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Chicken Soup

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"Utopia is quarantined until the HX-N1 epidemic is resolved," said the radio signal as Jim approached.  "We are not currently accepting visitors."

"Hello, may I please speak to a human?"

"Why?" the voice asked.  "Do you have a problem with robots?"

Jim sighed.  “Sorry, I thought I’d reached a recording, not a robot.”  He hadn’t encountered any robot on his last visit.  He was surprised Namor hadn’t introduced them.  “What’s your name, ma’am?”

"Danger.  As I said, we are not currently accepting visitors.  We know HX-N1 presents a health risk to mutants, and we are unclear what risk it presents to humans."

"That's okay, I'm not human," said Jim.  "My name is Jim Hammond.  I'm a - "

"The Jim Hammond?"  For the first time, Danger's voice revealed emotion.  "The war hero?"

"I'm the Jim Hammond who served in World War Two, yes," said Jim.  He was reluctant to call himself a hero, although he had to admit, many other people had.  "The Human Torch."

“Welcome, Mr. Hammond!  And may I say, it is an honor."

"Thank you, young lady"  Jim landed.  "Now could you direct me to this island's hospital?  I didn’t see much on my last trip out, and I’m visiting a sick friend."

"It's really more of a sick bay," said Dr. Rao.  "And rather crowded at the moment.  You're here to visit Namor?'

Jim nodded and held up the plastic tub he’d been carrying.  "I brought him soup. How is he?"

"Could be worse," said Dr. Rao.  "We have him on bed rest and IV fluids, and that seems to help.

"Bed rest?" Jim asked.  "How did you get him to agree to that?"

Dr. Rao smiled.  "It wasn't easy.  Fortunately, Mr. Summers was able to persuade him."

Jim let out a low whistle.  "That must have been difficult.  Look, I don't know how much you know about Atlantean medicine - "

"Almost nothing," said Dr. Rao.  "We've compiled a small database, but Namor is not what you'd call forthcoming.  I'd call some Atlantean doctors for a consult, but he doesn't want anyone there to know he's ill.  I’m working to set up a salt-water bath, in case his tendency to heal rapidly in water is caused by the Atlantean genes, rather than the mutant genes. At the very least, it should keep the fever down."

"Good thinking," Jim said.  “I was going to suggest putting him in water."  Back in the war, if Namor was injured or poisoned, the protocol was to drop him in the nearest body of water and hope for the best.  

"It's good to be able to try something, at least."  Dr. Rao sighed.  "For most of the patients, supportive therapy is all we can provide.”

Namor was asleep when Jim stepped into the room.  He looked pale, and somehow smaller.

Normally Namor sprawled as he slept, arms and legs stretched out to claim the bed like it was territory to conquer.  And the bedding would end up tangled, and pushed aside, until it covered almost nothing.

Now, he lay on his side, a sheet tucked over him, damp with sweat, and with a softer expression than Jim had seen on Namor's face in a long time.

"We should let him sleep," said Dr. Rao.

Jim nodded.  "I can wait here."  He set the soup down on the small table, and sat in the nearby chair.

Namor stirred, then opened his eyes.  "Glowbug?"

"Hey, Water Rat," said Jim.  "You're looking more bedraggled than usual."

"A fever," said Namor.  He had an odd expression.

Dr. Rao nodded.  "We've been monitoring it.  I know Namor is vul...he overheats and dehydrates easily, so we started in on fever reducers and IV fluids immediately.  It’s higher than I would like, but it shouldn’t be dangerous.”

Namor was still staring at Jim.  "You were the fever.  I could feel you, burning in my veins."  He blinked.  "They tried to use you to kill me.  But I knew that, because you were in me, I could not die."

Jim nodded, as if he had any idea of what Namor was talking about.

Namor took Jim's hand.  "You make me stronger, Firebug.  They were fools to think they could use you any other way."

"They were," said Jim.  "I'm here with you now.  You can get some sleep."

"That's right," said Namor.  "You don't need sleep. You can keep watch."

Jim knew what Namor was talking about here.  A few times, back in the war, they'd been in intense enough situation they needed to set a constant watch, and at the same time, the Invaders needed sleep if they were going to function.

Well, all of the Invaders who weren’t Jim needed sleep.

Namor sighed and closed his eyes.  "It's okay, Tommy.  Jim will keep watch.  We can rest."

Jim frowned.  Tommy?  He didn't think Namor ever called Toro that.  Mostly "boy" or "brat". 

Anyway, Namor was sleeping soundly.  That was the important thing.

Jim sat for a while, just watching Namor sleep.

There was one more visit Jim had to do.  

Well, he didn't have to, but he really should.

Jim stepped into the lab. 

"Dr. Death," he said.

"It's Dr. Nemesis now."  He looked up from the office chair where he'd been napping.  "Or if you prefer, Dr. Bradley.”

Mercifully, he did not ask Jim to call him "Father".

"Dr. Nemesis, then.  I understand you're on the X-Men now."

Dr. Nemesis nodded. "I'm taking a break from hunting Nazis to help save mutants."

"You hunt Nazis now?"

"I am trying to atone for what I did during the war.  Given my current understanding of the mechanisms and consequences of time travel, there really isn't a safe or feasible way to undo my past.  But as far as apologetic gestures go, saying it with dead Nazis adds a certain class and sincerity to the while business."  He tilted his head.  "Did my fever spike, or are you losing your temper?”

"You know my...you know Professor Horton was Jewish, right?" Jim asked.  He took a deep breath and worked to keep his heat down.

"I know.  I spoke to him once after the war.  He wanted to understand why I'd made the choice I had.  He was proud of you, by the way.  Excellent work killing Hitler."

Jim shrugged.  By the time he’d reached the end of the war, it was a relief to be able to burn Hitler alive, and give him at least a small taste of the suffering he’d caused.  “Why did you want to speak to me?”

"You brought Namor chicken soup."

Jim nodded.  "Is that a problem?  Does this virus make everyone allergic to chicken?"  

Dr. Nemesis waved his hand.  "It shouldn't do him any harm.  I recognize the recipe.  Horton's mother's old family recipe, right"

Jim nodded again.  It was part of the information Professor Horton had shared, when Jim was encased in concrete.  It had seemed a strange choice at the time.  Less practically useful than anything else.  Jim hadn't understood why Professor Horton had shared it.

The first time Toro caught a bad cold, Jim understood.

"He brought me a pot once, when I was in bed with bronchitis.  It was the best soup I’ve had in a very long lifetime."

"You're not getting any soup," Jim said.  

"I didn't expect any.  I'm not an idiot.  I am, in fact, incredibly intelligent.  What I want to know is why you made Namor homemade chicken soup."

"He's sick," said Jim.  "He's got the flu.  That's what friends do."  Jim didn't often get to take care of Namor.  He wasn't usually around when Namor needed taking care of.

He'd been deactivated and buried in the desert when Destine had attacked Namor and stolen his memories, leaving him to wander the streets, amnesiac and alone.  He hadn’t been active when Namor’s first wife died, or when Namor’s father died.  Namor had been hurt so many times, and Jim hadn’t been there.

Jim didn't feel guilty about this, of course.  But there were days when he felt haunted.  Troubled by the echo of what might have been if, in Namor's most painful moments, he'd had Jim by his side.

Anyway, right now, Namor had the flu.  And Jim had an old family recipe for chicken soup.

"You two are close," said Dr. Nemesis.  "He means a lot to you."

Jim didn't respond.

"Are you in love with him?"

Jim still didn't respond.  Dr. Nemesis hadn't earned the right to know.  And Jim wasn't entirely sure what an honest answer would be.

"Are you involved with him?"

"No."

"Good.  Don't be."

"What, find a nice girl?"  Jim had tried that.  It hadn't gone well.  He wasn't sure if it was just a matter of not having met the right girl yet.  

(There’d been a line in a film called Cabaret.

"Well, obviously, those three girls were just..."

"...the wrong three girls.”

He’d watched that film, not as many times as Pinocchio, but several times. Most of all, he’d watched that scene.)

"You think i care about the gender of who you date?  What part of me being a highly intelligent man of science do you not understand?  Get involved with a nice girl, a nice boy, a nice genderless sentient being of any species you like, or nobody at all.  I don't actually care."  Dr. Nemesis made a dismissive hand gesture.  "Just not Bubbles."

Jim blinked.  "You call him Bubbles?

“Yes.”

"And he lets you?"

"I'd like to see him stop me.  Why, what do you call him?'

"Water Rat,” Jim said.

The surgical mask covered Dr. Nemesis's mouth, but from the way his eyes crinkled, he was smiling.  "That's a good one.  Listen, boy, you are clearly a nice person.  You should not have your life ruined by an angry egomaniac who will, push comes to shove, destroy anything in his way to get what he wants."

"Namor's better than that."

"He's dangerous.  Do you really know how many people he killed?"

"Is that it?" Jim shouted hotly.  "You get to redeem yourself after everything you did, but Namor doesn’t get to become a better person?  You can change, but he can't?"

"I didn't say anything about redemption, only atonement.  You do understand the difference, don't you?  And people can change up to a point.  You can go from being a villain to a useful asshole who does more good than harm.  But you can't go from being the kind of man who picks his own ego over everyone he should care about, to being a good person.  And if you've done enough damage, you can't ever reach point where you get to call yourself redeemed." 

Jim shook his head. "Namor's not like you."

"Horton..."  Dr. Nemesis broke off as a coughing fit hit.  "Horton thought I was good enough for chicken soup.  And I became a Nazi."

"You tried to gas Los Angeles.  Namor risked his life to stop you.  He's better than you."

"Namor is useful, but you can't trust him.  And if you expect him to become a good person with enough kindness, patience, and homemade chicken soup, he is going to turn on you one day, and because you don't see it coming he will tear you to pieces.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You know why I sided with the Nazis?” Dr. Nemesis asked.

“You were a huge bigot?”

Dr. Nemesis shook his head.  “Ego.  Well that and money, but mostly ego. The Nazis were idiots, with terrible plans who squandered most of their strategic advantages out of pure ideology.  I thought that it would be proof of my genius if I could make them win. Now what do you think Bubbles would go just to prove that he can?  How far do you think he’ll go if it means that he can win?”

"Screw you," said Jim.  "I'm going to look after my friend."

When Jim went back, Namor was sitting up in bed, eating soup.

He smiled to see Jim.  "I understand you brought this?"

"Old family recipe."

Namor nodded.  "You made this for Toro when he was ill.  I remember the smell.  I've never had the good fortune to taste it before"

"You don't usually get sick."

Namor nodded. "I've been informed that my immune system is exceptionally strong and effective, as befits a prince of the blood.”

Jim smiled.  "How are you feeling?"

"Warm.  Tired.  Is this what the flu is like?  It's very tedious."

"I wouldn’t know," Jim said.  

Namor nodded.  "Right, of course not."

Jim sat down on the edge of the bed.  "You were pretty out of it earlier.  You said some strange things."

"Mmm."  Namor nodded and continued eating soup.  

"You said I was the fever burning in your veins?"

Namor swallowed, and looked at Jim.  "Did I?"  He had the expression he used when he was attempting to look casual.

"Yeah." Jim laughed nervously.  "I wasn't really sure what that meant."

Namor shrugged.  "Feverish rambling.  Utterly meaningless."

After this many decades, Jim had learned to recognize when Namor was lying. However Jim had also learned that getting Namor to talk about his feelings when he didn't want to was damn near impossible.

"Okay, I'll forget about it, then."  Jim drew a deep breath.  "I talked to Dr. Nemesis."

Namor gave Jim a concerned look. "Did that conversation go well?  Was he...respectful? If he did not at least treat you with respect, I will..."

"It was fine," said Jim.  "I mean it wasn't some big moment, and I don't think we'll ever be close, but it was fine.  He's...trying to be better."

"As he should."  Namor went back to the soup.

"He's not as smart as he wants people to think."

Namor snorted.  "I could have told you that."

"He tried to warn me off you."  Jim carefully kept his voice light.  "I don't know if he thought you were in love with me or what, but he said you weren't good enough for me."

Namor looked down.  “On the other hand, he is not entirely a fool.”

"Come on."  Jim took Namor's hand and gave it a squeeze.  “Don’t tell me you think you’re not good enough for me.  When did you ever think you were not good enough for anyone?"

Namor looked at Jim.  "Make no mistake, I did not intend to insult myself, but to pay you the supreme compliment."

"Oh," said Jim.  He paused and ran that through his Namor-to-normal-English filter.  'Oh!  I'm...touched.  Thank you."  He looked down at the bed sheet.  "The soup is that good?" he joked.  

"If I had known of your culinary skill, I would have contrived to fall ill long ago."

"I'll make more tomorrow," said Jim.

"Tomorrow?" Namor raised an eyebrow.  "How long do you intend to stay?"

"As long as I need," said Jim.  “Dr. Rao says I can be useful here, helping her lift people, and not being at risk of falling ill.  And I’m not needed anywhere else.  So I'm here at least until you feel better."

Namor smiled.  "It is good to have you here.”

"It's good to be here, Water Rat."