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Beautiful Prizes

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CHAPTER SEVEN: And Picked the Daisies Fine

With his muscles back in working order, Scott had been hoping to explore the ship by himself – having more faith even in his own patchy mental shielding than Logan's – but Logan had other ideas. He attached himself to Scott's – now clothed – hip in the manner of one of the more unkempt guarding breeds of dog, and refused to budge more than a wary inch from his side.

As they made their way into the complicated belly of the ship, Logan sniffed the air. "I can smell blood."

Scott realized that he should have factored in Logan's abilities more when making his plans – this would certainly speed up the process of trying to find the wounded alien he was sure was somewhere on the ship. He just wished he knew the extent of his or her telepathic abilities – if it could make him and Logan see completely different realities or if it was only up to influencing their thoughts and feelings more subtly. Scott had certainly been nudged towards something he wanted to do anyway, and Logan had seemed to have about half of his rational processes shut down. Perhaps having been the guy who had to make the life and death decisions in the field for the past decade had left Scott vulnerable to the appeal of letting someone else be in charge for a change, and rage could make Logan switch off parts of his own brain anyway, on a bad day. In that mood, Logan would gut any bad guy who stood between him and anyone he considered an innocent or a friend without thinking twice about it – so, perhaps switching off his inhibitions wouldn't take a major league telepath. Scott really hoped that was the case.

Following the old blood trail they found what seemed to be the kitchen, units still humming with energy, which, when opened, revealed preserved food and liquid – Logan testing both said neither was poisoned and they seemed nutritious enough, although food and water both tasted like stewed broccoli to him.

"So, you'll probably like this stuff anyway, Mr. Eats-All-His-Vegetables."

Scott was too busy looking at that faded brown stain on the floor to answer. It looked to him as if whatever had happened here he and Logan had missed it by months at least. He drank what he judged to be the appropriate amount of liquid he needed and took one of the food sticks – Logan said it was a mixture of protein and dried fruit as far as he could tell – and dutifully ate it. It managed to taste both bitter and flavorless but he needed to eat so he ate. Logan did the same, albeit with a lot more complaining. Then they went in search of more blood.

The next bloodstains were old – very old, according to Logan – and voluminous enough that this victim had probably also died from their wounds. They found more, some old, some fresher, along with more sleep pods that suggested there had once been a crew of ten.

More exploration led to what seemed to be a circular alien rec room. There were sleeping areas, sitting areas, and there were tables with strange markings on them and a triangular set of cones scattered about that suggested some kind of alien game, and, when Scott stepped in front of a hard-light beam, there were holograms that still danced, like the memory of dust in a past sunbeam. The aliens in the ghostly three-dimensional images looked humanoid, albeit closer to Colossus-sized than Scott-sized, with slightly enlarged craniums. They were bipedal, bald, and with small, delicately-shimmering wings that reminded him of Pixie's, but they had distinctive facial characteristics, suggesting at least two different genders, different ages, and very different characters. One looked carefree and young, another cynical but fondly amused; another lofty; another indulgent of the high spirits of the younger crewmembers, another dismissive. Their language was incomprehensible to him, but the four youngest seemed to be playing a game that involved telekinesis, as they knocked spinning shuttlecocks back and forwards to one another with the power of their minds. Two of the older ones were watching and offering advice.

Every now and then one of them would put a finger to its temple in a manner that reminded him painfully of the Professor, and then the ship's computer would helpfully supply them with cubes of what looked like the same food and drink that he and Logan had just consumed or flash up data on the screens. Once or twice it even anticipated their wants and Scott, noticing the way the lights lit up when it was praised and thanked – he was assuming by their expressions – and danced as if they were happy. It reminded him of the Blackbird and he wished Henry had fitted her with an AI who could answer Scott's requests in dancing blue lights.

Scott noticed that the others deferred to a particularly grim-faced alien, who was the one who usually asked for the reports and checked the readings even when they were supposed to be relaxing. He failed to thank the computer for his provisions when they arrived. The others gave each other speaking looks behind his back. The guy was obviously an uptight killjoy with no idea how to have fun. Scott felt an uncomfortable surge of fellow feeling.

Going back to the other chambers, Scott searched for the hard-light eyes in the walls, waving his hand in front of them until he could trigger something. Some worked, some did not, but these images were far more disturbing – the young, careless alien who had been so happy playing telekinetic badminton, being choked mid-coitus by the amused cynic, who now looked vicious and hate-filled; the other young player having the wings ripped agonizingly from her back; the lofty one, toppling to the ground, a piece of metal projecting from his chest….

Sharing a speaking look, Scott and Logan tried more of the hologram triggers but either they had stopped working or someone had got to the controls in time to cut the power that led to them because there were no more images.

Logan followed a scent trail of death while Scott listened out for diminished fifths in his psychic soundtrack. They found the bodies in what seemed to be the alien equivalent of a freezer. Logan had to cut them out of the ice with his claws so they could count them. None of them had died from natural causes and they couldn't make the corpse-count more than nine.

"And then there was one…?" Scott offered grimly.

"They killed each other, Cyke. They were getting along just fine and then they…really weren't."

Scott guessed that a telepathic race would be particularly vulnerable to the predations of a psychopath. It would only take one stronger and more malevolent mind to undo all the rest; someone who liked making his crewmates dance to the beat of his own madness.

"He's still here."

"He…?" Logan pressed.

"The captain of the ship." Scott was all too conscious of how awkward that one had looked when the others were playing, not joining in the games, those alien wing-flutters behind his back which Scott guessed were the equivalent of eye rolls. The guy had been a misfit loner who didn't understand the others' jokes, who was all about doing his duty when everyone else was able to relax. In this case he really didn't want to relate.

Logan said uneasily, "If he could make them do…that to each other…?"

"We've probably got different brainwaves, he may not be able to influence us so easily. He might not be able to manage more than suggestion. Just keep your guard up. If you start wanting to stab me in the thorax, assume it's not just your usual level of irritation and try fighting back." He kept his mind as calm as his tone, but behind a hastily erected mental canvas thought with as much concentration as he could: Jean? Professor? I think Logan and I are in trouble. We're in the crashed space ship near to where you found us before. We may not be ourselves by the time you get here. Take precautious. Please, come soon. Don't on any account bring Henry.

He felt all too much like a stupid teenager who had stayed out past curfew, missed his ride home and now had to plead for parental assistance from a callbox in the bad part of town. After his dramatic flounce off, it was humiliating to have to ask for help, but with Logan's life in his hands, as well as his own, he didn't get to stand on his dignity.

Logan murmured, "Can you get through to Jean?"

Scott said, "I think we're too far away." That wasn't a lie – he thought they probably were too far away. He just didn't mention that he had tried it anyway. "Can you sense someone else? Someone with a pulse?"

"No, but I can smell blood that isn't accounted for."

Scott wondered if the ship itself had any safety protocols. Apocalypse's ship had possessed her own…consciousness for lack of a better word. (He wasn't a philosopher, he didn't know where consciousness ended and morality began in designating the motivation of an AI helping out the people who hadn't programmed it. He only knew that Ship had done her best to help them whenever Apocalypse hadn't put in a failsafe that prevented it.) He wondered it even more strongly as he found areas where the panels had been ripped off and the circuitry completely fried. If she had been trying to prevent the rogue captain from killing everyone, he had certainly had his revenge. There had been detonators placed at what appeared to be specific junctions. Scott suspected the guy had managed to fatally damage the ship's self-repair system. That would explain why so many of the light panels in the circular bridge remained dark. Someone had crippled this ship with what seemed to be deliberate malevolence aforethought. The more he looked around, the more he realized that the intact hull was deceptive. Too much of the internal workings had been damaged for the ship to ever fly again.

"I need to see the controls. I need to know who was trying to do what."

"You're not Hank. How are you gonna make sense of a bunch of alien mumbo-jumbo?"

"I'll let you know."

Grumbling, Logan finally agreed to let Scott look at the controls while he followed the blood trail. "You'll yell if you're in trouble, right?" he demanded.

Scott bent over the controls. "No, Logan, I thought I'd just keep it to myself and let you find my corpse later."

Logan stomped off, muttering uncomplimentary things that Scott pretended he hadn't heard.

As he examined the pod which had so miraculously healed him, Scott realized he really could have done with Henry's help. For a few minutes, as he looked around the med-lab section of the ship, he felt – appropriately – at sea. Then, as he studied every instrument and monitor, things began to look less…alien. More study and he thought he was finding his way around. There were slide-like things, microscope-like things, and there seemed to be sensors in front of the monitors, and scanners above the sensors. Trial and error revealed that when something was placed upon the sensor plate, the machinery automatically began its scan, sending the information directly to the computer which then flashed up its findings on the monitor, albeit in an alien script with a great deal of alien information, none of which Scott understood.

He wasn't sure how many hours it had taken him to get to that point but he was feeling thirsty again so he imagined it was more than two, possibly close to three. Time to move things forward as he suspected their time here before being mentally influenced was probably limited. Right – he was pretty sure that thing on an electronic arm was a needle. He bared his arm underneath it on a sensor plate and it pecked at him like a hungry bird, drawing a bright bead of blood. That was enough to have the scan send silver light to the computer and for the monitor to light up and display data. It was a meaningless scroll of alien numerology – it most closely resembled an incantation to raise demons from Limbo to his uneducated Earth eyes – so he pressed buttons as scientifically as he could, mentally noting what they did or didn't do, until the sixth one showed what looked like his blood sample light up on the screen. It at least resembled some of the images that Hank usually had on the computers in his lab, which was more than he could say for any of the other data it had offered. His blood sample was revealed as a twisting rope, like a DNA strand, and there was a faint golden line running through the middle of it.

Logan said, "Anything?"

Scott didn't jump because he had been trained since the age of fifteen to have excellent reflexes and self-control, but he came extremely close to it. A man with that much adamantium fused to his skeleton should not be able to move that silently. "I thought you were looking for the missing alien? Did you find him?"

"No."

"So, why are you…?"

"Got anxious."

Scott refused to feel a warm glow about that. "We had sex, Logan. We're not married."

"Would be in Canada."

He knew he should let it go; they were in the middle of a mission, even if he was lying to Logan about that; but he just couldn't. "We haven't been through a marriage ceremony where we declared our commitment before witnesses, we haven’t been living together for more than twelve months, and we're not raising a child together. By no ancient or modern definition of sui juris marriage are you and I a legally bonded couple."

"We're raising dozens of kids together, and having our memories altered at the same time by the same telepath ought to count as some kind of marriage thing. What'cha doin'?"

"Testing blood. Which reminds me – put your arm under there."

Doing so, Logan said, "Why? Ow! Summers…?"

"It's a pinprick, Logan. You made less fuss when you got skewered by part of the fuselage." He pressed the same sequence of buttons on a different monitor and there was the same twisting strand image, this time without the golden line, but with a bluish hue that Scott's blood apparently did not warrant.

"What does that mean?" Logan asked, peering at it.

"My working hypothesis is that you're either alien royalty or adamantium shows up as blue on this scan. I'm leaning towards Option B."

"Why are you being a smartass?"

"Because I'm doing science and I've never met a scientist who did science any other way – so I'm assuming the tests don't come out right without the snark."

Logan scanned the two images suspiciously. "What's the golden line in your blood mean?"

"No idea."

"You suck at science, Summers."

"Try saying that after six beers."

Not that Scott actually disagreed, which was why at this point in the proceedings he would normally have handed everything over to Hank, however, as he was all they had, he was going to have to get better at it. If it had been something simple like the drag co-efficient of passengers upon the Blackbird factored against velocity and its impact upon overall mass, he would have been fine, but he had never been much good at peering at things through microscopes, and he preferred it when Kitty helped him with computer-related problems, because, even at her age, she was a lot better with them than he was. He realized how much he liked being part of a team and how little he relished flying solo.

"So, you haven't found the missing alien, Logan?"

"I found a lot of blood. I think you need to take a look at it. Something ain't right."

"'Something'? We're stuck on an alien spaceship with a voyeuristic telepath who got all his teammates to kill each other, apparently for kicks. You've just entered a quantum level of stating the obvious."

"Are you still being a scientist or are you just being a bitch now?" And having apparently exhausted his scanty store of patience, Logan grabbed Scott by the ripped front of his uniform and hauled him after him.

The ship had possessed a kind of beauty on first acquaintance, but it was beginning to feel like an Escher sketch from which there was no escape: the curving corridors and the looping overhead bridges, the smooth-walled chambers taking on the confining crush of castle towers, the lower storeys the feel of oubliettes. Logan had clearly not been wasting his time. He led Scott confidently down metal ladders to lower levels and brought him to a sleep-cell with a bloodstain on the floor, faded but still visible, now surrounded by a scattering of white plastic circles – Logan's make-do-and-mend crime scene tape.

Logan said, "First victim died on the bed – no bloodstains because he was throttled by his boyfriend, but there's no scent like death, you can't mistake it, even after all this time. Third victim died on the floor there. Bladed weapon to the throat – self-inflicted."

Scott grimaced. "He had a moment of clarity."

"Yeah. Remorse'll do that to a guy. Between victim one and victim three, came victim two. She bought it in here. The bastard ripped her wings off first…." Logan led Scott unerringly from crime scene to crime scene, from murder to suicide to murder, all scent-traced to their frozen corpses. "You can check it with your blood-science-thing but I know what I'm smelling. All these guys died the way I said they did. Once."

Scott had been thinking about the people they had seen on the hologram, laughing and playing, probably the brightest and the best, as astronauts didn't tend to be everymen; no doubt their families had waved them off proudly and then waited patiently for their return. And now they had died victims or villains or both, and there was going to be no homecoming for any of them. He realized what Logan had just said. "What…?"

"Yeah. Then there's the other bloodstains. Here." Logan took Scott on a tour of the spaceship and Scott had to admit he was impressed by how quickly the guy had got his bearings, up ladders and down corridors, taking Scott from bloodstain to bloodstain.

Scott had sometimes felt frustrated about being able to see the world only in red – although he was currently a lot more frustrated by not having his optics blasts – or having to keep his eyes closed to avoid killing people he cared about, but he had never, until this moment, felt the lack of his other senses. Yet, if Logan had elected to stay behind, Scott would have found none of the bodies, been able to identify none of the blood, nor to type it to the victims. He had been suspecting for a while that Logan might be an invaluable asset, but this mission was really showing that the guy was a lot more than the sum of his healing factor and adamantium skeleton. The fact he was a great kisser and very good in bed was something he was trying to tell himself was irrelevant to Logan's overall benefit to the team.

Crouching down by the twelfth stain, Scott said, "What am I looking at?"

"The same as the last eleven stains – too much blood for the human body to lose without choking. Going by the size of those corpses, I'd say too much blood for one of those aliens to lose without dying too. Whoever's blood this is – this is where the guy punched his ticket. Only one problem."

"Which is?"

"All these last twelve bloodstains came from the same guy, and his corpse ain't in the freezer."

"The same alien died twelve times?" Scott narrowed his eyes. "So we're talking clones, or he has healing factor – making him an alien equivalent of you – or he got himself to that magic pod thing and the ship's med-lab saved him."

"He'd have been in no shape to get himself there. Also – who the hell tries to kill someone twelve times and then, when he's bleeding out and helpless, doesn't finish him off? Why wander off and leave the guy the opportunity to crawl back to the med-lab? It doesn't make sense. Look at these blood patterns – only a severed artery would do that."

Scott had to agree with that. The blood hadn’t spilled or ebbed it had pumped like a fire engine hose. Femoral, radial, or carotid artery, he would have said; deliberately sliced. "Logan, have you picked up any other scents?"

"Not the guy who tried to kill this guy if that's what you're asking? All I can smell around these old pools of blood is the guy they came from. But I did pick up two other scents – Sabretooth and…" Logan grimaced. "And me. I was here before. Found this by where I was, which wasn't too far from that medi-lab fix-you-upper pod thing, guess that's how I knew it was there." He handed Scott a headset. "Wanna hear a weird thing?"

"I'm still waiting to hear anything that isn't weird in this place."

"Those flashes I got? Of seeing Sabretooth smacking you around? He was wearing a headset like this, but this one smells of me, my hair, my sweat. That stuff I saw? I don't think I was in the room with you and him. I think I was watching it through some kind of hookup in his head through this."

"Why?"

"Some of it smells like that mineral Xavier uses in Cerebro, like it's for telepaths. Also, these headset things, they smell alien, but some of them are missing, and the place where they were kept smells like Sabretooth. Also, you remember getting blasted?"

"Painfully."

"Was with one of these." He hit a panel on the hull and it slid back to reveal a gun-shaped weapon. Logan hefted it down for Scott's scrutiny. "It's heavy and I don't recognize what fuels the blast, some kind of alien laser gun is the closest I can get."

"So…Sabretooth found this ship and stole alien tech from it? He used some of it to capture me and link with you telepathically. Smart guy. He can kick the crap out of me all day and there's nothing you can do about it except watch. Weird he'd think you'd care, though. Surely he'd know a better way to piss you off would be to hurt one of the kids or Jean or Ororo?"

"I don't think I was supposed to object, Scott. I think I was supposed to want to join in. I got these flashes of him trying to…sell you to me like a fun toy to play with. I think it had to be you for a reason."

"What reason?"

Logan shrugged helplessly. "You and him got some history I don't know about?"

"We've clashed in the past but I never thought he had any particular grudge against me, other than the one he has against everyone else in the world with a pulse. I mean he does tend to try to punch me in the face whenever he meets me, but I always put that down to him being a bad guy."

"You didn't like…stand him up or not put out on the third date?"

Scott realized that he had no idea if Logan was joking or not. "I don't actually…date evil people, Logan. It's one of my little quirks."

"Anyone told Frost that? Because that fundraiser Xavier made me go to with you and Jeannie – couldn't help noticing that gal had her eyes on your ass. All night. Not that I'm judging. It's the pertest one I've ever seen, that's for damned…"

"Can we focus on something that isn't my ass?"

"Difficult when you're wearing that uniform. Impossible when you're out of it. Just so you know, Cyke."

"Logan – dead people, remember? You and I not wanting to join them in the big freezer in the sky. Try to stay focused."

Logan crushed him against the wall and kissed him hungrily, bristles rasping against Scott's skin, weapon dropped heedlessly as Logan used both hands to cup his face, possessing Scott's mouth with deep, starving kisses, like he could never get enough of Scott's taste. And Scott found his body responding and a part of his mind eager to think of nothing but Logan's taste and touch and scent and heat. He smelled like toffee-apple fall days, smoky with the bonfires of fallen leaves, he tasted like caramel and beer and freshly-brewed coffee and coming home to a bright fire out of the snowy dark. He was so deliciously warm. When Logan unzipped Scott's uniform and slid his hand down to gently cradle Scott's ribs, it was like he could take away bruises just with his touch. Logan was inhaling Scott's scent like Scott Summers was opium. Scott found he had a long leg wrapped around Logan's ass, pulling him in closer, even though the man was already pressed against him like a warm breeze wrapped around a nose cone.

Scott moaned with frustration because he wanted Logan so much, wanted the man who was kissing him so gently now, soft, enticing kisses, sweet as the first snowflakes out of a clear blue sky, fingers carding through his hair tenderly and carefully while that mouth flexed against his, tongue teasing him. Their groins clashed through double folds of leather, hardening on impact, and he swore there were actual sparks in the air and – and –

"Dead people, Logan! Alien telepath!"

They pulled apart, breathless and disheveled, and Scott read all the aching want in Logan's eyes that he could feel in his heart. The worst part – the very worst part – was that he could feel the alien mind that had briefly possessed his slithering back out again, like a snake out of a temple, and what was left, what was all Scott, with the false lust fire no longer artificially stoked to flaming point, was a yearning dependency that he couldn't afford to feel. He could not allow Logan to become so necessary to his mental well-being. He could not allow that aching loneliness he had felt for so many years and which Jean had helped to salve, to flare up again if Logan walked out the door. Becoming emotionally dependent upon a lone wolf was to thrust one's own hand into the flame.

Logan said in a voice that caught and rasped like a struck match, "What are you thinking, Scott?"

"Mostly of Gaius Mucius Scaevola. You can learn a lot from other men's failed missions, even if it's only how not to mind the pain."

"We need to talk about this…thing between us."

Scott returned his gaze levelly, not letting Logan know how much he wished he had a visor to shelter behind right now. "Seriously? You, of all people, want to talk about feelings?"

"I need to know what this is. I need to know if I'm just what you make out with when Jean ain't around but as soon as you're back in the mansion – "

"Logan, nothing we do here is real. There is a telepath manipulating us. It can probably make us think we love each other so much that the thought of being parted is unendurable. And it could probably make us kill each other if it wanted to. Let's not give it the chance. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be another puzzling clue for the next amateur CSI guy who has to make sense of our bloodstains."

Scott gazed around at the warm, ambient light, watched it flicker and turn cold and blue; not a thrown gauntlet, not yet, just a mood-change for better manipulation. He kept using the word 'telepath' but that telekinesis was equally as dangerous. There had been so many missions when Scott had every reason to be grateful that Jean and all her power was on the side of the good guys. Their enemy had pulled a jet out of the sky and skewered them with its wreckage. What it could do to them on its home turf would be horrifying….

…Your parents were probably relieved to be rid of you…No wonder Lefty bullied you…Rick and Trish Bogart never bothered coming back for you…Why do you suppose your father stayed away for so long…?

He could feel their enemy trying to feed him loneliness. He let the murdering bastard walk straight to the shelf where Scott kept his childhood memories and barely flinched as he pulled down a photograph album of bullying and sneering and empty friendless silences. Yes. I am still that boy inside. You got me. He'd been the unwilling accomplice of a child-beating bank robber; he had learned the art of yielding years since. You flared up in secret and in silence; outwardly you just took it, because what you learned, painfully and gradually, was that even the bad things eventually stopped.

"Are you even here?" Logan asked and it would have hurt so much less if he'd yelled it, instead of saying it softly. He didn't even sound reproachful, just wounded. His eyes were hazel-green in the melancholy light and full of quiet sadness. His face was ridiculously handsome. The sideburns and the beard looked like camouflage this close up, a way of pretending he was an animal when what he was…was a hero. Scott knew that; had known it maybe from a lot earlier than he’d wanted to let on. Did Logan know it, though? His defenses were all the way down. He had lowered them for Scott. He had pulled up the damned portcullis and let down the drawbridge just for Scott.

Scott said, "I'm here, Logan. I'm…processing. I think we need to test the blood samples."

"I'm telling you, they're from the same guy – and, fuck, you're a cold fish."

"I believe you – on both counts – I just think there may be something there…something we'll know when we see it. Can you run the tests while I take a look at the flight-log and the damage? I need to work out what the guy was trying to do when he brought the ship here. I need to know if this was planned or if there's somewhere else he wants to be."

As Scott turned away, Logan caught his arm and pulled him towards him, not roughly at all, more like the way a fisherman reeled in a salmon he intended to let free. Logan searched Scott's face with such need in his eyes and Scott fought for control and almost thought he had it, right before it slipped between his fingers and fell down a heart-shaped hole. He closed his eyes and kissed Logan over and over, urgently, hurting, those bristles prickling against his skin the sexiest sensation he'd ever felt, and then pulled back. Logan drew his thumb across Scott's mouth.

"That's a relief. I was starting to think you were sired by a robot, Slim."

"It isn't that I don't feel, it's that there isn't time, Logan. Trust me on this. We don't get out of here soon – we don't get out of here at all."

"We could leave now." Logan pointed to the door they'd come in by. "There could be other shelter out there. I'll build you a goddamn igloo if it means you and me get to have sex again sometime soon."

"I don't like unexplained mysteries. Let's just find out what happened here first, then leave."

"Kinda feeling a lot like this is a mission, Cyke." Logan held his gaze. "Ain't objecting, just saying."

Scott said, "And you're not running the tests on those bloodstains now because…?"

Logan said, "I'm on it, Boss." The perfect grizzled sergeant to Scott's promoted-too-young captain, except for that brief flash of light and joy in his eyes because Scott cared too much and had let Logan glimpse it.

He could feel his heart beating too fast, happiness wanting to break out, foolishly, while waltzing in sweeping circles with his guilt about Jean – because he was falling something suspiciously close to 'in love' with Logan – and his guilt about Logan because he suspected that there was nothing in the world that could ever make him fall out of love with Jean Grey. And yet there was joy, because Logan cared about Scott Summers way more than he had ever intended. Logan cared about Scott Summers enough to maybe stick around.

Unless we die here, as snuff movie fodder for a bored, crazy alien, who already killed his whole crew. That could put a crimp in your not-so-fine romance, Summers.

That thought was okay. He didn't mind anyone reading that one. It was surface plating, meant to be breached. It was the one underneath he was afraid of the alien finding: Don't let Logan die here. Please, don't let him die.

Too late, it had swooped in like a crow on a dead sheep's eye, plucked the thought cleanly from his head and carried its echo away. It knew. It knew his worst weakness now. Not just the ones he'd fed it before, but the real one, the bristly, beer-flavored, adamantium-bonded one. It could hurt him in the worst way and he had just loaded the gun and put it in its hand.

Good work, Summers. What's your next clever move?

The same move I always make: I repress, therefore I am.

That, at least, came easily; that was comfortably familiar. He put his feelings for Logan in a box and hid it in a mental closet, at the back, with the dustier things. He made his way to the flight deck, following shattered cables, and places where the lights could no longer blink. He hooked up a temporary circuit to power life back into the ship's broken brain and pressed buttons until something began to happen, data to stream that showed a language he could recognize – constellations and quadrants; the silver-specked world his father had chosen over his motherless sons. And all the while he did not think about Logan or Jean, and he tried – and failed – not to wonder if this was what his own mind looked like, all those blacked out areas where Sinister had applied his mental blocks, all that smooth remodeling that Xavier had done so much more gently, to block out Scott's failures and traumas; the result a bombed out city with some lights still winking, and some areas that were just smoking craters, full of shattered glass.

***

Scott had never had much time for reading murder mysteries. There had been strategic principles to absorb, the writings by or about every great military leader, studying the Horns of the Buffalo of the Zulu, Hannibal Barca's crushing victory over the Romans at Cannae, what had gone wrong for Napoleon in Russia. Scott didn't have a great army to move from place to place; the principles behind bellum se ipsum alet were unlikely to trouble the leader of a five-man band with a fully stocked x-jet at his disposal; but the seven principles of strategy had proven versatile when it came to general application. Of late, he had also been studying philosophy and politics to try to understand how a minority in a sea of enemies might move towards a position of greater strength, preferably without the use of gunpowder. (He had also ruled out Treason for the time being. He was on the fence about Plot.) So, he was less au fait with why or how Miss Scarlet might have done for Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead piping, but he did know a little about trying to think his way out of a problem.

The seven rules of strategy actually numbered eight, but Scott presumed someone along the line had just liked the alliteration. He had learned them, early on, the way little kids learned their multiplication tables, the simple foundations upon which complicated calculations could be built. They were: 1) adjust your ends to your means, 2) keep your object always in mind, 3) choose the line of the least expectation, 4) exploit the line of least resistance, 5) take the line of operations which offers the most alternatives, 6) ensure both plans and dispositions are flexible, 7) do not throw your weight into an opponent while he is on guard, 8) do not renew an attack along the same lines if an attack has failed.

He thought he recognized the kind of mind he was dealing with – it had felt enough like Sinister's for him to pick up the intermingling strands of madness and ego, and this one was leaving a psychic backwash, like a silvery snail trail, sticky and unpleasant but extremely revealing; the urge to do something just because it could, to vivisect a mind just to see what happened when it screamed. Scott could almost taste the invasive sadism in his head. Their telepathic opponent liked power, liked to have puppets and make them dance. He suspected the first rush of realization of its own might had gone to its head, it had become drugged on the serial killer high of making others commit murder, gorged itself and forgotten that without any survivors there was no one left to play with. It was hungry for new puppets, and it was tired of living in this ship.

Knowledge was power, even here, but it was also dangerous. If he acquired too much of it, Scott suspected he would not be permitted to keep it. He hoped that he recognized the tipping point before he reached it. So far he had learned that it was definitely the captain of the ship who had attacked the downed vessel – there were a few fitful holograms still functioning that showed the guy placing the charges. The ship's AI and automated systems had responded swiftly to put out the fires, and there had followed a battle royal between the ship's computer and the sole surviving member of her crew as the guy fought to overwhelm the systems while the ship tried to make a safe landing, its prime directive apparently – and tragically – the need to safeguard its soft-bodied crew. As far as Scott could tell, they had wormholed it here from somewhere well beyond the Andromeda system, in unchartered space not – yet – annexed by the Shi'ar. They had been on their way home when the murder spree had taken place. What Scott couldn't make sense of was the captain's motivation. He had also been perturbed by the quiet efficiency with which the guy had gone about trying to rip out the heart, brain, and wings, of his own ship. There had been no helpfully villainous cackling, no petting of a white Persian cat; the guy had been systematic, focused, and determined. He had been, in fact, very much like Scott on a mission. Given their present circumstances, that was not a comforting observation.

The mind was there out of nowhere, fast as an adder strike, probing suspiciously, and Scott thought purposefully about how important it was that he and Logan did not keep getting distracted by sex. He needed to focus on the mission. The mission was getting home. Help would be coming soon. It was foolish to stray out into the snow for no good reason. While they were here, they should try to solve the mystery of why these guys had died the way they did; it would be a good mental exercise, it would cement his and Logan's bonds as team-members, it would keep their minds off sex. Then he purposefully imagined what it would be like to just drop to his knees and take Logan into his mouth, wrapping his slicked fingers around his shaft, a slow slide up and down to get him ready as he mouthed that plump head. He would tease the slit with his tongue, then mouth the head gently, tantalize it with his teeth, stroking him all the while, just how Scott liked it, until his fist met his mouth and Logan was rock hard and aching in his grip. A sweet teasing of tongue around the base of the aching head to get him taut and needy. The first whimper and he would pull back for a while and just brush the oozing head across his lips, tasting it, teasing it with lazy dabs of his tongue, then find that place under the head that made Scott shiver when Jean touched him there. Light, soft pressure always worked best for him; sometimes she could get him writhing, begging her to stop-don't-stop when she flicked him right there with the tip of her tongue. When she alternated with tongue-flicks and hot breath huffed against the fragile skin, sometimes that was enough, even now, to arch his spine into orgasm, making the red light flare bright against the inside of his lids. Other times he needed the rhythmic lick of her using his cock like an ice-cream cone, she as steady as a metronome while he squirmed and tried not to moan aloud where anyone would hear. Sometimes she would hurt him a little then; hold him too hard, use her nails; and he liked it, God how he liked it, when she did that; and he knew if he could only learn to beg and plead or even say it to her, what it was that he wanted, that she would do that for him every time, but he was too embarrassed; he wanted her to pluck it wordlessly from his mind and for them to never speak of it aloud. His Hurt me, hurt me, hurt me, Jean… something that had to be stifled like a secret sin.

The first time she had scraped her teeth along his shaft he had been pierced by fear and want at once. She had taken such shameful pleasure in her power over him; so embarrassed that she loved it when he writhed and bit his wrist to choke down the moans and knew that she had brought him to this. With her he had always been all about control, wanting to make her happy, wanting her to enjoy herself, wanting to do all the things the books said would make her nerves ignite with pleasure, and she had been responsive and encouraging and told him how good he was, but there was a flash in her eyes when she was working him in a way that could hurt him if she ever let her control slip – riding his snappable cock, or when her teeth were so close to breaking the skin – that sent a shivering fire-lance between them. That was when he glimpsed that some nights she wanted to draw a little blood from him just as much as he wanted to be marked.

The mind was prowling around his, dissatisfied. Not sex, then, not just sex. His memories of Jean going down on him were mildly interesting to it but no more than that. Did it only like gay sex, then? It had seemed not much more intrigued when he had pictured himself licking Logan's cock than it was by his memories of him and Jean trying new things. He suspected it would have liked his and Jean’s sex-life better if Jean had tied him up and whipped him. Out of nowhere Scott wondered if perhaps so would Jean. He shoved a memory at it of him and Logan getting it on. He felt a brief pulse of interest from the invading mind but it subsided like a cat with a dead bird once it had stopped fluttering. It had tried sex with the two of them and liked the way they sparked and pulsed, the way it could make them go off like firecrackers, but it had tasted something better. Murder? Scott really hoped its ultimate high couldn't only be achieved with murder.

It darted a suspicious mind-flex his way and he let other thoughts drift, undisciplined, like lone fish darting through symmetrical shoals: I wonder what Sabretooth did to me…I wish the Professor had more faith in me…How can I still love Jean so much when Logan has become so necessary to me so damned fast… He threw in some bad memories, to remind the mind trespassing upon his that he wasn't much of a threat; he'd spent his formative years being manipulated by a madman, after all. And he thought about Logan naked, throwing the man's body up as a shield, because he could do that, fill his mind with the look and taste and scent and touch of Logan all day. He had spent too many years gazing through ruby quartz filters not to be greedily focused when he could see the world in color. He had inhaled Logan like clean sea air, he could bring to mind the way his skin tasted on the tongue, salt-iron and mineral-bitter from where he had bled in a burning hail of engine oil. It was painfully intercut by scent memories of Jean, jasmine and soap, and the fall of her hair brushing his cheek as she bent over him in that infirmary bed, eyes ringed with shadows as she waited for him to wake. Memories sweetened with pain for the interloper thrilled it so much more.

The alien mind was stoking the guilt very well but Scott thought that most of it was still him. He was holding up all his issues like semaphore and waving them over his head, and so far that seemed enough to satisfy the alien mind's hunger for failure. Everything it liked, it seemed, it liked better seasoned with a little pain. No wonder it enjoyed his mind so much. He tried to give it everything it wanted until it was sated and fed. When he felt its attention move away from him, he was foolish enough to feel a sense of triumph, until Logan arrived at a run.

"What is it?" Scott demanded, concern spiking as he saw Logan's harried expression and fear-darkened eyes.

"I thought you were in trouble. I had this feeling that…I thought Nutjob ET had gotten you."

Scott put his hand on Logan's chest and it felt as if the guy's heart was trying to jump out to meet him. He hoped the alien captain had enjoyed stoking up Logan's anxiety to the point where he was hyperventilating and he hoped the guy enjoyed it when Scott punched him in the face for having done so. When it slipped back into his mind, he let it push him into Logan's arms as they shared a panic-flavored kiss. Scott deliberately summoned an image of Jean's face and the feel of Jean's lips against his and fed the alien in his head an ice cream cone of delicious guilt. It slid out again, temporarily sated, and Scott whispered in Logan's ear, "Tell me what you learned while we make out."

"You're such a romantic, Summers. You have the best sweet talk. Seriously? You're on the team and Drake's the one they call 'Iceman'?"

"Logan… Science…?"

Those brutal, punishing kisses were much too enjoyable and Scott couldn't help closing his eyes and losing himself a little as Logan shoved him up against the central tower of the flight deck and thoroughly explored his tonsils while rubbing against him, hard.

Punctuating his words with more rough kisses, Logan said, "I'm even…less of a…scientist than…you are, Slim, but…the blood's from the…same guy…kinda…."

Scott broke off, panting for breath while his traitorous body rubbed itself needily against Logan's. "'Kinda'…?"

"There's like a…line running…through it…"

"I need to see."

Logan grabbed Scott by the front of his uniform. "Now?"

Scott decided that it was a strictly tactical decision to give the watching alien confirmation that they were too hazy with hormones to be thinking straight. He reached down and unzipped Logan from that constricting leather, while Logan did the same for him. Scott said, "I don't see five minutes delay would matter, do you…?"

The next few seconds were confusing, as he was being pulled to the floor, more of his skin bared by a frustrated Logan who clearly wanted them both naked in the quickest possible time, and then sense-bombed by lots of delicious touches mixed in with heated, angry kisses.

The alien in his head didn't seem to be trying to influence him, just searching busily for something. Scott let it finger his mental shelving while he rubbed against Logan.

As the claws came out, Scott said, "Only clothing we have with us, remember? The rest went up with the Blackbird."

Logan cursed but pulled his claws back in, before tugging at Scott's uniform. "Who designed this damned thing anyway?"

"Jean, and, oddly enough, getting out of it really fast to have sex in between more pressing matters wasn't part of her design plan."

Undressing them both rapidly, Logan growled, "Jean oughta know better than anyone about needing to get you naked at short notice."

Scott was peeled, stripped and jolted out of his clothing with more speed than finesse but the seams held up surprisingly well. Ignoring those occasions when the fear-spike after a near-miss had led Jean to shove him behind a sheltering wall and examine him very…thoroughly for injuries, Scott said primly, "Jean has excellent self-control."

"Well, I don't – so get used to it."

It was something of a shock to realize that he liked the fact that Logan was a beast on a hair-trigger; a rational, decent, compassionate man constantly warring with what the Weapon X program had tried to turn him into. He certainly wouldn't have wanted to give up the noble half but he didn't want to be rid of the beast either. The compromise between those contradictions was…this. Scott liked…this way more than was sane or healthy. He wanted to wrap his long legs around it and rub rhythmically up against it while licking its tonsils.

"Damn…" Logan murmured in a small, shocked voice, as Scott flipped him over onto his back and straddled him so he could get better purchase for their groin-to-groin rubbing. "Take back what I said about you being a cold fish, Cyke."

"Shut up and kiss me."

"It makes me so damned hot when you give me orders."

"I'll remind you of that when you're bitching about following them on the next mission…."

And then it was just friction, delicious, skin-against-skin flaring friction, as Scott rode Logan just right. The pleasure was building right from the balls of Scott's feet, heated lightning flares up his thighs, when Logan flipped them again, cushioning Scott's head with unexpected tenderness, and bending in for a deep, groaning kiss. He slipped a finger up inside Scott and teased his prostate with deft, practiced rubs, shredding Scott's self-control. Scott moaned his disappointment when Logan slipped the finger out of him before he held their cocks with one hand and thrust at just the right angle to turn the world into a light show of sensation that had Scott arching and whimpering and climaxing with a sigh. A few seconds later Logan was stilling before he mouthed hungrily at Scott's exposed throat.

It wasn't mind-blowing. There was no psychic backwash from the time when Jean had accidentally made a feedback loop of her three consecutive, spine-climbing orgasms, added them to his paltry one and projected them straight into his nervous system, nearly putting him into a coma in the process. It was just heartfelt and messy and incredibly good. Scott realized he could get much too used to spur-of-the-minute workaday sex. No wooing, no conversation, just grab each other and go for it, honest and satisfying to the core.

Panting, he said, "Do you think some guys go gay just to get out of dating?"

Logan moved his weight off Scott considerately and lay on his back next to him, breathing hard. "Wouldn't surprise me. Who doesn't hate dating?"

"Between you and me, I think the whole concept was dreamed up by the Spanish Inquisition."

Logan glanced at him sideways. "The way Drake tells it, it's not like you ever had to date much anyway – girls just used to hit on you while you failed to comprehend their cryptic codes. Like when they'd say 'Wanna go upstairs and make out with me and my friend here, Handsome?' and you'd back away in confusion and then spill your drink all over yourself."

"It wasn't like that at all."

"McCoy said it was. He said Drake had it right. He said guys used to hit on you, too, and you never worked out that was what they were doing. Which reminds me – if a man strokes his finger down your face, what do you think he wants?"

Scott thought back over the people who usually caressed him who weren't Jean. "To torture or brainwash me."

"I'm starting to see why it's taken you this long to get busy with a guy. Thanks for the makeout session, by the way. For a clueless, emotionally-repressed workaholic, you're pretty good."

"Thanks. Incidentally, if we ever run across someone who knew you when you were a teenager, I'm going to interrogate him for a month and then tell everyone everything he said. I'm also going to kill Bobby."

Logan sat up and Scott couldn't help admiring his torso and the swift, active way he pulled on his clothes. Logan said, "I've seen photos of you when you were a skinny kid in spandex and I gotta say, if I'd been around back then, I wouldn't have wanted you out of my sight for a minute. You were way too pretty to be running around fighting supervillains. I'd have been worried about them wanting to –"

There was something dark and ugly clawing at the corner of his mind. It had been bricked up and plastered over but something had cracked the drywall and it was wriggling in there, like a weevil in a ship's biscuit, black bug tentacles waving, wanting out. The strange thing was that there were no images at all. There was just a tight, trapped sensation of fear, and suffocating blindness. Like there was a weight pressing down on him and he was being crushed beneath it, lanced by slicked, heated pain, struggling for oxygen while a rough voice told him to fucking breathe already, dumb kid –

"Scott…?"

He opened his eyes and found Logan gazing intently into his face, utterly focused, and quietly concerned.

"You okay?"

Scott put up his hands and felt Logan's fingers cradling his face, like he was the company china and should be handled with care. He concentrated on the nuances of Logan's expression and realized that he was looking at Scott in a different way than Hank had. Logan looked at him like he might need help. Hank had been looking at him as if he were already broken.

Scott said, "Show me your science experiments and I'll show you mine."

Logan offered him a hand and Scott let him pull him to his feet. As he dressed, he told Logan about the ship trying to save the life of the crazy alien captain who was doing his damnedest to break her into pieces.

"It'll be its programming, Slim. These things are always programmed to safeguard the crew – well, unless they belong to an evil corporation, then they're programmed to bring back the egg-laying aliens at any cost." Logan sighed at Scott's bemused expression. "Storm needs to make movie night compulsory from now on. No one gets to go play in the Danger Room, do his taxes, or read old mission reports when he could be chilling out with a beer and some high budget entertainment."

Scott decided to move right on past that to something relevant. He cast a regretful look around at the damage and had to admit that the ship was too badly smashed up to be salvaged. There was nothing that could be done for her. "I still find it a little…heroic."

Logan put his hand on Scott's shoulder. "Slim, I'm really sorry that the Blackbird bought it, but it's time to move on now. Come take a look at my science stuff."

 

The alien's blood had a golden line running through it, just like Scott's. One look and Scott took a step backwards because this was all his fears confirmed. He and a lunatic mass murderer were soulmates somehow, blood-bonded and dangerous. Logan needed to get the hell away from him before he ended up in the freezer with those other poor –

"That's from the oldest time the guy…died. This is the next one."

Two golden lines.

"This is the third blood sample – same guy, third death."

Three golden lines.

Scott's heartbeat returned to normal. "It must leave some kind of isotope in the blood every time someone goes through the pod cycle. I only nearly died once. This guy…" He thought of the pain and fear he had experienced as he felt that heavy disconnect where movement to his legs should have been, assessed the place where the shrapnel had impaled him and knew that kidney was shredded. "This guy went through that thing twelve times."

Logan nodded. "That's what I figured, too. What I can't work out is who the hell keeps trying to off him, and why it ain't worked yet."

"You're certain these 'deaths' occurred after the other crew members died."

"Absolutely certain."

Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

Henry had quoted that and Scott had looked blank. Bobby had turned to Warren and said, "Third, I am begging you to buy Scott a life."

"Do at least go and read a book for fun, Scott," Henry had sighed. "Every boy should get to grow up reading Sherlock Holmes. Wasn't there a library in your…?" Henry broke off. "In your deranged captor's fake orphanage…no, I imagine there probably wasn't. Go to the Professor's library now, and choose six books that have exciting illustrations, gripping stories, and absolutely nothing to do with strategy…."

Two years later in the laboratory, Henry over his test-tubes insisting that the formula wasn't right.

"Why not?"

An exasperated glance sent his way. "I can see you think that's a stupid question," Scott said patiently, "but I don't understand why it is."

Henry had waved a hand at what was showing up on the screen. "Crick and Watson knew that DNA would be beautiful. The best scientific proofs are. They're elegant and simple. This is messy and overly-complicated. Therefore I haven't solved it yet. Lex parsimoniae, Scott. As William of Occam wrote: "'The assumptions introduced to explain a thing must not be multiplied beyond necessity'."

He couldn't see the truth yet, but he could see that it shouldn't be as complicated as the facts were suggesting. No assailant-scent and a person mortally wounded and revived twelve times had to equal something simpler than invisible murderers. Henry had gone onto explain that the principle behind scientific parsimony was the generalization stating that, if there were a number of possible explanations for observed phenomena, the simplest explanation should initially be preferred. Only when the simplest explanations had been exhausted should simplicity be traded for greater explanatory power.

Scott had liked the logic of it. He had loved the fact that it could also be incorporated into strategy. The simplest plan was the first one to examine; it could then be examined for flaws – its usual flaw being that it was the plan that would also have occurred to one's opponent – however a thorough study of it was still useful. The simplest plan usually made an excellent smoke screen for the next plan, which should also eschew unnecessary complications but give the impression of being the simplest plan for the longest possible time to lull the opponent into thinking that he had outthought you.

Aloud, Scott said, "So, someone is trying to kill our killer. We're not looking for one person. We're looking for two." He cast an eye over the cavernous guts of the ship and wondered if this was how it would have felt to be swallowed by a whale. "You track the blood trails again. Try to find any scent that isn't us. I'll take another look at the flight logs. The computer's been so damaged that there are parts cut off from other parts. I'm going to check all the monitors, see if any have been re-routed from the network."

He didn't have an idea yet. All he had was an instinct. He was following it.

Logan was frowning as he gazed at him. "You're not here again."

"I'm thinking."

"How the hell has Jean stood it all the time?"

Excuse my limitations; they are legion. You don’t want the grown-up version of that skinny, useless, unwanted kid, riddled with crippling self-doubt, who always expects to be rejected and is always surprised to be loved, go and find someone else to get naked with….

"I am what I am, Logan."

"Have you ever thought about spending a little less time in your head trying to keep everyone safe and a little more time out of it actually…interacting with people?"

"I do battle field tactics, Logan. I don't do people. Why are you still here?"

Logan threw his hands in the air and began a long cataloguing of Scott's failings; given that Scott was painfully aware of all his failings and how long they would take to catalogue, he knew they didn't have time for this. "How convenient," he said. "A boyfriend and mother-in-law combined. If you could work a credenza and a small yappy dog we inherited from a distant aunt into your repertoire, I'll start picking out the house in the suburbs. How much yard work do you think you'll have time for in between being a superhero?"

Logan said, "You know, Slim, wanting to have sex with you all the time in no way stops me wanting to punch you. Just so you know."

Scott switched on the nearest computer, the one that seemed to have had the most work done to reroute its power supply. "Blood trails and violent death, Logan – in your own time."

He was aware – although he kept his eyes on the flickering screen – of Logan looming in his direction with the intent of swatting him, but kept perfectly still and waited to see if Logan would regain enough self-control not to hit him. Logan did. Albeit with some muttering of very bad words before he headed off, angrily and efficiently, to do his job. Not mind-controlled then… Scott grimaced as he realized that actually perhaps that was the proof that Logan was mind-controlled. No, he was sure the sadistic telepath they were dealing with would not be satiated by Logan just smacking Scott around the back of the head. He would want Logan to eviscerate him slowly, probably during sex.

A psychic tentacle slid into his brain. He could feel crazed glee in his mind and there was something…childlike about it. Scott inched his way towards the mind that was running around heedlessly in his, examining the shelf where his past captures and tortures lived, shopping for new ideas. It found the black bug tentacles quickly and began to pull at the wall, wanting to see what lay behind.

That hurt, and Scott tried to keep the pain shoved to the dusty corners, to make it feasible that he really wouldn't have noticed the way a block in his mind was being shredded. His brain burglar felt like a…young mind, not necessarily in years but in experience. Memory loss? Brain damage? Every experience was a new experience. The whole world was filled with novelty. Killing those crew-members had been exciting and different. Intoxicating. There had been no planning then. It was learning strategy as it went along. Scott should have got that earlier, but he'd been too hung up on Sinister. That was his first thought when he felt a sadist in his head, that it was a mind like Sinister's, but this one was far less sophisticated, less narcissistic, too. It wasn't trying to perfect itself. It was trying to find itself. That meant –

And then he was on his knees on the floor as the memory wriggled free.

The pain of it was…impossible to breathe…the blindness felt like suffocation, like there was a bag over his head, stifling him, although it was just his eyes, padded and bound fast, a pressing, weighty blackness…cold air on his skin, legs, thighs, ass…and the touching…clawed hands touching him…there… Why there…? Why…?

He screamed with the shock of it; that terrible pressure splitting him open; he could feel it inside him; huge and wrong and….

"Please…please…? Why are you…? Please…don't…. God…! No…! Please…?"

He panicked and struggled, not knowing who it was or why they were doing this to him, until the angry voice got through, something in his brain machinery that had gummed up with shock, jolted loose. He knew this voice. It was the clawed animalistic man from earlier. The one who had hunted and caught him in the school. So now he had a face to go with the body crushing his, the vicious fingers tugging at his hair, that savage whisper ordering him to shut the fuck up, now. He was still trying to pull away from the spearing pain, but a blow cracked his head against something hard and half-stunned him.

"Shut up and keep still! What the hell's the matter with you, you dumb kid? You tryin' to get yourself ripped up?"

"Please…don't… It hurts. Take it out, please. Take it out…."

"Scott? Scott…? Scott…!"

He was being shaken, viciously shaken, so hard that it jolted his eyes open into the painful confusion of bright lights blaring at him when a second ago his eyes had been blindfolded. There was still that stabbing and grunting and that hand in his hair….

"Scott…?"

He was still being shaken by the shoulders; anxious green eyes gazing into his; a gruff, familiar voice demanding to know what was hurting him, where was the pain, was it where the wreckage had got him…? Someone was pulling at his clothes, trying to get a look at his side, there were fingers on his skin, but they weren't hurting him, they were gentle.

Scott fought through the panic as his memories reassembled themselves like an upended snow-globe into something resembling a recognizable image. He wasn't fifteen or terrified, or blindfolded, or a prisoner in a cell. There was no hand in his hair, no one grunting in his ear, and no one was brutally shoving anything into his scrawny, flinching body. He was a fully-grown adult with a black belt in every kind of martial arts, was in a downed spaceship somewhere in Eastern Canada, and this man with claws wasn't his captor or his rapist. This man was his friend.

"Scott – talk to me…?" The catch in Logan's voice made Scott's heart hurt.

"Sorry. Bad flashback. Really…bad flashback."

"Know what that's like." Kneeling on the floor beside him, Logan's eyes were bright with anger and concern. "Was it Sinister? What was that evil fucker doing to you?"

"It was Sabretooth, on the Island. God, I was dumb. I really didn't know…I didn't know what he was going to… How the hell did I ever forget…? The Professor must have…."

"Scott!" Logan shook him again but more gently. "I get how bad it can be after one of those old memories shakes loose, but you're not making a whole lot of sense there, buddy."

He put his head in his hands, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes until the world was a kaleidoscope of white light fireworks against a black orange base. His head cleared slowly, but his skin was still crawling. He could still smell Sabretooth's sweat, still feel the places where his tongue had licked up Scott's face, where his fingers had bitten deep enough to leave bruises. Still feel the jabbing, jolting pain of a cock being thrust hilt-deep inside him.

That round to you, he thought bitterly. A perfectly preserved memory, pristine as the day it was made, excavated whole and replayed in glorious Sensurround. You got me.

When he forced his eyes open, he realized he was shaking hard. Logan pulled him in against his body, rough and anxious, a hand clasped to the back of his head gently furrowing through his hair.

"You scared the crap out of me," Logan breathed. "I heard you screaming. I thought that alien psycho had stabbed you…."

Scott realized that he had no desire whatsoever to shove Logan away and tell him to stop fussing. He was still too nerve-jangled not to be grateful for the man's stubble against his cheek and that hand cupping his head, those fingers stroking a soothing rhythm across his back. He leaned into him, just for this moment, because this was an indulgence and he needed to be strong, but just for this brief beat it felt so good to feel Logan's muscles under his clothes, to inhale his scent, and feel the soft bristle of his stupid sideburns against his skin.

"Sorry," he managed. "The Professor must have walled it up. I never processed it. I don't remember ever knowing…. I remember having a headache. I think Sabretooth must have knocked me out when he was…done. I guess I woke up not remembering and maybe the Professor thought it was better that it stayed forgotten. Maybe he had a point."

Logan looked sick. "Hell, he didn't…? Sabretooth…? Back then? You were just a kid."

"I was an incredibly dumb kid. I didn't have any idea why he was undressing me. I thought it meant more tests. I thought he was going to inject me with something."

The memories were all there now, still too raw to feel as if they belonged in the past, but not as unbearably present as they had been a few minutes earlier. He could tentatively poke a mental stick at them and see what scuttled out.

"Victor thought I was older and he thought Winters was already… I had a lot of bruises back then. Winters was a telepath but his way of coping with a possibly rebellious teenager was to yell at me, hit me, and throw furniture at me. It wasn't much of a leap to think he was molesting me too." He ran a shaky hand through his hair. "Maybe it's because of what he did to me back then that Sabretooth called the Professor. Maybe his conscience gave him a twinge."

"Sinister was a telepath too, right?" At Scott's nod, Logan looked him over curiously. "What is it about you and telepaths?"

"Maybe they like the fixer-upper potential of my damaged psyche. Some people enjoy a challenge."

"Then I should be beating the brain-benders off with a shitty stick." He straightened Scott's ragged uniform and smoothed out imaginary creases. "You okay?" At Scott's nod, he said, "Because you look like crap."

"And you bitch about my sweet talk?"

He hoped Logan couldn't hear how fast his heart was still hammering; panic-sweat barely cooling down his spine. Being blindfolded, held down, crushed under that pinioning weight and unable to struggle free while he was prized open and violated to the flinching core – not something he was going to forget in a hurry. Worse, though, was the new thought: If he could do this to me, he could do it to Logan. If that maniac decided to burrow around and find Logan's lost memory of having adamantium poured into his body; if he decided to find all the experiments Jean was sure had been carried out on Logan to test his healing factor, Logan was going to go insane with the pain. Because, crappy as Scott's bad memories were, Logan's were a hundred times worse. He had to keep that crazy alien son-of-a-bitch the hell away from the guy who had spent all those years in the Weapon X program.

Somehow he had to keep him focused on Scott.

"I'm fine now, Logan. Everything's fine."

"No, it ain't, Slim. It's about a million miles away from 'fine'. What that furball piece of shit did to you back on the Island – that wasn't ‘fine’, and when we're done here I am gonna hunt him down and…." Logan's claws were out like he couldn't help himself. The man struggled for control. "And what that alien piece of shit did to you, digging up that memory – he's gonna regret that. He's just not gonna get the chance to regret it for very long." Logan said, "I'm gonna find laughing boy." There was a note in his voice that suggested he was still fighting for control and wasn't necessarily winning.

"Don't let him get in your head," Scott warned, and wondered if it was as futile as telling Logan not to breathe oxygen. Logan gave him a clawed salute and headed off, fast and angry and looking for vengeance.

It was weird to realize that after all these years of saving himself and saving others, trying to save the whole planet even if most of its inhabitants didn't even like or trust his kind, that Scott Summers now had a white knight of his own. He wasn't sure he needed one. He thought he was pretty good at taking care of himself and he'd never much cared about avenging old wrongs. What was the point when there were always new wrongs coming up that were more urgently in need of righting? But there was something old-fashioned about Logan, underneath the modern speech and quick-flaring tempers there was still something bedrocked in him from a century past. Scott Summers as an adult with force-beams where his eyes should be wasn't someone in need of Logan's chivalry, but Scott Summers, fifteen-year-old orphan, more or less blinded by his mutation, alone in an unfeeling world and entitled to its protection…? Apparently that boy was sacrosanct, even now. That boy should never have been hurt the way Sabretooth had hurt him and the memory sliver of that boy excavated from Scott's adult mind should have been kept safe, too. Logan probably agreed with Xavier that Scott's rape on the Island was a memory much better buried where it could do the least harm. If Logan had his way, the alien captain would pay for unearthing that particular pain.

Keep him away from Logan. Keep him the hell away from adamantium being poured into a man who would have been awake at the time. From memories of people he might have killed while he wasn't himself….

Scott said softly, "I have other memories that got buried. Things Sinister did to me while I struggled against bonds that wouldn't give an inch. I've forgotten how it feels to have a lit cigarette held to my skin while Jack Winters held me down but I'm sure the memory's around somewhere…."

It was on him, hungry and heedless, a telepathic hog rooting for pain truffles. It ripped through his mind like a child at Halloween searching for treats, pulling open drawers, overturning boxes. Scott was a grocery store of pain-candy: falling from the airplane, watching it explode, knowing his parents were on board; the ache where Alex wasn't any more. Nate, his creepy roommate, who used to watch him sleep. Waking up to find Nate standing over him, breathing hard, mouth wet. Scott saying: “What is it?” and Nate saying “Go back to sleep…” and somehow those words becoming an order he couldn't resist, even though the last thing he wanted was to be vulnerably asleep when Nate was so close…. Broken nights at the orphanage interspersed with days of bullying, jeering older boys ganging up on him to smack him around for the fun of it; and the basement, the shiny, white laboratory basement where his terror consumed him as the needles plunged in and the orders lashed out, and he couldn't, couldn't, couldn't control it, however much he tried….

Sobbing for breath, Scott found he was on his knees, and that was just the first wave, a quick dance through the highlights of his earliest years of captivity, with so much horror still to come. Better you than Logan, he thought grimly, and looked up at the flashing lights of the spaceship, the tower winking at him eagerly, like a dog wanting to be taken for a walk. He imagined the alien captain’s mind winking on and off in the same patterns, attuned to the damaged remnants of the ship. He said, "Bring it on…" and the memories spilled from all the places where he and Xavier had so carefully packaged them away, raw and agonizing and happening now.

A scream would bring Logan scrambling back, straight into the circle of attention, but Scott was the bait today and Logan the hunter who would track down their enemy if Scott could just buy him some time. He had faith in Logan's ability to do that. All he had to do was keep the alien captain so happily occupied that Logan could sneak up on him unawares, while keeping silent however much he felt the need to scream.

Scott let the son-of-a-bitch all the way in, right to the dusty shelves where his childhood traumas averted their eyes from the light. The mind in his was drunk with the richness and variety of his torment: Cigarette tip to sizzling skin. I'll beat you ‘til it's all you know! White-threading nerve pain as he failed to obey, searing in his mind, in his body, jolting him as he dangled from his screaming wrists. Obey me, boy! You useless weakling! Control your powers! Smash of furniture breaking against his body as he ducked too late, the sobbing anguish of a rib cracking. You're late, you little shit! Where the hell have you been? Energy bolts jolting into him like blows. Stop sniveling, you pathetic brat! Acknowledge me as your master! He was blind on his knees on the floor of his cell and he was splitting open, the pain worse than anything he had ever…. The machine was still pulsing pain into his nerves, as the relentless thrusting agony was accompanied by animal grunts, and the cigarette burned its way into his skin and Jack Winters pulled his belt loose and brought it down across the same back that grunting animal heat was bruising and….

Scott clung on with his fingernails, eyes closed fast, one small voice telling him that none of this was happening, none of this was real, however much it hurt, the panic and confusion and terror and pain, all the different kinds of pain at once, this was just tactics. This was just something that had to be endured.

It pulsed and seared and thrust and lashed into him, the malevolent past, a swirling cauldron of misery into which that crazed looter in his mind kept hurling fresh finds of pain. He had forgotten how many times he’d been starved, beaten, backhanded, concussed, punched, dragged, kicked, bludgeoned, burned, tied up, chained up, felt up, fucked up, half-drowned, blindly caged, lightly electrocuted, and briefly whipped, and now it was a maelstrom of memories, vivid and alive and dancing round him like specters. All he had to do was hang on and not scream. He hung on. He didn't scream. While the blood from the lip he was biting through welled up deep and red and dripped on the shiny metal floor.