Brave New World: Part 4
by Alicia McKenzie
"Your move," Amelia said, trying to repress a smile as she watched Nathan study the board intently. Why am I not surprised he'd pick up chess so quickly? His skill at the game seemed to be growing at an exponential rate. . .already, he was beating her about half the time. The smile got away from her as she wondered how he'd fare playing against Charles.
Nathan looked up at her, quizzically. "What?" he inquired, almost suspiciously.
"Nothing," she said, trying to keep her face straight. "Just amusing myself. Are you going to be all day?"
She'd meant it teasingly enough, but he actually scowled at her. One of his knights moved, seemingly of its own accord, and she blinked, giving him a sharp look. "Cute trick," she said, her voice brittle. "Tell me, would you have done that if Charles was in the room?"
Nathan actually had the grace to flush. "Probably not," he muttered. There was the tiniest bit of embarassment in his expression, Amelia noted, and a momentary flash of something oddly vulnerable, gone so quickly that she half-doubted she'd seen it. "I don't mean to be so. . ."
She reached out, placing her hand over his. "Don't worry about it," she said softly. "I understand. . ."
"I know you do." The corner of his mouth tugged upwards in that sardonic almost-smile that she'd seen more and more often lately. He still had those catatonic 'lapses' on an alarmingly regular basis, and he certainly hadn't shaken the habit of overreacting to things that were perfectly normal in this era, but, in between those minor setbacks, she was seeing a very different side of him. . .a rather intriguing side. A side that Charles was never going to see if he didn't ease off a bit. To be perfectly honest, she was getting rather fond of him. . .
The doorbell rang. Amelia blinked, and then muttered a curse under her breath. "Jean," she said with a sigh, rising from her chair. "I forgot Charles had that appointment today. . .oh, damn it!" she said in worried exasperation as Nathan stiffened in his chair, his expression going blank. "You're got the worst timing, you know."
What had it been this time? The doorbell? She put a hand on his shoulder, but he continued to stare straight ahead, not seeing her, or anything. "Well. . .stay there, okay?" she said rather lamely. She'd make sure Jean got safely tucked away in the study with Charles, and then come back and try and coax Nathan out of this.
Closing the door to the den behind her firmly, she went quickly to the front foyer, and took a moment to compose herself before she opened the door. "Professor Grey, Jean," she said with a neutral smile. She didn't have any particular quibble with John Grey, but something honestly bothered her about his daughter. She couldn't have said what, exactly. . .the girl had never been anything but polite once she had begun to emerge from her withdrawn state. . .but there was just something in the way the child related to Charles. Or how Charles related to her. . ."Come in."
"Actually, Ms. Voght," John Grey said with an amiable smile, "I promised an old friend in Salem Center that I'd look him up the next time I was in the area. I thought I'd just leave Jean here and return for her when her session with Charles is done. Saves you the effort of having to entertain me for the next two hours."
She allowed her smile to grow a little more sincere. "I certainly see no problem with that," she said. "We'll see you at three, then, Professor."
She waited while Jean gave her father a kiss on the cheek and said goodbye, and then shepherded the girl inside. Jean gave her a surprisingly wary look as Amelia closed the door behind them. Amelia forced herself to smile.
The girl's green eyes flashed. "I know you don't like me."
Amelia kept the smile on by sheer force of will. "I don't know what gives you that impression, Jean. . ."
"Jean!" Moira came down the stairs, beaming, and embraced the girl as if she were her own long-lost daughter. "Saints alive, how ye've grown, child!"
"Hi, Moira," Jean said shyly, picking at her skirt as if trying to straighten imaginary wrinkles. "I didn't know you were here."
"Ach, it's good t'get away from Muir Island for a bit," Moira said. Evasively, Amelia thought, and smiled inwardly as Moira gave her something of a warning look. "I'll take the lass to Charles, Amelia."
"Fair enough," Amelia said. "I had. . .something to get back to, anyway." Moira gave her a questioning look at the hesitation, and Amelia's mouth twisted in an ironic smile. "Although it's not going anywhere at the moment." Moira's eyes widened in concern, and Amelia sighed. "Look, just see Jean to the study. . ." She trailed off, seeing Nathan standing at the end of the hall. "Oh, never mind."
Moira looked rueful. "Ach, I should've known better. Nathan? Come and meet. . ."
Amelia would never be precisely sure what happened next. Jean lifted her eyes from the ground, met Nathan's gaze. . .
There was a flash of light in the dim hallway. Jean gave a soft cry, echoed by Nathan almost in the same moment, and the two of them reeled backwards, as if they'd simultaneously lost their balance. Moira swore and caught Jean before she could fall; Amelia ignored them both and dashed to the end of the hall.
"Nathan?" she gasped, throwing her arms around him to support him as he staggered. His face was ashen, and he seemed totally disoriented. "Nathan, what is it?"
#It's all right,# Charles' voice suddenly said in her mind, and Amelia let go, taking a step back but hovering anxiously as Nathan straightened, putting a hand out against the wall to support himself. He was breathing heavily, but sense was quickly returning to his eyes, and as Amelia glanced swiftly down the hall, she saw Jean sitting on the last two stairs with Moira standing over her. The girl looked to be recovering just as swiftly, and, even as Amelia watched, managed to turn and give Nathan a bewildered look.
What on earth. . .
#Some sort of psychic feedback,# Charles said crisply. She turned to see him wheeling himself out of the kitchen. #Amelia, why don't you take Nathan into town this afternoon?#
Amelia gave the still dazed-looking Nathan a dubious look. But. . .
#I really think it would be best.#
She considered protesting again, demanding some kind of explanation, but when she looked at it rationally, Charles DID make sense. She'd picked up at least a little about the nature of telepathy, living with him, and the safest course of action was to get Nathan and Jean away from each other to prevent a repeat occurrence.
"Okay," she said a little unsteadily, retrieving her purse from the hall table and returning to Nathan's side. "Um. . .we need some groceries, anyway. Feel like going for a ride, Nathan?" He nodded slowly, and she took his arm, casting an anxious look at Charles as he went past, heading towards Moira and Jean. Kitchen door, she decided abruptly, steering Nathan in that direction. No point in pushing one's luck.
In his study, Charles looked up as he heard the sound of the front door opening. He glanced at the clock, noting the time, and took a deep breath. Moira, in the process of taking a sip of her coffee, hesitated for a moment, and then grimaced, putting her cup back down on the table beside her chair.
Her gaze was level as she met his eyes. "Well, Amelia and the lad appear to have found some way t'kill the afternoon," she said dryly. "Will ye talk to him, or shall I?"
Charles sighed. He brushed Amelia's thoughts gently, just a light touch, to gauge her state of mind. . .which was generally calm, if still slightly troubled. He didn't even attempt to read the void next to her that he knew was Nathan. "And say what, Moira?" he asked, shaking his head with another sigh. "I'll try and get him to share his impressions of what happened, of course, but I found no answers, examing Jean. Even if Nathan were to let me past his shields. . .I suspect he would not be able to enlighten me, either. I have no idea what could have caused the feedback between them."
And no clue how to go about finding out. He'd never seen or sensed anything like that before. . .he'd caught a flash of it, and there had been no words, nothing like standard telepathy. It had been something very different, something almost. . .primal, and terrifying in its intensity. That moment of contact had blazed on the astral plane like a small nova. Charles only hoped it hadn't attracted any malignant attention to either Jean or Nathan.
Moira pursed her lips. "Well, at least neither of them seem t'have come t'any harm," she said, somewhat lamely. Charles regarded her, aware that she was even more frustrated than he was. It was beyond them both, but Moira seemed unwilling to accept that. "Ye don't think that Nathan could have. . .met Jean before, do ye?"
"I don't see how that could be possible," Charles said. "Not unless he's been to this time period before. . ." He considered the possibility, and then discarded it with a brief shake of his head. He didn't doubt there was a great deal that Nathan hadn't told him the whole truth about, and even more that his guest was keeping back, but his disorientation had been and still was too intense for him to have lied about being new to this century. Unless he has been here before and doesn't remember. . .or WILL be here again, at an earlier time, some time when he could have formed some kind of connection with Jean? The entire train of thought was dizzying, and Charles put it aside as Moira spoke again.
"I dinnae see what possible connection he could have with the lass, or what circumstances could have led t'such a thing," Moira sighed, looking worried. Charles twitched, a little surprised at how closely she had echoed his thought. "I truly wish I was nae leaving tomorrow. . ."
He managed to keep his expression smooth, careful to keep it from becoming too bland. Moira had always been too good at reading him for his comfort. "Well, there's very little you could do about this, even if you stayed," he said in a reasonable tone. "It's hardly a medical problem. . ."
"True, Charles, but I still feel like I'm abandoning the lad," Moira said moodily.
Charles smiled. "I assure you, Moira, I'll take proper care of him. . ." Frankly, he thought Moira's return to Muir was long overdue. This protectiveness she kept exhibiting towards Nathan. . .it was bothersome, and not particularly healthy for either of them, no matter what inexplicable and misplaced maternal instinct was motivating it.
It would be for the best. Moira had her own life, her own responsibilities, and Nathan had to decide on his own the shape and nature of the life he wanted to live here. Had to be shown what was at stake, the conflict that was taking shape all around them. . .
"Ye had better, Charles Xavier," Moira said with a raised eyebrow.
"Really, Moira. . .he is a grown man. He's adapting well, all things considered. . .I don't think you're giving him enough credit." There was considerable strength in their visitor, Charles was sure of it. Strength that could play an invaluable role in the years to come. . .he could see it.
Moira made a skeptical noise and rose. "Difficult to know where he's going when we don't know where he's been," she said, cryptically, and left, undoubtedly to go and check on Nathan.
Charles, sitting alone in the study, arched an eyebrow. A very odd comment, he reflected. But also very true.
The noise of the crowd pressed in on him, waxing and waning, a roar in his mind dying to a whisper and then growing back to a roar. Nathan reinforced his shields, wishing fervently that he was anywhere else but here.
Then again, if he'd stayed at the house, he wouldn't have been able to say a proper g'journey to Moira. He smiled uncertainly down at her as she slung her bag over her shoulder and turned towards him, the look in her eyes oddly sad. "I. . ." He trailed off, not sure what to say. "Thank you," he finally said. "It's. . .not enough to say, but I. . ."
"I will miss ye," she said simply, reaching out and taking his hand. Nathan shifted uneasily, painfully aware of Charles watching them both closely. At least Amelia had backed off and given them some room. "Nathan. . ." Moira hesitated, her eyes moving to the floor for a moment before they fixed on his face once more. "Nathan, ye do know that if ye ever. . ."
Nathan felt his smile tightening, almost despite itself. It felt too. . .he couldn't let himself feel the warmth in the honest, unrestrained caring he sensed from Moira. "I. . ." If he felt it, if he let himself open up to that extent. . .he couldn't afford to let himself be that unguarded. Not here. . .not with anyone. He swallowed, a strange ache in his chest, and squeezed her hand tightly. "We say. . .g'journey, among my people. Instead of saying. . .goodbye."
"I think I like that idea," Moira said softly. They stared into each other's eyes for a moment longer, and Nathan flinched inwardly, sensing. . .something, something so delicate, so ephemeral that it slipped through his fingers as soon as he hesitated, gone before he could identify it. Moira's eyes shone suspiciously and she suddenly embraced him tightly. "Do keep in touch, Nathan," she whispered. "There's a saying here. . .'no man is an island'. Ye need more than this mission that's pulled ye back here. Otherwise, it's nae a life that ye have, Nathan. Try and remember that. . ." Letting go off him, wiping her eyes surreptitiously, she turned to bid an affectionate farewell to Charles.
Nathan watched her go, his gaze locked on her slender form until she disappeared through the gate leading out to her plane. His shoulders slumped as she vanished from view, without having looked back once. Better this way, he told himself. Moira had her own road to walk. . .and if he cared about her at all, he'd keep her far away from his.
"Ready to go?" Amelia's voice was soft, but the hand on his arm was oddly comforting. Nathan nodded slowly.
"Yes," he said quietly, and turned away.
". . .think you've got a clear field now, don't you, Charles?"
". . no idea what you're talking about, Amelia. I don't. . ."
Nathan closed his eyes. Oath. They'd do well to follow that saying Amelia mentioned to me, and not have let the sun go down on their disagreement. It was well after midnight, but he could hear Amelia and Charles arguing in their bedroom. They'd been doing it for the last half-hour, probably thinking that he was asleep. After the evening meal, he'd pleaded a headache. . .well, he'd had one after dealing with the crowds in the airport, so it hadn't been a lie. . .and made his escape as quickly as he could. They weren't shouting, but he knew that neither of them realized how sensitive his hearing actually was. They'd probably be mortified to know that he was listening to them. . .
". . .couldn't leave him alone, could you? You just had to nag at him all the way home. . ."
". . .hardly nagging! You make it sound as if I was grilling the man. . ."
". . .trying to say you WEREN'T?"
Nathan smiled humorlessly in the dark. The drive home had been. . .unpleasant. Not quite as bad as dinner had been, though. Charles had been very subtle, not asking direct questions, but he had continued to steer the conversation back towards Nathan's abilities, and what had happened with the girl Jean. Topics that didn't directly involve why he was here and so wouldn't violate Charles's promise, which seemed to irk him more and more with each passing day. . .
". . .overreacting, Amy. . ."
". . .know I'm not fond of Moira, Charles, but she seems to have understood this situation a lot more clearly than you do. . ."
". . .REALLY, Amelia. . ."
Nathan shuddered and turned over, fighting the urge to curl into a fetal ball and shut out the world. He'd been doing far too much of that lately. Retreating. It was just so much easy, faced with things he didn't understand, to withdraw into his own mind and try and figure them out there.
But there was nothing to figure out, here. He knew all too well what the problem was. Nathan gritted his teeth as the shouting continued. He hated to hear them snapping at each other over him. . .but then again, any convenient excuse would have done. They loved each other, you didn't need eyes to see that, but Nathan had spent enough time with Amelia over the last few weeks to know that she was profoundly unhappy. What baffled him was that Charles, such a strong telepath, didn't see it. Blind, by choice or simply by ignorance. . .
It was. . .unbelievable, in a way. Charles was letting Amelia slip away, just letting her go because he was too absorbed in his own concerns to see how troubled she truly was.
He would give anything to hold Jen in his arms again. His life, his soul. . .and if he could, he'd never let her go. Never. . .
Nathan. . .oh, Nate, it hurts. . . He stiffened, trying to hold back the flood of images. But he couldn't. He remembered too well. Every detail, every moment, preserved in excruciating clarity. . .
The sounds of argument finally died down, replaced by silence, but he didn't notice. Half-asleep, struggling to stay awake, he fought the memories and lost ground bit by bit. The quiet of the bedroom vanished around him, replaced by the distant noises of battle, the broken ground beneath him as he knelt to take Jen in his arms. And he held her as she died, and stood beside her funeral pyre, numb inside, not understanding why he couldn't seem to shed a single, solitary tear. . .
A soft voice whispered his name. He tried to ignore it, not having the strength to deal with any more memories, any more ghosts, but it spoke again, gently but insistently.
/Nathan. . ./
His eyes flew open, cold shock jolting through him, and he stared incredulously at the small globe of golden light floating in the air above him.
/Hello, Nathan,/ the voice in his mind said gently. A voice that had always meant support and comfort, the only voice that had never demanded anything of him, never judged him. He'd last heard it over a year and a half ago. . .before Anikia. . .and had never even hoped to hear it again. /It is good to see you well./
"Professor," he whispered, pushing himself up into a sitting position and trying to control the sudden, wild blaze of hope that sprang up inside him. "Professor. . .you're here? How. . ." His eyes widened, and the hope turned into fear that seeped through him like liquid ice. "Professor," he continued rapidly, desperately. "The battle, the battle at the Nubay. . .do you know what happened?" Are they alive? he wanted to ask, but didn't. Couldn't, because he was so afraid that the answer would be no. . .
The globe of light darted around him and then slowed, hovering in front of his eyes. /I'm afraid I don't know, Nathan,/ the Professor said, its hollow voice filled with something close to real regret. /Blaquesmith 'liberated' me, but did not provide me with any information about what happened after Anikia. Stryfe. . .visited me occasionally, to gloat about his victories, but he did not provide me with any specific details. . ./
The Professor didn't know. So the uncertainty would go on, eating away at him until. . .Nathan's eyes blurred with tears as he struggled to fight back grief and rage both. If Blaquesmith had rescued the Professor, why couldn't he have sent word back, to tell him what had happened to Tetherblood and the others? Blaquesmith had to have known that he was waiting, that he was desperate to know, so how could he have kept it from him like this?
/There was little time, Nathan,/ the Professor said gently. /Blaquesmith did, however, tell me to inform you that he will be arriving in this time period soon./
#Soon?# Nathan said telepathically, only now remembering Charles and Amelia. Then again, he didn't doubt that the Professor would have taken steps to ensure they weren't overheard. . .
/Within a few weeks,/ the Professor continued. /He's timeripping certain. . .elements of technology back to this era. Things you'll need in the years to come./ The globe of light drifted down, settled on the pillow beside him. /It is a relief to see you healthy and safe,/ the Professor went on gently. /I was very concerned, with some of the things Stryfe had said. . ./
The tears escaped, burning hot. #The Protectorate. . .he destroyed everything. Killed so many. . .# Nathan squeezed his eyes shut tightly, trying to block out the images with even less success than earlier.
/I know,/ the Professor said simply. /And I grieve with you Nathan, more than I could ever say./
The silence lingered, and Nathan felt himself beginning to relax, some of the tension. . .only some. . .draining away in the presence, at last, of someone who understood. But the pain remained, unchanging.
/I cannot stay, Nathan. Xavier would eventually detect me,/ the Professor finally said, apologetically.
Nathan opened his eyes, staring up at the ceiling as realization solidified inside him. "He's not going to know, then," he whispered raggedly.
/No. He cannot be allowed to know./ The Professor's voice was very soft. /You've fought in the shadows before, Nathan. I'm afraid this will be the way of things for many years to come, in this era./
"He won't. . .back off," Nathan muttered under his breath, frustrated, despairing a little as he contemplated what might have to be done to ensure that Charles stayed unaware of the truth. "He keeps pressuring me. . ."
/Hmm. Now I understand what Blaquesmith meant,/ the Professor said thoughtfully. /I can offer a distraction. . .would that help?/
/Let me show you./ The Professor rose and then darted into the techno-organic side of his body, merging with him as he had so many times throughout the years. Nathan closed his eyes again, dizzied by the flood of images poured directly into his mind, across a link that was not quite telepathy. . .
#Technology?# Whole. . .warehouses full of it, scattered across the world. . .hidden. Warehouses that would have had to have been empty, not in use. . .very clever. #Sanctuary points?# he asked somewhat unnecessarily, and felt rather foolish as soon as he'd sent the thought.
Of course they had to be sanctuary points. . .Blaquesmith would never have risked teleporting thirty-eighth century technology into these places if their locations would be discovered by anyone involved in critical events. There was still the chance of a passer-by stumbling on them, or some such completely random occurence, but undoubtedly Blaquesmith had equipped the drops with look-past fields or some such security measure, to cut down on the chance of that. . .
/Yes. Pre-cleared, all completely non-consequential, which is of course why they're so scattered. And no, before you ask, I have no idea where Blaquesmith found a retrocognitive to identify them for him. There are some questions you do not ask. . ./
#Well, maybe YOU don't, Professor,# Nathan said before he could help himself. The flash of amusement, the old banter felt. . .odd, after all this time. Stiff. And imbued with a strange. . .guilt for indulging in even this shadow of the way things had been.
/None of that, now,/ the Professor said, mock-sternly. Nathan jumped, but reminded himself that the Professor had been responding to the thought he'd sent, not the one he'd held to himself. /There's nothing more irritating than listening to you and Blaquesmith argue when you're being deliberately difficult./ The flow of images stopped, and Nathan blinked rapidly, waiting for the moment of lightheadedness to pass. /You have all that?/
#I think so. . .# Nathan smiled, a little grimly. #You want me to bribe Charles, is that it? Give him technology in order to shut him up?#
/Such an unpleasant word, 'bribery'. He'll need some sort of technological basis to begin things here, and he's not due to encounter the Shi'ar for a number of years./
#You said this was Blaquesmith's idea?# It wouldn't surprise him. It seemed very. . .characteristic.
/I will admit that he did mention the possibility. . .not in this context, but I suspect that this is perhaps what he meant./
#Maybe his retrocognitive had more to say than just the locations of a few sanctuary points.# Intriguing thought, and one he'd have to make sure he pursued. Blaquesmith habitually kept things from him, but this was a new world, and perhaps it was time for a new stage in their relationship.
/Quite possibly she or he did,/ the Professor said, with something close to a sigh. /Look at it this way, Nathan. You must effect a number of changes to this timeline. This may be, in the end, one of the least consequential. . ./
Amelia would be furious. She'd see it as him encouraging Charles. . .probably even as a personal betrayal on his part. From her perspective, she'd be absolutely right, Nathan admitted to himself bleakly. And yet. . .
The Professor was right, as well. He'd have to make many such decisions in the years to come, if he was to alter the pattern of history. Infinitesimal changes were worthless. To create change of the magnitude that was needed. . .there would be much more difficult, more questionable decisions than this. He knew that without a doubt.
#Are you sure?# he asked finally. Logan aside, he was still very. . leery of this, even above and beyond the reaction he knew he had to expect from Amelia. Blaquesmith was always telling him to watch for patterns, and it seemed as if this would be the beginning of one, one that was perhaps not entirely desirable from anyone's point of view. . .
/It seems like a logical course of action. Indeed, securing the foundation of the events that will take shape around this place can only be to the good, Nathan./ The Professor broke the merge and reappeared, floating into the air above him. /I will return to the nearest drop site. . .the one in the city called Chicago, and prepare things there. There is a wide range of equipment in that location, much of which could be useful to Xavier. Simply 'call' when you need me, and we will bodyslide the necessary equipment over./
#All right,# Nathan responded hesitantly, reluctant to see him go. Parting wasn't. . .easy for him, lately. Too many recent partings had been permanent. #G-G'journey, Professor.#
/Do not worry, Nathan,/ the Professor said reassuringly. /As I said, I will only be a thought away./
to be continued...
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