by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The X-types belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. Nick is mine. Touch him without permission and I'll go all Byzantine on your butt. ;) Remnant Shadows is set six months before Choose Your Battles.
"All right, Bish," Logan growled as he sat down in the chair his former teammate indicated. "What's so all-fired important that you had to call me in on it?" A flicker of a smile crossed Bishop's face, and Logan grumbled, settling into the chair. He knew that look. "Okay, kid. Spill it."
Seemed pretty strange to be calling Bishop 'kid', still. Nearly fifteen years in charge of the 'new' XSE had aged him, subtly but noticeably. Marriage and fatherhood had probably helped that process along, Logan thought wryly. Although Raphaela seemed like a mannerly little thing. Not like his two hellions. . .
"I was hoping you'd run an errand for me," Bishop said guilelessly, wearing an expression he'd learned from his wife, who'd learned it, in her turn, from Emma Frost.
"Well, that's specific. . ."
"Forge contacted us."
Bishop's words took Logan aback. "Shit," he muttered, meeting the younger man's dark eyes, searching for any hint that this might be a joke. "You're serious, aren't you?"
"Perfectly," the commander in chief of the XSE said gravely. Logan shook his head slowly. Forge had dropped out of sight years ago. . .rumor had it he'd ended up on the wrong side of the US government over something that had happened in the fallout from the Prime Sentinel incident that had followed Apocalypse's death, and had been forced into hiding. They'd always expected to hear from him, once the XSE had been organized and things had started to settle, but he'd never reappeared.
"And?" Logan asked intently. "Is he in trouble?"
"He didn't say, but he did seem. . .distracted," Bishop said thoughtfully. "He wasn't asking for anything, Logan. He was OFFERING us something. . .and yes, before you ask, he contacted me directly."
Logan blinked. "He's not coming back, though?" he asked regretfully.
"Perhaps you can convince him to do so, when you speak to him."
"When I. . .what?" Logan muttered a curse under his breath. "Okay, kid, what did you get me into this time?" he growled, more for form's sake than anything else. When it came down to it, he was pretty damned interested in finding out what was up with Forge. He didn't have all that many old friends left, and he liked to keep track of them. What he DIDN'T like was the idea that Bishop felt free to treat him like just another one of his field agents.
Bishop leaned forward, sorting through minidiscs and papers on his desk. "He has something for us, and you're the only one he'll give it to," Bishop said quietly. "It's the blueprints for a specialized detection system, Logan. To detect psi-merges."
Logan was silent for a long moment. "No more Denvers, huh?" he asked roughly, his mind drifting back inexorably to the day, nearly six months before, when a bunch of psychotic nutcases with the gall to call themselves the 'Unity' had killed a city as a warning to those who didn't share their ideal of a group mind.
Every telepath and empath in the hemisphere had felt it. Stronger psis had been affected more intensely. Logan would never forget waking up to the sound of Sulven's screams in his mind, or holding his weeping daughter in his arms after Zara showed up on the doorstep in the rain, back home after a week's duty in the disaster zone.
Nick had stayed for almost a month, he remembered suddenly. Never said a word about it, either.
"It won't entirely remove the possibility," Bishop murmured. "But if we can catch a merge as it forms. . .we have telepath-teams standing by at all times, now. We might have a chance, that way, at stopping a repeat performance." His mouth twisted bitterly, and then straightened. "More of a chance, with Nathan remaining open to us around the clock these days. . ."
Logan frowned. "Huh?"
Bishop shrugged, looking uneasy. "He's got a light link with the supervising telepath at all times. They pass it to their relief, when the shift changes. . ." Logan scowled, and Bishop made a sharp, oddly helpless gesture. "He knows exactly how to break a merge, Logan, and he's still the strongest psi around, even these days. . ."
"He's also spread six ways to Sunday, Bishop, and this is going to make it worse," Logan snapped, and then shook his head irritably. "Never mind," he grumbled. "Suppose he feels like he has to do something, considering Clare. . ."
"Exactly," Bishop said heavily.
Logan nodded slowly, silent in respect to the memory. The civilian deaths were overwhelming, of course, but there were more personal losses here, too. Of the fifteen X.S.E. agents in Denver that day, only Clare Summers and Harry Wisdom had survived. It hurt to think about what that day had done to his two godchildren, Logan reflected grimly. Clare was a ghost of her old self, these days, and Harry was a wreck.
"Besides," Bishop continued, obviously trying to change the subject, "have you ever tried telling him to cut back on his workload?" He almost smiled, and Logan gave him a curious look. "Just remembering the little verbal wrestling match we had when I tried to convince him to retire from the X.S.E."
Logan chuckled, almost despite himself. "Hell, even I remember that. You should have wised up and set Neena and 'Ven on him to begin with. . ."
"Well, he listens to them," Bishop snorted, leaning forward and tapped something into the keypad of his terminal. "Forge will be in the Princess Bar Thursday night with the blueprints. He wants you to meet him there."
"Madripoor, huh?" Logan scowled thoughtfully. "Wonder why he's out there. . ."
"He didn't volunteer the information, and I didn't ask," Bishop said, his tone back to business-as-usual. "You'll need a tail. A telepath. . ." Logan started to shake his head, and Bishop frowned. "Don't be ridiculous. . ."
"I'm hard to read, Bish, you know that. . ."
"To read, yes, but no matter what you've picked up from Sulven over the years, there are still enough telepaths out there who could turn your brain inside out that it's not worth the risk," Bishop said, far too sensibly for Logan's liking. "Fortunately, I have someone in mind. And having him with you would be the perfect cover. . ."
Logan didn't need to be a telepath to know exactly which X.S.E. agent Bishop was talking about. "Absolutely not," he growled.
Bishop gave him a thin smile. "Well, you can explain it to him, then," his former teammate said evenly. "Since he's waiting for you in the hangar."
Logan smiled a little uncertainly at the tall, black-haired young man in the black and gold of the X.S.E. who greeted him as he walked into the hangar. "Nicholas," he said, craning his neck more than a little to look up at his son. Nick was almost a full foot taller than him, as if he'd gotten all the height that should have been shared out between him and Zara. "Where's your sister?"
"UN duty," Nick said. "Watching tourists to make sure none of them turn out to be homicidal maniacs." A brief, eloquent shrug. "She's not very happy."
"I'd imagine not," Logan said with a snort, still regarding his son. Not just all the height, but all the self-possession, too. . .Zara had the temper from both sides. Maybe that was why he found it so much easier. . .Logan cut off the thought, something he'd grown pretty practiced at doing over the last twenty years. Sort of a necessary skill, with two telepathic children. "So," he continued gruffly. "Up to a trip to Madripoor?"
Nick gave him that slight smile that always made Logan wonder what was going through the boy's mind. "I've never been there before," he said. "It should be interesting. And meeting Forge. . ."
"You just do what I tell you, when I tell you," Logan muttered, unsettled by the sudden image of Nick in Lowtown, doing the type of things he himself had done years ago. "And don't go showing off your powers." The comment was completely unjustified, really. Zara was the one with the 'flair', as Sulven so dryly put it. Logan winced as he saw the flash of. . .something in Nick's eyes. "Still a bit of a nervous place, Madripoor," he continued quickly. "Even after all these years."
"Don't worry, Dad," Nick murmured, his expression shuttered, almost too bland. "I'm supposed to be along to watch YOUR back, right?"
"Right," Logan muttered. As if he wasn't going to worry.
Oddly enough, Nick's expression was suddenly a little less guarded. #I'm a big boy, Dad,# he sent, his 'voice' in Logan's mind almost warm.
"Manners, Nicholas," Logan said, trying to sound stern but not quite managing to hide his relief. The innocent look he got in return was as familiar as his own reflection. He'd seen that look almost every day for the last twenty-five years, on his wife's face.
"Don't do that, either. I know you don't mean it." But he couldn't help an answering smile at Nick's sudden grin. "And before you start debating philosophy with me, boy, keep in mind you're not too big to spank."
"Social conventions," Nick said, almost slyly, as he gestured towards the personnel carrier nearest them, which had just finished refueling and now looked to be warming up its engines. Logan grimaced at the sight of it. He'd flown on the damned things too many times to count over the last ten years or so, but he still hated them. Flaming boxes with wings, that's all they were. Looked about as aerodynamic as a brick. "Sometimes you say you're sorry, even if you're not," Nick continued blithely. "Because it's expected. . ."
Logan gave his son a sideways look, wondering privately if Nick was trying to tell him something, but his son didn't seem to notice his regard. "You got your gear stowed already?"
"Change of uniform, civilian clothes, and my psimitar," Nick said, as if by rote.
Logan stopped dead on the ramp leading up into the carrier. "You aren't planning to carry that thing around Lowtown, are you?"
"Don't worry. No one's going to see it unless they know where to look," Nick reassured him and stepped up into the plane.
Logan muttered a curse under his breath. "Quit being so damned cryptic."
"What?" Nick tossed lightly over his shoulder as he sat down in the nearest seat to the door and strapped in. "It's easy. You just cloud the perceptions of the people around you. . ."
"Nicholas, I think I can safely say I don't want to know," Logan growled, half-ruefully, half-humorously, as he shoved his bag in the storage compartment and sat down beside his son.
"But it's really not even unethical. . ."
"According to your mother and Nate, who don't see ethics the same way as the rest of us."
"I thought you didn't want to debate philosophy?" Nick grinned.
"I said. . ." Logan sighed. "Never mind," he grumbled. This was going to be a long flight. . .
#We could play cards. . .?#
#Of course I would, but then you could have fun complaining. . .#
Logan snorted and closed his eyes, deliberately.
"This isn't bad," Nick said, tossing his bag onto the nearest chair. He stood his psimitar case in the corner with rather more care, Logan noticed with a flicker of amusement. "I thought we'd be staying at the base. . ."
"A little too high-profile," Logan said, eyeing the cramped confines of the room thoughtfully. He adjusted his eye-patch, smiling wryly. It was a strange sort of nostalgia, dragging out the old 'Patch' identity. "Old friend of mine owns this place. We can spend the night, meet Forge tomorrow, and then catch our transport back. Quick in-and-out. . .best way to go, these days."
He hadn't liked what he'd seen on
the way out from the X.S.E. base. Madripoor was. . .different
than it used to be, and the change was unsettling. If he'd been
alone, he might have gone out and explored a little, to get a
better sense of what was going on, but he sure as hell wasn't
taking Nick with him. No, better to stay off the streets until
they had to head down to meet Forge. . .
Nick muttered something under his breath and stretched out on the bed. "I think I'm jet-lagged."
"Well, get some sleep," Logan said gruffly, taking off his jacket. "We're not going anywhere for a while."
"I should be meditating instead," Nick said with a sigh, closing his eyes. "But I can't. There's something strange in the atmosphere, here. . ."
Logan grimaced thoughtfully. If Nick was picking up on it too. . .if whatever his instincts were telling him was wrong was reflecting into the psychic atmosphere. . ."Get some sleep," he repeated, sitting down in the other chair and pulling out the file the base commander had given him, a sort of status report on the state of Madripoor these days.
Things hadn't really changed that much, he noticed as he read. A few new players to replace some of the old, but the same game. . .
He dozed off, at some point, and awoke when something deeper than instinct nagged at him, tugging him back out of unconsciousness. Blinking to clear his vision, he closed the file lying open on his lap, and set it on the table beside him.
A soft moan came from the direction of the bed, and Logan frowned at the sight of his son tossing and turning in his sleep. The smell of sweat and fear was so overwhelming that it took Logan a moment to suppress his own instinctive reaction.
"Nick," he called softly. "Hey. . ."
A few muttered, anguished words in Askani were his only answer, as his son continued to fight with whatever nightmare had him in its grip. Logan got up, walking over and sitting down beside Nick on the bed. "It's okay, son," he said, a little more gruffly than he intended. He reached out, gripped Nick's shoulders lightly. "Come on, Nicholas," he said. "Just a dream, wake up now. . ."
"Get away, no. . ." Nick muttered, his voice slurred, hoarse with fear. "No!" Blue eyes full of stark terror flew open, fixed dazedly on Logan's face.
"It's okay," Logan said more gently. "You were dreaming. . ."
Nick stared up at him for a moment longer. Seeing the disorientation in his eyes fading, Logan let go of him, almost reluctantly. "Madripoor," Nick said, the slight tremor in his voice unnoticeable unless you were listening for it.
"Right," Logan said, standing and backing off a bit as Nick sat up, rubbing his eyes with hands that visibly shook. "Madripoor." Something occurred to him, and he swallowed. "Not Denver,"he said measuringly, his voice rough.
Nick's whole body jerked. "I didn't. . .I. . ."
Logan sighed. There was a very specific taste, to guilt. Impossible to miss, especially when it was gnawing away at your own innards.
He should have seen this. Some father I am. . .
"Funny thing," he said casually, sitting down beside Nick on the bed. "That you haven't said anything about it, I mean. We all know what kind of shape Clare and Harry are in. Zara cried herself to sleep for two weeks after she got home. . ."
"Clare and Harry were there when it happened," Nick said almost harshly, standing up and pacing across the room to the window. "They LIVED it. All the rest of us did was try and clean up after the Unity. And Zara's got more empathy than I do. . ."
"There's something you're not telling me," Logan said, certain of it.
"What?" Nick said almost bitterly. "You haven't spontaneously developed telepathy or something, have you, Dad?"
Logan blinked, and then narrowed his eyes. "Fate worse than death, eh?" he murmured. There was definitely something here.
#Would you quit analysing me?# The dark-gold presence in his mind seethed, but Nick didn't move from his position by the window, keeping his back resolutely to him. #I said I'm fine. . .#
"And I say that's bullshit, boy."
"Would you LEAVE it, Dad?" Nick snapped, finally turning to face him. He had his expression under control again, but his eyes were a different matter entirely.
It hurt. Those smoky blue eyes. . .Sulven's eyes. . .looking so old in such a young face. So full of pain. "Not a chance, Nicholas," Logan said softly.
Nick swore in Askani, turning back to the window. "What do you want?" he asked restlessly. "You want a play-by-play of my nightmare, is that it? I think I'm past the age where I need to come crying to you, Dad. . ."
Logan watched him in silence for a moment. "I wish you felt like you could talk to me about these things," he murmured.
"So do I," Nick muttered almost savagely, and went over and took his psimitar out of his case. He sat down in the chair next to the window, a white-knuckled grip on the psimitar's staff as he stared out into the night.
Logan bit back a sigh, and went
back to his file, trying not to be too noticeable about keeping
an eye on his son.
to be continued...
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