Disclaimer: Stryfe, Cable, Aliya, etc, all belong to Marvel. I make no profit from this, and haven't any money anyway.
This is the fifth in the slowly expanding series, you might actually need to read the others now. For continuity. Anyway, they're at Luba's. (Wonderful woman) :)
Dedication: To Diamonde, the real one, because she gave me the last two scenes.
*cough* Ali, I love you, don't kill me.
In a darkened room, in a well-fortified bunker, a man awaited the return of his master. The valet was sure that said master would return, since that master had only gone to a party.
Still, he waited up, knowing he'd be needed.
He was right.
"Henry, good of you to wait up."
"Yes, m'lord." He replied dutifully, as he removed the coat from Lord Essex's shoulders.
Essex began unknotting the neckcloth and then unbuttoned his shirt, carefully giving it into his valet's care.
"How was the party, m'lord?"
"I think it went rather well. Dayspring has things in hand. For now." He rubbed his chin and turned away to pull on the proffered dressing gown.
"Anything of note happen?"
"There was a... kitten in the punchbowl. And then she was later draped across the cake." Essex chuckled softly, "I believe the man has his hands full, there."
"Might he be distracted, m'lord?"
"Not... Yet, I don't think." With a swish of silk, Essex sat in the chair in front of his desk. "But, I think I will send that message."
"Very good, m'lord."
Stryfe jerked awake and found himself clutching the kitten to his chest. She protested being held tightly, sleepiness muting her cries.
There it was again. A scraping sound, just outside his door. A glance around the room proved that it was still somewhat in the middle of the night. He stood and set the kitten back in the warm spot before moving over to the door.
A sleepy mrph came from the bed and then she dropped back into sleep. He leaned next to the door and listened intently.
Scrape. Scrape. Thud. Scrape. Mumbled commentary, then the sound of the locks on the door disengaging. It opened, and a head popped in, the owner blinking at the empty pallet. "Hello?"
Stryfe moved, clamping an arm around the man's throat, dragging him into the room. He slammed him against the wall, hastily searching his belt for weapons. A hand on his shoulder made him turn and he blinked.
"Boss." The man standing behind him hissed, "Let Harrold go."
"Who are you?"
"Your rescue committee."
Stryfe stared. His rescue committee was two half-grown boys covered in dirt and badly made tunics. Their pants looked like they'd filched them from a pair of very tall guards. Bare toes peeped out from under the large cuffs. "Really."
"Yeah. Look, see, we heard you was in here, me and Harrold--and, can you let him go? Thanks. Anyway, we heard you was in here and decided it was high time you got out. So, here we are." The boy smirked, "Feel proud, boss. We done in several guards, and no one has caught us yet."
Narrative causality had, though.
Both boys were suddenly held immobile in telekinetic hands. "Going somewhere, Stryfe?"
"No." He glared at Dayspring, then stalked back and sat down on his bed, picking up his kitten and setting her in his lap. She purred softly.
"Getting fond of that kitten?" Dayspring inquired lightly.
"No," Stryfe responded again, in blatant defiance of all the evidence.
"I see." Nathan inspected the two boys. "I guess I can't execute you two for aiding and abetting a known criminal. But... I think I'll give you to the guards. Maybe they'll be able to knock some sense into you."
"Oh, no sir, please." Squeaked the one called Harrold. "We'll be good, sir. I promise. Me an' Fred, we won't ever think of doin' something like this again. Just don't let the guards beat us."
Fred nodded his head emphatically, his eyes wide with fear. "Please, sir. We won't do it again."
Stryfe resisted burying his head in his hands only by dint of good self-control. These two bunglers may have been young, but they HAD gotten all the way to his cell and nearly let him out. And he hated to think that they were the kind of person he attracted. But then, a smart soldier would have shot him and been done with it.
Which proved Dayspring wasn't as smart as he thought he was.
"I think I'll put you two into a cell and think about it tomorrow." Nathan fought a yawn. Late night prisoner-stealings were something he was well versed in. But they were wearing on the body. "And maybe I'll let Aliya decide what to do with you, since it was HER you woke up."
"Hiding behind a woman, Dayspring?"
Cable smiled. "Yes. When she's as formidable as Aliya." His smile stretched further, "Besides, she always has more interesting ideas. Like making people wash dishes."
Stryfe snarled but remained where he was as Dayspring escorted the two boys from his cell and relocked the door.
His kitten continued to purr.
Aliya was pretending sleep when Nathan got back to their room. He chuckled and crawled into bed, snuggling up against her back. "Silly."
"Did you have to go?"
"Would you rather Stryfe had gotten out?"
"Well, no." Of course not. But then, he hadn't wanted to go either. "You can deal with the two miscreants in the morning."
"Oh, fun." She turned and looked at him in the darkness. "Nathan?"
"What do you think of children?"
"Depends on the child," he temporized. "Stryfe was a brat. I was a holy terror. Didn't know you that young...."
"Don't sidestep the question, Nathan."
"I... don't know."
"How long do you think this war will go on?" She asked, changing the subject.
"Months, days, years?" He sighed, "I'm hoping for months, but I think it might take years. We may never be truly free of what He did to the land."
Aliya was silent for a while. "Nate?"
Pregnant. The word echoed in his skull, banging against various bits of metal and neuron. "You're..." He didn't have to ask who the father was. That would not only be stupid, it would also be suicidal. Especially with her cuddled into his arms in easy reach of his neck and heart. "...pregnant."
"Can we talk about this in the morning?"
"Don't make me kick you out of bed, Nathan Dayspring." Aliya snorted and snuggled closer, "It's too damned cold in this palatial pile to sleep alone at night."
Nathan settled an arm more firmly over her, and was quiet for a few minutes. Then, "Wow."
"Yes, I said that."
"I take it you're pleased about being a father."
"I'd call it overwhelmed, to be completely honest, but yeah."
She chuckled. "Good."
"Yes. Go to sleep, Nathan."
The next morning, Stryfe awoke to see Aliya glaring down at him. He glared back.
"I hear you tried to escape last night."
"If you can call two bungling idiots an escape attempt."
"They're sort of cute." Aliya said, leaning nonchalantly against the wall and watching as he stood.
"Stryfe, admit it, they're sort of cute."
Like hell he would. "That is NOT what I look for in a rescue committee."
She snorted, "They still tried to help you escape. I think that merits a few more days doing dishes. Alone."
"For me or them?" As if he didn't know.
The kitten awoke then. "Meow."
"Aww... C'mere, sweetie." Aliya scooped Dia up and scritched under her chin. "Have you had breakfast, fluffy?" She glared at Stryfe some more, "Of course you haven't. Well, I'll fix that."
She left, then stuck her head back in, "Oh, and they'll be down to fetch you in about ten minutes, Stryfe."
Stryfe glared at the closed door. She'd even taken the kitten. The most embarrassing part of the whole thing was that not only were his "rescuers" incompetent--well, that wasn't quite fair; they'd gotten pretty far--he'd actually *captured* one of them. Himself.
"Dude, I can't believe we have to do this."
"Oh, shut up."
"This is your fault, you know."
"You're the one who wanted to let Him go."
"Well, you're the horrible planner."
"Ahem." Nathan stepped out of the doorway and studied the two quarelling boys, "I believe you have better things to do than argue?"
A wordless glare passed between Harrold and Fred, and then they got back to polishing the silverware.
Nathan shook his head, trying to figure out how two seemingly inept children had broken into a highly secure palace, and made their way to the cells. All without tripping an alarm. It had been their mismanagement of the door locks that had set off the alarm in Cable's quarters.
Ah, well, they had things well in hand out here, cutting the small lawn and pulling weeds.
Dishes. Again. At least it wasn't a mountain this time, Stryfe thought dismally. He could really come to hate dishes, maybe he could start eating off the floor, or his boots.
He shook his head, grimacing. Great, this privation was reducing him to a lunatic.
"This is all your fault, anyway," he muttered bitterly at the kitten.
She curled up on the sideboard, eyes narrowed into slits as she watched him. "Meow."
"I'm washing dishes, I rake leaves, I dig graves." Stryfe threw the scrubber into the water and then growled as it disappeared under the clouds of suds. A moment of searching up to his elbow found the damned thing.
"Meow." He flicked some of the suds at her. She sneezed.
"What I'd like to know," He muttered, "Is why you had to show up, why you got in my way, and why you chose ME. Me, of all people." He snorted, "It's not like I'm a nice guy, either. I've killed lots and lots of people. I've tortured for information..."
"Meow." Agreed the kitten, beginning to clean the suds from her fur.
"And so, I'm evil. Right? Right." he plunged his hands back into the sink and continued washing dishes.
"I am not made of porcelain."
This was abundantly clear, since Aliya tended to kick Nathan's ass if she so chose. She stood in the middle of his office, glaring at him.
He still wanted her under guard. Especially now he knew that she was pregnant.
"Nate? Are you listening to me?"
She glared, "I am not breakable. You will cease this ridiculous idea."
"You are--" he started.
"Nathan Christopher Charles Dayspring Askani'Son Summers!" Aliya glared at him. "I am NOT a CHILD. I am going to take precautions, you damned fool. I will be fine."
His mouth opened and closed and then he sort of deflated, "All right. But--" he held up a hand to stop her incipient glare, "--I still want someone with you as a bodyguard. And NOT because you're pregnant. I was going to assign someone before and hadn't gotten around to it."
She gritted her teeth. ::Why? And don't try to lie, lover.::
::Because this situation is still very, very precarious. Someone could think kidnapping you would be a way of influencing me.::
::Fine. But *I* choose the woman.::
Nathan relaxed, "Good."
"And don't think you'll get away with it if you try to coddle me, Nathan. Women have been giving birth just fine for over forty-thousand years. Nothing has changed." With that last comment, Aliya turned on her heel and stalked from Nathan's office.