Brian walked in darkness, deep in stone, below the bones of the earth.
The cave mouth was nearly a quarter mile from the lighthouse, down the beach and up into the rocks. With the uneven heaps of stone and the remains of driftwood beaten to kindling against the shore, the opening itself was easy to miss. The old journals of the lighthouse keeper never mentioned it. After the cave mouth opened, the passageway made a long smooth curve back to the outcropping that upheld the lighthouse itself.
Brian walked the distance in the dark, one hand on the side wall, a torch in the other.
Kitty and Kurt had re-discovered the cave during the second year they had been in residence, and they all had explored the cavern when time permitted. The third year they found a handful of ancient coins - tiny worn disks with the face of a Caesar. Eventually, the novelty of the cave had worn thin. The world went on. The original team-members spoke of it rarely, if at all, and Peter had been with them for two years before someone mentioned it in his presence.
The stone was colder under Brian's hands than he had thought it would be. And the sound of the sea was further away. Brian rubbed his hands over the water-smooth walls. It was very quiet. If he listened hard enough, he wondered, could he hear the stones cohering?
You've gone mad, Kitty's voice rang in his mind, the Chicago accent underlying her very British phrasing. You have gone completely mad. Explain to me why we should move into a batcave? What's wrong with building an addition to the lighthouse?
She had not wanted to listen to his explanation of the security concerns. And it wasn't just her confidence in their electronic detection system.
It was because he could not articulate himself why he wanted to make the move underground. It wasn't for security. Not the sort that Kitty thought of.
The sand under his feet was dry, this far from the waterline. Two hundred and fifty feet above him, the top of the lighthouse. A hundred of that was solid stone. They would be safe here. No one could find them. He could rest.
If that was what he wanted.
"Brian?" Megan, at the turn of the passage. From her expression, she must have spoken his name more than once. In the gloom, she was a lit blaze, bright and brave against the darkness. What if he woke, some grey morning, and she was not there to light his way? His gut clenched at the thought.
"Yes? What is it?" Something must have shown on his face. He turned off the torch, stepped closer.
"Brian, love, Kitty says she has a call for you. It's Dai Thomas, from Scotland Yard." She paused. "Darling, is everything all right?"
No. "Yes, of course it is." He started for the cave mouth, then stopped and held out his hand to her. "Fly with me?"
The impulsive thought delighted her, as he knew it would. "Always."
She let him take the lead. Her glow was a ripple of fire against the damp walls as they passed, a fey light in a lantern of stone. Together they slipped from the cave and arced high over the shoreline, finger tips barely touching, before dropping again to earth.
Kitty was waiting at the door, phone in her hand.
Dai wanted to meet with him. Not in costume. And not "the rest of your lot, although they'd probably be welcome if they came."
"What is it about?" Brian leaned on the balcony railing, the wind sharp on his face.
"New face for you to meet. Someone in the Ministry. Can't go into more details."
"You pick. Have a heart on an old man, though - I'd prefer not driving all the way up to the frozen wastelands."
Brian smiled. "Is the Newcastle climate balmy enough for you?"
Dai grumbled, but agreed. Brian set the phone down and stared at the grey surf for a long time.
That night, he lay with Megan on their bed, Megan dozing under the flickering light of the latest TV space opera. Brian slipped his arm from under her shoulder and padded down the stairs. Three floors down, he found Kitty at the kitchen table, glaring at a half-full glass of milk.
"You'll curdle it with a face like that." At the sound of his voice, the small grey lump curled on the counter opened one golden eye at him, then closed it again. The wrinkle between Kitty's brows deepened, and she picked up the glass and downed the contents in one go.
"Bleeh. I hate this stuff - the treated stuff, I mean. Milk isn't supposed to sit on the shelf like that. You want tea?"
He wanted something stronger, but nodded. Kitty flipped the electric kettle on. She stood there for a moment, staring at the white appliance, one hand at the small of her back and the other on the round curve of her abdomen.
"I thought you liked milk. Is this another of those baby gripes?"
She shook her head. "I like real milk. This stuff? Not real. No matter the little tractor label. But baby needs the calcium. And baby hates broccoli and salmon. So milk it is." Abruptly she shifted topics. "Are you taking the jet?" Kitty didn't like anyone hearing her talk about the baby.
"No. Fly myself part way, and then rent a car. Brian Braddock needs to use his credit cards."
"I thought you might. I pulled up the satellite images for the roads to Newcastle. I didn't want you getting lost. There's new construction on the Yorkshire A1. You can download them into the suit."
"Thank you. That is very kind of you."
She smiled and shook her head. "Baby started kicking and Peter threw us both out of bed. What about you? Couldn't sleep?"
"Megan has a new show. It doesn't keep her awake but she won't let me turn it off." The kettle clicked. Kitty brought out cups and teabags.
"About the cave -"
She set the kettle down, hard. "Brian, no. Not tonight. Can we please fight about this tomorrow? After you get back?"
Her jaw was knotted, her nostrils flared. There were circles under her eyes. Brian took a deep breath. He didn't understand, himself, how it came about that Kitty was his second in command. It should have been Kurt, logically. But that would have had its own problems.
If he so much as hinted that her opposition to his plan was hormone-induced emotional over-reaction, he was a dead man. He nodded and pushed the cup over. "I'll get the sugar."
Fifteen hours later, he sat in a park over looking the Tyne. He waited at a graffiti-carved table, alone, watching the sea gulls squabble over a bit of bread from the dust bin. Down the slope towards the river, a score of children chased a battered football from goal to goal. Brian listened, but did not turn to look.
He had already had to move once, from a cleaner bench by the playthings. Two women had stood and stared at him with folded arms. Shove off, said their bodies, their eyes, above the fold of their veils. Brian shoved off, leaving the women and their daughters - a trio of curly-haired cherubs in lavender and pink - in possession of the park. The two of the girls promptly climbed to the top of the monkey bars and hung there by their knees, skirts following the rule of gravity and leaving skinned shins and heart-spotted panties for all of the sky to see.
Dai, when he came, brought take-away.
"This is Ms Narasa Smith. From the States. Ms Smith, this is Mr Braddock." Dai made the introductions with his elbow, hands full of white bags. "I brought lunch."
Ms Smith extended her hand - broad, brown and touched with polish. "Pleased to meet you, Mr Braddock," her voice confirming everything her American hairstyle and suit said.
"Likewise." Her grip was firm and dry, Dai's, damp and a hair too enthusiastic.
"Sit, sit. I'm starving." Dai dug into the bags, handed containers of noodles and sauce all around. There was a moment of mutual activity, securing napkins against the breeze and dividing the cans of juice.
"Ms Smith is connected to -"
"No. No specifics." The woman's fingers tightened on her plastic tableware.
Dai all but rolled his eyes. "To an organization based out of the United States. Which you already knew. She - and her organization - are going to be working in conjunction with several Home offices on matters of mutual security." Dai's jaws worked on a mouthful of noodles.
Smith dug into her food. "We are not at liberty to discuss specifics at this time. But operations conducted by our - by these joint efforts are going to be crucial to the continued security of Britain. Which, I understand, is something of a concern with you."
Brian looked at Dai. Dai, his mouth full of noodles, shrugged. "She's cleared."
"By whose authority?"
Smith smiled. "I used to work for Nick Fury, Mr Braddock. There is very little I am not cleared for."
Brian looked down at his hands. "The ghosts of old times, then. Tell me, then, Ms Smith, what you think I can do for you."
"At this point, I am not in a position to make any direct requests. My offices are simply attempting to gather information, to help us make accurate assessments."
"I take it you are not with the CIA, then."
Her teeth met with a snap. Dai broke in. "Look, play nice, kiddies, or you won't get any biscuits."
Smith bent her head over her noodles, stirring the sauce. Brian took a deep breath and began again. "My apologies, that was...harsher than I intended. If I can ask, why this kind of involvement, now, in Britain's affairs?"
"Why now? The Atlantic Ocean is narrower than it once was, Mr Braddock. Why Britain? Surely you can guess -we do not intend to interfere with Britain's affairs. We want to provide assistance and ensure appropriate, secure communications. In fact -" She broke off and reached into a pocket. "Excuse me." She palmed a cell phone and glanced at the screen.
"I have to take this call." She stepped away from the table, the phone in her hand. "Tell me, Captain, just how good is your hearing?"
"Hey. Girl, what are you saying?" Dai protested.
Brian replied evenly, "If you go as far as the bottom of the slope, I won't be able to hear you over the children."
She nodded, flipped open the phone and said, "Wait, I can't talk yet."
Brian watched her go down the hill, knees flexed against sliding on the damp grass. When he looked back at Dai, the former inspector was frowning at him.
"That wasn't nice."
"Leading her on like that. Any road, it won't work. She's read your profile."
"Has she, then?"
Dai shrugged, ate more noodles. "You aren't eating. I thought you liked dim sum."
"The dim sum or the company?"
"Dai, what is this? I thought we worked this out four years ago - just because of my connections in America, I am not going to be a lapdog for the Ministry. And especially not for the American government through the Ministry."
"It's not like that."
"Then what is it like?"
"The world changes, man, you know that." Down the road, churchbells began ringing. As if in counter point, a loudspeaker came on, crackling, broadcasting a hoarse voice in a sing-song wail, syllables falling over each other. Dai stuck his fork in a dumpling and waved it at Brian.
"You don't work for me, mister, and you never will. When have I ever come to you and demanded anything? Except for that time," he said, as Brian opened his mouth to retort. "And you know - you know that was different. But times change." He stuck the dumpling in his mouth and swallowed before going on.
"Smith's been with us for eight months now. Sticking her nose into our case reports, tracing our lines of communication. And because of it, the number of incidents that actually made the news has dropped like a millstone in the Channel. The Yanks are actually talking to the French security team now, instead of yelling at them across the table, and it's because of the work the Ministry's done with this woman and her organization."
"How dreadfully civilized. And not a crushed rosebush to be seen."
"Do you think I'm particularly happy about babysitting this Yank? About ferrying her hither and yon, telling her all my secrets? Let me tell you boyo, she's a right sharp improvement over her boss. That one, you can see him measuring out the spaces between the buildings, deciding where to put up the barbed wire."
"And you're letting them take over?"
"No. We asked them to come."
"D'you think I get told everything?"
"They're afraid. They're afraid of the shadows under the bed and the monsters in the closet and they are fucking terrified at the thought of waking up to one more bombing. And they're Yanks. Haven't you got Yank friends - yon little girl Kitty? They don't know how to handle afraid."
Kitty - tiny, slight Kitty, with her busy fingers and the line she got between her eyes when she was working on a problem. Kitty, after Dallas, after New York, full of fury and youthful righteousness. Kitty, who would not cower, but lash back.
"But what does that have to do with us? With me? With Britain?" Memories welled up - years of constant reports out of Belfast, the shattered glass on a London street. The day they came and took all of the dustbins out of the Tube. Years of dealing with the threat. Dai must have seen all of that in his eyes, but he waved it aside.
"Because there really are monsters. And we know how to live with them."
Dai leaned over to look past Brian's shoulder. Brian turned around and caught sight of Smith in the act of folding her phone away. "Look. You don't have to say yes or no today. She wanted a meet, as much as anything, to make up her own mind."
"It's going so well, too."
"No, she likes you."
"You should have seen what she did to the fool in the Yard who tried to pull her chain about their election. Blood all over the walls."
Dai turned back to his lunch. Behind Brian, he heard Smith's footsteps and her breathing as she clambered up the slope.
She sat down again, but did not pick up her fork. "My apologies. Mr Braddock, where were we?"
"Ms Smith. I would like to be frank with you. The security of the British Isles - and its people - is a concern to me. A deep concern. But there are limitations to what I can do. I am not aware" - although he had some idea - Xavier had been more candid of late - "of what arrangements you have made with...any metahumans, in America. But here, there are restrictions on what impact I and my associates can have."
"Depending on the limitations, we will be able to accommodate you."
"No actions on ordinary humans. None. You have more than sufficient resources for that."
She dipped her eyes. "As I said, I'm sure we'll be able to discuss these things. Dai, are you done? I have to find a landline."
"Always rushing here and there. You're going to drive me to drink." Dai gave no indication of hurrying through his meal. Smith gave no sign of irritation at the wait. Brian watched them both in silence.
Finally, Dai wiped his mouth. "We'll be in touch. This next week, or the one after that, we'd like to meet with the rest of the team, if they're willing."
"I'll tell them."
"Good bye, Mr Braddock. It was a pleasure." She offered her hand again and turned to go. Dai gathered up the waste, nodded, and left.
Brian sat at the bench for another hour, watching. The girls and their mothers left the playgrounds. A young couple wandered by, sat on a distant bench, blind to the world around them.
A trio of boys ran past, almond eyes and dusky skin and close-cut hair. Two fleeing, one pursuing. The third was adorned with a paper fast food crown and had a length of plastic tubing in his hand. Smaller than the others, he was sprinting to keep up. One of the leading boys tripped over his own two feet in front of Brian. The third boy stopped long enough to wack the down boy across the shoulders before raising his makeshift sword to the sky and shouting "Arthur! Arthur!"
Then he was off again, roaring like an infant lion. The vanquished boy lay on the ground a moment, then rose, chest still heaving.
"Are you all right?"
"Oh, aye," he said, the Scots brogue broad and heavy. The boy grinned, teeth flashing white. "He's just too fast for us." The boy turned and trotted off to the far end of the field, where the smaller boy was waving his weapon over the third.
Their voices blended together, merged, broke apart again. The smallest boy stood and lifted his plastic sword again, saluting the clouds. The words carried clear across the field, the Latin mangled but understandable.
*"Arthur Rex! Semper Arthur! Semper Britannica!"*
He called the lighthouse from the hired car. Kitty picked up the line. "Kitty, it's me. I'm on my way back."
"Did it go well? How's Dai? Did he really come out of retirement?" He noticed, as if for the first time, how her voice had changed, lost the cadences of her native country. Some days he could hardly hear America in her voice at all.
"It appears so. I think he might just be a consultant, actually. He looks well."
"That's good. Look, Brian, I was talking to Peter. About the, the cave."
She rushed on. "If we got Ray's help, we could do some earth work. Make it deeper, put in some extra accesses -"
"Kitty, wait." She subsided. "I've thought about it. I'm not sure the cave is what we need right now."
A pause. "Okay."
"We can all talk about it when I get back. Is anyone out?"
"Peter and Piotr, but that was just to the village, to get Chinese." Despite himself, Brian laughed.
"Nothing. They'll be back soon?"
"In an hour or so."
"I'll see you then. Tell Megan I called."
He folded the phone away. At the rental station, he dropped off the keys and collected his case from the trunk. Half an hour's walk and he stopped and stripped off his clothes. He took three steps and, on the third, left the earth behind.
The air was cold and clean. Beneath him, the land spread out grey, green, and dotted with lakes that reflected the sky. To the west, the sun broke out from behind the clouds and touched the lakes with gold.
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Fandom: X-Men, Other (Excalibur)
Title: Semper Britannica
Author: hossgal [email]
Details: Standalone | R | gen | 17k | 06/13/05
Characters: Brian Braddock
Summary: "Here lies Arthur, once and future King."
Notes: Warning: Slightly AU.
Spoilers: Mild ones for the length of the Excalibur series.
Disclaimer/Other: Written for the 2005 Obscure Comic Ficathon, for knight_random, who wanted Capt Britain "--hopefully with some amount of focus on Otherworld and the Arthurian legend elements of his Backstory". Thanks to my lovely betas, who know who they are. MC, Viridian, and Victoria P. This is a work of fanfiction, no infringement of copyright is intended and no money is being made.
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