by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story belong to Marvel Comics, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. It would be set sometime during X-Force's stay at the mansion, but isn't part of any of 'my' continuities.
The car slowed, turning into the driveway that led down to the parking garage beneath the sleek, glass-and-steel office building. Peering out the passenger-side window, Scott Summers grimaced at the large sign in front of the building that listed the tenants. He didn't have any issues with consulting firms or internet service providers, but the name at the top, the one that read 'Friends Of Humanity: New York Division' was causing him a considerable amount of anxiety.
The driver of the car chuckled wryly. "You know, I still can't quite believe this."
"Can't believe what?" Scott asked with an incredulous snort. This had been HIS idea, after all. "You can't believe that we're about to walk into the New York headquarters of the FOH--the PSI-SHIELDED New York headquarters of the FOH--by ourselves, with no backup--"
"No," his son said with a smirk. "I can't believe I let you talk me into going to a ballgame, afterwards."
Scott blinked at him, and then laughed. "You're absolutely incorrigible, you know that?"
"So I've been told," Nathan said dryly, lowering the window and taking the parking voucher from the security guard. The gate rose, and he drove down into the parking garage, taking the first spot open on the first level. "Look, Scott," he said as he turned off the car and took the keys out of the ignition. "If you're that uncomfortable about this, you don't have to come. Stay in the car, or go look for a better deal on internet access--"
Scott gave him a sour look. "Very funny."
"What, I'm not allowed to have a sense of humor now?" Nathan snorted. "Lighten up, Slym." The somewhat-sarcastic use of the old name made Scott start, but Nathan continued, not seeming to notice. "It's not as if this was an op, or something. I'm going in there to talk to opposing counsel on this case Xavier nagged me into taking, that's all. Thirty minutes, tops. And since I went to law school with the asshole who's handling the case for the FOH, trust me when I say we're NOT going to run into any problems."
"I wasn't precisely worried about the lawyer, Nate," Scott sighed as they got out and headed for the elevator. "It's the few dozen FOH members who are going to be working in those offices who have me a little on edge." He shot a suspicious look at Nathan as they got into the elevator. Nathan ignored him and hit the button for the ninth floor, grinning rather alarmingly at the wall. Damn it, Scott thought in helpless exasperation. I swear, he's ENJOYING this--which side of the family did he get this blasted perverse streak from?
"Both sides," Nathan said blithely as the elevator moved smoothly upwards. "And don't be worried, Scott. Franny's got political ambitions, and he's not going to get himself into anything that'd look bad on the six'o'clock news."
Scott snorted, shaking his head and studying his son with something close to bemusement. He'd never quite seen him like this before. Nathan was wearing this avid, almost predatory expression, as if he couldn't wait to get up there and mix things up with this Callaway fellow. Hell, Scott thought ruefully, it wasn't as if I even KNEW he was a lawyer until Charles brought it up. When Charles had broached the subject at breakfast last week, Scott had nearly choked on his coffee. Nate had laughed and made some comment about how 'most fathers would be proud to have a Harvard graduate as a son'. It had been more than a little embarassing to know that X-Force had known about it for so long--Sam had muttered something about Feral and Thornn and the NYPD. Scott hadn't asked.
The case itself--well, it was easy to see why Charles was so interested in it. At the least, it was a worthy cause, and it would certainly set quite a precedent, if it turned out properly. If, Scott thought sardonically. There was every possibility that it would wind up in front of a mutaphobic judge who saw nothing wrong with the FOH harassing and attacking an art exhibition simply because it featured the works of an artist who happened to have an alpha-class matter-transmuting ability.
That was what had happened to the criminal trial, after all. The charges had been dismissed on a technicality--although that was due as much to this very same lawyer Nathan was meeting today as it was to the judge's prejudices.
Scott sighed, a little sadly. He and Jean had been to the exhibition, the first night. He didn't have much of an eye for art, but he'd been impressed by Austin Saggus's work, and Jean had been absolutely rapt. There had been something so--fluid, so ethereal about every piece. There had been one sculpture he'd stared at for almost fifteen minutes; a flock of butterflies all made out of stained glass, perched in a delicate crystal tree and so real-looking that he'd half-expected them to flutter their wings and take to the air--
Even the thought of the footage the news had run after the riot--paintings slashed, sculptures smashed--was upsetting. Saggus had never kept his status as a mutant secret, had talked quite freely about it in interviews. He'd told the New Yorker recently that he considered his ability integral to his work, and thus saw no reason to keep it secret.
And THAT was when his troubles had started.
"I suppose some people would say he'd brought it on himself," Nathan murmured, a snarl twisting his mouth for a moment. "Oath, Callaway's probably going to say that. I really wish I could see this through if it ends up going to court--I'd love to rip that sanctimonious son of a flonq to shreds."
Scott gave him a curious look. "You aren't going to see it through?" he questioned uncertainly. That wasn't like Nate, to leave something half-done--
Nathan sighed. "Well, unless I can coax G.W. into looking the other way, I can hardly let myself get drawn into a flonqing media circus now, can I? He'd probably feel more or less obligated to arrest me. If this case goes that far, Xavier will have to call in a few favors and get someone else."
"So what do you plan to do now, then?" Scott asked curiously.
Nathan's smile was almost savage. "I'm going to go in there and be myself. A little intimidation never hurt anyone. Besides, settling out of court's not a bad thing if it involves the FOH caving in and making a public apology as well as sizeable restitution, is it?"
"Rather more--subtle than your usual way of doing things," Scott noted, and was surprised by the glare he received in return.
"And your point is?" Nathan snapped. "Look, it's just--refreshing to be doing something relatively non-destructive for once. Someone like Saggus is worth defending, Scott. All he's done is live his life, use his mutant ability for something productive, something that--enriches all of us, and these flonqing bigots decide that makes him a suitable target." His eye flared gold behind his glasses, and Scott felt curiously defensive. "I may not get a chance to use this particular set of skills very often, but I don't let myself get rusty in any of my 'fields', Scott. And I intend to knock this case out of the ballpark, if you'll forgive the metaphor." He grumbled something under his breath. "I still can't believe I let you talk me into seeing a Yankees game."
Scott smiled faintly, trying to mask the odd little stirring of pride that Nathan's words had provoked in him. "Why not?" he asked lightly. "Typical father-son bonding activity--"
"Right," Nathan muttered. "Just don't expect me to do the wave or anything."
"I wouldn't dream of it." The elevator came to a stop, and as the door opened, Scott winced at the sight of the FOH emblem on the glass partition that divided the reception area from the hall. "Part of me still thinks this isn't such a good idea--"
Nate seemed to regain his composure all at once, and gave him that annoying, 'stop-worrying-so-much' smirk that he found so unsettling. "Probably not," he said with perfect aplomb, "but I'm going to do it anyway."
He strode out of the elevator, a calm, unhurried, supremely confident walk, and Scott had no choice but to follow. By the time they'd passed through the glass doors and were inside the office, everyone working in the reception area was watching them, and Nathan was practically EXUDING attitude.
"Can--can I help you?" the slender blonde at the front desk asked a little faintly, her eyes flickering from Nathan, in his suit, to more-casually dressed Scott, and then back again.
"Certainly," Nathan said, his smile only growing. "Will you please tell Mr. Calloway that the mutie's mutie lawyer is here for our eleven'o'clock appointment?"
"Well, Nathan," Francis Callaway said expansively. "You've aged well."
Nathan raised an eyebrow as he sat down in the chair Callaway indicated. "You haven't," he said, quite bluntly. Callaway chose to laugh, taking it as a joke, and Nathan smiled to himself humorlessly. He did not like Francis Callaway--had NEVER liked Francis Callaway. He'd been an unpleasant, condescending son of a flonq back at Harvard, and he didn't seem to have changed.
Except mentally. Back then, his hadn't been a head that Nate had been particularly inclined to hang out in, but now, after all the intervening years, his mind had become next door to a swer. The psi-shielding within the walls of the entire building might prevent him from reaching the outside world, but it didn't stop him from skimming Callaway's surface thoughts. Not quite ethical, according to Xavier's 'code', but Nathan didn't care whether or not he was using an 'approved' method. Xavier didn't make the rules for him--he never had.
"Francis," Nathan continued smoothly, ignoring the swiftly-hidden flash of irritation in Callaway's blue eyes. "Shall we get on with it? The atmosphere in here's a little--rank."
"No need to be rude, Nathan," Callaway said with a faint smile. "And don't you think introducing yourself as a 'mutie lawyer' was a little confrontational?"
"You haven't seen confrontational yet, Francis," Nathan said, echoing his smile precisely.
Callaway leaned back in his expensive-looking, leather-upholstered chair and studied Nathan thoughtfully. "So that's the way it's going to be, then?"
"Choose to represent bigoted thugs, Francis, and you deserve what you get."
"That's a little harsh, don't you think?" Callaway's eyes narrowed. "The man who came with you. The one who's sitting out there in the reception area--"
"Is not pertinent to the subject at hand, Francis," Nathan said, his eyes narrowing. He didn't bother to guard his expression, this time, and was perversely pleased to see Callaway stiffen, swallow, and shift uncomfortably in his chair. "Speaking of which--"
"Well," Callaway coughed. "I'm afraid my clients are completely unwilling to settle out of court." The faint disgust that tinged his thoughts at the words was completely unfeigned, and Nathan had trouble suppressing his smile.
So the FOH's crack lawyer would rather see this pushed under the table? Not too much of a surprise, and he could DEFINITELY use that--
Leaning forward, he gave Callaway his best bared-teeth smile, the one he usually saved for the 'supervillain of the week'. His old classmate paled noticeably. "Well, then," Nathan said pleasantly. "I suppose we have a problem."
Scott tried to smile pleasantly at the receptionist, who kept eyeing him as if she expected him to do something violent any moment now. She'd all but tiptoed over and offered him a cup of coffee, which he'd politely refused. Maybe he was being anal, but he wasn't going to drink the FOH's coffee. There were just SOME things that were--
A large, bearded man had come into the reception area through the door linking it to one of the adjoining offices. He went over and rummaged through the papers on one of the desks for a minute. Obviously not finding what he wanted, he straightened, scowling, and turned around.
He caught sight of Scott almost immediately. The man blinked at him for a moment, and then flushed, his eyes widening. "You!" he snarled, stalking forward. "I know you!"
*Oh, lovely.* Scott rose as the irate FOH member stepped around the reception desk, headed for him. "My associate is meeting with Mr. Callaway," Scott said coldly. "I'm not here to cause any trouble."
Invoking the lawyer's name didn't seem to do much good. The man didn't even seem to notice. "I'll give you trouble, pal," he snarled. "You're one of those--"
"Excuse me," came Nathan's voice from the hallway Callaway had led him away down. He strode out into the reception area, looking considerably irritated and about a foot taller than normal.
Scott blinked. How does he DO that? he thought ruefully.
The FOH member clearly didn't recognize Nathan. "Who the hell are you?" he growled unpleasantly, clearly bristling at the height difference. "Another mutie?"
"Excuse me," Callaway said swiftly from behind Nathan. "Dexter, I hardly think this is--"
"That's right," Nathan murmured, looming over 'Dexter' effortlessly. "Another mutie."
Dexter glared at him for a moment and then paled, the color draining from his face so abruptly that the contrast was almost comical. He made a queer stuttering noise, backpedaling so fast that he backed into the front of the reception desk. His knees started to buckle, and only then did Nathan look away from him.
"Let's go," he said to Scott curtly. They headed for the door, and Nathan glanced briefly back over his shoulder at Callaway. "I'll be in touch, Francis," he grated.
Scott didn't say anything until they were safely in the elevator. "I gather it didn't go particularly well," he said cautiously, deliberately NOT saying anything about whatever Nate had done to Dexter.
"Not really," Nathan muttered, and then took a deep breath, his shoulders slumping as if some of the tension had just abruptly drained out of his body. "This is going to take something a little more creative, I think." He sighed, laying one hand against the wall and taking off his glasses, sticking them in a pocket before he rubbed his eyes. "Oath."
"Waste of time?" Scott ventured with a faint smile.
"In a way. Callaway's got a good thing going with the FOH, I think." Nathan sighed, straightening. "He's annoyed at the group that trashed the exhibition--doesn't like negative publicity, like I told you. But he's willing to cover their asses, and I think he's trying to save face over something--I'm not sure. His mind's just as disorganized as it ever was."
Scott blinked. "You used your telepathy?"
Nathan gave him an irritated look. "Of course I did. Whatever weapons come to hand--and I swear, you can stick whatever flonqing lecture you're thinking of giving me right up your--"
The elevator stopped with a lurch, and they both swayed on their feet. Nathan scowled, and hit the button for the first level of the parking garage again. A long moment passed, and then the elevator started to move downwards smoothly again.
Scott eyed Nathan a little sympathetically as Nathan pulled his jacket and tie off, muttering Askani profanities under his breath. He'd been so eager, so determined, on the way in, Scott reflected, but now he seemed so discouraged. He wasn't used to seeing this sort of mercurial mood-change from his son. It bothered him more than he was willing to admit.
"Looks like a good thing we're not going back to the mansion," Scott said mildly, turning his eyes back to the front of the elevator. "Give you some time to cool off and relax." He checked his watch. "We've got plenty of time to get lunch before the game--"
"Sounds good," Nathan said with a faint, not entirely convincing smile. The elevator finally came to a stop on the correct floor, and they walked out into the damp, quiet dimness of the parking garage. "That place, Scott--I couldn't believe the psychic atmosphere. If the damned building wasn't psi-shielded, anyone halfway sensitive would be able to feel it a block away." He looked around aimlessly for a moment. "Flonq, where's the car?"
"Over there," Scott said, indicating it. Nathan sighed in exasperation and started towards it. Scott followed him, beginning to understand a little better what was going on. He'd been with Jean for long enough to know how much turmoil in the local psychic atmosphere could wear on a telepath, regardless of how well they shielded themselves. And that had certainly not been a friendly place they'd just left. "Well, there shouldn't be anything this bad at the stadium," Scott offered. "Unless of course the Yankees lose--"
Nathan snorted. "Baseball."
Scott grinned. "Have you got something against baseball, Nate? You keep making these faces--sort of like when you were a kid and didn't like your dinner but were too polite to say so."
Nathan blinked and then laughed, his expresson a little sheepish. "Um--long story. G.W. dragged me to a game once, a long time ago. Let's just say things sort of got out of hand--"
"I don't really want to know this story, do I?"
"Not really. I--" Nathan stopped dead in his tracks, looking around sharply. "What the hell--"
Scott automatically started to reach into the inner pocket of his coat, for his visor. "What's the matter?" he snapped, immediately assessing the area for cover, ready to pull the frozen Nate along with him if need be. "Nathan!"
"It's something, I don't--"
He never got to finish the sentence. There was a sudden, overwhelming roar, a sudden flash of light and heat and pressure. Scott was thrown against something hard, the impact driving the breath from him and sending sharp needles of pain through his chest.
Some sort of attack? he thought dazed, stunned, but the upheaval continued, and he knew, just knew somehow that it was too big, that this was something else, something worse.
And then he was falling.
He woke to the taste of blood in his mouth and several sharp-edged somethings jabbing him in the side of the face. Instinct deeper than habit kicked in, and he kept his eyes closed, even before the realization that he wasn't wearing his glasses kicked in.
What the hell-- Scott tried to lift his head and groaned as his head threatened to find a happy medium between blowing up and falling off. Damn--
He was pinned down. Not being crushed--the weight on top of him was balanced, somehow, barely--but he couldn't move, even though his arms were free. Pain stabbed into his side with every breath, and radiated outwards across his back whenever he made the slightest movement.
Panic flickered briefly into life inside him, but he crushed it ruthlessly, his thoughts whirling as he tried to remember what had happened. They'd been in the parking garage, and something had--
Cold fear tore at him. "Nathan?" he called weakly, coughing. "Nate? Can you hear me?" There was a long, long silence, so long he caught himself holding his breath, waiting desperately for an answer. But all he heard was dripping water, somewhere in the distance, and a few ominous grinding sounds from above. "Nate?" he called again, more desperately. "Nathan, answer me--"
Nothing. Scott bit his lip, trying to settle down and concentrate. Nathan? he thought as loudly as he could. Still no answer.
It had been some kind of--explosion. Had to be. Scott felt his heartrate pick up as the minutes crept by. A myriad of unpleasant possibilities spun through his mind, and he clenched his jaw, pain and worry nearly overwhelming him for a moment.
Then he focused, and listened again. And gradually, as he tuned out the other noises around him, he heard it. Shallow, labored breathing. And not too far away.
"Nathan?" he called, a little more breathlessly. Taking as deep a breath as he could, he managed to pull himself forward, just a little. The weight atop him shifted, and Scott winced. This is not happening--the rest of this parking garage is NOT going to fall on my head.
If he could just pull himself forward a little bit more, he might be able to reach into his coat, to his visor. If he could just--
He froze as the sound of breathing was interrupted by a weak cough and a sharp, indrawn breath that was almost a gasp of pain. "Nathan?" he called hopefully.
Silence again, and the flicker of hope began to die. Scott gritted his teeth and started to pull himself forward again. If he could just reach his visor--
One of the things Nathan Summers had always prided himself on were his observational skills. And even though his thoughts were a little hazy at the moment, he was completely aware that he had landed on a metal support strut sticking up from a broken piece of concrete--part of the floor? he wondered dimly--and that this was NOT a good thing.
Parking garage, we were in the-- It was dark enough that only his T-O enhanced vision let him see that there was rubble all around him, huge chunks of concrete and twisted metal. The parking garage, clearly. Or what was left of it. Some kind of an explosion--SCOTT!
He opened his mouth to call out, but all he managed was a cough that jarred him just enough to turn the pain in his midsection into waves of red-hot agony that crashed relentlessly through his body. Fighting for breath, he heard someone call his name from what seemed like an enormous distance.
"S-Scott?" he gasped out as soon as he was capable of speech. His head was spinning, he couldn't even begin to reach out telepathically--
"Nathan!" Louder, this time, and definitely Scott's voice. "Nathan, stay where you are--"
It was all he could do to raise his head for a second, long enough to see about six inches of the bloodied metal strut sticking out of his abdomen. He'd landed on it at an angle--just about the worst possible angle, he thought dazedly.
"Not--going anywhere," he said faintly, His head sagged back to the ground, and he stared up at the rubble so precariously balanced above his head. He must have thrown up a TK shield at the last possible moment. There was a--pocket, a small area clear of rubble that seemed to center on him, and the direction that a few of the larger pieces had fallen was definitely unnatural. They SHOULD have been crushed.
He turned his head, squinting in Scott's direction. The side of his face covered in blood, Scott was half-buried in smaller pieces of debris--he'd been right at the edge of the 'pocket'--but his arms were free, and he was pulling himself forward, inch by painful inch. Nathan had seen that expression on Scott's face before, that look of absolute determination--
Expression--flonq. Scott didn't have his glasses on. Nathan flinched, instinctively, and instantly wished he hadn't. Oath--this hurts--! "Scott," he gritted, his voice coming out as little more than a croak. "Your glasses--don't--"
"Open my eyes, I know," Scott said, his tone surprisingly brisk despite how hard he was breathing. "I've--got my visor in my coat pocket, if I can just--get far enough out from under this mess."
"Be--be careful," Nathan whispered. He tried to lend a little help, telekinetically, but the effort didn't have any strength behind it, and he gave up, too weak even to curse.
"Don't--worry," Scott grated, freezing for an instant as dust cascaded down on him from above, briefly. "How bad are you hurt?"
Absurdly, Nathan felt the corner of his mouth tug upwards. "S-Somewhere between--not too bad and you--don't want to know--"
"Okay--you d-don't want to know--" The look on Scott's face killed any impulse he might have had to continue making light of the situation. That, and the fact that he was having enough trouble breathing.
Scott hit his head on the underside of what looked like a chunk of a roof beam, and cursed. More dust spilled down from above, and Nathan winced. "Did--I mention," Scott grated with a sort of offended dignity as he continued to pull himself forward, "that I thought this was--a REALLY bad idea?"
"Couple of t-times--" Nathan swallowed, grimacing at the taste of blood at the back of his throat. "But I don't--think this was directed at us--"
"No?" Scott muttered.
"More like--like someone blew up the building." Nathan watched Scott pull himself a few more inches out from underneath the debris, far enough that he could get an arm inside his coat and reach his visor.
Scott put it on and looked immediately in his direction. "Nate? Answer me."
Nathan reminded himself that Scott's vision was normal, despite the optic blasts, and would take a while to adjust to the dark. "Still--here," he said.
"I--think I'm almost out, here--"
"Take--take your time--" He closed his eyes, trying to concentrate enough to reach a partial meditative state, the best way to deal with his injuries for the time being. But the pain was too much--it drew him back, despite his best efforts. The pain--and something else.
Gonna die, gonna die--
So many voices. Lights in his mind, fading, dwindling--a whimper broke free from somewhere deep in his chest, and he heard the sounds of Scott's progress towards him stop for a moment.
"Nathan, what is it?"
He opened his eyes, ignoring the involuntary tears that blurred his vision. "The building--" he whispered raggedly. "So many people--hurt--"
He heard, rather than saw Scott start to drag himself forward again. "Try not to listen." Scott's voice was hoarse, full of something that sounded like frustration and anger all mixed together.
"Nathan, listen to me. Focus on my voice."
--don't want to die like this--
--can't anyone hear me--
--all dead, all dead--
A real, flesh and blood hand touched his shoulder, and he shuddered, then moaned at the fresh wave of agony the movement touched off.
And even through the pain, he could still hear the voices.
"Nathan, damn it, focus on me--block it out--" Scott said desperately. He spared a moment to check Nathan for injuries, and his heart nearly froze in his chest as he realized that his son was essentially impaled on the broken metal strut. Oh, God--I have to calm him down. If he moves around too much--
"Nathan," he said, more quietly but just as insistently, wincing as he pulled himself a little farther forward. He was out from under the rubble, finally, but that didn't make it any easier to move. His broken ribs protested any shift in position, and there was a definitely unnatural angle to his left leg. Didn't matter--he'd live. He reached out and took Nathan's face between his hands, trying to focus on projecting calm, the sort of soothing emotion that would penetrate the telepathic din Nathan was obviously struggling with. "Listen to me," he said hoarsely. "Block them out, Nate--"
Nathan's left eye glowed fitfully, illuminating a face twisted with anguish. Then, abruptly, he went limp, the light from his eye dying. "Has--has to have been the building--" he whispered raggedly. "Too many--"
"Don't worry about that now," Scott said softly. He slid his jacket off awkwardly, laying it over Nathan. "Just try not to move. And you are not allowed to go into shock on me, Nathan Christopher, is that understood?"
"You damned well bet it is," Scott said firmly. A ghost of that usual sardonic smile tugged at Nathan's lips for a heartbeat, and Scott swallowed a sigh as he checked the wound. Damn it-- he thought despairingly. It was even worse than it had first looked, and that was saying a lot. He tore a sleeve off his jacket and applied as much pressure to the wound as he dared. A stifled moan was Nathan's only response, and the sound tore at Scott's heart. "You know," Scott said, trying to keep his voice light, "if you didn't want to go to the baseball game, all you had to do was say so. No need for all the dramatics--" He glanced up at Nathan's face, and smiled faintly to see the glare he was getting.
"Would--would've rooted for the other team," Nathan gritted, almost defiantly.
"Who said I was a Yankees fan?" Scott said, his smile growing a little, despite the situation. The smile died instantly as he reached up and laid a hand against Nathan's throat, checking a pulse that was far too rapid and weak for his liking. Nathan's skin was cool, almost clammy--damn it. I am not going to let this happen! "I've always sort of liked the Red Sox, actually--"
He looked around desperately, futilely. If Nate was right and there were injured people trapped in the building, he didn't dare use his optic blasts. But he had to do something, he couldn't just sit here and watch his son bleed to death--
"You--couldn't have used--your powers anyway," Nate whispered. "That'd--just bring the whole thing down on us--" He squeezed his eyes tightly shut for a moment, biting back a gasp of pain. "What--what do you want to--bet that it was a mutant rights group or something. Blowing up--FOH headquarters--"
Scott gave a brief, humorless laugh. "Wouldn't that be ironic," he muttered, keeping pressure on the wound. The fabric was already soaking through with blood. "Why couldn't you have made an appointment for ten'o'clock, Nate?" Scott asked shakily, trying to make a joke out of it.
Nathan's eyes opened, and Scott found himself on the receiving end of a pained look. "Scott--don't make me l-laugh, please--?"
"Sorry," Scott said with a weak chuckle. "Just trying to lighten things up--"
"Don't. Doesn't--suit you."
"Well, pardon me," Scott bantered almost desperately. "We can't all have a sense of humor as scintillating as yours."
"R-Right." Nathan fell silent for a long moment, breathing shallowly. "Can't--can't keep my eyes open. Cold--" he finally whispered, the words slurring as his eyes drifted closed.
Scott stiffened, alarmed. "Nate, stay with me," he rasped. "Nate! Open your eyes--you stay awake!"
"Quit--shouting--" Nathan muttered almost irritably. "Tired--"
"I know, Nate, but you have to stay awake," Scott said urgently. He studied their surroundings again, looking for some way, some brilliant inspiration for how to get himself and Nathan out of here. "If the building was bombed, there'll be emergency crews, looking for survivors--"
Scott forced himself to take several deep breaths. "First time I can remember being called that," he said with a travesty of a smile. "Bobby'd probably laugh himself sick--Nathan!"
Nathan's eyes flew open and he stared up at Scott with a strange, dazed anger. "Don't--b-bark at me, Scott--"
"Then stop trying to pass out on me," Scott said a little acerbically. "Exercise that damned stubborn streak of yours--"
"Go f-flonq yourself--" Nathan coughed, and Scott reached out to steady him. Nathan was too weak to resist, and effectively immobilized, unable to pull away, but Scott got the Patented Cable Glare, full-force. "What--r-right do you think you--have to lecture me?"
"I'm not--" Scott bit back what he'd been about to say, and continued in a softer voice. He had to keep him calm, not start an argument with him. "I'm not trying to lecture you, Nate." Nathan blinked up at him, the glare fading into a half-abashed glower, and Scott sighed almost wistfully. "When you were little--you used to be so bad-tempered, whenever you were sick."
Nathan's expression hardened slightly. "I--don't remember," he muttered, something very young and hurt in his voice for a moment. "Don't--feel like reminiscing--"
Scott swallowed past a lump in his throat and slid off his shirt, wincing at the sharp pain in his side. Didn't need those ribs anyway-- He had to do something more to stop the bleeding. Every breath Nate was taking was moving that damned metal strut, doing more damage. "Okay," he said, his voice rough with emotion as he used his shirt to pad around the wound, ripping another few sections off his jacket for makeshift bandages. "No reminiscing. Gotcha."
"It--it's the whole 'no atheists in f-foxholes' thing," Nathan said, even the weakness of his voice not enough to disguise the harsh edge to his words. "I d-don't--FEEL like rehashing all of t-this. Don't want--to HEAR it--"
"You never have, have you?" Scott said unsteadily. For a moment, he hesitated, that faint hurt stirring within him, the same hurt he'd felt each time he'd tried to talk to Nathan, to try and explain--things. Every time, he'd been rebuffed, either politely or more harshly, depending on the circumstances.
He tried to focus on the simple imperative of trying to stop the bleeding, but staring down at his hands--at his hands, covered in his son's blood, some last vestige of reserve broke inside him. "Why?" he asked exhaustedly, the pain and worry so strong that he couldn't manage to put any heat behind the question. "Why don't you ever want to talk about any of this, Nathan?"
"F-Fine." Nate's eye glowed again. "You w-want to talk, Scott? You want--me to listen? Then t-tell me why--why you left Madelyne and me. Explain--THAT." Taken aback by the question, Scott could only stare at him for a moment, a half-dozen half-formulated answers spinning uselessly in his mind.
Nathan seemed to sense it. "Didn't t-think so," he whispered, more faintly. "Not a t-topic you--like to think about, is it?"
Scott might have expected anger, or even contempt. But there was none of either in Nathan's voice. Only bitterness, and a sorrow lurking just beneath the surface, hidden yet no less profound. "Honestly?" Scott said hoarsely, trying to ignore the pain of his own injuries, the mocking whispers that told him help wasn't going to come in time. "No, it's not. Maybe--maybe I've spent too much time trying to apologize--"
"Sorry--has no meaning."
Scott bit back a bitter curse. "I get so tired of hearing you say that, you know?" he asked wearily. "It's the conversational equivalent of throwing up a brick wall in my face."
"Works both ways," Nathan rasped.
"I don't care. I don't care what philosophical excuses you use for not letting yourself deal with any of this--" Nathan's eye flashed, almost dangerously, but Scott continued, not bothering to hide the misery in his voice. "It was a mess, Nate. It was a horrible, horrible mess and yes, damn it, it was more my fault than anyone else's. I have never tried to evade responsibility for it--"
"You ever--thought that's the problem?" Nathan whispered.
Scott blinked at him, momentarily bewildered. Maybe it was the concussion. "What?" he asked uncertainly.
"That--you keep apologizing for it. That you--can't f-forget it--and t-take all the blame on yourself." Nathan let his head sag to the side, and his voice, when he spoke again, was brimming with pain he hadn't heard or seen from his son since he'd held him in his arms the day that the truth about Nathan and Stryfe had finally been revealed. "I see it in your eyes--every single time you look at m-me. I--HATE it."
"See what?" Scott asked in anguish. "Nate--"
"The--GUILT. You l-look at me like I'm--a SIN you can't forgive yourself for--"
"NO!" It was a cry from the heart, slipping past all the defenses, all the caution he had painfully, slowly learned to use when talking to Nathan. "No, son. Not you. Never you, do you understand? It's me, it's always been me--"
Nathan looked back at him. Even in the dark, his gaze was piercing. Haunting. "Shouldn't l-lie to a telepath," he whispered, his voice still soft, barely audible, but suddenly stronger, surer. "I'm a p-part of your past--you've ALWAYS been ashamed of. If--you weren't so flonqing honorable--you'd have l-left me behind and moved on--a LONG time ago."
Regret and guilt, fear and pain, all of it was suddenly washed away by a strangely inexorable wave of absolute calm and a firm, yet gentle determination. He reached out and took Nate's hand, squeezing it tightly.
"No man talks about my son that way, Nathan Dayspring," he said in the Askani dialect they had sometimes used, along with Olde Englishe, during those twelve years in the future. It seemed, strangely enough, to soothe Nathan. His body relaxed slightly, and his breathing seemed to slow a bit. "No man," Scott repeated insistently.
"Scott--" Nate whispered weakly.
Scott switched back to English. "And stop calling me that, would you?" he said, a little of the pain creeping back into his voice now, despite himself. "I'm your father, damn it. I changed your diapers, I watched you take your first step, I looked after you when you were sick--" His voice broke, but he continued doggedly. "You're a stubborn, close-mouthed, infuriating pain in the ass half the time, Nathan Summers, but you're my son, and I love you!"
Nathan didn't say anything. But Scott could see, even in near-darkness, the tears falling freely down his son's face.
He was almost ready to lay Nathan's hand back down and check on his wound when, ever so briefly, in a shadow of his usual crushing grip, Nathan squeezed back.
"Slym," he whispered, all the pain gone from his voice.
#Scott! Scott, can you hear me?#
The voice drew him up out of the darkness. Scott blinked dazedly. Jean? How could she--the psi-shielding--
Unless she was inside the building. Hope flared inside him. Jean? he thought back. His head still throbbed with pain, and even the effort of reaching out along the link made him wince. Jean--we're here--
#Scott!# Relief, tinging the frantic concern that surged along the psi-link from. Her voice seemed to cut in and out, though, as if the psi-shielding was still active, and intermittently blocking her call. #Scott--hold on, honey, we'll reach you soon--#
Soon--how long had they been--?
He'd passed out. The realization hit him like a physical blow.
Oh, God-- "Nathan?" he rasped, pushing himself up to his elbows. Nathan was lying there beside him, still and quiet as the dead. Scott, trembling, leaned over him, felt for a pulse at his throat.
There. Still too fast, too erratic, and his breathing was so shallow it was almost nonexistent. Heart pounding like a jackhammer, Scott checked Nathan's wound. The bleeding hadn't quite stopped. Almost, but not quite--
Jean? he sent again, hoping she'd hear him. Hurry. "Nathan," he said, gently laying a hand against the side of his son's face. "Come on, Nathan. Open your eyes. Please, son."
And he did. His eyes fluttered open and that strange grey and gold gaze fixed on Scott's face, dazed yet somehow rueful.
"Still here?" Nathan whispered weakly.
Scott smiled tiredly. "Thought I'd stick around until I got a raincheck on that Yankees game."
A faint echo of his smile. "Maybe."
"I'll hold you to that."
"Just d-don't expect me to--catch any dirty balls."
"Foul balls, Nate."
"W-Whatever." Nathan stared upwards, blinking as if he was disoriented. "Did--did I hear Redd?"
Redd, not Jean. Scott smiled again, taking Nathan's hand once more. "You did. I gather the cavalry's here."
Nathan murmured something that might have been a curse. "Dom's--never going to let me l-live this down." He raised his other hand, limply indicating the metal strut.
"Oh?" Scott asked with a faint chuckle. "What is it with the two of you, anyway?"
Nathan's eyes narrowed. "I'm t-taking the fifth," he muttered darkly, and closed his eyes. "W-wake me up when Redd--gets here."
"Unconscious. Can't hear you."
When Jean and the others reached
them, five minutes later, Scott was still trying to choke back
the completely inappropriate urge to laugh.
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