Wiser Days: Part 4
by Alicia McKenzie
See part one for disclaimer and notes.
"Bloody hell!" I swore, finding myself on my rear yet again. My bloody tailbone was starting to get sore. "You're enjoying this far too much," I said accusingly, glaring up at Cable.
He arched an eyebrow at me. Bastard hadn't even broken a sweat, and we'd been at this for nearly a half-hour. "Should I bother pointing out that you were the one who asked me to help you get back in shape, or are you too busy indulging in self-pity to listen?"
He had a point. All told, I'd been--comatose, whatever you wanted to call it, for nearly a month. Not knowing what I was going to face when I got back home, I'd figured I needed to be ready for anything. I'd come out of a month's 'sleep' a little better off than I might have expected, but it wasn't just the physical effects I had to worry about. Nate had been completely up-front about the fact that his 'repair work' hadn't been a hundred percent effective. According to him, time would take care of most of it as my mind finished healing on its own, but that didn't mean I couldn't put a little effort into helping it along. And I was woefully out of shape--
"Fine," I muttered, and ignored the hand up he offered me. I hauled myself back to my feet on my own, still glaring at him. "You're right, and I'm just complaining. But I still say you're enjoying this too much."
"I have to admit it's entertaining," he said with a perfectly straight face. "And I'm a little out of shape myself--spent too much time sitting in a chair beside your bed this month." He'd slept for nearly seventy-two hours straight after I'd come out of the coma. Blaquesmith, wearing that expression that I'd figured out meant he was trying to figure out some way he could justify ridding the world of my presence, had informed me that Cable had 'exhausted himself to a dangerous extent, and I will hold you responsible, boy, if he suffers any ill effects from his misguided altruism'.
I'd definitely gotten the impression that it would be a good thing to be wary of Blaquesmith. He was well and truly pissed about the whole thing, and I suspected it wouldn't take much on my part to push his attitude towards me out of 'disgusted tolerance' and into something a whole lot more dangerous. It was so tempting to get in the little bastard's face, though. What I'd seen so far of how he treated Nate bothered me. I didn't like seeing people getting their heads messed with, especially when it was someone I pretty much owed my bloody life to. Nate was a tough son of a bitch, but either he had a major blind spot when it came to the giant bug, or Blaquesmith was really good at what he did. Maybe it was both.
Nate gave me a questioning look. I snorted, and shook my head. "I need to take a break," I admitted, and managed not to stagger as I went over and sat down on the bench up against the wall. "Handy little room, this." There was a set of weights over in the other corner, but this side was clearly set up for sparring, with mats and all.
"I have them in most of the safehouses," Nate said. He'd let it drop a few days ago that he had a whole network of well-stocked little boltholes like this one. I wasn't sure I wanted to know why he needed them. "And you wouldn't need to take a break if you didn't smoke. Do you have any idea what it does to your lungs?"
I gave him a disbelieving look. "You're not serious."
"Why would I not be serious?"
I shook my head at the look at he was giving me. It had been two weeks since I'd woken up, and I swore he was seeming weirder and weirder the more time I spent around him. "Look, I don't really need a lecture on the evils of smoking. Save it for the public service announcements, okay?"
"Who said I was going to give you a lecture? If you're idiotic enough to poison yourself, you're probably not going to listen." Nate sat down on the weight bench, and proceeded to tilt his head and give me that unnerving look that made me think he was seeing everything I'd ever thought and was trying not to look too amused about it. "You shouldn't worry about explaining your absence, you know."
I glowered suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
"I mean it's been taken care of, Wisdom," he said calmly. "As far as British Intelligence is concerned, you've been on a perfectly routine mission for the last six weeks and however much longer you happen to be away. Your final mission report has been filed, retroactively, and Walsingham had a nasty automobile accident last week. Very tragic." I stared at him disbelievingly, trying to pick my jaw up off the floor. A tiny smile flickered across his face and vanished as quickly as it had come. "Your ass is most comprehensively covered, Pete."
"And how the bloody fuck did you manage that?" I demanded, hardly able to believe my good luck--IF he was telling me the truth. Then again, he hadn't lied to me yet, as far as I could tell. But how could he have fixed this? I hadn't seen him carrying around a bloody magic wand or anything--
"Oh, I have my ways," Nate said sagely. "A suggestion here, a cut brake line there--"
"You scare me sometimes, you know that?" I grumbled. How much was I going to owe the bastard, by the time we were done? "And I wanted to kill Walsingham myself, sod it--"
"You'll live," he said wryly. "You could always go back to England and dance on his grave if you're feeling too terribly deprived." Weird thing was, I didn't think he was joking.
"Nah," I said a little distractedly, "If he's dead, I'm happy." I looked up at him, curious. "How'd you arrange that?"
"I have a very long arm," Nate said with a straight face.
"I'm beginning to get that impression."
"You should go into stand-up comedy or something," was the only thing I could think of to say. Cable glared at me. I started to feel a little less certain that it was a joke. "Okay," I muttered uneasily, shifting in my chair. "Maybe not. But come on, Nate, you can't expect me to believe that you're a time traveler."
The whole idea was just--no, he was just having fun with me or something. I sipped at my beer, trying to cover my confusion, and stared out for a moment at the people walking by on the street outside the safehouse. When I'd asked him where he was from, I hadn't expected THIS--
"Believe it or not," Nate said balefully. "I don't care. You asked, so I told you."
"So, say it's true," I countered. "I'm supposed to believe that you're the type to be making confessions like that just because your would-be assassin asked?" I snorted and took another swig of my beer. "I find that harder to believe than the time-travel, if you ask me."
Nate continued to glare at me for a moment, and then looked down suspiciously at his beer. "I think I need to take it easy on this stuff," he muttered.
"You and me both, Nate."
"Would you quit calling me that?" he growled, giving me a look that made me want to move my chair backwards. Just a few feet, to be safe. "My name is Nathan."
"Nathan Dayspring, time-traveling ex-SHIELD agent," I said playfully. "Dayspring. Nathan Dayspring." He looked utterly blank, and I sighed. "Bond, James Bond?"
He had the damnedest gaps in his knowledge of popular culture. "Oh, never mind." I stared down into my beer, blinking very rapidly all of a sudden. Gaps in his knowledge of popular culture. The way he messed up on idiom. That weird accent of his that I couldn't bloody well place--it all made a strange sort of sense, in light of what he'd just told me.
But--no, there had to be a better explanation than him being from the bloody future! "So," I said a little unsteadily. "Playing along--why are you here?"
Nate took a long sip of his beer before he answered. "Things went wrong," he said wearily. There was a slump to his shoulders that hadn't been there a moment before, and a world of pain in those weird eyes. "Very wrong. By my time, the wrongness had gotten so bad that there was no way to fix things." He shrugged with one shoulder. "The process started sometime in this part of this century. I--have to change things, so events never take the course they did to lead to my future."
A whole flood of questions raced each other through my mind, but I limited myself to the first flippant response that popped up. "Well, that's vague." Then again, he would have to be vague, wouldn't he? Wouldn't want to give anything away--
I definitely needed another beer.
"It's complicated," Nate said almost wistfully, giving me a very odd look. It was measuring and appealing at the same time, somehow, as if he wanted me to ask him more, but didn't know whether or not I could handle the answer.
"Oh, I imagine so." Something occurred to me, and I grinned at him. "Hey, is the giant bug going to be pissed that you told me?"
Nate gave me a repressive look. "His name is Blaquesmith," he said in a droll voice, "and probably."
I continued to grin. "So even if I think you need to lay off the Mexican beer, this conversation wasn't a total loss, then."
He looked like he was trying very hard to smile. "I guess not."
"I could've found my way to the airport on my own, you know," I felt obliged to point out. "Or are you just trying to make sure that I do get out of the country?"
"Something like that," Nate said as we made our way over to the right gate. The crowd seemed to part to let us past; then again, most people would be inclined to move out of the way when they saw Nate walking towards them. Just a natural instinct. "Better safe than sorry. Our friends from the warehouse may have moved, but I'm not entirely sure they're gone, yet."
"Lovely," I muttered. Hadn't even occurred to me that I might have made myself a target with my stupidity at the warehouse. That was all I needed, complete strangers gunning for me--
"Oh, I'll find them," Nate said calmly. "It'll take some time, but I will." We stopped at the end of the line, and the corner of his mouth quirked upwards as he handed me the plane ticket. "Did Ms. Chalmers wish you a good trip back?"
I glowered at him. We'd stopped by the embassy so I could 'check in' before I left the country. He'd insisted - something about 'tying up loose ends' - but I'd been more than a little leery of seeing Chalmers again. Since Walsingham had told me to check in with her, I'd assumed she was working with him, part of this 'faction' Cable had said was being controlled by an outside party.
But she'd been perfectly pleasant, and hadn't said a bloody word about our previous meeting. Once I'd gotten over the first moment of surprise, I'd figured out what was going on pretty quickly. "A good trip, and many bloody happy returns of the day," I said nastily. "Walsingham wasn't the only one working for a third party, was he?"
Nate raised an eyebrow at me. "I don't know what would have given you that impression," he said with a perfectly straight face. "Then again, it's highly unlikely that a low-level telepath like me would have been able to pick you out of a crowd like I did. Unless I had something to go on."
"What?" I asked disagreeably. "Like my bloody dossier?" Oddly enough, the idea that Chalmers was working for Cable didn't really bother me. I'd figured he had some pretty extensive connections in British Intelligence to have been able to fix my absence like he said he had. Still, I'd almost said a few choice things to the woman. She could have at least TRIED to warn me off--
Then again, if she had, who knows what would have happened? If I'd known the mission was unauthorized and gone back to complain, Walsingham might have tried to get rid of me so I didn't blow his cover. Even if I'd kept my mouth shut, there probably would have been trouble.
Nate gave me a measuring look. "You seem less pissed about that than I thought you would be." His mouth quirked in a humorless smile. "I did more or less set you up, Pete--"
I shrugged. "I don't think getting upset's going to make much difference, mate, and I guess it all turned out well in the end." I managed a tight smile. "But it's nice to know you're not omniescent or some such sodding thing."
"I'm a telepath, Wisdom, and not much of one."
"I don't know," I said rather gruffly, some of the resentment I was feeling - not at him, specifically, just at the world in general - waning for a second. "You did a pretty good job putting me back together." I stuck out my hand. He gave it a thoughtful look, and I laughed a little uneasily. "Look, I know I acted like a bit of a bastard when you, um, told me where you came from. I'm still not sure that I believe it. But I know damned that I do owe you, Nate--Nathan. If you ever need a hand, look me up--"
I trailed off, wincing as he shook my hand a little more vigorously than I'd expected. "Stop babbling, boy," he muttered as I drew my hand back and flexed it, wincing. "I was hardly going to leave you to die after I got you into that mess to begin with."
"Still," I persisted, wishing the feeling would come back to my fingers. "I'm serious. I don't like debts."
Nate studied me for a moment, and then reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out something on a silver chain that glimmered in the fluorescent lights from overhead. "Take it," he said when I stared at him blankly, wondering what this was all about.
So I took it. It was a medallion that could have been the twin of the one he wore. It had the same stylized bird-shape on it, only it was made of some sort of silver metal, rather than gold. I turned it over, noting that the design was the same on the other side. "It's warm," I said, a little bemused, and looked up at Nate, who was giving me an alarmingly innocent look.
"You might say it's got a little bit of magic all its own," he said dryly.
"Right," I said suspiciously. I'd known the man only a few weeks, but I'd already figured out that you had to be careful when he got cryptic. "What's it for?"
"It's a token, Pete." Nate gave me one of those strange, enigmatic smiles. "Go back and live your life, Wisdom. If I need a favor, expect someone carrying one of those medallions to show up on your doorstep some day."
"Fair enough, I guess," I muttered, and shoved it into my pocket. A pleasant female voice announced over the P.A. system that my flight was boarding, and I grimaced as the line started to move forward. "Well," I said awkwardly. "Keep your head down, mate."
"I always do," Nate murmured, somehow ironically, and inclined his head once. It was just a nod, but it looked weird when he did it--almost formal. "G'journey, Wisdom."
"Yeah, whatever. You too." I picked up my bag and shuffled forward until they stopped the line briefly. Some problem with some bloke's ticket, from the sound of it. Grumbling a curse under my breath - I wanted to get out of this sodding country, damn it! - I looked back over my shoulder at Cable.
Who was gone. My gaze swept the crowd, but there was no sign of him. I shook my head quizzically and turned my attention back to the gate as we started moving forward again. Suppose I shouldn't be surprised that he'd made a quick exit. Probably had all kinds of things to do, none of which I wanted to know about--
"Thank you," the attendant said with a dazzling smile as she handed back my ticket. "Did you enjoy your stay, sir?"
I managed not to laugh in her face. "It was educational," I said truthfully. "Very educational."
Despite Cable's promise that everything had been taken care of, I had to admit I was a little leery about heading back to work when I got home. It was nearly two months to the day since I'd left on Walsingham's little errand, and that sort of absence was hard to cover up.
But I shouldn't have worried. Apparently, I'd been filing regular reports on my 'routine surveillance mission' throughout the whole two months. Quite an accomplishment, given that I'd been in a coma for almost half that time. I even got the chance to scan a few of the reports. They read pretty much like something I would have written, down to the occasional bit of phrasing that suggested I was reaching the end of my patience for all this administrative nonsense.
So, in the end, the official word was that I'd had a dull but moderately productive time in Mexico City. I even had a brief memo of commendation attached to my dossier, complimenting my 'efficient and reliable work' on the assignment.
I'd laughed my bloody head off, reading that.
I suppose I should have been a little more unsettled about the whole thing. Forget whoever this other bloody third party was--Cable and his people seemed to have British Intelligence well and truly infiltrated, and that should have bothered me. After all, who was to say that his intentions were any more admirable than whoever had been running that operation in Mexico City?
But I didn't really believe that. The simple fact was that the man had saved my life - and my 'career', almost as an afterthought - and I'd gotten to know him a little. Enough to know that he wasn't the same as whoever he was fighting. He was a bad-tempered son of a bitch with little in the way of people skills and a past I didn't even want to think about, but there was a rough sort of sense of honor hiding in there somewhere. He could have put a bullet in my head back in that alley, or left me in that warehouse to die, but he hadn't.
I figure I'll see him again--or if not him, someone carrying a twin to the medallion I've kept in my pocket since I got on that plane. I'm pretty content with the possibility. Whatever happens will probably going to wind up getting me into trouble, but as I told Nate, I don't like debts.
At the very least, it won't be boring, and a bloke's got to have some excitement in his life, doesn't he?
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