He was a man who gulped in oxygen after being thrust in a shallow grave. Surfacing, Scott breathed in the air, took in the sights around him like the world was newborn, touched the planes of the world around him in a way he hadn't been conscious of doing since Hank put the first pair of test-goggles over his eyes and coaxed him to open them finally after the better portion of two hours. That his first sight was Logan wasn't remarkable, considering.
The fact that he'd known who had found him before the man had opened his mouth, though - that was troubling.
Scott lost himself in speech. He spilled all of the detail he remembered in vivid recall, the way he'd trained himself to do during post-mission briefings. He didn't care if Logan had heard it or if he already knew; it was a conditioned reflex, there was another X-Man no matter how marginal or intermittent Logan's status as such and the situation had gone critical, so he divulged everything he knew in case any part of it filled in some blanks if further action was required. He'd been drawn to the beach, to the closest point he could remember where Jean had gone down when the waters had enclosed her.
At that moment, his eyes flicked over to the man driving the truck. Logan's knuckles were white on the steering wheel, his mouth set in a forbidding line.
The Professor would have asked, 'what drew you?' So he answered that too. "She was in my head. All this time, I thought...it was nightmares, then it was during the day too, even when I was awake. Over such a long distance I wouldn't have thought it possible, even with the psychic bond we shared..."
"You two shared a psychic bond?" For that, Logan interrupted.
"Yes," Scott said, curt enough to discourage further probing of that topic. He hoped.
"Hell, if I'd known that--" Logan bit it off with a muffled curse and gave him a half-angry, half-conciliatory glance. Only it was mostly angry, and Scott realized he was inferring the conciliatory part.
"Forget it," Scott said, and focused on the stretch of road in front of them. He took a deep breath. "I was drawn to Alkali Lake. I thought I was going crazy, or I just couldn't let go. I don't know. There was...an explosion. Well, I took off my glasses, I looked at the water and sent a blast out into the heart of the lake, but it kept going when it should have settled. A whirlpool, a shockwave, then she was standing there in front of me."
"Jean," Logan said in a flat tone.
Scott's brow furrowed. "Only, not Jean," he said, reflective. He'd had plenty of time to think about it over the past ten days, time he had meticulously kept with notches on a tree, before he'd blasted the tree down. Obliterating the marks hadn't allowed him to quit time-keeping. Scott was good with numbers - precise, whether it was tweaking the blueprints on a carburetor to improve performance or keeping track of the number of moving targets in the air down to the near-perfect synchronization of his circadian rhythms. Part of his gift, Xavier called it. So along with punching a hole through anything he set eyes on, he could tell himself to wake up at six in the morning or get a glance at a roomful of opponents and recall exactly where each of them stood relative to his position. "She smelled like Jean. She sounded like Jean, felt like Jean..."
"But it wasn't the same Jean," Logan whispered, and the damage in his tone resonated with the instant Scott had kissed his wife and registered the wrongness of it.
"We were kissing," Scott said evenly, and a flash superimposed itself over the road ahead of him. A blossoming spread of dark veins, like rot creeping beneath the skin. "She had suppressed my concussive beams, I don't know how, but she insisted - she made me open my eyes. And I could see her, damn it, I saw her for the first time ever. And maybe that was part of it. I opened my eyes and there was this...darkness."
He sensed more than saw the nod at the edge of his peripheral vision, and Scott had to swallow down a surge of anger knowing that Logan knew exactly what he meant, from the same angle of the slant of her mouth, didn't know how he knew, and forced his thoughts back to the debriefing. His confession.
"She broke it off and whispered into my ear. Then she shoved me, hard. My eyes were open so when the power burst out - it was unchecked, she'd taken my glasses, they were gone. It hit Jean before I could close my eyes but...I was the one who was thrown off my feet, like my optic blasts hit the proverbial unstoppable force, you know?" Scott closed his eyes, remembering. His throat moved convulsively but he knew he could finish. He was almost done. "I crashed into the trees god knows how far off and woke up hours later. It was night, I was blind, and I've been lost in the woods ever since."
An uncategorizable grunt issued from the seat beside him. Logan finally said, "We should have looked for you harder. While we were there."
"It's done," Scott said evenly, lifting his head off the headrest. "How were you supposed to know I went to Alkali Lake? It's not like I logged a flight plan or anything. Hell, I got on my bike and took off. I didn't even know myself, when I left the mansion. I ended up there and it was like I woke up from a dream."
"You said she whispered something to you," Logan prompted, and Scott tilted his head just enough to intercept Logan's searching glance.
"Yeah." Scott compressed his lips into a hard line. "She said, 'you have to kill me.'" He had turned that moment over in his head again and again. Her plea had been delivered exactly half a second before she'd released the telekinetic force keeping his optic blasts at bay. She'd tried to make him kill her, before she could...he shuddered and looked out the side window.
"There's something you're not sayin', Slim," Logan prompted.
If the man had to call him by a nickname, he preferred this new one to some the preceding ones. Scott brought one fist up to his face, pressing it against his mouth and wrestling with an unspoken weight for a moment. It wasn't something he wanted to share, but body language alone would give him away and he tried to duck the sensation that Logan already knew. "Jean would never hurt me," he said quietly.
"Phoenix tried to hurt you," Logan supplied.
Scott shook his head, watching the road rush past. "My skin - my whole body felt like it was on fire for this one blinding instant. Every cell in my body, it was like it was being ripped apart and reconstituted and ripped apart again, all in the space of seconds. That was when I looked, I opened my eyes and I could see her. There was this darkness under the skin."
"That was when she let go," Logan said with a sigh.
"Yeah, and the blast hit her - and I was thrown clear."
For a long moment they said nothing. Scott kept his eyes open, though he was tired enough that all he wanted to do was let them drift closed. He had kept his eyes shut for plenty long enough over the last ten days.
Logan broke the silence first. "You knew she was dead. How?"
Scott tried on a brittle smile. It didn't last. "When Jean first developed her telepathic powers, we'd been together for a few years already. We formed a bond, of sorts. The Professor said it was instinctive on Jean's part. It wasn't anything too powerful - I could feel her presence, she could feel mine. Distance, especially long distances, made it thin down until it was practically nonexistent. When she...went under...that first time, I..." Now he did close his eyes, overwhelmed. That presence in the back of his head had vanished, as if the bond had snapped, not dwindled into the distance the way it happened when she went on a mission without him, or vice versa.
"It's okay," Logan said gruffly, and beneath it Scott could hear what he might not have, before. The rough edges shielded concern.
"No, I--" Scott shook his head, a little more coherent now that the horrid headache was dissipating with the force of his beams diffusing into the absorbent ruby quartz. "I'm almost done. You asked me how I knew she was dead. I suppose...because part of me suspected when she went under the water at Alkali Lake. That's why I was always in denial - what everyone thought was denial. During all that time, she was still there. Dreams, then...I could hear her. I'd never actually been able to hear her before because her gift wasn't strong enough."
Logan grunted, one of those non-verbal prompts to keep him going, and Scott inclined his head just enough to look at him again with peripheral vision. His range was wide enough that most people wouldn't believe he could actually see from that angle, and that plus nearly opaque glasses had worked to his advantage plenty of times.
"When she -- when I woke up in the woods, alone without my glasses," Scott said, hastily correcting himself from a path that would dwell too much on that moment. "I felt her even though she was gone. Like a fire, raging out of control. She didn't...I don't think she even realized she hadn't done what she thought she did, what she started to do. There was so much power in her coming through to me even over the distance, I might have been incapacitated if I was actually there with her." He whispered that last and rubbed at his face, scrubbed at both cheeks with his hands and grimaced at the new-growth beard that had sprouted there. He'd already been stubbled when he left Xavier's an age ago. It was odd to fixate on such a detail, he thought, then the next thought was why not? It had been too long since he'd taken care of himself. And all this thought was preface and diversion to avoid what came next in his narration.
"I felt it when she went, at last," Scott said, clipping it short. Simple as he was sure it hadn't been. "The fire was snuffed out. That's how I knew."
There was a strange pause in the cab of the truck while Scott rested his chin on his fist and tried not to think about anything in particular. He was tired - he hadn't slept well since it had happened, his dreams all fire and darkness and exploding stars. Back roads had given way to a two-lane highway and they were speeding toward a stop Scott remembered from the drive in. His custom bike was lashed under a tarp in back; Logan had left him by himself long enough to retrieve it and hoist it onto the flatbed.
"Scott--" Logan began, strained.
All of a sudden Scott couldn't bear to hear it; he knew what lurked after that agonized tone. He might see red all the time but he could interpret facial outlines into expression just fine and he had made the deductive leap the moment he'd been able to lay eyes on the man. "Don't," he shot back.
Logan shook his head, fingers gripping the wheel hard enough to give Scott reason to worry he might pop his claws right through the windshield. "Jeannie, she--"
"I said don't," Scott repeated, cold as he could make the words. "You going to tell me again that she loved me? That she chose me?"
"I figure that's the reason I'm here," Logan said, that hoarse whisper laced with enough agony to shut both of them up.
Scott let his head lapse against the headrest of his seat, and devoted his attention to counting kilometer-markers. Twenty more until the truck-stop with its cheap restaurant and run-down motel and gasoline-soaked blacktop and damn if it didn't sound like heaven. He'd debriefed and it had all poured out of him like a lanced wound so maybe he could sleep, at last.
Still he couldn't let his eyes shut. Eighteen more markers to go. Logan's fingers were drumming over the wheel now, thudding over the leather-covered steel core with more density than a normal human's. The radio had been silent when he started the engine and they drove wrapped in that silence now.
"What happened when you retrieved her?" Scott asked at last, because even with the soothing growl of the engine cradling him as they hurtled over the blacktop, he couldn't sleep. "What happened to the X-Men? Is everyone all right?"
Logan's eyes flicked his way, then back to the road. Scott caught that small, significant movement. "Let's get some food into you, Slim, and maybe even a beer first."
"Beer's the last thing I should have after near-dehydration," Scott protested automatically. "It's a diuretic."
"Maybe I need it, then," Logan said with a note of finality, and reached over to switch on the radio. A blare of metal-head music killed any remaining prospects for conversation.
Though Scott knew that was when he should really start to worry, he found he couldn't summon the energy to press the issue. That more than anything might indicate Logan was right about not discussing it now, and he found he was capable of fuming over that much until they reached the stop.