by Alicia McKenzie
This story seems to be taking on more of a philosophical bent than I ever expected--as a result, it's taking me longer to write than I'd anticipated. Then again, none of us are on a schedule here, are we? :)
Amelia took a sip of the coffee she'd just brewed and made a face. Too strong, again. When was she going to learn how to make coffee properly? Charles was always teasing her about it. It was an art, he said; one that required patience. Her usual response to that was to tell him to make his own damned coffee. Strangely enough, he always seemed to find that terribly amusing--
Dumping the rest of what was in her cup into the sink, Amelia sat down at the kitchen table with a sigh, staring moodily out the window. The sun was just visible over the trees, and the sky was a pale, delicate blue, streaked by wisps of rosy clouds. It really was shaping up to be a beautiful morning. Too bad she wasn't in the mood to appreciate it properly. Ever since childhood, she'd been an early riser. It was the quiet she loved, the hushed stillness of a brand new day waiting to be lived. A day with no mistakes in it yet--
Charles was at the other end of the spectrum, the very epitome of a night owl. Amelia couldn't remember the number of times she'd woken up alone in their bed in the morning, to find that he'd fallen asleep working at his desk yet again. Frankly, she was beginning to resent it. Little things like that hadn't bothered her when she'd first returned to the States with him, but lately--
Lately, I'm acting like I have permanent PMS. But it was just so frustrating; she was rapidly running out of patience. She'd always thought she could change Charles, persuade him to give up this mad plan of his. That meeting with Magneto in Auschwitz--Charles had been so subdued afterwards, she'd dared to hope that he'd finally opened his eyes and seen the scope of the conflict that would break out if he followed his old friend's example and gathered mutants around himself to fight for his 'dream'.
Wishful thinking, Amelia told herself sourly. She'd been out of her mind to ever think she, or anyone else, could ever change Charles. One would have better luck trying to move the earth out of its orbit.
The kitchen door opened and Amelia flinched. Charles had been so restless last night; she'd assumed he'd sleep late this morning, so she hadn't bothered to guard her thought. Damn, I am in no mood for an argument--
But it wasn't Charles. Barely seeming to register her presence, Nathan stopped just inside the door and scanned the kitchen warily, as if he expected to find someone hiding in a corner, waiting to jump out at him. That barely-veiled panic Amelia had seen in his demeanor yesterday at the airport was gone, but he looked every bit as tense--and so haggard that Amelia wondered if he'd slept at all last night. Remembering what he'd told her about his dreams, she bit her lip against a rush of reluctant sympathy.
Damn it, this didn't make sense. Any anger she felt was directed solely--and rightly--at Charles, but she should at least resent Nathan's presence here. Yet she didn't. Instead, she found herself busy trying to squelch the bizarre urge to hug him and tell him that everything would be all right. I've always been a sucker for that damned lost-puppy look, she thought resignedly.
The silence dragged on, Finally, she cleared her throat and gave him a slightly forced smile. "Good morning," she said pleasantly. Still checking out the kitchen, he didn't answer, or even acknowledge that she'd spoken to him. She frowned, growing concerned. "Nathan?"
He blinked and looked sideways at her. "Oh--Amelia."
"Right. Amelia," she said, more sarcastically than she'd intended. "Not quite awake yet this morning, are we?"
His jaw tightened. "I knew you were there," he said almost defiantly.
Nathan shook his head, as if to clear it, and gave her a look that suddenly seemed a great deal more intent. "I didn't--expect anyone to be awake yet."
"I'm a morning person. So sue me," Amelia bristled, feeling oddly defensive under his scrutiny. Charles had the same way of--looking into her, but in him, it was at least tempered by affection--most of the time. Nathan, on the other hand, was sizing her up dispassionately, studying her as if she was some particularly interesting sort of insect. "Did you sleep well?" she asked a bit maliciously.
His gaze wavered and fell, and he muttered something in that same strange, melodic language she'd heard him use briefly last night. "The bed was--strange," he finally said in English, his voice drained of all emotion. Amelia bit her lip, furious at herself for asking the question in the first place. It had been unneccessary and cruel, even if he had been staring at her like all her secrets were tattooed across her forehead.
She cast around for something to say, to lighten the mood. Before she could think of anything, Nathan, still eyeing the room warily, glanced at the window--and froze. His eyes widened, and he actually paled. Amelia looked quickly over her shoulder, trying to figure out what had stunned him so, but all she saw was the sunrise. Nothing that should be at all alarming--
Slowly, as if he was having to force himself to take every step, Nathan crossed the room to stand in front of the window, and stared. And stared, and stared and stared, until Amelia half-expected his eyes to fall out of his head.
He looks like someone just showed him a picture of heaven and he doesn't know how to react, was the bizarre thought that flashed through her mind. She joined him, perplexed by the open wonder on his face.
"What's the matter?" she asked lightly. "Didn't you have sunrises where you came from?"
"Not like this," he whispered. "It's so beautiful--" He blinked quickly, and Amelia realized he was trying to hold back tears. Hesitantly, she laid a hand on his arm, but his expression hardened and he pulled away sharply, turning his back on her. But she saw him rub his eyes almost angrily, and heard him growl what could only have been a curse in that same lilting language.
Amelia felt the corner of her mouth quirk in a humorless smile. Great. She already had one man in her life who was a model of emotional repression. But Charles's problem was that he was trying to be inhumanly collected and logical, the perfect mutant philosopher-psychologist. Amelia honestly suspected that he'd convinced himself it was somehow immoral to be at the mercy of his emotions. Nathan was different, though. All he wanted was to stop feeling, period. She could see it in his eyes.
"It is very beautiful, isn't it?" she asked quietly, turning back to the window. "'Nature's glories' sometimes make me a little teary-eyed, too."
"I was not crying." He sounded almost insulted.
"Of course you weren't." He glowered at her, and she smiled faintly. "But even if you were, it wouldn't be anything to be ashamed of. It's not being weak, or overemotional, it's just--awe. And humility. You realize how small you are, what an inconsequential part of the whole--but you know that you are part of it, and you can't help but be overwhelmed." Damn, that sounded ridiculous, she thought, holding back a groan.
But the anger faded from Nathan's expression, and he almost smiled. Laying a hand against the window, he shrugged. "I used to--drema of a place like this. When I was young. Somewhere peaceful--alive--" He swallowed, and Amelia caught the flash of pain in his eyes. "But it didn't-exist. Not in my time. I--forgot the dreams. But now I-I'm here, and it doesn't--feel--right!"
Amelia flinched at the torment in his voice. Yet she got the sense he was ashamed, too--ashamed of exposing himself like this. How do I know that? she puzzled. Moira says he's a telepath--is he projecting or something?
"Why not?" she asked, keeping her voice level and soothing. A vision of heaven, she mused silently. No, HIS vision of heaven. And he doesn't think he belongs here. His eyes widened. Maybe that's not as far out as it sounds-- "Why not, Nathan?" she persisted when he didn't answer.
"Because!" he almost hissed, closing his eyes briefly. His expression changed, became so bleak and harsh that his face might have been stone rather than flesh. "It doesn't matter," he said dully, opening his eyes and looking at her. "I shouldn't even--"
"What?" she asked, honestly baffled.
"Nothing," he muttered, turning his back on the window. Leaning back against the wall, his shoulders slumping, he looked so weary all of a sudden that Amelia was a little worried.
"Are you, um, hungry?" she asked hesitantly. He shrugged. "Why don't you sit down?" she continued awkwardly. "I was thinking of trying out the Voght family recipe for pancakes." She managed a lop-sided smile. "You can be my guinea pig."
Without another word, he sat down at the kitchen table. Amelia went over to the cupboards and started fishing out ingredients, stopping every so often to steal a glance over her shoulder at him. But he was staring down at the table, lost in thought, and didn't notice.
"Amelia?" he suddenly asked, just when she'd figured he'd decided to forego conversation for the time being. Startled, she almost dropped the flour container.
"Yeah?" she asked nervously.
"Isn't a guinea pig--some kind of rodent?"
Watching from the porch, Charles wondered exactly what Nathan found so fascinating about that particular tree. He'd been examining it meticulously for the last fifteen minutes, and Charles was beginning to get a little worried.
"Nathan?" he called. Nathan didn't even look up. Charles frowned, and repeated the call telepathically, not 'shouting' as he had in the car yesterday, but loudly enough that Nathan should have heard him. And still, he got no response.
I honestly don't think he's simply ignoring me-- But it was so damnably hard to tell! Charles was a little surprised at how frustrating it was to be unable to get evne so much as a telepathic impression from his mysterious 'guest'. It puts me at a distinct disadvantage, he thought wryly. And you don't like that, do you, Charles?
Smiling ruefully, he settled in to wait. A little patience never hurt. Besides, he might be able to learn something just by watching Nathan for a few minutes. Body language could reveal a great deal. At least, I hope so, Charles thought with a sigh. He certainly hadn't had much success in getting Nathan to open up today. Of course, all of this would be a great deal easier if he hadn't promised Nathan he wouldn't push for information about why he was here--and if Moira hadn't been hovering all day, like an overprotective parent.
But at least one question had been resolved to Charles's satisfaction. Moira had described in detail the events of the last few days, from the moment she'd arrived on the mainland to find Rev. Craig whipping his followers into a frenzy over the 'devil's herald'. She'd even let him do a surface scan of her mind--after warning him that she'd carve out his heart and eat it for breakfast if he probed too deeply. Moira is always so--emphatic. But Charles hadn't needed to do a deep scan; the facts seemed perfectly clear. The way Nathan had saved Moira from the falling debris after the explosion in her lab was certainly proof of some kind of psychokinetic ability. The sudden, inexplicable shift in mood of Rev. Craig's mob, Nathan's sudden facility with English, and the psi-echo Charles had detected in Moira's mind--proof that she'd been scanned by another telepath very recently--suggested rather strongly that he was telepathic, as well. Charles didn't think he was out of line in accepting, for the time being at least, that he was dealing with another full psi, like Jean Grey.
A full psi who is either delusional or a visitor from two millennia in the future. Charles wasn't sure which option he'd prefer.
Nathan stiffened, glancing sharply in the direction of the porch. Frustration blazed on his face, and he turned away; quite deliberately, Charles thought. After a moment, he rose and headed over slowly to the porch. He looked outwardly composed, but Charles frowned, able to see the strain beneath the surface even without the benefit of his telepathy.
Dear Lord, he looks like he's about to face a firing squad. "Hello, Nathan," Charles said calmly as his guest came over and sat down on a nearby chair, not looking at him. "It's a lovely day, isn't it?" The weather was the most innocuous topic that came to mind. Nathan glanced up at the cloudless sky and nodded. Charles let the silence continue for a moment, and then gestured around at the backyard. "You seem rather--fascinated by it all." Nathan looked wary, and Charles suppressed a smile. That's it. Take the bait--
"Don't you think it's worth appreciating?" Nathan asked curtly.
"Of course," Charles replied mildly. "And I realize how privileged I am to be surrounded by such beauty." He smiled again, this time with real amusement. "Amelia would say it contributes to an ivory-tower mentality and excessive idealism--not in so many words, of course." No, Amelia would--and had--put it a great deal more bluntly--
"Idealism," Nathan muttered, staring at the ground. Charles raised an eyebrow. That had sounded almost--disgusted.
"We all have to have dreams, Nathan."
"Moira told me." Nathan still wouldn't look at him. "About your--dream." His hands clenched into fists at his sides. "I--there was so little known about you, in my time. Just your name--the legend."
Charles blinked. "Legend?" he said, unable to keep the incredulity out of his voice. "Ah--well. Yes. That's--interesting." And disturbingly flattering, in a way--no, I won't go there. He shook his head in exasperation, telling himself to focus on the matter at hand. "Is that why you thought I could help you?" Charles winced as Nathan gave him a penetrating look. That came very close to breaking his promise not to pry--
But Nathan didn't call him on it. "The truth?" he asked tautly, his voice seething with anger barely held in check. "It wasn't my--thought. It wasn't my choice to come to you, or to this time--" He fell silent, quivering with tension. "It doesn't matter, I suppose. What is, is," he muttered. It had the sound of something often-repeated--some sort of saying, or proverb.
Charles regarded Nathan thoughtfully. "That sounds rather fatalistic."
Nathan's shoulders slumped. "I always thought so. It can very easily become an--excuse, used wrongly."
"And what is it for you?" Charles asked in honest curiosity. Nathan didn't answer for a moment.
"A knife in my heart," he finally said. His voice was flat, utterly emotionless, but his left eye blazed golden, and a muscle in his jaw twitched steadily.
Charles mentally discarded the 'delusional' option. That iron self-control was certainly covering something, but there was no longer any question in his mind that Nathan was fully in touch with reality. Too much so, perhaps, Charles thought. He doesn't want to face whatever's causing him so much pain, but he can't let go of it, either.
"An interesting choice of words," he said calmly, hoping to draw Nathan out further. "Your command of idiom seems to be improving."
"Metaphor, not idiom," Nathan said remotely. "And you have no idea." He shook his head. "This isn't--I'm not answering your question."
"I assumed you were working up to it," Charles said with another faint smile. Nathan's eyes narrowed, and Charles sighed. "Go on."
"I--can't answer it, really, because I don't know. I was sent here, and told to find you--"
"Sent? By whom?"
"A--friend. My teacher." Nathan actually flinched. "He said--it was my only chance."
"Your only chance to what?" Charles prompted when Nathan lapsed into silence again. "Is there some set of rules here that I don't know about?" he asked hesitantly. "About what you can and can't tell me, I mean--" Nathan gave him a peculiar look, and Charles shrugged, unable to hold back a smile. "Sorry. Too much science fiction, I guess--"
"Only--common sense," Nathan finally said, still looking slightly bemused. "At least, as far as I know--" Charles blinked at Nathan's suddenly dry tone. *That sounded almost like a joke.*
"I have to admit," Charles said, following a sudden instinct, "I don't know if I could have done what you've done, left everything I knew for a world that's totally alien to me. It must have taken a great deal of courage."
Nathan stiffened. "Or cowardice," he muttered, his voice full of self-loathing. "Deciding to--run away."
Charles frowned. "If it wasn't your choice to come, you can hardly be accused of running away." Yet the guilt in those bitter words was unmistakable.
"You don't understand," Nathan growled, rising.
"Then tell me," Charles invited. "Help me understand."
"I--can't!" Trembling, Nathan turned away, staring out at the grounds.
Charles wheeled his chair forward, stopping beside him. "Nathan, I want to help you," he said gently, not letting any of the frustration or helplessness he felt show in his voice. "But I can't help if I don't know how--"
Nathan looked down at him. It was almost surreal, Charles thought; being able to see the pain on Nathan's face, the indecision, but not being able to sense it with his telepathy. Nathan was standing right beside him, but to Charles's telepathy, he was still, quite simply, not there. Like a ghost, almost--and maybe that's not entirely inappropriate, Charles thought with a sudden flash of sympathetic insight.
"Metaphor," Nathan finally said, in a voice that was barely audible. Charles frowned.
"All right," he said, not entirely understanding.
"When someone is--sick, the healer treats the disease. Not the symptoms. The--cause, not the effect." Nathan was silent for a long moment. "I've spent my whole life--fighting the symptoms," he went on. His left eye was still glowing, but dully. "All I've done is--fail." His voice broke on the word 'fail', and he shuddered, looking away.
"So you've come back here to attack the cause," Charles said. There's where the problem lies, he told himself. This 'failure'.
"Yes." Nathan looked back at him, and there was a curious desperation on his face and in his voice. "But I don't know--this world. I don't know how to--live in it, and I can't--" He trailed off, making an irritable gesture. "I don't know--how to explain."
"I think I understand," Charles said with a smile. "What you need is a--crash course in the twentieth century." Nathan gave him an uncomprehending look, and Charles felt his smile grow wider. "I think I can manage that."
And maybe, once I get you feeling a little more comfortable here, you'll be more willing to talk, Charles thought. Something told him that the man standing in front of him had the potential to be very important in the years ahead.
Nathan muttered something in that strange language he'd used last night--his own language, according to Moira. It was a beautiful language to the ear, musical and oddly elegant. "Nathan?" Charles asked.
"'Learn what you can', he said."
"Yes--he--" Nathan rubbed at his temples, as if he had a headache. "Would it be all right if I--looked around?" he asked dully, gesturing out at the grounds.
"Certainly," Charles said, puzzled at the sudden change of subject. "I don't normally restrict my guests to the house and environs--" His attempt at humor went right over Nathan's head, and Charles sighed. "The grounds are quite extensive--from the road to the lake, actually. There are walls to the east and west--I don't think you could get too far lost."
"I just need--some time to think," Nathan said, almost in a whisper. Once again, Charles got the sense that Nathan was fighting an internal battle of some sort.
"Take all the time you need," Charles said lightly. "But if you need to talk--" Nathan gave him a quick, almost frightened look, and Charles sighed. "If you want to talk, I'm here."
Nathan nodded jerkily, and walked into the woods. Charles watched him go, shaking his head. He was going to have to be very careful, he realized. Especially since his telepathy was of no use; it was rather like trying to find your way through the dark without a flashlight.
Strange--he hadn't hesitated even an instant over the question of whether or not to help him. Why is that, Charles? his conscience asked him dryly. Your usual desire for a challenge, perhaps? Or because you think you can use him?
Charles frowned, banishing that nagging voice of self-doubt. Absurd--he'd thought no such thing. He hadn't turned his back when he had the chance to help Jean Grey--he certainly wasn't going to do it in Nathan's case.
But you don't even know what he wants. The voice returned, persistent. You don't know what his intentions are, whether his goal is compatible with yours--
Well, that was true. Charles nodded, acknowledging it to himself. He didn't know--but he was quite confident in his ability to find out.
Once he was out of sight of the house, Nathan stopped. Breathing raggedly--he'd felt like he was suffocating, through almost that entire conversation--he leaned back against a tree and let himself slide down into a sitting position.
That went well, he thought with a sort of bitter humor, unable to hold back a shiver of self-loathing. Blaquesmith would be proud. He hadn't given anything away, even with Xavier sitting there and watching him so intently, as if he was looking right into his soul, seeing the stain there. No, he'd told half-truths, avoided questions--concealed the truth so that Xavier didn't turn his back on him in disgust. Blaquesmith would have been quite satisfied with his performance.
Nathan took a deep, shaky breath and tried to clear his mind, to reach a partial meditative state. But he couldn't. His thoughts were a disorganized jumble, his emotions spiky and sharp-edged, like knives cutting into him with every breath he took. What little sleep he'd gotten last night had been full of nightmares even more vivid that usual, and every time he closed his eyes, he could see Tetherblood and the others, fighting to hold the Canaanites back as Blaquesmith sent him into the past. He could hear their voices, Tetherblood and Blaquesmith, as clear as if they were beside him--
Go, Nathan! Or by the Dream, I swear I'll knock you out and throw you into the timestream myself!
There is nothing you can do here, Dayspring. Only in the past is there the chance to change this--
If you stay, they won't stop until they've hunted you down! We have a better chance of escaping without you!
Nathan, GO! There's no more time--
It is the only chance--
Stab your eyes, little brother--GET MOVING!
Choose life, Dayspring--do not let your own misplaced guilt condemn us all--
"Blaquesmith--" he muttered feverishly, staring up at the sky. "Stab your eyes--where ARE you?"
Blaquesmith had warned him, Nathan realized. Find Xavier. Learn what you can until I come for you. That suggested he was going to be a while in the coming. "Stab your eyes," Nathan whispered again, humiliated as his vision blurred with tears again. Blaquesmith had throw him into this time, without telling him what he needed to do, how to change things. Meanwhile, people were dying in his own time--
But they weren't, were they? Nathan thought dazedly, trying to grasp the paradox. It hadn't happened yet--none of it. There was plenty of time at this end of history. So why doesn't that make me feel better? he cried out, silently.
He knew the answer to his own question, of course. His body, his mind, his will--they were here, in this time, ready to do what was neccessary. But his heart, what was left of it, was in his own time, with his people. He was caught between these two worlds--
And part of him didn't want to exist in either.
to be continued...
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