DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story-with the sole exception of a certain precocious fetus-belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. Rated PG-13 for a bit of foul language that's not used in the customary way...;)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Set at the very beginning of the Pantheon timeline, clearly. The first half of this fic was a vignette that I've had sitting around since before Christmas, which developed a second half when I sat down on a whim to try and polish it. I'm not sure how well the two scenes REALLY flow together, but it sort of wrote itself, and it did turn out kind of cute...;)

Life Abides
by Alicia McKenzie

Ten steps.

Nathan Summers kept his eyes focused on the empty armchair by the window, his attention riveted on it, to the exclusion of everything else. Just the chair. Not the floor, or the window, or the woman standing in the doorway watching his progress with a mixture of apprehension and delight that bubbled down their psi-link to the point where it was really becoming something of a distraction--

He swayed, but leaned more heavily on the cane, balancing himself with a momentary flicker of telekinesis as he took the last few steps and eased himself down into the chair. There. He'd done it. The brief use of telekinesis had triggered another headache, and he was breathing as heavily as if he'd run the perimeter of the mansion grounds a half-dozen times, but he'd done it.

Too bad that all he'd done was walk from his bed to the chair by the window.

Closing his eyes, Nathan took a deep breath, trying to ball up the frustration and shove it somewhere where she hopefully wouldn't notice it. Only then did he looked towards the door. "Don't I get applause?" he asked as dryly as he could, not bothering to try and mask how out of breath he was. He didn't have a hope of fooling her on that score.

Domino's smile was tinged with sadness as she made her careful way over to the chair opposite his. Eight and a half months pregnant or not, he reflected as he watched her through eyes narrowed against his growing headache, she still moved just as gracefully as always. He might have been jealous, but it was too nice just to sit here and watch her.

"If you like," Dom said almost whimsically. "I could probably manage a pat on the head, too."

"No, that's all right," he said, and tried to chuckle. It came out sounding strained, and he saw her straighten slightly in her chair, that tell-tale, tiny crease of worry back between her eyes. "I'm fine, Dom," he said, intending to reassure her. Probably would have been more convincing if he could keep the migraine from leaking down the link, but that was somewhat beyond him at the moment. "How are you feeling?" he persisted, deliberately changing the subject.

"Nice save," Dom said wryly. "But I'm not biting. You really need to stop worry about me, Nate--"

"But you get to worry about me?" he countered swiftly. "That's hardly fair, is it?"

"I'm pregnant," she pointed out mercilessly. "Completely natural state of being. You, on the other hand, lout, were half-dead." Her glowing violet eyes turned dark and shadowed for a moment, the link resonating with an echo of the desolate fear he hazily remembered from the weeks after the battle at Akkaba when he'd been conscious of little besides the pain. Apparently almost everyone had been convinced he wasn't going to outlive Apocalypse by more than a few weeks. He didn't really like to think about that, given what he had to live for, now--"There's a substantial difference," Domino went on, her lips curving in a faint smile again. "So let's not play games, shall we?"

"I still think it's unfair."

"You would." Her lips quirked as they sat there staring at each other for a long moment.

She was trying to sneak her way down the link to see how he was feeling-he could sense her not-particularly-subtle efforts-and getting frustrated that he wasn't letting her. For his own part, he was just enjoying looking at her. Bitch and moan though she might about feeling like a beached whale, he thought she looked beautiful. He just wished he could see her-or anything else, for that matter-as clearly as he should have been able to see her. His vision was just as damaged as the rest of him; it was blurred and unreliable, his depth perception coming and going as if it had a mind of his own.

"What?" she finally said, arching an eyebrow and giving up.

"Nothing," he murmured, turning his head towards the frost-rimmed window. "I see it's snowing," he said softly. It was part of the reason he'd moved from the bed to here--well, that and the fact that he was getting flonqing sick of the bed. He'd spent most of the last three months in one bed or another. It was getting tedious.

"Yeah." Domino chuckled suddenly. "Up for a snowball fight, old man?" she asked playfully. "Everyone else seems to have gotten that idea."

"Oh, definitely. Just let me catch my breath for a second," he said, trying to make it a joke. The headache was getting worse, and there were strange lights dancing at the edges of his vision. Very disconcerting.

"Sure. I told Sam to hit Scott with a few in your honor," Domino said with a grin. "Obedient child that he is, he said he'd do his best."

Nathan chuckled weakly, amused by the mental image that slipped down the link of Sam solemnly swearing to 'get Scott but good'. "Well, then, I won't be missed." He looked back at her as she got up. Watching her go over and lie down on the bed, he frowned as she laid back against the pillows with a little sigh. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?"

"Just tired, Nate. This is a fair bit of extra weight to be carrying around, and she's been kicking up a storm today." Domino shifted into a more comfortable position and smiled at him, shrugging a little. "Don't get me wrong. From an objective standpoint, I'm glad she's so energetic. Then again, it is my bladder she's taking out her frustrations on. It can be awkward."

"Frustrations?" Nathan asked, a little too quickly, and Domino sighed, sitting up and giving him a very direct look.

"Metaphorically speaking," she said soothingly. "She's fine. Just lively."

"Ah," he said, trying to keep his tone light. It bothered him, that Domino had such a close link with their daughter, and he could barely touch her mind. Oath, he was having trouble reaching out to Dom across the link these days--any kind of telepathic exertion just brought on another flonqing migraine. Just like the one that was currently trying to rip his brain into tiny little pieces and dance on the bloody shreds--

He closed his eyes with a sigh, and heard Dom give a soft chuckle, utterly barren of the amusement that had been in her voice a minute ago. "I was wondering how long that would take," she said very quietly. "Are you coming back to bed?"

"I'm sick of the bed," he muttered darkly. He felt like such a lump, these days--

"I know." Her voice was still soft, almost a caress, and soothing emotions trickled down the psi-link. "But you need to rest."

Nathan sighed again, hauling himself painfully up out of the chair and starting unsteadily back towards the bed. "This is ridiculous," he grated, knowing he sounded petulant but not really caring at the moment. "Three months and I can't even walk across the flonqing room--" He managed, just barely, to make it back to the bed before his bad leg decided to give out completely, and laid down beside Domino, too out of breath even to curse. Emotions churned darkly inside him-resentment, irritation and fear (was he ever going to get anything resembling his old life back?)-and he bit his lip, trying to keep them from traveling down the link to Dom.

She sighed and shifted closer to him, taking his hand in hers and placing it on her stomach. A look of concentration settled over her features, and his eyes widened, a mixture of disbelief and joy flooding through him and driving the bleakness away as a third presence was suddenly there on the link, clear as moonlight even to his crippled telepathy.

"Listen to me," Domino said, half-humorously, half-seriously. "I'm not saying you should lie here in this bed and wait around until you feel like running a fucking marathon, Summers, but I worry when you push too hard. And when I worry, she worries." She turned laboriously on her side, reaching out with her other hand and tracing the side of his face gently. Her hand was cool, and he closed his eyes for a moment, trying to hold back a sigh. "So take it easy, all right? We both want you around for a long time to come."

The emotions were echoed enthusiastically-if non-vocally-by that shining new presence sharing Dom's end of the link, and Nathan couldn't help but smile. "So what you're saying is that I need to have patience?" he murmured, savoring the contact and tried to ignore the tears blurring his vision even further.

"Yeah. I know it's a stretch."

"Oh, be quiet," he muttered tenderly, blinking the tears back as she shifted over onto her back again and edged closer to him. "I want the world and I want it now." It was only a joke, of course, because he had it already. He smiled, holding tightly to the link and the two people he loved the most, and closed his eyes.

She was a little tired, but not overly so. As hard as it seemed to be for Hank and Cecilia to believe, she was actually having a remarkably easy pregnancy, considering her age and all the other complicating factors. At least they considered it 'remarkable'; frankly, she was much more inclined to look at it as something that had been meant to be. What is, is. Nathan's philosophy had grown on her over the years, just a little. Domino took a deep breath, staring up at the ceiling, one hand on her abdomen.

#}}??{{# The unspoken question sparkled along the delicate psi-link she had with her unborn daughter, and Domino smiled.

*Yes, your father's asleep,* she sent back soothingly.


Domino chuckled softly. Her daughter didn't communicate in words, of course, but the emotions themselves had been perfectly clear for nearly two months, now. She'd caught flashes of something many times before that, but it hadn't been well-defined enough to class as communication. Even now, it was an empathic link, and a very private one. None of the other telepaths could quite manage to listen in. Xavier and Hank were speculating that the Merge had affected the baby somehow, activating her mutant abilities, even heightening them--

She'd found the speculation a lot more disturbing at first than she did now. It had been just another reason to be anxious, another entry on the list of things to be worrying herself sick over. But Xavier, Jean and Emma had put their heads together, and decided, after very gently establishing contact, that the change wasn't necessarily harmful--so long as the baby was properly shielded, and measures were taken to ease the psychic strain that would result from delivery.

So Domino had been able to relax--just a little. It had certainly helped that Nathan had started to improve around the same time. Fewer nights sitting at his bedside, clinging fiercely to the psi-link and wondering if he was going to make it through the night meant less stress all around. The link had really started to blossom around the same time, actually. Their daughter had certainly seemed very curious about the link to Nathan, once there'd been something other than pain at his end of it. *Maybe it took the three of us,* Domino thought, intrigued.

#}}...>>amusement<<...{{# The emotion bubbled up the link, almost like a giggle.

*Oh, was that an 'I told you so, Mom'?*


Domino smiled again, and looked over at Nathan. He was sound asleep already-he still tended to drift off at the drop of a hat-and a sudden ache centered itself in her chest as she reached out and traced the deep lines of pain in his face.

He'd always looked so much younger when he slept, but not anymore. It took a fair amount of self-control these days not to cry when she looked at him. She supposed she could write it off to hormones, mostly, but it--hurt to see him like this, and she couldn't get away from that. The fact that he'd survived was a miracle for which she'd never stop being thankful. But he'd never fully recover; Hank had been quite up-front about that. His whole life was going to change, and she didn't know how he was going to handle that--

#}}???{{# Agitation colored the link, and Domino cursed, sending soothing emotions towards the blue-silver light that blazed with anxiety in its snug little place in her mind. She shouldn't have been thinking along those lines, at least not so loudly. She was, after all, INSIDE the shields Xavier had set up. #}}????{{#

*It's all right, sweetheart. Go to sleep.*


That sounded almost indigant, Domino reflected with surprise. *As if she's telling me off, or something--*


Domino slapped a hand over her mouth. *What?* she shrieked silently. She couldn't have heard that! No way had she just heard THAT!

#}}fuck!!!{{# her daughter sent back triumphantly.

*Don't say that!* Domino sent back much more moderately, trying not to break into laughter, which would wake Nate up. This definitely wasn't something she wanted to try and explain to him. *Bad--no!*

A pause. #}}fuck?{{#

*No!* Domino breathed as deeply as she dared, telling herself that she would not start giggling, she would NOT--

Happiness bubbled up the link again. #}}fuckfuckfuck,{{# her daughter babbled happily, delighted she'd found a way to make Mom happy again.

Domino snickered aloud. "I think I've created a monster," she muttered to herself mirthfully. She couldn't believe this. Her daughter's first word was a da--a four-letter word, for pity's sake! No--not her first word. *She's not born yet, I don't have to count this--and I am going to watch the fu--the profanities from this point on, I swear.*


Domino jumped, a giggle that was far too high-pitched escaping her. It rang out in the quiet of the room like a bell.

"Mmph?" came a sleepy half-grunt from beside her.

"Heh--um, go back to sleep, Nate."


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