Most weeks weren't like this, calm and docile in a sense, focused around something that seemed light years away even from his teenage daughter who would have much rather found herself at the movies with her friends, eyes glued on her cellphone the whole time, than hitting the wilderness for a summer time escape. They were uncertain. They we wild. They were life-threatening and potentially disastrous to time and space as they knew it, and they weren't miles away from the coastal epicenter Nate had come to know.
They didn't involve waking up with his face pressed firm in a pillow that may have been only marginally better than those found in other cabins, ears already attune to the sound of attacking mosquitoes as they buzzed haphazardly around the room in search of something - someone - to take a bite out of in the early hours of the morning. The fish must not have been biting hard enough from the cooler shores of Bass Lake, perhaps scared off into deeper regions by those leisure fishermen who, rare to bring home something to show for their purchases of any number of lures, any number of bait types, and time spent on the shore if they couldn't rent a boat from Miller's Landing, were just looking for a reason to get away from their houses, their wives and maybe their families, for a spell.
They didn't involve a P.A. blaring loudly in his ears, just as loud as perhaps those campers who had wanted nothing more, like him, to get a few more minutes of sleep before they were corralled into one activity or another at the behest of camp counselors who, only a handful of years older than their teenage companions, probably didn't have a lick of sense to them on how to guide their wards around. What could have been a summer escape was sure to be a summer of trouble, of juvenile antics like scaring other cabins in misguided attempts to get unrequited crushes to pay attention, of rotating schedules of activities they had a full staff on hand for in an attempt to teach them something worthwile for the summer, and late night rule breaking even when taps had signaled lights out.
Still, everyone seemed to find their escape in it - from home, from family, from work and even tragedy, and Nate was no exception even as he languidly lifted himself out of bed, nearly rolling to the edge before he had thrown his legs over the side of it to put his feet on the hardwood floor. Rough as it was, it was no real welcome to the once-warmth of even the only mildly better than others blanket that he had been under, a worthy blockade against the mosquitoes short of an actual net to catch them, but he supposed that was just for deciding he was going to spend a summer trying to be something other than...
... whatever he was supposed to be.
The truth was, the ways and means of signing up for such a job, the reasons for it, had fallen out of mind, out of frame, as if they hadn't existed at all; but instead of feeling like there had been something wrong with such a sudden transition away from what was more often than not work, Nate had felt it right. It was right he was there, all but stumbling out of his assigned cabin for the restrooms - just because the environment changed didn't meant the morning routine did - once he had put something more on than boxers and a tee shirt. It was right he was in this place, taking the reins on brewing his own cup of coffee when he wasn't sure the cook, someone who seemed to be at wit's end when a spring trap installed on the refrigerator where breakfast ingredients were stored set off a flash bang explosion when he had opened it, could get it right. It was right to plant himself at a table within the dining tent while campers, most still trying to get the sleepy daze out of their heads, poured in and Nate, quiet as he was, just kept his mind open for trouble though his attention focused on future plans.
This was an escape from the rest, some sort of strange blessing in disguise which allowed him reprieve from the life he and the others had in San Francisco and all the trouble that came with it though Nate wasn't so foolish to believe there wasn't apt to be something on the horizon, an ever-present constant no matter how removed everything seemed.
What exactly had been the question, otherwise ignored by the mosquito that, smacking a mental wall that provided a far more effective and efficient barricade around Nate to avoid the bites that would have plagued those without the foresight to bring bug spray or an assortment of citronella candles, had landed in his coffee.
His position at Camp Anawanna was no simple one despite the lack of scheduling when in comparison to those other instructors who had taken on far more regular period blocks; but the fact remained there was only so much time for backpacking trips, only so much interest in going further into the woods where there weren't the same amenities as there were at the camp, and only so many parents who would have warranted their children going on overnight hikes through the wilderness as they took to fretting and worry that something as unlikely as getting struck by lightning in a drought or being chased by a bear would happen and rip their children from their lives.
The true worry was fire in an area like this, ever-present when the state had been plagued with them in increasing form and danger in the months prior to the start of the summer and were something that seemed to be sparked so easily from the smallest flicker of heat - a cigarette thrown haphazardly out a wild into the dry brush of a drought-ridden field, a solid ray of sunshine that focused on an equally dry groove in the bark of a tree that was no longer being protected thanks to the infestation of wood-boring beetles that had no place being in the city, and as he prepared his pack with supplies for all those lessons he had intended to teach over the course of the night, a dumb kid who paid no attention when it came to starting a camp fire.
That had been his worry, but heaven forbid any parent thought their kid would be the latest and greatest arsonist to cause something so dangerous and damaging on such a sojourn as a night's stay away from camp. It would be something to hurt them, always them, and the blame would fall on the isntructor who ultimately failed to stop them in the midst of their idiocy, resulting in more problems for an already problematic camp considering the potato-based food poisoning that had almost saddled the trip as a whole and the lice outbreak that had almost ostracized an entire cabin from the rest of the teenage pack.
However, worries could be dissuaded, and when the final roster for the trip had all but fallen into his lap with a number of individuals individuals on it, familiar in some ways, who Nate felt wouldn't be a particular danger to the woods around them or the wildlife within - not even when it seemed one individual in particular, feeling his oats despite skinny limbs and lanky form, wanted to do nothing more than "wrestle" a bear who had crossed their paths in her own trek through the wilderness - his mind was set at ease. The winged wonder, he suspect, only wanted to find some open air that wasn't under the jurisdiction of the camp administration, and the nature buff, an opportunity to learn further despite already knowing plenty about edible wild plants and which ones to avoid; and he wasn't sure what the rock was all about, but it would at least keep one at bay when his counselor was present.
It was even more of a blessing as everything seemed to go without a hitch - perhaps a bump in the night that might have thrown someone for a loop into something based in fear or a burnt marshmallow over the fire when everything took on a more mellow and relaxed tone underneath the stars, some of the more authoritative aspects of the trip thrown out of the window for time that allowed him to bond more with those campers who only ever seemed to have rumors about him, all often heard through the grapevine.
According to the wiles of camper and perhaps even counselor imagination in even their limited knowledge of their resident trail guide, he was some sort of survivalist who lived in the woods and could - may have very well had - followed Bear Grylls around at some point in his life. He ate only ready-to-eat meals though that was yet to be proven in the cooking that had accompanied the trip, complete with seasoning to avoid an unnecessary blandness even when it was grilled over a campfire, and he was almost sure he had heard someone say he had killed two birds with one stone just by throwing it aimlessly in the air.
All in all, it was a good break from just being someone else on the staff there to tell them what to do every single hour of the day or lead them around from one scheduled activity or another. He hadn't been there to dole out unnecessary punishment. He hadn't been there to flex authoritative muscle on a bunch of teenagers. He hadn't been there to be any level, legitimate or presumed, of unfair. He was there to teach - to make sure they could actual survive situations that could have presented themselves unsuspectingly in the wilds they had called "home" for the summer, even if they didn't necessarily take it back to them when they returned to Sunnydale.
Thankfully, it seemed he had achieved that, and the bonus had been that he had been able to do so without the trouble that plagued the counselors and other staff - the very same that reared its ugly head as soon as the more overbearing of parents started marching onto camp grounds upon their return just in time for Parents Day.
"Guess it was a good break while it lasted," he said to those in his care, very soon to leave it to return to the camp politics made only worse by the angry and upset parents that were ready to take out their grievances on anyone they could. "Go get washed up, kids. I'm not ready to have someone complain that you all smell like bug spray and campfires if I can help it."
It had fallen into his mind in bits and pieces of something that seemed to be forgotten among the blaring horns in the morning, the continuous daily cycle of activities and meals that the camp provided, and whatever happened to be upcoming that would inevitably require his attention. What had triggered it in the stillness of a night spent in the wilderness was anyone's guess. Maybe it had been the familiarity found among certain individuals in the group that had brought on such a strange set of not just thoughts, but seemingly memories. Maybe it had been the time to think in the quiet when the campers had settled down and even the adults had turned in for their own hours of rest and relaxation before the start of the next morning. Maybe it was the growing oddness of the week, the same that seemed to go ignored when he had woken up at Camp Anawanna on the first day; but whatever it was, he couldn't help what had crossed his mind when he had finally fallen into a deep slumber.
After all, it was the wilderness of Alaska, in the comfort of a cabin owned by the Summers Family, that it seemed things had been whole. Perhaps they weren't good, the personal relationships of his family something that couldn't be so easily ignored by someone so young, so unaware of the world around him in a way that only babies could manage without being considered ignorant, but they were whole; they were a family, albeit an odd one, but they were together in moments that weren't so rife with trouble, with danger and turmoil in a world growing more and more aware of them, their kind, and more and more fearful of that which they didn't know, as his father's life away from them had been.
Even when it seemed there was danger to be found in the surrounding wilderness, through events that could have very well ripped him and his mother apart, away from the others, like accidents before that had splintered the older generations, they only served to bring them together - perhaps even more so in those that had come to their aid in what could have been final moments; and in so many ways he may have been too young at the time to think deeply on beyond the laughter that had come of escaping potential death by falling down a ravine, it was nice.
And then it was gone.
He couldn't say he remembered it being so nice ever again as the secrets of their lives came out into the open, casting the shadow of fear and doubt over everything he had ever known and bringing new individuals into play that weren't his father's trusted friends who, despite their own trouble to do with shared enemies he had no way of yet knowing, did their part to keep an eye on him, to protect him, to make sure the world didn't try to drill down on him like it did the rest of their kind. No, these individuals were the dark and twisted, the evils of the world, the vile manipulators who held such vast power, they saw reason to change the course of time, perhaps even changing space itself, to meet their ends. They were relentless, going so far to steal a child from his mother in an attempt to cover up what they had created.
It was no wonder things only went south from there in the lies forged, in the dark where hope was lost and the demons could thrive, a sacrifice of innocence, blood, and bones forging her revenge against those who had wronged her, until it all ended in a blaze of fire - the tip of a convoluted iceburg that transcended time itself. It was no wonder that in the days, months, maybe even years to follow as another had taken the place of the mother he had lost, such new trouble would find him, would find the family found, and further twist who he could have been had he just been allowed to live even in such odd circumstances, and strip him away from them once and for all.
Much to the dismay of the powerful, it wasn't in death. It wasn't in the slow degredation of his body into a mess of circuits and flexible metal, in the simplest liquidous form of alloy and melted flesh that he would have become had it not been for his own ability to keep himself together. It wasn't in the infection that still clung to his body after so many years, a permanent reminder of those choices made by not him, but someone else that changed the course of his life while, in so many ways, setting it on the one it needed to be to make a mark on the future. It was in a dilemma, the argument between selfishness and selflessness, the question of whether to keep him until his final days which were only a matter of hours or to let him go somewhere else, somewhere where he could be helped, so he'd survive even if it meant never seeing them again.
And in a flash, he was gone.
It was a problematic thought to wake up on - the story not on how his family had fallen apart, but the one which had made him who he was today, so removed from those around him. One family or another, they were only ever fleeting and in a moment, by simple thought, he could be gone, traversing time years in the future or decades in the past; he could be forgotten and he had been forgotten by his own manipulations; and it was hard to say who he had been raised more by: Loving parents who, in one form or another, wanted only the best for him? Or those who had shaped his future through experimentation and infection, through disease and intended death? Those weren't thoughts for morning campfires as he cooked up the ingredients for breakfast, avoiding the eyes of those around him that only seemed to bring such thoughts back to the forefront of his mind.
For now, he knew they were there, but all it took was a flash and they would be gone.
The fair was something they were all looking forward for any number of reasons, a number of which Nate could have listed off in short order when they so vastly differed from whatever the camp had to offer in his regularly scheduled programming - the escape in itself perhaps the grandest of reasons, even if it was just for a night following a talent show of some questionable variety and performances... not that Nate would actually say that to anyone. It was nice to get away. It was nice to see something new after seeing a summer of the same thing each and every day. It was nice to put the problems behind them in lieu of food, fun, and end of summer festivities that, in their own ways, might have just as well held some educational activities in their exhibits for those campers who were actually for it.
But if he was being honest with himself, it would be everything else that the campers put their attention on, focusing on what was worth wile like rides and games rather than pouring over rocks and minerals, some of which they could have seen on outings around camp, and horticulture exhibits when they had been around any number of trees and forest foliage for the whole of summer. Even Nate seemed less than inclined as he had opted for food first and foremost, any number of fried and unhealthy treats to load up on that were of far different quality than anything the camp had provided.
And the beer - he couldn't say there had been a considerable amount of that at camp despite a number of camp counselors who had loaded up on one alcohol or another liquor just to make it through or campers who, one way or another, had brought it in. It had been the icing on the cake that was the plate of tacos he had in front of him, street style carne asada with nothing but simple pico de gallo and cilantro on top, Nate parking himself in the shade of the central pavilion where a number of others had found their escape from the continuous walking that took them from one end of the fairgrounds to the other.
Relatively speaking, it had been a quite moment just as it had been a quiet night, the campers running amok throughout the fairgrounds, hitting whatever rides they could with the tickets provided and playing any number of rigged games in their attempts to win something more than a framed picture they would probably lose in a box somewhere or the smallest stuffed animal they could have ever imagined winning from a bottle knocked over by a baseball thrown with super powered velocity or darts that, for all their potential practice with the darts instructor, hit slightly deflated balloons with ease. Even Nate had his clean sweep thanks to some telekinetic interjection, but the booth operator didn't need to know that as he passed off a giant bear to someone who, all things considered, would only pass it along to someone else who hadn't been so lucky.
But it hadn't dissuaded the feeling in his stomach, somewhere deep in his gut, that there was something on the horizon that should have been of more concern than a student puking because of too many rounds on a roller coaster or another's idiotic, if not slightly successful, attempt to climb to the highest point on the ferris wheel. It was something he couldn't quite place even as they headed back to the camp after the inevitable closing hours of the fairgrounds so they could prepare for the next day in what was often a week-long affair, and it still evaded him as they piled out towards their respective cabins for what was to be their last night at Camp Anawanna before they headed back into life as they had known it.
It was an unknown factor, this catalyst to potential danger, until it had hit the camp in a flash of light that seemed to contain the heat and energy of a thousand suns, sparking flames among the wood cabins and burning flesh from bone, eating up even the most durable campers and counselors that had found themselves amiss the sudden burst that may have laid waste to Camp Anawanna.
In a flash, it was gone.
He wasn't sure why he expected to wake up in agony, but he could still feel the burn of his skin as he shot up from bed in his Oakland apartment; but where he had expected to see torn and blistered flesh, there had been nothing of the sort; and where he had expected to be blind from such close proximity to what he could only describe as a solar flare, his eyes settled on the relative darkness of his room with the blinds still drawn even though it only did so much to block out the sun entirely. It still broke through, small cracks between the slats of his blinds when the black out curtains hadn't been drawn closed. The smell of burning wood and charred flesh, of singed hair and burnt clothing, still lingered as something imprinted on his memory, but he woke up as he did every other day: Alive and incomplete.
A yawn not his own brought his attention to the metallic arm, a reminder of memories that hadn't quite spilled over the threshold of his mind yet despite the sense of sadness that filled his gut in that moment, and the pin up model that, once again, had been etched into it. She was normal - not necessarily in form or definition of what a "tattoo" actually was, but Belle's presence was normal on this side of the shift, easily bringing his mind into focus of what had happened when she hadn't been nagging him throughout the week.
The shift had happened though he couldn't recall what had happened and surely neither would see, eschewing the question from his mind as he got himself up as he usually did with his normal routine to follow - piss, clean up, stare in the mirror in long contemplation of what had happened in hopes he could put any pieces together, and then ultimately decide breakfast was a good choice, even if that breakfast just meant the same cup of coffee he always had. This was the way of life in Nathan Prior's household as he knew it now - without kids, without the responsibility of being a parent, without someone to share the quiet moments save for a smart-mouthed futuristic tattoo.
"You must have had quite the bender, Nate. I don't think I've ever seen you wake up looking so... haggard," Belle said as he found himself among those steps, staring at himself in the mirror as he splashed water over his face, eyes still red from what he could only assume was a sunburn - a normal one and not one that made it seem like the sun had come crashing down onto the Earth.
"Good morning to you too," he mumbled, reaching up to draw down his eyelid so he could look at the organic orb beneath it, the other glowing lightly even amiss the bright light of the bathroom, its reflection more a flare of light that seemed to mimic that he could remember so clearly though not as much more than a dream. Still, he knew there was no bender - not of a normal variety anyway, no inclination to pump his body full of alcohol knowing just what could happen to those that found themselves in such allure of something ultimately bad for them. He just knew something had happened as it did weeks before, and tormenting his mind about it wasn't of help to anyone.
So, coffee - he'd focus on that, drawing himself out of the restroom so he could put something more on than a pair of boxers and a shirt before finding himself in the small kitchen that accompanied the living room, taking the reins on making a cup of coffee only because there was no one else to do it - definitely not an individual at wit's end thanks to a booby trap set up on the fridge. He took a seat at the kitchen table, not of the picnic variety that had seemed to be common place in the hazy memories of the week before, and though his mind was open to the apartment around him, there had been no other bodies present to watch over. There were no campers and there was no family, be they of one universe or another.
It was just Nate, alone again and confused among the lost memories of how the other half lived...
... and how he survived.