Alright, I've picked and picked at this for over two months. I have other things to do, darn it all! Feedback, good and bad, is deeply appreciated.
Marvel Characters, Alicia's marvelous concept, the Shadowlands. Sequel to "Somewhere, Over the Rainbows", "Under a Blood Red Sky", and before "Clouds on the Horizon". Or maybe after. I can't decide. The Cable and Logan could be Alicia's, though they aren't necessarily. And I'm a member of the I Adore Mel club -- she should get co-author rights for this. The title is thanks to her, as are the incredible images of toys.

Dancing to the Thunder
by Lise

It was a dark, and stormy, night.

The storm, however, was a very long ways off, and all was placid between Bobby and I, a light breeze blowing and keeping us cool. The weather around our little camp was fairly calm, though it smelled like electricity in the air. If I strained my ears, I could hear little booms, somewhere far off in the distance.

Thunder. It's been a while.

"They're laughing at us, you know," Bobby says. He's holding a little stuffed teddy bear -- I think it's name is CareALot -- up to his face, and making it dance around, being goofy like always. He crosses his eyes at it, sticks out his tongue, and then waves its arm at me. He's trying to be casual, but I get the feeling that the statement was anything but.

And so I answer, "Who are?"

The bear he's holding dances a jig at the end of his arms, somehow in keeping with the bass beat coming from the earth itself. Boom -- the furry feet move gracefully through the air, and it turns into a pathetic attempt at an erotic dance, little paws holding non-existent genitalia and everything. I almost mention how much longer its legs would have to be to make it effective, but realize he still hasn't answered me.

At the end of it all, he bends the bear from the waist and it waves a gracious paw as if accepting applause.

I ask again, "Who?"

As if my words have broken the spell, he puts the teddy bear down again -- suddenly not interested in it anymore. He turns away, his attention on something else. But somehow he places it so it's looking right over here, that eternal teddy bear grumpy confusion focused on me.

I try and puzzle out who 'they' might be. For a moment I think he's talking about Nate and Logan, but ... but Bobby and them seem to have a bond that wasn't there when we were first separated.

And I can't see Nate laughing at anything anymore.

Those glass eyes stare up at me from it's perch in the dirt. The bear is dark brown, and despite it's foray into dancing just a moment ago, its face is sombre, watching me. I keep thinking about 'They'. Who? What? We were talking about horrible dreams, of blood, and ripping, and a leering, smiling face that looked like a demon, but was so much more familiar. I don't know who it represented.

I can't see that face laughing at anything either, except perhaps pain. It's somehow all attached to the reality bending that's been happening.

Bobby is quiet, enjoying his play. We found a child's box of toys, and he's kept busy. It was sitting underneath a dead tree, half-buried in the mud. He picked it up, and sat it next to our fire to dry off. He used his precious coat to wipe off the treasures inside, even though the cardboard box was molded right through.

Children's toys, in every land, are made of sterner stuff; plastics and fabrics that don't let go of life that quickly.

Bobby still doesn't answer; he picks up a globe and starts tossing it in the air.

He holds it out, like a garishly colored peace offering. A laughing world? Maybe he meant the world, but why he used the plural form I don't know.

'The worlds are laughing at us.' That couldn't be it, though it's phrasing in character for him of late. Sometimes he sounds like someone who's been pushed a little too far -- like playing with toys and joking about blood. Instead of telling me who he was talking about, he starts to mumble to the globe. "This is the kind of world I can handle."

I don't know if he means plastic -- fake -- or so very small. Perhaps a little of both. I don't move to take it off him, and he throws it violently far away. He's been a little high-strung of late.

We were talking about the dreams, and he was finding it all too funny. He has them too, he said. They were terrible, and I had them every night, of blood, and death. And hopelessness. Sometimes, I almost let them get me down, but I can't. They're just dreams, and I have to keep my head on straight to try and survive this, to make something better, and eventually win.

I'm the only one around, lately, who seems to still have a grasp on the hope to win.

No one will tell me what really happened, not even Bobby. He wears a trenchcoat day in and day out, and cries himself to sleep at night. He thinks I don't hear him, and I don't want to embarrass him by mentioning it in the morning. I've asked him why the realities are bending, where he went once we were all separated after the first wave hit ... I don't know what happened to him.

I don't know what happened to any of them.

Bobby sits, quietly staring off in the direction that Nate and Logan went earlier. I try and ignore the growling in my stomach, picking at my food slowly to make it last. Bobby's all skin and bones, but he says he's never hungry. I can't force food down his throat. If I try, he just wastes it by throwing it into the dirt, or worse. I've tried to force him to eat, but Nate and Logan make sure I don't press the issue.

He eats if I really plead with him; he hasn't deteriorated mentally so much that he's starving himself. I push a little of my food to one side, saving it for him for later.

I'm also trying to ignore the bear lying in the dirt, staring up at me with hollow, accusing eyes. I can't help but notice how much it looks like Bobby. I've been doing the best I can, but things are falling apart.

Nate and Logan are leaving, they say. They've had enough of this. But of what? I tried to make them remember what it was we always fought for, but I know they weren't really listening. They've all changed so much. Even Nathan, in his own way, always used to believe. I guess the strain has gotten to them. I'm trying not to let it get to me, but it's getting harder.

The 'shifts', as Bobby calls them, have no pattern, so every second, we might be pulled somewhere else. They've been going on for about three months, if you count the first month and a half of semi-normalecy. The power and other utilities were the first to go, and so the riots and normal chaos hit hard.

I don't know why, to begin with, people didn't notice reality warping. Maybe the mass destruction got in the way. But rioting, and looting, and normal anarchy reigned. There was a normal death toll -- a believable one.

To begin with.

Then the riots stopped, and people started dropping like flies. I did my best, separated from the team, to save as many as I could, but there was only so much I could do. It's not an excuse. I can't really do anything anymore, because there are so few survivors, and the ones that wander around with no minds, no food, and no hope ... what can I do for them now? I can't restore power if every attempt I make to reach a generator leaves me with a pile of goo or melted, twisted metal; I can't feed myself anymore, much less anyone else.

Bobby is still staring after Nate and Logan, rubbing a thumb along the hem of his trenchcoat absently. I didn't notice him grab it, I was so deep in thought before, but there's a puppet on his arm. It hangs limp at his side, and its gaze has the same feel a corpse does. It's been dark for about two hours, and I wonder what time it is.

All the watches have stopped.

What else? I started keeping track of what I saw in the shifts, trying to write it down, but it's gotten impossible. The things I've seen...

God I miss Jean.

But that's not productive -- no -- must keep moving. If Logan and Cable are going to go off on their own, I'm going to have to find some way to keep in contact with them. Don't get distracted by Bobby's strange behavior, focus on the problem. Nathan said his telepathy only works intermittantly, and not across a shift, but there's got to be another way.

We're X-men. We don't give up.

I look over to Bobby, rummaging around through his box of dirty treasures. He pulls out a Barbie doll, and makes a disgusted face, then tosses it into the fire with a flick of his wrist. It snaps and pops and melts grotesquely, until I can smell the charred plastic.

He bends over again, and comes up, triumphantly holding a packet of crayons. He places them to one side, and digs for some paper, I guess. Apparently the child he's pilfering from wasn't an artist, because he gives up, empty handed. He tried again, and was a little more successful, finding some chalk. I saw him contemplate it with a wicked grin that almost reached his eyes. He started drawing grotesque little pictures, and then wiped them out again, before I could lean over to see them.

He's so secretive. I don't know how to reach him.

I don't know exactly what happened to Bobby. He's wearing, I swear, Gambit's coat. Why he'd consider Gambit's coat sacred I don't know.

Maybe it's for luck -- Remy always did have more than his fair share.

I made a Cajun joke -- it must be the end of the world.

Nathan acts like the end of the world is the least of our problems.

I'm worried the most about all the people. Even though we can't find them, there has to be people alive still. The power, water, everything being down and unavailable makes life just another survival trip. Anarchy, nothing more, and the longer it goes on, the worse off everyone is.

Still, the massive power outs and water shortages were devastating, but they can't have been that devastating. We have to be in the heart of it, and there's still the odd survivor around here. We still might be able to help. Perhaps it's another reality altering mutant doing all of this, though it's been going on too long, I think. At any rate, we have to be ready for anything.

Bobby stares into the fire, as I finish eating my pathetic dinner. I'm thankful we've had a semi-normal day, because it's given me time to think. Normally, our days are full of waiting, and frantic activity, and foraging. Nate told me once, 'We all have our roles to play.' He had such sad eyes when he said it. I do most of the foraging. Bobby's one for frantic activity, off and on. Nathan, well... all he does anymore is wait. Logan too. I can't for the life of me figure out what they're waiting for.

I actually asked them before they went to go find more things that burned for the fire. They both laughed.

Bobby looks at me, with those eyes that were so much older than mine, and I realize he wasn't even waiting for much of anything anymore. He says to me, in such a low voice, "Death."

I'm surprised. "Death, what?"

Bobby laughs, and it grates on my ears to hear. Bobby never would have laughed at me, not when it was serious. Something's changed him so much -- he's different than I knew him to be. He answered, "They're waiting for Death."

"Their own?"

Bobby turns away, pretending to be intent on his latest prize, the hand puppet, as if he's never seen it before. "Everyone's."

I decide to change the subject. Bobby seems to be in a more talkative mood, so I think I'll take advantage of it. "Are you waiting for anything?"

The puppet smiles at me, then goes down low to whisper to the teddy bear. It was still staring at me with blank eyes. He mumbles, "Not really. Not anymore."

"Hoping, then?"

The puppet turns to me, and I don't really expect an answer. "Yes, I'm hoping for something."

There's not much harm in asking, I think. "What?"

He pokes the fire with a stick he's holding in his free hand, and says dully, "It doesn't really matter. It's not going to come true. The Twelve thing didn't happen in my world, and it didn't happen in yours, and maybe it did in Cable's and it doesn't really matter because, when all's said and done, it won't bring him back."

We were getting somewhere, finally. It had been almost three weeks travelling with these guys, and they wouldn't tell me anything. I could tell Nathan had been going at it longer than that. Possibly much longer. After a pause, in which I jumped as the wind picked up and there was the faintest pop of thunder, I ask gently, "Bring who back?"

Bobby's amusement is clear, and he answers through the cheery face on the end of his arm. In what was close to a falsetto, he answers, "If you say a wish, it won't come true."

I decide to try a different tactic. "What are the Twelve?"

Bobby dropps the puppet arm, and cradles it in his lap. His face closes off, and it is a long time before he answeres, "We are. Well, you and I and Cable, and Logan is connected, certainly, being the epitomy of Death..."

The puppet whispers, "Maybe that's why Logan-san is waiting for Death! He was Death..."

He was making no sense. Logan was Death? I was the Twelve? Unless this was metaphorical, there was nothing I was a part of that I remembered. "Are you talking metaphorically? A spiritual thing?"

He watches the flecks of lightning on the hills, dancing to the off-tempo beat of the thunder. He mutters to his arm, "You should be named ... What do you want your name to be?" He sits up, and to me, says, "Sure, why not. If it's easier to understand that way. Destiny saw it that way."

"You're telling me that Fate, in some way, is tied into the Twelve as a metaphor for everyone?" This was getting to sound less and less like Bobby and more and more like--

"Is that what Bobby just told you, Scott?"

I look up to find Nathan, expression one of amusement, and yet, one of horror. I answer, "He's being rather vague."

"Oh." A pause, then, "That's fine then." He looks at Wolverine, and they put the wood and things on the fire. It flared up, just as another flash of lightning lit up the sky and our crude camp. For some bizarre reason, I think of campfire songs. Any minute, Bobby's going to get all strange again, and start singing to me in a cute voice, making the toys around him dance and come alive.

He's starting to scare me a little.

Bobby put in, "I used the word Destiny, though." Cable's face, already twisted into half a grin and half a grimace, intensifies.

Logan went to work on the little food we had, while Nate and Bobby stare at each other. I try to read their expressions, try to re-familiarize myself with the body language that was second nature to me to read. I don't know why I can't read it anymore ... it's like they're strangers to me. I don't know what happened...

I still don't know what causes the shifts, either. I ask Nathan, "Is it true? Is what Bobby said true?"

He looks again at Logan, and I get the distinct impression that they're telepathically discussing what to say. They'd been censoring what they say around me lately. I don't know where they went after the first shift separated me from the rest of the X-men, but I finally found this pair, and they were ... well, if I didn't know better, I'd say a pair. Nathan finally mumbles, "More or less true."

I look at Bobby, who is extremely uncomfortable. If I hadn't known better, I would have said that these weren't the same people I knew. But that's ridiculous. I ask, "So ... I am part of whatever the Twelve is?"

"Are ya havin' nightmares?" Logan ask. I nod slowly, and he went back to his food, obviously assuming that I'd answered my own question. I want to ask what the dreams mean, but I don't think he'd answer me anyway. Everyone was acting so oddly.

The puppet's staring down at that damned bear, and they're having a conversation. I can't read Bobby's lips, and he's talking so quietly that there's no way I can hear him. I start to think about Jean again, when Bobby interrupts me by saying, "Wouldn't it be awful if that lightning got any closer? I can already feel it on the back of my neck."

He was right -- the hair on the back of my neck was standing straight up. As if to answer Bobby, a streak of lightning hits a tree not a hundred feet away from us, sparking the dead branches into orange life. Nathan telekinetically manages to stop it from setting ablaze.

The sound is deafening, and my ears start to ring loudly. We all look around then, waiting for the next spark.

Almost so faint I can't hear, Cable murmurs to Logan, "You think this is..."

Logan answers him, "Who knows? Could be. We never found out whether anyone was controlling the shifts."

Bobby watches the two of them, and I open my mouth to ask what they're talking about when --

"There. That settles it." Cable looked down at Scott's body, and almost let the tears lurking in his eyes out. "It was his doing. Bastard."

Logan grunted, and moved the charred body farther away from their camp. He came back, and sat down beside Cable. Nathan didn't say anything, just put his arms around Logan tightly. Bobby dug into the box one final time, and clenched his fist around something tightly.

To Bobby, Logan said, "Listen, we're moving out tomorrow morning. Going to try and make it to Egypt. What are you plannin', Drake?"

Bobby looked a bit embarrassed. He said, "I think I'll go west from here. There's a Cajun I'd sure as hell like to find."

Logan nodded acknowledgement, as did Cable. Bobby looked over to the hills, where the lightning was still dancing. He glanced at where what remained of Scott sat, before bursting into helpless giggles as Cable and Logan stared at him.

He was still laughing to himself when they packed up and headed out a few minutes later. Only once they were safely out of sight, did Bobby move towards the body again, examining the charcoal flesh all down one side. He opened his hand slowly, and stared at the pieces of plastic sitting in his palm. He bent down, and very slowly placed a scatter of brightly coloured action men on what was once Scott Summers, with an air of benediction. The puppet nodded, then dangled from his arm, lifeless, before Bobby wrapped his trenchcoat more tightly around himself and left the spot.

In minutes the clearing was bare but for a solemn-eyed bear and the smell of still-smoking hope, settling slowly and resolutely into the dust. Like footprints on the moon, this was a monument that wouldn't be tampered with. The wind had died down to nothing, leaving the air oddly still; the bones and ashes wouldn't be disturbed any time soon.

Not that there was anyone left to see them.

Bobby walked on, alone, and no one with a heartbeat heard the words he left hanging in the air, his choked out, "What are the odds?"

-(main) - (biography) - (discussion) - (stories) - (pictures) - (links) - (updates)-