Adam liked camping out as a kid like all boys did. Who wouldn't love an excuse to get dirty? From now on, he promised he was only going to the best hotels. Four stars or nothing. Never again would drinking from a cracked bucket or eating under-ripe fruit be any sort of thrill.
The waiting dragged into forever. The fire they'd been so proud off sent too much smoke into the cave. Putting it outside could call attention so they just put it out. Adam alternated between wall-climbing boredom and pee-inducing paranoia. Scott dozed, his sleep fitful and his consciousness even more so. Alex kept swearing to himself as he crawled from Scott to Remy and back. To top it all off, Adam was starving.
"When we get back home, I'm going to eat a dozen burgers, five large fries, two milkshakes and a pie," he said.
Remy groaned. "Don't start. I got an inch-thick T-bone in the freezer waiting for me. Mix that up with Mrs. Rasputin's garlic and rosemary mashed potatoes, grilled veg, foie gras on a pile of steamed spinach and a bottle of cab sauv to wash it all down."
"I'm going to live in a Mexican restaurant for a week and eat enchiladas until I puke," said Alex.
"How much longer until the X-Men get here?" Adam asked.
Alex shrugged. "We're not due to try again for another fourteen minutes."
"Maybe it can't transmit from here."
"It transmits. It has bars and static. It transmits."
Adam crossed his arms. "You think you're bad-ass, don't you?"
"I know I'm bad-ass, infant."
"You wouldn't've really cut Vertigo's throat, would you?"
A broken chuckle came from the back of Alex's throat. "She had green hair. Like Lorna." He sighed. "Honestly, I was pissed off but I don't think I would have--" He stopped again. "Scratch that. I was so fucking scared I think I might have actually done it if she didn't talk." Tremors shook his last few words. "How do you do it, Remy? How do you and Scott go out and fight people like that?"
"So much for bad-ass," said Remy.
"Fuck off." Alex sighed again. "I've never met people who really couldn't hold back, y'know? I could tell by the way Vertigo looked at me that she really didn't care about hurting me. Or anyone. I think she even liked it."
"She did," Adam said softly.
"It made me wonder..." Alex's voice faded off for a few seconds. He was breaking a twig, the rhythmic snapping felt like a whip crack. "I act all tough but I was really lost in there, guys. If my mutation hadn't catalyzed at that exact moment, we would've all been dead. All because I thought I was bad-ass enough to rescue everyone."
"But it did catalyze," said Remy. "You were stupid, yeah, but you've always had the greatest luck with your stupidity."
"I never had to rescue you the way I did Scott and Adam."
From the back of the cave, Scott stirred, hissing presumably as the painkillers slowly lost their effectiveness. They'd only had four left from what they found in the wreckage. "Boys?"
Alex scurried to his side. "Still all present and accounted for."
"Adam. How--" Scott grimaced, trying not to touch his stomach.
"I'm good," Adam said, pushing all tremors from his voice. "Looking better than you, even."
"That ain't too difficult," said Remy. His sarcasm sounded forced.
Scott's lips twisted up in a wry grin, or at least an attempt at it. "Remy's fine."
"Still sexy," was the flippant confirmation.
"Don't make me laugh," Scott said. "It tickles... when I laugh."
"Would it be crass if I made a joke about spilling your guts laughing?" asked Alex.
"Indubitably," said Adam.
"Will you stop it with the big words?"
Adam stuck his middle finger out, not caring that no one could see.
"Sit-rep?" Scott asked, his head turned towards Remy but it was Alex who updated him.
Adam half-crawled to Remy and sat down beside him. "How're you doing?"
"I'm fine," Remy said, aggrieved.
"It was just a very minor flip out."
"Not a gaping wound?" Adam ended for him.
The upturned of Remy's mouth could almost be a smile. "No. Not that. You?"
"No gaping wounds either."
"You keep messing with Alex, that might change."
"Nah. I can kick butt now. I have a codename and everything. Plus my uniform's nicer than yours."
"Your uniform was all white. All that means is that your boss doesn't mind you becoming targets." He almost reached for Adam's arm but rested his hand on his lap instead. "You get bored waiting for us to rescue you?"
"Totally. No cable. I have no idea what's going on with The 70's Show."
"It's been cancelled."
"What?" Adam smacked his head back against the cave wall. "Dammit, I knew something horrible was going to happen while I was gone."
Twisting the knife a little deeper, Remy added. "Also, Batman Begins rocked harder than a prom king in the Playboy Mansion."
Adam whimpered. "The Batmobile?"
"V8 engine, Hoosier front racing tires, two pairs of Interco four-by-four mud tires in the back and Baja racing truck suspension. Looked like a cross between a Hummer and a Lamborghini with a jet-engine strapped to its ass."
"My life is officially not worth living."
Alex interrupted the conversation by shoving a water bottle at them "Two mouthfuls for Remy, one for Adam. Keep it in your mouth as long as possible. If you spill any, I'll beat you."
"Sure you will, Duke Nukem," said Remy, taking the bottle. "You only giving Adam one 'cause he's so puny?"
"'Cause I'm not hurt," Adam corrected. "Don't worry your little gangster self, Remy; we can still protect you on one mouthful of water each."
"Yeah, didn't you hear?" Some trick of the light outlined Alex's grin. "Our baby brother is X-treme."
"Extremely what?" asked Scott.
"His codename. It's X-treme."
In the silence, Adam realised that he was waiting for their reaction to the name. He might have even been nervous.
"You actually chose 'X-treme' as a codename?" Laughter coloured Remy's voice.
"Yeah," Adam said petulantly. "What's wrong with X-treme? It's better than Gambit. That's like a checkers move or something, isn't it? What does that have to do with stealing things? I bet you just chose it because it sounded cool."
"At least it's not as gay as X-treme." Remy shook his head sadly. "C'mon, Adam, I thought I taught you better than that? Only pretty- fly- white- guys from Podunk, Suburbia pick codenames like X-treme."
Adam cocked his head to one side. "We totally come from Sunnyville, San Diego, remember?"
"Yeah, but we've got a real dysfunctional family," said Alex. "You can't be fly for a white guy if you've got legitimate issues."
"Scott, they're bugging me," Adam whined.
Scott automatically barked out a "Quit bugging Adam." Then he grabbed onto a passing thought. "Spelled with X or E?"
Scott sighed. "Sorry, Adam, but... expected better."
Adam pounded the ground with a fist as his brothers burst into laughter. "I hate you all so much." He punched the ground again. Quietly, so that the laughter drowned the words, he said, "I am gay."
"We've been saying that the past ten years!" Remy snorted. That set off another round of laughter.
"No, I mean I'm really gay."
His brothers howled.
Adam stood up. "I'm trying to come out of the closet here and you guys are being complete assholes!" he shouted. "I'm gay, you fuckmooks! I'm a fucking queer! I like cocks! I brake for butt sex!"
Then from Alex came, "You owe me twenty bucks, Scott."
Scott hummed thoughtfully. "Still don't know. Remy isn't gay?"
"You bet on my gayness?" Adam demanded. "What the hell kind of brothers are you?"
"Actually," said Scott, "bet on Remy's sexual orientation. Alex countered... with yours."
"You thought I was gay?" Affront coloured Remy's every word. "Fuck you, Scott."
"See? At least bisexual," said Scott. "Him, Warren, unresolved sexual tension. And, no straight man really... sleeps with that many women."
"Only 'cause you're too much of a dork to get them," said Remy. "I'm not gay, okay?"
"It's not an insult," said Scott.
"You did start wearing pink before the term metrosexual hit the streets," Alex observed.
"It was Armani and purple."
"And you've got more hair stuff than the average teenage girl."
"You're both dead when we're out of this place." Remy flipped him the finger for emphasis. "Completely fucking dead."
"No fratricide until Scott pays up," said Alex.
"We're so off topic," Adam said, giving up on beating the cave.
"You're gay and Scott owes me," said Alex. "Other than that, what do you want, a party?"
"Alex," Scott said admonishingly.
"All I'm saying," said Alex, "is that it doesn't matter if Adam brings a girlfriend or a boyfriend to prom. Who he sleeps with does not negate the fact that he's a complete and utter brat who willingly joined a psycho-led bunch of mercs."
"Willingly? I'm not even going to get into what's been done to me since I got kidnapped." Adam turned his back despite the fact that no one would see the gesture. "You'd fight for him too if the alternative was permanently shitting down a tube."
"What, that didn't give you a thrill?"
"Remember what I told you again the sperm collector, Alex?" asked Adam much too politely. "It provides suction and stimulation for maximum ejaculatory response. Would that give you a thrill?"
"Going to die now," said Scott. "Mental image finished me off. Don't resuscitate; can't stand to live... after that description."
"Speaking of coming out of the closet," said Remy. "Everyone who thinks Worthington is gay for Scott, raise their hand."
"Me," chorused Adam and Alex with the former adding, "If he wasn't so in love with Scott, I'd be totally hot for him."
"Toldja so," Remy said smugly.
Scott let out a defeated sigh.
"It was the pictures that clinched it," said Alex. "Every time you remembered to send pictures home, Worthington always had his arm around you."
"Or he was glaring Red down when she had her arm around you." Remy picked his teeth. "Betcha he jerks off into one of your uniforms."
"You think that's how they managed to slide into them so easily?" Adam rubbed at his chin. "A little Angel juice to ease the way?"
"All sick, sad. Hope I'm adopted," Scott said. "Please, for my health, change subject."
"Okay," said Alex. "Remy, dude, what was with the freak-out about me touching you earlier?"
Remy didn't answer immediately. Adam was about to change the subject again when he finally spoke.
"I remembered my mom's house," he said. "The house smelled like the mask."
He gulped audibly. Adam didn't want him to continue but at the same time, he did. Remy never talked about his mom, not to him.
"She had a client once. My mom was an 'escort'," Remy clarified. Alex and Scott didn't make any surprised noises so Adam figured it was for his sake. "An upscale prostitute, really. Her townhouse was... it was real nice actually. Lots of windows. Professionally decorated, even. She wore Chanel No.5." He laughed and it was bitter enough to crack rocks. "I hate that perfume."
"Remy, don't--" Scott began but once again, Remy cut him off.
"My mom had this client once. She was asleep, sleeping off booze or coke or whatever. I got hungry so I went to the kitchen and he was there."
Alex began to let out a slow, steady hiss of swear words.
"He didn't do nothing," Remy said. His words lost their edge, slurring into a drawl. "Nothing... nothing really... but I was... he was real tall. Big, muscled guy. Thought he was going to eat me." He snorted. "I froze, me. Man didn't like it so he took his hand off my pants and his tongue out of my mouth and told me to go back upstairs."
"How old were you?" asked Alex.
"Eight." He let out that not-laugh again. "I'd forgotten about it. Don't seem like something you'd forget, y'know, but I did until that stupid vacuum cleaner."
Adam sidled up close to Remy and, gingerly, laid his head on his shoulder. Remy stopped shaking.
The heat in Scott's body receded for a few seconds then, in a snap of light, came back three times as powerful. His throat felt scratchy-- he realised that he was screaming. Someone sat above him, holding his arms down while someone else sat on his legs. A third person-- maybe it was one of the original two-- forced his mouth open.
"Swallow the pill, Scott, please, please, please swallow the pill." It was Adam. Adam was fine. He'd been rescued.
He was going to die. Scott almost laughed and to hell with how it tickled. All this time, effort and joking around and he was actually going to die. At least Adam was fine now. Adam was fine and so was Alex providing the two of them wouldn't kill each other. Then again, that's why he had Remy around.
"He's too tense," said Alex. "Fuck! I can't see what I'm doing-- Remy, charge something so we can see."
Reddish-orange light flared behind Scott's eyelids. Fingers shoved his jaw open. A dry tablet dropped on his tongue followed by water. Too much spilled down his cheeks.
"R-Remy," Scott gritted out after the pill went down.
"Right beside you, old man. You're such a fucking liar. You said you were doing okay."
"Was waiting for... zen-like state." He took a shallow breath. The pill was going down, it was going to his stomach, it was going to work soon. If he was going to go, he wanted to go with as little pain as possible. He didn't want the boys to have that as their last image of him. "Just... stay put."
"Not going anywhere."
"Do you need us to distract you?" asked Adam. "Back there, when I first went in, there was nothing to do but think about how much everything hurt."
"Distraction, good idea," said Remy. "How 'bout embarrassing Adam stories? There's a lot of those."
"I sang sometimes," Adam said, ignoring Remy. "Not out loud. I couldn't with the mouthpiece and all."
"Scott sings," Alex shared suddenly. "When we were little, when our mom was alive he got recruited into a boy's choir and everything. We had reams of videotapes of his performances."
Scott smiled. "Don't sing now."
"I bet you're just out of practice."
"With Scotty's taste in music, I'm not sure we want him singing," Remy said. "Don't know if anyone told you but Bruce Springsteen is no longer rock."
"Bruce Springsteen?" Adam blew a raspberry. "I was thinking Keith Urban."
"You are a freak," said Alex. "Who listens to country? Tool's a little too advanced; what about Smashing Pumkins? Pumpkins is eternal."
They were going to kill him with laughter. Scott held down his sniggers then changed his mind and let it out. "Queen," he blurted out. "Sing me Queen." Ha. Let's see what they do with that.
Nothing from the three of them for a while. "I'm not singing anything," Alex said. "What are we, a Disney special? Mad scientists, cave bonding and now singing?"
"Pain medication... fading..."
Someone hit someone else and in the ensuing shuffle a third someone began stomping out a one-three rhythm on the floor.
"Buddy, you're a boy, make a big noise, playin' in the street, gonna be a big man some day," came Remy's extremely flat tenor.
"Oh fuck this," said Alex with disgust but Adam joined in with a slightly better pitch.
"You got blood on your face, you big disgrace. Waving your banner all over the place." Together with a lot more enthusiasm than the situation warranted, Remy and Adam warbled, "We will, we will rock you!"
Letting out a truly appalled huff, Alex demanded, "Are you happy? They're singing. Badly. To the worst, most over-rated Queen song-- no, the most over-rated song in history, period."
"We will, we will rock you!" Stomp, stomp, clap. Stomp, stomp, clap. "We will, we will rock you!"
Scott couldn't help it. He laughed. Deep and full from his torn belly, he laughed. Tears leaked from his eyes and he didn't know if it was as result of the singing, the wound or the situation in general but it really didn't matter because Alex was doing it now too, stomping and clapping and singing the same verse over and over again.
There were worse deaths than this.
Darkness bled into Scott's mind, more absolute than the cave's lack of light. He needed to find Remy. He had to talk to him. "Remy. Remy, you're in charge."
"I can't hear you." The singing stopped. He heard Remy shuffle over, breathing heavily through his nose. "What did you say?"
"You're in charge." Scott tried to enunciate every word. "You take care of them now."
"Scott, I can't--"
"You can." He reached out and somehow found Remy's hand. "You have."
Remy's breath brushed against his ear. Even then, his voice faded in and out. "Scott... awake, Scott..."
But he couldn't stay awake. The hurt was taking over again. There was even a bright light behind his eyelids. Oh hell. This was too funny. It was so sad it was funny.
This couldn't be happening, Alex thought with rapidly escalating panic. His brother couldn't be dying. Not Scott. He survived a car crash so deadly, the wreckage had to be literally scraped from the side of a cliff. He survived an uncontrollable mutation that was like storing two atomic bombs in your eyes. He was a freakin' superhero with a uniform and a cool jet and a codename! He couldn't die.
"I killed him," Alex said.
Remy's face had taken on a cold blankness, his tone as remote as the time when he'd disciplined the Thieves on the jet. "No, you didn't. Someone start chest compressions. I'll do first shift of breathing."
"I should've waited like Storm said but I didn't and everything blew up before Milbury could sew him back together and now he's going to die. Oh my God, Scott's going to die."
"He's not going to die!" Remy said sharply. "Alex-- never mind, you're useless right now. Adam, chest compressions."
Using the light of a charged branch, Adam straddled Scott's body, marked off from the sternum and began pushing down on Scott's chest in short, hard intervals. Alex could do CPR, he knew CPR up and down and sideways but he couldn't move. Scott was going to die. He fucked up royally and because of it, Scott was going to die.
Alex shrank into himself. His chest burned.
"...twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty." Remy bent down and blew into Scott's mouth as soon as Adam's count off ended. After two hard breaths, he reared back and Adam counted off another set of chest compressions. "One, two, three, four..."
Outside, branches tore and boots stomped. "I found them!" a woman said. A spotlight lit up the interior of the cave. Oh shit. Scott was going to die and they were going to get caught anyway.
"Remy!" The woman ran in full tilt and almost threw herself at Remy only to skid to a stop when she saw the make-shift sling on his arm. "Oh, my god, Beast! We need you right now."
"Rogue?" Remy sounded dazed. "Rogue... Peaches, oh Christ... Scotty stopped breathing."
Adam was still counting off chest compressions. "...twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, Remy."
Hank bounded in, his fur almost black in the shadow of the spotlight. He strapped a CPR valve mask over Scott's face. His uniform didn't fit, Alex's brain supplied helpfully.
Gav walked in full X-Men togs. "Fury says the main compound is secure."
"Gav!" Adam tackled him. "You will not believe what I had to do in there. You had a clone and there was Scalphunter and Gorgeous George-- why would you choose that for a codename?-- and Vertigo and he was an awful kisser--"
"You kissed Vertigo?"
"No, Cadre. Pay attention. And then--"
"We're measuring a great deal of radiation from this location," said an anonymous SHIELD agent just outside the cave.
Beast spoke into his commelink. "Beta-one, this is Chi-three. We need a full medical unit ASAP. Alex, what happened?"
Alex shook his head wildly. "I fucked up, Hank. I fucked up so bad."
"Yes, you did but not completely. Now tell me, what happened to Scott?"
But Alex couldn't answer. Remy took over, relating the events as he remembered. A couple SHIELD agents reached in to help, shouting to nearby section-mates. Bullets fired. Thunder roared and echoed through the mountains as lightning cracked the blackness in half.
"--open break," Remy said. "The leg's just cracked I think but it's swollen like--"
"--burnt to a total crisp except us," said Adam. "I don't know why--"
"Siblings aren't usually affected by each others' powers," said Rogue.
'Oh, right. But everything else was--"
"Where's my medical unit?" Beast yelled. "I need it ten minutes ago! I don't care if you have to drop it out of the Helicarrier just--"
"--alone, just worry about Scotty--"
Two SHIELD agents ran in, hooking Scott up to their equipment in a matter of seconds. "Looks like shock."
"He just lost half the blood in his body, of course he's in shock," Hank snarled.
Alex continued to stare at Scott and the CPR mask and the spotlight and the sweat was pouring from his face and this must be what it felt like for Remy to go into anaphylactic shock.
"Alex is going!" he heard Adam call out. He didn't even feel the ground come up to smack him.