Conversation Over Hot and Sour Soup

by Alicia McKenzie

DISCLAIMER: Minerva Parker is mine, and I'm somewhat attached to her, so paws off if you don't want a hyper medieval historian going all Byzantine on your butt. ;)Cable is Marvel's, used without permission for entertainment purposes only. This story is set just after AOA....I'm considering writing more about Minerva, and would certainly be further motivated by feedback (hint, hint ;).....;)

・ere you go,・a warm tenor voice said pleasantly, setting down the steaming bowl in front of me with a little flourish of the napkin.

I inhaled appreciatively. ・mells WONDERFUL,・ I said vehemently. ・ave I ever told you that you serve the best hot and sour soup in the city?・/FONT>

・nly every Monday, Min,・Gabriel said wryly, straightening and smoothing his already immaculate white shirt fussily. ・・ not sure whether you repeat yourself for emphasis, or just to try and make me think you・e boring.・/FONT>

I glanced up at him, raising an eyebrow and trying not to grin. ・hrowing you off the scent, eh?・/FONT>

・omething like that,・he said, giving me that dazzling, nearly-angelic smile. Yes, I said angelic, and anyone who called me on the pun was going to get booted in the ass. It fit. He WAS that good-looking. It was damned near indecent, really.

・ou give me far too much credit,・I said drolly. ・ittle old me, playing hard to get?・/FONT>

A year and half of this weekly ritual, and Gabe still hadn・ tired of our little game. Decent guy, and he was fond of me, I knew that. I might have even tried to take it somewhere if I didn・ know he was going to meet an adorable little elfin-looking cellist six months from now, fall madly in love, and spend the rest of his life spoiling a whole brood of sickeningly cute rugrats. Sometimes, this whole prescience thing REALLY sucks.

・ave you ever thought of trying something else, just for a change?・Gabe bantered. ・ mean, the Szechuan beef is REALLY good, and I know you like your food spicy. . .・/FONT>

・uit trying to upsell,・I said with a mock-sniff. ・eave me alone. I have to commune with the soup now.・/FONT>

・ure, Min. If you want anything, yell,・ he said with another grin, and wandered off back to the kitchen.

・nything at all?・I called after him in my best sultry voice.

・on・ tease me.・/FONT>

I leaned over the bowl of soup, stirring it idly. A hundred years ago, people like me read tea leaves. I prefer hot and sour soup. There・ just something about the combination of tofu chunks, portabello mushrooms and suicide peppers that makes my mutant ability shed all its inhibitions. And I liked that. . .maybe too much.

All right, so I was a bit of a junkie when it came to my ability. The last four generations of ・alented・ Parker women had looked on it as more of a curse than a gift, and limited themselves to the occasional flashes we got whether we liked it or not. Personally, I found that too stultifying for words. I・ never yet been able to see into my own future, so I didn・ have any avoidance issues going on. . .

And the fact was, I LIKED having the ・ight・ Even when what I saw made me want to run home, jump in bed, and pull the covers over my head until sometime around next Christmas. I・ perfected the art of making anonymous tips; I couldn・ always avert things, but I didn・ guilt myself to death over the things that happened in spite of me. Any time I could mess with the previously scheduled program and get somewhere was a victory, in my books.

A tofu chunk intersected a mushroom slice, and I blinked at the resulting pattern, and the very clear image that came to mind as I studied it. ・w, shit,・I muttered, slouching in the booth and wishing I dared hide under the table. *Maybe sometimes it IS better not to know. . .*

・in? Something wrong with the soup?・ Gabriel called from the back.

・h, the soup・ fine,・I said a little weakly, waving a hand at him. *Okay, next time I just EAT the damned stuff. . .*

And the door was going to open. . .

. . .right. . .

Now. I couldn・ help a wan little grin at the sound of the little bell Gabe・ manager had attached to the door a while ago. My timing was still spot-on.

The newcomer - because he sure as hell wasn・ a stranger - looked around the near-empty restaurant for a moment, and then walked right to the booth where I was sitting.

He sort of filled up the whole nearly-empty restaurant. No, I don・ mean he was some sort of amorphous blob, although he was pretty damned big. One of the things I hated about him was that I had to strain my neck looking up at him. The other thing that bothered me was the sheer presence he tended to project, which was what was making this place seem so crowded all of a sudden. It was intimidating as hell, and quite deliberate, I was sure of it.

Those weird eyes of his, one dark gray and the other glowing very faintly gold, studied me with something I was pretty sure was amusement. ・ello, Minerva. Mind if I sit down?・/FONT>

・ou・e going to anyway,・I said with a martyred sigh as he eased down into the opposite side of the booth. The whole thing squeaked in protest at his weight. ・nd I told you to call me Min, you bastard. Senility catching up on you THAT fast?・I would have said more, but it wouldn・ have been polite. Although, ten bucks said he was casting a nice little telepathic illusion of us sitting and chatting away about the weather. He always did that when we had our little reunions. Can・ have the hoi polloi listening to us talking about possible futures and so on, after all.

He flicked a few stray strands of silver hair out of his eyes, and gave me that faint, ・e glad I don・ mind the fact that you・e eccentric・smile. I just about threw the bowl of soup in his face. He irritated me that much. On a regular basis.

Nathan Summers, folks. Time-traveler, sometimes mercenary, currently reluctant mutant messiah. Every time I saw this man, I either wanted to kick his ass - which would of course end up being horrifically embarassing for me, as he could probably twist me into new and interesting shapes with one hand tied behind his back - or pat him on the head, give him a cookie and tell him that everything was going to be all right.

Giving him the once-over, the inclination to do the former faded pretty quickly. ・ell, you look like shit, as per usual. . .・I ventured.

There was a little more life to the smile, this time. ・ou look well,・he said, that deep, harsh voice quieter than I was used to hearing it. ・he university・ agreeing with you, I see.・/FONT>

・es, the life of an associate professor has some definite fringe benefits. Unfortunately, I do have office hours in forty-five minutes, so I trust you・l forgive me if I rush things along a little? What do you need?・I wasn・ all that eager to get to my office, actually. I・ just handed papers back yesterday, and I was anticipating a fair amount of bitching over marks. I was just being perverse. . .

And I was a little worried. He was too quiet. I rested my chin on my hands, studying his face. ・re you in trouble?・I asked quietly.

・o more so than usual,・he said dryly, managing to get a chuckle from me.

・hat・ God・ own truth,・I said with a sigh. ・ou know, it really wouldn・ kill you to make the occasional purely social visit. I・ beginning to feel a little too much like the crazy pseudo-Delphic oracle you keep locked in the basement. . .・His eyes widened slightly, and I waved my hand, embarrassed at my own wording. ・ardon my hyperbole.・/FONT>

・hat・ all right,・he said, with a smile that seemed more than a little strained. ・ do use you, Min. I・e never made any pretense about that. But you・e the only. . .person I know with your abilities that I can trust.・/FONT>

I chewed on my lower lip for a moment, remembering. Our first meeting, almost five years ago, had been purely chance. . .in a museum, actually. We・ happened to be there to see the same Egyptian art exhibit; he・ turned a corner, come face to face with me, and as soon as I・ locked eyes with him I・ wound up flat on my ass babbling about doomsday and morning fires and so forth. Very humilitating. Fortunately, he・ picked me up, dusted me off, and been comforting in his own awkward way until I pulled myself together.

I・ gotten over the falling-over-at-the-sight-of-him shit, thank heavens, but I still felt a distinct prescient shock every time I saw him. He was just this seething mass of potentiality; in a lot of ways, it was like looking directly into the sun.

I hated not being able to see his future. I wanted so badly to know that he was destined to shack up with this Domino of his and live happily ever after, but things were too blurred. I couldn・ see that far, but damn, I wanted to. . .

・in?・His voice was gentler than I was used to hearing it, and I flinched as he put a finger beneath my chin, tilting my face upwards. ・top staring at your soup, woman.・/FONT>

I tried to laugh. It came out sounding a little funny. ・hat, you・ rather I killed a goat every time I wanted a detailed look at the future?・/FONT>

・omehow I can・ see you slaughtering a goat. Especially as you couldn・ turn around and make a very nice lunch out of the entrails later.・/FONT>

・s that a joke? Are you actually developing a sense of humor? Stop the presses. . .・I swore, shaking my head. ・kay. Enough of that. I ramble, you know I ramble. So what do you want, before I keep rambling and wind up with my foot in my mouth up to the hip?・/FONT>

・nteresting mental image.・He stole my water glass, staring down into it moodily for a moment before he took a sip. ・hings are. . .a little unsettled, at the moment.・/FONT>

・athan, if your ・hings・were ever settled, I・ be looking up to see if the sky was falling.・/FONT>

・rue. I suppose. . .I want to know if I・e been making the right choices lately.・/FONT>

I stared at him incredulously. ・ou expect me to be able to tell you that? Nathan, I・ not. . .・/FONT>

・mniescent, I know,・he said testily. ・ just want you to take a look, Min, and see if anything jumps out at you.・/FONT>

I looked at him for a moment, unaccountably unnerved by his phrasing. ・hy don・ you get one of those OTHER precognitives to help you this time?・I asked, not quite able to keep the irony out of my voice. ・rankly, I would think you・ much prefer it be one of them if the thing that jumps out happens to bite my figurative head off. . .・/FONT>

・in. Please.・/FONT>

・es, yes, I know. You don・ want to go to any of THEM.・I could understand that. To be honest, as far as I was concerned, these Askani witches I saw lurking in his future on a regular basis could all go to hell. I・ even bring marshmallows for the bonfire, if it was up to me. Somewhere along the road of every future I・ ever seen for him, there was an Askani hurting him. ・ive me your hand,・I said abruptly.

He gave me a thin smile, instead. ・ou read palms now, Professor Parker?・/FONT>

・h, shut up,・I growled. ・t・ called experimenting with traditional methodologies.・Really, I just needed the physical contact, but I wasn・ going to let him get away with the shot.

・nteresting. Shall I send you a crystal ball for Christmas?・But he gave me his hand - the flesh and blood hand - and I ignored him, closing my eyes with a faint shiver at the brief, not entirely unpleasant shock of physical contact.

My head started to swim. Shadows, I could see shadows. . .gray and murky, swarming around me. They tasted cold and oily, somehow. . .what the hell was going on? I didn・ ・ee・in metaphors, I saw what was going to happen, flashes of reality. . .

Wait. . .there, something underneath it all, I could barely see it. Wood. Wood planks. . .a dock? Near water somewhere, I was sure of it. . .could SMELL it, feel the dampness. . .

A dock. Water. The smell of smoke. . .

And. . .oh, no. My eyes snapped open and I stared across at him, shocked. ・e careful around water,・I said in a very small voice. ・ saw you. . .lying on a dock, I think. Pretty beaten up.・That was sort of putting it mildly, actually. And the thought of what could do that to HIM was more than a little scary. I・ seen him fight before. Admittedly, it had only been with a couple of would-be muggers who happened to have had the very bad luck to choose to accost me when I was ten steps away from the door of the bar where Nathan was waiting for me, but it had been pretty impressive. Anything capable of beating him like I・ seen him beaten in the flash was something I certainly did NOT want to ever meet.

He nodded slowly. ・nything else?・/FONT>

・-Shadows,・I said, inwardly writhing at the stammer. ・ust. . .shadows. I don・ know what・ wrong, Nathan, I・e never had that happen before.・/FONT>

・t・ all right,・he said gently, patting my hand. ・t・ something, in any case.・He smiled whimsically. ・ore than I had when I came in, certainly. Why don・ you eat your lunch?・/FONT>

Now he was reassuring me. That was cute. I rubbed at my eyes, and looked down forlornly at my soup. ・t・ cold.・/FONT>

・・ sure your faithful waiter-suitor will warm it up for you,・he said. Trying to make me laugh, damn him.

・e・ married,・I said, sniffling.

・e is?・/FONT>

・ell, not yet. He will be. Soon. There・ a cellist in his future.・/FONT>

Nathan・ hand tightened on mine slightly. ・nd what・ in yours?・/FONT>

・ don・ know,・I said, a little petulantly. ・on・ change the subject. You know I can・ see my own future.・/FONT>

・aybe you just don・ look hard enough.・ He rose, and then did something totally unexpected, leaning over and kissing me on the forehead. ・ake care, Min,・he said with a very different smile.

・ou too,・I said softly. ・tay away from docks. Actually, just stay away from water entirely, that way it won・ come up in the first place.・Of course, that would be LOGICAL, wouldn・ it? And that was a little much to expect. . .

・・l keep it in mind. I promise.・/FONT>

・ou do that.・/FONT>

I watched him going, knowing that he wouldn・. He・ end up faced with the choice of whether or not to get into that situation, whatever it was, and there・ be something important at stake, something that made him think it was worth it. So he・ go traipsing right in, and get himself hurt. I didn・ need to have seen any more to know that.

I didn・ need to be prescient to know this. See, I knew HIM, and while I had a sneaking suspicion I・ be crying at his funeral some day, I was still going to wish him all the best. The white picket fence and cute little house with a well-stocked armory in the basement.

Sometimes wishes come true. And I・e always believed that the future is what you make it.