She had told him to stay put - stay where he was and stay in the time he was - which was a perfectly reasonable request from someone who had experience with this sort of thing to someone who decidedly did not, and as a result had all but melted a portion of the C.S.A. facilities without intending to, but when did Nate ever really listen? To Jean? To Scott? To his own mother?
In his old age, with considerable discipline and rigorous training, he might have, but that was all too readily chalked up to being far too tired for half of the nonsense that seemed to constantly swirl around not only the X-Men, but the Summers Family in particular. There was an echo of reason there, far too much seen through the torrent of time to not adhere to, even if there was still some level of bullheadedness, if not outright stubbornness, to veer from the path planned and plotted; and while he could easily throw the mutant Cyclops off of his Eagle Scout high horse, there was nothing to gain from it.
Unfortunately, Nate Prior wasn’t old - not comparatively - and he was bullheaded and he was stubborn, and as soon as he had found his wits about himself, he had transported himself somewhere else - to another place and another time - where he could find some piece from the continuous drilling and nagging and echoing that had filled his brain.
There weren’t so many phones in the 1950’s, and there sure as weren’t any computers. There were televisions and radios, transmitting broadcasts over the airwaves through rabbit ear antennas while the commercial industry of cable television was still in its infancy save for those small time hobbyists who were tinkering around for something new; but there wasn’t the constant, always on, feed of information stemming from everyone having a micro-form computer in their very pocket - be it for emergencies or that fear of missing out.
It was quiet. Even with a radio kept at a low volume in the diner that in another place, another time, had been a familiar one albeit not for the fondest of memories, it was quiet, and he could think in said quiet considering it wasn’t everyday that one’s brain felt like a centrifuge of fiery pop rocks just waiting for another chance to explode.
Making a life here, it wouldn’t have been hard, especially not when it had been something he had done time and time again - rather, Nate Summers had, but even in the twisting and churning of memories, moments sliding underneath and over others to attempt some sequential series of events of the individual time spans that now consisted Nate Prior’s life, it was hard to grasp just what might have been and what might have not. It had been done even if it hadn’t been, making it something he was capable of - picking up, leaving, disappearing if he had to without rhyme or reason though perhaps catalyst, be it to save the mutant species by raising a baby girl through time or to escape governmental interjection into developing super powers even he had no idea would go out of control as readily as they had.
The only problem was that he knew he couldn't stay even though he thought about it amiss all the other things he was attempting to slow the roll of over the plate of steak and eggs that were sitting in front of him, the same cup of shit coffee experienced through time replaced by a glass of water that was kept refilled to the top. There was a life to return to, a time that had become his own even if it wasn't his own to start with, and people who might as well have needed him if Nate himself gave them the time of day enough to draw down the walls, and, if nothing else, there was going to be one angry, but tiny redhead coming after him for not listening to him in the first place.
But maybe a month, maybe a year, just enough time to screw his head back on right, could have been worth it when everything was mixed up within. Names and relationships were confusing - his wife had been Hannah, but Hope had been adopted, not born; his son wasn’t some twenty year old punk living across state who couldn’t stand the sight of him, he was just a damn bastard thanks to the machinations of a clone he never had; and his siblings were an amalgam of lives that didn’t match one another when Nathan Summers had no brothers beyond an alternate reality counterpart with a God complex and a time-traveling half-sister who saved his life - and the events were perhaps the worst, so many of them fantastical in nature that didn’t make sense in a world were parasitic aliens didn’t exist, as living in the husks of undead space whales, and cybernetics were something meant for cyberpunk movies than fluid prosthetics for everyday wear, not yet developed to the full capacity his own were - not that his had exactly been traditionally acquired either, another thing he had to constantly focus his already thinly stretched mind on to make sure it didn't spread.
Thankfully, the people around him didn’t seem to notice, seeing nothing more than a young man out for breakfast, alone, of no threat, and more inclined to read the newspaper sprawled out in front of him to catch up on not-so-current events which, thankfully, had nothing to do with fires at the Presidio. That, he supposed, was still operational - without the C.S.A., without the smoke and mirrors presented to the public, without super powered individuals in their ranks to be watchdogs for those who woke up on the other side of the shifts with the ability to suddenly freeze over the Bay or go on an invisible burglary spree.
It took a few more minutes, a few more bites into his choice breakfast for the day ahead, a few more pages flipped through the paper before it was folded up and set on the counter in front of him and it became his turn to flag down the waitress.
“Excuse me,” he started as she passed by, stopping with a pitcher of coffee in her hand, the other resting on her hip which jutted out as she came to a stall in her pacing back and forth between customers, counter, and kitchen window.
“What do you need, dreamboat? More water?”
“N-No,” Nate stammered as he was thrown off for a moment, brow piquing before it furrowed for a moment, and relaxed once more as he shook his head. Flattered, of course, but it seemed hardly the time and place to try and gain favor from a waitress who he didn't know save for a badge on a name tag, and there was no telling just how long he would actually stay in this place, this time, when he hadn't really gotten himself up from off the ground. He shrugged it off. “I got here, from out of state, and was wondering if you could tell me what’s around here, just so I don’t go walking myself into the Bay.”
Time was relative, a special theory developed by a German theoretical physicist who determined the rate at which time passes depends on your frame of reference, able to be both negligible in the speed of everyday life and extremely pronounced at those approaching light; and in those waking moments, Nate only found it slow. It wasn’t in a bad way that one might have experienced when they wanted to get up, get ready, and get going to face whatever it was life had in store for them. It was a good one, one which he had readily welcomed over the days, even weeks, he had been in San Francisco of another time in an attempt to calm his mind; and one that he was in no urgency to see end even if the inevitable remained - he would have to return to his own time and he would have to face the music, even if it was joined by a symphony of blips and static and transmission frequencies that saw him flip his lid.
He didn’t have to - not just yet and not when there were other things to take care of like the very job he had take up to the tune of hard labor instead of the clandestine operations of the C.S.A. that had him, most days, acting as a desk jockey until something cataclysmic happened that needed one of two things: Muscle or manipulation; and while construction was hardly glamorous, it had been hard work, something he could do with his own two hands rather than trickery of the mind, and it kept him busy, something he felt that he very much needed to be lest he want his mind to wander.
Not only that, it afforded him what little slice of life he was going to car out of this place in time, this version of San Francisco that wasn’t his own - a roof over his head and some spending money for the essential expenses, not so much different from what he might have needed had it been sixty-five years in the future, and the ways and means of actually fitting into the era rather than maintaining a wardrobe of tee shirts with brands that didn’t yet exist and a clothing styling decades before its time. There was some work to be done to fit in since he had first snapped himself into the timeline, not born out of particular concern for the way he looked, but out of ease.
It even made for the occasional night out - be it to indulge in a root beer float at some diner that might have induced some sense of nostalgia never lived or, for something far less childish, a drink at a dive bar over a game of pool. When the opportunity struck and Nate had been so inclined to make use of it, it could even cushion a date somewhere nice with dinner and a show, and such had been the only reason he was sitting at the bar at Bimbo’s 365, a place to see the rich and famous and successful and be seen by the upper crust of San Francisco while while they ate, drank, and danced the night away to a live stage band.
Suited with a drink in front of him while he ignored the less interesting conversations happening across the club’s cocktail hour, just the first part in what was to be a four step evening of drinking, dining, and soaking in the night’s entertainment, the matchbox slid his way had been the only indication in the midst of the night’s effervescence that anything was off; that there was anything to be concerned about among the vodka martinis and neat bourbons that had lost nearly all of their kick and the oyster cocktails and sirloin plates; that there was anyone who knew where he had gone while he led his date around the dance floor into the early hours of the morning when even a legacy nightclub had to turn down its lights.
Still, for the rest of the night that remained, he had put it out of sight and out of mind to do something other than wait for an inevitable meeting he knew to be right around the corner. He didn’t need to be distracted from shared company in what had been an arguably nice night and though he knew it wouldn’t stop him from meeting responsibility when he awoke in the morning, for even a few hours before his mind sunk into sleep while he turned and twisted the matchbook in his fingers, occasionally looking at the location - the time and the place - written within, he could ignore it.
After all, when yesterday’s tomorrow is today and four months ago is the day after an indeterminable time in the future, it is always going to be there.
It was hard to say what he would land in when he time slid into the future. It could have been Brood-infected space, brought into the world unhindered, taking over even the most sophisticated strike teams and ship technologies so they could further multiply and populate space with all intent to take down anything that stood in their way. It could have been a celestial empire fully ingrained with technology much the same as New Canaan was, seeing the same problems rise of the men in power as disparaging class gaps, the rich in the skies and the poor stuck on whatever remained of a war torn Earth, struggling through the muck of whatever had been left behind. It could have been a vast desert of nothingness, the only signs of light remaining in what bombarded rubble was left behind to be eaten away at by nature just as it could have been whatever there was to come of future inhabitants of the planet.
It could have been anything, but it was generally never peaceful - not in Nate’s experience. There was always something - some catastrophe, some war, some plight on mankind or whatever species there might have been - and it didn’t matter what course his own timeline took in the midst of it all, not as a walking, talking time paradox since day one, able to pop in and out of the time frame while crossing other versions of himself at different points in time as if a continuous ripple of existence.
What mattered is how he dealt with it.
Sitting across from him now seemed a strange and surreal experience, this man that he would have become on one timeline or another though Nate couldn’t say for certain whether or not he existed on the one he had all but erased, if not when he had taken the aging Nate Sumner out of the equation then when he had shot down his apocalyptic self on the golf course of the Presidio in what was now eons before. Time might not have been so certain in the stark white of nuclear winter where there was nothing more than a fire sprung up by whatever the bug-eyed alien nearby had been able to find - be it from this time or another - to forge it.
The way he looked - it wasn’t good, Nate observed as he stared down his older self with as much stubbornness on his face as his counterpart, an attempt by one party to control just how much pain he was in as to not show weakness against not only his sophomoric counterpart - young and dumb and far too stupid for his own good in his eyes - but the techno-organic virus that Nate could see creeping across his body, thing tendrils of metal weaving themselves through the patterned layers as it ran rampant, his older self seemingly without the telekinetic power to stop it.
Nate knows it is an itch that will never leave just as he knows the old man is stubborn, soft around the edges, and despite the warpath he is ultimately on, he knows he will only make things worse when the time stream opens up and Ahab embarks on a mission to kill the X-Men from the past, enslaving mutants by way of those manipulated to be on their side that the do-good team saw reason to save. The strongest of them turned into Hounds for a permanent cinch in the timeline there is only resolution to: Return the X-Men to their proper place in time. Neutralize Bobby Drake, knock out a magical Hank McCoy, rip the wings off an angel made of fire, and somehow convince those of his own stubborn genes they can’t stay.
Nate knows that, at some time, his older counterpart needs to die, just as he knows that, now, his presence is going to shift something in the timeline that, years in the past, he will have to fix with something as seemingly simple as a “accidental” car crash and the pointed end of a S.P.I.N. round; but there is one thing he needs to get his hands on; one thing that Nate knows that, in the past, will be of some great value for those who ultimately employ him; one thing that, on this string in the endless amount that stem off from every other point in the timeline, his older self can get.
But it isn’t easy, not when Nate manages to get all the information out of Blacksmith that the other time traveler is willing to share with someone who, emotionally-fueled and in pain, isn’t thinking on the right side of his mind to be an one man army. Sure, he’s trained - more so than Nate is - and he’s determined knowing what is at stake as Blacksmith continues to explain in theatrical fashion that seems in place around a campfire, but he’s dying, and they’re not going against some B-rate minions of some evil empire. They aren’t carbon copy red shirts who have as much firepower and aim as a storm trooper in a movie long forgotten in this wasteland.
They’re the Avengers.
He stays outside as he and Blacksmith head into the recesses of what remains of the Avengers Mansion, kicks at the ash at his feet while Blacksmith lectures his older self on the technology that, kept underground, somehow survived whatever blast laid waste, picks at his fingernails as they review all the toys and trinkets - the weapons - left behind and how they’ll come in handy. The less he knows, the better, and the less he knows, the less inclined he’ll be to stay behind to help in a past battle that he has no place in.
Not when all he needs is the shield.
The old man - he could handle the bulk work: The capture of Falcon given a well-placed sniper shot to his back while en chase of prison escapees; the disarming of Captain America who, having followed the breadcrumbs to the tanker, had found himself strapped into a chair that stopped near all function while his shield remained stuck in the steel hull of the ship; Iron Man, smart guy Tony Stark, shot into the distance thanks to some used and manipulated and abused technology that he had been able to control with aid of his cybernetic parts, something his younger self might have taken a little longer to observe from his spot in the shadows than he should have, especially by the time Red Hulk had come into the fray and, in what was an almost frightening display of the virus’ power, ended up speared in a dozen or so different places as if he had outright bear hugged a metal porcupine from the back.
“Whoa,” he mumbled to himself as he gripped the shield, attempting to wrench it from the wall while the chaos ensued behind him, around him, occasionally ducking out of the way as the bo staff, most notable used by Gambit, was found in Blacksmith’s hands only to shoot a solid blast of amplified energy into Red Hulk’s shoulder.
A mess - it was a goddamn mess, and it made it even strange to consider just what this might have seemed to the other side; to those that didn’t see them as they were during the shifts, who didn’t know they had been caped crusaders and star-spangled patriots and web-slinging smart-mouths beneath assumed identities; to those who might have seen them on the news, but remained willfully ignorant of their existence or, as he had employed from time to time, simply couldn’t remember, just like no one here would remember him there in double time.
Not except her, the reason his old man had been so bullheaded in the first place even as his body was - and still was - dying, energy exerted and only lessening as heard in the coughing and sputtering and open gaps in his strategy seen on this battlefield.
It hadn’t been by choice that there was that moment, a single iota of a second where like recognized like in a flash of fire, and Nate caught the slightest glimpse of that Phoenix this whole thing was about - not in him, but in Hope.
And then, in just a quick of a flash as had brought him there, he was gone.
Much as it had in a post he dared not visit if only for the political turmoil the world had been in, thrown into war while an entire people found themselves under the heavy hand of tyranny, in the future, the shield had been a rally point, something Clan Chosen and those on their side could use in their fight against Apocalypse. It had meant something, inspiring hope that was not often found in some of the more downtrodden places and treacherous situations that had presented themselves over the years, and giving people a sense that not all that had been was lost. It was a symbol, something to galvanize the people against those that dared hold them down, and though it had been a long time since he had seen anyone wield the shield as Steve Rogers had, perhaps it could be still.
But in the eyes of Nate Prior, it was indemnity; something to return to the C.S.A. in exchange for the destruction that he had caused. No, it didn’t make them whole again, but with an entire department chomping at the bit for the tools of the trade - the armor, the weapons, the materials that had made them all, and the technology that had been used to see to the fulfillment of super powered goals, villainous or not - it was something of interest.
He knew it was. Otherwise why would anyone travel through time to assign him its reclamation?
“So we’re even?” Nate said, staring down the scarred mug of Nick Fury who, just as his name suggested, didn’t look too thrilled with the outcome of his Phoenix explosion that would cost the government funding the C.S.A. a hefty bill for repairs, never mind everything else that came with calming down the public about what might have been going on behind the public facade worn by the Presidio. The question seemed to fall on deaf ears though Nate knew well enough the man behind the eye patch wasn’t hard of hearing - hell, Nate wouldn’t have even joked about it though it rested well enough on the tip of his tongue in direct stubbornness against authority even when it did write his paycheck.
“I’m not going to ask you what you did to get this,” Fury said, intentionally sideswiping the question to segue into something else, something that was of any concern to any well to do time traveler who understood the rules of traversing time and space and changing things, It was delicate despite its surefast stability as a core principle of existence as relative to those living within it, “But I really hope you didn’t fuck anything up, Prior. Again.”
“Rookie mistake,” Nate slightly objected with a smirk, maybe a scoff, not because there wasn’t some importance to, thanks to help from the Time Gem and its presence in San Francisco at the time, but because it hadn’t entirely been his fault - not if someone didn’t know the true history behind everything and Nate, being Nate even without a few pins of memories injected into his brain by the fates that be, something he didn’t know if they knew about now, had done what he could and then some to fix it.
The meeting seemed to end on that solitary note, Nate soon to leave with no further questions asked and no more looming restriction to his name. There was a dip down of his body just as he passed the security clearance, that space in between high brass confines and the relative freedom of the base, hoisting up something from around the curve of a corner which scrambled about his shoulders until it found a place to sit firm.
Coast is clear.