He couldn't be here.
He shouldn't be here, but he was. In another few minutes Apocalypse's minions would storm this place and take the baby, the baby left unprotected as a deliberate bait. An elaborate plan to destroy Apocalypse, that had in the end succeeded, at far, far too terrible a price.
When you fight monsters, it's not enough to keep from becoming one. You have to keep from making more, too.
//I can't believe this,// a shadow sneered. //All this effort to kill a baby, and for what? You know as well as I do that changing time changes nothing. You can't save your woman, you can't save your world. You're only being vindictive.//
Apocalypse hadn't supposed to be able to possess his father.
Apocalypse wouldn't have tried, not then, if there'd been another alternative, if he'd been better off waiting ten years for a better host to grow up. Apocalpyse was nothing if not patient.
There was a story about a patient cat. It saw some tasty eggs, but decided baby birds would be tastier, so it waited. And the birds were born, but it decided they would be better when they were bigger, so it waited. And it waited and it waited and when it was just the right day and the birds were so juicy and delicious, they all flew away and the patient cat had nothing.
The world he came from was in flames, since he'd failed and his father had died and his greatest enemy had risen from his father's ashes and ended up consuming everything. The world had been Weak, and had fallen to the Strong.
And so it goes.
//So you think you can solve things now?// Mocking laughter from the shadow. //You can't change time. All you can do is split an alternate timeline. She's still dead, Nathan. She'll always be dead.//
Crimson eye beams blasting Domino's skull to bits.
No, he wouldn't think about that.
He looked down at the baby. So trusting and innocent and small. Didn't know he was a poisoned apple, didn't know he was bait for a trap and that his whole life was to be warped and shaped by that purpose. He was just a baby.
Just like the photographs. Scott and Maddie and Nathan Christopher, later Scott and Jean and Nathan Christopher, happy little family. Same face. Same cutesy little wrinkling of his nose, like Tyler had done (Oath, Tyler, and what becomes of you if I do this? Will you be saved, or never live?) Looked a lot like Tyler, in fact. Despite himself he felt a begrudging warmth toward the baby. Poor little guy didn't know what he would be. Babies never did.
//How touching. Tell me, will you make it quick, or do you want him to suffer? One blow from that arm of yours ought to be quite sufficient to smash a baby's skull, don't you think?//
You couldn't be there when your clone died and not acquire a shadow. Even if you weren't a pure telepath. Magneto had obviously been hallucinating in the last days before he died, screaming at someone he couldn't see that it was all the invisible person's fault for not joining him and joining Xavier instead, for attacking him, for trying to stop him when if he'd given ground Magneto could have freed him and they could be working together now. Magneto had ended up attacking Apocalypse with so much power it had all but discorporated him, and when he'd been trying to recover Apocalypse had simply reformed and smashed in his skull. Jean had had a shadow of Maddie ever since Inferno. It came with the territory. But you didn't have to listen.
You could shut them out, so they could talk to you but they couldn't read you, so they could see what you were doing but not read what it meant. It was annoying and meant you had to put up with crap all the time, but it was better than engaging them in conversation.
For a while he'd had another shade, but the boy had burned his candle at both ends for so long that when he'd died, he'd mostly simply faded. This other shade, though, was persistent.
About two minutes until Apocalypse's goons got in here. He could hear the fighting outside.
He opened the lid to the nursery unit the baby was in and took him out. The baby started to wail, but a quick telepathic "shh" ended that.
Argument with Xavier, at Westchester, before Xavier died. He'd been arguing that the objection to going back in time and killing your enemies as babies was practical, not moral-- it created an alternate timeline, but it was otherwise perfectly justifiable. Xavier argued there was no justifiable moral reason, ever, for killing an innocent child. And Kitty Pryde had looked at them both with a thousand-year stare that had no place on a woman so young, and told them they were both idiots.
If you're going to intervene, she said, you don't have to kill. Your enemies are usually your enemies because their lives were miserable-- wasn't that the reason the X-Men kept taking in and reforming enemies? So you intervene at a different level. Change their lives. Teach them to not be enemies. If Hitler hadn't been raised an anti-Semite, would the Holocaust have ever happened?
//What's the delay, "brother?" Winding up for the kill?//
This time, Cable replied. //You're still an idiot, Stryfe.//
And opened the timedoor.
Hey, Nathan. You're somewhere in this complex, somewhere safe. I can't do anything about you directly. Since the moment Apocalypse infected you with the T-O, your destiny's been written in stone, despite everything I've done to change it, despite everything you'll do. But I can take a roadblock out of your way, kid. Maybe this time, you'll succeed.
You'll never meet Dom, probably, but then, maybe Aliya won't die. Maybe it can all balance out.
As for you, little bait, I need you somewhere else. And you need to be there too.
He stepped through.
//You can't mean to do this.//
Westchester, New York. Shortly before the wedding.
//I don't believe it. You can't be doing this.//
He ignored the shadow. He had long practice.
Cloaked from telepaths, he rang the doorbell.
Jubilee answered. And blinked. "Hey... uh... you're Cable, aren't you?"
"I need to speak to Scott Summers and Jean. It's a matter of great urgency."
She cracked her gum. "What's with the rugrat?"
He gave her a patented glare. "Get Summers and Jean for me. Now."
"Okay, okay, I'm going, already. Sheesh. I'm not, like, the doorwoman or something." Her comments continued as she walked out of earshot, but he wasn't listening anymore-- not as if he had been exactly listening the first time either.
Jubilee was not a hardened killer, now. 1407 Greymalkin Lane was still standing, and in good shape. His heart hurt.
//A bit of a sentimental journey, "brother?"// The voice was still sarcastic, but with an element of confusion. //Perhaps you'd like to tell me why, exactly, you're here?//
And perhaps he wouldn't.
Jean appeared at the door. "Cable?" She blinked. "Cerebro didn't detect you incoming. What's going on?"
She recognized him. If she recognized him then it meant he'd failed. This gambit hadn't worked, Nathan had still come to the past, the timeline in the future wasn't changed at all.
He almost turned and ran. There had to be a way. If he was going to change so much it had to work, if he was going to create a whole new timeline to replace the one that had been annihilated it couldn't fail. But he had to play this out. Go with the plan, then see if there was a workaround. All Jean knew was that he was Cable, so she recognized him, so this world had a Cable. Was it Nathan from the future, or was it him?
"Cyclops?" Her voice was uncertain, and while she had a telepath's usual shields, he could suddenly empathically sense that she was not expecting "Cable" to call Scott "Cyclops." What was she expecting? "Dad?"
"Look, I don't even know if I'm the Cable you know. I've just come from the future. I have to--"
An emotionflash from her stopped him, as she fixed on the baby, his words bringing her sudden recognition. "My god. Oh my god, Cable, is that--"
"Chris," Cable said, nodding. "Christopher Nathan, to be exact, though if I were you I'd seriously consider changing his middle name. Maddie got the name from Sinister; it's his real name, and I don't think you want your kid named after Sinister." In name symbology, he'd always found that annoying about his own name. That and he didn't want the kid named Nathan, when for all he knew the Askani were still going to come and summon Slym and Redd to take care of the real Nathan, back in the future. Better if their other son was Chris.
There must have been a telepathic shout, because Scott came all but flying down the stairs in the moment when Jean reached for the baby. "Jean!" And then, "Cable! Is it true?"
"Yeah," he said roughly, lying, but they'd find that out eventually. Besides. If Jean was his mother than Chris was her son. The clone of a clone's son, it was all blood relations in the end.
Jean took Chris from him, cuddling him. "We never-- we never thought we'd see him again. And he's cured. Look, Scott! No T-O virus! He's safe!"
//How nice,// the shadow said in a note of desperate sarcasm. //A happy bouncy baby boy all cured of that mean T-O. Too bad he's not the real one. I wouldn't like to be in his shoes when they find out.//
Cable ignored the comment.
"My son..." Scott stared down at the baby gurgling in Jean's arms. He looked up. "Cable, I don't know how we'll ever repay you--"
"I'll tell you," he said roughly. He was a hardened mercernary who remembered watching these people die. He would not cry. "You're going to be sent to an alternate timeline someday where your son was never healed. He'll be Nathan, there. You'll take care of him and raise him the best way you can. That's the only way you're going to repay me."
"But what does that do for you?" Scott asked. "You've done so much for our family-- you helped the New Mutants, you've saved our lives, what does any of this have to do with you?"
"You'll figure it out someday," he said.
And inside, a shadow.
//But they-- but they don't know. You didn't tell them. He's only the clone--//
//They won't care. Brother. They never would have, if they'd known about you.//
//So why did you lie? Why did you tell them he's you, when he's me?//
//What they don't know, Apocalypse won't know.//
//Oh, I see your clever plan now. And to think I almost thought you cared, sweet brother. You do hate me, enough to sacrifice me to stop Apocalypse five thousand years early. So glad to see you're not going soft.//
//I never flonqing hated you until you made me, with your actions. I never flonqing wanted you to be sacrificed for my safety. I never chose to have a clone made to decoy Apocalypse.//
//But you're using that clone to decoy Apocalypse now.//
//Yeah, why the flonq not? You get what you always wanted. Apocalypse won't raise him, they will. And they'll love him the way you thought they never would, because they're better than you, they're better than you ever imagined. And Apocalypse won't try to take me and get Scott instead. He'll try to take Chris, when Scott's too old to be a choice, and it won't work any more than it worked with you, and Apocalypse will die... because I'll make flonqing sure Chris is backed up by people who'll know how to kill him. I'm not going to leave him alone to deal with it, like you were. The flonqing Askani made him to stop Apocalypse, I don't care what Rachel thinks she was doing, that's what it was about. It didn't work because it made you instead. This time he'll have loving parents who don't try to consume his soul. This time he won't be alone. And so he won't be you.//
//I'm better than you. And I always was. I don't have to kill you to save my future and make a liveable past. I can save you, and it does the same thing.
Now you can be better than you, too.//
Weakly. //Bravo, Nathan. Bravo.//
The Nathan of the future wouldn't be coming back here, not without a Stryfe to stand against him and turn the tide of battle against the Clan Chosen. He could lead a happy life in the future, with Aliya, with no Stryfe to kill her.
But there still needed to be a Cable, here, apparently. Someone had to train X-Force. Someone had to make sure the younger generation would know what to do, when Chris met up with Apocalypse however many years from now. An old broken man who'd seen two worlds, two timelines, destroyed would never be alive that long. But he could live long enough to make sure someone who would be, would know what to do.
He'd have to open the timedoor one more time.
//And what happens when they meet up with his twin? What happens when they meet you? Will they realize who was the clone and who was real?//
//When they meet Nate-in-the-future, maybe they'll figure out I lied and Chris is a clone, and maybe they won't. I don't care. I don't think they'll care, either. But you'll never believe that till you see it, will you?//
//I don't think-- I can.//
//No, because then you'd have to accept that your reason to hate is gone. Can't accept that your whole life was a waste, spent punishing people for sins they never committed? Can't accept that this time around, you're going to have everything you ever really wanted, and it's going to solve all my problems, too?//
But he sensed, even in sending it, that there was no longer anyone or anything there to receive his reply. After so many years, his shadow had gone.
Perhaps, after holding onto his pain for so long, he couldn't bear to see that none of it had been necessary.
Goodbye, old enemy. Be a better person this time around.
Jean looked up at him, eyes shining with unshed happy tears. "We'll do anything you ask," she said. "Within the limits of what we can do. But you've brought us back Scott's son. Words aren't enough, thanks aren't enough--"
"Don't worry about it. Just love him. That's all."
He turned and walked back out, and summoned the timedoor before anyone could stop him.
Time to go back to the beginning.