A lake, new, muddy, and lifeless. The birds are still shocked and subdued. All Scott hears is he whisper of the trees, the crackle of the fire, and the splash of oars in the water.
"Heard they used stuff like this to look for the Loch Ness Monster," Logan says as he rows.
"Our equipment is better," Scott tells him. He can see the tails moving on the fish beneath them. "And the only monsters in this lake are dead."
They already found Stryker's body.
It's like camping--the trips they used to take when it was just Scott and Jean and the Professor, before Ororo or anyone--but they're fishing with radar instead of a net. He remembers blasting the water to make Jean giggle, remembers drenching Erik and making the Professor smile helplessly while he lectured Scott on the proper use of his powers. He was never very good at fishing, but he could usually make his family smile.
He can't stop thinking of flowers. White lilies. White roses. White orchids. A coffin, buried in white flowers.
Then he comes across another shape and his heart leaps. "Stop," he says. It's the familiar starfish shape of a drowned human; they've already come across nine bodies, all soldiers. They're piling them on the other side of the lake. Downwind from the camp.
"Okay." Logan slows the boat and helps Scott spin out the hook. Just like fishing, but the line is cabled steel and the hook is remote-controlled.
He wonders how many soldiers there were in that base. A few must have escaped; a few were surely blown to bits. He wonders why they are doing this, why there hasn't been a peep from any government. He wonders what the odds are of this being Jean. Logan exhales with disappointment before Scott can see a thing, and Scott knows then that they struck out again, but they reel the body up anyway.
The olive drab uniform is shredded like kelp, hanging in strands from neck, wrist, and ankle. The body looks better than the other corpses. It's a nice break. The bodies are refrigerated, near frozen in the subarctic lake, but death takes an inexorable toll.
Logan lifts the dog tags from his neck. "John Lyman," he says. "I think this was one of the guys who invaded the school." The man looks almost sweet, innocent in death. Logan tears one tag off and pockets it. Scott nods and joins Logan at the oars. Together they row to the burning pit quickly.
Halfway across the lake, Lyman opens his eyes, turns on his side, and vomits water into the bottom of the boat. Logan says it for him: "What the fuck?"
Scott moves to check his pulse and Lyman knocks his hand away from his neck, his eyes still dazed and dilated; Scott pins his hand and checks the pulse at his throat. It's fast and strong and impossible.
"Fuck!" Logan sneezes. "He's--there's something wrong with him."
"He's a mutant." Scott feels the back of Lyman's neck and there it is, the same evil little control disk that Scott wears. Lyman's eyes focus. He gags and coughs more water into the boat, his entire body wracked with the effort of expelling foreign material from his lungs. "Go to the camp," Scott orders. He drapes a blanket over Lyman's nearly naked body.
Logan rubs his nose and glares at the soldier. He takes one paddle and turns the boat, though, while Scott packs the reel so they can use the engine.
Lyman coughs in the bottom of the boat. It could be Jean. Could have been, if they had been faster. If they had been able. If they hadn't been fucked. "Who are you?" Lyman gasps eventually.
"Friends," Scott says. He glances at Logan and Logan shrugs, not objecting.
"Oh good. Friends." He coughs once more and his voice improves. He sounds almost like he has an English accent, but he speaks again and his accent is more Canadian: "Where the fuck am I?"
"Alkali Lake. You were underwater. Do you remember what happened?"
Lyman shakes his head. "You are... mutants." He gags, spits up water, crawls over to the side of the boat. He spends a long time spitting up water over the side before he meets Scott's eye again. "You're mutants too. Am I wrong?"
"You're not wrong. Do you need a doctor?"
"No!" Lyman's objection sends him back into a coughing fit.
"We know some mutant doctors."
"No." There is something weird about him, Logan isn't wrong. The man might be an asshole but his instincts are solid. "What day is it?" Lyman asks.
"September 19th. Friday," Logan says. They've been out on the lake for two weeks.
"Not so long then--" Lyman coughs once more, runs his wrist across his mouth and grimaces, spitting convulsively. He suddenly turns over and looks at the remains of his clothes. Looks hard. Looks horrified. And asks, sounding more than a little afraid--"What year?"
He groans, harshly, and clutches the side of the boat. "Christ on a crutch," he breathes, resting his head against his hand. "It was 2001 the last I can recall."
And there's nothing they can say to that. Scott turns on the motor.
It's nearly Equinox. The days are growing shorter. With the low sun through the trees, it feels like he can see the color green.
Jean's eyes are green, she tells him. They look golden or light brown to him. Jean is as tall as Scott. She wears heels anyway, and then when he stands in bare feet, his nose nestles under her chin, her breasts pillow into his pecs, and his cock, inevitably, rises between her legs. She often wears high heels before bed, even if she hasn't during the rest of the day. Then she gives him that grin.
She's very smart, but more than that, she's incredibly focused. When she's working on something, she ignores everything else. Food, sleep. Her muscles knot up as she types until she suddenly cries out in pain. Then Scott rubs her shoulders and hands until she's ready to go again.
Lyman steps out of the tent dressed in some of Scott's spares, cargo pants and a hoodie. Even Scott's clothes are too big for him; he's very, very skinny. Scott can't work out how old he is. The lines in his face could be age or stress. Honestly, Scott doesn't give a shit, he just can't stop thinking.
Scott is cooking spaghetti over the fire. Jean explained to him once why you should cook pasta in a vat of water. But it's faster in the little pot, he says. Philistine, she says.
Lyman rubs the back of his neck. "Can your doctor get this thing out? It burns." His voice has settled into an English accent.
"Not yet," Scott says. The disc made him fire at Jean. He watched himself do it. He still watches himself in dreams, shooting at Jean, over and over. In his dreams, sometimes he hits her, and she explodes in a tangle of bone and intestine, and he wakes up screaming. He remembers on waking up that he didn't hit her. She stopped him. He remembers a second later that she's still dead, and then sometimes he makes some noise again. Logan hasn't said anything about it yet. He probably understands.
"What's your mutation?" Logan asks, almost friendly. He lights up a cigar. Oh. He's talking to Lyman. "Come on, we're all freaks of nature here. No need to be shy."
Jean won't let him call himself a freak. Mutations are natural, she says. Look at the peppered moth. "I've never been asked that question before. I had a book store. I suppose I don't any more, after six years. I had a small, quiet life. Dear friends that I didn't have to explain myself to. My name is..."
Scott stirs the spaghetti. You need a lot of water so that the pasta can flow free without sticking to itself. He's cooking in too small a pot again. Philistine, Jean says, and gives him that grin that says she's thinking about taking his clothes off. He knows this because she told him. He still can't believe she's his girl. "Adam," Lyman says. Scott glances up; Lyman is staring out over the lake. "Adam Pierson."
Logan draws the dog tags from his pocket and tosses them to the man. "I don't know who this is," Adam says, looking at the tags. He stands abruptly and throws them into the lake. "I don't know what any of this is!"
Whatever. The pot is boiling. Scott fishes out a noodle; yeah, done enough. "Uniforms? Tags? Where have I been?" Adam snarls.
Scott hauls the pot over toward the lake and drains the noodles. "Dinner," he says, and tosses the noodles in a pot with red sauce and olive oil. He made enough for six people.
He's hungry, so he eats. Logan and Adam are hungrier, so they eat more. Jean uses noodles to practice her telekinesis. Open your mouth, she tells him, and she tosses a noodle at him. It lands on his chin. Sorry, Scott says, I grew a few inches. Forgot to tell you.
Adam finishes first, nearly licking the bowl. "Can I make a phone call?" he asks.
"No," Scott says. He remembers Jean licking olive oil off his chin.
"I see. Can I sleep, then?"
There are only two tents, one for Scott and one for Logan. Scott glances at Logan; who's bunking with who?
"Yeah. My tent, green one," Logan says. "Use the sleeping bag. Save me a blanket. Try anything funny and I'll gut you where you lay." Logan pops his claws for emphasis and Adam startles up to his feet; metal knives shoot out from the backs of his hands and Adam cries out, doubling over and clasping his hands together.
"Huh," Logan says.
"FUCK." Adam's bellow echoes over the water. He falls back down to his knees. Scott rubs his forehead--he's getting a headache and he wants to cry and he's not showing either if it kills him--and sets down his bowl.
"Relax to pull them back in," Logan says.
"That hurt enough the first fucking time!" He's staring at the short knives embedded in his skin. Smaller than Logan's, but four on each hand instead of three. They're curved like half a drinking straw or like a very long, razor sharp fingernail, and they're aligned along the back of each hand bone rather than in between.
"Looks like he's version 2.0," Scott said.
"Yeah. And the woman was 3.0."
Adam looks at Logan. He looks back down at his hands, winces, and curls his fingers slightly. The knives retract and his skin heals as if nothing had happened. "Green tent?" he asks, sounding exhausted.
Adam stumbles over to the tent. "Better bring him to the Professor soon, get his head screwed on straight," Logan says.
"Once we're done here," Scott says. It's still summer. The days are long. He'll find Jean. He will. She'll still be dead, but she won't be lost.
Adam Pierson, Adam Pierson, Adam Pierson, he repeats to himself, in his head. It took too long to think of something as basic as his name. He's still not sure what's real. He thinks maybe he's had many names. But not Lyman. Never Lyman. It sounds too much like Lying Man.
He's sure he had a bookstore. He can picture it, the rich wood desk, the satin wood shelves, the old-fashioned ostrich feather duster that he flicked over the shelves daily. Leather bindings like harness. Rows and columns of fine paper. He builds the shop around him like a wasp's nest. It's his lair. But he shares it with a man he can almost picture. He knows the curve of the man's body, he knows the feel of the man's smile, he knows the warmth and texture of his skin. He knows the way he buttons his shirt. He knows his walk. He cannot see his face. He cannot remember his name.
He remembers his life in books. He reads them, opens the cloth binding with the symbol stamped on the cover. He knows the symbol. It means Watchers, the people who observe. He observes his life on the pages of the book. He sees a man with his face making love to both Byron and his wife. Byron, the poet, still living in books. He opens Byron's poetry and sees a man with his face cutting open bodies. The bodies are already dead. He is learning from them. He is looking at a drawing of the body in a book, and in the book, there is a picture of the throat with all its secrets laid bare. There are the fragile tubes and the strong muscles. There is his hand, holding a sword, severing all this beautiful machinery.
He watches the blood pour out of the books that contain his life. It is a river, drowning him. He looks up, drifting, as he drifted in the lake. The blood no longer carries any heat. It is lifeless, empty. It is frozen. On top of the frozen lake gallops a man who wears his face. One horseman becomes four. They chase people, and they kill them. With every death, the lake grows deeper and colder.
He grows so cold, so heavy, that he falls through the bottom of the lake. Beneath the lake is a hill. Above the hill are the stars. He sees the man in the stars, the three bright lights that make his belt. This man has always been there. He calls out to the star man, but the man's face is turned away and he does not hear.
He reaches up and calls out. It would help if he knew the man's name. Why doesn't he know the man's name? They've been companions for so long. He was so, so, so alone before he saw the man in the stars...
He's elbowed awake. "Enough already," Logan says.
"What?" It's too dark to see. He wipes his hand across his face; it's wet with sweat
"You were yelling, bub."
"Oh." He presses both heels of his hands into his eyes. "What was I yelling?"
"No. Wait. MacLeod. Too damn early," Logan mutters. He turns over and sighs heavily.
He remembers now. And his real name is Methos.