little talks
1954, manning's coffee cafe • molly saylor / madelyne pryor & nathan prior / nathaniel summers

Waitressing in a place like this wasn't all too different from previous lives, she had to admit. Here, they just called her Mally instead of Molly, and there weren't cellphones to deal with. She still worked day in and day out, always keeping an eye out for him.

That kid.

She should hate this, be tired of it, and want to shake some sense into him. Most people made that feeling of irritation or at the very least, caustic impatience rise in her. Forcing them back into the right time stream, squishing them like an irritant bug when they annoyed her, taking gleeful delight in toying with their mind were all things she would have ordinarily done to get her way, to fix this.

Not for him. She'd dove into the heart of the Phoenix. She had time travelled, landing here on her feet to take on an otherwise anonymous woman for him. All because Nate was her child. Her first son, the only son she thought she would ever have. A son that she had never had a fair shake with, and for him, Mally had endless patience. Both sides of her, operating as one, could function as a patient mother. She made herself present most days he came, letting him know simply that she was there, more than approaching him outright, blending into the diner, not wishing to spook him -- or make him bodyslide immediately.

Which brought her to this night, balmy, quiet night. She had bumped off other waitress with a simple tinkering of her mind, making sure that whenever Nate showed up, she automatically told Mally.

Tonight, she made her way to his booth, holding two root beer floats, and using her mind, a plate of food. No one looked up or noticed, her powers making sure it was as innocuous as ever as she set both down in front of him. "So. You comfortable, kid?"

Making a place for himself in a timeline that was otherwise not his to live - not in one life, not in another, and maybe not in three or four more that he could only speculate about on the best of days - hadn’t been an easy task, but there were small steps that could be made in those initial days that had made it easier. He had been able to find a hotel to stay at until he could figure out something that was a bit more substantial for a long term stay, even if it was to be short in the grand scheme of things; he had clothes that were of the time and period even though there was still part of him who didn’t want to ditch the usual jeans no matter how unfashionable it could’ve been; and he knew where he could get decent food and piss poor coffee any day of the week when grocery options weren’t as appealing as a warm plate and root beer float made up and served by someone else.

The waitress hadn’t been a terrible incentive either, someone that he could talk to in passing as a first personal encounter since he had slid into the time stream like some sort of alien even while she was running around the diner to serve up the customers coming in for whatever meal it might have been. This time, it had been dinner and, per usual, he had known that she would have been around until she frankly wasn’t, his entry into the diner full of curiosity as to her whereabouts, seen in peers about the house and wayward glances now and then.

It didn’t stop him from taking a seat and it didn’t stop him from ordering - or so he thought he had, certain things becoming less formal in frequent visits like a “usual”. If he was there, he was ordering the same thing as a creature of comfort, habitual even if there were some things that varied - in this case, his mood and mindset included as he considered just who else might have been stirring around. An ever-present feeling itched at the back of his mind - could be pop rocks, but could also be something more - while Mally had brought over food and floats, the latter more hastily taken up so he could start mixing the vanilla ice cream about.

“How’d you find me?” Stupid question number one, punctuated with a healthy spoonful of ice cream into his mouth and a moment to savor it.

“Are you here to take me back?” Stupid question number two, highlighted with a flash of his eyes up towards her, perhaps visible as they were - one organic, one cybernetic - though there was no frightened vibe from the rest of the diner. They would never know so long as his mind didn’t go wild and camouflage remained.

"Do I have to say what that first question is," Mally drawls out, leaning back with her own float, making the spoon move on it's own with a bit of telekinesis, "Or are you already thinking it? I won't pry."

She gives a small, wry smile. Even though they look almost the same age here, she feels a little more aged just by looking at him, at the worry that she'd been keeping close to her chest all this time. "As for the second part? No, not yet. I'm just here to keep an eye out on you. For as long as you need to. I know that rushing you isn't going to really fix things. It's not easy to have her living in you, taking up a piece of you like this."

Mally took up her own spoon, humming at the taste on her tongue. Not bad. She dipped it back into the drink, "And if need be, I can help you tame her a little. Get used to her, make her work for you. That's all. I'm not here on anyone else's time, and I can get through the whole temporal bullshit same as you."

A slight grin split her face. "There's some great horror movies coming out this year, too. So might as well."

“I think about it too much, this place is going up in fire and it’s 1906 all over again,” and that, unlike pop rocks, was something people would remember about some diner in the middle of San Francisco, even if the diner itself was an unimportant part of all the destruction. Still, he knew what had gotten her to this place, this point in time; it didn’t take a genius, Nate certainly not one by any stretch of the definition, but it did take some particular knowledge of the time-space continuum and of a cosmic force that could just as well wipe it from existence if it wanted.

But no pressure or anything.

It was a far more teenage notion, frustrated and stubborn and bratty, that he grabbed onto the straw of the milkshake to take a long draw of it. It didn’t hit like a beer in any sense, but it hit the spot in lieu of something harder that might have just screwed the pooch as far as keeping under control. At least for now, he would play it safe rather than hitting a dive - plus, there was food, and the burgers weren’t terrible. Even if it did mean his mom dropping in to keep an eye on him, that was better than being alone and trying to figure it out on his own. He could - he very well knew he could just as he had figured out so much out after being cast into the future - but it was easier.

Not that he’d admit it.

“I probably have fifty versions of myself on my ass at any given moment,” he started, glancing around for a second as if a curse word was going to get someone to notice the conversation they were having was a bit strange, “and now this?” He leaned forward a little bit, teeth still clenched onto the straw. “Something happened, and I don’t know if I had a stroke or my brain just said ‘no can do’, but I’m reading machines on top of minds on top of my brain on fire. This was all I could do to cut out part of it.”

“But horror movies are nice too,” he said, sitting back up casually, flippantly even, straightening up his back against the booth. “Creature from the Black Lagoon this close to its release. It might even be the best.”

You're such a kid.

The thought was amusing and paradoxal, and true. Mally took another dip into her float, humming as she watched the gears in his head turn, and not for the first time, wondered what it would blike for them to have been a normal family. Except they weren't, at all.

"And if any of those fifty show up, I'm dropping him into Limbo," she shrugged, "So you're fine. As for everything else…" Mally chewed at her lip, aware that yeah his ego was probably bruised along with the inability to handle the rapid fire, all encompassing part of the Phoenix. Even at a small amount, she was hard to deal with, and she understood the frustration. The empathy she usually spared for no one was in full effect here, brow furrowing.

"Oh, it is the best of the old guard. That lake scene is my favorite," she hummed, "If you're still here, we can go see it together even. I'll even buy." Her fingers wiggled, and the root beer float grew a little colder. "Though, for you… have you thought of approaching it like, well."

Mally twisted her fingers, and the float in front of her transfigured itself into a more claylike doll. It was two figures, her and Lily. "Lily's got powers. She's hardly a toddler and she's not really verbal in nuanced ways." Mally let the figurine show Lily crying, little objects around her flying and her own doll self, panicked. "So because she can't verbalize it, and I don't want to cheat… I did this."

The figurine self reached over, to touch Lily's head. In an instant, the little objects wavered. Floated down. "I let her keep her powers, but I put a stopper on it. Leaving her with most of everything at her finger tips, enough to make it natural but not so much it's overwhelming." She waved her fingers again, and the root beer float was back. "That could work for you, maybe? You've got a lot more finesse than a toddler, though about the same tantrum."

“I. Do. Not. Throw tantrums,” Nate immediately objected as if the rest of the display had been completely overlooked for the fact that, while she hadn’t called him a baby and recognized well enough that he was far from it, he sure as hell acted like one. It was a comment proven by how much he wanted to argue with her, but instead, he clasped his hands over the sides of the mug containing what remained of his float, in part to keep himself from complaining and in part to try and soak up some of the cold that permeated from it.

“I already got rid of one.” It was hardly a record. It wasn’t even close to a record. It was rookie level, but that one had been problematic enough and in due time, he suspected the rest would be too if they showed up at all. Were he in such a state as he currently was, that success might as well have been erased to a big flat zero, something that grinded along on the underside of everything else going on in his mind, but hardly an issue enough to dwell on.

“You can do that?” Stupid question number three, but he let it slide out of his mind, picking at a few fries from the plate of food that had been brought over. He considered it, but then he considered further, the brow over his natural eye piquing as if there was something more to it. There might not have been - they were family - but then again, whereas Lily was her child all the same, Lily didn’t have access to everything that he did.

“And what does that cost me?” He asked, “just a little bit, just enough to at least give me an edge against something I can’t think I would ever have an edge on in any dimension.”

"You have a lot of stupid questions. You really are Scott's," Mally remarked dryly, not even going to push against the obvious fact that he did throw tantrums. And clearly was feeling his ego, for sure.

She let that go and stole a fry off of his plate, taking the time to eat as she thought about her response. "Truth be told, having a little bit of an edge of something or someone makes all the difference. That edge is usually the decisive thing in a win or a loss or a draw. It's what cost me my life and it's what cost so many others their lives at my hands. Not to get too literal of course," she took another fry. "It's.. well. Look at it this way: would you rather have a way to slowly learn control than have no control, at all, ever, until you're forced to learn and do badly? Or until she burns through you like Jean?"

Now there was her own frustration. "I… I want to help. Throwing you to the wolves just doesn't… I don't want you to have to suffer more than you have to. Not if I can help."

The urge to say I'm your mother, too. was there.

“Is that my fault?” He challenged, peering over the rim of his glass as if there was something to challenge - in the age of teenage rebellion that half of him lived, there always was - but then came the rest. “Or should I blame dad?”

Blame Cyclops - that was always the answer and, in some cases, it was legitimate, going after someone who looked exactly like Jean after Jean died, and dumping her as soon as Jean had come back into his life as a Phoenix construct, and Nate himself had been thrown into a future where being a teenager wasn’t so normal as it could have been. That, however, was a grudge only shared in part by Nate, but his life had been changed irrevocably.

“And it’s made sure I survived all this time,” he said, pausing, “and all these times.” Paradoxical nightmare - that was what his life had been, but ever a Summers, he thought not of it as something bad, but something he could use to his advantage. It was his edge. “I don’t want to be like Jean,” he said, earnestly and honestly, “and I don’t want to be like dad,” he added, speaking of the death of the Professor in so many words, but it was the next few that felt a little deeper, hitting a little harder.

“And I don’t want to die. Not again.”

Mom, he nearly pleaded in the words unsaid, perhaps only shown on his face, but just as soon as it was there, Nate was to his burger to take a bite.

It always… it always hurt a little. It always would hurt, little to a lot, to a way that it was almost too hard to breathe. It would always hurt.

And it hurt, here, right in her chest. It hurt her in the flame that sparked her entire existence to hear him say that he didn't want to be like Jean or Scott. That he didn't want to die.

The urge to gather him up into her arms and assure him was so strong in that moment, to comfort him. Mally takes a moment to steady herself, to keep herself from reaching out the way she wanted, well aware that even with all the mindtricks in the world, they were still in a public place. Even if it showed on his face, and on hers.

She wished so badly she could do it. Or at least touch his hand.

Her hands ball up, and then loosen.

"And I don't want you to die. I don't," the breath she took was shaky. "I can ease the burden, until you get used to it. Ease it until it's not a burden anymore, and we can both go home, where we belong," Mally kept her voice as steady as she could, "You won't be like either of them like this. It'll give you a sense of control none of them had. And like I said: I'm not leaving until you're ready and you're okay. Five of you could burse through that door any moment now, and I'd kill them to keep you okay." Her grin was a little watery. "It won't hurt, either, I promise."

They were in a public place and while there was a lot about the conversation that he had been less than tactful about, it wasn’t like he wanted it to be blown open by an all out sob-fest because of the distance and the issues and everything else that hadn’t been right about their relationship since those days where he had been that center point of her world and everything wasn’t in disarray; but there wasn’t changing that, only apt to make more paradoxes in time.

The only thing to do was go forward and forward, at this point, was figuring out what to do about the Phoenix Force before it started to eat him alive from the inside - just like it did Jean.

“How long? Do you think?” He asked, pursing his lips a little bit because the time frame was never so straightforward. A few months, even years, in one place could be the matter of a week, even a few days, in another, making for the edge Nate had in being so time traveled. “It’s probably relative,” he said, “just how my brain takes to it.” Thankfully, Nate was trained and he was disciplined somewhere deep within, and he was definitely determined. He just needed a little push.

“Thankfully, five of them won’t. You know we don’t like to work with anyone if we don’t have to,” he said, smirking, soft and somber, but still plenty cocky about it.

Downing the rest of her root beer float gave her the ability to get a better grasp on herself, and once she set it down, grimaced a bit. "How do you eat all that sugar at once?"

Wiping her mouth off, Mally paused to give it a real think on time. "I guess… for me, when she came to me, I already had the Goblin Force. I'm a little more compatible with the Goblin Force than her because of how I came to be. It took time to know each other, for me to… I guess, figure out how we worked together. It doesn't exactly have it's own will so much as it latches onto my will, my wants and amplifies them. The Phoenix, well." A pensive, almost Jean-like expression settled on her face.

"She has a will. She has thoughts, feelings, an agenda beyond exerting revenge or tearing apart something for the fuck of it. That bitch also loves a long con; she literally can outlast us all, if she so chooses," There was a hint of bitterness in her voice. "Getting used to her, controlling her for you should be easier than Scott or Emma. You're a natural born psychic, and you were born from her spark." Which wasn't something Jean could say, something she was proud of, even if they got along now. "You weren't born of her host. So, innately, you can withstand her, get used to her easier than someone else. I think it could take… maybe three years, I'm thinking to get used to her, just to guess."

If she thought about that too long… the panic might set in. The rest of her, however, remembered that if she wanted to, she could get back to San Francisco the moment she left, without missing a beat.

The last part did make her snort. "You've got to work out those issues with your other selves at some point. Maybe you and he need to be in the get along shirt."

“I’m a teenager in the body of a thirty-something who is actually an old man from the future,” Nate said nonchalantly as if it was the most everyday thing to say as much, but he knew he was a specific case and his childhood, at least part of it, wasn’t normal and that didn’t even tap into the fact he had come from a future where, early on, he knew who he was and had erased his other self entirely.

“She has all those things,” he said once he had listened, and he had been sure to listen knowing just how much it would have affected him, “and now she is stuck with me.” It came out as if it was a bad thing and, ego and pride hurt, it might have been. His self worth wasn’t hurt, but it would be if he couldn’t get this under control, it would be; but he continued to listen while ignoring the part of the Phoenix that listened to that sense of self-preservation, knowing it could lead to some disastrous things.

“Do I stay here for three years then?” He asked, back to the float so he could stir it around, eat some ice cream if there were any remaining, and focus on his thoughts on the matter. “It won’t matter,” he said, speaking of time, “but I just like to know what I am in for. Even a vague view, well, that is an edge.”

“And just think,” he pointed out, “so many horror movies.”

"She is. And either you learn how to get along with her enough to be cohesive -- or you start thinking about putting on red and gold," Mally stole another fry, raising her eyebrows. "You're going to have to stay here, yeah. I think the lack of things like cellphones, satellites, all of that will make it easier. Less interference with your internal wi-fi and all." A finger tapped her own forehead. "I think you might need a pitstop somewhere a little more developed to make sure you're okay, no more than a month maybe? And then you should be good."

She grinned at the last part, wide and pleased. "So, so many horror movies! You're going to get sick of it. And I'll always be close, all the time. Especially if she tries anything else." Another fry was pulled to her plate, and the urge to say something… heartfelt, sappy occurred to her.

And then she changed her mind. Once she clamped him for all intents and purposes for a while, he'd feel it. That would be stronger than words.

"Other than that, are you… okay, I guess?" There was a note of nervousness there, knowing that it was an understatement, that of course things weren't. Yet, Mally needed to know. Needed to at least seem if they were fine now.

“Those are not my colors,” he commented with a huff of air out of his lungs, blowing bubbles in the last lingering moments of his float before finishing it off - dessert before dinner, though if he had to be fair to himself, even in the toughest times he could put down a root beer, but a burger was a little harder to swallow.

“I don’t mind that so much,” he settled after a moment. What did he have in San Francisco of 2020? A brother with another brother who needed more help than he did; self-employment that didn’t require him to be there at all times since he could close it just as well; and a bunch of government goons who weren’t too happy with him for the moment. Add in some family who transcended time and space, and that was all. He could stand to stay somewhere for a while that wouldn’t drive him crazy.

“Maybe,” he said, “and I might have a place I can go.” The future was always there for him and someone would be able to help, if not someone in between one point and another, especially in the realm of cyberpathy - something far more his speed than the Phoenix Force was. Okay? Was he okay?

“Yeah,” he nodded, “for now, I am okay. It’s quiet, I am trying to get a job, have a place to stay and when the time is right, I will time slide to get some money, buy a place, make it less suspicious.” There was a plan for everything, and if he could keep it without an explosion, that was even better. “And the floats aren’t bad.”

A snort laugh left her at the idea of him in the costume because, really. They weren't his colors.

What was most important, though, was that the tension ebbed out of her at his reassurance. It wasn't a promise that everything was good necessarily, that things were perfect. There had been mistakes of the highest order, there had been violence and pain. Nothing was the way it should have been from the start, they could all very much agree on that.

Things were better, though. Things couldn't be fixed, but they could go forward differently, in a way that helped them both.

Mally gave him a smile, warm and dare say, happy. "I won't even charge you for the float, too. You can get them on the house here." Taking one more fry, she nodded. "Once I clamp you, I'll give you where I'm staying. And you had better be on time and behave yourself."

Not that she has many doubts. Not now, given another chance to spend time with her son.