Between The Shore And The Deep Blue Sea

by Alicia McKenzie

DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only.

Domino stopped in her tracks, cursing as she rummaged through her bag. "I don't believe this!"

"What?" Nathan Summers inquired as he set their picnic basket down on the sand and started to unfold the blanket. "What's the matter?" He eyed her a little warily, half-expecting her to upend her bag and dump out the contents right there. A irritable sort of disgust was seeping along the psi-link from her end, and he frowned, beginning to get a little concerned. "Dom--?"

"I forgot my damned sunscreen in the car," she said in exasperation. He raised an eyebrow, but she waggled a finger at him before he could say anything. "And don't give me that 'is that all?' look. Do you have any idea how quickly I sunburn, Summers?"

"Point taken," he said with an appreciative grin. "Especially considering how little of you that bikini covers--ouch!"

"Ouch? That was your techno-organic arm, you big baby!" He chuckled, and she glowered at him, jamming her floppy-brimmed hat down onto her head. "I," she pronounced, "am going back to get my sunscreen."

"I can do that--" he offered, but she was already shaking her head.

"I'm not sitting here and baking while you dawdle," she said primly, the twinkle in her eyes at odds with her haughty tone. "While I'm at it, did you forget anything you want me to grab?"

"The only thing I was in charge of was lunch, remember?" he said dryly, kneeling down beside the picnic basket and checking the contents--just in case.

"Right," she said teasingly. "Lunch. Let me guess--nutrient pills for two, right? Maybe with a little healthy goop on the side, for texture?"

He looked up at her, amused. "Was that a shot? I think that was a shot."

Her sudden smile was mischievous. "Just a joke. I think I've taught you how to appreciate real food after all these years."

"And I appreciate the 'lessons'. Especially since I'm such a slow learner." If he did say so himself, the lunch in the basket in front of him was a culinary and organizational masterpiece. He'd gone out shopping to pull it together while Dom had still been at the hotel, sleeping blissfully. 'After all these years', he'd be pretty slow indeed if he hadn't figured out what her favorite foods were.

"That's putting it mildly," she said, winking at him as she turned to head back up to the road, where they'd left the car. "Be back in a few."

"I'll be here." He watched her vanish into the trees, and then sat down on the blanket, smiling as he stared out into the Gulf of Mexico. This had really been a good idea, he thought contentedly. *I should let her talk me into vacations more often.* They were just here for a few days, little more than a long weekend, but the weekend wasn't even half-over and already he could feel himself relaxing.

Things had been so hectic lately, he felt like he hadn't even had time to breathe. There were probably a half-dozen things he should be doing at the moment, but he couldn't make himself care. Everyone needed to neglect their responsibilities and lounge on a beach once in a while, he thought with a deep chuckle. The world wasn't going to implode in the next forty-eight hours, so he could damned well justify letting Dom drag him off to the Florida Keys for a bit.

So beautiful. The water was the most incredible shade of blue he'd ever seen. The heat of the sun was somehow offset by the cool breeze blowing in off the Gulf, and Nathan closed his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply, letting the last remnants of tension drain away.

The world around him was too beautiful to shut out for long, but although he opened his eyes again almost immediately, he was still in a partial meditative state. Everything around him took on a crystalline clarity, yet there were no sharp edges, nothing to jar him from the perfect tranquility of the moment.

Something finally did, however. A ripple of curiosity, gentle yet inexorable, at the sight of a ripple out there in the water, not far from the beach. Rising, he strode down the beach and stood at the water's edge, watching for it again.

There--and closer, this time. Definitely headed towards the beach. Not really knowing what he was doing, he kicked off his shoes, dropping his shirt on top of them, and walked forward until he was knee-deep in the water.

There was something out there, he thought in wonderment. Something that registered on his telepathy--and quite strongly, at that. But it definitely wasn't human. Tentatively reaching out with his mind, he brushed again against that presence, and couldn't help an indrawn breath at the delighted/intrigued/friendly impression he got in return.

He walked out until he was at the point where the water was at his waist. What he was doing still barely registered on him. His instinctive dislike of swimming was a faint, distant voice at the moment, barely audible beside the irresistable curiosity that had drawn him out here.

#Hello?# he tried telepathically, and then jumped as a sleek, dark grey shape slid past him in the water. It circled around him from behind and then surfaced, emitting a series of clicking noises that sounded almost like laughter.

A dolphin. He'd never seen one before, but that was what this creature had to be. It turned onto its side, one dark eye staring up at him, full of an uncanny intelligence, and whistled at him softly.

Hesitantly, he reached out, not sure if it would let him touch it. But it didn't swim away, and he smiled almost involuntarily as the physical contact intensified his sense of its presence.

"Hello," he said softly, projecting, wordlessly, the wonder he was feeling. "Was I on your beach?" The dolphin emitted another soft whistle, and Nathan felt his smile grow. "Are you trying to talk to me?" he asked, almost shyly.

The dolphin clicked again, and flipped over, splashing him. Cable jumped, but then laughed in delight at the amused/warm/tolerant not-quite-thoughts that he sensed in response. "Oh, I see." He splashed back experimentally, and then ducked, grinning, as the dolphin responded more enthusiastically, still chittering away. "I get it. Looking for some poor defenseless human to have some fun with, is that it?"

Something bumped into him from behind, and he nearly yelped, whirling. But it was just another dolphin, smaller than the first. He flushed, not quite believing he'd managed to miss its approach. "Friend of yours?" he said to the first, still projecting the non-verbal equivalent of his words. As intelligent as they clearly were, he doubted they understood English. The first dolphin clicked at him, almost scolding as it submerged again for a moment, nudging him toward the second. Too intrigued to resist, Nathan moved back obediently, and then jumped again as the second dolphin brushed up against him, clicking in a different cadence.

"You're getting a little forward," he said with a raised eyebrow to the smaller dolphin, who promptly poked him with its snout and continued to click. He stiffened, a little wary. Something felt--odd, here, a very unusual tingling feeling in his usually sensation-less techno-organic side. "Not that I don't--um, trust you," he said slowly, "but what are you doing?"

The second dolphin emitted a different kind of noise, a strange whirring sound that he strongly suspected was meant to be comforting. The tingling sensation faded, and the second dolphin emulated the first, turning over onto its side and staring up at him. Nathan felt caught, trapped by that serene gaze, but somehow utterly happy to be that way. They were talking to him, he thought contentedly, reaching out and stroking the dolphin's side lightly. It made that same whirring noise, and he smiled. "You are, aren't you?" he whispered. "I just wish I knew what you were trying to say."

The first resurfaced with a loud whistle, leaping halfway out of the water and then plunging back in, the resulting splash soaking Nathan quite thoroughly. Laughing as he brushed wet hair out of his eyes, he turned back to the second dolphin, who whistled softly, bumping up against him again.

"He's quite the exhibitionist, isn't he?" Nathan blinked, wondering sheepishly why he'd assigned gender to these creatures. The first dolphin resurfacing, slapping the water with its fin, and then circled around him again, moving off a bit and then lingering, as if waiting. For the second dolphin? Nathan wondered, but the smaller dolphin didn't move to follow. "I think your friend's decided it's time to go," he said softly, regretfully.

The first dolphin started to click at him and then swam right at him, stopping just before it would have knocked him off his feet. Nathan blinked and reached out to it telepathically.

Irritation/encouragment/anticipation. He blinked again. "I don't understand," he said hesitantly.

Encouragment. The dolphin moved off a bit again, whistling softly.

"Nathan?" He looked back over his shoulder to see Dom wading through the water, approaching him. "What are you doing--oh!" She stopped a short distance away, amazement on her face as she saw the dolphins. "Wow. And here I thought you were going to sit on the beach and roast all afternoon."

The first dolphin submerged, shooting through the water towards her, and Dom actually giggled as it brushed up against her. "Stop that, you silly fish--mammal, pardon me."

It surfaced, whistling, and Cable shook his head slowly. "They seem so--" He trailed off, not sure what word to put to this fascinating creatures.

"Intelligent?" Domino asked with a smile. "Rather wide school of thought which claims they are, Nate." She reached out, tracing a hand along the dolphin's side as it surfaced beside her. The expression on her face was almost child-like. "They are amazing, aren't they?" she asked in a soft voice.

Nathan thought of the seas of his time, the twisted life-forms that struggled to survive in what had become little more than a toxic soup, and felt a pang of real pain. The smaller dolphin made that soft, comforting sound again, and he blinked, dizzied as a sudden flood of impressions cascaded over him.

/here now/ They weren't words, not quite--maybe his mind was just hearing them as words--but the sense was unmistakable. And then he was somewhere else, somewhere in an endless cool blue, surrounded by life great and small, by such beauty that it almost broke his heart. Free. So very free. A simple, joyous existence, broken only rarely, and then only by the intervention of man. A soft noise of grief, almost a whimper, escaped him at the reflection of those moments, but that gentle, alien presence soothed away the pain, pulling him back into the timeless blue between. And he danced amid the waves, underneath the sun, singing as he danced--

"Nate?" The voice was gentle, more curious than concerned. He opened his eyes, a little embarassed to find tears on his face, and blinked down at Domino. "You all right?" she asked, puzzlement in her eyes.

"Fine," he said hoarsely, surprising himself with a helpless smile. Joy bubbled up inside him like a spring, and he was helpless to resist it. "That was--that was--" He shook his head helplessly. There weren't any words. Then, he realized that they were apparently alone, standing out here in the water, and looked around sharply. "Where did--"

"I think they lost interest." Domino half-turned, gesturing at where the two dolphins were moving away. She turned back to him, smiling crookedly. "What happened? The link felt a little strange for a minute there."

"Someone was saying goodbye," he whispered.

The two dolphins leaped, whistling almost in harmony, and then dove beneath the surface of the water, vanishing. Gone as quickly as they'd come, back to their own world. Nathan, for the first time since he'd waded in, realized, REALLY realized that he was standing waist-deep in water. Him. Who hated to swim. He grinned at Domino almost sheepishly. "I should get out of here before I rust."

She raised an eyebrow. "You going to tell me what happened?" she asked as they headed back to the beach. She kept looking at him sideways, he noted with an inward chuckle. Hadn't let go of his arm yet, either.

"I'll do better than that," he said, still grinning. "I'll show you. It's beautiful, Dom--you won't believe it."

Her sideways look was skeptical this time. "All right--who are you, and what have you done with Nate?"

He laughed. He couldn't help it, and after a moment, he couldn't stop. Tension release, a wiser, calmer part of his mind noted wryly. He wanted to--oath, he didn't know WHAT he wanted to do, what would be an acceptable way to express the euphoria that had him in its grip. Part of him wished for a metamorph's powers, just this once, so that he could turn into a dolphin and dance through the water, just to see what it felt like.

Shaking her head in exasperation, Dom continued to drag him towards the beach. "You're giggling like a schoolgirl, Nate."

"I--I am NOT!" He just couldn't stop laughing.

"Next time think before you try the Vulcan mind-meld with a fish, okay?"


"Nate, knock it off! You're going to start hyperventilating!" Domino yelped as he suddenly pulled her towards him. "Nate, you lout! What are you doing?"

He silenced her protests with a kiss, simultaneously reaching out along the psi-link and passing everything he'd seen and felt to her. He felt, rather than heard her gasp, and grinned rather foolishly at her as she pulled away, staring up at him with violet eyes wide with wonder.

"That's incredible."

"Isn't it?" he asked breathlessly, and then frowned as those glorious eyes suddenly welled with tears. "Dom--what's the matter?"

"Nothing," she said. The tears were still there, but she was smiling. "Just looking at you, that's all. When was the last time you took this much joy in what your powers let you do?"

He hesitated, and then smiled, feeling that joy open up inside him again like a flower, so deep and profound and beautiful that it almost made his heart ache. "That's not a hard question."

"Oh? Spill it, then, Summers."

"Last night. The last time we made love." He reached up, adjusting the floppy brim of her hat. "Every time we make love, to be perfectly honest. There are some definite fringe benefits to being a telepath. Besides talking to fish."

Now those violet eyes were glowing. "Tell me something," she asked in a soft voice that was almost a caress in and of itself. "Since when did you get so good at knowing exactly what to say?"

He grinned, rakishly. "I've been taking lessons."

"Bullshit. Shut up and kiss me."

He did, gladly. And from somewhere out in the Gulf, beyond where blue water met sand, he heard dolphins laughing.