"We've been set up," Cyclops breathed the words to himself, so low that only Logan could have heard him.
"What was your first clue?" A rifle shot splintered the tree branch above their heads, sending bits of bark pattering down. Two unknown assailants, each with a rifle, were hidden on one side of the clearing; and the two mutants were pinned down on the other side. Logan knew it couldbe a lot worse, but getting out of the situation with minimal risk would be tricky.He kept his back to Scott's as they crouched behind the tree trunk that sprawled at an angle to the ground, giving them a bare minimum of cover from the bullets as another whined past them. "Can you blast 'em from here?"
"If I could see them, then yes. But they're under cover to the far side of the Blackbird, and off to the right somewhere..." Scott quickly popped his head around the trunk and instantly snapped it back as another shot rang out. "Damn it!" he breathed again.
"I'll make a run for the 'Bird, draw their fire, and you snipe 'em when they come into sight." Scott felt Logan's muscles tense as the feral braced himself to run directly into the line of fire.
"No! Cut the heroics. There has to be a better way."
"There ain't. You better cover my ass, Cyke." With the jolt felt against his back, Scott knew he was now alone behind the tree. The Field Leader of the X-Men snapped his head around just in time to see Logan break through the trees directly into the ambushers' line of fire, making a zig-zag run for the Blackbird where she sat in the clearing, hatch down, but too far away for even Logan with his strength and speed to reach safely. Two more shots sounded, and Scott saw the head of one sniper rise above their cover. Snapping his right hand to the visor, he tuned in to fire a beam at the general area, hoping to flush them out from their cover, or at least rattle them enough that they couldn't take accurate aim at Logan before he reached the cover of the jet. A moment before the red beam sprouted forth from Scott's visor, a third rifle shot hit Logan and bowled him over with a yelp of pain.
The sniper's head remained visible for just long enough that Scott narrowed the beam and hit him directly. He heard a hoarse scream from the direction of the snipers' cover as leaves and sticks fluttered down from the edges of the blast, then he snapped his attention momentarily back to his team mate. Logan was struggling to his feet, right arm hanging limp and seemingly stunned. Halfway between cover from the treeline, or cover from the Blackbird, he was caught in the open: no man's land.
"Stay down!" Scott yelled, and saw a second man appear a few yards away from the treeline, rifle at his shoulder, aiming at Logan and cursing incoherently. Another red beam shot forth from Scott's visor and the ambusher dropped in his tracks, blown nearly in half at the waist. Logan was back on his feet, clutching his wounded right shoulder with his left hand. Bent over at the waist and swearing profusely, he was still trying to shake off the pain. Scott stalked toward him, hand ready at the visor, while warily scanning the treeline for any more movement. He roared at the older man in anger.
"The next time I give you an order in the field, you'd damn well better take it!"
"Eh, bite me, One-Eye," Logan groused, still winded but vertical again.
Blood pumped from between two of the kevlar sections of the torn uniform; the bullet had been a lucky shot, piercing a tiny, vulnerable area in the uniform's design. Holding the shattered pieces of black leather away from the ragged and bloody wound in Logan's shoulder, Scott watched the raw edges of the flesh start to heal, the gory hole growing smaller and smaller until the flattened and ragged slug itself slid out and dropped into his hand. It must have hit the bone. No matter how many times he witnessed the enhanced healing factor in action, it still amazed him how the feral's body seemed to heal itself from the inside out. Logan took that part of his mutation for granted and often abused it to the limits. Scott never could, never would take it for anything but miraculous. Holding the slug up between his thumb and forefinger, he displayed it to Logan, grinning smugly.
"Are you collecting these things?"
"God dammit! No wonder that fuckin' hurt so bad; a hollow point deer slug. These guys meant business." Logan took the misshapen lump of metal with it's splattered edges and rolled it in his palm briefly before pocketing it. Scott watched the last shreds of flesh smooth themselves shut until all that remained was a patch of fast-fading reddened skin and the drying blood.
"Let's get out of here. We've got one hell of a report to file when we get back."
As the two men turned toward the jet, a light breeze ruffled Scott's hair, and he saw Logan instantly come alert, sniffing the air. The wind had shifted, and something was wrong.
"We got company," Logan muttered softly as he turned his attention toward the right side of the jet, and beyond to the general area where the two snipers had hidden. "More of 'em comin'." His ears picked up the sound of a bolt being pulled back; they were going to open fire again, whoever they were. Grabbing Scott by the arm, he snarled, "Run for cover!"
The first shot cracked loudly near them but missed as they fled toward the Blackbird. Logan heard the bolt being pulled again; whoever it was had an obsolete single shot rifle. There would be a pause between shots while the ambusher was reloading. They were within a yard of the hatch when the second shot rang out and Scott went down hard, rolling himself into a ball and smashing into the hatch where it touched the ground. Logan was behind him instantly, hauling the younger man up and almost throwing him into the belly of the jet. The metallic tang of blood was strong and Logan knew Scott had been hit, but how badly would have to wait. Glancing back in the direction of the rifle shots, Logan saw a third person step forth from the trees, rifle at the ready and aiming. It was a woman.
If she hit the jet's fuel tanks, they were all dead.
Blackbirds were famous for leaking all sorts of fluids when not in flight. It would be the Fireball from Hell if the jet fuel got ignited. What was one more bullet compared to that?
As she drew a bead on Logan, he turned toward her and let the Wolverine seize control, instantly lunging toward her, claws ripping out and teeth bared in a snarling rage. His unexpected head-long assault threw her calm demeanor off, and she quailed just long enough to give Wolverine a window of an opportunity. As he saw her again raise the rifle, aiming almost point-blank for his chest, he veered to the right and she instinctively panned the barrel toward him, but the shot went wild, missing both her intended target and the jet. Before her hand could even touch the bolt, he was on her, claws out, tearing into her in mindless, bloody fury.
He began snapping out of the berserker rage when she stopped screaming. She was lying on her back on the ground, his claws rammed through herlungs and into the ground beneath her, blood bubbling from her mouth and nose as her last breath escaped in a moist hiss, and she lay still beneath him.
Rocking back on his haunches above her, Wolverine squattedover her pelvis, listening intently to the sounds of the forest around him: nothing out of the ordinary. He turned his head slightly into the breeze and sniffed in several directions: nothing but blood and sulfurous gunpowder, animals and forest, metal and fluids from the jet, and Scott at a distance. No strange scents anywhere... if the three had any back-up, they must have hauled ass out of the vicinity.
Still partially in the grip of the feral part of himself, Wolverine looked down at the body of the dead woman beneath him. Sliding the bloody claws from her chest, he pulled the bottom of her shredded t-shirt loose and started wiping the blood off each claw methodically. Something on the front of her shirt caught his attention as he retracted the claws: a splattering of color and pattern beneath the bloodstains. It was a Confederate flag with some words... he held the two torn puzzle-pieces of shirt together over her torso to read it all: "One White Nation Under God."
Fuck. The Klan's gettin' involved in the war against mutants.
The berserker rage was settling down and he glanced again at the face and body of the woman. She was plain, average, nondescript. His gaze swept naturally down across her breasts and belly where she showed a gentle swelling around the navel, above the low-slung belt of her blue jeans. Cocking his head to one side and sniffing deeply again, he picked up the scent of female hormones beneath the blood, adrenalin, and fear-born sweat.
Fuck. She had been pregnant.
That realization jolted him back to himself. He mentally ticked off the new chapter to be added to his nightmares now. There was nothing to be done about it; and the most pressing need, in fact the only thing he could spare any concentration for, was to take care of Summers and somehow get them home in one piece.
Logan could not resist letting his fingertips rest briefly over the swollen belly before he stood and loped back to the plane, calling out to Scott before mounting the hatch to avoid getting his head blown off - no need in spooking the boy while nerves were running wire-tight. Scott was half-curled up on his right side against the back wall of the hold, his left leg stretched out before him with a bloody gash showing across the front of the thigh, and his left arm cradling his right against his chest.
"What's goin' on here, Cyke?" Logan lowered his voice to a soft level, not even realizing he was doing it. Summers was in pain, pale-faced, sweating, and not moving around much, though he did struggle to an upright sitting position, achieving it only with some help.
"I'm pretty messed up here, Logan." Peeling the leather back from the gash, Logan examined the wound closely. The bullet had cut across the front of the thigh, tearing through skin and outer muscle, but not going anywhere near deep enough to reach bone. It would heal, and it wasn't bleeding badly. Grabbing bandages from the first aid kit, he sprayed the gash with the aerosol cleanser that always made his nose burn, and bound up the wound, then reached for Scott's hand to haul him up.
"Can't do it, Logan. I think my arm's broken." He was breathing easier, but still shaky and pale; maybe a little shocky. "I hit the hatch when I went down. I can't move my right hand."
Can't let him freak out here - gotta keep him calm. "Well, your leg ain't broken, so let me help you up and get you into the seat." Sliding an arm behind the younger man's shoulders, Logan eased Scott away from the wall and supported him while he climbed to his feet, gasping once when Logan unwittingly pressed against his wounded limb. Once on his feet, Scott's Fearless Leader genes kicked in and he started organizing their departure.
"Shut and lock down the hatch while I start the engines, then come to the cockpit and help me with the lift-off procedures."
Scott stalked away on steadier feet, and Logan locked down the hatch without another glance around the exterior of the jet. It was time to get the hell out of Dodge City. He felt and heard the still-warm engines come to life and headed back for the cockpit, only to see Scott sitting in the co-pilot's spot. Logan felt his insides turn cold.
"You're in the wrong seat, Cyke."
Scott was all business now: voice cool and level, as no-nonsense as steel. "I can't handle the flight controls with one hand. I can help you, stabilize things, tell you what to do, but you must fly the plane."
"The hell you say!" Logan shouted at him. "I'm no fuckin' pilot - I don't even like bein' on this crate!"
Scott clenched his teeth for a moment and fought to maintain his calm. "Nevertheless, you have to do it. I can handle at least half the work, but it takes two hands to get us off the ground, and back down again, and that's where you come in. Now plant your obstinate ass in that seat!"
"Fuck that! I can't do this, Cyke, and that's the simple truth!" Logan mentally cursed himself for having to admit to Summers that he couldn't do something, but truth was truth: he had no love for planes or flight, and no interest in learning. He was a ground-hugger.
Beneath the roar of the engines, the sound of distant sirens reached his sensitive ears. Three dead and somewhat dismembered local bodies, lots of blood, spent ammo shells amid burnt flora, an unidentified jet, and two bloody and pissed-off mutants facing down the local law enforcement was not a scenario that Logan wanted to play out right now. Cursing a blue streak, he slammed himself into the pilot's seat and buckled himself in place. "The law's comin'. Tell me what to do, and so help me, One-Eye, if we crash this heap and you die on me, I'm gonna piss on your grave every year on your birthday."
With his one steady hand, Scott started throwing switches and adjusting things on the control panel,then flashedLogan a wide grin of confidence before throttling up the engines.
Damn - even bloody and busted up, the kid's at home and feelin' cocky in this plane. Casting a brief glimpse up at the sky above them where some people thought God lived, if there was one, Logan silently asked Whatever-Might-Be-Up-There to get them home in one piece, then focused on Scott's instructions. In moments, the Blackbird lurched up from the ground and rose above the treeline with their combined three hands on her controls, before wobbling drunkenly and slewing laterally for a few yards, then lancing into the sky.
Adjusting a few controls, Scott breathed a little easier and scanned the systems. "We're on course, altitude good, everything's fine..." and he glanced at Logan's face in profile. The feral was pale, tense, his jaw locked tight enough to make Scott's teeth hurt just looking at him. "But the guy in the pilot seat seems... oh, I don't know. Tense?"
Never one to resist an urge, Logan pulled one hand from the controls to flip off Scott, and instantly the plane wobbled slightly before the offending hand grabbed the control again, causing a worse wobble to the opposite side.
"Easy, Logan! Handle that stick like it's a woman, not like you're jerking off in the shower." The plane leveled off again.
"Put this thing on autopilot or something, because I so want to kick your ass right now."
With the pain in Scott's arm lessening, he was starting to relax more, and laughingly indulged in one of his favorite pastimes: verbally poking the Wolverine. "Of course there's an autopilot, but you've got to be on course and cruising to use it, which we are now." He flicked a series of controls and settled back slightly. In less than 30 minutes they'd be home again. "By the way, once we land, you can start breathing again. You're looking a little blue."
"Fuck you, Summers." Logan tried to relax back into the seat, but he was still ramrod straight and trying to watch every direction at once.
"Charming as always... so what's the big deal, anyway? At worst, you'll slam us against the side of a mountain and you'll walk away, you metal-boned bastard. You'll regenerate. Why worry?"
"I don't relish explainin' why you'd be a greasy smear on a hillside when I got back, assuming I did survive a crash. Xavier would have my sorry ass in a sling, what wasn't burnt off."
"Awwww, you like me!" Yeah, use the sweet voice. That'll get him, Scott thought to himself as he realized that he could now flex a few fingers. The right hand and arm possibly weren't broken after all; maybe stunned or sprained and starting to regain feeling.
"Just shut the hell up, Scooter! What are we gonna do when we have to set this thing down? Landing is a whole 'nother problem than taking off, right?"
"Exactly. It's actually much, much more intricate, requiring a delicate touch and some precise maneuvering, especially if there's a bad cross-wind. It's pretty tricky under the best of circumstances. And with the landing pad being so close to the school, it's going to be very dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, with the kids around everywhere, that we ought to land in a field somewhere at a safe distance, so if anything goes wrong, no bystanders will be hurt."
Scott actually bit his lip on the inside to keep from laughing at the nearing-death-from-exasperation expression on Logan's face, and couldn't bring himself to torture the ground-hugger any longer. Scott had been keeping hisrecovering right hand in his lap, out of sight, as the fingers regained their use, circulation and the effects of the stunning blow both slowly returning to normal. He drew a deep breath and sighed dramatically before continuing.
"But then, I realize this is probably the only time you'll truly appreciate this gesture." Raising both hands, he flipped the two-handed bird at Logan in return. "I'll take the pilot's seat now, thanks."
For one of the few times he could remember, Scott heard Logan laugh.