The sort of peacefulness not found but in the middle of nowhere which was how he liked it.
There wasn’t even a breeze to caress the five inches of snow that had blanketed the entire area. Or the pines that had lost the last of their leaves months ago and now were brown skeletons reaching out like bony hands.
Scott struggled with each step. Negotiating his walking cane, the rifle over his left shoulder and the pile of hares that had fallen into his traps. Enough meat for the month, maybe. If he rations. There were fish. The lake a ten minute walk. Frozen thickly but not much of a problem that a chainsaw couldn’t fix.
Lots of canned goods but not much else. Not that it mattered. He had water, he had snow he could melt. Firewood enough to last three winters. And if he needed anything else, well, there was always the town an hour’s drive. If the snow didn’t pile up too badly it was an option. Not much of one. Not when his truck probably wouldn’t make it out of the driveway and his snowmobile was an uncontrollable rhino at the best of times.
A sprinkling started up. Small flakes that seemed inconspicuous until it piled on high and made walking an impossibility. Scott was already increasing his pace. As much as he could, anyway. He was not much of a sprinter these days, but his body still remembered how to move. Body memory so ingrained into his bones that he could do it blind, deaf and with broken legs.
He slugged through snow, some already hardening into tightly packed mounts. His pants soaked to the calf, his feet like blocks of ice. He should had worn better boots, at least ones that were waterproof before heading out. His hands at least were warm. About the only part of him that still was.
Moving branches out of the way before they smacked cuts and welts on his face. His tightly wrapped scarf more of a hindrance as his breath spilled out. Big puffs that served as a reminder just how out of shape he was. Even as his lungs burned and the cold seeped right in.
An eternity and he was at the cabin that was more like a mansion. The storm in full swing by the time he made it up the porch. Visibility less than a handspan and Scott nearly laid down right there in front of the door. Body stiff and legs even more so. Like trying to move on stilts.
His hand slip twice over the handle before twisting it open. The door thrown by the force of a gust of wind that sliced right through him like a sharp knife. Scott stumbled inside, slammed the door shut with his own weight and had peeled his stiff jacked off before realizing something was wrong.
The rifle in his hands, fumbled into them if he was being honest, before it was pointed at the person lying on a couch in front of the fireplace. A fireplace that had been cinders now roared merrily with a fire. A couch that hadn’t been there when he left that morning taking up space in his previously bare living room.
Not too long to recognize the long blond hair or the cool, cool look thrown his way. Those blue eyes that were a purple to him, studying him with that quiet intensity that Scott hadn’t felt directed his way in a long time. A little self conscious of the untidy beard he was sporting or the disheveled hair that brushed against his shoulders.
It wasn’t like he tended to entertain guests or that people that did see him cared whether he had shaved in a week or a year. That his hair tended to be a collection of tuffs than the carefully combed to submission. That Scott Summers was long gone and in its place was someone who didn’t much care one way or another.
Still it was hard not to fidget under that gaze. Measuring, assessing. He hated how it made him feel, mostly he hated how it reminded him of everything he had lost. Like a ghost from the past sliding its icy fingers in his gut and squeezing.
He broke eye contact and kept to his routine as though it hadn’t been shattered like sugar glass against a wall. His jacket was nearly frozen. A fine layer of ice on top. He probably should had come in through the back. There was a spacious mud room that kept him from studding mud and dirt all over the thick oak. He’d never used it, but it might had come in handy if he could get over how closed off it was from the rest of the house.
His pants were just as bad, and with those eyes on him, he chugged them off and shrugged off any discomfort of undressing in front of someone. His long johns at least would help him keep some modesty, though not much since they clung to him from calf to thigh.
Once that was done, he stepped across the room to the cot shoved against the wall. A duffle and a couple of boxes containing all his worldly possessions. Rummaging until he got a pair of jeans that didn’t smell too bad and a ratty sweater.
That particular room was a huge open space, taking up most of the first floor. With the kitchen in tucked into one corner and the fireplace dead center on the opposite wall. There were plenty of large windows chasing away the gloomy atmosphere. A walk in pantry toward the back and two bathrooms that had alternative showers and tubs. There was an outdoor jacuzzi that could be sealed off from the elements with a click of a button and an empty panel on another wall were a flat screen television would had stood. And that was only the first floor.
It wasn’t a place he would had chosen, even if he’d had the option. Something more utilitarian though he appreciated the wide, open rooms. An easy line of sight. Except that couch that stood like a black stain on white satin. He couldn’t quite stop from feeling its presence. Even as he went into the kitchen and put the kettle on. It was an itch between his shoulder blades. More than his unexpected visitor.
Once the water boiled and coffee returned warmth to his hands, it was his turn to study his wayward guest. She hadn’t changed much since the last time he’d seen her. Hair just as long, cropped in severe lines. A little older, with lines on her face that seemed out of place, like a cherry red convertible on a Rembrandt. Her choice of clothing, on the other hand, was something else. Black leather boots up to her tights, biker shorts, a blouse that was painted on with her midriff showing, long gloves and some kind of reversed headband that looked more like horns on her head finishing up the look. All she needed was a dog collar and a whip and she’d fit right in in a S&M club.
There was also something about the way she sat there, perfectly posed like she had nowhere better to be that was off. Like looking at an optical illusion, seeing one thing or another and realizing that it was either and neither all at the same time. Head trip, Warren had called it when the professor had first introduced the puzzles to them. With a sour note in his tone as Warren slumped in his chair. Dismissive of anything that was out of his comfort zone. He shook the memory off. It, like so many things from his past, was better left buried and forgotten.
They stayed in silence long enough for him finish his coffee and remember the hares that still needed to be cleaned. Carelessly dropped by the door, forgotten in the face of the unexpected.
He made to grab them but a beep stopped him. He turned toward the couch, a big, imposing thing that was probably feather soft. She was checking the communicator on her wrist with all the indolence of the teenager she should had been. Except for the tightening of lips and the deepening of faint lines, premature, around her eyes and mouth. The dark shadows that crept up in her eyes for a moment and gone.
She looked up at him, an inscrutably look thrown his way before she was gone in a light show of mythological creatures surrounding a portal. So different from the discs of the past.
He stood in the middle of the room. That monstrosity of a couch glowing in the fire’s warm light. In another lifetime he might had wondered what was wrong and what he could do about it. In another lifetime. Instead he went and grabbed the hares and placed them on the counter to prepare for skinning. There were drops of deep, deep red. Vivid against the pink, white, of their winter coating. Marring that perfect coat. He carefully skinned the hares, his hands turned red with their blood.
Cleaned he packed them to freeze and kept his mind on the storm outside. On the whistling outside as the storm bored down on the area. The branches whisking back and forward like a deranged 1920s detective.
He ate a small dinner. Some beans, fish and something that was pink and chewy. He put some more wood into the dwindling fire and watched it roar back to life. As he laid on his cot, watching the flames danced to a rhythm much their own. He didn’t allow himself to think about Illyana and those premature lines she carried like boulders on her back. He didn’t think and didn’t wonder and he didn’t touch that invader that sat in the middle of what was supposed to be a living room. That night he slept fitfully and sometimes not at all, a typical night for him but he didn’t think about anything or anyone. None of it taking root in his mind like it would had in the past.