A Second More
By Andrea

"Well met, travelers."

"Well met, Kirin. It's good to see you again," Slym replied with a friendly smile.

"It is always good to see the Dayspring unit," the older woman said, embracing Slym, then smiling at the boy at his side. "And you, Nathan Dayspring. You've grown a great deal."

"We sheltered here once, not long after the attack on the Cloisters," Redd explained in a whisper in Sean's ear, keeping a reassuring hand on his shoulder. The younger boy looked distinctly nervous about meeting new people, as plain Sean Dayspring now instead of Prince Stryfe.

Sean nodded tightly, swallowing as Kirin's gaze shifted to him. He wasn't sure what exactly the Askani *were*, but the old woman looked as if she could see entirely too much despite her white hair and age-clouded eyes. Those eyes widened slightly as they rested on him and she murmured, "Well. You have been busy, Daysprings."

Redd squeezed his shoulder lightly. "This is Sean. We don't want to cause you any trouble, but we need identification papers for him."

"Hmm..." Kirin's lips compressed as she studied him, eyes shifting from Sean to Nathan and back again. Then she looked back up at Redd and Slym. "We will discuss this. Come with me. Mara!" She summoned a young woman who was standing nearby with a wave of her hand. "Mara will take the boys to have something to eat while we talk."

"It's all right," Redd murmured. "Just go with her and we'll find you soon. It'll be all right, I promise."

With a quick hug for each of them, Slym and Redd followed in Kirin's footsteps and left the twins with Mara. Nate shifted so he was standing beside his brother, his left arm half-hidden behind Sean's body. Redd had *told* him he didn't need to bother hiding the T-O at this camp, but...

He leaned against the link a little for comfort, and grinned when he discovered Sean was doing the same thing. Mara looked down her nose at them for a long moment--which annoyed Nate, since she was ONLY a few years older than them--then said briefly, "Come with me," and turned away, expecting them to follow. Nate rolled his eyes, Sean smiled a little, and they followed after her.

~I'm not supposed to kill anyone. Killing is bad. Only kill when there's no choice, not just because someone's annoying,~ Sean was chanting to himself a few hours later. He *really* needed the reminder right now. Mara had spent the entire time since Redd and Slym left with Kirin *talking*. She was worse than some of the self-important courtiers at the palace, apparently deciding that he and Nate were a captive audience and so she could go on and on (and on and on) about her studies, her family, her opinions on the *weather*...

It was enough to drive a *patient* man to distraction, and one quality the High Prince of Apocalypse had never had in abundance was patience. SURELY Slym and Redd would return soon and rescue them from her prattle. ~I'm not supposed to kill anyone. Father would get mad. I'm not supposed to kill anyone...~

Nate, he suspected, had gone to sleep with his eyes open.

"--and so Kirin said that if I keep doing well in my studies she'll send me to Madame Sanctity, who's rebuilding the Cloisters. She was one of Mother Askani's first recruits, you know, and--"

"Slym and Redd knew Mother Askani," Sean blurted out desperately, grabbing on to the first conversation track he could find.

Mara favored him with a condescending look *almost* equal to what the Prince could have achieved. "Well, I would think they'd *have* to. How *else* would they have been entrusted with the Chosen One?"

"The what?" Nate asked, apparently not asleep after all.

"Not the what, the *who*. The Chosen One. The Askani'Son. The child the Askani rescued after he was infected with the techno-organic virus. The one destined to defeat Apocalypse!"

Nate and Sean blinked at each other. "But Apocalypse is dead," Sean said slowly. "Nate..." Nate killed him. Nate had the T-O virus. Nate had been raised by Redd and Slym. "*Nate's* your Chosen One?"

"Of course," Mara replied blithely. Her arrogant look clearly asked "didn't you *know*?"

"But--" Nate began faintly.

"I know *all* about you," Mara continued. "I've been reading the histories as part of my studies. Mother Askani had the Sister bring the Chosen One to the Cloisters to try to cure his virus. She was afraid he would die before they could finish, so they made a healthy clone just in case." Her eyes skipped over Sean, not noticing--or not caring--that his face turned deathly pale. "But then the Cloisters were attacked and the Daysprings escaped with the Mother and the Chosen One while Apocalypse took the clone."

#Don't listen to her, Sean,# Nate said soothingly, sending reassuring thoughts along the link. #She doesn't know what she's talking about.#

#She's not lying,# Sean sent tightly, his face an expressionless mask.

#Sean, come on.# Nate waited a moment, but when there was no reply, he prodded, #You can't hide from me, remember? We're linked.#

#We thought we were *twin-linked*,# Sean snarled back at him, his voice more vicious than Nate could remember hearing from him since they'd fixed the link. #It turns out I'm your CLONE.#

#...I guess that's why I remember forming it more clearly than you do.#

#Just shut UP!# Sean snapped, and did the one thing he never thought he would--he drew on everything Redd had taught him and slammed a thick mindshield up across the link, effectively blocking his tw--his *template* out of his mind.

"Thank you for all your help," Redd said warmly, embracing Kirin again.

"For friends of the Mother, what else can we do? But I do hope you reconsider and travel to the new Cloisters. The Chosen One will be more protected there, and Madam Sanctity will see to his education."

"We'll think about it," Slym promised. "But if anyone's still looking for Stryfe, it will be safer for us to keep on the move. We wouldn't want to bring any troubles to the Askani after all your help."

Kirin nodded serenely. "Very well. All will be according to the Mother's prophesies eventually, but how we get there is up to us. I will leave you to collect your boys then. You are welcome to our hospitality for the night. Your new identification papers will be ready in the morn."

With a few more words of thanks and farewell, Slym and Redd headed off to where Kirin said Mara had taken the twins. "That went better than we could have hoped," Slym murmured in Redd's ear as they walked.

"And we'll leave in the morning. I'm so relieved that--" Redd stopped and blinked as they reached the little group. Mara was talking about something without much regard to her audience, which was probably good because Nate looked openly miserable and Sean's face was so absolutely expressionless she was afraid of what he was hiding.

"Something's wrong," she said in a very low voice, then pasted on a bright smile and walked towards the group. "I hope you didn't miss us too much, boys. Everything's worked out."

"Good," Sean replied tonelessly.

Nate's eyes met hers hopefully. "That's good. Can we leave now, then?"

"...Not yet. Mara, Kirin wanted you to return to her," Slym spoke up, eyeing the Askani girl and wondering what on earth she'd said to them. "We're staying here tonight." Mara smiled and rose to her feet. Slym and Redd watched her go, then sat down on the ground across from the twins. "Sean? Nate? What's wrong?"

Nate looked worriedly at his brother. "It's stupid. Mara just--"

"You lied to me," Sean interrupted, his voice still low and nearly inflectionless.

Slym and Redd blinked. "We've never lied to you, sweetheart," Redd said slowly, putting a hand on his shoulder. He pulled away from her and looked up at them, eyes burning. Slym was almost relieved to see some emotion, even... anger, disgust, whatever this was.

"Then I'm not a *clone*?"

They visibly winced. Sean started trembling slightly. "I knew she wasn't lying," he whispered.

Nate's eyes were wide as he stared at both his parents.

"That doesn't mean we lied to you," Redd said softly.

"Why did you do it? Why did you say--" Tears were forming in Sean's eyes. "Why did you say I was your *son*?"

"Because you ARE," Slym said with utter conviction, reaching out and putting his hand on Sean's shoulder despite the boy's efforts to pull away.

"You're my brother," Nate whispered, leaning his head against Sean's shoulder, tears in his own eyes. Having the link blocked off like this was almost physically painful. "I love you."

"I'm your *CLONE*!" Sean snarled. "Clones aren't even REAL! They're only good for--for the kind of jobs you won't even give to *flatscans*. Or...f-for h-harvesting..."

Slym winced. Organ harvesting from clones was unfortunately too common of a practice, among those in this time who could afford it. It was too easy to exploit someone you grew in a tank. "Just because some people exploit clones doesn't mean that there's anything *wrong* with them," he said firmly. "You're *just* as real as Nate is. And just as much my son."

"T-then w-why did Nate g-get you and I g-got Apocalypse?" Sean asked miserably, tears escaping his control and tracing their way down his cheeks.

"I'm *sorry*," Nate whispered. "I didn't mean it..."

"It wasn't your fault!" Redd exclaimed, pulling him over to hug tightly just as Slym did the same with Sean. "It wasn't *either* of your faults! It was an *accident*. We wanted to save you both, but we *couldn't*."

"It was the middle of a massacre," Slym told them softly. "We didn't even know where you WERE, we didn't know how to get to you, and by the time we did, Apocalypse already HAD you, Sean. We had to fight Ch'vayre just to get Nate back, and that was a very close thing."

"B-but clones aren't REAL!" Sean protested, sniffling against Slym's chest.

"Why NOT?" Redd asked reasonably. "Yes, you have the same DNA, but that doesn't make you any less real. So do identical twins. They're... nature's clones. You're still very much your own person."

"You've led different lives, you have different personalities," Slym added, stroking Sean's hair gently. "You're our son, you're Nate's brother, and NOTHING can change that."


"I'm holding you right now. I can feel you, I can talk to you," Slym interrupted firmly. "You have your own thoughts and emotions, and you *don't* act the same as Nate. You're not just a copy of him. You're Sean Dayspring, and I love Sean Dayspring very, very much."

Nate hugged Redd tightly and watched his--his TWIN, flonq it! Sean pulled back from Slym enough to wipe his face and looked at him for a long moment, then turned to look at Nate. Nate held out his hand plaintively. "I love you, little brother."

"I--" Sean's chin quivered for a moment as he studied Nate's hand. "Y-you think I'm real too?"

"You think I'd psi-link to just *anybody*?"

Sean blinked at him, then gave a choked giggle and leaned down to hug him tightly, conveniently without losing his grip on Slym either. Slym obligingly allowed himself to be pulled over and gathered *both* boys up in a hug.

"I love you too, big brother," Sean whispered.

"So you want to kill me. What else is new?"

"C'mon, Sean! You're exaggerating," Nate said with an endearing grin.

"I am NOT. You're trying to kill me."

"I just want to practice my tk!"

"Not on me!!"

Slym grinned as he watched his sons' mock argument at their latest campsite. The preceding weeks had been very good to the little Dayspring unit. They'd traveled together through the sometimes-harsh, always-difficult landscape, sometimes only barely evading the fights and skirmishes that had broken out after Apocalypse's death and the disappearance of his heir.

But they were together, and that was all that really mattered.

Slym loved times like this, when he could take a moment out of their busy day and just... watch his family. His sons, growing closer every day with their restored psi-link until Slym thought *surely* their future had been changed and they could never hate each other as much as the versions he'd known. His wife, still so beautiful after more than twelve years of this harsh life, laughing at their sons antics.

"Boys, boys!" she interrupted with a laugh. "No tk practice on each other for now. Just help set up camp."

"Yes, Redd," they chorused, grinning and moving off to help bring in the water.

Redd smiled after them, then went to join Slym by the fire. "You look... content," she said softly, folding her hands around his.

"I am." He set aside the fruits of that day's hunting and leaned over to kiss her gently. "Look at them, Redd. They're not going to grow up like Cable and Stryfe did. I can feel it."

"I pray you're right, Scott," she replied very quietly, leaning her head against his shoulder. "I pray you're right."

And that's when Scott felt it--the slight tug at the base of his skull that he'd only felt once before... When he and Jean had been pulled out of their bodies in the 20th century to live as Redd and Slym Dayspring in the 38th.

They'd never known how long they would have here. And now, it seemed, their time was up.

Jean straightened abruptly, her eyes wide. "Scott--"

"I feel it. How long do we have?"

"I--I don't know. Boys!" She raised her voice anxiously, infusing her voice with enough urgency that the twins immediately dropped the waterskins and rushed to their sides. "Nate... Sean... Oh, baby, let me hold you one more time," she whispered through tears, reaching out to hug them fiercely.

"Redd? What's wrong?" Nate asked worriedly.

"Nate... we can't explain, but we have to go," Slym said hoarsely.

"*GO*?!" Sean exclaimed in panic. "Go where? Can't we go *with* you?"

"Not this time, son. I'm so sorry."

"REDD!" Nate shouted as his mother faded from sight and his arms. He turned wide, tear-filled eyes on his father. "Slym, don't go! I don't want you to go! We can't do this alone!"

"You're not alone. You're never alone. You never WILL be, as long as you have each other. No matter what happens, now or in the future. Nate, Sean... take care of each other. We love you."

And then Slym was gone as well.

"FATHER!" Sean shouted disbelievingly, putting his hand through the space Slym had once occupied. "Don't go! Don't leave us, please!"

"They're g-gone," Nate whispered, tears gathering in his eyes. He stretched his mental senses out as far as he could, but he couldn't feel Redd or Slym anywhere. "They're really gone..."

"They left..."

The boys clung to each other for a long moment, fears and loneliness and uncertainty welling up and spilling over in the form of tears. If not for the link he could lean on for comfort, Sean knew he would have collapsed by now. As it was, he could barely choke back the horrible sense of abandonment long enough to hug his brother fiercely and pull back to wipe his eyes.

"We'll--we'll be okay, Nate. I--They didn't WANT to leave us."

"B-but... what are we supposed to DO?" Nate sniffed.

"F-Father said we--we have to take c-care of each other. So... I'll take care of you if you'll take care of me, okay?"

Nate's chin quivered, but he nodded resolutely. "Okay..." He wiped his eyes and tried desperately to look as firm and confident as Slym always did. "We'll take care of each other. But... w-what do we do now?"

Sean leaned back to consider this for a long moment. "I... I'm not sure. But... Father's been telling me how Apocalypse hurt a lot of people, made the world a lot worse. And I--I helped. I..." He took a deep breath. "Redd and Slym would want me to try to make up for that."

"You didn't know any better then," Nate said, squeezing Sean's hand.

"But I do NOW. I should do something. I just..." His face crumpled. "I don't know WHAT."

Nate took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. "From everything Redd and Slym told me, Apocalypse went a long way to taking apart a dream." He reached out and slung his arm around his twin's shoulders. "We're going to put it together again."

*A Beginning*

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