The clap-trap diner could have collapsed with a good hard sneeze from one of the beefy truckers that were scattered throughout taking up single spaces at tables and occupying all the barstool seats, but it was relatively clean and a little dim so no one would look too hard at the scruffy, unshaven tall drink of water at Logan's elbow. The air of the narrow crackerbox was permeated with that permanent aroma of truck-stop coffee, a brew simmered over burners so long most of the water had evaporated, that bitter smell underlying the grease-scent that only bulldozing or a similarly final solution could remove.
A bone-thin waitress with bedraggled hair secured under a hairnet attached to a limp white uniform headdress showed them to a corner booth and gave them a listless smile. Her dark eyes moved over them without really seeing them as she started a ticket for the drinks they ordered - water and juice for a conscientious Scott, beer for Logan as he debated whether he'd be able to order enough for it to hit his system before he metabolized it. Scott didnít even really need to flip through his menu before ordering a plate of food to start with.
"All right," Scott said. "Tell me."
Logan sagged against the cracking vinyl back of the booth and looked away. He wanted to wait at least long enough for Slim to get some food into his gullet as a buffer, but he supposed he could start with the basics. He hunted up a cigar from the depths of his jacket, struck a match to get it going, and puffed reflectively for a moment to figure how to frame it. That part where Jean had put the moves on him in the infirmary - that was right out. He cast an eye over the disheveled, unwashed man gulping water in the seat across from him.
Maybe he could stand to hear it, after all. Scott was different from how he'd been when he set off before the crisis with Phoenix. Logan couldn't think of any other word for it. Before, he'd been haunted, a man unable to accept -- there, haunted. He'd hit on it. Scott had inhabited a dream-state of denial. This man before him was gaunt, tense, ravaged even from the ordeal he'd just been through, but he was awake and alive. Still that didn't mean Logan had to tell him everything.
"A few days after you left, there was a head-splitting...I dunno, shriek or something. Went through everyone's head at Xavier's like a spike hammered clean through," Logan began, leaning on one elbow and rolling his cigar between thumb and forefinger. "Xavier told me and Storm to get up there right away, get to Alkali Lake. And that's where we found Jean."
He was about to tell Slim to go easy on the water, given that even he knew a man could die of water intoxication if he drank too much too fast after the deprivation Scott had gone through. As if he'd read his mind, Scott set his water down and toyed with the unwrapped straw that had come with his orange juice.
Logan tried to break it out in easy chunks. Warrington Labs had claimed they found a "cure" to suppress the mutant gene. Magneto had broken Mystique and several other high-security mutants from a moving prison convoy, and Mystique had taken a hit of the cure to protect the self-styled leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants. After they'd found Jean, everything had gone to hell - she had busted her way out of the mansion, doing substantial damage and scaring most of the kids half to death. The showdown at the Grey house, where they had lost Xavier, followed by the devastating losses at Alcatraz.
Through his telling of the events that had happened since Scott had gone missing, the man's face grew progressively more grim. A choked sob broke loose when Logan related what had happened to Xavier in that kitchen in the Grey home. By that point he'd been talking mostly to his plate, unable to meet Scott's eyes. He'd been there. He'd been good as useless. Now Xavier was gone. There hadn't even been anything to bury.
But Scott was here now, Logan thought, confused. He remembered the dream of flame and Jean, the silhouette of great fiery wings, the vanished headstones. Xavier's had disappeared, too. He tried to remember what she'd said but Scott was talking, hooking his attention from the abstract into the here-and-now.
"I can't believe he's gone," Scott said, ignoring the eggs over easy on his plate in favor of digesting the events that had been heaped in front of him.
"I'm sorry," Logan said thickly. It was still a painful moment, one he wished he'd never seen, hadn't been party to. He had wrestled the doors of the kitchen open - and Xavier had smiled, beneficent as ever as the molecules of his substance were obliterated, as if to transmit the unshakable certainty that all that was good and heroic in the world couldn't be done away with simply by death. It had hit him, hard. He guessed that was why he'd held the line with the others on Alcatraz.
Sometimes everyone had to take a stand, if not for what they believed in but for what was right.
"McCoy's still beating himself up over whether he did the right thing, hitting Magneto with the cure," Logan finished up, regarding the stub of cigar in his hand with surprise. Usually it took him much longer to smoke one down and he didn't even remember pulling on this one.
"I don't know if there was a 'right thing,'" Scott said, scraping up egg yolk with a piece of toast. He was eating again, his body's needs overcoming the heap of disaster Logan had rained down. "But it's what I would have done."
Logan arched his brows.
Scott tilted his head, evidently catching that skeptical glance. "Look, I know you think of me as Xavier's golden boy but my first priority was always making sure everyone came back alive, all right? What Magneto was doing was endangering everyone, especially those soldiers - all of whom were under orders, apparently to neutralize rather than kill in a situation where they didn't have the same guarantee from their opponents."
"They had guns loaded with the cure," Logan began, not hotly but as a point of debate. He was always pushing Scott. Always testing him, always taking up the opposite viewpoint even if it wasn't necessarily what he believed in one hundred percent.
"Better the so-called cure than being dead. You can't recover from that. You can't adapt to it," Scott shot back.
Logan rolled his shoulders. "I ain't arguing," he said, even though Scott's words brought to mind some of the despairing screams on the battlefield, those who'd gotten shot with the cure and writhed on the ground as their powers bled away. He couldn't bring that point to bear against a man who couldn't even look at the people he loved without protective eyewear. Scott of all people could, like Rogue, consider it a cure so why wouldn't he? Too damned proud, probably.
"So..." Scott paused long enough to mop up the rest of his eggs, stuff them into his mouth, chew reflectively. "What happened after that? The school--"
"School's fine," Logan said right away. "Storm called in every favor she had to keep the school running, I think. Kurt came back, you know, after what happened. He got in line for the cure but ended up leaving 'cause he decided to stay as God made him, or something. He's teaching, uh, Comparative Literature and some new courses, Religious Theory and German, I think."
Scott's face was oriented on him in a manner that suggested staring. Logan ground out the smoldering remains of his cigar on the table's ashtray. Scott gave his head a little shake, then said, "That wouldn't fill the roster."
"No, Hank McCoy got fired," Logan said blandly.
"What?" Scott exclaimed, loud and outraged enough that a few heads at the bar turned. Scott hunched his shoulders and Logan glowered until everyone in the immediate vicinity lost interest again.
"You heard me," Logan continued quietly. "After Hank was seen on video footage at Alcatraz Island, even though testimony from the defending soldiers was clear Hank was with the good guys, he got fired. Something about the President or the administration or whatever asking for Hank's resignation, I dunno. He showed up on our doorstep and told Storm he knew for a fact they needed a good doctor, and he was available, so..." He shrugged.
"I'm sure his appearance had nothing to do with it," Scott said under his breath.
Logan snorted. "Yeah, who knew a six-foot-plus, hairy blue beast in a suit would make those stiffs uncomfortable? You don't like that? You're gonna love who they appointed the new Secretary, then." It still gave him a bit of a snicker, big man like McCoy introducing himself as a secretary, but he'd found out pretty quick no one else seemed to be amused by the joke.
"Who?" Scott said, wary. He turned his face to the empty plate in front of him, then glanced over his shoulder. Logan lifted his hand when the waitress turned in their direction. Man was out in the woods that long, he could stand to eat more than one plateful.
"Raven Darkholme," Logan drawled, leaned back in the booth, and waited for the bomb to drop. A man who'd been with Xavier as long as Scott couldn't fail to recognize...
Scott's brow knit. "Raven Darkholme?" he said, then his brows shot up. Incredulous, he uttered, "You mean...Mystique? No way!"
"Oh, yeah, she's a real good citizen," Logan said, ironic. He fiddled with the stump of his cigar to give his hands something to do. "Didn't I mention? Full cooperation once they captured her, and now she's got the cure she's real pretty in suits. Got a pardon in return for her testimony and being an ex-mutant and all, she's the expert. And now that she's human she's photogenic enough for the White House, I guess."
"Mystique in the White House," Scott said numbly. "Are you sure I didn't, I don't know, die of exposure or something?"
Logan suppressed a snort. "Everything I've told you and that's what shocks you enough to wonder?"
Abruptly Scott buried his face in his hands. "No. No, I just...it's a lot to process all at once. I still don't believe the Professor is dead. Everything after that sounds impossible. He was like the next thing to God, to me, he was...like the father I never had."
Logan looked out the window, though whether it was to give Scott time to pull himself together or to avert his face out of his own embarrassment over seeing his erstwhile rival so vulnerable, he couldn't say.
"So," Logan told the window, "McCoy stayed on as doctor" -- he left unspoken the void both of them knew, that Hank had taken up Jean's post -- "and picked up physics, advanced biology, and calculus courses." Not that all these administrative details were something he cared about whatsoever, but with Rogue and the other kids filling him in as if he did, he couldn't help but pick up the information. Something Scott would want to know anyhow, so he supposed it hadn't been useless after all.
"What about my classes?" Scott said, shaking his head as if coming out of a daze.
"Uh, your classes..." Logan trailed off, blank. How the hell was he supposed to know what classes Slim had taught? Then he recalled passing through the garage with Xavier on his first tour of the facilities. Machine shop? Automotive studies. That reminded him. "Well, we did have a few new additions." He hesitated.
"What is it?" Scott prompted. The full line of his mouth compressed. "Or, who."
"Some twenty-somethings named Alex Summers and Lorna Dane came for the memorial services - your service, really, and Jean's - and ended up staying after," Logan said, rubbing at his nape with his free hand. "Dunno about them, apparently they were in some talks for a government-sponsored mutant task force, but the talks went sour after Alcatraz. Alex took over English and phys ed and Lorna took over mechanics and chemistry I guess--"
"Alex Summers," Scott repeated, looking dumbfounded as a man with his eyes shielded could do.
"Yeah, you know him?" Logan said, lifting a shoulder in a half-shrug.
Scott angled his head and his mouth dropped open. "You..." He slouched back in the booth and shook his head, chuckling but not amused. "Is it the memory that's a problem, or do you just not like me that much?"
Logan blinked and scowled at him. Suddenly he remembered the tombstone. "Ah, shit."
Scott lifted his chin and snorted as if to say, you see?
"Your last name's Summers, isn't it?" Logan said with a half-groan. He shifted, digging out his wallet as the waitress headed their way with what looked to be the check.
"Yeah." Scott sat up a little straighter. "Alex Summers is my brother."