Damp meant moisture.
Moisture meant water.
Water meant rain.
It was raining.
Cold meant winter... or was it autumn? Cold meant snow and shivering and parkas and warm arms beneath thick quilts while the radio hummed Sinatra.
It was raining. It was cold. He knew this much.
More. He needed more.
Heavy. The world was heavy, and it was crushing his chest, his legs, his skull. The world consisted of the dark, damp earth and the cracked wood that let it in and the tight, ungenerous air that refused to allow his lungs to work.
His lungs didn't need to work.
He didn't know why this was so, but it was.
This world was heavy and cold and damp, and he didn't want to be in it anymore.
So he opened his eyes.
And the world gave way before his stare.
Grateful, he closed his eyes again.
Now to stand. To stand. To stand was an easy thing. To stand was a simple thing he'd learned three decades ago. He knew how to stand.
But he had to remember.
So he did.
To climb. Arms had to reach. Muscles had to flex.
Muscles didn't flex.
But they had to, so they did.
If he were breathing, he would have been gasping. He would have been choking on the sick, sweet stench that clung to him like the folds of the rotting clothes he wore. He would have been knuckled forward on the ground, trying to draw in air, trying not to choke on the pounding rain that crept into his nose and his mouth and the creases on his face while the thunder cracked dangerously overhead.
He didn't breathe. Yet still he didn't take the time to wonder at that.
There was something more important to worry about.
So he walked.
One foot, shuffling, dragging, limping. Two feet -- how could a man walk on two lame feet? He didn't wonder, and so he walked. Steps slow, aching-but-not, balanced-but-not.
A shambling semblance of life... but not.
The rain was cleansing. Somewhere in the recesses of his memory, he saw an image of a woman as dark as the earth that had swallowed him, with hair as pristine as the snow that wasn't falling. There was something very, very important about this woman... something to do with the way her eyes flashed, the way the air shifted at her gestures, the way the sky split apart with a furious scream at her call...
This was important. This mattered.
He pondered the question as his feet dragged him forward.
Another memory -- was it a memory? -- with the woman and the scream and the cries of the dying all around. The storm was called a hurricane; he remembered that. Nature's way of reminding Man that she still held his puny life in the palm of her hand. He and the woman -- the woman with the snow-hair and the earth-skin -- they'd gone to stop the hurricane.
To stop the hurricane?
Even to his fractured mind that seemed insane.
But it was so. He wouldn't argue with what was so.
Other people -- there were other people; he knew that -- had tried to help. Noble people. Friends. Loved ones. Family. He'd watched them rage against Nature's raging, and he'd known that no matter how much power they commanded, in the end they would lose.
He'd known that to go after the man was suicide.
But to not go after him... to let him be torn away, to scream and die and scream again... that was murder.
He didn't wonder at the thought. It was clear in his mind... words he'd said often and lived by -- inaction equals murder.
He'd never been a murderer.
Snow-hair-earth-skin had cried out to him. She'd begged him with command in her voice and desperation in her eyes to stay back, to stay away, to let her calm the storm first. But that clarity wouldn't be questioned -- inaction equaled murder. He wouldn't be a murderer.
Now, here, in witness to his labored footsteps, the wind picked up and caressed him with the frigid rain; in apology, he thought. Inasmuch as he could feel, he believed that felt good. Soothing. Comforting.
Cold and damp and heavy, but comforting.
He moved forward with more purpose, eyes closed, following a call that touched in his broken chest instead of his ears.
Because he wouldn't be a murderer.
Trees. He knew they were trees because they clawed at his skin with their bony fingers, and they tore free bits of him to keep as souvenirs. The rain was the only fluid that wet his skin -- blood no longer remembered how to flow. The heart had forgotten how to pump.
It didn't have to pump. He only needed this battered body for a night.
He only needed it for a right.
The rain was cut by the branches above. He continued forward, his stride a ghostly echo of what it once had been. Something like a gravelly chuckle emerged from his throat, and he thought with surprise that what was left of his lips had to be smiling.
Funny? What was funny?
Nothing. And everything.
And then she was before him.
He couldn't see her... yet he saw her without eyes. He couldn't be here, but he stood here without life.
He made her gasp in horror.
He hadn't meant to do that.
But at least she'd dropped the knife to thud tiredly to the skin-brown earth.
"You... you cannot be here..." she said in a shocked, horrified whisper. "This is not happening."
He told her that it was. The words were mushy, broken, but he told her.
"This is wrong," she protested, speaking the words angry Nature would have spoken. "Wrong."
And he agreed that this was so, and he gestured to the knife.
"You do not understand." Words hissed now, furious, telling him of the self-hate, the condemnation, the recrimination swilling like a bitter stew in her stomach. "Everything I've done... everything since that day... wrong. All of it. Lives... I've taken lives." Something like despair welled in her voice. "Have you come for me? To take me? You... the one I failed first and worst?"
His feet carried him forward. They were tired... so tired. He only had need of them for a moment longer, though. Just long enough to tell her.
Just long enough to act.
Thunder rumbled curiously, waiting. The rain plastered matted hair to what skin was left over his skull.
"Ororo," he said; words without breath, emotion without life. "It wasn't... your fault..."
Her living breath caught in her lungs audibly. "It..."
"I... wasn't... your fault..."
"Jean... wasn't. Her breakdown. Logan... wasn't... when he left. They weren't... we weren't... your fault."
A sob. A long, long overdue sob. "Scott..."
The impossible strength was fading. The animation he'd borrowed crumpled slowly. Withered muscles trembled, and he collapsed in a slow, graceless motion, face sinking down towards the ground.
Final words... something profound...
He didn't want profound. He only wanted her to understand why...
"Just wanted... you to know... that."
... why he'd come back. What he'd told her. Why he'd acted on this damp-cold-heavy night.
Inaction equals murder.
Scott had never been a murderer.
Not even in death.
Other Stories By Kaylee