Eurotrash Man in Black, chock full of secrets and a
morality that had seen it's own time in the fire until it
was a twisted, charred ruin of itself, functioning on will

He'd wanted that for himself, more than just a taste.
Having Wisdom there had been a permission Sam hated himself
for needing, a promise that nothing truly awful could
happen, even after he started letting things go.

Letting himself go.

The way Tabby-cat would rip his back to shreds with her
nails when he fucked her rough enough, bit her hard enough.
Fucked her, period, the way Nathan would get when Sam had
let the man feel his need.

Never show a man like Nathan what you need unless you
really want to get it.

Was it still true? Was that bush-predator crouch what Sam
really needed right now? Massive thigh muscles bulging,
face set stern and hard as stone...

Waiting for Sam to attack. Again. Such a clarity in knowing
that. In *understanding* that.

"It's what you wanted, isn't it?"

Silence, a wash of what might be unease in Nathan's eyes,
or maybe just a trick of the light.

"You wanted to protect your little golden boy from the big,
bad wo'f, right?" Hears his accent come to the fore, the i's
widening into ahhh's. Wonders if he's doing this on purpose.
"*Answer* me!"

"Anyone with a soul would've wanted to protect you."

"You sayin' I ain't got a soul, Nathan? 'Cause I sure as
*fuck* got sick of protectin' my sorry hide."

"I never did."

"Well, then, I guess you fucked up, didn't you?"

"I guess I did."

Sam nods at that and turns back to the bed. He wants the
sheets to be like the ones in regular hospitals, cheap and
rough. Something to scrub himself against and get it *all*
out. New skin is a bitch.

Absently scratching his own chest with his new and perfect
fingernails. Trying to pretend he doesn't know Nathan's
still there.

Nathan, deep inside him, claiming him, marking him all over
and some persistent flesh memory of the scrape of a rough
hand over his abdomen. A whole 'nother itch, and it looks
like his cock wants a chance at the scratching post.

"Fuck me."


Works his smile into just the right kind of sleazy and
looks back at Nathan over his shoulder. "I'm healed
enough... and it's been a long time."

He watches Nathan pull himself up. Rolls to standing, then
stretches his spine out to a soldier's hyperextended
posture. And stalks toward him. Crackling.

Very close and not touching him.

Nathan says, "I think you'll remember that the first time
we did this, I gave you a fairly long list of reasons why
it was a bad idea."

Sam says, "You need me to seduce you again?" Reaches out
bizarrely, horrifyingly uncallused fingers and trails them
along Nathan's throat, following the line where flesh and
TO mesh together.

Nathan pushes his hand away. "I know how you remember it.
It wasn't like that."

He snorts; he can't help it. "You got any idea how weak
that sounds?"

"You're projecting. And you're angry." Pause. "Tell me how
much you remember about Iceland."

His head's spinning again; he has to sit very still so that
it won't be obvious. He's tempted to be cruel. To dredge up
every detail of Aliya and Tetherblood that Nathan chose to
share with him and throw them back at his feet. That's most
of what he remembers. Other things are only fragments, not
whole narratives. He remembers the steam from the hot
springs. How dark it was. Nathan's arm around his chest in
the dark, while one or another of them talked.

Him in Nathan's lap. Him under Nathan's body, with his legs

Nathan under him, which is what he's supposed to be
remembering. That moment of surrender, one of the very few
times he ended up on top. Nathan's body mountainous under
him, hard against his chest and belly. The telepathic
connection spilling over. Sleeping like that, waking still
half on top of the other man, with his arms around Nathan's
waist and his cheek on Nathan's shoulderblade.

He'd like to deny it. Except that when he told Tabby about
it, way later, that was the part he told her. Not all of
it. Nothing that wasn't his to share. But that tenderness
between them. The idea exactly that he *wasn't* Nathan's
boy toy. That they'd been friends.

They'd needed that, him and Tabitha, the essential
understanding of having loved other people before each
other. Cross-legged and facing each other in the cheapest
possible hotel in Panama City, with prostitutes and their
clients in the rooms on both sides of them. Music and
laughter and whimpering and real red light suffusing it
all. And somehow still not sordid for all that.

There was something he'd been supposed to say, then.
Something like, *I will love you for the rest of my life.*

Which maybe wouldn't have been accurate. Maybe, *I'll love
you for the rest of your life.* He could have given her
that, at least.

Sam lets his head drop forward. Lets his forehead touch
Nathan's solar plexus and just stay there. Quiet, and
eventually Nathan brings up his hands and lays them on
Sam's shoulders.

"Ah'm an asshole."

"You're allowed."

Humor in Nathan's voice and it's all suddenly so painful
and bright. He knows what this is, knows it instinctively.
The chance for redemption, forgiveness for every last sin,
seen at last from the outside.

And in that moment he knows exactly why Feral clawed and
bit her way away from them. The way Ric and Shatty had gone
their own way, found their own law in each other.

See, there's a price for this. Always a price.

Trust, and... faith.

And Sam is nowhere near ready for that. "Let go, Nathan.
Let me go."

Still so close he can feel Nathan hearing everything Sam
really said, can feel the touch on his mind, uninvited but

"You don't have to do this to yourself, Sam."

Smiles at that, stands up straight and stares right into
Nathan's eyes. "Why, Nathan, I thought it was a rite of
passage for us mutant types. Walk into the desert, find our
vision, all that good shit."

"Brooding doesn't suit you."

"Yeah, well, neither does this Patches the Friendly
Cannonball look I've got going with my hair, but we all
have our crosses to bear."

"Gonna dye it black again?"

"Yeah. Makes me look all edgy."

"And is that... I want to know who you are now, Sam." *I
want to love you, too.*

And it's something like breaking to hear it said like that,
all laid out in the open like some grotesque of an
open-casket service. Acknowledgment that he'd done it,
really done it to himself.

A new man.

*A good man, Sam.*

*And if I don't want to be good anymore?*

*Some things you just can't choose.*

*Now you're just double-dog daring me.*

*Then I take it back, Sam... Sam, I know it looks like
surrender, but it really, really isn't.*

*How many futures do you have to see before you understand
that the Dream is a myth?*

*There'll never be enough.*

"Then you're a fool, Nathan."

"What's the point if there's no hope for anything?"

"The point is survival, and keeping your people safe for as
long as you can. You know that."

"I want more than that."

"And you can have it with the Dream?"

"Sam, you *know* it's the only goddamned way."

"No, Nathan. It ain't nothin' but a good dream."

And they look away from each other, Sam wanting... just a
little taste of that freedom. Some reason to be naked
beyond his own happy little jaunt into the world of battle

Someone to be naked *for*, and Nathan's just not it
anymore, no matter if the attraction is still there. If the
love is.

What Sam needs, more than anything right now is a team. His
own skittish horse to get right back on the saddle of and
ride. A mission. The scent of Dom's gun oil, those freakish
little mind-touches Jesse sent out to all of them just
before and after every mission. Wisdom's cigarette smoke.
Tabby's sex. James' bulk.

And he's just not gonna get it, and ain't that always the

Snorting at himself and gathering up the scrubs *again*
before just tossing them in the corner. "Anybody here got
clothes my size?"

Nathan nods. Gets that half-blank look that means he's
talking/not-talking to someone not present. And when Hank
pops back down with his coffee and something that's
probably not Twinkies, he's got sweats and a t-shirt under
his arm. Some very clean, oddly chaste-looking boxer briefs
on top of the pile. Because Sam would never, *never* run
around without underwear.

It's still too much like pajamas, but it'll do. He still
remembers the layout of the house so well that he could
walk through it blind. Nathan comes after him, slower,
steadier. Watching.

He needs to see daylight. Climbs the stairs and outside
before anyone can catch him. Runs and jumps and lets his
blast field catch him, flies a hundred feet before he drops
back into a run. Flash of X-Men out of the corner of his
eye, someone who might be Logan, which means he *wanted* to
be seen. Sam knows this body isn't quite the one he had, but
he feels good.

Needs to stretch himself. Extend. He runs up the hill,
skirts the trees. Nathan's there, back behind him, making
sure that he's not running away. Just running. Until he
slows, starts walking the new stiffness off. Crests the
hill and finds his feet tangled in the loose earth beside a
single gravestone.

"Just the one."

Nathan, behind him, nods.


"Your wills are on file. Our copies weren't up to date, but
they were all we had to go by. Jimmy's going back to New

Pause. "Tabby." Ground out like raw meat from behind his

"It was in both of yours, to have her buried at your
mom's." Sam nods. "Jesse didn't have anything listed. I get
the feeling that maybe he wouldn't be totally impressed,

Sam breathes for a while. "That's only three."

"I hate to tell you this, but you're breathing."

It's not very funny. "What about Dom?"

"Oh." Pause. "Sam, she wasn't there."

Just a rush of feeling, strong and not immediately
definable. He works very hard to stay on his feet. Nice,
clean, new clothes that still smell like fabric softener,
stronger even than the sweat-smell from his run. He's
vaguely aware that his feet are aching, even from the
grass. No calluses on the new skin. Little blood-prints on
the grass. Lips pressed together and breathing. Focusing on
that, and *only* that until he can speak.

"Can you be sure?"

Nathan tilts his head back to look at the sky, flashing on
the rubble. Sam can feel the man doing it, and looks
through his eyes, vague thought of inuring himself somehow.
Some of the bodies had been fused together in the burning. A
lot of the pieces were missing.

*Another battlefield, uglier than most in this time.*

*But you looked for her?*

"Not yet, not beyond the... site. Sam, what we pulled you
out of was a mess. We looked for her forever."

And it's actually a pretty hard decision when he thinks
about it. He'd been busily settling Dom into the list of
his dead, *his*, and he's willing to fight for that
possession. Now, though... If anyone would have searched
his hardest for her, if anyone *could've* found her body,
it would be Nathan. Probably had Wolverine there, too.
Sniffing for them in all the muck.

A possibility there. Something to hold on to, a fragment of
*team* that wouldn't have to lead back into all that bright,
shiny faith and hope that was making his brand new guts

The sense that Nathan's waiting to see what he makes of the

*James is dead, Nathan.*


And Sam nods his head, and focuses on that.

Hugs himself for a while. Weakness that he needs to allow
himself. And eventually turns and starts walking back,
careful on his raw feet. Nathan behind him flickers towards
him every so often.

*Don't even think about it.*


*You try to carry me and I'll go back to San Francisco.*

Thing is, he can picture Logan looking for her. He
remembers Logan hugging her, catching her low around her
hips so he could lift her off the ground.

If he closes his eyes, he can picture Tabitha naked and
pacing around their room, still wet from her shower. Not
even worried about anything, just rearranging the mess
she'd created around herself and air drying. While he laid
on the bed and watched her.

He thinks about James. Because, in spite of their
friendship, it's safer ground. Hard grief that he
understands pretty decently, because it's not the first
time he lost somebody. And death is such a *flexible* thing.

*She came back once.* Nathan flicks grey eyes towards him.
*She was dead, she told us. The alien tech -- the fried
shit you pulled us out of -- brought her back. Made her
younger. She didn't look any older than me. You seen her

Little grief-flare when Nathan broadcasts for a split
second. *Not lately. We aren't on speaking terms right now.*

And easy as this to think of her in the present tense. He's
thinking already about Cerebro, about Dom's inhuman luck and
the sheer willfulness that gets her out of bad situations.
He knows she's walked away from dead teams before.

He knows, *knows*, that Nathan looked for her. That
Nathan'll help him now if -- and maybe only if -- Sam
can just bring himself to ask.

And... he can.

"Come with me."

More silence, and Sam thinks he knows what's going on in
Nathan's head. Something about deciding whether he'll
pretend not to understand what Sam said *this* time. And he
can be honest, too.

*I need this*

And perhaps a little cruel. He knows he's offering hope to
Nathan of more than just a young, healthy, pissed-off Dom
at the end of the road. He's offering Nathan a chance to
redeem himself, and this... whatever it is that used to be
their friendship.

*Kids. Think they know everything.*

*Come with me.*


Touches him for just a second, and Sam can almost
believe that if he takes that hand he can have everything



We are the shes who love feedback.