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Minisinoo


 

CLIMB THE WIND 2

Please Read the Warning and Notes at the beginning of Part 1
Part 2 Notes:  There's lots of blood in this one, folks, and some bad language. Also, while we're often told that Cyclops is leader of the X-Men, it's too rarely shown why. But I detest incompetent Scott as much as I detest uneducated Logan.



We were ready for them. Summers had been right about the time; they came precisely when he'd said they would, and with an actual escape plan in place instead of just a sense of the inevitable, he had a cooler head, was more focused in his fighting technique. Of course, he was also simply stronger physically. If by no means up to his normal speed and power, he wasn't wobbling and falling over his own damn feet.

We followed our usual pattern until they got in the door and had moved away from it. Keeping that door open was essential because otherwise, even if we killed them all, we'd still be stuck behind a lock. There was no access on this side. So Summers backed away as he always did, but let the cot come between the two of us . . . dividing them. They were used to seeing me pop the claws and take swings at the stun sticks, so that was nothing new. But Summers' swift kick to the bed caught them by surprise. It crashed into the back of the legs of two of the three covering me. The goons went down.

That was all I needed. Six swipes left three disabled stun sticks, two dead goons and one bleeding out on the floor. I could hear running out in the hall ≠ not from the sound of the bed crashing over (kicking him around the furniture had been part of their fun before), but from the screams of the guy I'd disemboweled. Grabbing half a stun stick, I shoved just the edge between door and jam. The door opened in, and that concealed the stick from the outside. The approaching guards wouldn't see what jammed it until they'd already tried to close it and failed. That gave me a few extra seconds ≠ enough time to take out two of the goons around Summers. He was on his own for the others. "Leave one alive," I called. "We'll need to question him."

I met the new guards at the door, shoved them back into the hall. Luck was on our side because the surveillance camera had momentarily turned away. I had to the count of five to disable it before it swung back to reveal what was going on. Running and leaping, levering half off the wall, I took it out with my claws. A nine-inch reach is handy sometimes. The guards had gotten the door shoved closed in the meantime and pulled a gun on me. It had a silencer, so I didn't hear it go off, but felt the bullet impact high on my left shoulder and punch out the other side. The guy had panicked if he couldn't hit me better than that at under ten paces. The burn was bad but I knew how to deal with pain; it stopped me for only a breath. I remembered what Summers had said about wanting a pistol, so I made sure I gutted only the goon and left the gun intact. The other tried to run; I cut his legs out from under him, then his head from his shoulders. Blood sprayed. Only two of them? The sons of bitches were cocky.

But we had to move, and fast. Security would be watching the camera screens and had probably already noted that one area was out, though I think I'd managed to get to it before it could show why. But they weren't stupid. They'd come to investigate. With reinforcements. And they'd know we were free as soon as they saw what was left of the goons.

I went to the keypad and punched in the remembered code from when they'd first brought me down there, held my breath until the lock clicked and I could shove it open. Good. They weren't rotating the codes. High security, but not absurdly high. I entered ready to fight but there was nothing left to fight. Summers had managed fine on his own, optic blasts or no. His expression was . . . interesting. A mix of vindicated satisfaction and fascinated horror. I wondered if he'd ever killed a man before with hands, not eyes. For that matter, I wondered if he'd ever killed a man period. But one of the two I'd left for him was definitely dead. Very messily dead. Skull broken, blood staining the edge of the cot. The other had been flung to the floor about five feet from him. Seeing it was me, Summers relaxed and squatted back down to face his captive. The guy ≠ big, undistinguished federal type ≠ had a broken nose and naked loathing on his face. By contrast, Summers was utterly cold, head tilted sideways a little, and for a moment ≠ with those sharp cheekbones and deep-set eyes ≠ he looked like a bird of prey. "We gotta go," I told him. "Bring the goon."

"I'm not finished yet." The kid's tone gave me the willies.

"Scott" ≠ I used his given name on purpose ≠ "this ain't the time. Bring him."

"Not yet. He's going to tell me where the computer core is." And like a striking snake, his right hand exploded out in a smooth chop direct to the guy's ear. "Aren't you?" Summers asked. The goon spit at him. Summers boxed both ears that time, one instantly after the other. It reminded me that he was a Shotakan sho dan ≠ a first degree black belt ≠ when he wasn't too weak and dazed to employ it.

"We can question him on the way," I said. "If we don't go, we won't ever get to the computer core." Lure him.

Common sense came to the fore long enough. Grabbing the guard by the ear he'd just hit, he yanked him up and swung him around. "Move." As they passed me out the door, I handed him the pistol, a classic police-issue Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum. He took it, smiled, and shoved it against the back of the goon's head. "Feel that? Different kind of gun, you son of a bitch. If you so much as peep when I'm not asking you a question, I'll shove it up your ass and pull the trigger."

I can't even begin to describe the rage and hate in Summers' voice. This wasn't Cyclops. The kid didn't have to be in control the way he did normally. No power to master, no glasses, no visor. Just that rage. It drove him. "Follow this hall left," I said, to distract him. "Then left at the end and right at the first junction. Elevator's there." He nodded, glanced at what was left of the two hallway guards, looked away and frog-marched the goon in front of him. He said nothing about the mess, showed no expression. The goon's face, though, had blanched.

We had two concerns:  more guards, and those damn cameras. But I learned just how fine a shot Summers is, even with a pistol instead of the visor. He still had that uncanny gift for aim and trajectory, and a steady hand that could blow out a camera lens from over fifty feet. At that distance, the lens was smaller than a dime.

Amazingly, we got to the elevator without meeting any resistance. "They'll be expecting us to head for an exit from the bunker complex," he said. "So we go down instead of up. Then we can question this piece of shit in peace."

So we went down three floors. He used the goon to cover himself as he exited, but there was no fire from waiting weapons. Shooting out the camera, he slammed the guy back into a wall and shoved the pistol up under his chin while I stood guard. Summers was several inches shorter and probably fifty pounds lighter, but the other guy still looked intimidated. Maybe it was the gun but I think it might have been the look in Summers' eyes. "I don't have time to fuck around. Unlike you," he said. "You've seen what I can do with this; I don't think hitting your brain is any challenge. So. On what floor is the computer core located? And tell us how to get to the stairs."

Damn. Even under this kind of stress, the kid avoided ending sentences with prepositions. But he was no fool. He knew to ask for stairs and get off the elevator; too easy to be caught in an elevator.

The goon just stared back, though.

"You don't get it, do you?" Summers kneed him in the groin. Hard. The guy jerked but Summers wouldn't let him bend over. "I will kill you. You have until I count to three. One ≠ "

"Okay, you shithead freak! Back off! But you're not going to get out of here."

"We'll see. Tell me what I want to know and I'll let you live."

I noticed that Summers had crossed his fingers on the gun handle. Even now, he couldn't just lie. Under other circumstances, I would've burst out laughing. But here, it was more sick than funny.

"Go down this hall further, turn left, then left again," the guy said. He was sweating. "There's another elevator there and a stairwell beside it. Go up five floors and the computer core is right down the hall it opens on. Now let me go."

Summers laughed. "You are kidding, right?" He yanked the guy off the wall and shoved him ahead of himself down the hall. "You're coming with us. You lied, you die."

The second elevator was right where the guy had said it was, but it was guarded ≠ as I was sure the goon had known. Of course, we'd expected that. We hadn't heard any sirens, but we'd been gone from our cage too long. The hunt was up by this point and the empty halls suggested that non-combat personnel had been put on movement restrictions. Guards would be watching all exits, elevators, and stairwells and they'd be organizing a dragnet through the building, floor by floor. Crouching behind a bend in the hall to scope out the enemy, I glanced at Summers and found myself wishing for Jeannie's telepathy to communicate, or his seemingly inexhaustible supply of optic blasts. "We need more ammunition," I whispered.

He nodded, then before I could speak further, moved around the corner, lightening quick, and got off two clean shots before the two guards even realized he was a threat. He wasn't shooting to wound. He just killed them. Then he strolled over to deprive them of their weapons: standard federal issue Sig Sauer P228s, different from the police-style .44 Magnum that he was carrying. Unfortunately, the silencer wouldn't transfer barrels. He checked the clip and chamber of what he had in his hand, shrugged and put it under his arm for a moment, shoved one spare gun in a pocket of his coverall, took the clip out of the other, emptied the chamber and pocketed that, discarded the gun itself and came back to us.

"Goddamn," the goon had said, watching him. I was thinking the same, but for different reasons. Killing the goons in the room had been one thing. But how in hell was he going to deal with this later? How was Xavier going to deal with it?

Now understand ≠ I didn't blame him. At no point did I blame him. But that didn't make me less worried about his state of mind when he woke from the nightmare to realize several new souls were chatting up ol' Satan tonight and he'd sent them there without even flinching. This wasn't a video game with a reset button at the end.

"Stairs," he said, simple order, and hauled up the goon.

Still in shock, the man gaped at him and balked. "You're fucking inhuman." He glanced at me. "Both of you. I saw what you did to Ron in the hall. Motherfucking mutie freak."

The jackass should have kept his mouth shut. Summers slammed him up against a wall, hand gripping his windpipe, and got right in his face. "I'm inhuman? How many times did you fuck me, you son of a bitch? You locked me up in a room like an animal to live with my own shit. You tortured me just for the hell of it, made me sick as a dog just to see what would happen. You butchered my finaceť and left her body to rot." He was close to breaking and the other guy's face was red from lack of oxygen. "If I have anything to say about it, you'll see exactly what inhuman can be, before you die."

Well, whatever hope we'd had of the goon's cooperation was blown now. The man was completely spooked; I could smell it, see his eye roll white like a horse. He knew Summers wouldn't let him live and had no reason to help us. "Scott," I said. "Go make sure the stairwell doesn't have any cameras, eh?"

Summers glanced at me ≠ calculating ≠ then smiled that alarming smile and shoved the guard in my direction. But he did as I'd asked. I decided not to count my blessings just yet. To the goon, I said, "Look, pal, the way I see it, you got two choices. I won't pretend you'll see another sunrise. But if you behave, I'll be sure it's me who kills you quick. If you don't, I'll let ol' Cyclops do whatever the hell he wants. He's a real creative guy, and I think he's just a little bit pissed." I shoved the goon across the hall towards the stairwell door. "You said five flights up?"

The guy was too stunned to speak, but nodded. The good cop / bad cop routine had its virtues, despite the irony of who was playing which.

We reached the computer core without further incident, mostly because they didn't expect us to go there. They assumed we'd be trying to escape and dragged the floors accordingly. Summers had two clips worth of ammo for the Sig Sauer, plus what was left in his .44 (two shots, he said). There were only four unarmed techie geeks in the core, not even guards. They were eating a pizza. I covered our pet goon with my claws while Summers took out the cameras first. The guys gaped and one, pizza slice still in hand, ran for a fire extinguisher on the wall. A single shot through the back of his neck; he landed spread-eagled. Summers still wasn't aiming to wound, didn't seem to care if they were guards or not, armed or not. Nor did he wait for the other three to try anything, just shot them cold. One fell on the pizza box, knocked it to the ground. "We don't have time to tie them up," he said. "And I don't trust them on the ground." It was perfectly lucid. And perfectly brutal.

I stopped being just worried about him then, grew scared. I'd once stood where he was. My full memories began on the day I'd escaped the facility where they'd made me into a living slice-n-dice machine. He hadn't even begun to approach the body count I'd run up that night, but I was sure he could. And with as little mercy. Not all my nightmares had to do with what had been done to me. Some concerned what I'd done back, and there's a special corner of hell reserved for memories like that. I'd like to spare the kid. Unfortunately, I couldn't take the damn guns away from him. We needed his skill too badly.

He'd been using the Sig Sauer, too. No silencer. The shots had echoed loud. I slammed and locked the door, but it'd give us only a minute of grace. He was wasting no time. Methodically, he shot up the housing of every machine in the joint. A spray of metal and sparks. With sick humor, I was reminded of Dilbert newspaper cartoons.

Now, audible sirens were going off. Red lights flashed. Even the damn sprinkler system came on, drenching us in seconds.

With all the racket, you wouldn't think I'd have been able to hear the arrival of the enemy cavalry, much less the click of the door unlocking, but I did. Grabbing the goon, I swung him around in front of my body for cover and yelled, "Here they come, kid!"

The door blew in at the same moment and a dozen guards burst through, automatic weapons blazing. The guard I held yelled to them and I put my claws through his chest at the same instant someone's fire hit him from the other side. Double-dead. Retracting, I dove under a table while Summers started picking them off. I wished for a gun of my own, even if I wasn't half the shot he was. Hand-to-hand isn't always an option. He laid down cover for me so I could reach him, darting in Z's from computer table to computer table.

I couldn't believe he was hitting more than he was missing, even from cover, with the sprinklers on, and under fire from multiple angles. He'd pop up to aim and shoot before they could possibly get a similar bead on him. Those mutant eyes. Predator eyes ≠ more even than mine. All he needed was a brief flash of motion, or just the memory of it. I'd asked him once, during a rare hour of conversation in our captivity, if he could see colors now. He'd shaken his head. "My mutation altered my vision permanently, Logan. I don't have color rods in my eyes any more, or not many. The only color I see clearly is red, even without the blasts. My eyes are just different. Hank says I see like a cat ≠ minus the night vision, though I'd probably have night vision, too, if not for the glasses. But that's why I'm so easily distracted by motion."

"So crowds drive you crazy?" They did me, as well.

But he'd shaken his head. "In crowds, there's so much motion, it's meaningless. It's situations like, say, supper at the mansion that throw me. Or a classroom of students. I always know when St. John and Jubilee are passing notes. I just ignore it most of the time." He'd grinned. "In large groups, there's too much motion, but at the same time, not enough to blur like a crowd. It took me a while to learn to focus and not try to look in six directions at once."

I'd never thought of that, but it helped to explain his perpetually uptight demeanor, and why when he was with only one or two people, he might relax a bit.

Now, though, that difference was saving our lives. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. A regular lone ranger. Until he ran out of ammunition. There are only so many bullets in a gun even with an extra clip.

We'd been driven back behind a stairwell. "Fuck!" he swore when the second clip ran out, more enraged than frightened, and slung the gun itself. Amazingly, it connected with the head of one of the goons and the man went down. That left three, and no doubt more on the way. They'd quit firing when he did, and one was talking into a radio. They didn't charge us. They knew I was back here. They'd wait for reinforcements so they could overpower us with sheer numbers. Summers was pressed up against the wall beside the corner edge and I'd squatted down to peer out past his legs through the sprinkler shower. Someone shot at me and I ducked back.

"If I distract them, can you get to that one?" I whispered, pointing to the dead goon nearest us.

"Yeah, but what are you going to do?"

"Play moving target."

He grabbed for me. "Logan!"

"I have a healing factor. You don't." And I ducked out before he could get a good grip.

Bullets hurt. They burn going in and jolt you with the impact, and they tear going out. If they go out. Even moving, I took three bullets before Summers had reached the guard's body, retrieved the gun, and finished off our opponents. Then he leapt a table to reach me where I'd collapsed against the rear wall, hauled me up in his arms. Water pelted my face. "Logan!"

"Still breathing, kid."

"You stupid shithead!"

"Why, you're welcome, dick."

He laughed. It was the first time I'd heard him actually laugh since Jeannie had died. But he was crying in relief, too, or maybe it was just sprinkler water. "Can you walk?"

"Think so."

I let him help me up. The wounds were closing already and the pain fading ≠ except for my hip. The bullet had hit bone and hadn't come out again. My body was trying to close around it and didn't like the interference. He handed me the gun he had. "Listen for more guards."

I nodded and gritted my teeth, trying to ignore the pain. He fetched a new gun, then got busy emptying clips and shoving extra ammunition in his pockets. When he'd finished stocking up, he completed what he'd begun on the banks of computers, then came back to me, frowned to see my frown. "What's wrong? More men?"

"Not yet, but I've got a bullet still in my hip. I'm going to slow you down, kid."

"So you'll slow me down. I'm not moving at top speed, either." He got an arm around my waist and let me lean on him for a change. "Come on, Wolverine." On the way to the door, he spied the guard we'd brought in, and paused. I watched his jaw work in frustration. Taking aim, he started firing round after round into the dead man's head, pulverizing it like target practice with a watermelon. "Son of a bitch," he hissed. "Son of a bitch." There was nothing sane in his face.

"Jesus Fucking Christ, Summers! Snap out of it! He's dead!" But yelling didn't get through. I had to shake him.

He started to turn on me, stopped abruptly. He was breathing hard. Low, he said, "He was there, Logan, every damn time."

And I understood why Summers had singled him out as the one to live. The kid really had planned to kill him slowly later, as he'd threatened. And I was glad for giving the goon the death he'd gotten. Not from pity. Summers was going to have enough to live with later. I'd let him kill but I wasn't going to let him torture. "Let's go," I told him then.

He took a breath, and nodded, helped me out the door. We were on our own to find an exit through a half-lit hell of emergency lights and sirens. "I think you got their attention," I muttered to him. At least we didn't need to worry about cameras any more.
 
 
 

Getting to the top was agony for me. We had to go up stairs ≠ flights and flights of stairs interrupted by ducking periodically onto floors and running when we heard guards in the stairwell. Each step grated on my wounded hip. Pain interferes with my ability to think clearly, triggers my animal instincts which I normally manage to keep at bay. My fight-or-flight drive is stronger than in most, and a healing factor makes me bad at dealing with chronic pain. Short, sharp, intense, sure. I punctured my own lungs to save Marie, and I can bear about anything briefly because I know it won't last. But high pain tolerance isn't long-term pain tolerance. I used to think Summers a wimp, but the last eight months at the mansion changed my mind. He's got the other side of the coin. He suffers every day of his life. Headaches from his power. Mild to severe, and accompanying neck and shoulder pain from tension. I see him rub his neck a lot, when he thinks no one is looking, and once or twice when he disappeared for a day or two, Jean told me he was down with a migraine. If he doesn't take aspirin soon enough after it reaches a certain level, he winds up in a dark room unable to move without throwing up because of the pressure inside his skull. But he functions, and functions mostly normally. Marie told me once that watching him during the time I'd been away had taught her something about "grin and bear it," whether the pain was physical or psychological.

And I confess, that had irritated me, to know he'd taught her something I couldn't.

But now he was teaching it to me. By talking to me. Continually. There's never been a lot of love lost, not to mention conversation, between us. Even the past days we'd spent locked up, we hadn't talked much, though for different reasons. Now he chattered like a magpie as we made our way up the stairs in dim emergency-light. He verbalized his decision-making process, asked my opinion, made cynical cracks about our captors with that wicked razor humor that saves him from geek-dom ≠ anything he could think of to give me a focus outside the pain in my shoulder and hip. When I snarled at one point, "Would you please shut the fuck up?" he said only, "No. Get your mind off it, Logan."

We ran into two more sets of guards. The first was an isolated trio with whom we came face-to-face at a stairwell exit. Their own startled freeze killed them. The second was in a hallway. We walked out a door smack on top of a group comprised of the Suit ≠ the same who'd taken me from my cage to Summers ≠ and seven secret service men, none of the omnipresent guards. I hadn't even heard them: the distraction of pain. The Suit was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. Clearly, they hadn't been hunting us down; they'd been getting him out. Between shooting up the computer core and remaining stubbornly on the loose, we must have scared them into evacuating all the High-n-Mighty Muckity-Mucks.

Summers had his vendettas. I had mine. Hip be damned, I wanted to flay that son of a bitch with his self-satisfied smirk. He was the man who'd put me in that damn White Room. I was moving almost before they registered us. But secret service were better than mere guards. Within a second, they had him shoved to the corridor floor, two bodies on top, and the rest pulling weapons on us. As with the camera, I tried racing half up a wall to come down on them from above even as Summers was shooting. At near point-blank range, it required speed and cool rather than skill. I heard men scream, and hoped the kid didn't take me out with friendly fire. Unfortunately, my hip didn't obey me this time when I hit the wall. It gave, and I collapsed to the floor. Ironically, that probably saved my life. Automatic shot cut a swathe in plaster where I would have been, while I wound up at ankle level, claws raking. Service men fell and I finished the job on what was left of them, including the two covering the Suit, then I yanked the man to his knees. "So glad to see you again, pal," I said and rammed claws home through his belly, jerked up through breastbone, heart and lungs. Painful and bloody but quick.

Then I glanced around. Scott was down on his ass against the door behind. His left hand held his right side, and his right hand still gripped the gun, now resting between his knees. His face looked startled. My gut twisted. "Fuck." I was almost afraid to look, but crawled over to pry his hand up anyway.

"It's not bad," he said, and it didn't seem to be. But when he tried to stand, he almost fell. Not the wound itself ≠ simple shock. He was hyperventilating.

"Slow down the breathing, kid," I said, and somehow got him into a closet. We'd discovered that the closets were among the few rooms not sealed shut when he'd destroyed the computers. "On the floor," I ordered. "Head between your knees." It was a janitor's closet, with sink. I washed blood off my hands and coverall sleeves. They were getting too sticky.

"We can't take the time ≠ "

"Shut the fuck up!" I got right in his face. "You pass out, I can't carry you. Got that?" He nodded and did as I said. I cut the side of his coverall with a claw to examine the wound. We'd lucked out. It truly wasn't bad: simple puncture at the very edge of his abdomen, bullet exiting the other side, probable damage only to the muscle. It wasn't far enough in to have hit an intestine. "The burn'll pass."

"For you, jackass. Hurts like hell for me."

"Treat it like you do one of your headaches. I know you can handle it, Scott. Just don't strain it ≠ blood loss is your chief worry right now."

He nodded and forced his breathing to even out, though he continued to sweat. He shifted his grip on the gun. Another Smith and Wesson Magnum, .41 target pistol this time, sleek and black and deadly in his hand. "You hear anything out there?" he asked me.

I listened. "Not a footfall."

"They're waiting at ground level. They know we have to get out. There can't be that many exits. They'll have their men concentrated at those points."

He sounded resigned and fingered the gun. Clearly, he didn't expect us to live. Hell, I didn't expect us to live. "Better to die this way," I told him. He just nodded again, grimly.

But abruptly his expression changed and his jaw jerked up. "What the hell am I thinking? Logan, who says we have to use the fucking doors?"

"What? You think they got windows underground?"

"No. But they do have air vents."

"Shit." We just looked at each other. "They'll have somebody covering those, too," I added. "It's an old trick."

"Yeah, but I doubt they'll send the same number of men as they'll have covering elevators and stairs. It may be an old trick but I almost didn't remember it, and neither did you."

On the way out, he exchanged guns again for what the secret service carried (another Sig Sauer), and picked up a spare, more clips. Then we found a vent and wriggled in. Smooth silver aluminum. Almost too narrow. Between wounds, exhaustion, and maltreatment, neither of us was really up to hauling our bodies forward on elbows and knees or climbing vertically, back against one side and feet pressed to the other. But when it's a matter of life or death, you manage. Ahead of me, he stopped a few times so we could catch our breaths. "You okay, Logan?" he asked at one point.

"Shut the fuck up and keep moving, kid."

As it turned out, the air vent dumped us right into the generators. I heard his hiss of surprise, emerged in time to see him break up laughing like some demented schoolboy. "Of course it's at ground level," he muttered, mostly to himself, and moved toward the machines, studied them a moment. There were two banks of them, one on either side of a short aisle, bathed in the same red emergency lighting that lit the rest of the building since he'd knocked out the computers. But these didn't rely on computers to keep functioning, at least, not all of them. A few did show dead on the dials. "I think I'll give them something else to worry about, besides us," he said, and started flipping switches.

"Shit!" I tried to grab for him. "You'll overload it!"

"That's the idea." The hum increased. "We won't be in here, Logan." He had to shoot his way through the lock on the gate covering the last machine, probably the chief generator, then repeated with it what he'd done to the others. Finished, he grabbed me and shoved me towards the door, pushing his spare gun into my hand (I'd lost mine at some point). "Out, low. You roll left, me right. Converge on their flanks."

"Check."

Men were waiting on us, but as we'd guessed, many fewer than would've been covering normal exits. It was also dark outside. And overcast. That helped a lot. But they were shooting as soon as the door cracked; Summers shot back. I really hate guns. I'm no good with them but I got off a few rounds, at least, and didn't acquire any more bullets. I heard him cry out once, hoped he wasn't hit worse than before. Hoped he wasn't dead.

He wasn't. Our flanking tactic worked, pinchered them between us. I trusted he wouldn't hit me while he picked them off. I'd given up the gun already, took out two with claws. There were only six. I bent to search one ≠ we needed shoes ≠ but Summers was grabbing me and hauling me off towards a small copse of trees, shoving me down in the dirt on my face.

The building went up behind us. Dirt erupted god knew how many feet in the air, concrete and twisted metal with it. Trees offered some protection but we were still pelted by a few ≠ fortunately small ≠ bits of debris. We could hear more eruptions in the ground below; the earth shook.

Well, he'd wanted to bring the place down around their ears. He'd done a pretty damn good job.

As the explosions lessened, we crawled a little deeper into the underbrush beneath the trees, hid and watched. Men ran helter-skelter out there, but Summers had been right. They had other things to worry about just now. He clutched his left shoulder with his hand and pressed his elbow to his wounded side. When I glanced over, he said, "It just grazed me this time."

"Lady Luck must be your whore."

He didn't reply immediately, finally spoke. "Where was she eleven days ago? Think she might have been jealous of Jean?"

I could have kicked myself, turned instead to watch the dark shapes of men fleeing. "We need shoes," I said, changing the subject. We were on the edge of a large field. The bunker must have been buried beneath, down hundreds of feet.

"We need some money, too," he added. "You stay here; you're still having trouble walking. I'll try to get back to the guards without anyone spotting me. What size shoe do you wear?"

I just stared at him in the dark. "You're going to go shoe shopping, One Eye?"

"Just tell me!"

"Twelve."

"One size up from me." And he was gone. I held my breath and waited. In less than five minutes, he was back, even more grim-faced. He tossed me shoes. "They're too big, but better big than small. Put them on. We've got to get away from here before any emergency vehicles arrive. And Logan, look at this." He had a pair of jackets, too ≠ black jackets which the outside guards had been wearing. He flipped one so I could see the back.

A great big FBI in white.

"Holy fucking Christ."

Xavier's contact ≠ the one who'd told us about mutants in the subway tunnels in the first place ≠ had been FBI.

But it was cold out here, so I grabbed the jacket and put it on. "You find money?"

Shake of the head.

Damn. Well, we had shoes and jackets. Two out of three wasn't bad.
 
 
 

Now that we were free, reaction shock was setting in, not to mention trauma from our wounds. We wobbled and stumbled our way through the dense undergrowth. Judging by the fauna, we were still in the northeast somewhere. It was slow going. March-bare branches and brambles pulled at us, cutting skin and slowing us down. I healed; he didn't. At least without his glasses, he did seem to have a predator's night vision, like me. His pupils were preternaturally expanded. It kept us both from falling into ditches or den holes. But it was getting harder to think. When thwarted at one point by a simple barbed-wire fence, he stared at it dumbly, looked ready to cry in frustration despite what we'd just crawled out of. I popped claws to cut through it. We kept moving, didn't say a word for perhaps two miles. I suspect we were both as stunned by what the jackets meant as we were by all of the rest of it.

The FBI. The fucking US government. The question was why? Xavier's little X-Men project was known to a handful of high-placed feds. And approved. Supposedly.

Yet they'd known entirely too much about us. The kind of information that came from the inside.

"Scott."

"Yeah?"

"What motherfucker sold us out?"

"I have no idea, but I'm going to make bacon out of the pig when I learn."

"We've got to alert the professor."

"No shit, Logan. Why do you think I'm still on my feet?"

I didn't say snap back. If I felt betrayed, what must he feel? "We need sleep, too, kid." I was worried about his blood loss. Even in the dark, I could see that his right side beneath the jacket was dark and wet, and his stumbling was getting worse. I made him stop so I could wrap his abdomen with strips cut from the bottom of a jacket.

"We need to find shelter, first," he said while I worked. "Someplace we can hide." He ran a hand over his cheek. Almost two weeks' growth had given us both decent beards, and neither of us had seen a shower since we'd been taken. I'd grown used to our stink. But combined with the weird array of our clothing, not to mention all the blood, we'd probably scare the shit out of anyone we met. As if reading my thoughts, he said, "We don't dare go where we might be seen by civilians, but maybe we can find a barn the horses will share." Through the underbrush, off to our right, we could see a stretch of expensive semi-rural burbs stitched across gently rolling hills. Triple-story homes that started in 500 thousand range. Yet a few older farm houses persisted here and there; some still had barns or stables. "There may be people looking for us," he added.

"I doubt it, kid."

"You want to bet our lives on it?" So much anger and no where for it to go but at me.

"No," I said mildly.

He breathed out. "Sorry."

"S'okay." I finished tying off the makeshift bandage.

We stumbled finally onto a double-lane country road. Summers said it was a little after midnight, but we stayed near the undergrowth along the side so we could duck out of sight if a car came. One or two did, but mostly it remained deserted. We saw a small sign, reflective green and white department of transportation milage marker: BOYDS 3.

"Boyds, Boyds," he muttered to himself. "The name's familiar."

"Ya got me."

We kept walking. Two minutes later, he said, "Boyds, Maryland. We're just north of DC."

If I didn't know much about the geography of the US Northeast, I did know that Washington wasn't far from the Baltimore subways where we'd been caught. Still, how did he remembered that kind of geography shit? Did he study maps for fun in his spare time? But I had to admit, it came in handy.

And it just brought us right back to the whole federal-involvement issue. How deep did this go? We were just north of Washington, DC wearing FBI jackets we'd taken from guards trying to prevent our escape from a very expensive high-security bunker facility.

It was at that moment I heard the sound, the engine-whine of an aircraft at low altitude. He couldn't hear it yet. I grabbed his arm and hauled him to a stop, looked around for cover. "What is it?" he asked. But now he heard it, too, looked up. "The Blackbird!"

I've never heard so much relief, and so much apprehension, in two words.
 
 
 

I learned later that ever since our disappearance, the professor had practically lived in Cerebro, waiting, searching. Hoping. But the bunker in which we'd been held had blocked him from sensing us. I doubt he'd have kept trying so long for me, but Jean and Scott had been his very first students. He'd have died and gone to hell before he gave up on them, same as I would for Marie.

So within minutes of our re-emergence ≠ and despite the hour ≠ he'd sensed our minds and sent off Beast and Storm in the X-jet to fetch us. Good thing we were wandering around in the country. Made landing easier.

But instead of running for the jet which set down in a nearby field, Summers collapsed in the cold dirt at the edge of the tree line. It was as if, now that rescue was immanent, he couldn't hold himself up any longer. The plane engines shut off and the door popped open to reveal the Blue Guy. I waved and McCoy hauled ass in our direction. Damn, for someone over three hundred pounds, he could move when he wanted to. He slowed his pace about ten feet from us, hesitated, and came forward. Glancing at me, swaying on my feet, he decided I wasn't in immediate danger and knelt down in front of Summers instead. The kid had drawn up his knees to rest forearms and head on them. "Scott? Where's Jean?"

Summers looked up and McCoy flinched back instinctively as soon as he could see Summers' unvisored face.

"Oh, my god!"

But that wasn't McCoy. The Storm Queen had joined us, fell down in front of Summers and grabbed him, hugging tight. I'd never seen her that emotional. "Your eyes! Scott, what happened?"

"Cyclops?" McCoy asked again. "Where's Jean?"

Summers broke. Pushing his face against Ororo's neck, he let the tears take him, shook his head back and forth violently. Whatever he was saying, it wasn't coherent. But it didn't need to be. It was obvious. We were here; Jean wasn't. McCoy looked away and put the back of one big, clawed hand up to his face while the Storm Queen reached around to grip his other, her arm still about Summers. He clung like his life depended on it, and overhead, clouds gathered and the thunder rolled, resplendent with all the grief her face concealed. "I'm so sorry," she whispered, over and over. "I am so sorry, Scott."

I might have felt abandoned as I watched them grieve together, but these three ≠ and Jean ≠ had been the core of the professor's dream for more than five years. I couldn't blame them for closing in around each other just then.

McCoy pulled himself together first, wiped his eyes and moved forward to pry Summers free of Ororo, check him over. He found the bullet wounds. "We need to get these disinfected and wrapped better, and an IV in him to make up for fluid loss. I have my jump bag on the Bird. Ro, help him get over there."

Storm hauled Summers up as McCoy came to check me. "I'm fine," I said, "except for the bullet still in my left hip. My healing factor is none too happy about that."

"Interesting." But his famous curiosity wasn't really on the way my mutation worked. "What happened, Logan?"

I explained ≠ terse, succinct, and glossing over a lot. I'm sure he could tell but he didn't press. Now wasn't the time for a debriefing. He just glanced back at Storm leading Scott toward the plane. The only question he had concerned Jean's death. "Was it quick? Did she suffer?"

"She didn't suffer."

So I lied. For a few minutes, she'd suffered, but he didn't need to know that. Nobody needed to know that, except me and maybe the professor. Let them take comfort in thinking she'd died fast. Maybe Scott knew, but he'd never said anything about it. In fact, not once during our captivity had he talked about her death unless I counted a reference during his threat to the goon. The few times he'd mentioned her, it had concerned their life before. But he wasn't in denial. He'd never used the present tense, either, even accidentally. "I guess her body hasn't turned up?" I asked.

"No. And we searched the subways tunnels. Repeatedly."

"Hank, you see the jackets?" I turned so he could see mine, too.

"Yes."

"We took them off the men who were trying to prevent us from getting away."

His head jerked up, but he didn't reply. McCoy is anything but dumb. I could see him adding it all together.

"They knew our names, our powers," I explained. "They knew way too much about us. Radio the professor as soon as we're in the air."

He nodded. "I shall. But I doubt they'll attempt anything immediately."

"Probably not. But do you want to take that chance? We have no idea how far this goes, if the military's involved. What if they attack us before we can get home?"

"Let them try, Logan." All trace of Hank's habitual lightness had disappeared. "Just let them try. I've been flying that plane longer than Scott. Hell, I built it. The only thing that could catch us is another Blackbird. And unlike the SR-71 which provided the basic frame, ours is heavily armed."

He led me across the field and, back on board, tended Summers' wounds then got an IV into him before lifting off. My injuries would have to wait. "I'm not taking the bullet out here," he said. "We'll do that when we reach the mansion." He gave me painkillers instead. I hoped my body didn't neutralize them before they did me any good.

McCoy flew with Storm as co-pilot. Summers was slumped under a blanket in the seat behind McCoy ≠ Jean's old chair. The kid had closed his eyes and zoned out. He wasn't asleep ≠ I could tell from his breathing ≠ but he'd quit responding to outside stimuli. McCoy spoke on the radio to Xavier while Ororo asked me questions. With flight time on our hands, I gave her a more complete account, including assurances that Scott's power wasn't gone, just drained. She kept glancing at him. I couldn't tell if it was with concern and pity, or maybe just in shock at being able to see his whole face. He looked younger than her, though I knew he was the elder by a couple years. I guess I'd gotten used to his appearance, and realized abruptly that it would be frustrating to have him locked behind rose quartz again. How easily we forget to what degree we depend on reading a man's eyes to understand him. I'd never understood Cyclops. But I understood the blue-eyed kid strapped in across the aisle from me.

"Hey," I said, reaching over to grip his forearm briefly, pat it. "We're going home, One Eye."

He nodded.

And then the tears started again ≠ slow slide out from under closed lids, down his cheeks to his chin, dripping off onto the blanket. He didn't bother to wipe them, and they didn't stop the whole way back. The rest of us found something else to look at. It hurt too much to look at him.

He was going home, all right. He was going home to an empty double bed and an ivory lace wedding dress that would never be worn.

God, Jean. God.

Part 3

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