by Alicia McKenzie
"It's not going to bite you, Nathan," Amelia said patiently, trying very hard to repress a smile.
Nathan picked up his knife, and lightly tapped the shell of the lobster on his place. Amelia, struck by the bizarre mental image of him asking if there was anyone home, bit her lip. "Are you sure?" he asked doubtfully, giving her a sideways, skeptical look.
"Positive." She didn't want him to think she was laughing at him. It had only been three weeks since his arrival, but she'd figured out early on that he didn't have much of a sense of humor. At least not by the standards of the twentieth century, she corrected herself. Maybe he was a brilliant wit in the thirty-eighth century--but she didn't think so. Something told her that he didn't find very much funny, whatever time period he was in. There was a grimness about him that was very difficult to disregard.
"Some people consider it a delicacy, lad," Moira said from the other side of the table where she sat beside Charles. She was having markedly less success concealing her amusement. "A great many folk, actually--"
Nathan poked at the lobster again. "Well, it LOOKS dead," he said, as if trying to reassure himself. Moira covered her mouth to smother a laugh.
Amelia gave her a dirty look. The least she could do is not make fun of him-- Having dinner out had been Moira's idea, of course. She'd been just brimming with various strategies to speed up Nathan's 'acclimation process', as she'd called it. Nathan had been a remarkably good sport, Amelia reflected, but some of Moira's ideas had gone over better than others. Being out in public, especially in crowds, was still difficult for him. He'd actually 'frozen' again, a few times--once in the middle of the Salem Mall, when Charles hadn't been with them. She and Moira had had a devil of a time bringing him out of it, a process greatly complicated by the presence of curious onlookers.
Even here, though the restaurant was half-full at best, he still seemed uneasy, eyeing the exits every few minutes. Amelia wished he'd relax, just a little. He still acted like he expected there to be someone hostile waiting around every corner. It was starting to make HER paranoid.
"In my--I mean, at h-home--" Nathan stopped, flushing as if he'd revealed something he hadn't intended with that momentary stammer. But before any of them could say anything, he plunged on, almost defiantly. "Something this colour would--almost always have been poisonous."
Charles gave him a reassuring smile, but the thoughtful look in his eyes made Amelia scowl. "I assure you, Nathan," he said, without a trace of condescension, "it's perfectly safe." He paused, almost contemplatively. "Is it just the colour that bothers you?" he asked.
Amelia took a sip from her water glass to cover a sardonic smile. Oh, Charles, she thought wearily. Did he know that she knew how much it bothered him to have to resort to GUESSING what was going through Nathan's mind? He wasn't used to being at such a disadvantage, and she didn't think he really understood how much that was colouring the way he related to Nathan. Even the most innocent questions came out sounding a little too sharp, a little too intent.
"Not--really," Nathan admitted in a neutral voice, his face taking on that shuttered expression Amelia had already learned to recognize as signaling the end of a talkative mood. "It--reminds me of something else."
"I see," Charles said, sounding almost disappointed.
Nathan suddenly looked up from the lobster, giving Charles a peculiar look. "No," he said, his mouth curving in an odd smile. It was a weary, faint, somewhat caustic smile that she'd never seen from him before. "You don't." His eyes narrowed, and Charles suddenly stiffened in his wheelchair, paling.
Amelia nearly dropped her water glass. What the hell are they doing? "Charles?" she asked worriedly, leaning across the table towards him.
"Nae--leave them for a moment, Amelia," Moira said, studying Nathan thoughtfully. "I think we're having a wee bit of a breakthrough, here--"
"A breakthrough? What are you talking about?" Amelia demanded. The two of them were just STARING at each other--were they talking telepathically or something? Moira gave her that patient, 'sit-down-and-be-a-good-girl' smile that Amelia loathed, but didn't answer.
"Dear God," Charles suddenly whispered, his eyes focusing again.
He stared at Nathan, looking absolutely stunned. "What--what did you call them?"
Nathan said a short, oddly gutteral word in his own language. He was still wearing that strange smile, although it was fading. "They're--very aggressive. It's good that they travel--alone, most of the time." He gave the lobster another poke with his knife.
"I should hope so! I can't even imagine a pack of those," Charles said, shaking his head, still obviously not quite over whatever Nathan had done.
"A pack of what, Charles?" Amelia asked, not understanding any of this. Charles blinked, startled, and stared at her for a moment as if he'd forgotten who she was.
#Nathan 'sent' me an image,# he finally said in her mind. #Of creatures about as large as this table that do bear a passing resemblance to a lobster.# His expression grew puzzled, and he looked back at Nathan. "Why the image?" he asked, frowning. "Why not just describe it to me?"
"Would you have believed me?" Nathan said, his mouth twitching. "Besides--haven't you wanted me to use my--abilities?"
Amelia raised an eyebrow, her respect for him jumping up a few notches. He knew, then, that Charles had been trying to gauge his mutant abilities. And didn't fall for it--huh. Guess he's not as out of it as I thought. Charles had tried the same thing with her when they'd first come back to the States. She'd refused out of hand, and continued to resist to this day. Her mutant power was a curse, and she didn't feel obligated to 'develop it to its fullest potential'. She wondered if Nathan felt the same way, or if he had a different set of motivations driving him.
Charles looked stung. "It is difficult for me to help you when you deliberately hold things back," he said to Nathan, his voice slightly frosty.
"Charles, now, that is nae fair," Moira said quietly. "I dinnae recall you telling me that Nathan asked for assistance in this particular matter." For once, Amelia totally forgot any resentment she felt towards the other woman. She could have applauded, right then and there.
"No," Nathan said, his eyes falling to the table again. "I--appreciate everything you're doing for me, Charles, but I'm not here for--training."
Charles frowned, clearly frustrated. "This is ridiculous," he protested, turning back to Nathan. "You clearly have enormous potential--"
"It's--complicated," Nathan said, almost apologetically. "And even if it weren't, I don't want to--rely on it. It's not--who I am." His expression tightened briefly. "Different weapons for different battles."
"Perhaps you'll explain that to me at some point," Charles said rather stiffly, but let the subject drop. Amelia took a deep breath of relief. All things considered, this was not the place to have an argument about the usage and training of mutant powers.
Nathan managed another smile, this one curiously weary. "Explain--where would I start?" he murmured, and then looked down at the lobster again. "How do--you eat these things?" he asked, sounding a little embarassed.
"Here," Amelia said, and started to demonstrate. But as she did, there was some kind of commotion at the doors. She looked up just in time to see three men, all wearing ski masks and carrying guns, burst into the restaurant. A waitress screamed, dropping her tray, and one of the men swore and back-handed her, yelling at her to shut up.
Another fired into the air. Some of their fellow diners echod the waitress's scream, while others dove beneath their tables and some simply froze in terror. "No one moves, no one gets hurt!" the one who had fired shouted, his voice shaking. He sounded young, and almost as scared as the people he and his friends were apparently intending to rob.
Can't even have a quiet evening out anymore, Amelia thought grimly. God, I hate my life--
Inwardly cursing himself for being so distracted by Nathan's telepathic 'olive branch', Charles instinctively reached out to soothe the panic of the more upset patrons. Distantly, he noted that Amelia and Moira needed no such intervention, and was oddly pleased by that. Moira was more or less calm, if understandably a little anxious, and Amelia seemed more disgusted than anything else.
Now--what to do? Charles thought. The three men worked their way around the room, seizing purses and other valuables. He decided to simply focus on keeping everyone calm, including the three masked men, and let them go about their 'business' and leave. He could stop them with his telepathy, but he couldn't think of a way to do that without revealing to all these witnesses that something very odd was going on--and he certainly didn't want to have to alter the memories of everyone in the room. He found that distasteful even in the most desperate of circumstances. No, better to just ensure that no one got hurt--
Something flickered at the edges of his awareness, in a direction where there had only been the usual 'blind spot' a moment before. A chill went through Charles, and he looked sharply at Nathan, just in time to see an expression of utter contempt form on his features as he watched the three criminals.
#Nathan!# Charles snapped telepathically. #I'm keeping everyone calm--don't do anything!#
And then, for the first time, after three weeks of trying to engage him in telepathic conversation, Charles got an answer.
#They're--children, Charles.# Nathan's mind-voice was as deep and rough as his physical voice. There was an odd sense of strain behind the words, as if he was having trouble making the connection neccessary four mind-to-mind speech. #Stupid children, who need--to be taught a lesson.# He didn't move, but he was still glaring at the three men with something very close to disgust.
#Nathan--# Charles started warningly, but the thief who'd taken their side of the restaurant reached their table just then, and Charles stiffened, alarmed at what he sensed of the young man's mental state. He was jubilant at what he saw at his and his friends' success--almost dangerously so. Close to losing control--and possibly under the influence of some sort of drug, Charles thought with growing alarm as he probed a little deeper.
"Oh, you are a looker, aren't you?" the young man said to Amelia as he grabbed her purse. His eyes gleamed wildly, and he grinned beneath the ski-mask. Amelia met his gaze calmly, not betraying emotion of any sort. It only seemed to embolden him. "You and I could have some fun, baby," he said, reaching out and grabbing her arm in a bruising grip.
That did it; Charles's compunctions about using his mutant abilities in public ended when some young punk was manhandling the woman he loved. But before he could reach out and stop him telepathically, the thief was suddenly lying on the ground, groaning. Nathan stood over the thief, holding the young man's gun in one hand. The cold rage on his face was enough to make one's blood run cold.
Charles, however, was just stunned. He hadn't even seen Nathan move.
"Hey!" one of the other thieves shouted in agitation, waving his gun at Nathan. "What do you think you're doing, you stupid fuck?"
"Assaulting your--friend," Nathan said contemptuously, turning towards the other two as they advanced on him. "What does it look like?" He still held the gun, but he didn't even so much as raise it, let alone aim it at the two men.
Was the man insane? Charles thought wildly. He reached out to freeze the two thieves where they stood--
#Nathan! Are you trying to get yourself shot?#
#No. Trust me.#
"You wanna die or somethin', man?" the other one asked, but his voice was shaking. Charles realized that neither of them knew exactly what to make of this. Part of them wanted to shoot, another part was trying to figure out what Nathan intended, why he thought he could do this and get away with it--and the conflict had them effectively paralysed.
Adding their confusion was the aura of cool, dismissive scorn that Nathan was all but projecting. He looked at them as if he considered them a pair of pesky irritants that would otherwise have been beneath his notice. Yet it was all in his body language and attitude; Charles couldn't sense any telepathic manipulation going on at all. This was familiar territory for Nathan, Charles realized; being outnumbered, in a dangerous situation. He was handling this with consummate ease. Even if Charles hadn't been here to back him up telepathically if things got out of hand, it still would have been the two young thieves, not Nathan, who would have been overmatched.
"No," Nathan said, almost mildly. "I don't want to die. Do you?" It was phrased like a casual question, not a threat, but it still made the one on the left go pale.
The one on the right blinked, obviously taken aback. "Then d-drop the gun, man!"
Good Lord, Charles thought. They're terrified of him!
Nathan tossed it aside casually. "Does that--make you feel better?" he asked, as they continued to advance on him. His eyes had narrowed, though, and Charles could almost see him measuring the distance between him and the two men. Studying, calculating--sizing up the situation from every angle. "You think you have the advantage now--right?"
"Shut up!" the one on the left quavered.
The one on the right cursed, and Charles could sense him beginning to panic. "Let's just shoot the asshole and get the hell out--"
"No, you're not leaving," Nathan said, and, reaching out, grabbed the wrist of the one on the right, who'd advanced just that little bit too far. Charles heard bones snap, and the thief dropped his gun with a wail of pain. The other cursed, and, before Charles could react, pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. Swearing, he tried again and again, to no avail.
Nathan smiled coldly, and dropped the man whose wrist he'd broken with a fist to the jaw. The man went down like a sag of potatoes. "You could try--throwing it at me," Nathan suggested to the one who was still frantically trying to get his gun to work. "No?" Nathan's expression grew faintly irritated as the man cursed at him. "You were--overconfident," he said brusquely. "It's your own fault."
And then there were three would-be thiefs lying on the floor of the restaurant, moaning.
It took some explaining, when the police finally got there.
"You took an awful chance, sir," one of them said to Nathan disapprovingly. "You--or someone else, could have been hurt."
Nathan stared straight ahead, not even meeting the officer's eyes. Charles stepped in smoothly, changing the subject as he telepathically 'suggested' to the officer that it would be best to best to simply let them be on their way, that they would be more than willing to answer any more questions at a later date. He combined that with a gentler suggestion, a reminder that everyone in the restaurant had seen what Nathan had done, and that the officer's lieutenant would be most distressed if it slipped to the media that his men had been grilling the 'hero of the hour'.
He then took the reverse tack, and encouraged the officer to think distastefully about the possibility of a media circus. Charles didn't like tampering with the man's mind to this extent, but he really didn't want this to come out. Nathan was absolutely incapable of dealing with any kind of media attention--not to mention that the false papers Moira had arranged for him would NOT stand up to any real scrutiny.
Aloud, Charles complimented the officer on how efficiently he and his colleagues were handling the situation, and actually got a smile from the man. "Thank you, sir," the officer said. "We'll be in touch with you if we need anything more." With one last, searching look at Nathan, he turned and went over to help the other officers with the three semi-conscious men.
Charles glanced sharply at Nathan, who had gone almost totally unresponsive again, as soon as the police had started to ask him questions. Another of these near-catatonic episodes, this one almost certainly provoked by the sight of men in uniform, Charles thought. That left an obvious question: why?
"I suggest we leave now," Charles said quietly. Without a word, Amelia got up and started to push his chair towards the door. She had been a little shaken up by the whole thing, but seemed calmer now. Moira took Nathan by the arm and pulled him gently along with her. He didn't resist, but didn't seem to notice where he was going, either. Thank God he hadn't frozen entirely, Charles thought fervently. That would have been even more difficult to explain.
Once they were in the car, heading back to the mansion, and he no longer had several suspicious police officers and a crowd of panicky diners to soothe, Charles could turn his attention to Nathan. #Nathan?# he tested, half-turning his upper body so that he could see Nathan, sitting in the back seat with Moira. #Can you hear me?#
"I can hear you," Nathan said in a dull voice, still staring straight ahead.
"Well, there's a relief," Moira said, real relief on her face, though she sounded thoroughly exasperated. "Ye daft man--what were ye trying to do? Get yuirself killed?"
"The guns--wouldn't have worked," Nathan said in that same lifeless voice, not looking at her or at Charles. "They're not--very complex as weapons go. It was simple to keep them from going off."
"Telekinetically," Charles guessed. Simple? he wondered in some amazement. Perhaps in the sense of how much power would have been required to affect something as small as the mechanism on a gun, but the amount of focus, the fine control a telekinetic would have had to have to do something like that--simple was not the word that came to Charles's mind. Nathan nodded, still staring straight ahead, unblinking, Charles frowned. "You still took a chance. I could have--"
"What is, is." Nathan finally looked at him, and Charles was chilled by the utter lack of any expression on his face. "But I would have--let you take care of it, until that one touched Amelia." His left eye suddenly glowed brightly, nearly lighting up the whole inside of the car, and he--deliberately, Charles thought--looked away, staring out the window.
"My knight in shining armor," Amelia murmured. But there was nothing sarcastic in her voice, and as Charles touched her mind lightly, he realized with some surprise that she was just trying to lighten the atmosphere. Odd--he'd have expected her to react more strongly, deny that she'd needed anyone to 'protect' her.
This is, quite honestly, infuriating, Charles admitted to himself. He hated not being able to figure out why certain things triggered such a strong reaction from Nathan. How am I supposed to help the man when I don't know what he's thinking? Charles asked himself in exasperation.
"The police," he said, aloud. "What bothered you so much about them?"
Nathan was silent for a long moment. "I wasn't--on good terms with the authorities in my time," he finally said, his voice harsh with some emotion Charles couldn't pin down.
For some reason, that only irritated him more--even though it explained a great deal. "But you're not in your time, Nathan," Charles said sharply, ignoring the angry look he got from Amelia. "You can't keep reacting as if you are. That officer had good reason to be upset with you. That sort of--vigilante behaviour is not acceptable here!"
"No one was hurt. Except the--criminals," Nathan said inscrutably. "And I don't--consider that a--bad thing. Maybe they'll learn from it."
"That's an awfully cavalier attitude!"
"Charles, will ye calm down just a bit?" Moira asked, her voice light but underlaid with steel. She turned to Nathan, touching his arm gently. "Charles is right, though. Ye need to be more careful." She smiled faintly. "I'm not sayin' that ye should unconditionally trust the 'powers that be' in this era, lad, but I doubt they're as hostile as those in yer time seem t'have been--"
"Hostile," Nathan murmured, a sort of desperate amusement colouring his voice. He turned to stare out the window again, withdrawing into himself as totally as if he'd walked into a room and slammed the door shut in their faces.
Moira gave Charles a helpless look. Can ye sense anything? he heard her think at him.
#No.# Charles sent out another light probe, just to make sure, but Nathan was back to being absolutely invisible to his telepathy, as if their brief 'conversation' back in the restaurant had never happened. #I think perhaps we'd better be a little more careful about what he's exposed to until we know more about the situation he came from.#
A good thought, Charles, but ye hardly could have predicted this, Moira pointed out. And he was being perfectly truthful, ye know. He didn't lift a finger until that young ruffian grabbed Amelia.
#Yes--I wonder why. Some sort of cultural thing, perhaps?#
Nae-- Moira sent back, sounding almost pensive. I dinnae think so. Ye were focusing on the 'target', Charles--I saw the look on Nathan's face right before he took the boy down, and I'm surprised that he left him breathing.
#What do you mean?# he asked sharply. But Moira didn't answer, and they rode the rest of the way back to the estate in silence.
A week later, Charles found Nathan reading his way through the mansion's not-inconsiderable library. He lingered in the doorway, out of Nathan's line of sight, watching with some wonder the speed at which his guest was reading. Machiavelli? Charles thought, amused, catching sight of the spine of the book Nathan was currently immersed in. Interesting choice--
There were two sizeable piles of books on the table Nathan was sitting at, one on either side of him. History, literature, philosophy, from a wide range of 'periods'. Really an amazing range of titles, Charles reflected. He wondered if Nathan was simply sampling, or had a plan of some sort in mind. When I told him to go ahead and take advantage of the library, I expected it to be a long-term thing--but if he keeps going at this rate, he'll be through everything in a few days.
Odd, that Nathan should be able to read so quickly when he was still having some difficulty with spoken English. Idiom, in particular, continued to be a major stumbling block for him. It wasn't a lack of comprehension--he simply mangled it, usually with unfortunately comical consequences. Charles often found it very difficult not laugh at some of the things his guest came out with.
Sensing Moira coming down the hall, he half-turned in his chair and smiled at her. "You still think very loudly, Moira."
She huffed, her mouth quirking in amusement. "Is the lad still at it?" she asked softly. Charles nodded. "He's been in there since breakfast," she said. "What's he reading now?"
"Good Lord--he was halfway through Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall', the last time I checked on him." She shook her head, peering into the library. "Not that he even noticed I was there," she said ruefully.
"He really is capable of an astounding level of concentration," Charles remarked quietly.
"That's one way t'look at it," Moira muttered.
Charles glanced up at her. "You're still concerned?"
"Do pigs fly, Charles?" She shook her head, eyeing Nathan. "Watch this," she said. "Nathan!"
Nathan didn't even look up from his book.
Moira grimaced. "Lunch is ready, lad!"
Still no answer.
"We're havin' boiled elephant!"
Nathan didn't even blink.
Charles couldn't help a chuckle. "Moira--"
She reached out, closed the library door, and glared down at him. "It's nae funny, Charles," she said severely. "That was a demonstration, not a joke. Ye can't seriously tell me that ye think this is healthy, these--episodes of his."
She had a point. "No," Charles said honestly. "But I'm at a loss as to what to do, Moira." He shook his head, frowning. "He's getting a little more free with small details. Things will come up in--comparisons. Like when I first showed him the library and he told me that the bulk of the population in his time was illiterate."
"So he hasn't volunteered anything more important, then?" Moira asked almost wistfully.
"Other than what he told me that first morning, that it wasn't his choice to come and he was sent here by this teacher of his, no." Charles sighed. "I'm honestly beginning to wonder whether or not HE really knows what he's doing here."
"I suspect that's a more appropriate question than ye might think," Moira said softly, but changed the subject before he could respond. "He talks to Amelia, ye know."
Charles stared at her. "Pardon me?"
Moira snorted. "For a reasonably bright man, Charles Xavier, ye can be terribly short-sighted." Her gaze was oddly penetrating. "I cannae say if he's told her anything more than he's told ye, but he responds t'her better, for some reason. Maybe because she does nae push him--"
"Moira--" Charles started, bristling. "I gave him my word that I won't pry for information, and I haven't. That's not to say that I don't ask a question or two when he gives me an opening--" Actually, he'd come very close to violating that initial promise of his, Charles realized with a pang. He'd certainly bent it into a near-unrecognizable state.
"That was nae a criticism," she said uncomfortably. "Just an observation." She paused for a moment, scowling, as if trying to gather her thoughts. "Ye are very--brusque with him at times, Charles. Almost impatient. Is it because ye cannae read his mind?" Her question was sharp, very direct.
Charles didn't look away. "Partly," he admitted forthrightly. "But I am getting frustrated with this reticence of his, Moira. It doesn't seem like he's--"
"What?" she asked, sounding less than amused. "'Holding up his end of the bargain'?" Her tone grew almost contemptuous. "I did nae realize ye had placed a price on your help, Charles."
He straightened in his chair, frowning. "I wasn't suggesting anything of the sort."
"Ye did not get frustrated with young Jean," Moira pointed out with uncomfortable accuracy. "And ye had to work with her for a lot longer before she responded."
"It's not the same thing--"
"Nae?" Moira sighed, a strange sadness in her eyes. "Ye may think so. Nathan may even have convinced himself that all he needs from ye is yuir lessons in politics and all that nonsense. But he's as locked away inside himself as Jean ever was, Charles, and if ye can nae see that, ye are nae as perceptive as I gave ye credit for." When he didn't say anything, she sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "I do nae like to do this, Charles, but I cannae stay for much longer. A few days more, perhaps. I have responsibilities back on Muir Island that need tending to."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Moira." And he was; even with the tension between them over the subject of Nathan, he would miss her terribly. It had been far too long since they'd spent any amount of time together. He reached out and took her hand, squeezing it. "It's been almost like old times," he said, rather incautiously.
She managed a strained smile. "Ah, ye are a terrible man, Charles Xavier. I dinnae know why I put up with you."
"For my roguish charm?" he suggested lightly.
"Perish the thought," she scoffed, before her expression grew serious again. "Ye will--do your best for him?" she asked softly. Charles nodded slowly. "I dinnae know why, Charles, but he's become very dear t'me in these few weeks."
Misplaced maternal instinct, Charles thought, not for the first time. "I will, Moira." He smiled lightly. "Maybe it's the way he sees everything that draws you to him. Like a child looking at the world for the first time--"
"Nae," Moira almost whispered. "I do see the world through his eyes, Charles, but it's not with a child's wonder." She smiled, and Charles frowned at the tears glimmering in her eyes. "When ye look on the world through the eyes of someone who's lost everything he knows, Charles, it makes ye realize that ye dinnae properly appreciate everything that ye have."
to be continued...
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