Between the Darkness and Light

by Talya Firedancer

Part Two

The woods that fringed the lake were as he remembered them; not from those two trips before, but the most recent one, the emergency trip Charles had sent them on that had him and Storm retrieving an unconscious but mysteriously alive Jean at the end of it.. As he stepped out of the truck everything was still, quiet. Nothing lived here anymore.

Logan's senses prickled alert as he strode from the truck to the rocky escarpment that bordered what had been a cliff, and was now a lake. Calamity, salted earth, dead zone. All his animal instincts roused up and told him to get out; the air was still charged. How long would it take for the stamp of power to fade? Though nothing drifted upward in the grip of telekinetic overflow as he prowled along the edge, it was the same atmosphere as the instant they'd found Jean. He picked his way over the rocks. Here was the place he'd picked up Scott's glasses; a little further down was where Storm had discovered Jean, risen from the lake waters. And out there, beyond any place he could see but his nightmares, was the place Jean had fallen, those waters enclosing her for all that time.

He backed away from the water that lapped at his boots. Wherever Scott was, if he was in fact alive, it sure wasn't here.

After so long there was no scent trail. He hadn't expected there to be one, but when he pulled the glasses free of his pocket he wondered if it might have given him the impression that all things were possible. Still, it wasn't far from the rocky area to the place where the road met its end and he sought it out. The motorcycle was there, still parked kickstand-down at the edge of the gravel and Logan wondered why he hadn't looked for it before, which made him wonder in turn whether Jean had delved into their heads, his and Storm, her unconscious state notwithstanding. She had whispered, in his head...she'd wanted him to find her even as she took up a place by Magneto's side. Had she been whispering in Scott's head all that time she had lain underwater in that telekinetic cocoon?

It sure would explain the man's instability. Hell, Scott had gone to pieces after her death but after a suitable grieving period it faded, got better, a man learned to let go. Scott had never reached that point. Almost as if he couldn't, as if something remained beyond a shared room and her clothes in the drawers and pictures on the shelves, ring in the jewelry tray and scent on the pillow.

Logan dismissed the thought as idle speculation. There was no telling what had been Jean and what had been the Phoenix's machinations and now she was gone so it didn't matter. He had the one reality before him. He'd load up the bike and search the woods.

His hand gripped the nearest handlebar and he flinched back as one receiving a shock. Logan's head snapped up and his nostrils flared; he turned, head cocking as he listened for something that hadn't reached him on the level of sound. The sensation that prickled him was akin to scenting quarry, but the trail here was cold. Nonetheless conviction gripped him. That way. The eerie silence pressed down like a weight, another layer of reality. He squinted into the underbrush, but all he could see was forest, the dense brown tangle of low-lying plants and masses of dead leaves, the mellow light filtering through tall, reedy evergreens. Every instinct told him that nothing was here, but still his eyes moved over the lace-pattern of cast shadows and foliage. The stillness unnerved him until he pinpointed the reason for it: there was no wind, either. This was truly a dead zone. Nothing moved here.

"Fuck it," he muttered, and left the road for the woods. He couldn't explain it even to himself. He'd planned on getting the bike first, but once he'd touched it, hell, seen it, an image of Cyclops went through his head vivid as the last moment he'd seen him. The man had been in pain, and he'd reached out - maybe sticking around Xavier and his kids had loosened the chinks in his armor enough to make him soft - then Scott had jerked out of his grip and stalked off, sweat of sleepless nightmare nights rising off him, scent of salt and leather and his hair unwashed. It had been such stark contrast from the perfectly-groomed Boy Scout who'd held out a hand to him his first day at the mansion.

He stalked through the underbrush with sure steps, though he wasn't paying any amount of attention to where he was going, just thinking of Scott. He hadn't wanted to answer questions before he left because what would he say? Sure, crazier things had happened, but he remembered the agony on Jean's face. Kill me, before I kill anyone else. That had been the real deal with him for a split second, before the darkness came again. Anyone else sure as hell implied there'd been someone killed to begin with. So what if he said something, hauled himself out here with expectations, and went back with nothing? What would he tell them, then?

As he walked, his footsteps were oddly muffled over the leaf-strewn turf as if sound itself was absorbed by the lingering stamp of power that had been unleashed here. He half-expected the leaves to churn up and float around him.

Logan crested a slight verge and stood there, looking down. He was frowning without realizing it, tilting his head, puzzled and wondering. Put him in mind of the first time the claws slid home and he gaped at his knuckles as the split flesh mended, and the hurt went away. Still on the run, but couldn't be hurt so bad his body couldn't recoup.

"Huh," he said aloud.

Below in a slight depression of the land, a fire burned slow and steady in the midst of a circle of cleared dirt, ringed in rocks. A pile of leaves had been scraped together not too far off from the fire. And Cyclops sat cross-legged beside the fire, his hands fisted on his knees, his face bare - for once - of the glasses that shielded the rest of the world from him. From that distance, his chiseled-handsome face could have been carved of stone.

At the utterance, the man's head lifted, animal-wary. "Is someone there?" he called out, tone far removed from confidence or control. This was a man on the ragged edge, no stranger to panic and despair. Beyond Scott and the fire, there were three trees that looked as though they'd been blasted from the ground and then reduced to splinters with some kind of massive shockwave. Of course, for Scott that would have been the easiest part of the ordeal. All he had to do was open his eyes.

"Gotta ask him if he ever made Eagle Scout," Logan muttered, and started down the slope, casting an eye over the makeshift camp as he went. Even blind, Cyclops had managed to forage enough to keep himself alive for the time he'd been out here alone. Logan counted back in his head and figured it a week and a bit.

Before Logan could find the voice to tell him who'd found him after all, Scott's head raised and oriented in Logan's direction, unerring as if he could see him even with his eyes shut tight. Red pulsed behind the membrane of his eyelids, which Scott kept screwed tightly shut. If those eyes had been open, Scott would've been looking right at him.

Logan froze, hindbrain instinct preparing to do a dive-roll to the side to preserve his life. It warred with the analytical part of him that noted if the man had been in this place, this dead zone for this long, he'd acclimated to the silence and the slightest disturbance would be like shouting into his ear.

"Logan?" Scott whispered, disbelief warring with another, more painful emotion. Hope, maybe. He rose to his feet in one lithe motion, hands clenched at his sides.

"How the hell did you know it was me?" Logan couldn't contain the outburst.

That expression of initial searing wave of relief shifted into something more cynical, guarded. It was a revelation to see the open emotion transform into the shuttered look with which Cyclops faced the world. Logan had once thought snidely that Cyclops had all the facial range of a block of granite, but it was 'Cyclops' that was the mask.

"You're the only one who's enough of an asshole not to identify himself right away, coming down the slope."

Pebbles and clods of turf skittered beneath his boots as he took the last, steepest grade down to the depression Scott had homesteaded for the past week. The closer he got, the more gaunt and hollowed-out Scott appeared; if he had actually found something edible over the past week, it hadn't been enough. Logan glanced behind himself and his eyes widened as he noted the reason for that last, unusually sharp gradient. Scott had looked at it. For just one instant, to look at your surroundings and have it do that much damage - he'd seen the man punch through solid layers of copper with a brief glance, but it was easy to forget that one person, one look could do that.

"You're dead," Logan said, unconsciously echoing words he'd said in his sleep not too many nights before.

Scott's breath caught and he began a slow shake of the head, then froze as fingers brushed over his skin.

Logan settled the ruby quartz glasses over the bridge of Scott's nose, pads of his fingertips rubbing over the fragile skin of temples, over the pulse thudding just below. He took a breath, inhaling the acrid tang of startlement - not fear - that hung in the air between them, as if Scott hadn't expected anyone to be right there, let alone the touch. Yet the way he'd oriented his head, that wasn't the otherworldly alertness of a blinded man, which Logan had seen before. He had known where Logan stood, even if he couldn't believe he was right there with him now. His eyes darted to the pulse in Scott's throat, loud enough to thunder over him, so near and very much alive. Apparitions wouldn't fill him up with the scent of unwashed skin, hair, the dirt and crumbling leaves he'd bedded in for this long, the ozone that clung to the entire area.

He forced out the name that infused the charged air between them. "Jean said that she killed you."

In the depths of the glasses, a crimson spark flared to life. Scott had opened his eyes. After less than a few heartbeats, the opaque garnet-dark lenses were that warm ruby color Logan remembered from their first meeting. For the first time, he wondered what Scott saw behind the glasses. He thought he could see the faint outline of eyes beneath the tinted lenses.

"That's not how I remember it," Scott said hoarsely, and he gripped Logan's forearms near the elbow with a sudden intensity. "I'll tell you...but what happened?"

Logan couldn't see his eyes to meet him, could only infer the gaze boring into him, but he couldn't even meet that much. With a guttural noise he looked away, catching sight of a pitiful heap of animal bones half-buried in the dirt, a few piles of largely untouched leaves and berries.

"It's all right," Scott said, tone suddenly gentling as if Logan was the one who needed comfort, for god's sake. "I know she's dead now. Really dead."

Logan's head snapped up and he bit back the urge to hurl an 'oh yeah!?' in his face, but Scott didn't need to know about the dream. He didn't need to hear the name Jean had chosen for her alter ego, or the fire that still haunted his dreams, touched Storm's beautiful face, made McCoy turn from the kids with a stricken look as if scenting ashes. "You're all skin and bones," he replied instead, voice gruff after the spasm of recollection gripped him, the moment he could never banish, the sensation of claws punching through someone's sternum. "I should call you Slim from now on, shape you're in now. I tell you everything. But first let's get you out of these woods. Okay?" He kept it light, a quid pro quo, but Scott's face remained fixed on his in what on anyone else would be a searching look so maybe it came across a little desperate.

He didn't care. Nothing moved here anymore, not even the air, and it felt wrong to be here.

Scott was nodding, and the grip on his arms wasn't so fierce anymore. Out here as long as he'd been, the kid was probably feeling it. "Let's go," he agreed. "I'm starving." Then he broke into a slightly hysterical chuckle, though what was funny about that was so obscure Logan sure couldn't see it.

"This way," Logan said, throttling the notion to take Scott's arm as if the man couldn’t see. "I found your bike."

"Logan?" Scott asked, quieter than their muffled footsteps over the turf. If it weren't for super-keen hearing he might not have caught it. "I did find her, didn't I?"

They were over the incline before he could find the voice to reply. Of course, with the volume dialed that far down Scott might not have heard and so much the better. "What you found wasn't Jean anymore."