by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: Characters are Marvel's, not mine, except for Palin and the supporting cast. Set sometime after 'Fatal Attractions' and 'Fathers and Sons'.
He had to remember where he'd been going.
The last thing he remembered clearly was stopping at the little roadside diner. Getting off the motorcycle, dragging himself towards the door with the vague idea of getting something to eat. He'd been on the road for so long he'd been all but drunk with fatigue, ready to drop.
Why? What had been so important? Had he been trying to reach someone? Find something?
He had to remember.
But he knew that what happened next had been his fault. Exhausted, distracted, he'd missed the warning signs; the hushed stillness of the wood, the lack of movement through the windows of the diner, even with all the lights on and the parking lot half-full. He hadn't noticed those hints of danger, hadn't paid attention to what senses dulled by weariness had been trying to tell him.
Not until he'd gotten to the door, close enough to smell the blood.
By then, of course, it had been too late. He'd moved fast, instinct taking over, but not fast enough. Gunfire had blown out the windows, cutting him down before he could get to cover. His healing factor had started to work on the bullet wounds instantly, but by then they'd been pouring out of the diner, vague shapes in black body armor and visored helmets. They'd gotten in a few more shots for good measure, enough to immobilize him for long enough to put him in restraints.
He'd heard an explosion as they'd dragged him away and thrown him in the back of the dark van he'd barely noticed among the other cars. The diner, part of him had registered. His attackers, burning the evidence--covering their tracks.
But it all seemed very far away, now. His world had narrowed to the table he was lying on, to the restraints that didn't give an inch and the too-sluggish reactions of his body. The light from overhead was blinding. He wanted to close his eyes, block it out, but he was afraid of what he'd see if he did. Afraid of giving it away--telling them what they wanted to know.
Even when they put that vise-like headgear on him and turned on the machines to look for the information themselves, he didn't close his eyes. He didn't know what they wanted, but he wasn't going to let them have it.
All he could see was the light. Nothing of the room he as in, or the people within it as they moved around the table, seeing to the machines. Their voices were too soft to understand. He didn't try. He had to focus.
He had to remember where he'd been going.
"His resistance really is extraordinary. Most men would be a gibbering wreck at this point."
"Of course. I did warn you about him, didn't I?" A caustic laugh. "They don't come much tougher, doc."
"You did, my dear. I must admit, however, I did assume you were exaggerating slightly. After all, people in your line of work must have their 'legends'--"
"Hah! Maybe you'll take my word for it the next time!"
"There won't be a next time, child. We have all we need, right here." A sigh. "Locked away inside his mind, unfortunately. We have to find the proper key."
"Since we're playing with metaphors, why not use a sledgehammer?"
"And chance damaging his mind to the point where we lose the information we need? Try to apply a little logic here, my dear. I know it's difficult--"
"Fuck you, old man. I don't have to sit here and listen to this."
"Calm yourself. Subtlety is not a weakness. Besides, he is ours. Totally helpless. And we have all the time in the world."
They were getting impatient. They'd turned up the power to the machines, the soft hum that pervaded the room getting louder, more insistent. The pain was getting worse, too, steadily increasing until it felt like his head was about to explode from the pressure.
Even worse than the pain, though, was the sensation of his mind being invaded, the feel of that cold, impersonal force ripping into his memories and leaving only wreckage in its wake. He could hear a harsh, growling noise over the sound of the machines. He knew it was coming from him, but he couldn't stop himself, any more than he could stop pulling futilely at his restraints, trying to get free.
He was losing them. His memories. They slipped away like sand running out through an hourglass, leaving only bits and pieces behind. Impressions, fragment, no more. He concentrated on them as hard as he could, as much to try and take his mind off the pain as anything else.
A plane. Darkened, crowded, surrounded by tired people.
A beautiful face, framed with red hair. Smiling at him. Smiling--
That same face, twisted in unspeakable agony, screaming. Screams that echoed in his mind as well as his ears.
A wordless, anguished cry burst from him. No-- He would have screamed her name, but he couldn't remember it.
In another fragmented memory, he stood beside a bed, looking down at her. She was barely conscious, moaning softly, tears leaking from her tightly closed eyes.
He had to help her. Save her. There were other beds in the room, holding other people he cared about. They were in pain, too. Hurting--dying. He had to do something--
Was that what he'd been doing? Trying to help them?
"Not the why." The voice, whispering in his ear, was quiet but insistent. Impersonal, so impersonal. "We know the why, and the how. The where, Mr. Logan. Tell us where."
"Can't--remember." The voice that answered was dry, cracked, little more than a pained rasp. Not his. Surely not. A little anger sparked within him, lent him strength. "Wouldn't--tell you if I did." They wouldn't help her. They didn't care.
A disapproving sigh in his ear. "You're only making it harder on yourself, Mr. Logan."
He would have told the voice what it could do with its 'concern', but the pitch of the machines spiraled upwards, and he didn't have the breath to spare.
"This is bor-ING!"
The technician eyed the young woman sitting on his console warily. He wasn't sure what to make of this wild young mercenary with her frightening intelligence and casual savagery. He had been with the organization for nearly ten years now, and he'd never encountered anyone like Ms. Palin. Oh, he knew his employer used people such as her, for a variety of tasks he preferred to remain in the dark about, but he had never come into contact with her kind. Not until now.
Quite frankly, she scared him witless.
She noticed him watching her and gave him an amused look, dark eyes glinting ferally as she flipped her dark blond ponytail back over her shoulder. Casually, she pulled a knife off her belt and started to trim her fingernails. He shuddered and turned back to his console, forcing himself to concentrate on the subject's vital signs.
"Stop quivering, little man," she said laconically. "I don't bite. Unless you ask me to." Her mirthful laughter echoed in the cramped control booth, and the technican shivered again, wishing he was anywhere else but here. He had been working on a very nice little research project until this--catastrophe had happened, causing his employer to divert all available resources to find a solution.
The door open and Dr. Anderson stepped back into the booth, looking irritated. "This is taking too long," he muttered, adjusting his glasses. "Our employer doesn't have the time to waste."
"Impatient, is he?" Ms. Palin asked with a smirk.
Dr. Anderson gave her a disgusted look. "You know very well the urgency here," he snapped. "Cease making light of the situation, or I'll--"
"Do what, doc? Spank me?" Ms. Palin slid off the console, giving him a sultry look. "So I was right, eh? I did have you pegged as the type who liked it rough." Dr. Anderson flushed and opened his mouth to retort. The technician instinctively flinched, not wanting to be caught in the middle of an argument between these two, both equally dangerous in their own way. Fortunately--or unfortunately, depending on one's perspective--the perimeter alarm went off before Dr. Anderson could say a word. The seductive look dropped right off Ms. Palin's face and she strode over to the security monitors, calling up a view of the grounds. "Oh, fuck," she sighed. "I don't believe this. And things were going so well--"
"What is it?" Dr. Anderson asked sharply.
"Company." Ms. Palin laughed again, but the sound lacked any mirth, this time. "We may have a problem." She came back over to the console, opening an internal comchannel. "Security breach in quadrant C," she snapped. "Shoot to kill--I don't want him within a hundred feet of this level." She straightened, staring into the interrogation room, her expression full of something the technician hadn't ever expected to see on her face; doubt. "That won't be enough," she muttered. "I need to get down there myself."
The technician jumped as he actually heard Dr. Anderson, still standing over by the monitors, swear. "He's one man--and he SHOULD be incapacitated, at this point!"
"Not if he hasn't used his powers since it started," Ms. Palin dryly, turning to retrieve her vest from where she'd slung it over a chair earlier. Pulling it on, she gave Dr. Anderson a quick, humorless smile. "See? I do listen to your lectures, doc. And as for being 'only one man'--I did tell you that my dear old dad was a mercenary too, right?"
"What on EARTH does that have to do--"
"Well, he and his group got on the wrong side of this man and his, on a job," Ms. Palin said softly, shrugging on her vest. "And, like most of his war stories, he shared that one with me when I decided to follow in his footsteps. Suffice to say, doc, our guest is not someone to mess around with." She glanced into the interrogation room again, this time measuringly. "My advice? Move him. Do it now."
"Not an option!" Dr. Anderson snapped. "If we end the procedure now, his healing factor will kick in, and we'll lose all the progress we've made so far."
"Fine. But what would you prefer? Losing a few hours of work, or losing the info we're looking for entirely when our intruder walks in here looking for his old sparring partner?"
The technician didn't dare look at either of them. After a moment, he heard Ms. Palin snort. "Take it or leave it, doc. I'll do the best I can." She left the control booth.
"Sir?" the technician ventured as the door slammed resoundingly shut behind the young mercenary. "Should I--"
"No," Dr. Anderson said curtly, coming over to stand behind him. "We're almost there. We'll continue."
"She'll do what she's paid to do--buy us the time we need. She has to. Either that, or she'll answer to our employer." Dr. Anderson gave him a wintry smile. "And that's something even Ms. Palin would prefer to avoid."
"Where, Mr. Logan?"
The voice was still quiet, but harder, now. Less willing to take no for an answer. They'd turned the power up even more. All he could see was red, now. The sound of his own heart pounded in his ears, too fast, and he could barely breathe for the pain. Still, it gave him something to focus on, something to do besides listen to the voice droning on and on in his ear.
"You called your associate. You didn't name a location, but you implied, very clearly, that you knew where to find the laboratory in question. You wanted his help to destroy it. You HAVE to know where it is!"
So desperate, beneath that persuasive tone. Almost as desperate as he was--had been--still was, even if the exact details of why had fled out of reach.
"Mr. Logan." A trace of impatience in the voice, finally. "Believe me, I have no particular desire to kill you. But I will have that location from you. You don't understand what's at stake, here!"
He did. He knew very well what was at stake. Not just the red-haired woman whose smile continued to haunt him. Others, too, whose faces he could see only in flashes, whose names he had just as much trouble remembering. A bald man with worry lines deeply etched in his face. An Asian woman with an enigmatic smile. A blonde woman with eyes of glacial blue. More faces, that seemed less familiar, but just as important.
All of them, dying.
"You are only causing yourself more pain."
Pain--they'd all been in such pain. He'd been so helpless--the memories might be almost gone, but the emotions were still there. Chewing away at him, a counterpoint to the pain.
Helpless then. Helpless now. He growled, testing the restraints again instinctively.
"There is no escape. No one to save you."
The voice was lying, he realized in a sudden, blazing moment of clarity. He could smell the person leaning over him--smell his anxiety. Fear, growing abruptly sharper, at odds with the confidence of the voice's words.
"You can save yourself, Mr. Logan. Just tell me what I need to know--"
"The lab, Mr. Logan. The source of the energy pulse. You know where it is, and you're going to tell me--"
He opened his mouth to croak something defiant, but the lights suddenly went out. The hum of the machines died, the pain fading to a throbbing ache, and all he could hear in the abrupt silence was the sound of the voice cursing.
Palin slid soundlessly through the darkened hall, her eyes narrowing as she saw the still shape at the junction of corridors just before her. Keeping her weapon up warily, she knelt down beside the body.
Dead. She didn't even need to check for a pulse to know that. All she had to do was look at the angle of his neck. Damn it-- Andres was--had been--fifteen years older than her, a leftover from her father's era. A good soldier, a good man. He'd been planning to retire, soon. Biting back a sudden spasm of anger, she rose and continued, careful to keep in the shadows.
He was in here. Killing her people. She didn't know how he'd managed to take out the power supply, but there wasn't a doubt in her mind that he was responsible. Daddy warned me, Palin thought resignedly. He'd given her a whole list of People To Be Avoided, and the name of their intruder had been well up there--in the top five, if she remembered right.
Not that she blamed their intruder for being a little pissed. Even if he'd managed to avoid getting caught so far, he was as vulnerable to the energy pulse as any other telepath. And Palin knew a little about the odd relationship he had with the man whose brain was being scraped clean two levels above her head. They weren't precisely friends, but he wouldn't take too kindly to what was being done to Logan. Hell, Palin herself didn't enjoy torturing helpless men--it was the thrill of the hunt, the excitement of the kill that she delighted in--but she was a mercenary, and her employer was paying her an obscene amount of money to look out for his interests.
So that's what she'd do. That nagging apprehension that she was in over her head could take a flying leap. Come out, come out wherever you are--
A fist closed over the barrel of her gun, jerking it sideways and then forward. For a moment, Palin held on instinctively, her finger moving on the trigger, but then forced herself to let go. She dropped, rolled, and came back to her feet, her back-up weapon already drawn.
"You remind me of someone." The tall, silver-haired man standing in front of her tossed her gun aside, careful to keep her in the sights of his own as he did. His harsh-featured face was cold, expressionless, but the look in his eyes was as scary a sight as she'd ever seen. This was not a happy man, at the moment. "Except that she would have been a little more careful."
A standoff, then. She could handle that; she'd been a cutthroat poker player since the age of six, and this was just another kind of game. With slightly higher stakes--"Now, that was downright uninventive of you," she said, baring her teeth at him. "After all the years you've been hanging around, Cable, you haven't learned any better pick-up lines than that?"
"Sense of humor, too, I see." His left eye flashed gold in the darkness of the corridor. "How cute." His voice held a faint, contemptuous edge, and Palin told herself not to bristle.
Stay focused, here--you are SO far out of your league, girl, you're going to get yourself killed if you blink at the wrong moment. "So," she said aloud, eyeing that enormous gun of his thoughtfully. She toyed with the idea of making some comment over 'overcompensation', but managed to restrain herself. "Where do we go from here?"
"You know who I am. You know I've got a better than even chance of blocking your shot telekinetically."
"If you used your powers--which you don't really want to do, do you?"
He gave her a cold smile. "Nice try, kid. Did I say anything about using my telepathy?"
"You so sure that using your telekinesis won't make you vulnerable, then?" Palin tsked. It was a token effort--Anderson had been pretty specific about how the energy pulse worked--but maybe he didn't know that. Maybe she could distract him, just for a second--and a second was all she'd need. "Pretty confident, Cable--"
The smile grew, turned sardonic. "So you don't know all that much about me, then," he murmured, his gun hand absolutely steady. "If using my telekinesis made me vulnerable to the energy pulse, girl, I'd be dead already." The smile vanished abruptly. "Walk away," he advised. "I'd hate to put an end to your career before it really starts."
Palin let her shoulders slump in apparent defeat, donning a discouraged mask. "Well, this is going to do wonders for my rep," she grumbled, letting her eyes fall to the ground and tried very hard to suppress a tiny smile.
He fell for it, lowering his gun, and she erupted forwards, kicking it out of his hands. "Getting soft in your old age?" she said challengingly, and then gasped as that same iron grip closed around her wrist in mid-punch, tightening like a vise.
"You know, you're really beginning to piss me off. If you weren't so much like--" He sighed. "Never mind."
The last thing she saw was his fist, the moment before it slammed into her jaw.
Still dark. Not just one voice anymore, though. Two--no, three, all loud and agitated. Someone leaned over him, and he growled, struggling with his restraints, the only thought in his mind to reach the throat he could just barely seen, looming temptingly above him.
"--how we're supposed to move him?"
"--be ridiculous. Get out of the way!"
He snarled again at a quick, stabbing pain in his arm. A dangerous lassitude crept through his body, no matter how hard he tried to fight it, and the babble of angry voices grew distant, incomprehensible.
There was a new sound. He focused on it desperately. A door crashing open? Then more noise, the sounds of a--scuffle of some sort? A few ominous cracking noises, the odd cry of pain.
Something heavy fell on top of him, but was pulled away almost instantly.
"You don't understand!" The original voice, raised in pain and indignation. Closer--that was why he could hear it. "We're all after the same thing here! Don't--"
The sound of metal striking bone, and the thud of a body hitting the floor. "Your methods leave a lot to be desired," a new voice growled. A deeper, angrier voice, one that stirred a vague flicker of recognition, somewhere deep in his hazy mind.
"Y-You can't! Our employer will--"
"Flonq your employer." Another face looming over him, a harsh-featured face lit in faint gold by a glowing left eye, just enough to let him see the scars around the other eye and the bleakness of the man's expression. "Hold on, Logan. We're getting out of here."
His eyes fluttered shut, despite his best efforts. He barely registered his restraints being removed, and could only manage a feeble growl as he was picked up off the table, slung over broad shoulders and carried out of the room. "Adamantium or no admantium, you still weigh a ton, hairball," the deep voice growled.
Palin's jaw hurt. Her pride hurt even worse, and she wanted to kick that sardonic bastard's ass from here to Vancouver. Running through the corridors of the base, growling orders to her people over her headset, she found it easy enough to see where Cable had been, even if she hadn't had that panicked transmission from a bloody-nosed Anderson telling her that their intruder had just broken into the interrogation room and waltzed off with their prisoner. Dead guards. Plasma burns on the walls.
Then she saw him running past at the end of the hall, Logan slung over his shoulders. She took careful aim--healing factor or no healing factor, more holes in their prisoner's hide would just complicate matters--and smiled coldly when Cable went down with a curse, dropping Logan. She adjusted her aim, her finger pulling the trigger again, but Cable had already rolled, coming up with his own gun and beating her to the punch.
The plasma blast missed her by centimetres, so close that her hair on that side was scorched. She hit the deck, firing again, catching him in the leg this time as he struggled back to his feet, towards Logan. He fell again, sprawling awkwardly on the floor, but somehow managed to drag himself and Logan out of the open. She swore, pulling herself upright and cautiously making her way to the end of the hall. Her heart was pounding so loud, she wouldn't be surprised if everyone within a mile could hear it.
She got to the end of the hall, took a deep breath, and turned the corner. Down at the end of THIS hall was a window, thick, reinforced glass. Cable, still carrying Logan, was only a few feet away from it, closing the gap at a staggering run.
No, you don't-- She took aim, and shot him in the back.
Luck just wasn't on her side today. The combination of the impact and his momentum carried him forward, just far enough, before he started to crumple. He and Logan crashed through the window, and Palin swore, running forward even though she knew she was already too late. Reaching the window, she leaned out, staring at the two still, dark shapes lying in the snow at the foot of the rock face. Swearing sulphurously, she adjusted her headset.
"Get a squad outside, now!"
Fresh, cold air. The wind in his face, the smell of snow. Free--he was free, and no one was ever going to cage him again. Drawing himself up into a ready crouch, he scanned the snowy slope warily, sniffing the air.
His head whipped around as he heard a groan. The man. The one who'd taken him from the room.
"Okay---I was heading for the window, but I was hoping for a more controlled descent," the man muttered, pushing himself up to a sitting position, moving awkwardly. Hurt. He smelled blood. Blood and anger and something else.
He growled. Didn't like the smell. Or the man. Too big. Dangerous, even hurt. His claws came out and he watched the man, watched him get up and look up at the place they'd fallen from.
"Come on, Logan," the man said harshly, turning. Limping towards him. The anger-smell was stronger. "We have to get out of here."
Coming closer. Too close. Snarling, he leapt at him, claws cutting into flesh before the man could step out of the way. The man stumbled backwards, clutching an arm slashed open to the bone, those strange eyes wide with shock.
"Logan!" he grated. "Snap out of it! It's me, Cable!"
He lunged again. Kill him. Kill him and get away, far away from here. The man moved even slower this time, and they both ended up on the ground. He growled, trying to reach the man's throat. But the man was strong, if slow, and managed to hold him back. He could feel the strength going in the arm he'd slashed, though. Almost there.
"Logan--" The man's left eye blazed like the sun. "Logan--get OFF!"
Something he couldn't see hit him, throwing him into the air. He crashed back down into the snow, hard, but was on his feet and running for the trees in a moment. Couldn't fight THAT. Had to get away.
"Logan!" The man was shouting, running after him. Hurt. Too slow. Wouldn't catch him.
Free. He was free.
He was going to STAY that way.
Palin hadn't expected to see Logan, on his own, break through the last line of trees and come running out onto the narrow access road, but she didn't let it stop her. She opened fire, as did the five surviving members of her group who she'd crowded into the 'appropriated' Hydra speeder before she'd flown it down to this point halfway down the mountain.
A howl of pure rage burst from Logan's throat. He struggled forward for a few more steps, almost reaching the guard-rail on the other side of the road, but then fell face-down, motionless, the damage to his body outracing his healing factor. Lowering her gun, Palin sighed, oddly disturbed. It seemed kind of unfair, really. Kind of like kicking a man when he was already down--but she wasn't about to give lectures on fair play to her employer. "Quickly," she said, signaling forward the two men with the restraints.
"Good call, Maggie," her second-in-command said calmly. "Implanting that tracer."
Eyeing the trees warily, she swore under her breath. "What did I tell you about calling me Maggie, Rafe?" she asked.
"Sorry. Hard to forget whose diapers I changed--" Gunfire erupted from somewhere higher up on the slope, and Rafe, cursing, yanked her back behind the speeder, so quickly and violently that she actually, much to her embarrassment forever after, dropped her gun. Her heart lurched as she watched the two men she'd so carelessly ordered to leave cover hit the ground, their bodies twitching and blood pooling beneath them. She almost followed Rafe's example, but that wouldn't do any good, would it? Action was what the situation demanded.
"Take him out!" she shouted instead. Should've known Cable couldn't be far behind--
"Son of a bitch--" Rafe muttered as the others returned fire, seemingly with no success, as Cable continued to have his pick of shots from whatever vantage point he'd staked out up in the trees. A shot charred the hull of the speeder inches from her face, and Palin flinched. Still cursing a blue streak, Rafe raised his own weapon--a plasma cannon so huge Palin had never been able to lift it--to his shoulder. Shouting something foul in Spanish, he swung around, sighted, and fired.
The explosion was quite satisfying, and Palin decided she wasn't going to make any more comments about gun size around Rafe. Cable came tumbling down onto the road, coughing, clearly dazed, his gun clattering from his grasp, dropping to the ground.
"All right, kill the bastard already!" Palin snarled as she watched him try and fail to get to his feet. Her men obeyed, but their next shots ricocheted off a telekinetic shield. Shit! Palin thought angrily, watching as Cable, behind the safety of the shield, staggered back to his feet and headed for Logan. "Keep firing!" she shouted, trusting them to keep wearing him down.
If you ever end up fighting a telekinetic, keep the pressure on, her father's voice echoed in her mind. It's their own strength they draw on, so if you push them to the end of their endurance, nine times out of ten they'll be much easier targets. She mulled that over as she darted from cover, ignoring Rafe's shout of protest, and headed around to the other side of the speeder, where the hatch stood open. That one was applicable, yeah, but she could think of one of her father's precepts that fit this situation even better.
When in doubt, get a bigger gun.
Inside the cockpit, she smiled coldly as she brought the speeder's weapons on line and sighted on Cable. He had just reached Logan, leaning over his fallen 'friend'. Let's see how well that shield of yours holds up now, pal--
She fired. As she'd intended, it was the straw that broke the camel's back, too much for Cable's shield, already weakened, to deflect. The blast cut through it like a hot knife through butter, blunted somewhat, but still more than enough.
It hit Cable almost head-on, sending him over the guard-rail and down the long drop-off beyond.
"Gotcha," she whispered.
"Sure he's dead?"
"After a fall like that? He will be soon if he's not already."
The voices were coming from right above him, as if . He could smell blood, a lot of it. Some his, some not. His own wounds were repairing themselves, flesh knitting with excruciating slowness, but he kept his eyes closed. Had to figure out where he was, what was going on.
Different pain than before. Couldn't ignore it, but he could fight it, push it away so that his mind could start to clear.
"He's not moving. Still, we should take the speeder down and make sure."
"You're right. We don't need this particular problem coming back to bite us in the ass--"
He knew those voices. He'd heard them before--where? He couldn't quite remember. A plane--no, not the plane. That was somewhere--somewhen else.
"Let's get Logan back up to the base. The sooner we get this job over with, the happier I'll be--"
A car. The dark shapes. The ones who had brought him here. A snarl escaped him and he leapt up off the ground, claws extending, slashing the woman--only a girl, he thought, seeing her face as she crumpled--across the back. The man standing with her swore, whirling to defend himself. He kicked the gun from his hand, and would have finished him off if he hadn't smelled two more rushing him from behind.
Too sloppy, too slow. He took them both down with one attack, and they hit the ground, breathing their last, even before he swung back to face the last man standing.
Older, he registered, staring at him. Still dangerous, though. Moved like a predator. He'd drawn another gun, but he wasn't using it. Wasn't even really looking at him--his eyes kept darting towards the girl on the ground.
Then, his gun still leveled, he stepped aside, kneeling down beside the girl. His eyes were steady. The fear-smell coming from him wasn't for himself.
"Logan," the man said, carefully.
Logan. His name, he realized. Rang a definite bell. It was a relief to be sure of that, at least, when everything else in his mind was so jumbled.
"The rest of them are dead," the man said, eyes flickering aside to the two dead men. A moment's grief in his eyes, quickly hidden again. "Let me take her and go. I'm the only one left who can follow you." A quick gesture up the mountain. "The rest of them up there are scientists. They won't be able to stop you. You can go--take your friend, too, if he's still alive--"
Friend? He didn't have any friends here, did he? Something nagged at him--a familiar face, a harsh voice, somehow reassuring, but he couldn't put the pieces together.
"Just let me get her out of here. Please."
Logan growled under his breath, and the man's gun twitched. He'd fight until the end, Logan realized. To protect the girl.
Enough death. He just wanted out of here. "Go," he growled aloud, speech coming hard for some reason.
The man slowly, slowly holstered his gun and picked up the girl, gently, as if she was the most precious thing in the world. "I'm sorry," he said grimly. "It was just business. Just the job."
"Go--" He let warning creep into his tone, now.
The man nodded. "Cable's down there," he said, gesturing at the edge of the road. "I don't know whether or not he's alive."
Logan watched the man climb into the speeder, watched it take off, its thrusters almost silent as it gained altitutde and vanished into the distance. Only then did he turn, climbing carefully over the rail to stand at the edge of a steep rock face.
Someone was lying down there at the foot of the rock face, not moving. Someone in blue, with blood-matted silver hair. His vision was good, even at this distance, but he couldn't tell whether or not the man was breathing.
Cable, the other man had called him. His friend? That didn't seem quite right, somehow--Logan stiffened, grabbing onto the guard-rail for support as an image burned through his mind.
The red-haired woman again, standing on a ledge on the side of a mountain, staring up in terror at a man--this man--hanging precariously high above. Losing his grip, about to fall.
NATHAN! The memory of her scream snapped him out of it. Sweating, trembling, he stared down at the still form for a moment longer, and then started to climb down.
This man, whoever he was, knew the red-haired woman. Maybe he knew more, too---what had happened to her, what was going on. He might be able to explain all this.
If he was still alive. Didn't look too encouraging.
He nearly fell three times on the way down. His own injuries hadn't quite healed all the way, yet, and his reflexes were off. He managed to make it down without killing himself, and knelt down beside the man--Cable.
"Hey," he said gruffly, awkwardly, reaching out to feel for a pulse. "You alive?" Seemed like a stupid question to ask, but what the hell else was he supposed to say? He didn't know this man--
But he was alive, at least. The pulse beneath his fingers was weak, but steady. Logan checked him for other injuries. Nothing seemed broken, but if he'd really fallen this far, there could be internal bleeding--spinal injuries. The head wound was still bleeding, as were the deep gashes in his right arm. Claw-marks? Logan thought bleakly. Had he done that? His uniform was scorched in several places, revealing blackened metal in some spots and scorched flesh in others. Logan hesitated, seeing the symbols on the man's uniform--black Xs on a field of red. They provoked the same dim flicker of recognition, and he growled in frustration. This was ridiculous!
A flake of snow landed on his arm, and Logan looked up sharply. More were falling, driftly lazily out of a sky that was still pale gray overhead but much darker to the west. Logan sniffed the air, growling under his breath. Storm. There was a storm coming.
He gave the unconscious man a frustrated, measuring look. Can't leave him here-- Not if he knew the red-haired woman--especially not if he was as important to her as that memory had suggested. Logan might not be able to remember her name, but the idea of her grieving, for any reason, didn't sit well with him. Didn't sit well at all.
By the time he managed to clamber down across the rocks into the long, unbroken sweep of trees, find what he needed for a makeshift travois, get himself and it back up to the foot of the rock face, load the unconscious man on it and start back down, the snow was beginning to fall more heavily. Almost spitefully, as if pointing out to him how vulnerable he was out here on the side of the mountain. Not just to the weather, either.
Tracks, he thought distantly, trying not to jostle his burden too much as he made his cautious way down the steep slope. Even under the trees, the ground was broken, uneven. He'd have to find some cover and then come back to take care of the tracks. The man with the girl might have promised he wouldn't come after him, but Logan wasn't going to take it on faith that no one would.
He continued to growl under his breath, unable to help himself. He hated this feeling--not knowing where he was or what he was supposed to be doing. He remembered being strapped to that table, trying--not to say something, but everything before that was worse than hazy. Just flashes, like being in the car with the people who'd shot him. Or the red-haired woman--
Who was she, and what kind of trouble was she in? And why did the dim realization that he knew how to help her, if he could just flaming well REMEMBER, make him feel so angry?
He found a cave--well, little more than a sheltered overhang, really--more than large enough to hold the two of them. Not before time, either. The snow was getting worse, so thick he could barely see a foot in front of his face. Good from the standpoint of taking care of their tracks, but it was bitterly cold, and the unconscious man--Cable, he reminded himself in exasperation, and what kind of a name is that?--hadn't opened his eyes even once.
He pulled the travois as far under the overhang as he could, up against the opposite 'wall', and dropped to his knees beside it, breathing heavily. His own wounds had closed up, as if they'd never been there in the first place, but he felt exhausted, light-headed. He didn't think it was just from the trip down the mountain, either.
He checked Cable's pulse again, surprised to find it a little stronger. The head wound really didn't look too bad, he thought, examining. Just messy, which wasn't unusual. The arm needed a little attention, though. Logan bound it up with a makeshift bandage, unable to deny that the gashes were spaced just right to have been caused by his claws. The thought made him feel vaguely guilty. If the man with the girl had been right, and Cable was his friend, had been trying to help him--not the best way to say thanks, Logan thought glumly.
He ventured back out, just far enough to make sure that their tracks were being covered by the snow, and to gather some wood. The sun was hidden entirely behind the stormclouds, but it was still getting noticeably darker by the time he struggled back to the overhang.
The tinder was damp; between that and the moisture in the air, it seemed like it took an eternity to get any sort of result. Eventually, tiny flames started to lick at the wood, and he shifted position, to shield the fire from the wind.
Something warned him, and he looked up from the fire, right into Cable's eyes. The other man blinked at him dazedly, the look in his eyes disoriented.
"Logan--" He coughed, his entire body stiffening with pain.
"Easy," Logan muttered warily, not moving towards him. He wasn't sure of anything here. This might all still be a trick--how could he be sure?
"You--all right?" Mismatched eyes, blank gold and pain-filled grey, struggled to focus on him. Logan nodded, and Cable's head sagged back to the ground. "Where--"
"Someplace safe," Logan growled, and then couldn't hold back the question anymore. "Who are you?" He tried to make it a simple question, but it came out sounding accusatory, like he was trying to interrogate the man. Not exactly what he'd intended.
Cable's head turned back towards him. "You--don't remember," he whispered, his voice a weak rasp. It wasn't quite a question, but Logan nodded reluctantly. He wasn't sure why--his instincts were telling him not to admit to weakness here, but something else was telling him to give this man a straight answer. Trust, part of him whispered, a little voice that wouldn't shut up, no matter how hard he tried to ignore it. Cable winced, flinching as he shifted position. "The--machine they used--must've--" He broke into more coughing, and Logan was up and moving to his side before he really knew what he was doing.
"Take it easy," he said helplessly, trying to steady the other man as his body shook convulsively. "You're gonna have to fill me in, here, I don't know what the hell's going on--"
Cable was too busy gasping for air to answer. Blood bubbled at the corner of his mouth, bright and ominous. A punctured lung, most likely, from the fall--probably hadn't been helped by moving him, either. Logan snarled inwardly, helplessly, and gently lifted Cable's head and shoulders, thinking that propping him up might help him breathe.
It seemed to work. The coughing gradually trailed off, his breathing growing slower, more regular, if still labored. Logan shook his head. Whoever Cable was, friend or enemy, he was in no shape to be a threat at the moment. It didn't mean he should drop his guard entirely, but he could afford to be a little less wary. To help the man--who was, after all, his only source of answers at the moment.
"Plan--really went--to hell, this time--" Cable's voice was even weaker, barely audible. "Course--wasn't expecting you--t'go for my throat--" A faint ghost of a smile, barely there. "See--how--long it is--before I rescue YOU again--"
Logan winced. Well, that explains the claw marks-- "What plan?" he asked hoarsely. "I don't--"Cable's eyes fluttered shut, and Logan swore. "Listen to me," he said harshly, fighting the urge to shake him. That'd do more harm than good. "You're hurt bad. You gotta stay awake, here--don't pass out!"
Cable's whole body suddenly jerked in his arms, as if someone had shot him, and his eyes flew open. The pain was still there, on his face, but now accompanied by a strange, disoriented panic. His scent had changed, gone heavy with fear, and Logan could hear his heart racing, as if it were trying to burst out of his chest.
"Easy," Logan muttered desperately. "It's okay--"
Cable was staring off into the snow, into the distance. "Can't," he whispered in a stronger voice. Stronger, yet detached. "Soon--as I let my shields down--"
Shields? "I don't know what you mean--"
Those strange eyes turned back to him, struggling to focus. "Not--important--"
"Look," Logan said painfully, remembering what the man with the girl had said. The pieces were starting to come together, just a bit, still tantalizingly vague. One thing was sure--he didn't like the picture beginning to form. "You helped me, I think--even if I can't remember it."
Hold on, Logan, we're getting out of here.
--still weigh a ton, hairball--
He closed his ears to the echoes. "Tell me why," he growled. "Tell me what I'm supposed to be doing!" Cable didn't answer, and Logan almost cursed. "The guy up there," he gestured with his head up towards the road, "called you Cable. That your real name?"
"Nathan. U-Usually call me Nate--to piss me off--" Cable reached out, his metal hand closing over Logan's wrist and squeezing with surprising strength. As if he was trying to ground himself--think past the pain. "Doesn't--matter. Listen--" Logan leaned closer, and Cable--Nathan's grip on his wrist tightened. "The lab--you didn't tell--me where, over the phone--"
"What lab?" Logan asked in frustration. But it was--triggering something.
The Voice. --you implied, very clearly, that you knew where to find the laboratory in question. You wanted his help to destroy it.
"I--remember them asking me questions." His voice sounded so unsure--that bothered him. Hell, this whole situation was pissing him off, but he wasn't going to get out of it by losing his temper and kicking the walls. "About a lab." He stared down at Cable, shaking his head. "You were who they said I called, then. Why?"
That same ghostly smile. "'Cause you--weren't stupid enough--t'think you could take out the place--yourself--" Another spasm of coughing gripped him, worse than the last, and he went limp in Logan's arms once it was over, his head sagging to one side.
"Cable--" Logan grated desperately, checking his pulse again. Weaker, more erratic. "Nathan! Damn it, don't--" His voice broke, and his vision blurred. "Tell me who she is," he begged, the red-haired woman's face before his eyes.
It hit him then. The resemblance. Not too much, but something in the set of Cable's features.
"Tell me what I have to do--how to help her--"
Cable moaned softly, shuddering, his eyes rolling up into his head. "Jean--"
Jean! A desperate cry from a voice he knew, knew almost as well as he did his own. He closed his eyes, trembling as he watched a man with brown hair and strange red glasses leap to catch the red-haired woman as she fell, screaming, from her chair. Jean--
More voices, all talking at the same time. Angry, anxious--panicked.
Scott, the Professor--!
Betsy! Come on, Betts, talk to me--
Goddess--cannot keep it steady--brace yourselves!
The sensation of impact jarred him out of the memory. He blinked, seeing that the fire had died down almost to embers. The snow was beginning to pile into drifts, blocking off the front of their small refuge. Logan muttered a curse beneath his breath. How long had he been--
He blinked down at Cable, who was still lying in his arms, eyes closed. "Some type of--plane crash?" he rasped, surprised to find that his voice worked.
"The--Blackbird. Went down--three days ago--" Cable opened his eyes. The effort it took was almost painful to watch. "Was--damaged. She--Jean was keeping it--level. Then the--energy pulse hit--"
"Energy pulse," Logan said raggedly. More was coming back to him now--at least of what had happened up in the building on top of the mountain. Everything before then was still cloudy. "That's what they wanted to know--the source of the energy pulse. Why?" More to the point, WHAT energy pulse? he wanted to ask, but didn't. Not yet. As much as he wanted to know, he didn't dare push too hard, demand too much. Not with Cable on the verge of unconsciousness as it was.
"D-Don't know--but the pulse is--" Cable bit off whatever he'd been about to say, his breathing suddenly quickening. "Can--feel it," he whispered, his features twisting in anguish. "Comes--in waves--don't know how much longer--I can block it out--"
"I don't feel anything," Logan said wretchedly.
"Doesn't--affect you," Cable grated, his eyes tightly closed. Sweat stood out on his forehead, and something close to a whimper of pain escaped out from behind his gritted teeth. "Be--glad." The pain seemed to ease a bit, and his body relaxed slightly. "Wasn't--having so much trouble before. Too weak--to keep all those shields up--"
The pieces were reshuffling again. "The energy pulse--" Logan said slowly. Things were getting a little clearer--not much, but a little. Enough? "It only affects--"
"Telepaths," Cable whispered exhaustedly, before his eyes drifted shut again. This time, Logan couldn't manage to rouse him, no matter what he did. That sense of desperation grew heavier, more oppressive, just like the snow still falling, just beyond the overhang.
The voice snapped Logan out of his light, troubled doze. He cast a quick look outside--the snow wasn't getting any lighter--and then down at Cable. "How're you feeling?" he said hoarsely.
Cable looked like death warmed over. Bruising was spreading outwards from the gash along his hairline. His skin had an alarming grey tinge, and his lips were almost blue. "Only way--" he murmured in a slurred voice. Logan wasn't sure if he was actually looking at him, or through him.
"Just rest," Logan muttered, trying to keep the distress out of his voice. "I'm going to get you out of here as soon as the storm lets up a bit."
Those hazy eyes focused, for a moment. "No." The single word was remarkably clear. "You're not."
"Listen--to me." There was an almost terrifying tranquility about the way Cable was looking at him. As if he were past pain, into a place where he could see the path ahead clearly, and was perfectly content to take it. "I'm going to--go into your mind. Find--the location of the lab."
"But you said--" Logan closed his eyes, dizzied. A somber, blue-furred face loomed in his inward vision.
It attacks active telepathy, the face said in a mournful voice. What's worse, the first exposure destroys the telepath's shields, so each succeeding pulse causes more and more damage. And as the mind goes, so does the body. The Professor's already gone into cardiac arrest once--Jean and Betsy are suffering less noticeable physical effects, but I can't promise how long that will last.
"You can't," Logan gasped out. "Hank--Hank said--"
Cable's eyebrow lifted a fraction of an inch. "Hank," he whispered. "You're--remembering more." The corner of his mouth tugged upwards. "Please--tell me--the lab too?"
It was a joke, Logan realized. He didn't find it very funny. "You can't," he rasped. "You're too weak, already--"
"Listen." More insistently. "Know--you don't remember--but I've got--a few tricks up my sleeve." Cable closed his eyes. "Plane--hidden at the bottom of the mountain, outside their--security grid. I brought--along lots of explosives, just in--case."
"Damn it, shut up! I'm not leaving you here--and I'm not letting you do this!"
The corner of his mouth quirked upwards again. "Never--fails. I--say left, you--say right."
"Don't change the flamin' subject!" Logan laid him down gently, and then jumped up, going to the edge of the overhang and peering out. "Fuck the storm," he snarled. "I'm getting you out of here, now--"
"Let--let me finish--"
"Let--let me finish--" Cable was fighting for breath to speak, and Logan immediately went back to him, kneeling down and propping him up again, cradling him gently in his arms. "There's a way--" Cable started to cough again, but it didn't last for too long this time, as if he was too weak. "Askani--teach it--in case you get captured--"
"I'm not listening to this--" Logan snarled, desperately, helpless rage boiling inside him. "Who the fuck is Askani, anyway?"
Cable didn't seem to hear him. "Segment--your consciousness. Your body--slows down." He was silent for a long moment, breathing raggedly. "Trick'll be--to see if I can do it--AFTER I refresh your memory. Going--to take a lot of--effort--"
"And what," Logan almost spat. "I leave you? Whatever the hell you think you're going to do, it's not going to save you from going into shock--or hypothermia, and dying while I'm off trying to blow this lab up!"
"Maybe," Cable whispered. "Maybe not--"
"I won't do it," Logan growled. He met those pain-fogged eyes resolutely. Part of him was almost relieved to see a spark of anger there.
"You--LISTEN to me, Logan!" Cable hissed, his whole body tensing as if he wanted to pull away from Logan but didn't quite have the strength to do so. "Don't--have time to d-drag me the rest of the way--down this mountain! There--are people DYING out there! Not just--our friends. Hundreds--of telepaths--" His left eye was glowing, blazing. "I--can--DO this, Logan. And--you have to finish it!"
Logan shook his head doggedly. "I'm not leaving you--not like this!"
Cable's hand shot out with surprising speed, grasping the collar of Logan's shirt with enough strength that Logan wouldn't have been too surprised if he'd casually tossed him into the opposite wall. He forced himself not to react, though. This wasn't the time or place to get into a wrestling match. He need to talk, not beat some sense into the man--however tempting the latter might seem.
"I'm--NOT giving you a choice!" Cable growled. "I'm ONE person--you stubborn son of a f-flonq--" He gritted his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment and then opening them again, nailing Logan with a glare that was almost enough to melt the flesh off his bones. "You--WILL do it, because it's the--r-right thing to--do--"
"You--choose MY life over all the lives at stake--you're--flying in the f-face of everything--we both believe in!"
Logan stared down at him for a long, long moment. "You always this stubborn?" he muttered grimly.
Cable's gaze didn't waver. "Always," he grated.
"I don't remember, but I'm pretty flamin' sure I've probably said something to you about this martyr complex you seem to have--"
"Shut--up!" Cable whispered viciously, letting go of his shirt and reaching up with one shaking hand. He touched Logan's forehead--and Logan screamed as sunlight blasted through his brain like a purifying fire.
A bar, dark and smoky. A haggard, flushed young woman sitting across from him.
--so I was a lab rat, you might say, her bitter voice echoed in his mind. Wasn't supposed to survive, let alone get away--
Part of him, the part still attached to his body, heard a scream of agony, felt Cable's body convulsing in his arms. But he couldn't pull free of the memory--not yet. Not until he saw what he had to see.
So you know where it is? his memory-self asked gruffly, watching the girl compassionately. The smell of death was on her--she didn't have much time left, from the look of it.
Where the generator is? Uh-huh. She shoved a map across the table at him, and he reached out to take it. Just promise me you'll get rid of it, okay? I may have known not to use my telepathy once I knew they were going to test it, but all those others-- Her voice broke in horror, and she sank her head into her hands, weeping. I should've--tried to warn someone--
His memory-self looked down at the map, saw the mark scribbled on it in red pen, the scrawled directions--
And his eyes flew open. He stared out at the snow for one frozen moment, gasping for air, his whole body tingling as if he'd just shoved himself back inside his skin.
It wasn't perfectly clear. Big patches of the last few days were still missing--the last thing he remembered perfectly was breakfast, the day they'd gone on that last mission. Drake and Hank had started a food fight--
He remembered the mission. A simple one, against the FOH. The crash on the way back. His decision to strike out on his own, check through some of his contacts to locate a project so big that it HAD to have government sanction of some kind.
There were gaps. But his past was his own again.
He knew who he was.
He knew where he'd been going.
And, most important, he knew why he had to wipe that place off the face of the earth.
A cracked moan pulled him from his reverie, and he swore, the color draining from his face. Somewhere in the middle of that demanding, overwhelming memory, he'd let go of Cable.
Nathan was lying on his side on the ground, his eyes squeezed shut, tears leaking out nonetheless as his whole body trembled. Gasping for air, slowly curling into a fetal position, as if to protect himself from a blow.
Just like Jean, Logan saw as he leaned over him. The same pain, the same desperate retreat from the world, trying to shut out the pain.
The similarity nearly killed him. "Nate," he rasped, reaching out and taking his hand, squeezing it tightly. "Nate--focus--damn it--" I never should have let him do this--Jean and Scott are never going to forgive me--
"G-Go," It was almost a sob.
Logan swallowed past a lump in his throat. "Not yet--"
His resolve broke. He put Nate's hand down gently, laying a hand on his shoulder. "You listen to me, tin-man," he whispered savagely. "You better be able to pull this off, because if you break her heart--I'm going to call in some favors to get you resurrected, just so I can kill you again."
He didn't get an answer. Hadn't expected one, with the agony Nate was in--he was moving past the point where speech was possible, Logan could see it--but then again, he hadn't really needed one, had he? He knew he'd been.
Rising, his legs curiously unsteady, he felt his hands clench into fists at his sides. "I'll be back," he rasped. I swear it.
The fabric of the astral plane quivered, waiting for the next pulse, the next wave of artificially-generated disruption to sweep across the delicate tapestry of thought like sandpaper, shredding the most precious threads in the weaves, the self-aware ones who communed with the astral plane, traveling its waves of color and sound. The damage was agonizing, the potential loss terrifying.
Yet the astral plane waited.
And waited. It could do nothing else.
The time for the next pulse came--and passed.
The astral plane waited.
Still, nothing--but then, one last pulse, a different sort entirely, the mirror-image of those destructive waves. It swamped the astral plane, destroying the damaging harmonics, clearing away the oily residue of its brothers.
The astral plane waited. And waited.
Finally, it breathed again, in almost sentient relief, and waited for the healing to begin.
Logan didn't bother landing the little mini-jet at the bottom of the mountain, where he'd found it. Didn't have the time to waste. Besides, according to all the plane's sensors--and there were a hell of a lot of them, for such a little aircraft--there was no activity in the building atop the mountain. In fact, there was only one heat-signature on the mountain that was large enough to be human.
And that one was fading quickly.
He hadn't called the mansion. They probably knew already--hopefully, they had a bunch of telepaths dropping the Sleeping Beauty act at the moment--but he couldn't tell them what had happened.
Yeah, Scott, I blew up the place. Not to worry. The generator's history. Coming home? Um--not yet. Gotta go pick someone up, first.
He couldn't--just couldn't.
Not until he--knew.
Making a bad, precarious landing, trusting to the stabilizers to prevent the plane from sliding down the mountain, he scrambled out of the hatch, struggling through the deep snow towards the overhang, barely visible behind drifts of snow. Didn't matter. He would've been able to find it even if it had been totally buried. He'd looked back, just before he'd started down the mountain, and the location had burned itself into his mind.
"Nate!" he shouted, fumbling through the drifts. "Nate!"
And he was there. Right where Logan had left him. In the same, EXACTLY the same position as he'd been in ten hours ago--curling up on his side, unmoving. Cursing desperately, Logan dropped to his knees beside him, turning his gently onto his back.
"Damn you!" he snarled, laying a shaking hand against Cable's throat.
"You are not going to die, do you hear me?" Feverishly, he started CPR, cursing viciously between breaths. Stupid, stubborn son of a bitch-- "Breathe!" Leave me to tell Jean--not on your life, Nate--
He'd blown up the base. Saved Jean, Chuck, Betsy, Emma, all those hundreds of telepaths Cable had been ranting about. He'd done the job.
And it wasn't going to be enough. Not if the man who'd stormed that building to save him, who'd fought off gods only knew what odds and then opened his mind, willingly, to the crippling energy pulse in order to jog Logan's memory, wasn't going to be one of those telepaths he'd saved.
"Damn it--" he whispered in anguish. "Nate, don't do this--"
He froze, his keen hearing picking up something. Leaning down, his head almost on Cable's chest, he listened, willing it to have been real, not a figment of his imagination--
Another soft thump. Followed by another. And another.
"That's it--" he almost hissed, straightening and staring at Cable's pale, still face avidly. "Come on back. You don't want to die because you fell off a cliff, do you? Pretty fucking undignified end for the 'Chosen One'--"
A weak cough. The broad chest rose and fell once, twice. Shallowly, but he was breathing. "That's it," Logan whispered, cradling Cable's head on his lap. "Come on--"
Eyes fluttered open, blinking up at him.
#You still talk too much,# Cable's voice said softly in his mind. Little more than a whisper, really, terribly weak and overlaid with pain and weariness, but Logan had never been so glad to hear a telepath yakking in his brain.
"Yeah, yeah, tell it to the judge," he said gruffly. Or tried to, rather. Embarrassingly, his voice broke halfway through.
Cable's eyes were drifting shut again, as if they had lead weights attached. #Saw--things in your mind. Don't think you know about them.# Logan stiffened slightly, but Cable sighed, his brow creasing slightly in what looked like regret. #Not--bad things, Logan. Should--should tell you, but--so tired--#
"It's okay," Logan murmured gently. It didn't matter. There was plenty of time, now. "You can tell me later."
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