After the death of Apocalypse in the 38th century, Redd and Slym Dayspring escape with a new addition to the family.

Author's Notes: This story is dedicated to Persephone_Kore, the one responsible for turning me into a raving Stryfe fangirl. (Yes, blame HER!) Special thanks also to Alicia McKenzie for beta-reading, Timey for forcing me to write this in the first place, and L Burke for her wonderful depiction of Slym in "Crucibles", which helped inspire parts of this story.

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A Second More
By Andrea

In another time, a distant place, there stands a palace, a massive monument of stone and steel to a monster who has lived for centuries. But today, after a fierce battle that was barely won, the monument stands for nothing. The monster is dead.

Scott Summers--known in this time as Slym Dayspring--stands looking down at the body of an enemy that has dogged him through two lifetimes. The one responsible for infecting his son, Nathan Christopher, with the techno-organic virus that nearly ended his life, and forced Scott to send him nearly two thousand years in the future to save him. Then Scott and his new wife Jean were pulled into this time to live as Slym and Redd Dayspring, to raise their son... and to kill Apocalypse.

Today they succeeded.

#Scott, it had to be done,# Redd whispered softly across their psi-link, putting a hand on his arm.

#I know. We had no choice. But now...# Slym raised his head to look at the two boys who had also been an integral part of this battle. One was Nathan Dayspring, his son, who had been the one to block the massive surge of telepathic energies from Apocalypse to his intended host. Denied that host, Apocalypse had died. The other... the boy who lay unconscious on the floor, his face slack with unconsciousness but curiously identical to the boy standing over him. This was Stryfe, the Chaos-Bringer, who had been raised as Apocalypse's heir, raised until he was old enough for Apocalypse to possess him as his new host-body.

That attempt had failed, but... now what would happen to him?

"The entire palace is going to be in chaos soon," Redd said, moving to put her hands on Nate's shoulders and squeeze gently. "We need to get moving."

"Right," Slym replied slowly, still staring at Stryfe's face. He looked so much like Nate... Nate as he would have looked without the ravages of the virus. Before he quite realized what he was doing, Slym walked across the room to the boy's side and knelt down to hoist him up over one shoulder awkwardly. "Let's go."

"B-but... that's *Stryfe*! He's the *Prince*," Nate protested, eyes wide.

"He is the only heir of Apocalypse," Ch'vayre added ominously, the enormous Prelate of Apocalypse coming to loom over them.

"He's ours now," Slym said firmly. He looked up at Ch'vayre, his gaze utterly implacable. "You don't want him anyway. We'll keep him safe. He belongs to us."

Ch'vayre looked as if he was going to continue arguing, but Redd added, "He's *ours*, Ch'vayre. You'll have enough trouble keeping yourself alive in all the power struggles that are about to start. Let us worry about Stryfe."

Ch'vayre was silent for a long moment, then nodded once. "Be gone. Quickly. The palace is no longer safe for any of you."

"It ever WAS?" Nate asked irreverently, following Redd and Slym on their path out of the palace.

"Why did we have to take HIM, anyway? We were doing fine on our own."

Nathan Dayspring sat cross-legged on the ground, idly drawing figures in the dust. He didn't think anyone heard his muttered comment until a strong hand dropped on his shoulder. "Because *he* wasn't," Slym replied, giving Nate's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Believe me, it's better this way. He didn't have anywhere else to go."

"He was the Prince," Nate replied, shooting a resentful glance toward the door. "Why would he need help from *us*? Bet there were lots of people at the Palace who would've taken him."

"And that might've been good for them, but not necessarily for Stryfe. I know it's hard to understand right now, but we'll explain as soon as we can, I promise. Just trust me for now." Slym gave his son's shoulder one more squeeze, then shouldered the water bag again and followed the path of Nate's stare into the cool, dark interior of the house.

Well, calling it a "house" was an over-generous estimation, but there WERE two rooms, with a roof to keep out the acid rain and walls to keep out the animals that might find their little party a good source of food or shelter. Slym still counted it as a stroke of luck that they'd found the place at all. They'd initially set out simply to put as much distance between them and the Palace as possible, with the Palace disintegrating into utter chaos with the death of Apocalypse. But they'd stumbled across this run-down bolt hole in the middle of nowhere, overrun with vermin and encroaching desert sand. With Stryfe still unconscious and half-delirious from the possession attempt, and ALL of them worn-out from the battle and subsequent flight, Slym had decided that going to ground for a while was probably the best alternative all around.

"Redd?" he called out softly as he ducked to pass through the low doorway. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust enough to spot the woman sitting on the floor beside a pallet along the far wall. "How is he?" he asked her, passing her the waterskin and waiting for her to take a sip.

"Still unconscious," she replied, looking over at the boy on the pallet. Except for the lack of the techno-organic virus and general better nutrition, he was nearly identical to the other boy waiting outside. Which was hardly surprising, since he was Nathan's clone. She lifted him up slightly and carefully dribbled water into his mouth. He swallowed convulsively, but didn't wake. With a sigh, she let him back down gently and looked solemnly at her husband. #I hope we know what we're doing,# she said soberly along their psychic link.

#We *had* to, Jean. We couldn't just... leave him there. He's as much my son as Nathan is.#

#I wasn't arguing.# A soft mental chuckle as he placed his arms around her and she leaned back in his embrace. #But Scott, remember the Stryfe we met... What if we're NOT changing things for him? What if he STILL winds up hating us, hating Nate?#

#I... don't know,# Slym was forced to admit, closing his eyes and remembering that terrible meeting with Stryfe on the moon... #He said he was abandoned. Left to Apocalypse. But we HAVE him now. We just... have to keep him.#

#I know.# She turned to kiss him gently. "We just have to do the best we can. And hope for the best."

He sighed. "I know. And I can't second-guess myself with every turn. I just... I couldn't help him for so long... I want to make everything *right* now. I'm his *father*!"

There was a strangled gasp from the doorway. With a feeling of dread inevitability churning in his stomach, Slym turned to see Nate standing in the doorway, eyes wide. "Y-you're his father?" Nate stammered, gripping the lintel so tightly with his left hand he was warping the wood.


"He's your REAL kid? THAT'S why you wanted to bring him?" Nate dashed a hand against his face, wiping away hot tears. He stared at the boy on the pallet, remembering the first time they'd met and he'd noticed that amazing resemblance... "That's why you wanted me, isn't it?" he whispered hoarsely. "Because I look like HIM?!"

"Nate, honey, no, that's not it at all," Redd said soothingly, standing up to go to him. "You don't understand--"

"I *understand*! You couldn't have your REAL kid, so you just picked up some diseased kid whose parents didn't even want him so you could pretend I was HIM!"

"Nate!" Slym stretched out an impotent hand as Nate choked up, then turned and ran out of the room as fast as he could. "*Blast*! I'll... go try--"

"No. Let me," Redd said gently. "Stay with Stryfe, and call me if he starts to wake up."

With a feathery mental embrace, she left in search of her son.


Redd slowly made her way around the side of the hut, following her son's tracks in the sand instead of scanning for him mentally. She saw him sitting on the ground, shoulders hunched over and arms locked around his knees. His face was buried. "Sweetheart..." She sank gracefully to the ground beside him and put an arm around his shoulders. It hurt when he flinched away slightly.

"Why're you bothering to talk to me when your *real* kid's inside?" he said in a choked voice.

"Nate, you misunderstood what Slym meant."

"How could I *misunderstand*?" Nate shot back, lifting his head to glare at her. There were tearstains on his cheeks. "Slym SAID he was Stryfe's *father*. I KNOW what that means! Stryfe's your real kid, and I'm just..."

"You're just the 'kid' I love very, very much," Redd retorted firmly.

"But you just wanted me because I look like HIM!" Nate sniffed. He looked down at his left arm in disgust. "I always wondered why you'd bother..."

"*Nate*! Don't EVER question that." Redd pulled him firmly against her. "Sweetheart, I never wanted you to think..."

"Leave me ALONE!" Nate jerked away from her and hunched his shoulders over again. "Go back to your *real* kid."

Redd bit her lip. There didn't seem to be any way to convince him that he'd just misunderstood and... she was SO tired of lying to him. After a hurried mental conversation with Slym, she cautiously put her arm back around his shoulders. "Nate, sweetheart, there's something I need to tell you. Slym and I wanted to tell you a long time ago, but we couldn't while Apocalypse was still alive."

"Doesn't matter," Nate muttered.

"Oh, I'd say it does," she replied wryly. "Nate, honey, you know how we told you that... your real parents abandoned you because they couldn't handle the virus, and that's why we took you in?"

"I'd hardly *forget*."

Redd winced at the biting tone. "That... wasn't true," she said cautiously.

Nate looked over at her and wiped his face with his right hand. "W-what do you mean?"

She let out a long breath. "Your real parents didn't abandon you, Nate. We've been with you the whole time. I'm SO sorry we had to lie to you."

Nate pushed back slightly, away from her, and stared at her in utter shock. "W-what? They've been with... YOU? You're..." His eyes welled up with tears and he asked in a very small voice, "You're my real parents? You and Slym?"

Redd nodded mutely, staring at him with her heart in her eyes, praying he would understand why they'd never told him. He stared at her for a long moment, then rather abruptly dove against her side, shaking with emotion.

"You're my real parents," he sniffled. "You really w-wanted me?"

"Oh sweetie, of *course* we wanted you! We were just trying to protect you. We couldn't stand the thought of losing you."

He pulled back to look at her again in tearful confusion. "Lose me? But why--Oh." His face registered comprehension. "Like you lost Stryfe?"

She nodded slowly. "Apocalypse wanted you both," she said softly. "We... changed our identities, went on the run." That was *strictly* true, even if it left out some rather important details. Explaining time travel would just overly confuse things at this delicate point. For that matter, so would explaining about Madelyne...

"W-wanted us both? Then... Stryfe--"

"Is your brother. Your... twin. Apocalypse..." She had to take a deep breath. "Apocalypse thought you would be the perfect host-body for him. So he attacked the Askani Cloisters, where--we were. There was so much confusion, so many Askani killed..." She shut her eyes, remembering wading in a sea of blood. "He got Stryfe, and we *barely* got you."

"I--I don't remember him..." Well, until they'd met--again, apparently--a few years ago.

"You were just babies. But *that's* why we've been hiding all these years, not because of your virus. We wanted to tell you so much, but... we were afraid of letting anything slip to tip off Apocalypse. I'm so sorry."

In another lifetime, Nathan Dayspring would shrug her off with a muttered, "Sorry has no meaning," and go off on his own. But here, now, Nate just wrapped his arms tightly around his mother--his REAL mother--and held on.

"All right, try it again."

Nate sighed and looked up at Redd mournfully. "Can't we stop for today?"

"Not yet, kiddo. Come on, you need the practice."

"Why? We beat Apocalypse. It's not like we have to hide from him anymore."

"No, but there are other people who could make things difficult for us if they wanted to. And you need to know how to control your powers no matter *who* is or isn't after you. Come on, once more."

Nate blew out a breath, settled back, and began running through the exercise once more. "I still don't see what's such a big--"

"*Who are you*?"

Mother and son both jumped slightly at the imperious voice. Well, somewhat imperious, but mixed with a heavy dose of confusion, anger, and pain. Redd summoned a soothing smile and moved to the side of the pallet that was stretched in the corner of the room. "Good morning. I'm glad you're awake. How are you feeling?"

"I asked your name." This time the voice was full of haughteur, but now that the speaker was visible the effect didn't come across nearly as well. Stryfe wasn't nearly as impressive as he thought he was right now. The boy, twelve or thirteen but tall for that age, lay totally still on the pallet. His head was raised slightly to look at the two others in the room, but obviously with effort. His face was a haughty mask, but the stormy gray eyes watching them closely were shadowed with pain.

"My name's Redd. Would you like something to drink?" She kept her voice low and gentle, unthreatening. "Nate, bring me that waterskin, please."

"Sure." Nate crossed the room, keeping an uneasy eye on the other boy.

Stryfe's eyes narrowed as he studied him. "I know you," he announced in a low, ominous voice. "'Nate'." He managed to inject the simple name with a wealth of mockery and loathing.

"Very good. Redd just *said* it."

"What are YOU doing here?" Stryfe's eyes flicked back to Redd. "Why have you brought me here? What did you DO to me?"

There was enough anger in the expression and tone that Nate gulped and firmed up his shields, not QUITE trusting Redd's verdict that Stryfe's powers weren't working for now. After all, he remembered the LAST time Stryfe had looked that mad, and he'd barely managed to survive that experience.

"We just want to help," Redd told him gently, offering the water again. "You were hurt."

"I want to see my father," Stryfe demanded, not even glancing at the water. "Release me, and take me to him."

Redd winced slightly and placed one cool hand on Stryfe's arm. He pulled away weakly. "Apocalypse is dead. You were injured, but you'll be all right."

"You lie!" Stryfe shouted hoarsely. "He is the High Lord, the Eternal. He will rule when *you* are dust! *Where is my FATHER!*"

"I wouldn't think you'd be so eager to see him after what he tried to do to you," Nate muttered.

Redd shot him a quelling look, but Stryfe made an outraged noise and struggled to sit up. "Do not speak to me, *peasant*! You are *dirt*." He sniffed dismissively and added, "And dirty. Leave my presence."

"Look, Stryfe, I don't know where you--"

"Nate." Redd cut the boy off calmly and looked back down at Stryfe, placing her hand back on his arm. "Apocalypse is dead, and we're trying to help you. But you have to let us, okay?"

"Do not tell me what to do, peasant. And *stop lying*!"

"You're going to hurt yourself more if you don't calm down," she said implacably, resisting his weak efforts to pull away again. "It's all right."

"It will be *all right* when you RETURN me to the Palace! If you do so immediately, perhaps your deaths will be quick!"

"Oh yeah, *that's* great incentive," Nate snorted, earning another look from Redd.

"You're not going back to the Palace," a new voice added firmly as a figure stepped into the room. "You're staying with us. It'll be all right."

Stryfe cast another dismissive look towards the new arrival, skipping haughtily past the rough, dusty clothing and heavily bandaged knee to look at the man's face. "Who are you to make such--"

He stopped short, his arrogant perusal finally reaching the new man's face, and every drop of blood drained out of his own. Redd leaned forward worriedly, but his wide eyes were locked on Slym. Mouth slightly open, he appeared to be desperately attempting to formulate a coherent thought. "S-S-S-*SLYM DAYSPRING*?!"

"...Yes. How are you feeling?" Slym walked through the door and sat in the room's sole chair, a very rickety affair but more comfortable for his injured knee than the floor. He looked sideways at Redd and Nate. Nate was blinking at Stryfe with his mouth slightly open, and Redd was regarding the boy incredulously.

"F-f-fine," Stryfe managed. "S-sir."

"How the flonq do you know Slym?!" Nate finally burst out, unable to keep it in any longer. ~He goes from "peasant" to "SIR"?!~

Slym looked sharply at Nate. "...I assumed I had an introduction already. And watch your language." He switched his look to Redd.

"...I hadn't told him anything about you yet," she replied faintly.

"Ah..." Slym turned this over in his head several times, then looked back down at the boy on the bed, who was still staring at him with mixed incredulity, excitement, and awe. "Stryfe? Do you know me?"

"Y-y-you're *Slym Dayspring*!"

"...Yes," Slym said slowly, leaning forward slightly. ~I already knew that!~

"I kn-knew you'd come," Stryfe whispered, his eyes round and locked on Slym's.

"Of course I came," Slym managed after a moment, exchanging a baffled look with Redd. "...How did you know I would?" ~And how do you know *ME*?~

"I--I just knew..." Stryfe's voice trailed off. He swallowed painfully and asked, "W-what happened to... Lord Apocalypse?"

Redd squeezed his arm gently. "He's dead, Stryfe. I told you."

He jerked his arm away angrily and glared at her. "I wasn't speaking to you!"

"Hey." Still utterly baffled, Slym leaned forward and put his hand on Stryfe's other arm. "Relax. She's here to help you. We all are." He hesitated before adding slowly, "Apocalypse... is dead."

"D-dead," Stryfe repeated flatly, staring at the hand. He took a very shaky breath, his chin quivering ever so slightly. Then he nodded, as if to himself, and looked back up at Slym. "I'm r-ready."

~This conversation MUST be making sense to someone, but not to me!~ Slym thought a bit wildly. Of all the possible scenarios he and Redd had thought of for Stryfe's awakening, this... whatever was happening certainly wasn't it! "That's good, then."

"WHAT are you TALKING about?!" Nate burst out in exasperation. "What are you READY for? And how do you know Slym?"

"I SAID don't *speak* to me, *peasant*!" Stryfe replied hotly. "What would YOU know about anything?"

"...Nate has a point, Stryfe. I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're 'ready' for. Or why you knew I was coming. Or how you know me, for that matter." It was, Slym reflected, high time for some answers. He gestured for Nate to come over, though, and put his other arm around Nate's shoulders. "And Nathan is my son."

Stryfe paled again. "Nathan..." His eyes flicked over Redd dismissively. "And Redd Dayspring. Oh." He looked back at Nate, the earlier loathing and disgust returned to his gaze. "I thought you'd be... more impressive." His eyes slid over Nate's left arm.

Nate started to cover his left arm with his right, fighting down a blush. "You're not so impressive yourself," he muttered.

Stryfe's eyes flashed with fury. Slym moved quickly to intervene. "Stryfe. Can you please answer me? How do you know who I am?" Keep the questions simple and maybe he'd get an ANSWER for a change...

"You're *Slym Dayspring*. I studied you, s-sir."


Stryfe looked up at Slym, an excited smile growing on his face. "I studied your strategies. After you faced me at Leilar. I've--I've been studying everything you did." The excitement in his voice was growing. "I've been adapting your strategies. I KNEW you'd notice and come."

Slym fought very hard to keep his shock from showing on his face. Stryfe... the Prince had studied him, used his strategies? That was... at once flattering and somewhat terrifying.

He remembered the battle at Leilar that Stryfe referred to... The boy couldn't have been more than nine years old at the time, but he'd already been leading Apocalypse's warriors against what pitiful fighters the Clan Rebellion could muster. And Slym... He'd led them, struggling to save one small part of this time as strongly as he'd ever led the X-Men to save the entire universe in another lifetime. And that meant, here, being hard. Ruthless. They couldn't AFFORD the ideals he tried to cling to. Saving the people he was in charge of--and keeping his son safe--meant making tough choices.

At Leilar, that had meant looking coldly down at the soldiers they'd trapped at the bottom of a narrow gorge and ordering his troops to open fire. Stryfe had been there that day, he knew. Watching from the other side of the gorge as this rebel leader coldly ordered the deaths of hundreds.

...And now he was being *admired* for that?

"What did you think I was going to come to do?" he asked Stryfe gently.

"I... studied you. Watched you. I--I thought if you noticed, you'd come and... I could help you."

Nate snorted, irrationally irritated by the other boy. "What, trying to find a better father than Apocalypse?"

"Who are YOU to say anything against my--He is the High Lord, and I am his heir! He will rule for an eternity!"

"If he's going to rule for an eternity, why does he NEED an heir?"

"*Nate*!" Redd exclaimed sharply as Stryfe's face turned white.

"He--I--We're supposed t-to..." Stryfe clenched his eyes shut and brought his fists up to cover his face, trying to drive back the memories that his subconscious had been desperately trying to bury.

Light. All around him, so harsh, burning into him. And his father--Apocalypse--out of his armor, coming towards him, reaching out and--"Shut up, shut up, shut UP!" he whimpered. This had to be the peasant boy's fault, making him think these things. But--he was fighting, struggling to keep his mind, his SOUL intact, to not let Apocalypse take him over and...

"He was my *father*," Stryfe whispered, his shoulders shaking with tears he was almost too weak to shed. Then, desperately, "What did I do wrong?"

Slym surged forward, kneeling awkwardly at the side of the bed and gathering the hysterical boy up in his arms. Stryfe flinched away, but was too weak and too emotional to break even Slym's gentle grip. "It's all right, Stryfe. You're safe now."

Nate hunched his shoulders, looking anywhere but at Stryfe. He hadn't meant to upset his "twin" THAT badly...

Redd had to blink hard to force back the tears that sprang up at Stryfe's emotional breakdown, but when she tried to put a comforting arm on his shoulder, he just whimpered and tried to burrow into Slym. She bit her lip, torn between the desire to comfort and the desire not to make Stryfe any more terrified and embarrassed than he already was.

"Come on, Nate," she at last said softly to her other son, standing and holding out her hand. "Let's leave them alone."

Slym looked up briefly as Redd and Nate quietly left the room, but the boy sobbing in his arms took up most of his attention. "It's all right, son, you didn't do anything wrong. You're safe now. I promise I won't let anything hurt you."

Stryfe went very still in Slym's arms. "S-son? Apocalypse--" A mostly choked-back sob "--Apocalypse is my f-father."

Slym closed his eyes and held the boy tighter. He hadn't intended to bring any of that up now, just to comfort Stryfe until he calmed down and hopefully could rest again. But... well, maybe it would help after all. At least knowing that the monster who'd just tried to kill him WASN'T his father...

"No, he isn't." Slym kept his voice very gentle and reassuring, but firm enough to leave no doubt that he was telling the truth. "Apocalypse stole you. He kidnapped you, and raised you so he could use you... as his host, when you were old enough."

Stryfe shuddered in his arms. Slym closed his eyes and unconsciously started rocking gently, as he'd comforted when Nate was a baby. "He was never your father. I am."

"B-but you *CAN'T* be my father," Stryfe protested, sniffling.

"Why not?"

"Because... It d-doesn't feel like I'm dreaming. You d-don't have headaches or b-be thirsty in dreams. And..." His hand moved very tentatively against the rough cloth of Slym's shirt. "You f-*feel* real. B-but if you're my f-father, then I have to be d-dreaming."

"You've--dreamed about that?" was all Slym could manage to get out past the lump in his throat.

"I s-shouldn't." Stryfe's eyes were closed, his voice slightly dreamy. "I'm supposed to respect Apocalypse. It's disloyal to dream. Apocalypse... punishes disloyalty." A tiny sigh. "But Slym Dayspring is Strong. He f-fights, and commands, and doesn't just stay in the Palace... Slym's going to--" yawn "--come for me, if I'm good enough. And we'll--" another yawn "--fight together..."

Stryfe's voice trailed off, his breaths coming slow and even. Asleep.

Slym shook his head dazedly. He'd gotten his son back, apparently unintentionally fulfilled Stryfe's childhood fantasies, and Stryfe couldn't even manage to stay awake long enough for his father to tell him he loved him.

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