Brave New World: Part 5
by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment only.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, here's a story I haven't touched for a while....:) Many thanks to Sabia, for looking this over for me before I posted.
Dedicated to those who never let me forget there were people out there who thought this story was worth reading. :) You know who you are.
Amelia Voght stood in the doorway, watching Nathan work and fighting to keep her rage under control. Keeping a straight face wasn't much good when you lived in a house with two telepaths, but at least it gave her the illusion of control--and she wasn't going to lower herself to throwing a temper tantrum over what was going on here. She'd tried that already, Amelia reflected with a bitter irony, and Charles hadn't given a damn.
No, he'd just taken Nathan's offer - Nathan's completely unexpected, totally out-of-the-blue offer of futuristic technology - without so much as asking her opinion on the whole thing. As far as she could tell, he hadn't even bothered to ask Nathan WHY he suddenly had advanced technology to share. He'd just seen the potential, in terms of his precious 'plan'--
Now, the sub-basements Charles had had built not long after they returned to the States were being transformed, slowly but inexorably, into something out of a science-fiction novel. She should have been fascinated. She wasn't; she hated it like poison. This was the first time she'd been down here in two weeks, and she wouldn't have set foot below ground level if she hadn't had something she wanted very much to say to their 'guest'.
"So what's this supposed to be?" she snapped caustically.
Nathan didn't look away from where he had his hands buried in the depths of what looked like it might eventually be a console of some sort. "A--training room," he said, his deep voice perfectly calm. "It's meant to produce--holographic scenarios, for--combat drilling."
"Very impressive," Amelia almost snarled. "A shiny new toy to perpetuate a race war."
That made him look up and around at her, at least. His eyes flickered oddly--for a moment, she almost thought she saw one of them glow, but the fancy vanished almost as quickly as it had come. "The war--is already here," he said slowly, no anger at all in his voice. She would have preferred anger; she WANTED him to fight back, damn it. "I--can't change that. No one can."
"I'd say you sound like Charles, but at least you're being realistic about it," she said bitterly. "Which makes what you're doing even more inexcusable. How COULD you, Nathan? I thought you understood!"
"Understood what, Amelia?" Nathan asked, tonelessly.
"How WRONG he is!" Amelia cried, hands clenching into fists at her side, so tightly she could feel the muscles starting to cramp. Strangely, the pain helped her focus. "You honestly believe there's going to be a war, yet you're encouraging him--helping him in a way that's only going to make it WORSE? Do you WANT a war, Nathan? Is that it?"
Nathan set down his tools and turned around to face her. His shoulder were slumped, his posture guarded, but there was something in his eyes that was definitely NOT guilt, and might even have been anger. Amelia wasn't sure. "You think I want a war, Amelia?" The question came out strained, harsh. "After the--world I came from? And I never said that I thought Charles was--right. He IS naive."
"Then why help him?" It didn't make any sense. Amelia shook her head slowly. "I thought I was getting to know you, Nathan," she said savagely. "But I don't understand this."
Nathan straightened, squaring his shoulders. "I need--to distract him," he said bluntly. Not bothering to justify himself, Amelia thought incredulously. "This was the--best way to do that. He was--asking too many questions."
Amelia stared at him blankly for a long, long moment before she finally found her voice. "Then leave, Nathan!" she almost hissed. "If you really can't take his prying--"
Nathan shook his head, once. "I need to learn more," he muttered.
"Then you're using him!" Amelia said furiously. Nathan jerked, as if she'd struck him, but she ignored his reaction and went on, full steam ahead, giving voice to the fury that had been slowly building within her since the morning Nathan had looked across the table at Charles and offered, calmly, 'to upgrade your tech base'. "Damn you! Are you that afraid of failing in whatever you've come here to do, that you're willing to use people like this, to take whatever you need without any thought to the consequences?"
"Amelia--" he started.
"NO! Wake up! Don't you see what you're doing?" she all but shrieked at him. "Nothing justifies this, Nathan--"
She was staring so intently, so angrily into his eyes, that she saw it happen, saw something snap as the walls came tumbling down. A flash of telekinetic energy sent his tools flying, and piles of odd-looking crates as far away as the other side of the room tumbling to the floor.
She didn't notice it more than peripherally. Because his eyes were pulling her out of herself and down, down onto--
--blasted, dead ground, colorless as ash, and air that burned her lungs, thick with sickly-sweet smoke, and she gagged, bile surging to the back of her throat at the sight of the bodies. Piles of bodies, all burning, and movement amid the dead, weak cries for help barely audible over the crackling of the flames. She cried aloud in a voice that wasn't hers, a deep, harsh, anguished masculine voice, and struggled, trying to get free of the hands gripping her, of the restraints pulling her arms behind her back so tightly that they'd dislocated her shoulders hours ago. But her captors didn't let her go, and the more she struggled, the angrier they seemed to grow. The first blow went almost unnoticed, but another came, and another, hammering her to the ground. Something smashed into the back of her head, driving her down into unconsciousness--
Amelia staggered backwards, gasping, as Nathan went to his knees, his breath coming in harsh, racking, not-quite sobs. He sank his face into his hands, trembling violently, not looking up at her.
"Nathan," she whispered, staring down at him for only a moment before she was kneeling beside him, embracing him fiercely, ignoring the tears that welled up in her eyes. "I'm sorry--I'm so sorry--"
"Well," Moira said, shaking her head in wonder as she surveyed the contents of another crate. "If this is nae something t'see--"
Charles chuckled wryly, casting a look around at Moira's laboratory, currently crowded with the equipment Nathan had somehow arranged to have turn up at Muir every morning for the last six days. "I'm baffled, personally," he confided, shaking his head. "It all just came out of the blue. Quite a surprise--a pleasant one, mind you."
"Pleasant. Ach." Moira removed some sort of instrument from the crate in front of her, studying it in amazement. "Pennies from heaven, aye?" she asked absently. "Do ye suppose he's included instruction manuals?"
"Hopefully," Charles said with a chuckle. "I suspect the trial and error approach with some of this equipment would be most unwise."
"Ye know what this means, of course," Moira said, her expression suddenly intent again as she replaced the instrument and turned back to him.
Charles blinked. "No," he said dryly. Although he certainly had his suspicions, of course, once he'd gotten over the initial surprise. "Perhaps you'll enlighten me."
"The lost soul I rescued from bloody Reverend Craig is nae quite so lost anymore," Moira said, matching his dry tone. The deliberate mimickry made him smile. "At least in term of the resources he has at his disposal. If the lad can spare all this, and whatever he's given you--"
"Perhaps," Charles acknowledged. It was an interesting point.
"Is it this teacher of his, do ye think?" Moira asked curiously.
"That's certainly a possibility," Charles said. "I didn't see the need to pry." That wasn't quite the truth. He wanted very much to know what was going; yet, in a way, he truly didn't see the need to push, at least not too overtly. Cause was less important than effect in this situation, as he saw it. This incredible technology, no matter how Nathan had produced it, gave him an advantage he'd never dared imagine.
Moira sighed softly. "Ye've got that look on your face again, Charles."
"That self-satisfied, 'everything's going my way' look." She turned back to the case of instruments, shaking her head slowly. "I just hope ye haven't taken this sudden generosity of Nathan's as more of a sign that it is."
Charles frowned. "Actually, Moira," he started, not quite able to hide the mild impatience he felt at her words. She'd done little but quiz him about Nathan ever since he'd arrived. It was beginning to grow quite vexing. "I take it as a very good sign. I've even begun to think--"
"That he's coming over to your way of thinking?" She tsked lightly under her breath, and lifted another one of the instruments to the light, studying it closely. "Wonderful," she murmured approvingly, but her tone turned somber again almost immediately. "I would nae be so optimistic, Charles."
"You haven't seen him for a while, Moira--"
"I dinnae need to have seen him t'know that the lad still has his own agenda." She closed the crate with a sigh that sounded almost angry as she turned to him again. "He is nae an impressionable youth, like the children ye have been working with. Ye will not convert him, Charles, and I would nae even try, if I were you."
Charles shook his head, honestly appalled at how ominous she made it all sound. "Do you honestly think I'd prefer him to be an impressionable youth, to borrow your words?" He put as much humor as he could muster into his words, trying to ignore his own increasing irritation with the subject. Why Moira had to be quite so negative, he didn't know. He'd hoped that her protectiveness towards Nathan would have diminished somewhat, with distance and time. "It's his experience, his perspective--his strength that's so valuable, Moira. If I can just get through to him, I know he can be every bit as invaluable as this technology he's provided us."
Moira's mouth twisted in something that wasn't quite a smile. "As I said, Charles, I would nae be so optimistic." She changed topics so smoothly that he was taken aback. "How's Amelia? I was surprised that she dinnae come with you."
Charles coughed. "She's well," he said briefly, preferring not to dwell on that last conversation of theirs, the night before he'd left. It had been--most unpleasant.
"Ah," Moira murmured, almost sadly, and turned to the next crate in the pile.
"It's all right," Nathan murmured hoarsely, taking the cup of coffee from her and wrapped his hands around it as if he needed the warmth.
"No, it's not." Amelia sat down beside him on the couch, biting her lip as she realized he was still trembling, very slightly, all over.
*Good show, Voght. Provoke the man into the mother of all catatonic episodes--* It had taken nearly an hour to get him back on his feet and up here, and another forty-five minutes before he'd responded verbally to any of her attempts to get a response from him. All in all, not a good way to spend the afternoon. Amelia cursed herself silently, dull self-loathing churning like nausea in the pit of her stomach. She'd gone down there raging, never thinking what her words might stir up.
"I can't say I'd take back all of what I said," she continued awkwardly, knowing only that she couldn't bring herself to lie to him, not even after this, "but some of it, Nathan, I should never have--"
"You have every right to be--angry," Nathan said hoarsely, taking a long sip of his coffee. She straightened, and he gave her a somewhat wobbly, half-hearted smile before staring back down into the depths of his cup. "You were right," he whispered, his hands tightening around the mug. "You were--so right."
Amelia swallowed. "That's not important," she said painfully, cringing inwardly at the despondent edge to his words. "You think I give a damn about which of us was right and wrong at the moment?"
He flinched as she touched the side of his face, pulling back as if the quick brush of her fingers had hurt. "Right and wrong always matter," he said, his voice rough with something that wasn't anger. "They're the--only things that do, in the end. Everything else dies."
Amelia had dealt with people so badly injured they would never live normal lives, survivors of traumas so horrible that even knowing the second-hand details had given her nightmares. Even so, she'd never heard the sort of absolute desolation she heard in Nathan's voice now.
Swallowing, Amelia ventured onto the more dangerous ground. "What I saw," she started, and then trailed off, hearing the lost note in her voice and wincing at it. "I don't--know what to say, Nathan," she concluded helplessly.
He set the coffee down on the side table, very carefully. That droop was back in his shoulders, she noticed, and he wouldn't meet her eyes. "You're not supposed--to say anything," he answered, his voice soft, utterly without intonation of any sort. "There's nothing to say."
"Nathan--" She didn't know how he could keep that all locked up inside him. That one glimpse she'd gotten was still burned onto the back of her eyelids. She saw it every time she blinked.
"Please." Nathan was shivering again, as if he was cold. Or afraid. "Don't--ask me, Amelia, please--" His voice broke, and he hugged himself, eyes wide and distant, as if he was watching something too horrible to describe. His chest was heaving, and she could almost hear his heartbeat from where she sat.
Alarm flared, pushing pity and horror into the background. She slid closer, putting an arm around him and resting her head on his shoulder. "It's all right," she whispered, tears blurring her eyes as she felt him taking deep, ragged breaths, as if he were trying to force himself to calm down. "I won't. I'm sorry, Nathan, I'm so sorry--"
The light from the sunset had painted the room in innumerable ruddy hues by the time he managed to straighten and give her a reassuring, if somewhat strained smile. His eyes were reddened, his face drawn and pale even in the warmth of the light, and Amelia fought back a sudden surge of protectiveness as she met his gaze.
"I never meant to hurt you," Nathan said, very softly, and his eyes dropped to the floor again. "With--any of this. I'd say that I didn't--think, but that's not much of an excuse. Not really--true, either."
At least he was being honest. Amelia leaned back against the soft cushions of the couch with a heavy sigh. It really was a beautiful sunset, she thought, staring blankly out the window. Too bad she wasn't quite in the mood to appreciate it.
"It does hurt me," she admitted finally, her voice just as quiet as his, if more level. "But that's got much less to do with you, and anything you've done, than it does with what's between Charles and I." True enough, as far as it went. But there was more. There always was. She hesitated for a moment, trying to think of the right words, the ones that wouldn't hurt.
"I wasn't just reacting--for me," she said slowly, looking around at him, willing him to understand. He seemed to see some things so clearly, he HAD to understand this. "I was serious, Nathan. About what Charles could--cause, in this time. I'm afraid of that, and not just for my own sake."
"I know," he murmured, not meeting her eyes. "I know, Amelia--"
And somehow, she didn't doubt that he did. "How can you chance contributing to that?" she asked, her voice very small. "If you know, why--"
"Because there was--one thing you said, that was wrong."
It wasn't the answer she'd expected. "Just one?" Amelia tried to make the question light, and didn't quite manage it.
"You said--nothing justified what I--what Charles is doing. What I'm--helping him do." He looked at her, and his eyes bored into hers so intensely that she almost flinched. She felt bare before him, as if all her secrets were there in her eyes for him to read as he chose. "I won't--talk about it," he continued, his voice growing rougher, a raw, anguished scrape, "but you--saw a little of it. Of what I--left behind."
Amelia forced herself not to look away. "I saw," she whispered. A little? Her mind shied away in horror at the thought of more, of what she hadn't seen--couldn't have seen in that momentary flash of shared memory.
He didn't go on. He didn't need to go on. She knew exactly what he meant, and he had to know that, too. Amelia closed her eyes for a moment, thinking of all the things she could have said to him. She could have told him that harm done in the past - or the future, in his case - wasn't enough of a justification for harm done in the here and now. That the end didn't justify the means.
But she hadn't lived what he'd lived, had only seen a glimpse of it. She had more than her own fair share of pain in her past. She knew how hard it was to be logical about the things that reached into your soul and ripped open old wounds--how impossible it was to be altruistic. And Nathan's wounds were still raw and bleeding. Telling him he was being selfish would be nothing less than cruel.
Amelia didn't want to be cruel. She'd hurt him already today, not meaning to--
She didn't want to hurt him.
"You could see things like--that repeated here, if it got bad enough," she said, very hesitantly. Delicate, dangerous ground. "We've had--holocausts of our own, you know." She felt safe saying that, after all the history books she knew he'd read in Charles's library.
"I know. Human nature--didn't change in two thousand years," Nathan said unsteadily. "It got--worse. So very--much worse, Amelia." His eyes were distant again, his expression blank. Somehow, it was more frightening than the pain that had been there earlier. "You can't--know," he breathed. "Even if I told you--even if I showed you. Not--all of it."
"I imagine not," she whispered, folding her hands together so that they wouldn't shake. Rubbing at them, trying to massage away the ache there from earlier. "I--won't judge you, Nathan. I was wrong to try."
"No." Nathan's voice grew stronger, and he straightened, taking a deep breath. "No, someone has--to hold me to account." He looked down at her, and a smile that wasn't quite a smile crossed his face, there one moment and gone the next. "I don't want--to cause you, or anyone, pain," he said. "I really don't."
"But you'll do what you have to do?" she asked, drawing her knees up to her chest, finding it strangely ironic that she was the one feeling cold, now.
He gave a low, humorless laugh, as cold and dark as the shadows stealing across the room as the last sunlight faded. "What I have to do," he said, as if she'd made a terribly unfunny joke. "There's--never been anything but that, for me." He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. It was such an unexpected gesture that she flinched and stared up at him, wide-eyed, as he stood up.
"Nathan?" she asked, hesitantly again.
"I've--never been a good person," he said, staring down at her, his voice rough again. "I--tried once. I think I've forgotten how to try." She opened her mouth, but he cut her off, the muscles along his jaw tensing visibly. "You've been--kinder to me than I deserve, Amelia. I wish--" He cut himself off, nodded to her jerkily, and left the room.
She stayed there on the couch, part of her yearning, with an odd desperation, for him to come back and finish his sentence.
to be continued...
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