Happy NANOWRIMO! I figured I'd split it a bit between this story and my original one this year. There's no way I'm going to get the whole 50k in with everything going on in my life right now, but I'll do the best I can.
This is a bit of a shorter chap, and it focuses less on Wolvie than some others . . . but I had to get this told so I could move on. Anyway, I'm off to write some more. Enjoy!
Thanks for all who are hanging in there and, as always, a special thanks to my wonderful reviewers! I hope you enjoy the chapter. :)
Chapter 59: Blood and Diamonds
"Oh my God."
"Don't look, ma'am."
"Tommy, honey, don't look. Did you . . . did you see him?"
Fingers, pressing against the side of his neck. Wolverine wanted to flinch away, but couldn't. The fingers jerked back anyway.
"Good Lord. This man is alive!"
Someone rolled him onto his back with a grunt. Fingers peeled back something from his gut, causing pain to flare up his spine. He couldn't even groan, but the pain made him flutter to semi-consciousness, his eyes still wrapped in darkness.
Where was he? How . . . how long ago . . . ?
"Oh hell . . . "
The smell of vomit and bile. Someone being sick nearby—a nauseous smell that didn't help his swimming head one bit.
A hand brushed across his forehead. He would have recoiled—the touch was like a spark of terror down his spine.
Couldn't move . . .
His breath caught in his throat until the touch pulled back.
"He's burning up."
He struggled to open his eyes as something pressed back against his pain-filled middle. Consciousness swam in and out, light creeping in through his eyelids, burning him.
How'd he get here? What did he remember?
. . . . .
. . . nothin' . . .
Pain everywhere. All through him, back burning, guts on fire.
Sun on the side of his face, red and white through his eyelids. White stained with blood and pain and falling.
Small hands on his shoulder, as if trying to shake him awake. He shuddered, instinctively trying to pull away. His breath rasped in his throat.
"Tommy, don't touch him . . ."
Hadn't smelled the lady and kid . . . that out of it. Needed to sit up.
Was that him? Was that his sound, ripped from his throat?
Stomach screaming at him. Felt like he'd been ripped in two. Whatever happened . . . it was bad. Mouth caked with blood. Throat dry as desert.
Eyes cracked open—too bright. He squinted up, wanting to lift a hand to shade his eyes, but his arms wouldn't rise properly, and his eyes shut again. Heard distance exclamations, hands reaching forward to hold him down. He flinched away instinctively, fingers clenching, an arm rising to his gut in a flare of pain.
Panic. People touching him, pushing him down. Liquid beneath him, and cold, cold, cold . . . had he ever felt so cold? Cold as ice, though the sun was hot above him, and sweat beaded on his face. Pain all around.
He shook his head, but immediately stopped so he wouldn't pass out again.
Unconscious, surrounded by people . . . the thought made panic rise in him. He trembled as a hand brushed his forehead, cradling his head above the rocks. The touch burned, somehow flaring beyond even the pain as he leaned back, too weak to pull away. Too weak to move.
Something within his mind snarled at the feeling.
He clenched his eyes shut, panting. Sweat—or blood?—trickled down the side of his face.
This was the animal again—he could feel it rising out of his pain. He couldn't remember why exactly, but something bad would happen if he let it take him now. He couldn't—couldn't let it out.
Wolverine gritted his teeth, tightening his fist against his gut. He gasped with the pain of it, but it cleared his head.
Consciousness swam, but the spike of adrenaline and determination gave him energy enough to open his eyes again.
Nightmares faded to the reality of pain. But he'd take pain over fear any day.
Blurred shadows, and a blue sky overhead. The sight of it brought him back from the brink of madness.
"Let . . . m'up." He inched his arms behind him, determined not to lie helpless on his back even if they didn't help him. Hands went behind him, supporting his him, and Wolverine's voice cracked.
A water bladder touched his lips. The liquid was lukewarm and tasted like it'd been in the sun too long—but it was water. It returned, returned again. He finally got enough energy to peer out at the three blurred faces looking down at him—expressions ranging between nauseous, concerned, and incredulous.
He struggled to sit up farther, but the man behind him held his shoulders as someone smaller knelt in front of him.
"Logan. Don't move."
Logan. His name. Him.
The lady. How'd she know his name?
How'd she . . .
He remembered the scent of the man holding his head—the ranger. Could smell a shotgun nearby—recently fired. "'m okay," Wolverine rasped, trying to get up again. He managed to get away from their hands, using his arms more than his core—propping himself into a sitting position and keeping a hand to the bloodied flag around his middle, drying black mixed with the red and white.
He could sleep this off. It'd take some hours, a day maybe, and this would be nothing more than another bad memory—vague and hazy. But he didn't have time to wait. He had to remember. He had to hold on to the now—keep it harsh and sharp against his consciousness despite the fogginess around him.
They had to move.
He kept a hand over his gut and rose slowly, clenching his teeth to stifle his groans from the stabs of pain as hands caught his bruised and torn shoulders and arms, helping him. Those bits of pain were small—insignificant as he stretched healing skin, tearing healing wounds again as he moved, head lifting as he tried to focus on the blurred river, the twisted remnants of the jeep, the bloodstained rocks under his feet. Tried to keep from shaking, but didn't do any good.
He tore open his own guts as he moved. Healing factor working overtime, pulling him back together.
But just like all his other enhanced senses . . . he could feel every inch of his wounds. Was this pain anything beyond the pain of his body stitching itself back together? It made his breath shudder, his hands shake, but what did it matter?
Sweat dripped down the side of his face, streaking through blood and dirt. He couldn't bother to lift a hand to wipe it away.
What . . . did . . . this t'. . . me?
They were talking to him, but he didn't hear it. Eyes focused on a scrap of white fur and flesh, ripped from a monster. The smell of decay and vileness.
He inhaled sharply, pulling away from the hands as the memories returned like a wave. The pain was no less, but he had it under control.
He couldn't afford weakness.
Wolverine turned to the rangers and the lady, shoulders hunched around himself and one arm crossed over his middle. Their eyes were no wider than the kid's—his mom clung to the boy more than he clung to her. The lady looked pale—her hair plastered on one side with her own blood—near ready to tip over. He knew how she felt.
He had to focus on taking a good enough breath to be able to speak.
"T-take the kid," Wolverine said, pointing roughly at the rookie ranger, whose hair looked redder than ever against his plaster-pale face. His finger swung to the older ranger, who'd been supporting him from behind and now looked like he was waiting to catch Wolverine when he fell again. Wasn't going to happen. "Help her." He wiped his arm across his lips, flaking away and smearing drying blood. He ignored their stares, like he ignored the blinding pain as he took a step forward, and another. He glanced back, but didn't catch their eyes. Didn't want them to see the pain there. Didn't want to see the looks in their eyes, either. "Got a . . . a safe place?" he panted.
"The Ranger's Way Station, a little over two miles out. But—"
No time to rest. No time to wait. "Th'Wendigo—think . . . heals faster than me." He remembered feeling his claws cut through tendon and muscle—had hardly slowed it down. "It'll . . . be back."
"W-wendigo?" the kid ranger—Brady?—stammered as he took the kid from his mom, staring at him. He was slightly green—it was him who'd sicked up earlier. Wolverine looked him over briefly, and the kid looked away.
"Yer call," Wolverine said, stifling a groan as he took another step. He could feel their eyes staring at him. Feel skin stretching back over exposed ribs on his back. Feel his guts curling back into place like snakes. Every agonizing inch, screaming inside.
"Move," he gruffed, not looking back. He could still feel their eyes on him, watching the wounds on his back draw together and begin to fade. Made him feel exposed. Naked.
He gritted his teeth and ignored all of it.
Kurt managed to transport himself and Emma Frost a number of floors up Magneto's metal fortress before his powers had began to fade. When Emma dropped out of contact with the others, they'd decided there was nowhere to go but forward on foot, sliding as shadows through the shadow-dimmed hallways.
"This is what your fool heroics get you X-Men," Frost said, fixing one of her gloves as they walked, her heels cringingly loud on the metal floor. She'd taken the teleporting well enough: the first time Kurt teleported with people it usually ended with them heaving on the floor. Frost had simply dabbed at her forehead with a pale handkerchief, and when the last one felt like squeezing through a bottle she'd calmly suggested they not try that again. "Stuck in a metal tower, surrounded by enemies—the least of which is the master of magnetism himself. And now we continue on without the strength of our powers."
"Ve are not completely helpless," Nightcrawler said with a flash of his pointed teeth. His blue fur and dark clothes made him almost invisible in the dim light. "Keep your eye out for a sabre or rapier: I am not half bad myself."
"So that's who you are, is it? A demonic priest, who spends his time learning the art of swordplay?"
Kurt shook his head good-naturedly. "Laugh if you vish, Ms. Frost, but I have found peace with who I am. Can you, vit all your beauty, say the same?"
"So you noticed." Emma brushed a hand across her pale cheek, but Kurt didn't look twice at her. She lifted an eyebrow. "So. You're the one the Wolverine trusts to handle me," she said.
"You think he vas wrong to?"
"What I think, priest, is that if I truly wanted to give you X-Men trouble, any or all of you would be hard-pressed to stop me."
"Not to hurt your pride, but you could not use your telepathy against us all at once, Ms. Frost."
"If I wished to make a crass frontal assault, you may be right. But who said anything about telepathy at all?" Emma said, casting a cool smile back at him. Kurt frowned at her back.
Mid-step, Emma suddenly tensed, then whipped around and struck out with a fist. Kurt blinked as her fist stopped dead in mid-air, and a white-haired woman rippled into visibility out of the air, holding Emma's wrist where she'd caught it in front of her face.
The woman slammed her foot into Emma's gut, who went skidding across the floor. A man suddenly popped into existence in front of where she landed, grinning. His face was laced with black tattoos lining his brow and chin.
Vanisher. Kurt had read of him on the school's database. Teleporting was his power, and apparently it wasn't blocked like his own powers.
Kurt didn't bother trying to teleport; he crouched, leaping towards the pale-haired woman with unnatural grace. He swung at her, but the movement was slow for him: it barely brushed her shoulder as she dodged aside, coming across and grabbing his shoulder. She used his own momentum to flip him over—he landed on his feet, but stumbled slightly.
Whatever Magneto was doing, it was affecting more than just his teleportation.
"Your mutation is an interesting one," the woman said, eying him. "Have you ever wondered what it felt like to be normal?" She reached out a hand towards him, and Nightcrawler felt a burning on his skin, like a thousand ants crawling up his arms. He looked down to see the blue of his fur shifting, rippling away to pale skin.
He staggered back, holding up his hand as if to block her, yet unable to tear his eyes away from the sight of his own human skin.
"Stop this!" he cried.
She smiled at him, and the air rippled. She vanished into thin air.
Kurt turned sharply, hands raised to block a strike he couldn't see. The first strike hit his chin, spinning him on his heel. He fell, scrambling to put his back to the wall so she couldn't come up behind him.
Down the hall, Emma ducked, rolling to the side with surprising grace considering her high heels as Vanisher appeared and disappeared, darting in and out like a phantom.
"Emma—the other—" Kurt tried.
"Strike to your right—now!" Emma snapped, not glancing at him.
Kurt reacted without hesitation, whipping around with a roundhouse kick towards empty air. His foot caught someone's midsection—the pale-haired woman appeared, doubled-over and gasping for air. Kurt flipped back, catching her chin with his heel. She went down hard.
There was a grunt, and Kurt looked up in surprise to see Vanisher collapse to the ground like a rag doll.
Emma pulled back her fist and calmly straightened her white clothes. "My powers may be weakened, but I could still sense where he was going to appear," she said. "It was in the front of his mind." She considered the unconscious man. "Man has a glass jaw."
Emma spread her fingers in front of her, looking at the veins of diamond sketched from her wrist to her fingers. One finger was transparent save for the scarlet spider webs of blood vessels through the diamond, and a stretch along her knuckles had turned diamond only on the surface. Muscle bended and twisted beneath the surface. Emma clenched her hand and the diamond vanished.
"My powers are working about as well as yours," she said, brushing back a strand of hair that had fallen out of place. She pulled a white handkerchief from her belt and dabbed at her face. Clearly the effort had been a strain, even in such small amounts.
"The woman—she . . . changed me." Kurt raised a hand, bending his two long fingers and thumb together. "It doesn't not seem to be permanent." He reached out a hand toward her, but Emma shook her head, eyes scanning the room—but not for anything visible.
"Whatever her powers were, she is not the main source of what's blocking our powers. I can still barely track your mind—theirs, unconscious, are invisible to me. We need to hurry."
They moved up the halls, keeping low but moving quickly. Kurt often went on all fours, peering around the turns. Doorways began appearing at intervals—bedchambers, some, or massive halls with metal pillars stretching towards iron chandeliers. They hung hauntingly in the unlit shadows, the metal seeming to seep all warmth from the starlight seeping in the giant windows along the halls.
The corridor opened up to a wide promenade—eerily empty in the darkness.
Kurt turned, staring out a balcony that looked over the ocean. They'd risen up near the top of these towers, and it seemed as if he could see to the edge of the world. Moonlight danced on the endless sea, glimmering white diamonds among black velvet.
"Watch the hall," Frost said, turning towards the double doors behind them.
Emma pushed inside, expecting another grand hall, but her heels fell on plush carpet. She stilled, staring at the bed in the middle of the room, then slowly moved forward.
She slowed as she saw the grey-headed figure. There was no question who was sleeping in that bed.
Emma paused over the bed, a hand rising towards him slightly.
In her diamond form, all it would take was a twitch of her wrist to snap his neck. The end of the mutant terrorist—
Kurt stepped into the room. "Emma? Is—"
Magneto's eyes shot open.
A sheet of metal struck the blue furred man sideways, sweeping him outside the window, shattering glass out into the night. Another swept towards her, wrapping her in a stiff embrace. Magneto staggered as she struck at him telepathically, but with her powers weakened he was able to reach for his helmet. He slid it down around his head and rose—free from her weakened mental touch.
He gathered his robe around him. "You are not an X-Man," he said, his blue steel eyes fixed on hers. Emma was not easily cowed, but this was a powerful man before her. A hard man.
"These days they'll let anyone into their ranks," she said, voice cool. "Though apparently you've stooped even lower. Kidnapping, Magneto?"
"You're referring to my daughter," he said, voice hard as steel. Not at all like a normal person who had just been woken from his bed.
Emma's lip curled. "According to rumor you have a few of those running around. That hardly justifies you sweeping them away from their lives on a whim."
He watched her. "You are not like the rest of them. You're no blind optimistic fool—you know what mutants face. You have faced them." His eyes narrowed. "You are a telepath. Not one as powerful as Charles Xavier, perhaps, but certainly an asset to have. Join me, and you'll find yourself a part of something far greater. A true part of mutant kind—standing where we belong, above and apart. Something more powerful than these naïve children, playing at heroes. Mankind hunts us, and would kill us if they were given the chance. Join me."
Emma stared at him a long moment, pale. Images of screams and fire and ash danced behind her eyes—her students, dying around her as they reached out with melting fingers, catching at her as she stared, frozen and unfeeling in diamond. Reaching out to them as their skin turned black and crumbled. Bodies crushed under debris, leaving only her—unscratched, cold, and forever hard. Victims of hate: only children—killed because they looked different, or could do something that none other could. Because they were mutants.
"Almost," she said, her voice hoarse. She swallowed, wetting her throat. "Almost, Magneto. But not enough."
The ground rumbled beneath their feet—metal vibrating against Emma's heels. Magneto frowned, looking to the hall, confident in her helplessness.
Emma Frost's heart felt cold and hard, and she embraced the feeling—supple flesh turning unbreakable, eyes turning soulless as she changed to diamond and left the pain behind.
It wasn't as complete as usual—flesh marbled through diamond, and she could see unchanged bone and muscle beneath diamond skin on her arm. But it was enough. She stretched, bending through steel and towards him.
Emma dodged another flying sheet of metal, ducking towards him. Magneto moved back, attention torn. Clearly something bigger was going on in the hallways; the floor was rumbling again, and Emma had the distinct feeling that the entire tower was swaying precariously with the quaking.
Emma ducked, striking out and hitting the man flat in the chest. Magneto fell back against the wall, and Emma followed through, hands going to his throat. Magneto held up a hand—a bar of metal grabbed her wrists as her fingers clenched around his throat.
They froze, the floor quaking, cold blue eyes locked on those flecked with spots of unfeeling diamond. Gridlocked.
"Look what they do to us," Magneto whispered, blood running from the side of his head from where he hit the wall. His eyes were desperate, but not with fear. Fervor. "They turn us against each other. United nothing could stop us. Nothing!"
Emma's lips tightened. She could feel the pressure of the metal against the half-diamond flesh of her wrists, feel it pressing against her with a strength that would have left her human bones broken to dust. She trembled, sweat beading on her still-flesh brow.
"Go to hell," she said.
With a grunt, she pushed back, separating him from her. The metal ripped away from her wrist, leaving a bloody scratch along the pale remaining flesh on the back of her arm. The wall suddenly opened up behind Magneto and he stepped back through, sealing it behind him.
Apparently he had bigger problems to worry about right now.
Emma swore, striding to the balcony and looking around for Nightcrawler.
He hung precariously on a metal gargoyle twenty paces down—hands clinging, but powers weakened too much to carry him up to safety. Emma glanced back at the room—Magneto had gone, probably to the commotion in the hall—and let herself revert to flesh. She gasped and wavered on her feet at the effort, and held onto the shattered wall to keep from getting swept over the edge with the gusting wind.
"Nightcrawler!" she shouted, regaining her balance and stepping carefully forward. "Hold on, Kurt."
"If you insist," Kurt said faintly from below, with a flash of a grin despite the danger.
Emma set her jaw, heading back to the room and moving quickly to pull the sheets off the bed and. She tore strips, tying it together into a rough rope. She tested it, pulling tight before lowering it down. The white lengths swung dozens of stories above waves crashing into razor-sharp rocks below. Kurt's ubiquitous smile shook a hair as he reached out, trusting his grip on the sheets as Emma strained to pull him up. He scrambled onto the platform himself, climbing to his feet a safe distance from the edge. Emma joined him, flesh again and pale from the exertion.
"You're hurt," Kurt said, reaching for her arm.
"Just a scratch," Emma said, looking down and grimacing at the splatter of blood on her white clothing. "Well, this outfit is ruined," she sighed, wiping her forehead.
"Where did he go?"
"To the fighting, I'd assume. We need to hurry and shut down whatever is blocking our powers. This way." Emma heading out the room and down the corridor. She'd glimpsed into Magneto's mind just enough.
It was close—Magneto obviously didn't want Lorna to be far. Just down the hallway Emma stopped at a blank length of metal walling, clenching her fist.
Emma concentrated, sweat beading on her forehead as she turned her right arm to diamond from fingertips to shoulder and slammed against the seamless wall. It caved in a foot, splitting the metal in the center from the force. She drew back, diamond webbing up her neck as she gritted her teeth and pulled back for another swing. The wall caved, and the third swing she slammed clean through into an elaborately-furnished bedroom.
Lorna was already on her feet, the light on overhead despite the dazed look of someone who'd been wrenched out of sleep suddenly—and she stared as they broke through the wall into her room, a hand flying up defensively as she saw Emma.
Emma eyed her coolly, diamond evaporating like frost above a flame. "Why haven't you freed yourself already?"
Lorna's open hand closed into a trembling fist, her jaw tightening, and she stepped forward as if ready to resort to fists.
Kurt stepped forward quickly. "She is with us, Polaris."
The green-haired woman's fist lowered, her eyes flicking from Emma. "Alex?"
Kurt nodded. "He is here."
"My powers aren't working. I can barely lift a thimble."
"It seems to be affecting us all. Do you know what is causing it?" Kurt asked.
Lorna shook her head, rubbing her eyes. "Magneto—he allowed me to walk the halls, at times. It always seems worse whenever I return up here."
Emma nodded. "Up we go, then."
The lights overhead flickered, flooding the room with complete darkness before blinking back on. Kurt glanced at Emma, who blinked at Polaris. She smirked suddenly.
"What was that?" Lorna asked.
"That must be our other dear X-Men," Emma said, feeling the minds around her clearly once again. "Lorna, darling, be a dear and open up the ceiling, would you? Kurt—once you can see up a few floors, port us up. I think our friends could use a hand."
TBC . . .