I died today, but I’m still breathing
bleeding, for now, I’m broken
You left me here, capsized and sinking
thinking, right now, there’s no more good guys
You left me standing here, alone and colder
I hope that someday soon, the pain inside will stop
You died today, but you’re still breathing
in my mind, that is, there’s no more good guys
I hoped you’d see me, I hoped you’d understand
Or crucify me for my failings
my cruel ambition, hardly justified
and the pain inside will … stop
~ No More Good Guys (Skindive)
“I guess we’re ready,” Jean said as she emerged with Reece.
Steeling herself to endure Logan’s distant coldness, she tried to face him without wincing, ashamed of her part in the new rift between them.
Focus on the fight, she thought. If you don’t, you could get people killed. Frowning at the terrified Reece, she amended, Including people you actually care about, beyond this one.
Logan nodded once. “Well, I don’t gotta practice gruntin’ – seem t’ have it down good. Looks like tha opposition is up fer it, too; let’s go.”
The wind strengthened, almost blowing her off of her feet, the moment Reece left the caverns at her side. Snow was lifted and blown through the air, obscuring her vision. In the midst of the rising storm, ghostly images of strange objects appeared and disappeared around them. Her boot struck a distinctly modern metal pipe, which morphed into a long human femur bone before she kicked it out of her way.
Logan, do you see these things? What is she doing?
Goin’ nuts? This is toe-t’-toe, Red – odds are, she feels it. Better keep a close eye on Waldo an’ a mental ear, too. Dodgier it gets, tha more opportunity can knock ya off yer feet.
Jean felt her growing fears calm with his advice. His mind was still with her … for now.
“Phoenix!” Reece called over the threatening howls of bear-dogs. “Hellena is attempting to communicate – can you sense her location?”
Jean startled at the sight of one of the gray monsters leaping out at Logan. With a ~snikt~ and a swipe, it fell on either side of him – but many more were crowding in to take its place.
Without turning, she shouted to Reece, “You can hear her? I can’t get a bead on her mind. Tell her we’re trying to help her!”
“Yes,” he answered, his voice fading in the storm. “I will…”
Reaching for Hellena’s mind voice, pushing her range in sweeps across the snow, she didn’t care when she felt Reece slip away from her hold on his thoughts. It was for his protection more than theirs from him and if he preferred short freedom to longer life, so be it. The last thought she heard was a whisper of his desire to flee the fight and return to the caverns.
Run, then, damn you – we’ve obviously got Hellena’s attention good enough.
A savage roar, not from Logan’s throat, turned her in time to see Reece dodge an attacking bear-dog. He picked up the femur bone Jean had kicked and tried to swing it at the brute, but missed. Barely jumping out of the way in time, he stared as the creature barreled past him.
“Stay or run,” she called out to him. “Either way, you’d better fight as you go! I can’t watch every direction at once!”
“I know,” he replied, stumbling closer beside her. “She told me.”
She never saw the bone until after it hit her skull – she saw it in Reece’s mind as she reached out to snare him again, saw him drop it and watch it melt into the trampled snow.
The wind came up in a rush, knocking her onto her back, the cold penetrating deep into her body. As her mind dimmed, somewhere inside herself, she heard a thin, wheezing laughter.
Logan turned between one furry assailant and the next and saw Jean lying in the snow on her back. Hook was trying to drive him feral, but fear for Jean pushed the red haze back.
Ripping into bear-dogs as he went, wounding, amputating, gutting – he made it to Jean’s side. She was unconscious, but he couldn’t see anything wrong with her.
“What tha hell happened, Reece? Make it quick!”
The slender man shuddered, shaking his head. “I didn’t see it happen. I told her Hellena was reaching out to us – she must have attacked her, in her mind.”
Logan glared at him, but he didn’t have anything he could have used for a weapon. How could he do anythin’ t’ ‘er? ‘Course, just cuz I can’t figure it out don’t mean he’s innocent. Can’t really smell if he’s lyin’ in this damn crazy wind, neither.
He was going to tell Reece to stay close and watch her, at a loss of how to find Hook without her, when Jean opened her eyes with a start.
“Ya okay, Red? All in one piece?”
She looked at him, staring oddly, and then she smiled. “Your name is Logan, and you want to kill me.”
The wind turned, her scent hit him, and he growled, horrified. Pulling Reece behind him, away from her, he shouted, “How flexible are ya?”
“Oh, I dunno – I just thought ya might wanna stick yer head between yer legs an’ kiss yer ass goodbye! Cuz if Phoenix can’t toss this hell bitch out, we’re all gonna be in a world o’ hurt!”
Watching his possessed teammate rise, he felt every hair on his body stand up. She didn’t even move like Jean, as though she didn’t know how to use the tall woman’s limbs.
This is gonna suck. C’mon, Jeannie, kick tha she-witch out, I need ya!
A snarl reminded him that Hook’s claiming of his friend’s body wasn’t the only problem at hand. He turned his head to see how many bear-dogs were close and startled to see half of them fade and disappear.
Removin’ tha fodder I need t’ kill t’ knock ya low, huh? Smart. Or maybe that’s not tha only reason – maybe Red’s a bit too much t’ handle? Hell, I hope so, cuz this ain’t gonna be fun.
Jean’s hijacked mutant powers hit him at once, the telekinesis knocking him to the ground and holding him there as it tried to pull his limbs off. The telepathy did not attack his mind, however – it carried to him the inner fight Hook was having with her host. The confusion of it stunned him, but then he felt the telekinesis lessen and fade.
Struggling to his feet, he growled. Bitch can’t hold it, cuz she dunno how t’ use it, an’ Jeannie’s fightin’ ‘er tooth an’ claw. She’ll try t’ mind-mangle me next – telepathy bein’ somethin’ she knows pretty good. Hang on t’ yer brains, bub, it gets bumpy from here! The thought was washed over by the red rage of the feral beast within, and Logan’s battered mind rippled with surprise. Why use that with all o’ tha rich targets in my head?
He fought her assault, but it was difficult – not because she was stronger, but because it was easier to be the beast, easier to fight, to win.
Can’t … hurt Jeannie… Beasties, kill … kill tha monsters…
With his last grasp on human choice, he took a deep breath and turned his back on the possessed Phoenix. Instinct screamed at him to face that threat, but he ignored it, focusing on the few bear-dogs that remained.
They crouched and slunk closer, keeping low, but eager to attack. Not caring if they jumped at once, he launched himself at the biggest one near him, the shining claws erupting from his body at the same moment that the beast claimed his mind.
~ ~ ~
A black and a gray snapped at his body until his claws sheared the black’s muzzle away from its head. Stumbling away from him, its death throes frenzied the others of its pack.
Roaring his challenge as more appeared from the whirling snow around him, he paused as he came to the human male. A low growl thrummed in his throat, but he knew that his mate wanted to protect this creature.
The gray female leapt for the human and he intercepted, slamming into her and rolling her into the bloody snow, his fangs finding her throat and tearing it open.
A new threat struck from behind and he whirled, only to stop in shock. It was his mate, she had joined the fight. Why had she attacked him? A growl rumbling in his throat, he caught her scent.
It is strange. It is … not mate…
He watched her lift a long, heavy object from the snow, a bone. She swung it through the air where his head had been moments before he leapt out of the way. Lips curling back from his teeth in a snarl, he gave her his warning – but she advanced, the bone club ready to harm.
Scent is wrong. Not mate… The snarl opened to a howl of challenge as rage rushed through heated veins. The rising sun glinted off of his claws as he readied himself to kill.
Plagued by a shifting double vision as she fought to expel her enemy from her body, Jean knew what Hellena would try to do. She had stolen it from her mind – the fear of Wolverine attacking her.
He had crouched in the snow, ready to spring, the deadly claws aimed for her chest and throat.
She’s changed my scent – he doesn’t know me now!
Gathering her will with the fear of Logan’s claws lending her strength, she shoved at the weaker telepath, shaking off the sluggish aftereffects of the blow she’d received to her head.
I’m not going to let you pin me with my friend’s claws, you witch! You’ve taken everything, twisted and ruined it – but I won’t let you destroy us!
Summoning the telekinesis that Hellena hadn’t been able to control, Jean launched herself into the sky at the moment when Logan’s murderous attack would have sliced her in half.
Get out! Rage burned her, her telepathic gift opening to engulf the white plain. Hanging in the air over the bloody snow, she turned her telekinesis on herself.
A psychic scream sliced into her mind, and then her body burst into flame, the fire whirling, rising, into a vast shape of shimmering wings. She shouted out in triumph as she felt her enemy slip, the feeble will falling away from her at last.
Now to find you, Jean thought, smiling at the fear of the creatures below her as her fire consumed the enemy’s storm. The rush of power was a drug and leaking into it … a desire to destroy. Gasping in shock, she violently rejected the haze of wrath that sought to claim her. Oh, God, not again – I can’t fall to that, ever! Shaking her head, she came back to herself. Logan … and Reece.
The fire exploded and left her as her telekinesis lowered her slowly down to her feet on the snow.
Turning first to her friend, she reached inside his mind to attempt to cut the cords of her own power which had forced him into a feral state. To her shock, she realized the Phoenix Force had already freed him.
Was it helping? Or was it trying to kill them all? Retreating from Logan’s mind in confusion, she shuddered. Steps crunched through the snow behind her and her fear almost pushed her into the terrifying rage again. Whirling, she faced Reece as he approached from behind her.
“Phoenix,” he said, panting in fear, “you’ve defeated her –”
Jean frowned, balled her fist, and punched him in the jaw. He fell to the snow, half on his back with his buckled legs under him. His hand lifted to wipe blood from his lips.
“Yeah, I did. Pick up another bone and I’ll kill you before it can melt away again.”
Logan moved closer to the fallen man, his bloody claws ready. His body remained in the posture of a hunting beast, unchanged by the mind that had been restored.
“Don’t, Wolverine – if anyone’s going to kill him, I’ve earned it.”
“Didn’t figure Hook would make bone clubs fer ya an’ then unmake ‘em, Waldo; shoulda known she’d use ya t’ get t’ us, though, one way or ‘nother. Probly tha only reason she ain’t killed ya ‘erself yet.”
Logan, look at the bear-dogs – why are they attacking each other?
He turned to look and stepped back a pace in shock. Jean gasped, watching the remaining monsters as they seemed to want to climb each other.
More of them were created out of each one that began to struggle with its pack mates, until the hideous bodies of fur, muscle, and multiple rows of needle fangs began to merge into one monstrous creature.
“What tha fuck? Bigger is better?” Logan took another step back to watch it as it grew taller than either of them. “Not all that solid yet, even. Can’t do better than that, Hook?” With a shrug, he started toward it. “Ya know what they say – tha bigger they are…”
“Gettin’ tired o’ this game, Red. Wait fer what?”
“That’s not just a bigger bear-dog. It’s an id.”
“Ya lost me.”
“It’s a real manifestation of her, she may be close!”
“Great; watch where ya step while I kill this thing.”
“It’s not that simple.”
He turned his head to look at her, a glare in his blue eyes. The morphing and growing creature lifted its heads and howled as its telepathy struck his mind.
Jean didn’t see the image Hellena’s id struck him with, but it knocked him back. He stumbled, attempting to regain his balance and struggling to stand. With a snarl, he fell to his knees. Head bowed and breathing ragged, his voice was edged when he spoke.
“Well, tha bitch found tha memories o’ Proteus. Fight’s on good, now.”
Jean moved forward and helped him rise shakily to his feet. “I was trying to tell you – an id is a mental projection of a telepath, which means this monster has telepathy. It’ll be stronger than just making bear-dog bodies, too, probably a last ditch effort since possessing me failed.”
“If she can do that, why not just make a body t’ live in, instead o’ tryin’ t’ steal one?”
“An id is a personification of extreme emotion and distress, not a body she could keep; once the emotion is spent, the id will dissipate. With her mutant ability to make it flesh and blood, you could fight it, maybe kill it – but that might kill her with it.”
“Runnin’ outta give-a-damn ‘bout that, Red.”
“Just keep it busy while I lock on to where her real body is. If I can find her, I can force her to dissolve it and to break this alternate reality, too – I hope.”
“Well, while yer hopin’, put tha feral whammy on me like ya did before.”
“Cuz tha beastie don’t care ‘bout nauseatin’ old visions – just makes ‘im meaner.”
“She’s tried to turn you against me; odds are she’ll try it again.”
“So TK me if I go fer ya. We’re runnin’ low on options. ‘Sides, if ya put me in tha red haze yerself, ya might be able t’ bring me back outta it faster, like ya did a minute ago.”
Jean hesitated for only a moment, but then she saw the monster, which towered over them now, head for the defenseless Reece. Its long hairy arms, more like a human than a bear-dog, began to reach for him as he screamed.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Jean took a deep breath and entered Logan’s mind. “This feels … so wrong…”
“It’s a risk, Red – but don’t lemme eat ya.”
She opened her eyes to see him smirking at her, but then her probe twisted and altered him as Hellena had earlier, polluting her gifts. When it was done, the smirk faded and the eyes turned blank.
“Logan,” she whispered.
The beast left her. She surged forward to drag Reece back as the two titans of monstrosity roared and clashed in a whirl of teeth and claws.
“What is happening?” Reece asked, his voice frantic.
Jean looked up to see Logan knock the id to the ground, his claws flashing. It rolled, snapped, and rose – only to turn away from its opponent and reach for Reece.
“Run!” Jean shouted at him. She sprinted out of the monster’s path, but the crunch of bones and wet screams told her that the anthropologist had not been fast enough.
When Logan attacked the id again to draw it away from her, Jean stood over Reece’s broken body. The snowstorm had died with him, as if it cost their enemy too much energy to maintain it.
Looking away from the cracked glasses on the man’s smashed skull, she watched the fight for a moment, until a gleam of gold in the morning light caught her eye. It shone against the snow, billowing like a candle flame in the light wind.
The enemy was abruptly afraid. His killing lust was charged by this fear and as the creature attempted to retreat, he gathered himself to spring up onto it again.
Pressure, pressure behind his eyes – shaking his head, he tried to dislodge it. Glaring up again, he snarled to see his mate standing between him and his prey.
“Logan, stop, I’ve found her! Come back to me!”
Pressure, like a weight on his head, turned the snarl into a roar. It wasn’t coming from his mate, it was the prey.
He leapt up, ignoring the scream of his mate and the explosion of her fear scent. Propelling himself over her, his body struck her, knocking her into the snow as his claws found their mark.
The enemy toppled as the claws sank deep and he rode it down as it fell. Striking the white powder, it blew it up in puffs. He lowered his mouth to tear out the throat – but the prey disappeared.
In its place was a female, slight and young – and dead.