New Liberty had been a secluded space, a safe space, somewhere that wouldn’t have been found on any map had there been any maps to use, but Nate had been sure those had burnt up with the rest of the United States. A husk of what it had been, if even that, jump after jump had only told of destruction and decay, the pillars of civilization collapsing, it’s effigies destroyed and monuments eroding into dust, and none of it had been safe for her; and it was only made worse by a mutant gone rogue who had taken it upon himself, just like Nate had, to devote their time and action to one singular purpose, but whereas Nate had all intention on saving the world, Bishop had other plans.
Morning were normally like this: A run, a leap into the air, and the sudden collapse of weight that couldn’t only belong in a red-haired girl in a jumper that her mother - well, not really her mother, but the only figure deserving of such a title - had sewn together herself after a problematic juggle in what might have been just a burlap sack brought him a hard time. She had done it since day one, ever-present if only because of the almost instantaneous bond she felt with the little girl in the arms of a stranger she wanted nothing to do with. If it wasn’t because he was feeding her something he shouldn’t have or because he simply hadn’t given her a name, the woman he now shared a bed, a home, meals and all with always had something to say to put him in his place.
Maybe that was what had drawn them together in due time, a slow burn that led to this: The rambunctious fun of a child that, unlike the uncanny and unconventional upbringing she had traveling through time, was normal that was punctuated by a groan amiss the gentle chding of her mother as Nate rouses himself from sleep that, for some time and perhaps even longer than that, had been sorely lacking; and for him, it is a far cry from constantly running, constantly hiding, constantly punching through the time stream on what almost seemed like a never-ending cat and mouse game to get back to the past - something endlessly hard to do when time travel technology failed to reverse and the past was only falling further and further behind them.
He’s soft around the edges, old, more akin to a farmer than a soldier, but in the bright sunlight that illuminates destructive chalk drawings of what he can’t tell is the past they were coming from or the future they were heading toward, Nate knows that life isn’t far away. It’s there, just beneath his feet, found in explosive devices on the outskirts of town, just amiss the treeline surrounding New Liberty, and the trigger-sensitive minefield extending just beyond that block of concrete that seems nothing more than a porch without furniture about their front door. He’s taken all the precautions just in case Bishop managed to track them down after their last encounter, but day by day, it seems unlikely and New Liberty is still safe, the most fury to come out of the last two years belonging to a growing child who, as normal as can be, has her fair share of tantrums.
Unfortunately, Hell, be it the one below or the one outside, can breach even the safest of havens, something that Nate knows somewhere in the depth of his memory, buried under manipulated genes by mutant superpowers that made him paradoxical to the timeline, displacements to a future that had only ever been a struggle to survive in his youth, and years between him and the mother who had birthed him, lost to the an explosion of fire and telepathic fury. Sometimes it comes in the quiet, in haunted places, to sneak up on the unsuspecting, and sometimes it comes in like a riot, loud and volatile with a thunderous ‘boom’ through the air that keeps someone up at night.
It keeps Nate awake the first time he hears it with no resolve, no problem among the treeline, and just two bodies as proof of the intrusion, one brought into the care of New Liberty’s residents among their curiosity about the outside world and their suspicions of how they were found and the other laid to rest in a six foot hole in the Earth. It’s reasonable to Nate to believe it was Bishop’s work even after so long, but he tries to find some assurance in preparation because even if that box, moisture-proof, ready and waiting, is still underneath that concrete slab, there are still a lot of mines to go before he’d let him get anywhere near her.
For the moment, it allows him some sleep.
But again, it keeps him awake the second night as another ‘boom’ cuts through the calm of her kiss, meant to soothe his mind and smooth away his suspicions, and instills a sense of urgency that triggers a far more frontal response to the soldiers that cross through the barrier in the dark of night. At first, they seem human enough: Armed and armored, boasting the power of the United States government, and promising safety from a nightmare many haven’t seen; but it’s that suspicion that keeps them safe - that keeps her alive - and Nate knows to listen now even if he wasn’t so keen to before when it would have been a good idea to dig up his weapons.
And unfortunately, roach humanoids, no reproductive organs to kick in retaliation and able to survive even decapitation by way of a field scythe, don’t give up as easily as a little girl jumping on his chest in the morning and don’t surrender with a tickle and the loud expanse of laughter that filled such early hours; and it takes a solid kick to old bones, telekinesis and telepathy gone as Nate had shut out any need to use them by coming to New Liberty, and a crash through his own house to send a dizzying ache into his head. He’s old.
He’s grown soft. He’s no longer the battle-hardened soldier he knows is required to do this - to ensure the future of mutant kind - and in any other circumstance, he would have taken himself out by now; but Nate is sure he sees her, sitting high above the chaos on the water tower as the roaches swarm in time with the full collapse of his consciousness.
They’re still there, the roaches, and they still come in droves, entering New Liberty with such a prideful announcement of government affiliation, but Nate knew a time trap when he saw it playing out before his eyes, tapping away at his memory even three days in. There is still that ‘boom’ that interrupts what might have been a peaceful evening between husband and wife and there are still the soldiers, one dead and one barely alive who recognizes Nate for what he is - not a mutant, but a soldier out of place; and while the surprise still comes in the form of a helmet punched off of a roach humanoid that still doesn’t go down with the cheap kill shots, it doesn’t go without progression. Just like anything, if it breathes, it lives, and bisection just has to happen further down the line with a much more powerful tool.
Covered in what can only be described as “bug guts” by the time he reaches the water tower, Nate pulls his weight up the ladder where she sits, pointing over the horizon at the bugs coming out of the woodwork. She’s safe, but they’re separated - his family - and it is only once they’re back on the ground that he finds her amiss the anesthetized residence of New Liberty, bound up with others as if would-be prey. Again, he decides to trust instinct, to ignore what might have been strategic safety in a set of overalls for something old, but familiar, exchanging a simple shovel for considerable firepower just in time for the eggs to start hatching.
She wasn’t a telepath - not that Nate knew - but he could still hear her voice, that old married bickering turned plea: “Do something, Nathan.”
But in an outright charge, it had been no surprise everyone had died.
Another day, another invasion, but the tactics change with each one that ticks by, strategy adapted to the predictable pattern laid out over the course of the last few days. Nate knows where he can clip corners, he knows to go for the scythe once he lays that unsuccessful kick and, in step, he knows to use the chainsaw. He knows to run for the water tower and knows exactly where he can find his wife, and he knows that if the residents trying to push back against their roach invaders rush out to save those up for slaughter - at least he expects that is what it is, shaking the thought of brood reproduction out of his mind - everyone is a goner.
All it takes is a little girl and a distraction to see the tides turn.
She might tantrum, she might argue, and she might not pay attention, but when it matters, she does, so there isn’t anything of the sort when he secures the diaper bag on her back like a pack and tells her to wait for him on the other side of the trees. She doesn’t need to see the gunfire even though she has seen plenty of it in her short lifetime and she doesn’t need to see how the roach humanoids don’t react like others had. They didn’t drop like human raiders they had come in conflict with prior to New Liberty. They didn’t lose limbs like someone who had just met the hard and fast fire from an automatic weapon would have. They didn’t run like humans did either when faced with their inevitable destruction because roaches? They could survive anything, even the physical barrel of a man desperate to get to his wife even if chances were she would still give him a hard time.
It’s just too bad there are more of them than there are of him and she just isn’t waking up fast enough to keep from slowing him down.
It starts to become maddening, replaying the same events over and over again, but there is nothing Nate can do other than push through. She depends on him and they depend on him for their very futures, and Nate won’t have that taken away by a bunch of rotten insects. It gives him the push needed to rip through the silks holding the captive residents in place faster and the strength to hoist her up in his arms without slowing and, her voice so close as it always was, it is a quick grab to pick up the little girl in a mad dash to the porch - that empty porch with no furniture and no hole left from the reclamation of his gear - a time anomaly, he supposes - that feels like it provides a safe barrier from the “humanoid-blattarians”, so they like to be called.
Because it was - maybe not from roaches specifically, and as the invasion suggested not just because of Bishop, but from any dangers that might have dared threaten his attempts to support and keep her safe even if the semtex-packed grounds around the house was enough to take out a fleet of tanks.
And it’s never too early for one’s first act of war.
Had it been any other situation, Nate might have celebrated, but making it to the edge of the settlement had become priority even among the nagging suspicions of his wife. The timing had been coincidental - unless it hadn’t - and they hadn’t been there because of him - not that he knew - but before coming to New Liberty, everything had been certain. The plan and the back up plan, the ability to start over with a quick jump to the past, but that was a situation that had changed and Nate couldn’t be sure of anything anymore; and it would have been wrong to think it wouldn’t come with objection from a woman who was now faced with the decision to leave everything behind for the cowardice of running away.
It ends up being another day of the same before she agrees to leave - not because there hadn’t been intention to listen to the plan as it had been discussed in the repeat of days prior, but because they simply weren’t fast enough.
The plan was simple in theory, in words, and they weren’t cowards running away by the time they made it through the rigmarole to the barrier, leaving the others to die, but the bait for a bunch of human-hungry roaches who had just witnessed a good portion of their hive go up in semtex flames; but it came with a price that there was ultimately no time to decide on, relying on gut instinct and feeling of one simply complex thing: Trust.
New Liberty would be saved, but they could never return, constantly on the run from predators that, like Bishop, just didn’t know when to stop.