If Scotty hadn't taken the truck, it would've been a bitch to find him. Not that Logan couldn't do it; he'd tracked smarter and cannier guys--both enemy and friend--over longer trails. But it'd take time, and Logan was pretty sure that the last thing Scott needed was more time alone inside his head. It didn't do Logan any harm, much, but once a people person, always a people person, and Scotty was pretty much the definition of a social animal.
So, yeah, the fact that he'd taken Logan's truck, with its carefully calculated fuel mixture of gasoline and kerosene--nothing noticeable to the average observer, but distinctive enough for Logan to smell the difference--was a damn convenient thing, for both of them.
"Does your truck mean so much to you that you actually have to chase him to Virginia for it?" Storm asked from the doorway of his room. Her inflection on the word "truck" had "Men and their toys," written all over it, and Logan shrugged off the imprecation with the ease of long practice. The neverending questions in this place were part of the reason that he hated telling people anything, but somebody had to know what was going on. With Jean gone...and Scott gone in a whole 'nother way...Storm was his best bet for the person who could yank all their heads out of their collective asses as necessary.
"'s a good truck," Logan said.
"Logan." Storm shook her head. "Scott's been in contact with us; he's not lost or injured or kidnapped. We should leave him to deal with his grief as he sees fit."
"Last I looked, he wasn't dealing with his grief so much as letting it rot him from inside out."
The sorrow on Storm's face felt almost reproachful, though he knew that wasn't her intention. Storm didn't play those kind of games. "Hopefully a vacation will help him find the closure he couldn't find here, with Jean's absence a constant reminder of his loss. He hasn't cut us off completely; he's just getting a little space. There's no reason to compromise Scott's sense of autonomy when we can go to Virginia any time that he needs our help."
"Yeah, if he's there. Which I'm guessing he ain't."
"Why would he lie about something like that?"
"'cause he's fucked in the head," Logan said, throwing a last sweatshirt into his duffel bag. It didn't usually take him this long to pack, but they'd needed to have this conversation out before he could go.
There was a telling silence, and this time when Logan looked up there was a reproachful look on Storm's face. "Aw, I didn't mean it like that. Anyone'd be messed up over what happened to him. But he ain't thinking straight, and he took my truck. Which, okay, under ordinary circumstances might piss me off a little, only right now I'm thinking he did it because it's more inconspicuous. It's not easy to hide a set of wheels like the ones Scotty usually drives."
The expression on Storm's face was still, almost cold, the way she got when she was processing something, and Logan could practically see the click as she acknowledged that, yes, his concerns might be based in something more important than the desire to make Scott pay for hijacking Logan's truck. "Keep me updated on your progress," she said.
The warmth of her hand on his bare arm stopped him in the doorway, and he looked at her in some surprise. "And Logan? Happy hunting."
Logan didn't care much for fancy cars--he'd take substance over style any day of the week--but he couldn't deny the half-animalistic pleasure of sliding behind the wheel of Scott's shiny Jaguar. Staking his claim on it, even temporarily, felt like getting a little of his own back. Half a lifetime ago, he'd claimed that losing face only happened when you cared enough to let it be lost. Seemed the pissing contest between him and Scott was more than just for show, after all, at least from his own perspective.
He rolled down the windows all the way and headed out, radio blasting so he could hear it over the sound of the wind whipping through the car. Motorcycle would feel more comfortable than the buttery leather seats and the stares the Jag would get him, but he didn't know what shape Scott--or, God forbid, Logan's truck--would be in when he found them. It was safer to drive something with a passenger's seat.
Fourteen hours later and two states west of where Scott had said he'd be, Logan smelled ozone and cursed under his breath. Another fifteen miles, and he could see the storm clouds on the horizon. Even then, he held out hope that it was only a brief shower. It was almost too cold for rain, and while snow wasn't the greatest for tracking scents through, it was better than having them wash straight away.
A little further down the road, he drove into a storm that stretched far as the eye could see...which, in northwestern Ohio, was pretty damned far. He rolled up the Jag's windows before the rain could ruin Scott's upholstery and glared out at it.
"Well, fuck," he said, and dug one-handed in his pocket for his cellphone.
"Branson, Missouri," Storm said by way of greeting when she answered his call.
"That where Scott is?" He put on his turn signal to pass a semi.
"According to Bobby. Scott apparently also left him the Harley."
Even over the phone, that tone of voice made the hairs on the back of his neck rise, as though the electricity that was no doubt making the air crackle around her could somehow be transmitted over the airwaves. The trucker flashed his high beams to let him know he was clear to return to the right lane, and Logan nodded approvingly to himself. Old school truckers were a dying breed these days. "That piss you off?" he asked conversationally as he shifted into the right lane.
"Like you wouldn't believe."
"Yeah, I hear ya."
There was a brief silence, and then Storm exclaimed, "Why would anyone go to Branson, Missouri, least of all Scott?"
"Maybe he just needed to get out, far out."
Even as he said it, though, the sentence sounded wrong to Logan. Scott was irrational, sure, but he wasn't actually crazy. Branson was a no place town on the way to nowhere, and Scott was probably the most goal-oriented person he'd ever met in his life, with the possible exception of Magneto.
"Or maybe he's lying again, and he's nowhere near Branson," he said, trying to sound less certain about that than he actually was. He needed Storm at his back, and he wasn't going to accomplish that by getting up her nose about Scott's current relationship with the truth.
"So, what's your plan?" Storm asked, more evenly than he'd expected.
"He was heading west when I lost the trail--rain washed it away--and he was sticking to highways the whole time. I'm gonna keep going that direction and see if I can turn up anything. If he really is in Branson, I can backtrack and catch him up in a bit. There's not much that can get to him there while I'm up here chasing my tail."
Other than the inside of Scott's own head, but all Logan could do was cross his fingers that Scott wouldn't do something so criminally stupid as to harm himself. Goal-oriented, he reminded himself. Scotty's not going to check out until he's accomplished everything he's set out to do, not willingly. At least, he hoped not.
"Okay. I'll let you know if we get any news of him," Storm said and hung up without waiting for an answer. Either she thought he was making a mistake, or her lingering anger at Scott was making her forget her manners. She didn't try to talk him out of his plan, though, which Logan was going to take as an endorsement until she said otherwise.
He only noticed the crimp in his own plan when he hit Gary, Indiana with the trail still washed out. Western-bound highways may have been Scott's pattern, but suddenly Chicago was only half an hour to the north, and Logan had no way of knowing if Scott's actual destination had been the hub of Chicago all along. There were too many possibilities that way, though, and after a brief moment of hesitation he passed the Chicago exits without giving them another glance. He had to get behind the storm eventually, and hopefully then he'd have a clue as to whether he should keep going or let Scott lead him on his wild goose chase to Branson.
Around Iowa City, he caught a whiff of gasoline and kerosene mixture and gave the dashboard of Scott's jag a sharp, satisfied tap. He lost the scent again only a mile or two down the road, but at least he knew he was heading in the right direction.
Logan could live without water for five days and air for half an hour. He could break, maim, or mangle almost any part of his body and be back in fighting condition in less time than it took ordinary humans to get over a cold. The two things he couldn't do without, though, were food and sleep. His body was like a furnace, and if he didn't keep it well-stoked, he crashed. So, after a couple of days of catnaps and long hours on the road, it wasn't entirely surprising that he woke up after five hours in the reclined passenger's seat of Scott's car to find that he'd missed three calls while he'd been dead to the world, two from Storm and one from Marie.
The second message from Storm gave him a location, San Antonio, and a request to call her back as soon as possible. There were spots in the corner of his vision when he blinked, so he left the car in the rest stop and walked the hundred yards to the McDonald's down on the other side of the highway. He wolfed down one of the Big Macs right there in the parking lot, his stomach attacking the grease and protein with a grateful growl, then headed back to the car with his overstuffed bag to finish the rest. No point in making a spectacle of himself.
Midway through his third Big Mac, he felt ready to act like a human being again, and he dug his cellphone out of his pocket.
"Hey, Storm," he said when she answered.
"Logan. Did you get my messages?"
"Yeah. Listen, what can you tell me about Scott's family, friends, anything like that?"
There was a brief pause, and then Storm said, "His friends were at the Institute, and I don't think he would willingly have anything to do with his family."
There was old pain in her voice, but Logan couldn't tell which part of that sentence had caused it. Either way, he didn't press. He swallowed his bite of hamburger and said, "Maybe not, but I'm outside of fucking Des Moines right now, and I kinda doubt that he came here for the cornfields."
"No, that does seem unlikely," Storm said, sounding preternaturally calm. She was still pissed, he could tell that much, but she'd shoved it down and made her anger cold, hard. Made it work for her instead of against her. Or maybe she'd just had it out with Scott during their recent phone conversation and drained her anger that way. "He never told me much about his childhood. He was a bit like Jean that way,"--her voice catching a little on the name--"his life was the Institute."
Logan shook his head. Fucking... He understood what the Professor was trying to do, he was on board with the mission, but that didn't mean he didn't have some serious issues with how it was put into practice.
"How'd he sound when you talked to him?" he asked, partly to change the subject and partly because anything that helped him understand Scott's mindframe might help lead him to the man himself.
"He sounded...distant. When he wasn't spouting off about Texas and country music, at least. He tried to quit the team."
"He said he quit. I said he couldn't. He hung up," Storm said, her words clipped.
Storm snorted with unamused laughter. "That's what I said. Several times, in fact."
"Yeah, I bet. Listen, if he calls again, play along with wherever he says he is. Don't let him know that we know he's full of shit."
"I'm already ahead of you, Logan. What do you think my last conversation with him was all about?"
Logan grinned a little despite himself. "Okay. Well, keep doing that then. I'll talk to you later."
"Will do. Bye."
Logan dropped his cellphone onto the passenger's seat and thought for a minute, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. Then he picked it up and hit #3 on his speed dial.
"Logan. I'd hoped that you might call."
"Hey, Professor. I was wondering if you could help me out a little. I need some info on Scott's family, his life before the Institute, anything you've got."
"I'm to assume, then, that Scott isn't where he's told us he'd be."
"Got it in one."
The Professor sighed audibly, and then he said, "Scott comes from a military family. He led a peripatetic life as a child and teenager, although I believe that his father was stationed mainly in the United States rather than overseas. I have a partial list of his former addresses in my files, if that would be of any use to you, as well as a few other sources of information that I could pursue."
"Wouldn't hurt." It probably wouldn't help, either, but Logan would be happier having the list of addresses before he made a decision one way or the other on that.
Didn't matter in the short term, anyway. Scott was lying, and according to both Storm and the Professor, the only place he counted as home was the place he was running away from. There were thousands of places he could be by now, but only one of them was both a deathtrap and the place that had been calling to him for weeks.
"Do you have any leads so far? It might help me in my search," the Professor suggested.
Logan paused, considering his next words carefully. He liked the Professor, trusted the guy to do the right thing--or at least what he believed to be the right thing--but that didn't mean he was perfect. If anything, this recent escapade just went to show that you couldn't just throw healing at a problem and expect it to be fixed. The pills helped Scott, but that didn't matter if he distrusted the help they provided. Not for the first time, Logan was glad that his specialty was hitting people until they couldn't get up. Bloody, yeah, but still cleaner than mucking around in people's heads.
"The trail went cold in the midwest. I've got a couple of hunches, but nothing definite yet. I'll keep you or Storm posted, okay?"
"Of course. I'll call you with those addresses later today."
"Thanks. Later, Professor."
Logan rolled down the windows again after starting the car and pulling out of the rest stop, but he wouldn't be relying on his nose to find Scott. If he was wrong about where Scott was headed, he still had a second chance to find him. On the other hand, if he was right and didn't get to him in time, then Scott was dead or worse. From hereon out, following Scott's trail was incidental to catching him before he reached Alkali.
Logan's truck looked at home in the parking lot of the Sweetgrass diner. Not that Logan would have been likely to stop there himself--one sniff told him that they didn't carry sweet potato pie--but it sure didn't stick out the way the Jag did. Logan leaned against the driver's side door, pretended that he couldn't see the greedy, interested stares of the customers seated in the nearby windows, and waited for Scott to come out.
When he did, Logan had to fight to keep the expression off his face. Scott looked like hell: circles under his eyes, scruff on his chin too short to be a beard and almost too long to be stubble.
"Didn't think I was gonna catch up to ya," Logan said casually, as Scott drew up short on seeing him.
"Why arenít you in Branson?" Scott said, voice as colorless as the rest of him.
"Just played a hunch."
"You came all this way for a truck with seventy thousand miles on it?"
"Nah." Logan patted Scott's Jaguar. "I figure it's a fair swap."
On a good day, that would have been enough to get a laugh out of Scott. This was obviously not a good day, at least as far as Scott's emotional state was concerned. "Then what the hell do you want?" he asked.
Logan would've rolled his eyes at the question, if he hadn't been certain that Scott would take it the wrong way. Instead, he just said, "Vacation's over, bub. Time to come home."
"I can't. I have to find Jean."
There was a long silence as they stared at each other. The expression on Scott's face was all heart, only not the way people usually meant it. This was Scott torn and bleeding in front of him, and Logan had to respect that. He understood that, even if not quite on the same level as Scott. "You wanna look for her body?" he asked, a little cautiously.
"She's not dead."
"What makes you say that?"
"I can hear her." Scott tapped the side of his head. "I can hear her. She's still alive."
Fuck. As subtly as he could, Logan shifted his weight forward onto the balls of his feet, ready to catch Scott if he made a dash for the cab of the truck. "Can Charles hear her?"
"Charles says I'm hallucinating. He's wrong."
After a moment of internal debate, Logan conceded the point. Grief made people do funny things, it changed them, but Scott didn't strike him as the kind of guy who'd hear voices in the air for no reason. Too pragmatic, too inflexible, whatever; he just wasn't the type.
"Yeah, I think he is," Logan said. "You're hearing someone, all right."
The trust and longing in Scott's voice were almost tangible, and Logan felt a bit like a monster at having to shatter the illusion. Except he wasn't the monster here. That role belonged to somebody else. "You're hearing someone. But it ain't Jean."
"Oh, how the hell would you know?"
"'cause she wouldn't do this kinda evil shit to you."
Scott's eyes widened, and Logan pressed his advantage. "You think it's Jean telling you to go back to Alkali? Place is crawling with soldiers. You go there and you are not ever coming back. It's a trap, Cyke. The Feds are waiting for ya. 'n you think it's Jean helping 'em? You think she's that kind of a coward? You think she's that kind of a traitor?"
His voice rasped over the last couple of sentences, practically rough enough to draw blood, and Scott collapsed onto the truck's fender as if it had.
"It sounds like her," he said, voice small and uncertain, and Logan stomped on the desire to shake some sense into him. He didn't deal well with vulnerability, especially not from someone like Scott, and his only saving grace was that he knew it.
"It ain't," he said bluntly. "And if you think it is, you never... Fuck this shit. We are not doing this shit anymore. We gotta move on."
"That's what you said in New York," Scott said, sounding on firmer ground, and Logan nodded approvingly.
Still that wasn't what he meant, so he said, "I wasn't talking about Jean." Scott stared at him, as though wondering if anything could not be about Jean, and Logan sighed. He jerked a thumb at Scott's Jaguar. "Get the fuck in."
For a moment, it seemed like Scott would follow orders, but then he headed in the opposite direction. "I left something in the diner."
"Hey." Logan slipped Scott's prescription bottle out of his jacket pocket where it had been sitting the entire journey and tossed it to him, and Scott snatched it out of the air.
Scott stared at it a long time, and when he finally popped the cap and shook out a pill, it didn't look like the fight had gone out of him. It looked like he'd just gotten his will to fight back again.
He wasn't in the diner long, coming back out after only five minutes with a near-hysterical waitress and a crowd of gawkers. After listening to the woman shriek excitedly for a few minutes, Logan got the gist of the situation. He raised his eyebrows at Scott, who just shrugged in response.
Well, far be it for Logan to stand in the way of a man's burning desire to ditch a ridiculously overpriced car in rural Montana. He grabbed his duffel bag out of the Jag--Scott quieting the waitress when she panicked that Logan was trying to carjack her--and hauled it over to his truck, then got into the driver's seat. He'd need a nap in another hour or two, but he wanted to get some distance between them and Alkali before turning the wheel over to Scott.
The floorboards were sprinkled liberally with what smelled like thankfully fresh kitty litter, and Logan blinked at it. "What the fuck did you do to my truck? Iím gonna fucking kill you."
"I suppose I could always set fire to it," Scott said in an inappropriate burst of humor, and Logan scowled at him.
"Shut up." He'd assumed that the scent rising off Scott had been due to the diner's lax health code, but now a more sinister explanation was forcing itself upon him. He sniffed the air suspiciously and said, "Is that a goddamn cat or do you just naturally stink that bad?"
Scott shrugged, grinning a little in the way that never failed to make Logan want to get him into the Danger Room and use a more hands-on approach to working out their mutual antagonism.
"I am not driving all the way to New York with a damn cat and that is final."
Scott opened the passenger's side door, calling his bluff, and Logan pulled him back into the truck with a hand on his upper arm. "Fuck you, Summers."
"If you're good."
Logan's mouth worked silently for a minute, before he stomped on the gas in a not-so-subconscious desire to get home to New York as soon as possible. He couldn't keep his eyes from drifting back towards the passenger's seat, though.
Scott just ignored the outraged look Logan slanted at him and leaned back in the passenger's seat, eyes slipping closed. The furry little beast that was sharing his shirt moved a little, looking for all the world like a cartoon heart beating in Scott's chest, and Scott reached under the fabric to pet it, humming softly under his breath.