Sequel to "Seeing Red." How're the X-Men gonna react when they find out Scott's
gone? This'll be an ongoing series that'll end...whenever I run out of things to
write. ;-) Hope you enjoy, and comments/suggestions are always welcome.
Ororo hung up the phone with stunned, dreamlike slowness. Her eyes stared blindly at the bare paneled walls, her mind spinning over and around the words she'd just heard, the tension in Domino's businesslike tone. One line played repeatedly through her head as if a broken record had been lodged between her ears:
"Nate's gone after him, Storm. He knows."
Her heart remembered to thump after a few seconds that felt much longer, and she swallowed hard while her battle-trained brain wound up and kicked into gear. Xavier's telepathy was as out of action as all the other telepaths', so there was no point in contacting him on Muir. He didn't even know about... this... yet, and she'd be happy to keep it that way until things were resolved one way or another. Letting Jean hear this was out of the question; her friend was teetering on the edge already. One push might be enough to...
One push might be too much.
Logan would've used his own resources to track Scott, probably through identification he'd have to use... credit cards, then, since Scott had left the mansion on foot. Inter-US travel meant credit cards. He'd either have bought himself a bus ticket or rented a car. They kept records of credit card numbers, among other things, here at the mansion just in case. Bastion's damned housecleaning had destroyed everything they'd gathered prior to his operation, but after that Scott himself had insisted on reinstating the same system of record-keeping.
So she had the numbers... all she needed was someone with the connections to put them to use.
All she needed was...
"Remy," she murmured. Her head turned, keen ears picking up the chug of a motorcycle revving up out towards the garage. He was planning on heading out for the afternoon, then.
His plans were about to change.
Of one wordless accord they moved through the alley, coming out behind the bar in the small lot that was probably used for deliveries. It was empty, now, and the single streetlight rigged to illuminate it sported a broken bulb. Just through the solid brick wall were a handful of drinkers who hadn't needed to wait for sundown to start on their hangovers. Logan walked lightly on the balls of his feet, his physical training near at hand and ready, his emotional discipline buried somewhere beneath a more instinctual response to Cable's presence.
There was no talk, no debate, no taunting. They faced each other in silence, sizing up preparation and condition. Cable shrugged out of his jacket, then pulled his shades from his face and tucked them into a pocket before tossing the jacket over an upturned barrel against the wall. Almost as an afterthought he peeled off one glove, two, revealing the metal hand and flexing it lightly.
Logan watched for a moment, motionless, then abruptly pulled his own battered bomber from his shoulders and flung it to hang over the crumbling concrete wall that divided this lot from the next. His matches fell from a pocket and scattered over the cracked pavement that for some reason covered the ground here and yet not the street itself. He ignored that, staying focused, staying ready.
The bigger man had lost weight; he could see that now that the jacket was off. His T-shirt was still snug enough to show the musculature that hadn't suffered overmuch, but Logan thought he spotted a deeper hollow below the ribs than should've been there, and without the sunglasses Cable's eyes seemed somewhat sunken into his head, surrounded by dark shadows. His skin was drawn tighter, his face was definitely gaunter... All in all, he didn't look nearly as ready for something like this as he might've thought he was.
At the moment, Logan didn't really give a damn.
Just enough distance between them to allow a chance to regain perspective... a moment to reconsider. Logan wasn't sure if it was his own move or Cable's that made that so, but he wasn't in the mood to take advantage of the opportunity.
And neither, from the looks of things, was Cable.
"Last chance," Logan said levelly. "Back out now, Cable. Let it go." But his voice said nothing even vaguely similar to his words, and neither did his eyes or stance or slightly-curled lip.
Cable walked forward. Logan didn't move. "You can't think past your libido, can you, hairball? You can't consider for one second what your actions might mean to the future."
Logan's lip curled farther in disgust. "Hidin' behind that old line, huh? That's got nothin' to do with why you're here, bub, and you know it. Your pop may not be much o' one for dealin' with his anger... but you always were, weren'tcha?"
Cable stopped a bare pace in front of him as if hesitating, listening to his words. For just a heartbeat he looked very, very much like his father debating a course of action, weighing options and morality and long-term effects.
Then, flat-footed and seemingly unprepared, his feet suddenly shifted and his fists flew into motion, crashing a respectable uppercut to the underside of Logan's jaw with his flesh-and-bone hand. Logan had half-expected it, but even so the blow knocked him back two staggering strides as his head snapped away from the force of it.
"Yeah," Cable agreed with that cold not-smile. "I guess you could say that."
He had time for nothing else as Logan, a low growl building in his chest, gathered himself and lunged directly back for his opponent.
"Y' sure y' wan' do dis, Stormy?"
"Maybe dis is somet'ing we should be stayin' out of..."
"If you disagree you're welcome to stay."
"I'm not lettin' y' go after 'em alone."
"In that case, sit down and fasten your seatbelt."
"Dere somet'ing wrong wit' havin' backup, chere?"
"At the moment, Remy, I do not trust everyone to keep a clear head."
"Ah. So y' jus' gon' t'row de two of us in de fire, neh?"
"There will be no fire."
"Dey ain' gon' listen t' reason."
"There will be no fire."
"Don' see how y' can be so sure a dat, chere."
Thunder cracked loudly, drowning out the roar of the waking Blackbird's engines. It rumbled for a long moment and vibrated through the skin of the plane itself.
A moment of quiet afterwards, with only the sound of machinery to be heard.
Then a grunt of acknowledgment. "Right. Dere ain' gon' be no fire."
There was no answer.
It'd started rough, slow. Logan's retaliation for the first punch had been nothing more elegant than an all out tackle, but the brief wrestling match on the ground had broken apart swiftly, both opponents reeling aside to gain feet and balance. Neither was comfortable with that limited range of motion.
A wary circling, watching... a snarl on one mouth, a firm line to another. Logan had tried feints, testing reactions, and had found that though Cable might've lost condition, he hadn't lost his reflexes. The other man had tested him likewise -- a bit of body-motion here, a half-lunge there...
Then Cable finally paused for half a second as their eyes met solidly again. Logan's snarl twitched briefly towards a grim smile. He nodded once; Cable's eyes narrowed.
And then they clashed for real.
The room was perfectly silent save for the sound of her respiration. She tried to ignore even that, shoving her awareness down, down, down. If she went deep enough... fought hard enough... maybe she could forget what she'd done. Maybe she could escape the shame and horror that'd overwhelmed her since she'd first realized that her secret rendezvous was anything but. Maybe...
Farther down. She had to go farther...
There was no light on in the room, but the sun crept past the soft maroon curtains she'd hung only weeks ago and dappled the floor in light and shadow. Her eyes were hidden against her knees in an effort to stave off the headache that'd been pounding at her for hours, her arms hugging her legs as close to her as possible. She didn't want to see or hear or think or know that--
Her head snapped up. Green eyes glistened with tears and sunlight, staring blindly at the wall and for the first time not seeing that damned intercom and all it meant.
Not telepathy, not quite. Something on a fundamentally deeper level, connected to another in a manner that perfectly mundane mothers had touted as biblical truth for centuries.
Her lips parted. Her breath caught.
"Nate," she whispered. "No..."
The pain in her skull stabbed deeper as she instinctively reached for that part of her mind that she shouldn't be able to access now.
Nate grunted as his back slammed into the wall. The stabbing pain in his chest spoke of a bruised rib at least, a cracked one in all likelihood. That shouldn't have been enough to make his breath come so short, though. It shouldn't be making his muscles burn with an all too familiar agony.
Logan wasn't letting up, so Nate didn't either. The smaller man got in a few solid licks to his abdomen before Nate managed to twist and drop an elbow to guard his short ribs. Logan shifted targets readily and jabbed for his face, but Nate jerked his head aside just in time. Logan gave a grinding shout of pain as his fist slammed full force into the bricks. Nate took the opportunity to lash his elbow out, hard. Bone connected with Logan's temple and sent the man stumbling, cursing. A hand went to his head and his left eye fluttered shut.
A vise tightened around Nate's chest, constricting his lungs. His teeth ground to fight back the cry he wanted to give.
He moved swiftly, unwilling to let an opportunity pass... and though he saw, his mind didn't acknowledge that his left arm was slowly distorting, jagged peeks forming along the ridges of techno-organic muscle as an external sign that something internal was going very, very wrong.
"How we gon' find 'em when we hit de town?"
"We shall worry about that when we arrive."
"Can' really be sure dey'll be dere, y'know. All I got from de trace is dat Scott was dere yest'day..."
"I know Cyclops. If his trail ended there, it was because he wanted it to. He would have known that someone would follow. He was allowing the confrontation. Logan would have found him there."
"Den how y' know de fuzzball hung 'round?"
"I know Logan, as well."
"Den how y' know--"
"I don't, Remy," she admitted at last, strain making her voice sharp. "But we must try, and this is the only lead we have. Presumably it is the only lead Cable had, as well."
"So maybe dere's not'ing goin' on dere at all."
Her voice dropped to a murmur he could barely make out: "We would not be so lucky..."
Cable wasn't holding back, and Logan dug into his anger and let it fuel him to match the other man. There was no refinement to either of their tactics, no finesse. Two furious, frighteningly strong men tore into each other with nothing resembling restraint.
At least, not to any uninformed observer. Anyone who knew these particular men would realize that there was something still in store if they didn't make an end to this soon. Logan was already feeling that curiously pleasant itch in his forearms as the muscles that extended his claws flexed in preparation.
But he fought the urge, held it at bay. No matter how enraged he was, he wouldn't breach that final barrier. The moment he popped his claws he invited Cable to retaliate with everything in his arsenal... and even if that weaponry no longer included telepathy, Logan wasn't about to tempt fate and see just how badly his telekinesis might have suffered along with his other psi-powers.
There was more to it than that. Something beneath the anger that reminded him that even though they'd been at odds before, and even though they battled furiously now, this man was an ally. Not a friend, no, but someone he still owed a certain debt of honor to. They fought the same fight; they wouldn't kill each other while doing so.
Yet still it was all too easy to see-but-not-see when Cable's knee took his abdomen at an angle and almost made him rid himself of the beer he'd had for breakfast, when his own counter-punch did more damage to his knuckles than the metal side of the man's face, when that devastatingly strong left hand slammed a blow right into his solar plexus and left him trying to draw air into lungs that wouldn't obey...
He called on all his martial skills to rally from that; jumping, spinning, shin crashing into Cable's head just above his ear and finally knocking the man down a notch.
But he still saw-but-didn't-see, so somehow it made no impact on him when he noted distantly that Cable's arm and chest were sprouting spike-like growths, except to serve as incentive towards caution when facing that left hook. The techno-organic virus didn't cross his mind once.
Cable lunged for him, arms outspread, and Logan swore as the impact took him down.
His arms itched to release the claws... damn, how they itched...
She clutched at her head, gasping. Pain... she hadn't felt pain like this since... since...
"God," she breathed, her voice sounding hoarse after two days of disuse. "It hurts..."
... since the Shadow King had battled Psylocke and the astral plane had been violently disrupted.
Sweat beaded on her brow, dripping down into her eyes and stinging. Her teeth clenched tightly enough to make her jaw ache, but she couldn't feel it past the stronger ache in her brain.
And that unidentifiable something still battered at her with the whisper-- Nate...
"Be ready... the town is coming up."
"I'm ready, Stormy. Are you?"
"Y' sure y' know what y're doin'?"
"If you ask me that one more time..."
"All I'm sayin'... maybe it ain' our place t' interfere."
"De more people get in dis, de more mess we gon' have t' clean up."
"You don't know Nathan very well, do you?"
"If we don't 'get in this' now, there may not be much left to clean up."
"Y' don' t'ink Logan can handle himself?"
"I don't think either of them will know when to stop."
"Dat's no answer."
Engines shrilled as the Blackbird prepared to land. "We will have all our answers shortly, my friend."
Flonq you, Logan... go down...
Nate didn't think he could keep up this pace much longer. He was growing increasingly aware that something was Not Right, and finally had to acknowledge that he was falling into more serious trouble. Against an ordinary opponent he might've been able to get away with fighting in this condition, but against Logan...
His breath was coming too short and his head was feeling light. Damn you, you dishonorable wretch... go down!
Logan twisted back and away from his uncoordinated punch-- Losing focus left and right, damnit... --and pivoted on a foot to plant a thrusting sidekick just above his pelvis. Nate doubled over, seeing stars, hearing a roaring in his ears. His heart constricted, almost seeming to seize up for a moment.
No, he growled to it. You're not. You're not.
Even now, he knew he could end this with a word. Hold up his hand, let himself go down... and that would be it. Logan would back off. They'd tangled often enough over the years that he knew that.
But there'd been a night in the distant future and in his own past... darkness and a small fire and utter solitude surrounding himself and the people raising him... a moment when they'd thought him asleep, and he'd heard a quiet male voice say simply, "I love you, Redd," and she'd answered with, "Forever, Slym"...
Aliya had even taken their names as her own. Jenskot. The union of the two.
And if that union was destroyed...
He spat blood from his mouth. "Weak... Logan..." he gasped out with a wet chuckle. "Can't you do... any better than that...?"
A growl was his response.
He was hurting, but he was winning. Because of the latter, the former didn't mean a thing. Adrenaline sang in his blood with the pain, quickening his reflexes, making the world slow down in response. Every breath brought him the scent of byproducts of exertion in his opponent's sweat. Cable was slowing, fading more with every brutal engagement.
A snarl twisted Logan's lips; almost a smile. Cable was slower to move this time when he dove in, and he managed a clean forearm strike to the man's nose before Cable could raise a block. The larger man staggered back -- reeled back, actually. Logan balanced on the balls of his feet, weight shifted forward and ready, eyes tracing every move as he waited for Cable to rally and counter.
Cable caught himself on the wall, half-turned away from him. His breathing was very loud, very quick. Logan shifted, readying himself, feeling that itching ache of a rib knitting itself back together again.
The man turned, silver hair hanging in sweat-darkened hanks around his face. Blood ran from his nose freely. He pushed away from the wall and took a step, another, faltering. His body shifted, left side coming to the fore, and Logan started to tense in preparation...
And stopped. Froze, actually, brain finally kicking in and acknowledging what his eyes had been seeing for half the fight, now. The growl seething in his chest died down to a bare rumble, then ceased entirely.
"Can't... handle it?" Cable gasped out, taking another step. "Come on... old man. Let's... finish this."
He tried to speak. It was a growl. Tried again, and managed-- "Cable... your arm..."
Another step. That golden eye was flickering; blazing, then dimming. The gray one was still hard and unmoved. "We finish this," Cable hissed, forcing the words out in a single breath. Logan almost backed a step in uncertainty as the man's shirt rippled on the left side, cloth being pushed out by the not-quite-flesh underneath.
Teeth bared, Cable lunged. "Now!" His right fist lashed out, blazing suddenly with brilliant luminescence. It took Logan squarely on the jaw and sent him literally flying with the force of it. Plastic trash barrels broke his fall none-too-gently, and he swallowed blood. Snarling, mind burning, he shoved himself to his feet and leaped forward, claws snapping out at the ends of clenched fists.
Cable swayed. Started to dodge. Stumbled and went down, the left side of his upper body bristling with angry ridges and peaks.
Logan stopped his lunge and almost fell with the suddenness of the motion. His body was trembling; he didn't know which emotion caused it. His lips were still drawn back and his claws were still out and ready.
He didn't even see the furiously glowing card before it hit him and exploded.
Remy hadn't claimed much knowledge of Nathan Summers, but he'd thought at the very least that he understood his teammate Logan well enough. A hard man, uncompromising, with a core of honor that he alternately fought for and raged against.
He'd never have thought Logan would attack a downed man. Especially not a downed man who was, in theory at least, his ally.
Ororo was a step behind him, and he didn't wait for her orders. A hand disappeared inside his pocket briefly, then whipped out with a card already charged. He didn't even call a warning before flinging it directly for Logan.
And then he didn't bother watching as the explosion threw the man back to collapse against the dividing wall. He rushed to Cable-- Merde, what happened t' him? --and dropped to crouch beside him, fingers going unerringly for the pulse.
Rustling nearby as Logan started to stand... what sounded like a curse in that familiar rough voice...
Then a blast of hurricane force wind that tossed his hair wildly in the close confines of the back lot. He spared a glance to see Logan pinned against the wall, muscles straining against the force of the wind.
Ororo stopped beside him and Cable and let the wind die. "Do not move," she told Logan coldly, in a voice that would've made ice seem warm. "Or I will make it so that you cannot."
Logan braced a hand on the wall, breathing hard, and said nothing.
Remy dismissed him from his mind. C'mon, y' stupid lug... where's y' heart... make de damned t'ing work...
"Remy?" Ororo said, levelly.
He didn't answer. C'mon, homme...
"The... virus..." Logan's voice was gruff. Grating. "'Ro, I didn't mean..." But he stopped, as if unwilling to make an excuse. Turned his words towards Remy instead, asking bluntly, "He alive?"
Remy ignored him and put a hand on Cable's shoulder to turn him to his back, tipping his head back and checking his mouth for obstruction before closing his mouth over the man's and exhaling one long breath, two... He shifted back and linked his fingers, straightening his arms before placing them just up from the solar plexus. Counted mentally-- and one and two and three and four and five...
Ororo paced past him and stood between them and Logan. Remy could feel the electricity crackling in the air and doing strange things to his hair.
"If he dies," he heard her say quietly, "you will have much to answer for."
... and one and two and three and four and five... breathe... breathe...
Pacing, at a distance. Logan didn't try to approach, but walked back and forth along the wall, eyes glued to the effort Remy was making. The Cajun spared another heartbeat-swift glance at him.
He saw something all too familiar in the haunted self-loathing staring back at him.
... one and two and three and four and five...
And one and two and three and four and five... breathe... breathe... and one and two and three and four and five...
Team's already pullin' apart at de fuckin' seams... He blinked sweat from his eyes and gave two more breaths. Nothing. Put his arms back into it and went back to chest compressions. Got too much muscle... "C'mon!"
Not another sound in the lot. No witnesses. No bystanders.
Either y're gon' breathe or I'm gon' break all y' ribs tryin' t' make you...
And one and two and three and four and five. Breathe. Breathe.
And one and two and three and four and five. Breathe. Breathe.
And one and two and three and four and--
Cable choked, body arcing upwards in a spasm. Remy jerked his hands back, then darted them down to the man's shoulders, disregarding the jagged protrusions on the left one. He noted Ororo's low breath of relief distantly as the tremor passed, but he was busy snaking fingers along the man's neck, feeling for...
He blinked, then wiped a slightly unsteady hand over his eyes to dash sweat away. A shaking breath escaped him, along with a bitter chuckle.
"Dere ain' gon' be no fire, eh, chere?" He sat back slowly and let tired arms fall to brace him, watching the broad chest before him rise and fall, rise and fall. "Merde."
Ororo hadn't turned. "Remy...?"
He took a breath and pushed it out slowly. "He's breathin', his heart's beatin'... but I ain' sayin' anyt'ing else 'til Henri gets a look at him."
She nodded, still not turning. "Go. Find a stretcher or some way to transport him to the Blackbird."
It made sense -- the medevac beds were gone along with the more advanced version of the Blackbird that Operation: Zero Tolerance had destroyed -- but he wasn't too sure about leaving Ororo here like this. "Stormy..."
He looked long and hard at Logan just past her. The man met his gaze unflinchingly, but there was no mistaking what he'd seen in his eyes before, and what burned out of them now.
Remy knew that feeling.
Without a word, he stood and slipped into the lengthening shadows.
She gazed at him. Her heart was a cold rock in her stomach, but she knew her face was serene and composed.
His face wasn't serene, but it gave little away. One way in which they could be very alike.
"Scott," she said flatly.
He didn't blink. "He ain't comin' back. Not now. He said to tell you..." He shook his head, once. "Leader-stuff. You already know."
She nodded, listening carefully to the breaths of the man on the ground behind her. Hurry, Remy.
Logan brushed a hand through his hair roughly. "So."
He looked past her. Looked at Nathan. "Finally did it, didn't I?"
"Outstayed my welcome with the team."
She didn't answer.
Mere moments later she heard the soft bump-bump of wheels over rough ground. Remy pushed the stretcher into the ally, looking over his shoulder. When he glanced back at her his expression was bemused. "What a crazy town... I jus' had t' ask. Dere's a little clinic... I promised t' return it..." He trailed off, then moved to collapse the stretcher beside Nathan. She took a step back, still watching Logan... then turned and crouched by the downed man.
Scott is gone mere days, and already I've allowed this to happen.
Remy rechecked Nathan's pulse and respiration, then nodded once. "Doin' okay. Faster we get him back, de better."
She traced her hand along Nathan's face, expression blank. Nathan... I should have foreseen this...
Remy cleared his throat. She looked at him, and he bobbed his head slightly towards Logan. Ororo closed her eyes for a heartbeat, composing herself forcefully.
Then she turned a steady gaze on Logan. "Help us to get him moved. We need to keep his neck braced."
He blinked silently, twice. A trace of something crept through that carefully still expression... remorse, she thought.
Wordlessly, he stepped forward to help.
Jean leaned against the wall, breathing hard. She'd bitten through her lip a moment ago during the worst of the pain-spikes, and now she barely noticed the trickle of blood running down her chin.
It was all wrong. It was very, very wrong.
And it was her fault.
Whatever 'it' was.
Her heart was still racing as if she'd just fought a very long battle. Her mind whipped frantically from one thing to the next to the next, little caring for order or rationality.
Slowly, green eyes opened. She swallowed hard and waited for the pain to hit again.
It was gone.
But something was back in its place.
... don't understand... where'd they go?
... think something's happened. I've never seen Storm so tense.
Is it about Scott, you think?
Has anyone told Jean?
Your little upworlder whore?
That's enough, Sarah.
Ooh, who knew Sammy had teeth?
She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath... then set about rebuilding her shields.
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