He roused briefly when a white light pierced through him, and what he remembered of that was the struggle. "No...no, I'm not ready!" he asserted, shielding his eyes against the glare. A dark silhouette blocked out part of the light. His visual memory transported him to the instant the jet of water had plumed up, a shockwave from Alkali Lake that had knocked him on his backside with a grunt of pain. There had been intense white light then, too. Then there'd been Jean-but-not-Jean. Then nothing.
"...four ccs should do, no thank you Rogue I don't need assistance, what I do need is...could have you get...for me..."
Scott recognized that voice and tried to focus, but the world had gone blurry and the wobbly outlines of the big, dark shape partially blocking the light collapsed into darkness. Or perhaps his eyes had fallen shut.
"Logan?" he husked, trying to grasp for the last instant he remembered. Rescue in the woods, gentle hands on his face settling glasses over his ears, the concerned face that greeted him with furrowed brow, conversations over pizza...he'd eaten pizza?
"It's all right, my boy," a gentle, kindly voice informed him, and now Scott definitely recognized this one.
"Professor?" Scott gasped out, and a tear seeped past his tight control. "He told me...you were dead."
Someone took hold of his hand and laced his fingers in a strong grip. "...up the dosage..." someone muttered, wind-tunnel distant, and on his other side a sharp prick delved into the soft skin of his inner elbow.
Everything went dark.
The world devolved into interminable cycles of peaceful darkness layered with uneasy dreaming. He was five years old, terribly sick and a cool, fragrant hand passed over his forehead, a soft female voice murmuring for him to rest. Sleep. He turned over and dreamed again, fifteen and on the run, getting coffee from a machine at a bus stop between one place and another and that gentle, kindly voice asked if he needed change for a dollar. He turned, and was enfolded in knowing, faded blue eyes. Vision. He was twenty-five and leading the X-men back from a successful mission, no one had gotten hurt, and young Piotr Nikolaivich had been retrieved from a stoning-happy mob none the worse for the wear.
Sometimes he surfaced near wakefulness and that was when it hurt. He inhaled and pain came after. In those near-waking moments, there was a touch that came and went. His hand tingled when that touch went missing.
He was fourteen and faced a horrible choice. In the narrow dark of the shared room if he made a single peep the other boy, his foster brother, would wake up. But if he stayed quiet it would keep happening again, and again...
With a groan Scott slid back into the restful dark. There were parts of him that could stay buried forever. He had no need for that memory anymore.
Sometimes he dreamed of fire, and Jean. She came to him again as she had the night he'd been found, and laid a hand over his forehead with her impalpable touch and sang to him softly. She told him he would be all right. She said she was sorry, over and over in a melancholy tone that made him want to cry or push her hand away and tell her he'd be all right. He could be strong, if only she'd stop whispering. She had whispered to him for a year and he'd almost gone mad.
Then she went away, vanishing like a soap bubble demolished with a single puff of air.
Scott opened his eyes with a suddenness that made him gasp. Above him, there was a ceiling lamp, shielded so that it didn't shine directly into his face. He stared at the blue-gray tile of the ceiling and frowned as he tried to figure out whether he was reliving memory or had entered another dream cycle. They were so realistic, and they blurred, and he couldn't remember for a moment what had actually happened and what was still in his head.
"I think you've come out of it," said the dry, cultured tone he remembered.
"Hank?" Scott rasped, and tried to cough. Pain squeezed down on his ribs. "Ah--ow."
"Don't try to move," Hank McCoy warned him, stepping up to his bedside.
Scott managed to focus on him, widened his eyes, and gave up on the slightest thought of not staring. "Now I know I'm still dreaming, or maybe you've got me on really good drugs, the hallucinatory kind," he said, in wonder. "Not only can I see in color - but you're not blue or furry."
"Oh, this is reality, my friend," Hank assured him, leaning in toward Scott and lifting a penlight. "Don't move." He trapped Scott's lower, then upper eyelid and prevented him from blinking, then shined the penlight into his eye. He repeated this indignity with the other, then stepped back and tsked with satisfaction.
"Geez, doc, and you didn't even buy me a drink," Scott mumbled, squeezing his eyes shut as they smarted in pain, then they popped open again. He could see. "Hank? You didn't take the cure, did you? You didn't give it to ME!?" His voice rose in panic.
Hank chuckled, not unkindly. "Scott. Please. While I am nowhere near so devout in our friend Ororo's devout assertions that there is no need for such measures for any one of us, I take pride in who I am even unto the point of my somewhat hirsute appearance. And above all please accredit me with upholding every man or mutant's right to administer to their own destiny; that is to say, I would never dose you with an unproven agent."
Scott's face split in a grin. "This is definitely the McCoy I remember," he said, casting a glance to the other side of his bed. He was lying on one of the medical bay's hospital beds, and he could see color. He cast an eye over the crisp white sheets, the metallic silver glint of the railing that kept him in place if he were capable of rolling out of bed - he wasn't - and the slight figure of a boy seated on a stool beside his bed. The child had extraordinarily keen eyes, but aside from that appeared quite unremarkable - except for the fact that he was completely bald.
"Scott, let me introduce to you our young friend Jimmy. Jimmy, this is Scott Summers, recently believed to be deceased, now returned to us through the good graces of our sometime-substitute teacher Wolverine." Hank leaned in again, catching Scott's attention. He was smiling faintly. "It's young Jimmy's suppressant field we have to thank for the fact I was able to check your eyes, diagnose the head trauma, and catch it in time to prevent things from getting to the point where these facilities could no longer be of service to you."
The boy ducked his head, managing a look both shy and terrified at the same time. "Hello," he said in a clear and resonant voice.
"It's temporary?" Scott asked, relaxing. His optic blasts had been a trial, even what he might consider at times to be a curse, but to have that suddenly taken away would be like removing a limb and having Hank tell him there was no chance for a transplant. It was, now, part and parcel of who he was.
"Yes," Jimmy confirmed, hesitated, then added, "The other kids call me 'Leech.' Because I leech mutants' powers away."
Scott looked at him a moment longer, fascinated. Part of it was simply the fact that he could look, without hurting him, without viewing him through the shades of red that had made up his existence for so long. "Thank you, Jimmy," he said at last. "This is...amazing." For a moment he wondered what it would be like for this moment to extend further, to have his vision back all the time, for good...the world wobbled and he closed his eyes. He didn't need a 'cure' because there was nothing wrong with him. He just wished he could turn his power on and off the way most could.
"The field of Jimmy's power extends in an approximately ten-foot radius in all directions, so far as I've been able to determine," Hank continued softly, as if conscious of the intrusion his words constituted as Scott opened his eyes the next instant, looking around to greedily take in the sights he was able. "Before he leaves this room, we'll need to outfit you with your protective eyewear once more."
He nodded, jaw working as he checked out the far corners of the med-lab and determined that the three of them were the only people in the room.
Hank paused, then continued when there was no prompting from Scott on any particular. "When you were brought in--"
"How long have I been here?" Scott interrupted, latching onto the here and now once more, reeled in by that detail. The panic that had been put at bay, presumably by drugs or at least by all that had happened, returned full-force and sat on his chest, the crushing weight of responsibility come to roost. "Is everything all right?"
A chuckle greeted his question. "Now this is definitely the Scott Summers I remember," Hank returned, expression solemn but blue eyes twinkling. "I should be asking that of you, m'boy. That is, if I were not your doctor and not acquainted in detail with your condition. Very well, you have been here, unconscious, for approximately forty-eight hours."
"Only that long?" Scott interjected, surprised. It seemed to him as if weeks had passed, and from that stemmed a large share of the panic. He'd been out of commission long enough.
"Yes. The drugs I had the unfortunate necessity to introduce into your system have a rather time-distorting effect, I fear. But the end result was a cessation of pain in order to provide the best treatment," Hank informed him.
"Where's Logan?" Scott inserted into the next perceptible gap in Hank's end of the conversation.
Hank hesitated, then his broad shoulders rose and fell in a rueful shrug. It was odd, seeing him as he'd been so many years ago, when he could still pass for human but was simply bigger, a little more rough-hewn, a gorilla-broad man in a white lab coat. "Who can say? He brought you in, stayed until young master Jimmy here arrived for my first assessment with you, and I haven't seen him since."
Scott frowned at the ceiling, recalling the touch that came and went, the hand lacing fingers with his own. He must have been wrong, or mixed that up with a memory long past. He couldn't picture either Jimmy or Hank holding his hand. Then again, why would Logan?
"Now you're going to listen to a litany of the damage you've done yourself, my boy, and endure it quietly while I admonish you not to do so again," Hank began, a righteous ire entering his voice.
"You're not that much older than I am," Scott objected, obfuscating.
"And that slim margin apparently makes the difference," Hank retorted. He leveled a thick finger in Scott's direction. "You were suffering from general malnutrition, on the verge of dehydration--"
Slim. Scott's attention wandered for a moment, glancing first at Jimmy, where he expected fleetingly to see someone else, then toward the door of the med-lab. And why should he expect anything? Hell, Logan had probably just come back for the bike, and figured he might as well save Scott while he was all the way up there.
"--assorted scrapes, cuts, and contusions, severe fatigue which impaired your ability to heal as quickly as your typical repair factor would allow, strained muscles but no broken bones - as best I've been able to determine, from your semi-conscious yelps during a routine bed bath - and one hell of a concussion." Hank glared at him. "Which, Logan informed me, was a completely unnecessary addition caused by your executive decision to set out on your own as soon as his back was turned."
Scott blinked. "I did?"
Hank returned, dry as a bone, "You most certainly did."
Scott fidgeted, winced as his ribs gave a twinge - strained muscles, he now knew - and frowned. "Huh. I don't remember that one." He stretched his recollection of that evening and he remembered talking, scarfing down most of a pizza carton's worth of the greasy slices, going to bed fully clothed -- that was it, though.
Hank frowned, too. "Some slight amnesia apparently...no doubt a result of the fierce knock you fetched to your noggin, wiping out at the speeds that motorcycle of yours can reach."
"Well, I'm not dead," Scott said with finality, and decided not to try to struggle further into a sitting position. "But I do have a lot of work to do. With Xavier gone..." He skipped over the rest. "And as backlogged as I was, can someone find the paperwork that needs doing and bring it down here? I'm sure it needs a hand-truck by now." Storm had never cared for the administrative details and Xavier had been only too happy to swap him more classes for his share of seeing to the school and Foundation.
Hank snorted and turned his back on him. "Well, if you'll excuse me, there are people who've been quite anxious to hear you're awake and alert...not to mention, alive," he added pointedly, ignoring the mention of work.
"Right," Scott said mechanically, resting his head against his pillow. Abruptly he wanted to plead weariness, though he must have gotten plenty of rest, unconscious as he'd been over the past two days. The thought of seeing almost anyone was sudden cause for exhaustion. Maybe if he pretended to doze off...
"I've seen him," Jimmy piped up from his position by the bed. "Wolverine - Mr. Logan. He stays as far away from me as I can. But he's come and gone by the time I come back to the infirmary."
Scott frowned. "Really?" He thought about that, and the pieces fit. Logan would have cause for concern if Jimmy's power suppressed his healing factor. They'd found shortly after Logan's first tumultuous arrival into the mansion that the healing factor was the one thing that made his adamantium skeleton possible; without it, no one could cope with that kind of pressure on their bones. "Don't worry about it, Jimmy, it's nothing personal -- there are some mutants who can't live without their powers, you know. Literally, I mean."
Jimmy's solemn face lightened. "That's why?"
"That's why," Scott confirmed, looking into the boy's intense blue eyes, unable to help giving him a slight smile. He cast another glance around the med-bay, thrilled yet again for the chance to see it without visor or protective glasses. "Say. When I'm feeling better, how about I take you for a tour of the grounds?"
Jimmy hesitated, then gave him a shy nod and a smile. "The flowerbeds are still in bloom," he said.
"I'd like to see them," Scott said, and if it was a bit more difficult to swallow, for a moment, it passed quickly enough. Fourteen years. It had been nearly fourteen years since he'd seen color.
"Speaking of taking strolls around the garden," Hank said, returning to Scott's bedside, "it's time to talk recuperation regimen, m'boy."
Scott started to speak, then gave up on getting Hank to drop that particular nickname. There were worse epithets. "Are you discharging me, doc?" he said, attempting to lighten the glower Hank was fixing in his direction.
"I shouldn't," Hank said darkly, "given the condition under which you entered my care, but all things considered I believe you'll recuperate faster if you get up and moving, eat real food and drink real fluids rather than this intravenous device on which you've been subsisting. Though! I shan't tolerate any shenanigans, Scott. I'll be giving you daily check-ups until I'm satisfied you're restored to good health and spirits."
Scott pulled a wry look. "You're not my therapist, Hank."
"No," Hank agreed softly, "but you have been through quite the ordeal." He paused, lips forming a thoughtful line, considering.
"I already know," Scott said, lifting his chin. "About Jean. About the Professor." He was extra proud of himself for saying both names without flinching - which was more than Hank proved he could manage.
"Well..." Hank trailed off, at a loss. He started into it again. "If you--"
The door whooshed open, an affair not unlike an airlock decompressing, and the staccato of sharp heels clicked into the room, bringing with it Storm and the scent of the outdoors, wind and ozone and a hint of growing things. "Is it true?" she demanded, somewhere between anxious and strident. "Scott's awake, he's going to be all right?"
Hank turned from the bedside. "As I said," he told her, sweeping with one broad hand and stepping aside as if unveiling Scott as his personal accomplishment.
For the first time, Scott wondered what kind of bad shape he'd been in when Logan had brought him into the mansion. For Hank to be overbearing about injuries was a matter of course; he was the doctor, and took it upon himself as his role to instill a fear of the infirmary to encourage more vigilance, less carelessness. For Storm to sound so concerned was another story entirely; she took the view Scott himself did, if it wasn't broken and they could still stand, they could still fight. Make do, keep working, soldier on.
"I'm fine," Scott said, disliking this hospital-room feature of the infirm, the fact that people tended to talk over the head of the person who was out of commission. Then he attempted to sit up and the grunt of effort turned into a gasp of pain.
Hank turned to him, frowning, but saw no need for adjustment when Scott settled back onto the bed with a torqued glare. "I warned you," was all he said, with that irritatingly smug physician's know-it-all.
Storm glided up to his bedside, a genuine smile splitting her face. Her eyes were scrutinizing, though, as she came to a stop near his thigh and reached for his hand, squeezing it. "Scott. Thank the goddess above. When Logan said he thought Jean had killed you--"
"Storm," Hank said, a brief warning note as Scott stopped breathing, his world freezing around him for an instant.
Her face fell and a look of horror replaced her relieved smile. "I'm sorry!" she blurted.
Scott shook his head. "Don't worry about it, Storm," he said, and gave her a tight smile. "It's done, and I'm back." He stopped himself before adding, 'and happy to be here.' He wasn't sure about that part. Not yet. With Xavier gone, well, he'd already thought his world shattered when Jean had sacrificed herself to save them, raising the jet and burying herself beneath the waters of the lake.
There was still a school to be run, though, something he'd let slip past him during that terrible year. There was a war to be waged, and plenty of people left to protect. And that maddening self-doubt, the insidious whisper that had haunted him, was gone.
"Thank the goddess," Storm repeated, and her smile was so bright and relieved he gave her a second look. It had been a long time since she'd smiled, hadn't it? He had let too much of the weight rest on her shoulders, for too long.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, and she blinked, shaking her head.
"Sorry...Scott, what on earth have you got to be sorry for? If anything, I -- I should be apologizing to you," she wavered. She extracted her hand from his, awkwardly smoothed down the blanket covering his legs.
He firmed his jaw. "For leaving you alone for so long," he returned, and was about to decisively change the subject - ask about Logan, because for Storm that would be a real non sequitur.
The doors whooshed open again, and a cocky masculine voice interjected, "Hey, is there room for one more in the sick room?"
Scott glanced up over Storm's shoulder, catching sight of an unfamiliar young man. He was around his mid-twenties, definitely past student age, and Scott sized him up at six foot one. His light brown hair fell over his forehead, but was buzzed short over his ears. He had a square jaw, uncomfortably familiar high cheekbones and a full-lipped mouth, and as Scott stared, he fixed unerring green eyes on him and stared right back, unsmiling.
"Alex," Scott rasped. He didn't have to guess. Even with the distance of fifteen years between them and the last time they'd been together, he knew his brother's face.