coffee • 5,443 words
nate prior & beth bradford

His exit from the time stream might have happened with a bang, but his return to it had been far more docile. It was nothing anyone had to worry themselves about in the events immediately following the sudden blip of light that had left him back where he had belonged with a shield that definitely didn’t belong to him no matter how many times his counterpart had used it as a rallying point, dropped off with the C.S.A. for some sense of amnesty that he was sure the government would find reason to rip open at the slightest sign of treachery - not that there had been any sign left of that. The goblin picked up en route to the exit of the Presidio had gone unnoticed, something to do with Madelyne’s own ways and means or his own to ensure the little imp of a creature stayed hidden, and there was nothing more than a bad attitude and teenager’s petulence to go off of; and that only spoke of cockiness, if not arrogance, given he had the big guns to back it up.

And just like that, things were back to normal. Perhaps he was a bit more glib, perhaps he spoke more openly about certain things, but none of it had been anything someone couldn’t find out once they found out who he was and, well, anyone paying attention to the players in the great big game of superpowers in the multi-verse could find out what they wanted to about the many faces and many lives of Nathaniel Summers. At one point, there might have some determination to keep it secret, but it didn’t take a cyberpath to find and catalog fan-made Wikipedia information and studio productions of a life he was enduring, if not very well living between a runaway techno-organic virus to a few too many jumps through time to validate the fact he looked like a thirty year old man.

It didn’t take one to find a decent coffee shop with a good rating either, not sure the endless line of reviews and star ratings mattered in the end so long as there was a good cup to be had. That was the point of it, right? Good coffee and good company, no matter what angles might have been spoken about among casual admittances of some extraordinary things; but just as there had been familiarity found in names mentioned, Nate too had the same gut feeling that whoever this other telepath was on the other side, there had been something more to it.

Not that this had been solely a business call in the first place, Nate stepping into the cafe of choice with all intent to grab a seat before it filled up; because if he had learned anything amiss the mental sieve placed on his own brain, taking it easy once in a while, enjoying something for leisure instead of labor, couldn’t have hurt.

Though Beth Bradford had begun to grow more and more confident and familiar with her telepathy skills, it was still a fairly new and foreign concept to her. She’d known about superheroes from years past; her oldest brother had been a fan of comics, and she was always interested in anything her brothers were into -- the monkey-see-monkey-do effect, so to speak; youngest child syndrome meant she dabbled in a lot of things growing up. So, as news continually came out regarding super powered beings existing amongst us, the more and more it became a public thing, the less surprised she was. She even recognized some here and there, which to her was mind-boggling.

But, it took her actually exhibiting these symptoms, these super powers, for her to really realize the situation. She’d been grappling with this weird feeling in her head, voices, familiar yet foreign to her brain, constantly floating in her mental space, bombarding her own thoughts until she was nearing a meltdown. Meditation had helped, and she was still getting used to having to keep a mental wall up all day -- having to sacrifice a part of her mental capacity to keep out that of others, was frustrating admittedly, but she did what she had to do. And after talking with a few trusted people, she understood now that it wasn’t just this one thing. She was someone. She was potentially missing a full arsenal of powers, of which she had no idea what she did or didn’t have. Would she be able to fly? Would she have insane tentacles that would shoot out from her body every few weeks? Would she cause catastrophic earthquakes every time she got stressed out?

The thought was enough to cause her worry that an earthquake could happen at any time, for how much stress she was feeling. But, with a friendly stranger reaching out, being open regarding his abilities, it felt comfortable. She felt as though he could be trusted (particularly since, if he was being truthful, he was one of those superheroes Beth had read all about, and that was awesome). It certainly helped that the two of them shared comfortable conversation, as if they’d known each other for years. Decades, possibly; and perhaps that was the “other her” that was seeping into her real life -- or was that her real life, and this was just a facade? She shook her head, parking her motorbike by the curb and turning off the engine. Years of living in America had pulled her away from her tea-only ways, and coffee was a welcomed endeavor, particularly with Nate. She pulled her helmet off, letting her dark brown waves loose to cascade across her shoulders as she placed the helmet with the bike. If it was any other situation, she’d have dressed a little nicer, perhaps taken a car instead; but he didn’t seem the type to mind quite as much, and frankly a coffee date didn’t feel very serious anyway. She wanted to enjoy his company more than worry about what she was wearing.

Stepping into the coffee shop proved to be a challenge mentally -- she’d been avoiding heavily crowded areas for the most part if she could help it, and this was another one of those areas. She took a moment, her eyes closing as she concentrated on building that mental wall, which had an interestingly purple hue; once she felt more “silence”, she opened her eyes again to see Nate, already seated. She slid into the seat across from him, a smile already present on her face. “Hi, I didn’t keep you waiting, did I? I’m sort of rubbish with time these days.”

Telepathy had been the easy part, a buffer of heavily used telekinesis standing between him and the mental strain it would have ultimately taken to keep up such quiet walls; but with a techno-organic virus still eating away at him, there hadn’t been any time for him to bring those mental barriers down - whether it had been one side of the mental coin or another when they all linked together into his very survivable being.

It made keeping the voices in the coffee shop easy to block out though that just as well could have been the result of what amplification the Phoenix could still do to his genetic abilities, something Nate wasn’t going to question as if the simple thought of her would have invoked her to put the cafe up in flame. The “magics” - not truly magic, born of psionics more than anything else - that his mother had used to make sure he didn’t lose control again had done the trick, and there hadn’t been any incidents in the past that would have spurred concern in the future; and even Stryfe seemed to have respected some boundaries of the time stream; but that was hardly coffee shop talk, such a complicated web of time travel and duplicates from alternative timelines and clones born of his own flesh at a time when he couldn’t have done anything to stop it, and that was a mess.

Not that being a superhero in San Francisco wasn’t a mess either. History had just been more of a mess than he cared to explain in full while he was sipping some coffee and entertaining some conversion.

There had been a moment of pause as those mental shields went up; something that had made his brow furrow and his jaw set in a way that implied curiosity than it did any concern that there was some suspect about two telepaths walking into a bar. He focused on the color, attempting to read it as it was set, but there hadn’t been any real determination made on the who of the matter. At the very least, however, it confirmed any suspicion there was something nefarious at play which was a grossly paranoid thought, but he had made a point to mention an unidentified number of angry Nathan Summers who might have been in the time stream looking for him, never mind anyone else like Bishop, other time travelers, he might have wronged; and oh, how that list had grown.

What came of shredding away those suspicions showed in a smile, small, but genuine, and certainly casual enough to hopefully suggest this wasn’t going to turn into some sort of inquisition about the state of telepathic affairs - not that he wasn’t curious about how it was going despite their conversation happening within the span of twenty-four hours. “Not at all,” he said, shaking his head, an amused sort of huff coming out of his lips at the mention of time. “Time is relative, and I’m mostly patient,” he added, shrugging his shoulders a little bit. “But I haven’t even considered ordering yet -” as if it would be difficult when his standard was as plain as coffee types came “- so I’d say just in time.”

The irony of her making reference to being rubbish with time, to someone who travelled it frequently, was not lost on her. At least, once she realized it, hearing his amused huff. She softly chuckled to herself as she got situated, almost immediately crossing her feet at the ankles. She was short, enough so that her feet didn't quite fully touch the floor flat-footed, but not enough so that her legs were swinging beneath the table -- she kept touch with the ground with a single toe of her shoe, while her other foot hooked in around it. It was a strange feeling, being around Nate, or more specifically another telepath. Rather than getting a signature of some kind of thoughts, or feelings, or anything, instead she just felt his own mental wall there. It was... refreshing. After weeks of nonstop noise, this was one less outlet. And yet, very peculiar in that she couldn't sense any kind of emotion, or notion, or anything from him. She'd admittedly started using her telepathic ability in her work, perhaps unfairly so, but it was working in her favor. Not fully mind-reading, but at least getting an emotional sense of where the other person was, and what they truly needed (that they didn't know they needed, until she said it). But with Nate, it was like it was before she realized her ability. When the world was a lot quieter.

She peered around the coffee shop, getting a feel for the place. Beth was the type to always know her surroundings, to find every entrance and exit. Supposing it was her mother's teachings, she never considered the idea that perhaps there was a deeper purpose to that habit, that the other half of her was trained to be on high alert at all times. Though, being aware of people around was proving to not be a problem these days... She moved her gaze back to the man in front of her. She was acutely aware of those good sides that they spoke of earlier in the day, perhaps moreso in person. Beth was never one to shy away from appreciating a good looking human being, though more lately in her life she'd learned to keep those thoughts to herself. And, she idly wondered, how many times did she silently appreciate someone's good looks, only for them to read her mind? The thought made her cheeks flush. That sort of thing was only spoken about in jest, perhaps in anxious moments of worry, but never seriously. And now that she knew it was possible, and -- she suddenly realized her thoughts probably were on display, particularly for him. Whoops.

Beth cleared her throat. "So," she said very casually, knitting her fingers together and resting them on the table close to her, "what brings you here? I mean, not just this coffee shop. San Francisco, in the fantastic year of twenty-twenty? If that's not asking too much." She pressed her thumbs together idly. Beth was not really one to beat around the bush or make small talk; rather, she appreciated up-front honesty over flowery semantics. She figured, life was too short for wasting her or anyone else's time. "And, might I add, you look great for fifty plus," she said with a smirk, eyes twinkling, drawing her finger across her brow to brush away some errant hair from her face.

A quiet world was a welcome world as far as mental prowess was considered, the coffee shop no more louder to Nate than it would’ve been on any given day. He could hear people speaking, chatting among themselves, typing aimlessly at a novel that would never get published, and the clatter of coffee mug alongside the sound of equipment, but nothing else eked through the walls of his mind unless he allowed it. Still, it was constantly on - not only did he like to keep a mental watch on his surroundings, something which had come in handy in plenty of otherside incidents where having that edge meant life over death, to not might have meant more harm than good for him and perhaps in more ways than one when there was still some level of anonymity to maintain among the general population of San Francisco.

He hung his head down for a second as he tried not to outright read the thoughts that were going on in her mind, something he attempted to refrain from doing with generally anyone unless there had been something to learn or a conversation to be had in utmost privacy that very few, knowing there were quite a few of a much stronger level class than he had been in before the Phoenix, could break into. It wasn’t that he had meant to, but in what could only be described as a violet tone, they had appeared and the discussion of good sides were entertaining, to say the least. At least he had his good sides on display, Nate not without his slices of mental trickery to maintain an appearance that wouldn’t send the rest of the cafe into a fervor of some sort - panic or awe - when The Terminator made an appearance.

The first answer would have been a smart-alec one: Of course the reason he was there in the coffee shop was to have coffee - with her - but that hadn’t at all been what she meant, and Nate adjusted in his seat to sit a little more casually than he had been.

“I hear it’s the most happenin’ time to be a super,” he said as if this was a casual conversation at all to be having, but to the credit of everyone else in the room who might have overheard such nonchalant mad talk coming out of his mouth, it wasn’t necessarily the first time; and then he winced a little bit, brow furrowing and eyes crinkling a bit. “And that even sounded old coming from me.” Some things, he supposed, wouldn’t change even if the body and timeline did, sure the older version of himself who would be piecing together these memories somewhere down the line would always wince at himself out of secondhand-first person embarrassment.

“There was something I had to do to maintain continuity,” he explained more readily, but as far as what that had been, his lips were sealed. “And I stayed because I have family in this timeline - on both sides of the divide.” With that had come opportunities that, had it not been for the ever-processing convergence of being, he wouldn’t have recognized without the memories to back them up. His mother - mothers, though that would be stepping into strange territory to speak of eugenics right off the bat - and father, his brother now older than he was, and a number of younger siblings: It beat the lone wolf mentality even if he wasn’t going to outright say it. “Believe me, with everything that has been going on, I’m sure this year wouldn’t have been the best one to drop into and get an apartment in.”

For the first time, Beth felt a slight tickle in her brain, as if someone was in there, albeit maybe by accident. She had hope that she would feel when someone was reading her thoughts, and it was a relief to feel that, in a strange way. Still, knowing what kind of thoughts she’d just been having caused her cheeks to flush again (she really needed to stop that) and she realized she maybe needed to concentrate a bit more on keeping her mental walls steady, rather than admiring his good looks. She had good reason to trust him with her thoughts; it’s not like she wasn’t an open book, and even more so to someone that understood her situation as it were. But there was still an aspect of keeping your thoughts to yourself before knowing a person, that Beth found important. She cleared her throat, mentally strengthening herself.

She laughed softly at his quip, that perhaps he sounded older than he even was. Part of her had so many questions, wanting to know more about how he’d lived so many years while still looking as youthful as he did. And she chalked up a lot of that to something she wasn’t privy to, probably some things at play that were way over her head. Hell, maybe he was one of those… shape shifters? She was thinking too much again. She lifted her hands up, fingers still intertwined, to support her chin as she kept her eyes on him, elbows on the table (her mother was likely rolling in her grave). “Well, I suppose that does make sense. It’s not so much one particular reason, but rather the time that made the most sense. Regardless of…” she gestured broadly, as an indicator of the shit-show that was 2020 generally.

“But,” she continued, doing her best to not barrage Nate with endless questions as if this were an interrogation or interview (she was just curious, about him and things)... “I admire the, er…” she pondered for a split second, “more aged approach you seem to have. As if you had any choice, you’re being yourself. But that’s all to say, don’t look down on yourself for ‘sounding old’ as it were. It’s hard to come by these days.”

Three years in the 1950s had brought him some understanding of what it had meant for someone to go poking and prodding at places that most people didn’t belong, but compared to the fiery pop rock feeling of exploding synapses and electrical currents embodied in fire, it had been a welcome feel, that light tickle of someone else’s presence that, history be damned, was only there to help. Truth be told, for as good of a mother Madelyne Pryor had been, she too had her emotional faults which spoke to the humanity that even a Phoenix-sparked clone could have, and that, breaching on the edge of long standing problems amiss the family that had been given to him in the shifts, proved her humanity - never mind everything else that did; and this time, she had helped him so something as simple as a coffee date could happen without him listening to the thoughts of everyone around him and the buzz of everyone’s cell phone signals to the pursuants of the Phoenix, a living entity on her own even without a host.

Still didn’t help with the potential flush to his cheeks that might have come of such flattering thought, but that was something he would just have to recognize and process - not that it took a whole lot to do that.

“It did make the most sense and was the right time, which is a strange thing to say in the, yes, shit show the year has been,” and his own ripple in it was something that wasn’t nearly as catastrophic as everything else had been, that everything being natural progression of events that he was neither there to help or hinder, That wasn’t his business and he doubted there was someone else from the time police apt to show up to do anything about it, not sure himself if that had anything to do with the C.S.A.’s involvement in the Reality Gem debacle or not when they were who his orders came from - one timeline or another so long as it didn’t interfere in the events of the future, as confusing as that all seemed to be.

“Doesn’t always lend itself to sounding like I’m supposed to be in 2020,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders - it was all too believable, when one gave it considerable thought, that yes, he did belong there otherwise he wouldn’t have been there; but as far as origin stories went, they were all a bit mixed up and mashed together. “As for my entrant to twenty-one questions, how long has it been since you found out you’re like the rest of us? Telepathy in your case might be someone else’s optic vision or feathered wings, I mean.” To each their own when it came to the super power grab bag.

Beth gave a non-committal shrug, as if to say she didn't mind if he did or didn't sound like he was supposed to be in 2020. These days, people sounded all kinds of different, and it was increasingly normal to be different. Which was a good thing, so she thought; it gave those that perhaps didn't fit the mold of a 'regular person' a free pass, regardless of their eccentricities, particularly if they stemmed from a super power of some kind. In hindsight, it made sense. She wouldn't have guessed that he was from another time and place, to a certain extent, until he'd fully told her about it. But, after having mentioned it, it made sense to her.

But, the conversation shifted to her, and she sat up a bit, her eyes locked on his. A soft smile formed on her face, albeit a bit sheepishly, because perhaps she was playing a game of twenty one questions. But wasn't that what coffee dates were for? She placed her hands on her lap (mum was proud, finally), her shoulders straightening, almost as if she were in an official interview of sorts. But this subject was one she hadn't really talked about to anyone, and those she had, it was mainly in private conversations. Not that this wasn't one, but in a public setting? This was a new one for her. But, then again, she'd brought it up in the first place.

"It's been... about a month now, plus some days," she said, doing a bit of mental math. She remembered the day vividly that she woke up with it, as if it was a terribly hard hangover that she couldn't shake. "I woke up with this horrid headache, like one I'd never had before, and just... noise. Constant noise. Anger, sadness, happiness," she rattled off, counting each one on her fingers, "the intrusiveness of it... I heard some things," she said with a sheepish laugh, yet another warmth rising in her face. "I talked to some friends about it, which helped greatly. But also... I don't know. I'm still getting used to the idea that I might be someone, you know? Besides just Elizabeth Bradford." She tucked some hair behind her ear. "What sorts of other things I might be able to do, that I don't know about yet. If I'm going to sprout tentacles or something."

That headache,” he said remembering it all too fondly, week in and week out feeling the same thing with the added stressors of thoughts that, at first, he hadn’t been able to stop as readily. With some practice, there had been some understanding of what to do and what not to do, and then it had all gone to Hell in a hand basket when cyberpathy had come into play, a direct link to the Infonet giving him far too much information than his mind cared to process; and that was where the 50’s had come in - at least this time around. While empathy had been something far more inferred, he wouldn’t have doubted her possessing it with how she had explained her experience with it, the overarching term of “telepathy” including quite a bit of psionic principles, any and all of which could have applied. Whereas one person could simply read minds, perhaps hold a conversation with someone of similar ability or forge a mental link to allow it, and do nothing more, someone else might have had such control over it to make people hallucinate or do something they wouldn’t normally have.

“Some things, huh?” Nate laughed a little bit - there were things one had no problem hearing and quite a bit which one might have, the innermost personal and private thoughts and opinions that remained behind closed doors no matter the situation. His brow piqued for a second as her bashfulness on the subject, inferring whatever he could from it even as she continued.

“There’s a learning curve to it. Might not hit you all at once, but hopefully whoever is on the other side is gracious enough to leave clues - not unlike The Hangover. Notes, recordings, receipts and things: They can all be helpful,” he explained, nodding a little bit, “or confuse you beyond all measure, but that’s when you start corroborating with everyone else who might have been around you and seen you, and who knows. The answer might fall right into your lap.” It would be nice if it was all so easy, but while some people picked up on their counterparts fairly quickly, there were others that took some time - Nate included especially with some old, gruff, and cranky old man on the other side of the former equation, this version of Nathaniel Summers quite a bit more friendly despite being one in the same.

“Thankfully, I think the market on sprouting tentacles is cornered,” he pointed out, nodding - not that the known Horror was exactly the only person in the multi-verse with such odd abilities. “But still can’t be so sure until it happens which either makes it terrifying or exciting - just depends on how you look at it.” Unfortunately, finding out someone else was essentially taking over your body was never particularly exciting, especially when they didn’t get along. At least he was lucky in that respect.

There was something equally comforting and unnerving that someone did exist while, as she put it, sprouting tentacles. She sat forward a bit, still interested in what he was saying; both because it was further information about this weird situation that she (and others) were in... but also, because he was saying it. They'd gotten along quite well almost immediately, and it was a great feeling talking to him each time, that she didn't mind sitting and talking for minutes, hours, however long... it always felt like no time at all. Like the fact that the two of them were both sitting in a coffee shop with no coffee. She didn't even notice at all.

"Here's hoping I'll figure it out soon enough," she said with a smile, her forearms folded over each other while resting on the table in front of her. "Particularly if this other me would like to leave me any kind of clues or anything. So far, they've been rather silent. Until this," she said, gesturing broadly at her head, not wanting to say the t-word out loud, "I hadn't known anything. So, for all I know, the other half of me has been running amok for years and I've just never known til now because they don't tell me anything. Rudely." She smirked. "But I suppose I'd know if someone looking like me was running amok, causing problems, or otherwise making headlines... and I've seen none of it. So, if they've been active, I haven't known." She exhaled a sigh, her eyes moving away from him for the first time in several minutes, looking at nothing at all while she thought. Some kind of gut feeling told her that this wasn't new, that she'd been through this before. For months, and months, and possibly years. But she'd have remembered it, right?

Still, her eyes moved back to him, feeling that familiar tickle in her brain again. It dawned on her that they were likely having a mental conversation as much as verbal; and for myriad reasons, she was alright with that. Perhaps saying things aloud was a lot scarier than keeping them in one's head, and perhaps easier to convey with mental imagery above words. She hoped he knew her, the other side of her. It was feeling more and more like he was someone she could trust, which would make all of this so much easier. And that thought, as it floated through her head, was something she was alright with him hearing.

“So I’ve heard, San Francisco has something to do with it, though I’m not sure if that is just because we’ve all gathered here or there is some sort of strange crystal in limbo here or gamma radiation flowing up from the ground - all to say that if I were to hedge any bets on a doppelganger, she hasn’t shown up yet,” he said, shaking his head a little bit. At one point, she could have been around - this other person who was parading around as Beth a certain week out of the month - but as far as his memory went and the uncertainty still surrounding that other identity, he couldn’t say it had been her, sure he would have seen her with his own two eyes, be it in the field or through what records the C.S.A. had on the shifters in the area.

Likewise, he echoed telepathically, although the motions of his body spoke nothing of such hopeful thought that she had been someone he knew, perhaps even someone he had worked with - a feat in plenty of instances when he had just about always been the lone wolf of the X-Men, even at times striking his name from the roster when asked. There had been teams he didn’t mind though - the New Mutants, X-Force and the number of interactions that had come after it - and there stood a good chance she might have fallen in such groups, but nothing set in certainty yet.

No, his motion spoke of coffee, nodding his head to the counter. “So, how about that coffee we’ve been sitting here without?” Not that he had actually minded in the slightest.

A smile spread across her face as he echoed her thought, her eyes on him for that moment. She was glad he felt the same way, even if he didn't know quite yet who she was on the other side. Planting a little mental note in her own head, possibly for the other person that lie dormant in there to find, that she needed to make herself known, so that maybe she could make some headway on this and figure out what she needed to do. But her eyes only moved away from him once he motioned toward the counter with his head, and she followed his indication, seeing the menu board in the cafe. And it dawned on her that they'd been there for a considerable amount of time, the only two people in the entire cafe with no coffee on their table. She gave a small laugh, "whoops, guess we ought to."