Reality faded in and out of Scott's consciousness, a blessing really. At best, the surgical cut in his abdomen was a dull roar of pain; at worst, it felt like someone was poking at his insides with white-hot tongs. He'd have to ask the boys later if that was an accurate description of what happened. Throbbingly lucid at the moment, he concentrated on what they'd need to survive.
"Crutches for Remy," he said, "Sling his arm to his chest."
"We're trying to find some," said Alex.
"Remy, blueprints." Scott took a breath then took a second to regret it. "Barracks and laundry chutes, right?"
"Damn. You're right." Remy turned to Adam. "Which floor are we on?"
"The second," Adam answered immediately. "First are the vats, second are the tubes and ORs, third are the cells and pens, fourth are barracks."
"There has to be cloth somewhere around here," said Alex. "Scrubs, lockers, something."
"Near ORs," Scott said. "How many are there?"
"Two," Remy said. "Two rooms that could be ORs according to the blueprints."
"It wasn't anywhere near here," said Alex.
"Even better. That means it's probably undamaged. Let's go."
"Remy, your leg..." But Scott faded out again, those hot tongs squeezing at his guts past endurance.
When he came to again, he felt the familiar tickle of optic blasts behind his eyes. He wasn't moving and lay horizontally. Smoke still stung his nostrils but not heavily. Gunfire and shouts came in the direction of his feet, probably twenty feet away but he couldn't be sure. Scott reached out to one side to get a feel of the terrain.
"You awake, Scotty?" Remy's voice came from two feet above, three o' clock.
"Six armed guards. Baseline, not mutants. Alex and Adam are clearing the path." He chuckled. "Not bad for a couple of kids, huh?"
Scott scrounged up a smile. "Us geezers just need... our second wind."
"Speak for yourself. I'm enjoying my break. Pun intended."
"No such thing as a good pun." Remy got back to the impromptu debriefing. "The OR's just past the guards. Think the debris's giving the reinforcements a hard time."
"Hasn't come back yet. You know how it is when it first catalyses. He's still crap at hitting his targets, though. The boy needs glasses but he won't admit it."
"Can't have two four-eyed... nerds in the family. Adam?"
"As far as I can tell, he burns people."
"It'd be more useful if he could do it to inanimate objects. It's the opposite of me." Remy blew air out between his teeth. "The reinforcements are here."
"Between us and the boys. They're holding them off for now but-- crap, I think Alex just ran out of ammo."
Scott wedged his elbow against the wall but he just didn't have any upper body strength. "Sit me up."
"No fucking chance in hell."
"I can do more damage than you in the same amount of time."
"Only when you don't have a gaping hole in your stomach."
"While we're arguing, Adam and Alex are getting their asses kicked."
Remy swore. "Fine. If you pass out, I'm going to-- do something. It'll be bad. You'll scream like a baby." Throughout the threat, he propped Scott up using his own torso as a lever. He positioned Scott's head. "Okay. Now."
Scott opened his eyes and didn't hold back. It felt like his whole body was being wrung out through his skull. He stayed awake long enough to see Alex and Adam flatten on the floor away from his blast. He passed out again to the sound of Remy cursing a blue streak.
Moving through the jungle with Scott in a stretcher and Remy on a crutch was little better than standing still. Alex and Adam were also burdened with a bunch of stuff from the compound-- a bucket, bandages and a couple pints of water, among others. Remy hoped their luck held and the damage would keep everyone busy for a few hours. His projectiles cleared a lot of room and once they got outside, Alex chucked a few of them around the village to increase confusion. Most of the frantic mob didn't wear uniforms. Hopefully most of the troops had been caught in Alex's initial blast.
"Where can we go?" asked Alex once they were far away enough from the compound.
"Caves," Remy said. "The mountains 'round here are supposed to be riddled with them."
"That was my plan, too," said Adam.
"They better be at a ground level," Alex said with a grunt.
The greenery grew thicker the further they trudged into the jungle, tree roots and the spongy forest floor mucking the way. Over-sized leaves slapped at their faces, thick ropes of branches or vines or a combination of both clogging the space between the foliage. It took half an hour to walk a quarter mile because of all the side-stepping. Sometime in there, Scott woke up and they had to administer a purloined pain pill. Surprisingly, Remy didn't tire out as quickly as he thought he would. He was too wired.
They reached the karstic limestone formations where the commotion from the compound softened to a murmur.
"Let's go farther in," said Alex. "We'll be harder to find that way."
"Make sure we're not so deep the commes can't receive," Remy said. "This ain't the way I'm going to die."
"No one's dying," said Scott curtly. The effort made him cough, jarring the bandages over his stomach.
Alex tried to glare back at Remy but the effort of holding Scott's stretcher up prevented it. "Ignore Remy; he's always Mr. Sunshine, remember?"
Genosha's limestone mountains were pretty damn amazing. Any other time, Remy was sure Alex would start going on and on about why there were around and what they were made of and whether they were edible or whatever. But Alex's jaws were firmly gritted, waves of heat coming off him like whatever he exploded out had a slow leak.
"Alex, I'm frickin' tired," said Adam. "Let's stop at the next cave."
"Not yet," said Alex.
Adam and Remy shared a look. "Scott needs to stay still for a while," said Remy. "And we should settle in before it gets too dark to do all that survivalist shit. Water, fire, look for grub."
They arrived at the perfect cave a couple minutes later. Adam went in to scout it out and make sure it had enough room before they pulled Scott in. Remy winced as he bent under the lip of the cave. Now that they stopped walking, his leg and arm throbbed. Clumsily, he sat down and dragged himself the rest of the way in. When he lifted his hand to wipe sweat from his face, it shook.
He shivered. It was hot as hell and humid but he shivered. All he could feel was that gel around him and that... sick, twisted vacuum-cleaner on his... Remy gagged. Oh Christ. Oh, Jesus Fucking Christ, he remembered his old room in his mom's house. The smell of the sheets was just like the smell inside that mask.
"Scott's out again," Adam's voice bled into the periphery of his consciousness. Remy concentrated on the present-day conversation with all his might.
"Wake him up every hour," Alex said.
"I thought that was for concussions."
Alex shrugged, the dwindling light turning his form into a silhouette. "I don't know. It seems like a good idea. How're you doing, Remy?"
"For real, man. If you pass out, I'm going to be real pissed."
Silence from Remy. "The arm hurts," he finally said. "But I'll do. If it changes, I'll let you know."
"What about you?" Adam asked Alex. "Do you feel... explodey?"
Alex weighed himself. "I don't think so. There's no build up in my gut. I think we're safe."
"Maybe you should try to release energy once in a while," said Remy. "Remember when I was younger? I had to charge things every hour to siphon off the energy."
"You could do it for the fire," suggested Adam.
"We need the fire for Scott anyway," Alex said.
"I'll find some firewood."
"Stay close," Remy said.
"I didn't finally rescue myself only to get captured again," said Adam, his tone deliberately light.
While Adam scouted, there was nothing left to distract him. Remy decided to tutor Alex in the fine art of energy-based powers.
"Remember everything that happened to that point," he said. "How your whole body felt."
"I'm trying," said Alex. He bit his tongue and stared holes into the floor.
"Do you feel anything?" asked Remy.
"Besides hot? No. Isn't there a muscle I should flex or something?"
"Maybe. Depends on the person."
Adam re-entered with armfuls of branches and twigs. "I feel mine behind my eyes," he said. He dropped his find close to the back of the cave but gathered the kindling near the mouth.
"Mine's in the fingertips," Remy said. He rubbed his thumb across his lower lip. "But I don't really flex anything. I just know there's stuff there and if I imagine them moving quickly, it happens."
"Yeah, me too. There's one guy who's made of tar. He said his power was all flexing."
"This is frickin' hard," said Alex.
"Think of it as learning to use a sense," said Remy.
"New sense. Right."
Ten minutes later, sunlight barely penetrated the forests and Alex still couldn't light a blade of grass.
"We gotta get that fire," Remy said.
"It's too hot," said Adam. "Do we really need one?"
Alex bent over Scott, feeling for a fever. "It's not for the heat, it's for the animals. There might be more than lemurs around here."
"Great." Remy sighed and rubbed his chest. "Mosquitoes, snakes and other carnivores on top of the humans trying to shoot us." He coughed, almost recovered then went into a coughing fit serious enough to pull Alex from Scott's side. "I'm fine," he said then promptly belied himself by wheezing.
"I should've tried to find some more medicine," said Adam, fitfully arranging and rearranging the tinder for their fire.
Remy shook his head, shoulders jerking with the force of his coughs His stupid fucking lungs. Times like these he wished he didn't love his cigarettes so much. "Would've... gotten caught."
"Too late to do anything about it," Alex said. "We only have to wait until the other X-Men get here. As long as you don't strain yourself, Remy, you'll hold out, right?"
"Oh yeah. Air... highly over-rate-- over-rated." Slamming his fist on the ground, Remy straightened, trying to suck in more air but his lungs spasmed again. "Don't!" he barked when Alex bent over him. "Just... I don't want to be touched right now, okay?"
"Fuck that bullshit Remy, I just--"
"No, I get it," said Adam. "Just back off for a while, okay, Alex?"
Alex swivelled his head between the two of them. "What?"
Remy closed his eyes and shook his head, not wanting to answer. Adam answered for him anyway.
"The collector," he said.
"The what?" Alex's tone clearly showed that he was fresh out of understanding at the moment.
"Leave it alone," Remy said, the words barely making it through his chattering teeth.
"I don't want to leave it, Remy, you're shivering. You could have a fever from an infection." Alex reached over again.
Remy swatted him away. "Alex, I fucking mean it! Don't touch me!" Shouting tightened his bronchioles; he coughed again.
Reedy, nearly a whisper, Adam spoke. "Inside the tubes is this machine. It... it collects your... y'know, genetic material. Sperm."
Alex was thankfully silent.
"It doesn't do it surgically, it sort of... it has this tube and... it makes you feel like, like you like what it's doing even though it's--"
"Shut. Up. Adam," Remy growled.
For several minutes, the only sound in the cave was breathing.
Then: "We should really get a fire started," said Alex.
Remy held his hand out. "I can do it," he said. "Give me something to charge."
Adam placed several twigs in his hand. Wincing, Remy called the energy in the molecules of the twigs. The first sparks hurt this time, shooting up his arm and into the side of his head like the beginnings of a migraine. Closing his eyes, he urged them faster and faster until the glow bled through his eyelids. Even after someone snatched the make-shift match away, Remy kept his eyes closed. He needed all his energy not to remember.
Scott hurt. Not just his stomach although that hurt like nothing he'd ever experienced before or ever hoped to experience again. His head hurt trying to think of a way to get them out of here. His eyes hurt from containing his optic blasts. His heart hurt from...
"This sucks," said Adam.
"Understatement of the century, dude," Alex said.
"The only way it could be worse is--"
"Don't tempt Fate. Just shut up right now."
Scott had to distract himself. "Adam."
"Essex said... uniform collar has suppression collar?"
"Yeah. It was on when we were in lock-down." He heard Adam move closer. "The rest of the time, it was sort of half-on."
"Side-effects?" Adam's puzzlement was obvious. "What kind of side-effects?"
"We found a collar... did some tests. One of the student had coma... she wore for eight hours."
"Whoa. I haven't heard anything like that happen," said Adam. "But Gorgeous George mentioned that the older versions were clunkier. Maybe you guys got one of those."
"Talk to Hank and Forge at school. Those could be helpful..." Scott ran out of breath. He adjusted his breathing in hopes of easing the pressure of the movement on his wound.
From his side of the cave, Remy let out a soft, impatient growl. "Scotty, we're in a cave waiting to get shot at; do you have to bring up Rogue now?"
Scott frowned. "You brought it up but if you want... we were... at 'irresponsible' and... 'violation of trust.'"
"While you're in lecture mode, grab a look at Iceman and Jubilee and give 'em a little something about sleeping around during missions. He ain't even smart enough to realise how fucking precious she is. Didn't even penetrate his tiny little wiener of a brain. She's one of the most talented, most powerful, most beautiful-- and he threw that away for a fucking fling."
"Not remotely viable... justification. They're trainees. Held as hostage, thrown into warzones. Reaching out to each other's understandable."
"Don't mean Rogue was just emotionally expendable." Remy snorted.
"Sex therapy. How... magnanimous," said Scott, his tone even drier than usual.
"Remy dated one of Scott's students?" When Alex maintained a telling silence, Adam whistled. "Did you run out of grown-ups in the state to sleep with?"
Remy didn't seem to have the energy to let out a believable "Shut up, Adam."
"Is she at least as old as me?"
"You got no right to get pissed off," Remy told Scott. "While we're throwing accusations around, let's talk about you and Jean, who you met when you were seventeen and she was twenty-four."
Scott gripped the blanket, tamping down the urge to shout. He knew Remy would bring that up. "That's different."
"Of course it is. They're rich enough to be allowed to do any damn thing."
"No dating until... I was twenty," Scott said through gritted teeth. "After we'd known each other three years. And was never... my teacher."
"Rogue ain't my student."
"You weren't mentoring for three months?"
Huffing, Alex scooted away to the lip of the cave by the sound of it, tugging a frantically whispering Adam with him. "That's exactly why I refuse to fall in love," he said. "Do you not see a pattern? Summers' aren't genetically alcoholics; we're genetically love-a-holics. We obsess about it. And when it's gone, it's like we OD on it. Look what happened to Dad after Mom died."
"Not true," Scott began, but Remy interrupted.
"Oh really? That wasn't a mickey of Jack Daniels I found in your room?"
Alex shifted. "You drink?"
"I never drink," said Scott. "Just look. When did I give you permission... to look in my room, Remy?"
"You're changing the subject," Adam pointed out.
Scott sighed. His body protested.
"Rogue's my partner," Remy bit out.
"Dude, I don't think you're supposed to sleep with your partners," said Alex.
"You really slept with her? Gross, Remy!" said Adam
"Stay out of it!" Scott barked.
"You wouldn't know nothing 'bout partners," Remy said, "All you ever do is order everyone around then run back to Daddy Warbucks and Warren the WonderChicken the second you carve your commandments on the wall."
The boys' voices faded in and out; Scott was going to lose consciousness soon. "I entrusted her care to you, defended your training. Mistakenly believed... you had sense of accountability."
"Big words coming from a guy who barely visits his own family," Remy said.
"When was... last time I was around and you wanted me there?" There was no answer. Heat stung the back of Scott's eyes. "I try to help, I'm a controlling asshole. I give space, I'm negligent. You boys... make up your minds."
"Cry me a fucking river."
"Stick it up... your fucking ass."
"Whoa," Adam whispered in harmony with Alex's low whistle.
That wasn't something he wanted the boys to hear. Scott reigned his temper in. "Alex, talk with team... before they left?"
"Yeah," said Alex, his tone carefully neutral. "I told you about it on the way here, remember?"
No, he didn't. Crap. "How long since start-op?"
"Five hours, twenty-seven minutes if the clock on this commelink isn't broken."
Scott heard him shrug. "Nothing specific. Gav was hurt bad though."
Adam's breathing caught but he didn't say anything.
"Warren, too. He was making a lot of noise in the background."
"What kind?" Scott had to ask.
"Uh, screaming type noise."
Remy chuckled acridly. "Damn and I'm not there to see it."
"Lay off, Remy," Scott said. "So tired of you, Warren fighting. Been at it ten years."
Sniggering floated in from Adam's corner. "You know what they say about people who fight constantly. They secretly want each other. Ow! How do you even aim in the complete dark?"
"Bit of infrared vision," Remy said. "I don't like Worthington 'cause he thinks he's better than everyone."
"Explains it," said Scott. "You think the same."
"I ain't anything like Worthington!"
"Both like the ladies," said Alex.
"Both have a lot of money." Adam added.
"Obviously, both use a lot of hair stuff."
"And have nice sports cars."
"And fight over Scott."
"Enough, everyone," said Scott. "How long since... contact X-Men?"
"Forty minutes," Alex replied. He tipped the water bottle into Scott's mouth but swallowing, unsurprisingly, also hurt.
"How'd you...get here anyway?" Scott asked him.
"I snuck into the jet," he said. "I knew you'd need me to save your ass again."
Scott cracked a smiled at that. Instead he patted Alex's arm. "Yeah. Big damn hero. Commelink batteries?"
"Good job. Looks like you never... needed me after all." His voice cracked. Stupid injury.
"Look out, guys. He's becoming emo like Adam," said Remy.
"Remy, that's so not--" Adam stopped himself to address Scott instead. "Scott, you're like oxygen. You need it so much you don't even think about it."
Scott couldn't form a reply.