Disclaimer - Marvel's people are Marvel's. Although if I had it MY way, Scott would be mine. [Evil grinning ensues.] The Muppets belong to Jim Henson productions, NyQuil belongs to Vicks . . . uhm . . . oh yea. Guns'n'Roses belong to themselves. (Not that any of that plays an important role, I just don't wanna get sued. =) Kaylee/Jaya is property of herself and used with permission. Yes, she's somewhere in this story. Let's play, Where's JayaKay? [more evil grinning.]
After wandering vaguely around the Bryant Fine Arts Center propositioning various musical colleagues to legwrestle, I finally meandered back and decided to write this. Then I stopped; it kept trying to turn into a sillyfic. So it has its pretty funny cutesy moments, but it also has a lot of angst, and violence, adult innuendoes and VERY MEAN THINGS. Rated R for swearing, violence, and the VERY MEAN THINGS.
It kinda sorta fits the Hate Challenge, with the FoH and all, but . . . it's a good standalone, too, and wasn't written for the challenge. It was written for KayJay. =) And if I say anything else about that, she'll beat me, so one with the fic!
Author's Note - All you mothers out there! I have escaped working at a grocery store thus far, and also have never had an infant of my own - if the baby formula is screwed up . . . well, just remember, this IS set in Tennessee . . . =) (And all the southerners commence beating Mitai.)
It stared at them with wide, startled eyes.
The car swerved wildly on the rain-slicked pavement as Scott yanked the wheel hard left, pumping the brakes. Gravel grated beneath the tires deafeningly as they skidded almost twenty yards before coming to a shaky halt - some three or four millimeters from a large oak.
Scott blinked twice, releasing his pent up breath with a hiss. The windshield wipers squeaked rhythmically in front of him, the driving rain visible as it fell about the headlights.
"Yah hit her anyway, Cyke." The passenger door opened, the rain sounding like so many muffled kettle drums, soaking the upholstery. Scott leaned over by force of habit and closed it, then left his own side.
The cold rain hit him like rock salt from a shotgun, managing to work its way under his coat collar effortlessly. Seeing that the garment did no good whatsoever against these conditions, he discontinued trying to burrow into it, and looked around in a vain attempt to spot Logan.
"Over here." Logan had to roar to be heard over the rage of the storm. He sounded like he was coming from the underbrush.
Scott blindly followed the sound across the unlit back road, unable to ascertain where the street ended and the storm ditch began. That hesitance caused nature to decide for him. A particularly spiteful gust of wind shoved him off balance, and he slid rather unceremoniously onto his butt waist deep into the ice cold water.
He struggled for several moments to get his feet under him as the current surprisingly dragged him several yards. A iron strong grip hauled him coat first out of the water.
Scott was dragged upstream, tripping over roots and weeds, until he could dimly make out a large mound before them.
Logan released him and crouched by the doe, inspecting her critically.
Scott stood and served as windbreaker for the man as he bent to lay his cheek on the doe. He leaned up with a curse that was drowned out by a terrific peal of thunder.
"Doe's dead; her fawn isn't."
Scott blinked for several moments, his saturated pants like ice on his legs. Well, that was good, he hadn't recalled seeing any smaller creature beside her, but -
Logan sat back on his haunches, oblivious to the rain, the wind, the cold. He stared thoughtfully at nothing for a while.
Scott looked up. He looked down. He looked to his right.
"You know, someone wrote a poem about this."
Logan looked up at him with what Scott interpreted to be interest.
"It's about a guy who finds a hit doe in fawn, just like this."
Logan grunted, barely audible above the wind. "What happened?"
Scott frowned. "He had no way to get the doe into the car, and the nearest town was fairly distant. He shoved the doe into a nearby freezing river."
Logan snorted. "Well, we better come up with a plan B, then."
Scott nodded. "How close was she to fawning? Can you tell?"
Logan sighed deeply. Scott couldn't hear it, but he watched the muscular shoulders move up and down with almost a resigned quality.
"Close. You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"
"Probably. But how will we keep it warm?"
Both men stopped dead, stared at each other, and then Scott took off his coat wordlessly. It wasn't as though he could get any colder, and Logan was wearing only a flannel shirt. Logan accepted the garment with a grunt, popping a shiny claw.
"Jubilee'd have something to say about that."
Scott did his best to shield Logan from wind as he worked. Scott's thin cotton shirt was drenched and clung to him like a second skin. Couldn't even feel his legs. Strangely, he wasn't cold anymore, despite the fierce wind. It would make more sense that wind would make you warm, with the friction of the air particles rushing against skin -
"Say about what?"
"What we just said."
Logan just shook his head, then moved swiftly, wrapping a slightly squirming object into the sodden coat. The heavy duty material was specially designed to be warm, and despite its waterlogged state it would at least provide protection from the biting wind. Logan hunched over the bundle protectively and the two headed back to the beacon of light on the road. Scott beat him there, opening the passenger door with a curiously numb hand, and Logan plopped down, unwrapping part of the coat to reveal a fawn-sized pink bundle, covered with mucus and blood.
"This coat's never gonna be the same."
Scott gave him a mute look and shut the door, then walked around the back and around, checking out the relatively small amount of damage done to the front of the rental, and got into the driver's seat. He carefully put the vehicle in reverse, slowly backing out of the mud and onto the road.
Then he threw it in drive, reaching over to turn the heater up.
"We need to stop at a store an' get some formula."
Scott's hand froze on the vent selector.
"Logan, we're going to be surrounded by violent people that know our faces by heart, and you want to go grocery shopping?"
"Unless y'wanna play wet nurse, an' I don't think y'got the equipment for it."
Scott left that alone.
They continued on towards the lights of the 'city' of Mt. Para, TN, population a little over two hundred. The town was known for only two things - jarred honey and great hunting. Two scruffy, unshaven men renting a hunting lodge would not seem strange.
Two scruffy, unshaven men buying baby formula and renting a hunting lodge would be talk of the town for a week. Not to mention probably bringing the sheriff down on them like the wrath of God.
It was the right country for it, anyway.
Logan tried to quiet the bundle as instinct told it it should try to stand, to nurse. It made a small sound, startling in the relative silence of the car. Logan talked to it so quietly that Scott couldn't make out the words - then again, it wasn't the words that mattered. It was the sound.
"I know. You wanna leave it to die? It will, in the rain. If the dogs don't get it. No doe is gonna accept a premature fawn, not in this season."
The warm air was hot against Scott's hands and arms. Painfully hot. Like tiny barbed needles. He noticed now that he was shivering considerably. He turned one of the heating vents toward him.
"Logan, c-can you handle the wheel?"
He wordlessly leaned over and took the wheel as Scott peeled of his soaking shirt and tossed it into the back. Then he reached around for his hanging clothes, picking a warm, thick flannel shirt. Only after he yanked it off the hanger did he realize it wasn't his.
"Just put it on. She ain't gonna be patient fer much longer."
He slipped on the red flannel and hastily buttoned it as he kept an eye on the road, which blissfully was still straight and wide. There was nothing he could do about his pants at the moment, though, without pulling over, and changing outside would defeat the purpose.
Scott took back the wheel, as the fawn gave a mighty effort and heaved herself into a sitting position in Logan's lap, bleating slightly. He hastily took her legs out from under her and laid her back down.
The rest of the trip proceeded pretty much the same way, with Logan making futile efforts to keep the fawn sitting and Scott shivering despite the thick cotton. By the time the car made it to Mt. Para, there were two grumpy, unshaven men and one grumpy, hungrily bleating fawn.
Logan looked thoughtfully at Scott. "Know what yer buyin'?"
"I really didn't buy that much formula for Nathan, you know."
Surprisingly, it didn't sound nearly as bitter as a comment along that vein usually did. Sure sign that Scott was coming down with something. Shivers danced gleefully up and down his spine.
"Cyke - I'm covered in blood. I ain't goin' in there."
Scott shrugged. "Can't be too hard. The place can only have maybe three kinds anyway. I'll read the labels. Maybe one says, to mix for wildlife, add seven tablespoons water."
Logan glared. "Don't get powdered. C'mon, surely they sell this stuff by the gallon."
Scott shrugged. "Probably boxed, anyway. Should I try to get solid, too? Like mashed carrots or something?"
It was Logan's turn to shrug. "I dunno. No, don't. Pick up some vitamins, though. And some cold medicine and aspirin."
Scott looked confused, his hand trying of its own accord to shake the door handle open. "Why?"
"You'll need it."
Scott checked his new credit cards - procured by Remy, who would answer no questions concerning them, only that they had no limit and not to worry about the bill, if it came.
It was that _if_ that had sent Logan to chuckling. Scott didn't want to know. Those pieces of plastic were essential to the mission. They couldn't buy four hundred dollars worth of supplies with cash without seeming suspicious; besides, the FoH probably had ways of tracking their known aliases and all financing and credit records held by those aliases. It was imperative that they were not discovered before they had gained the information they needed.
And if they were found, they would be certifying the deaths of seven hundred mutants.
And one of them was someone Scott hadn't seen for almost twenty years.
Scott once more braved the cold and wind to dash into the small supermarket. He hadn't shaved in almost a week, managing to look respectably scruffy. Jean had told him it was a good look for him, 'dangerous,' though she had protested loudly when he rubbed her cheek with the stubble. Remy had laughed upon seeing him and refrained from comment, a good five o'clock shadow on the man already.
It had to be a mutant ability.
He entered, announced by the tinkle of gorgeously tuned Celtic bells, nodded to the young, maybe twenty year old woman behind the counter, received a nod in reply, and headed back toward the beer, thus losing her attention to the ancient television broadcasting a grainy rerun of The Muppets.
Once at the beer, he frowned, trying to remember what brand it was Logan liked. He settled on a twenty-four pack of Coors. Then he plopped the beer on one of the boxes stacked in the back, marked "Norter," the preordered items Logan had called down Monday, and picked up the whole ensemble.
A huge hacking cough erupted from his throat, almost knocking him down, and the woman looked up with something similar to concern.
"Sale on NyQuil," she remarked casually. "An' the cough suppressants are over with the chaw."
He nodded gratefully, lugging the box over to the counter. She pulled the receipt off the box, quickly checking the contents of the box as Scott grabbed two bottles of NyQuil - at fifty cents apiece, the deal couldn't be beaten. Then he grabbed about five bags of Ricola - the smell wasn't nearly as strong as, say, Halls, and they worked well - plus, it would look like he was merely worried about frightening deer off. Fit the hunter alias.
Unlike the next item he picked up.
Though the place was really nothing more than a glorified convenience store, they had about thirty different kinds of baby food, baby formula, baby filler, baby starter, baby bottles, baby spoons, baby bibs, baby pacifiers, baby medicine, baby diapers, baby powder, baby soap, baby-safe laundry detergent, baby wipes, and other assorted instruments he couldn't even begin to guess the purpose of.
Of formulas, he had his choice of powdered, which Logan said not to get, some in cans that should be refrigerated immediately after opening, some in paper cartons in the refrigerating units with the other dairy products, and some in cartons with refrigeration instructions.
He decided the canned would be the best idea. They had a refrigerator in the hunting lodge. Then he looked at bottles. Should he get two? Or just one? What diameter nipple? He chose the biggest, which he decided they would need to widen, and he decided on one bottle.
Then he grabbed some dish soap, One-A-Day vitamins, Tylenol, and a one-minute thermometer.
He walked back to the counter as the Celtic bells sang again, and three rowdy men in military cammies stumbled in.
"Haaaoowdee, Bess," one drawled in a sarcastic southern tone, and the others engaged in raucous laughter. She ignored them, other than to roll her eyes at Scott as she tallied up the other items. She typed them in automatically with her right hand and they passed into the box almost without her looking at the items, and as she dropped the baby formula in, Scott nodded understandingly to her, stifling another cough.
"I guess you get a lot of that from the guys that come here to hunt, hmm?"
She nodded tiredly, just now packing away the NyQuil.
"We have tah show them 'nice Southern hospitality,' though," she murmured, glancing significantly at the camera over her right shoulder, which was at the moment taking a good look at the top of Scott's head as he stifled another cough. He hadn't shown his face to it yet, and he didn't intend to.
Scott just nodded. "I have a friend from Mississippi, and he's amazingly tolerant of the teasing he suffers." The name Rogue could really go both ways. Alex came immediately to mind.
She nodded. "That'll be $497.57."
Scott raised his eyebrow. Then again, the box was huge, and the price also included the hunting lodge rent for a week, so, in truth, it was really a steal. He handed the plastic over with a hand that had finally decided to be steady for a while.
She scanned it through, smiled brightly, and handed it back, also giving him the receipt to sign.
"Nice tah have a polite Northern boy around. Some cattle 'round here could learn a few manners," she said in the same sing-song voice, the same volume of tone. Still, the rowdy, laughing men in the chip aisle, judging from the cellophane noises, ooohed jeeringly.
Scott thanked her, picked up the huge box, and started out.
He very nearly ran into the three men, heads tilted, watching him.
"You the northern boy that's gonna teach us cattle manners?"
Scott looked at the three of them. Took in the FoH emblem they clearly wore. Took in the firearms in their pockets, as well as the shoplifted items that bulged in their coats. Took in the beeper each wore on a belt of thick leather - abnormally thick leather.
"Hey - you look familiar -"
Scott tried to jerk his head away, too late. His glasses were knocked off his face by the slightly clumsy man, and he snapped his eyes shut.
"Wassa matter? Afraid we're gonna hit yah? Light too bright without those glasses of yers?" Another jeered, "Or afraid yer cover's blown, X-Man?"
Scott kept his eyes closed, listening for the car - he didn't hear it. Blazes, Logan! Get out of here!
And he opened his eyes.
And nothing happened.
He looked at the three of them measuringly, barely concealing his surprise. Power dampeners? Surely they wouldn't have them on their persons- they used a great deal of energy.
Scott heard a gentle clearing of the throat behind him, and he glared at the men. His voice was growing almost raw from the coughs he strove to hold in, making it deeper, rougher. He wondered vaguely if his eyes looked red or brown at the moment. From their startled looks, he was betting on the latter.
"X-Man? Powers? I don't have any idea what you're talking about. Pick up my glasses, if you don't mind. My hands are full."
None of them moved. "Why're they red, huh?"
Scott turned a stony, narrow gaze on the one that spoke, trying to emulate the positively possessed look Remy usually wore when he wished to intimidate someone with sheer force of will.
"I'm epileptic. Usually if everything I see stays the same color, it won't trigger an attack. They also come in green, blue, black and purple. My glasses?"
They were tossed clumsily in his direction; he sat the box on his upheld knee with surprising balance as he fitted them back on.
"Now please excuse me. And you'd do well to apologize to the lady." His voice was growing positively raspy, now.
Without waiting for a reaction, he shouldered past them and outside, where Logan popped the trunk from the inside and he dropped the box in with an audible cough of relief. Then he got back in the car, noticing that the brief excursion into the storm had brought back his shivers.
"What the hell was that?"
Scott shook his head slightly, pulling away until the store was but lightning bug sized in the rear view mirror. They weren't being followed.
"I have no idea. I hope that the cashier was a mutant, or had dampening equipment." He fell into a hacking fit.
Logan just grunted. "What'd they say? Had their back t'me, an' I couldn't hear over this one." To expound on his statement, the fawn called out. Definitely pissed.
"Nothing." Scott cleared his throat. "They think I'm epileptic. I don't think she even noticed that I had bought formula."
Logan grunted again. "How much did you get."
"Eighty bucks' worth. That HAS to last a week, right?"
Logan shrugged. "I dunno how much this little 'un's gonna eat. Get a bottle?"
"I got everything."
Another fit of coughs racked his frame. The shivers weren't going away.
When next he awoke, Scott's sense of direction told him he was lying on his back, flat. He felt like he was entombed in ice; moving slightly told him he was on a bed, and covered. There was a wet sucking noise from somewhere off past his feet.
"Look who decided to join the land o' the livin'. Good thing yah don't usually pass out flyin' the Blackbird. And yah got a hell of a heavy foot."
Scott took a breath, to answer, and coughed instead. A nice, deep, wet, rattling cough. Logan whistled softly as Scott heard something skittering, then a loud thump! on the wood, then frantic scrambling. He continued to cough until it hurt more to cough than to breathe.
Logan was murmuring to something, the sound so soft it struck Scott as amazing that the human throat was capable of such a hideous growl and yet such a gentle whisper.
"Where . . ?"
Logan called back eventually. "Lodge. I've done some pretty routine surveillance, laid out the alarms, got the cameras set up. Everything's bein' taped an' sent to the mansion by satellite. Can't be out there much myself, babysittin' the two o' you." Everything he said seemed to be slightly sing-song.
Scott didn't acknowledge. There was a hideous taste in his mouth - probably NyQuil, and he was shivering. Upon inspection, he found there were five blankets on him, one electric.
He glanced down past his feet, and watched.
The little fawn was busy suckling at that bottle just as hard as she could, her little tail pumping vigorously, her legs as stilts, bent at such peculiar angles that it was amazing she was on her feet at all. Her ears flicked every which way as she got accustomed to them, and occasionally she'd sneeze, dribbling milk as she did. She looked like a perfectly normal fawn. Logan held the bottle at the right height and angle, watching the fawn and occasionally making soothing sounds. She didn't seem in the least afraid of him, though, her dark eyes intent as she sucked the bottle dry.
"How much does she go through?"
At the raspy sound the fawn again jumped, although this time not nearly as far, her legs shaking violently as she strained for balance. Logan moved his arm smoothly, giving her something to lean on as she tried to regain balance; gentle as a mother would do.
Scott laid his head back, and slept.
When next he awoke, it was because Logan was ladling the positively worst tasting concoction he'd ever had down his throat. Choking, he tried to sit up; he was too weak.
Sunlight was bright on his face as Logan frowned, a thin layer of green liquid on his face.
"Thanks, Cyke. As if the damn deer don't slobber enough."
Scott realized that Logan had been giving him warm NyQuil. At his questioning look, Logan gave him a look.
"Yah swallow warm stuff easier than cold when yer unconscious. Yah want real food, or yah wanna sleep?"
Scott frowned, swallowing several times around a swollen throat.
"Day . . ?"
"Yah been asleep for three. Pneumonia. No hospital around. You'll live. Can't say I like yer temp, so I moved yah into the sun."
Scott nodded. His mutant ability actually charged itself from the sun, and the light would only strengthen him. Probably not much, but any little bit would help.
Of all the times to come down with pneumonia . . .
"Fawn . . ?"
Said creature suddenly poked her head up by Logan's side, staring at Scott with wide, dark eyes. He smiled slightly.
"She's cute . . ."
To prove his point, she greedily licked at the cough medicine he'd inadvertently coughed up, cleaning his face with a singe swipe of her tongue. Logan roared with laughter as Scott spluttered and the fawn continued to lavish attention up him, despite Scott's frantic, weak struggles against her. In fact, it only seemed to encourage her.
"Like a . . . puppy . . ."
"Eats like a damn elephant. Had to make another formula run. I dunno how momma deer do it."
Scott blinked, finally huddled back too far on the cot for the fawn to reach. She began nosing Logan's leg, instead. For the most part, he ignored her, apparently accustomed to such behavior.
"FoH are movin'. Don' know where, yet. Slow going. Mutants are holed up in an old copper mine that practically unaccessesable, 'cept for a utility road. That's the Appalachian mountains for yah. Mutants look mostly foreign. Can't believe they'd be importin' them, though." Scott nodded thoughtfully. "Check shipping logs?"
Logan frowned. "Bobby's lookin' into it. Only suspicious thing he's found is a whole lot of barges coming up the Mississippi with rice."
Scott frowned thoughtfully. "No idea . . . where they're taking them?"
Logan shook his head. "They haven't picked a mode of transportation, far as we can tell. No planes, helicopters, buses . . . beginnin' t'think they're just gonna collapse the mines on 'em. They have a whole warehouse of construction explosive."
Scott closed his eyes. If the mutants weren't shuttled to a holding facility, it could get ugly fast. Their hope had been to intercept a convoy, where the guard would be more spread out, thus small teams of X-Men could take them down with few casualties, and there was less of a chance of the held mutants being injured or killed. Attacking a mine from the front, with the guard concentrated there . . . that was suicide.
"We'll get her out, Slim."
He nodded tiredly. "I know."
"You _still_ hungry?"
Scott reopened his eyes to see the fawn playfully nudging Logan, who glared at her, but it was a glare without malice.
"So you want something t'eat, too?" It took Scott a moment to realize that Logan was talking to _him._
Scott shrugged, or a facsimile thereof. "Water. Preferably with bleach, so I can get this taste out of my mouth." Now that he was speaking more, it was getting a little easier.
"Didn't sign up for the gig just t'end up playing a damn cook-"
The fawn started when Logan leapt away, an incredulous look on his startled face. If anything, the fawn looked quite abashed at causing the hideous squeal that had left Logan's usually low-toned throat.
Scott began to laugh, and didn't stop until his coughing was keeping him from breathing.
Scott woke again sometime late in the night. It was storming again, a little warmer this time. Somewhere close to sixty. His mouth tasted of cough drops and some unidentifiable substance akin to glue.
Logan was leaning with his back to the wall, head back, mouth open, yet not snoring.
And with her head on his lap slept the fawn.
He watched them sleep for some time. The predator and the prey, comfortable in each others' embrace. The profoundness of that statement, and the living picture that sat not five feet from him, awed him into a state probably as close to meditation as he would ever reach unaided.
Almost in direct contrast to Logan's wiry hair and defined muscles was the fawn's velvet soft coat and fine, subtle lines. Her head was perhaps the most beautiful aspect. As fragile as a snowflake, as sculpted as a Greek masterpiece, not a sign of her premature birth shone in that absolutely perfect face.
She opened large, black eyes that flickered strangely in the light of the fireplace, as though a wild fire coursed through her, and blinked slowly, his stare having awoken her.
She lifted her head lazily and sniffed the air. No doubt Logan had taught her that. She then swung her head with a kind of clumsy grace to stare at Scott. Finding him awake, she lurched to her feet and trotted over, tail high and eyes bright. Logan's eyes opened briefly, then closed again, as did his mouth.
Scott reached out a hand to the fawn, who saw fingers and automatically tried to take them in her mouth. He didn't let her, finally touching her nose, and she started away.
"She ain't a puppy, Cyke. If she's gonna live out here, she's gotta learn not to run up to some guy in a sleeping bag an' lick his face."
"Think . . . it's too late . . . for that." It wasn't unthinkable to take the fawn back to Xavier's mansion. They had more than enough grounds to support it, and it would be safe there.
Spoiled, even, if he knew the X-Women.
No, that wasn't out of the question at all. It might be a good aid, if they ever took in a student in a delicate mental state, to have something wild and gentle there for such a mutant to attach to.
Of course, being X-Men, they could never have anything like a dog.
Nooooo. That would be too normal.
Scott wondered how much medication Logan had been giving him, and for how long.
The fawn whuffled at Scott, and, seeing that the man didn't have any food, trotted back over to Logan, and exuberantly wiped dribble all over the half-sleeping man's face.
That got him up, all right.
"Damn deer . . . we gotta figure out somethin' t'call yah besides damn deer . . ."
Logan snorted, and the fawn sneezed.
Scott shrugged his eyebrows. "Just a thought. Bambi was a guy, though, right?"
Logan stared at him. "Go back to sleep."
Scott obeyed rather reluctantly as Logan tried names on the fawn, and she reacted to each one, stamping a hoof, or blinking, or shaking her head, or twitching her ears, or twitching her tail.
"Fred. Let's call yah Fred."
The fawn sneezed.
"Hell, better 'n Bambi."
The fawn shook her head from side to side vigorously, then tried to paw at her ear. Her balance was terrible; she went down with a startled little bleat.
And then Scott drifted off.
When next he woke, it was because he was being dragged.
He thought hard about his temples; he didn't feel the visor resting against it, but he was so accustomed to the weight of it anyway that that was no guarantee.
He was outside. Being dragged over underbrush.
By two men.
He opened his eyes.
The two men yelled and fell beneath the barrage of stored energy, and Scott hastily shut them, rolling away. He hit a tree, used it to heave himself to his feet. The simple moves made his lungs ache and his breath come in pants. It took all his control not to cough - he had to get out of here, find Logan. Vertigo gripped him as he stood, and only the tree kept him on his feet.
He heard more shouting, and screaming. Then he heard movement behind him. He lashed out with a backhand about chin high, and connected with what felt like a forehead. He followed with a kick to the same area that connected, then he was struck from behind, across the back. He fell heavily and something constrictive was snapped around his neck as he coughed. Then he was pummeled fiercely and sworn at, though he couldn't distinguish the words over his own hacking.
He opened his eyes when he could.
They were just outside the cabin, and five or six armored men were dragging Logan out. His captors had ex-military written all over them, from their stance to their hard, expressionless eyes.
That much Kevlar was also a pretty good indication.
Logan was still giving them a fight, though he had been beaten bloody and collared. They paused, one of them savagely and repeatedly kicking him in the face. When he hung limp and unresponsive, they continued. When they saw he wasn't breathing, they unhooked the collar.
One man in a business suit had stood by the entire time, not participating, just watching. Almost thirty minutes went by, and when Logan was beginning to come around and Scott was remembering how to breath without choking, he approached them.
"Scott Summers, I presume?"
Scott watched him, saying nothing. Unable to say anything.
"That's a rather nasty cough you have. I wasn't aware you had health problems. Pity. The mine air probably isn't good for that."
Scott's ears perked slightly as he heard the faintest scrabbling noise. Hastily, he made a half-hearted effort to straighten. His right knee was violently kicked from behind, and he went down with a grunt that set off another coughing fit. A foot on his back kept him firmly pinned to the ground, and Scott's cheek rested on the cold dirt and moss of the forest floor.
"That wasn't very intelligent of you, sir," the man in the business suit observed. "Tell me, we know you're here to conduct surveillance. What we don't know is how much you do. And how much you've passed along to your friends."
Scott was not surprised to taste blood in his mouth as the coughing subsided, feel the back of his swollen throat afire.
The man in the suit knelt beside him, looking at him in open concern. "You should really see a doctor. I'll arrange it as soon as I have my information."
The scrabbling noise started again. Three of the others heard it, all tensing and training submachine guns on the lodge.
The man in the suit straightened and made a wide gesture. Four of them approached the lodge, two cutting around back as the other two approached from the front. Without warning they opened fire.
The shower of bullets literally tore the facade of the cabin apart. Wood shredded and flew as though being sliced with a chainsaw, and the glass shattered, the largest parts only to shatter again in midair as another bullet struck them. The shingles leapt off the roof and tumbled toward the ground like soldiers pitching from cliffs. A small flock of birds panicked at the sound, launching from their trees as the deafening noise shattered the relative quiet of the morning.
When at last the tickling of breaking glass had subsided, the suited man made another motion. First the shots in the front ceased, almost immediately followed by the ones in the back. Cautiously, the two in front kicked the door, which fell inward with a curious hollow and low thud. Then they entered slowly.
Scott allowed his head to fall back to the ground as they came back out, obviously carrying something swinging limply between them.
There was a pause, a complete and total silent.
"You were aware that there was a young deer in your 'hunting' lodge?"
Scott said nothing.
"Pity. I suppose they've ruined the pelt."
"Sir, it's alive."
Scott didn't look up as he heard footsteps, and frightened bleating. Of course. Fawns on instinct would curl up behind something and sit there motionless until their mother returned. Which was undoubtedly she had done when Logan had been attacked and vanished, and was thus lower that most of the bullets passed.
Then why had she moved? Why had she gotten up?
"Yes, that's a bad shoulder wound. I think that would be best."
Scott lifted his head, trying to speak, but his throat would not allow it. He hissed breath between his teeth to get their attention, but he was rather pointedly ignored. He saw her dropped unceremoniously to the ground, an ugly red staining her tawny shoulder. She tried to scramble to her feet as they backed off, one aiming a handgun towards her.
Then she was up and running, towards the woods, away from these men that would hurt her. The man with the handgun watched her, apparently noting the limp that was prominent in her scrabbling gait, his handgun following her precisely.
And then she stopped, uncertainly, and turned to look back.
And then a single gunshot rang out.
She leapt into the air with a startled sound, a pained sound. And when her hooves touched the ground once more, her legs folded like paper.
She jerked once, twice, her eyes wide, dark -
And Scott let his head drop back to the ground.
Footsteps approached him. The man knelt down again, firmly but gently grasping Scott's hair and lifting his face from the cool earth.
"It was for the best," he said reassuringly, before gently releasing Scott's head.
"Take them to the mines. Introduce them to Tina."
He never felt the pain, just the actual pressure of the blow that took him on the back of the head.
Then next several days passed hazily, full of drugs and pain and questions. Questions he couldn't answer. He couldn't speak. He supposed the pain was for his insolence, but what did expect from a man with a full-blown case of pneumonia?
It would have helped if they'd given him water, which they hadn't.
Eventually, though, dehydration relieved some of the symptoms, such as the mucus that was apt to collect in the back of his throat, too thick to be swallowed and too high to be spat. If he'd even had the energy. Eventually, even it dried up, and he was left weak and curiously comfortable.
The coughing, though, when it came, was worse. The fits caused him to gag and sometimes empty his stomach of nothing but acid and bile, blood and drugs. And when they stopped coming, stopped drugging him and causing him pain, even the vomiting ceased. Dry heaving was still annoying but infinitely more desirable than the constant burn of acid in his throat. He would never forget the burning in his throat from the bile, never forget the taste. It was unlike anything he'd ever experienced before.
And sometimes, when the cell was empty, and he opened his eyes, the eyes of the fawn, flickering strangely in the lantern-light, would watch him silently. They never judged, never accused. In fact they gave him comfort, watching him companionably. He didn't want to be alone, and those eyes, those beautiful black eyes eased the loneliness, shining and flickering even when the lantern outside the cell finally sputtered and died.
There was no way to know how much time had passed, when he found himself as close to lucid as he could remember for some time.
Someone was giving him water.
Knowing that what he was doing was only going to cause him to vomit, he guzzled greedily at it. Whomever was holding him up knew better, though, and the water was taken from his cracked, nerveless lips.
"It is appalling that you would allow him to fall into such a condition. He could have died."
Dimly the voice seemed . . . and then there was another.
"We didn't know - someone moved him into the unattended cells in H during the attack -"
"And he was left there for how long?"
"We can't be certain."
The water was offered again, and he gratefully allowed it to flow down a throat that couldn't even feel wet, just warm or cold. Swallowing was a painful and slow process.
"If he dies . . . the entire project dies with him."
"We have the other-"
"Who will be far less valuable to the animals. We have a goldmine before us, and stupidity has nearly bereft us of it. Make sure he is cared for."
"We can't hospitalize him. You know the risks!"
This was a new voice, Scott realized, making a concerted effort to open his eyes. He was beginning to think they might be gummed shut with mucus and grit, because even the simple act of cracking them open was too difficult for him to perform.
"Give him antibiotics, then. Whatever it takes."
"Why? You know as well as I it doesn't really matter."
Scott finally gave up the fight and relaxed, his head still tipped back. His stomach was stretched tight with the water, but he didn't feel as though he was about to bring it up. He sighed deeply.
Abruptly the conversation cut off, and Scott listened in the silence that followed, holding his rattling breath in an effort to hear what it had been that had taken their attention. He waited a few moments, hearing nothing but faint noises echoing until they were unrecognizably distorted.
There was nothing alarming in the sound.
"Jesus Christ, he stopped breathing."
Scott would have laughed, but sleep claimed him with a speed that would have been frightening, had he not been so amused.
Scott's chest moved so little that it surprised Logan to hear the faint rattle of fluid in his lungs. He rested on his heels, occasionally pouring a few drops of water into the mouth of the almost comatose leader of the X-Men.
A shadow crossed the barred window that looked into a cell barely two tiger cages in size, then returned and stayed. He ignored it, as he ignored the rib that remained over his own right lung, impeding its ability to expand properly. It wouldn't matter unless he needed to run, or exert himself, but the pressure might eventually kill him, if he became weak enough.
At least they got water, if not food. You could survive almost a month with no food.
He had gone almost two, once, and could have gone longer.
"You're Wolverine, aren't you."
The tone was that of a woman, maybe twenty, maybe a little older. It really wasn't a question, more like an affirmation of the facts before her. It was definitely a military-trained voice, no question.
"Depends. Who's askin'?"
There was no sound for a moment. "Tina. He dead?"
Logan wondered vaguely what she would do if he was, and lied.
"Will be in a few minutes."
"Why'd yah ask, then?"
"See what you'd say."
Fair answer to a fair question. He continued to pour the clear fluid little by little into Scott.
"What's yer interest in me?"
There was a laugh. "You're the only conscious one on the block, and I'm bored out of my skull."
He heard her shuffle on the other side of the door. "Why'd you ask, then?"
He did half-grin. "See what you'd say."
He heard her quiet chuckle. "Touche. If you must know, I rather admire the X-Men. Done some good things."
Logan shrugged. "'Parently yer employer doesn't think so."
There was no sound. Almost ten minutes went by until she spoke again.
"Your friends came looking for you, y'know."
Logan didn't move, other than to grunt.
"That's the reason you're still here. If they hadn't gotten so many of them out, we would have let you go."
Then he laughed, a loud, almost hollow laugh that ended in a hack. "That's a bunch of bullshit an' you know it, girl."
"It's Tina, not girl. And you don't know what you're talking about."
Logan sighed, the cup finally empty, and he carefully laid Scott flat on his back. "FoH just lettin' X-Men go? That'd be the day." "We aren't FoH."
"Wasn't meanin' you, darlin'. Your employer."
"We aren't FoH."
He finally did glance at the window. She was short, obviously straining to see into the window, though it didn't reflect in her voice. Her short-cropped brown hair curled slightly at the ends, giving her an almost elvish appearance, and her eyes seemed black in her shadowed face.
"What, then? Religious zealots? Even worse." Logan made his tone biting. And she bit.
"You don't understand anything."
With a flounce she disappeared, and there was quiet for many hours. He watched Scott breathing, shallowly, for that time, and more, thinking.
There has ta be a way outta here. Has ta be. The walls were stone, and while he wasn't sure quite how thick, even with his claws that would take him quite some time to pick through. And without his healing factor, popping his claws would hurt like a bitch. But he held the idea in check - if Scott actually woke out of the delirium, then it would be safe to move with him. If they were religious zealots, it may well be that the guards he'd observed were all there really were. Then they'd have a shot at it, mutant powers or no.
Course, the way his luck had been running, they'd all be soldiers.
"Yeah?" The speed of her response startled him.
"So do we get food, or just water here?"
"You get what can be spared. You're unclean."
Logan snorted. "Keep people in a closet-sized cell with a hole for a toilet, an' they're gonna be damn unclean, darlin'."
It was her turn to snort. "You're telling me," she muttered. "So, how are you misled? By the Christian ideals?"
Logan blinked. She wanted to start a conversation about religion. "I ain't of 'faith,' darlin'. I got my own idea of what happens. Don't need some preachy Father tellin' me he has no clue what's after an' he's just standin' there talkin' out his ass."
"There is a true religion," she told him sadly.
Logan blinked. "Sure is. Get in here an' I'll show yah."
The comment was supposed to enrage her, or offend her, or put her off guard. Instead, she merely laughed.
"I'm on duty."
And Logan suddenly got an idea.
"C'mon, Slim, open yer goddamn eyes an' let me know yer alive."
He tried, he really did, but they were apparently still gummed shut. Carefully, he made a noise. It was supposed to be the reluctant "Mmmm" that half-asleep college boys emit when being woken before noon.
It ended up sounding like a dying toad.
Had that been concern in Logan's voice? Was it really that bad? He felt no pain.
He struggled to sit up, move, anything. When he couldn't even with effort, he began to struggle frantically, irrationally afraid that he had no arms and legs. Even slight motion caused an excruciatingly painful cramp in his left arm, and apparently he made another noise, because he could hear Logan bellowing something, and then he was touched and his eyes were peeled painfully wide open and an unbearably bright light shone in them.
Eventually, though, the light started to fade, and he felt a curious poke on his chest, as though something was tickling him from the inside out, and then the pain subsided. He heard more voices, low ones and feminine ones and finally the voice of a child.
Then he felt curiously comfortable, and rather tingly all over, and he drifted off to the first truly refreshing sleep he'd had since he'd become a twenty year old.
Logan didn't interfere as they turned the pitifully moaning man onto his side and injected something directly into his heart. Though seven armed guards had come at Tina's call, only one and the two medics could actually fit inside the cell, and the others had to be satisfied with glaring at him menacingly.
He didn't move, didn't give them an excuse, just sat quietly and watched as slowly Scott's breathing slowed, and the terrible noise in the back of his throat slowly quieted with his breath, until he seemed to be resting somewhat comfortably.
One of the doctors rounded on Tina, standing outside the cell with something very close to concern on her face. Concern for the precious leader of the X-Men? Or concern for herself, having allowed the prisoner to fall into such piss-poor shape.
The doctor shook the blood pressure cuff under her nose.
"Damn you, woman! He almost _died!_ I don't care what it takes, you get Russel to let us administer antibiotics, or at least an IV. He's too dehydrated to move, to think, to be coherent. And he's a prime candidate for another attack - that was a hiccup, considering his condition. The next one will kill him. You tell Russel that. And if dehydration doesn't, that pneumonia will. Dammit! Learn when enough is enough!"
"I see you've forgotten the things that brought you here so eagerly," she said to him icily, her eyes - now Logan could see they were brown - watching him coldly. "I believe I'll add that to the report to Russel. About your business."
She motioned, and the cell was rather reluctantly left by the other medic and locked securely.
Logan remained motionless as they left, blinking occasionally as he sought his center.
And then he began to think, of a redhaired beauty with eyes that could see right through a person.
And through a crink in the wall across from Logan, Tina watched him.
At length he opened his eyes. And stared straight at her.
He was mildly amused to hear her involuntary gasp, and her sudden straightening. He could practically hear the blush creep up towards her roots. And sure enough, her face appeared in the window.
"How did you know I was there?"
"Are yah disillusioned, or do yah just have a really short attention span?"
She recoiled from the question, pulling away from the window for a while. Then her answer floated over the muted echoes and rechoes of hundreds of voices, a myriad of emotions.
"Not everything we do is right in the moral sense. But complete honesty in today's world is suicide. I consider it the lesser of two evils."
"So yer disillusioned. How'd you end up a mile underground?"
She whirled to glare at him. "I was in the Gulf War. How'd you end up in that cell?"
He shrugged. "I bought baby formula."
That must not have been the answer she expected.
She raised an eyebrow, a smile tugging at her mouth, until she straightened it seriously.
"You did what?"
He grinned in spite of himself, realizing how truly insane that sounded. The grin became a chuckle, which she joined without realizing, and soon the two of them were roaring, their laughter echoing down the corridors, the caves.
Scott awoke rather abruptly. He was being shaken hard by someone that wasn't in the least bit concerned about his pneumonia and in fact was being rather rough about the whole thing.
So he opened his mouth and coughed.
Abruptly the shaking stopped, and there was a relieved sound.
"I'm very sorry about the treatment you've received here. I fear that it has given you a bad impression of my employers."
The guy in the business suit.
"Now, please, you must remain conscious. You're about to meet some very important people, and you wouldn't want to embarrass yourself, would you."
"Are . . . . you . . . . lawyer?" He was amazed at the raspy, whispered quality of his voice.
"No," the suited man said, almost offended. "We have people for that."
Scott nodded. Off to sleep.
Again he awoke to the feeling of lukewarm liquid traveling down his throat. As before, he started choking.
Abruptly the water was pulled away, and Scott was very gently laid on his side as the coughs racked his frame. His tired, aching, stiff frame, he found. At length the coughing subsided, as it always did.
"Y' through, there, Slim?"
He sighed shallowly, trying to get air back into his lungs.
"I . . . don't know . . . what . . ?"
He heard Logan moving, the sound of chains.
Chains. They were chained.
"Had me kinda worried, there. How you feelin'?"
"Like . . . run over . . . bus?"
He chuckled darkly. "You with it?"
Scott raised his eyebrows, trying to use them to pry his eyes open. At length they did, gummy and tired.
There were in a closet-sized niche in the cave, lit only by the golden lanternlight flickering in through a wooden door that reminded him of the dungeons of film, a small barred window near the top Logan was holding him on his side, easing his breathing somewhat. A slow glance told him Logan was not much better off than he, looking much like a rather swollen bloody rag himself.
And he wasn't collared.
Scott reached up a clumsy hand, feeling along his own throat, which felt foreign to his dehydrated skin.
No collar there, either.
Logan had followed the progress of Scott's hand, and watched it fall, watched as even the tiny effort caused Scott to sink gently back into unconsciousness.
"Not a goddamned chance in Hell he'll make it," he said finally, speaking in a regular speech volume that hurt his parched throat.
There was a movement outside. "It isn't my problem." But her voice didn't have the same confidence, the same surety.
"Dammit, girl, you said you appreciated what the X-Men have done!"
"What do you want me to do? Save his life? Bit beyond my power."
He glared at the door as she looked in. She had to stand on her toes to look through the window. She dropped back down, and he waited in tense silence. One minute. Two. Five.
Keys, good old fashioned metal ones, rattled in the lock, and she entered warily. Logan didn't move as she crouched next to the unconscious man, still openly watching Logan as she reached a slender hand down to find the pulse of the man on the floor.
She frowned as she felt the heat of his skin, the strange texture.
"Have you been giving him the extra water?"
"All of it. An' most of mine."
She relaxed slightly around him, leaning down to look into the sleeping man's eyes. The dim light made it impossible to tell the color of it, but the skin beneath his lids looked pale. She glanced back into the hall, the echoing and reechoing of a hundred voices murmuring quietly there.
"I can't promise anything, but there is a makeshift hospital here. If I can get past the guard Russel put there." Her tone left little room for hope. While there was a bit of sincerity there, it was obvious she really had no confidence herself that such an excursion was possible.
Logan studied her carefully. *Damn* I wish I had my sense o' smell right about now . . . He'd forgotten how hard it was to read women without it.
"I could make it worth your while," he told her matter-of-factly, staring unblinking into her eyes. He was pleased to see them widen considerably.
"Oh, you could, could you."
She didn't sound in the least offended.
When next Scott came to, he knew that he was dead, and he must have screwed up life considerably.
A stage. He was on a stage, beneath scorching, merciless, unbearably bright lights, and all around was a roar of noise, of jeers and screams and shrills -
He hadn't imagined Hell would sound like a Guns'n'Roses concert.
Someone yanked his head back by his hair, nearly giving him whiplash, and the noise cresendoed to an unbelievable pitch and volume. He strove to squeeze his eyes shut against the burning, searing white light -
And then he was released, and he fell, and fell, and fell -
The cell he had here was much larger than the one in the caves of Tennessee, and it seemed vast and empty without Logan there to swear at him. He drifted in and out, enough to know that he was receiving meds, an IV drip that kept him asleep, and there were others, there, though many to each cell, and he had one to himself.
They often talked to him - the words seemed too fast or too slow; he could never make out what exactly it was they were saying. Sometimes he thought he heard lullabies - other times screams of horror, and thundercracks as sharp as a knife.
He wasn't brought to the stage again, although many people came to see him, and poke and prod him. The inhibitor collar was constricting as he tried to swallow the vile concoctions they offered, and the sweet ones he was teased with as they asked him question after question he simply couldn't understand.
He told them many things, though, many things. He told them that Remy had the mutant ability to be permanently scruffy, and how irritating it was to constantly be in the presence of a James Dean impersonator. He told them all about the time Bishop got hit on at Harry's by what turned out to be a supermodel. And he delighted in telling them all about how much better he had become at writing with his left hand.
They never seemed to find the humor, and they never rewarded his long stories.
But they always came back the next day, and the next, until one day he understood their questions.
"What is the gate password? What is it? A number? A word?"
"There was this . . . time . . . Jean dragged Bobby shopping . . . and . . ."
"Dammit," one of the voices said in disgust. "He's fuckin' useless. Get that goddamned telepath in here, _now_."
"His wife is one of the most powerful telepaths on the planet. Trust me, it's an exercise in futility. Besides, at this point I think the constant fever must have been too much. He'll never be the same. Fried his brain. Fuckin' lunatics, religious cows. After the damn king's ransom we paid them . . . for this."
"He's a symbol, if nothing else," a smooth voice reassured them. "A public 'execution' will still be effective, even if we won't get the information from him. Keep trying."
The cell door opened and closed, and they began to question him, instead.
The good thing about being lucid is you can always count sheep. At least to ten.
How could they possibly think they could get away with publicly murdering him?
That was what they were planning. He remembered that at least.
Scott lay still on the bed, controlling his breathing. He'd pulled the IV out when the bags had been switched, and now the fluid was dripping harmlessly onto the mattress, below the blankets. Every once in a while a guard would walk past.
The footsteps echoed; he had the impression of a vast space. Had the FoH managed to buy an old prison? He could see the metal bars from beneath his lashes, and the row across from him. There was a gap across the floor, railed - apparently they weren't on the ground floor of the structure.
"You're awake, right? Awake awake awake awake awake!"
The voice was chipper enough, and male, and fairly young. The English accent attached to it seemed almost out of the nineteen hundreds London, and exaggerated, like Oliver, or Eliza Dolittle.
"You have problems, sor, you do. Bad bad bad people, yes yes they are. Goin' to shoot you BANG! dead!"
He shushed himself, and Scott heard what sounded like a chorus of gentle snakes as the guard returned and paced up and down a few times before going to the far end again.
"Deader than dead. Like at the mountains. Dead caves. Dead caves go BOOM!"
Again the chorus of snakes, but the guard was either lazy or used to such behavior from the boy? and did not return.
So they had destroyed the caves. Dead caves. Scott squeezed his eyes shut. Dear God, she was in there. Logan was in there.
Unless he was here?
"Is Wolverine here," he stage whispered as loud as he dared.
"Nonononono, dead caves, dead caves."
Scott suddenly felt very old, and tired.
"Most got away," a female's sane voice whispered from somewhere off to the right.
His eyes opened, stared at the cracked concrete above him. "How many?"
"Almost all of them. Your people came and got them. I don't know how you knew, but thank God."
Scott didn't move, just stared, following a particularly odd-shaped crack with his eyes. He felt drowsy despite taking the IV out, and he knew it was really only a matter of time before someone came to check on him.
"An old friend of mine vanished, and we tracked her to Tennessee."
"Heather Weltun? Was that the friend? She mentioned you, a few times -"
Scott immediately closed his eyes as the guard, much quieter in approaching this time, appeared right outside his door.
"Nice try, mutie. Yo! Stan! That damn X-Man of yers was fakin' it! An' he's taken out his IV."
Heather. Good ol' Heather Weltun. They used to call her The Welt 'Un, as in, if you messed with her, she'd give you one. She was the only girl that ran with the rougher, older boys, and the only real friend Scott had when Alex left.
The forever grass-stained girl would stay with him and hold his hand when the headaches came, and patted him comfortingly and told him she knew what it felt like. Her real parents had been alive and well, but they had beaten her a lot and she'd run away to her guidance counselor. Two weeks later they had both died in a car crash, and Heather had no grandparents.
She hadn't been there when he left with Charles, hadn't been in the window waving or in the yard watching. He hadn't seen her at all, and the idea that she'd forgotten had made him cry that night.
She'd run away from the orphanage about four months after he left, and they'd heard not a word from her. Many thought she'd been kidnapped; one of the House women had had to go identify a girl's body later that year, but it hadn't been her.
And then, out of the blue, there'd been a letter in the mail. To Scottie Summers. A letter that he'd read and reread and had left sitting on the desk at home.
The 'redhead' had read the letter, and agreed that it would be a good idea to call her. Apparently Rattie had picked up the phone, babbling about the men in black that had come and taken her. But Scott had gone down there, with Remy, and the thief had found more than enough evidence to support the hallucinating poet's claims.
A two month search had led him to this point.
And now he could only pray that the redhead and company had managed to get her out before the caves had been destroyed.
Actually, this truly was amazing. In a large clearing, still in the south judging by the names he was being called and the drawl with which they were shouted, he was tied spread-eagle to a large, wooden X. He didn't know if they'd heard the story about Logan and the Reavers, and he didn't really want to think about it.
Besides, he didn't think they were about to let him die from exposure and starvation. Although he might die of pneumonia, if they waited long enough.
Several cameras were pointed towards him, and a van sat near the base of the audience, sending the signal from a small dish. Live telebroadcast? He would have shaken his head, if he could.
The murdering of a helpless X-Men wasn't going to improve their image, much as they liked to think it would.
The speech began, the banners flapping in the wind and all the 'citizens of this fair country' were paraded before the cameras, the 'innocents' he had hurt in a mad rampage through a small Southern town. They even managed to make a little girl scream at the sight of him, and burst into tears.
He wondered exactly what he looked like, but didn't care enough to open his eyes and find out. If they were broadcasting live, he probably had his costume on, so he wasn't worried about it. He also felt the heavy weight of the inhibitor collar on his neck and shoulders, so his visor being on didn't particularly mean anything to him.
#Jean . . . Jean, I'm sorry.#
There was an immensely strong chance that the collar would be generating a field that could hide him from telepathic searches, but he felt the need to reach out anyway. He was too sick to be frightened, and he knew it - that fact in itself disturbed him. He was literally about to let a mob descend on him and tear him limb from limb, and he really didn't give a flip.
And then he heard it, the far-off, distinct whine of engines so quiet that you had to practically know what frequency they sang to even be able to detect them at all. To the mob of frenzied people, it was no more annoying than the feedback whine of an old television.
And then there was noise - lightning, a storm. The speaker shouted something like, It's God displaying his displeasure with this filth, but even the dimmest bulb knows a white-haired woman floating in the air is not God in the Christian sense, and not particularly good news.
Something struck him - a piece of debris in the wind, a knife or bullet perhaps - he had no idea. The unstable molecules of his uniform kept it from killing him, whatever it had been - bullet, then - and there were two hands wrapped around his throat, impossibly tightly.
He held his breath, surprised at his detachment as the pain grew greater and greater, and his head swam. Then there was a growl - growl? Hadn't Logan been in the caves? - and the hands were ripped away, and he felt something trickling down his neck, under the collar.
Then the collar was gone, and there was nothing but words, lost in the howling winds, soothing sounds and soft syllables, and he was taken from that uncomfortable position, carried off.
And the soothing noises were in his head.
#Scott, oh god, Scott, I'm here, I'm here, you're going to be okay . . . Scott? Scott, answer me, please. Can you hear me? Scott, please.#
And he was fairly sure that he thought something back before he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
*What took you so long?*
Forty-eight hours later saw him conscious, and almost out of danger. The pneumonia was as bad as ever, but not getting any worse, and he was finally out of risk for a heart attack, his electrolytes back up to an acceptable level.
And he was listening.
"Anyway, they carted you off, and Tina was kind-hearted enough to accidentally drop the keys right next to the door as her group was getting out before the explosion. I got seventy or so out before the blast, back through side tunnels. Those were the only ones I found. I dunno if they had power dampeners or what, but my powers came back sometime in the caves., as did most of 'ems.
"It was some kind o' religious group, lookin' fer money. Can you believe it? Had all their people go out and take in the unclean, and sold 'em to the FoH, who were probably gonna make sure they got to Genosha, knowin' the bastards. The religion was brought back in the Gulf War, which is why they had so many damned soldiers with 'em."
Scott nodded tiredly. "There was a woman. Knew Heather."
Logan nodded. "Yeah, said Heather actually 'scaped on her own. Left a number, in case you were interested. She's in the shelter downtown, for the moment, with a lot of 'em. Most are illegal immigrants, but since so much of the US military was behind the kidnappin', and since some were on active duty when it happened, Congress decided to give 'em all citizenship instead of settlin' a whole lot of court cases."
Scott nodded, gently squeezing Jean's hand as she held it. The stitches on the side of neck, from the assault he suffered at the hands of what Bishop described as a "rather large man" and Logan as "damned stupid giant," itched ceaselessly. Jean had to hold his hand to keep him from scratching, and he nagged her constantly about it along their link, since he was too weak to resist her.
Jean seemed to think this was how it should be, and he could feel the relief and love and happiness radiating from her end of the link like sunlight.
#I was so worried about you. We all were.#
*With reason, I suppose.*
He yawned, and fell asleep. The fawn was in his dreams, watching him, waiting with him . . . waiting for him.
Scott struggled to walk, his breaths coming in ragged gasps. Holding onto the medbeds for support, he crossed the painful seven feet to a stool, which he collapsed upon. Once there, he rested, severely out of breath, glancing at the clock. Hank would be in here in a few minutes, and dress him down for doing it, but he had to know. When his breathing was reasonably quieter, he reached for the phone, and dialed the number they'd left for him. It was in Logan's handwriting, which was surprisingly neat.
"Downtown Shelter, how may I direct your call?"
He hesitated, looking at the scrap of paper. All it said was, "Alicia," and the shelter number.
"Is she a resident here?"
Again he hesitated. "She called from there a couple . . ." he coughed hard, "-days ago."
"Have you a last name?"
"Just a moment, please."
He was put on hold, and the musak was pleasant enough, if not very diverse. A painful reminder of the last phone call he'd made. The radio had been quite audible in the silence before the well-spoken man on the other end had admitted that no, Heather hadn't come home. And then the voice had told him about the men in black that had taken her, then suspected he was one, and Scott had found himself suddenly listening to a dial tone.
The musak ended abruptly, and after a moment, a painfully familiar voice spoke.
"Hello, is . . . *cough* Alicia?"
He grimaced, trying to hold another fit in. "Scott, please." He cleared his throat.
He heard a quick intake of breath from her end. "You should be in bed! You sound awful!"
"Feeling better, anyway." By pure force of will he didn't cough.
There was a brief hesitation, then, "You calling about Heather? She hasn't shown up at her apartment, I've heard."
He nodded slightly, the gesture automatic. "That's correct." His throat tickled and he swallowed repeatedly.
"Well, she took off about five or six days before you showed up, and a week before the X-Men came."
He nodded. Good. She got out well before the cave-in. Maybe she was just too frightened to go home. "How'd . . . she leave?" If Heather could speak to animals, maybe one helped her out of the caves. Dear God, don't let her have gotten lost in them.
"Oh, ran, I suppose - must have been hard for her and all, being pregnant."
There was a silence, so complete Scott could clearly hear seventeen different voices behind this Alicia, presumably mutants at the shelter. After a moment, he remembered to breathe.
"She was . . . pregnant?" She'd said this Rattie was a _brother_, not a lov-
"Yeah, just about to deliver. Was saying how happy Rattie was going to be . . . is something wrong?"
Five days. Five days. God. He'd been asleep for three, then . . .
". . . Remember that thing I used to be able to do with the birds? Now I can do it with dogs, cats, raccoons, and yes, even mice . . . He said he wouldn't think of eating me, which I decided was a good thing, and would help me out if I ever needed to protect my territory and my mate was elsewhere. . ."
"Please, tell me, do you know what her mutant ability was?"
There was a surprised silence. "You mean you don't?"
Scott's hand shaking had nothing to do with pneumonia or weakness. "We fell . . . out of touch . . ."
There was a thoughtful sigh. "Animal-shifting, I think it was. She said something about being so beautiful when it happened . . . I remember a quick flash of . . . black? No, or maybe . . . brown? "Hello? Hello? Scott, are you there?"
"Bish, I owe you big time for all that damned paranoid tapping equipment on the phones. . ."
Logan pulled neatly onto the shoulder, behind the teal Grand Cherokee.
Getting out and lighting a cigarette, he realized how much different the country looked in the daytime. Brighter, prettier. The trees swayed in a slight breeze, the only thing keeping the humidity of the area bearable, even if it was fall. Warmer than it had been, that night. A lot warmer. The road curve was a pretty slow one, ringed with a lot of shrubbery and thick trees, and tire tracks indicated it was a favorite speed trap for the local deputy.
Just past the turn, there were deep black skidmarks on the pavement, leading up to a large oak.
He walked to a point in the road, inhaling deeply, inspecting the side of the pavement. A bit of headlight glass here and there among the pebbles and beer tabs. He studied the ground harder, sniffing, but the wind was at his back, carrying the scent away.
There was a twin, parallel set of deep furrows that led from the now dry and cracked clay-based dirt to the storm drain. Where Scott had fallen. He leapt easily over the dry streambed, backtracking a few yards, then headed deeper into the wood. He still couldn't smell a thing, thought now the wind should have brought the stench of death, or even a picked carcass -
There was a mound, all right, a mound of brown earth, wildflowers - and heather, by the smell - and a rock still warm with the fine, sharp, laser-engraved words -
Heather Weltun - Always Loved and Forever Missed -
Logan eyed the grave with some surprise. It had to be at least four feet deep - enough to keep the animals away. Where the hell had he gotten the strength to do that?
Yet didn't he know grief and guilt could make a man do impossible things?
The missing shovel he found leaning against a tree. The wooden handle stank of sweat, and exhaustion, and sickness.
And over it all, like a sharp cheese among swiss, was guilt. And despair.
And underneath it, he smelled . . . old blood, and something else he couldn't identify.
Logan tossed it down, snorting to clear his nose of the stench. The handle was still slightly damp with Scott's sweat.
Surely he hadn't tried to go back to the lodge.
Logan began to jog, then run through the brush, his nose telling him what tree Scott had leaned on for support, where he'd fallen. How long it had taken him to rise again. The man was going to kill himself. And as if that didn't help, Logan knew that the lodge they had rented had been covered with teeming swarms of policemen and feds, but a week ago. Which left the time ripe for the townsfolk to be there, taking souvenirs. And in Scott's condition, judging from his smell, he might not even try to defend himself.
Shoulda gone back an' buried her m'self. Hope dogs got her. Hope she was smart an' didn't move once the guns walked in. Damn, I hope she didn't starve. Ever since he'd led those seventy or so mutants from the caves, and been picked up by the X-Men, he'd felt guilty about not going back. He'd fallen unconscious for the last trip, hadn't woken until they were almost home.
And Ororo wouldn't turn back. She'd pointed out the obvious.
The fawn had to be dead, and if it wasn't, he would never find it.
He burst into the clearing much sooner - and a bit more loudly - than he'd anticipated. With all the twist and turns they'd taken to get to the lodge by dirt trail, in fact the way the roads were set up at all, he'd been surprised how very close everything had been to that main drag. The tunnels he'd led the remaining captives out had spit out practically on top of it. And the lodge was really only half a mile from it, as well.
And in that clearing, before the broken remains of the lodge and the torn and fluttering yellow police tape, he found Scott.
The man was still, on his knees, slumped forward, his head bowed. And he was wearing the _coat_. It reeked of blood and what he know knew was fluid from the birth.
And it smelled strongly of the fawn.
It looked like Scott was dead. Only the movement of his shoulders gave him away, his skin pale and slick with sweat beneath a mop of matted brown hair. Logan was glad he'd insisted on going to last miles alone. He wouldn't want the team to see Scott like this.
Almost in a daze he turned to Logan, his face dripping, breathing so hard he could scarcely speak. "Where . . ?"
Logan stepped completely out of the woods, glancing around. The lodge was destroyed. The thick logs had been shredded to ribbons by bullets, the windows were gone. There was no sign of even furniture inside - and no scent of a fawn there recently. No sign of a struggle other than their own. He didn't smell any blood. Logan quietly approached Scott, almost as he would a wild animal.
"C'mon, Slim, time t'take you home. Y'don't look so hot."
Sott's face held all the pain of the world, his scent a soup of guilt and horror and fear and . . . betrayal, almost. Scott's hands were shaking as he gestured toward the cabin.
"There. . . she died . . . where . . . is she?"
Logan tossed his cigarette to the ground, looking around. The door of the lodge itself had collapsed inward. His foot automatically crushed out the smoking butt as his eyes roamed.
"Mebbe she left, an' she did get picked up by a doe." Not fuckin' likely, with their scent all over it, but hell, Scott didn't know any better.
Scott shook his head mutely, and gestured again. Toward the cabin. So they'd killed it, then. Mebbe they'd heard it inside and that was why they'd shot the place all to hell.
Logan swallowed, taking a deep breath and holding it before expelling it, blowing out his cheeks.
"Hell, Cyke, if they hadn't, she woulda been killed anyway. Dogs woulda killed her. Or bobcats."
Scott straightened with a strength Logan wouldn't have suspected he'd had.
"You're talking about a PERSON!" he screamed hoarsely. "That was an INFANT!"
Logan reached out a hand to steady Scott, and the man slapped it away with something close to a growl, somehow even making it to his feet. In a more subdued, almost lost tone, Scott's voice grated on.
"Have . . to find her . . . bury her with . . . her mother . . ."
Logan followed the tottering man in his search, toward the cabin.
"Slim, I don't smell a thing. Not a carcass, not blood . . . she's gone."
"She's watching me," he said hollowly, rasping through a throat that sounded drier than the cracked clay he'd inspected no more than a half-hour ago.
#Logan, have you found him? He's still blocking me.# There was a note of panic in Jean's thoughts.
*Yeah, I got him. We'll be heading back. Got something to do, first.* He carefully kept what he was seeing and feeling to himself, and she didn't seem to protest.
"Okay, sure, Cyke, I'll help. Where was the last place yah saw her?"
"Why? . . . didn't she . . .turn back? Should have . . . turned back . . ."
Logan studied the spot of ground Scott was staring at. Why, indeed? If they killed Mystique, surely she'd revert to her original form. And the same for Morph. Why hadn't Heather changed?
And why had her daughter remained a fawn?
He knelt at the ground Scott indicated, and studied it carefully. Then he popped a claw and carefully dug into the dried mud, eventually working a dull silver object from the dirt -
A bullet. Flattened.
The thin layer of dust on the dried clay finally told the story. "Scott . . . she got dragged off into the woods."
Scott was staring at the lodge, shaking.
"Watching me . . . waiting . . . I have . . . to find her," he said brokenly.
Logan stood slowly, and headed into the cabin. There had to be some trace - she was watching him? Well, he was dehydrated, and exhausted. No telling what he dreamed in the caves, he was probably hallucinating -
But sometimes, in the dark shadows, eyes watched him, as well. Begged him for something he could not give, would not give -
He shook his head sharply, glancing around. As he had predicted, the cabin had been cleared of everything but broken glass and broken floorboards. The fireplace had partially collapsed, the mantle fallen crazily at an angle. Without the glass, and in the shade of the trees, the place truly was one of shadows of motion. Outside, he heard Scott coughing.
Yeah, he was coughing.
As he turned back out, he did catch sight of it. Knew the color by heart - he'd had to screw it on with a da- a little fawn begging him for it the entire time, rather forcefully.
He hefted the mantle with a grunt and a hiss of air, bricks crumbling beneath his boots with a dry, harsh noise. He tumbled the mantle onto its side with a groan of effort, ignoring the crash it made. Beneath the broken masonry, there in the cinders and dust, was an empty can of formula - and a baby bottle.
This he carefully took from the crumbled brick and carried outside.
"I got it, Cyke."
Scott was standing, lost, alone, in the center of the clearing, just staring at the ground. Somewhat more gently, Logan spoke again.
"I've got her, Cyke. C'mon, let's go."
Scott had no will left to protest, only reached out a shaking hand. Logan handed him the bottle and Scott took it gently.
The half-mile took almost an hour to walk, and he had to tell Jean twice more they were leaving before Scott led him to the mound. Without a word, he grabbed the shovel.
Logan gently but firmly took it away.
"I'll do the buryin'. You do the engravin'."
And Logan set to work.
He listened to the painstaking blasts that carved words into the stone, listened to the breath rattling in Scott's lungs like a baby toy. It only took him a few minutes to dig a hole sufficiently deep beside the deer. The bottle was tiny and he found that the work went almost too quickly.
There was something about the entire affair that lent an air of almost awed pomp. It felt as though an elaborate ceremony should be being performed. He very gently picked up the bottle. Scott interrupted him, and Logan looked up at the gentle touch on his shoulder. As he had all those nights ago, wordlessly Scott handed him the jacket.
Logan nodded, and took it gently from a hand that was no longer shaking. He carefully wrapped the bottle, noting with an almost smile the teeth marks on the nipple and plastic of the bottle, from all those three o'clock feedings that couldn't be sucked fast enough. He reverently wrapped the bottle inside the coat, as he had it's owner all those days ago. Gently, he placed the surprisingly human-shaped bundle into the ground, arranged it just so, and carefully shoveled the brown clay on top, till at last it was a small mound, beside the larger one.
And he leaned up, surprised at the moisture in his own eyes, to read what Scott had so painstakingly blasted into the rock.
- Here lies mother and daughter, wild and beautiful, forever free -
He nodded gruffly. "That's just right."
Scott nodded tiredly, and stared off for a moment. Then he moved his cracked lips, and spoke.
"Heather . . . oh, god, I just didn't see you . . . I didn't . . . see . . . you . . ." Tears fell from under his visor, and Logan wondered oddly how it was that after all this, the man could be capable of tears, and sweat.
Apparently Scott was capable of a great many things no one gave him credit for.
"I can't tell you . . . how sorry . . . sweet God, what I wouldn't . . . give . . . to just . . . feel one of the . . . ol' Welt 'Un's . . . indian burns . . . just one . . . and I know . . . I never will . . . will I? Never . . . Your daughter . . . you . . . would have been . . . she was so . . . so beautiful . . . her eyes . . . so beautiful . . . I didn't see you . . . I didn't see . . . I didn't know . . . Heather . . . never a day . . . I didn't think . . . of you . . . and now . . . here I am . . . just the same . . . no treehouse, though . . . we tried to . . . save her . . . we did . . . but she's . . . with you, now . . . you can see . . . how beautiful . . ."
And then he was through, and his knees finally gave out, and he fell, one hand on the stone, and his tears soaked into the clay.
And beside them did Logan's.