Ashes of Chaos
Break of Dawn: Parts 1-3
by Jaya Mitai and Persephone
Disclaimer: The characters and universe belong to Marvel Comics. No money is being made from this endeavor. The story is co-plotted and co-written by Mitai( firstname.lastname@example.org) and Persephone (email@example.com).
MST: Please ask permission.
Nathan attempted to shake the dust from his eyes as the worst of the wreckage settled around him. Thankfully, the main structure of the building was still intact, no small miracle considering the attack it had absorbed, but he didn’t trust that stability to last forever. An alarm was going off, somewhere to his right, and he took the time to wonder at the durability of the systems he and Blaquesmith had designed into this base, his home away from home.
Then he was hefting the beam from his legs and moving.
The main hall had collapsed partially, rock and plaster, shards of metal formed obstacles not easily cleared. He shied away from using his TK, preferring instead to climb over them as he scanned the complex.
Nothing. And he was still in the psi-shielding, if the generator hadn’t been crushed.
The light of day seemed unnaturally bright and he squinted as he pushed himself through the collapsed doorway, finally noticing the faint, sharp pain on his forehead and the slight tickle of a dry substance crumbling on his forehead. Cut wasn’t deep, and it was the least of his worries.
Right color, though.
Before him, carmine cape a tattered, windtickled shadow of its former glory, armor barely dented by the collapse of the base, stood a figure that matched him in stature and build, hair and eyes.
"Don’t build these things like they used to," a thick, sarcastic voice taunted. "Really, Dayspring, a flick of telekinesis and half the building came down. I hope," he continued, tilting his head to the side, sunlight dancing off the bright helmet to play on Nathan’s face, "the mountain is significantly stronger; you deserve a lasting tomb."
Cable sneered, reaching a finger of telepathy towards the shields masking the base. Still in place. So far, no psi in the world had detected their battle. Nor had Apocalypse, hopefully.
"I won’t be the one dying here, Stryfe." He started a slow circle, ignoring the ache growing behind his eyes as Stryfe inundated him with a series of very ungentle telepathic probes. "I can’t tell you how pleasantly surprised I am by your visit, but you really should have called ahead. The place is a mess."
Stryfe threw a sharp spear of telekinetic energy that Nathan blocked easily, and suddenly the two were five feet apart, three, grappling. Nathan barely avoided the small, curved metal blade Stryfe procured from nowhere, knocking it to the side but leaving his right kidney open for a split second.
Stryfe took full advantage, and Nathan twisted away before more than a single blow could land.
"Stab your eyes! If we kill each other, he wins!" It really was a last ditch effort to attempt to stop Stryfe, and there was no persuasion in that voice. Stryfe had been a thorn in his side since the beginning of the revolt, had committed unimaginable atrocities. Blood calls for blood, the way of the desert, in the future as well as the present. And the sands were thirsty.
Stryfe snarled as Dayspring very nearly swept him off his feet, and they backed off, beginning a telekinetic dance while still probing for weaknesses in the others’ psi-shields. "Apocalypse has already won, you’ve guaranteed it through your cowardice!"
With a roar Nathan charged, a sudden, seemingly irate move, and Stryfe welcomed it. Unfortunately, he hadn’t bought the loss of control, and was not taken by surprise, ducking a backhand that would have taken his head off at the shoulders and blocking the foot that followed it. More than once since Stryfe had appeared at his doorstep without warning, Cable wished he hadn’t left the psimitar back at the house.
#I wonder how it will feel when you’re gone. I think I may even miss you, brother.#
Cable fought to push the slight telepathic influence from his mind, not fast enough to counter a blow from an armored fist. He felt his jaw snap as one might feel a pretzel give when broken in half, yet no pain followed as he fell back with a grunt, forcing Stryfe from his mind and telekinetically slapping the reeling telepath with enough force to toss him several yards away.
"This is futile!" He was careful to keep his jaw stiller than he would have liked. It felt curiously numb. "Oath, you idiot, neither one of us can win!"
Stryfe had regained his feet, his TK shield holding even as Cable hammered on it with everything he had, excluding the small store reserved for the virus. "You’re wrong, Dayspring! Have you forgotten I bear the name Chaos-Bringer?"
Nathan flinched as he felt the enormous amount of energy building, as he felt it in the hair that stood up on the back of his neck and arm, felt it in the atmosphere as one feels a thunderstorm. Felt it with his peripheral senses, like static against his telepathic probes, like white noise to his mental ears, it was faint, it was overpowering. It was impossible! How could he manage such a feat, considering the powerful blow that had nearly collapsed a base built into a mountainside? Knowing his shields would not hold against such an attack, Cable tried desperately to break through Stryfe’s mental defenses, formidable, but no more formidable than his own. Stryfe seemed oblivious to his attacks, dropping to his knees with the effort of focusing all that energy.
He hadn’t been holding back, where was he getting the power...?
"Oath, you fool! You’ll die!" He’d burn himself out at the very least, a possibly that was very appealing. Assuming Cable survived the attack.
"You... first," Nate barely heard the whisper, and Stryfe’s eyes closed, entire body trembling as it began to glow with a light not unlike the radiance of phosphorous as it was exposed to air.
As a last resort, Nathan grabbed the only thing handy - a rock slightly larger than his fist - and hurled it at the alpha telepath, using the very last of his telekinesis to try to punch just the slightest hole in that building field of energy. It was a futile gesture, the faint hope of distracting Stryfe his only motivator, already bracing himself for an attack that was going to leave him to Stryfe’s mercy, if it didn’t kill him instantly.
And distract him he did. Nathan somehow managed to cut a small hole in the shield, and even as it filled back in like cascading water over the lip of a falls, the rock passed through. It bounced with a heavy clang on the metal helmet Stryfe habitually wore, knocking his head back and snapping his eyes open –
And diffusing the collected telekinetic energy like a nuclear bomb, Stryfe seated calmly in the center.
Cable went flying, felt himself hurling through the air as he curled, trying to figure out where down was, hoping to take the brunt of the fall on his left shoulder, the one that could take such an impact –
As luck would have it, he landed on something reasonably level, flat on his back. The air whooshed from his lungs, leaving him gasping frantically for breath as his head filled with cotton, and the sinister, cold feeling of an alien mind.
#Clever... but it gained you... nothing.#
Nathan launched his mind from his body, carrying the fight to the astral plane even as he felt Stryfe doing the same, even as they hastily armored themselves before using the fantastic weapons of the mind and will.
It was only by chance that Nathan glanced down, towards the eartheral realm, ducking under the swipe of a large blade, and his eyes widened as he saw the shadow of rocks and dust cascading down the mountain, a swift wave, almost like the sea, rushing rapidly towards the ground, towards the base –
And then Stryfe had him around the throat, and two eyes shone brightly as the almost evenly matched telepaths grappled.
#Flonq it! Look down, Stryfe!# Frantically, Nathan tried to retreat into his body, use whatever was left of his TK to protect himself from the tons of rock pouring towards it.
Stryfe didn’t let him.
The mirror set of eyes glaring into his didn’t move, and the astral plane was almost torn in two as twin telepathic screams, almost as one, trumpeted across time and space, and faded instantly, the echo deafening, as instantly as the base - and the bodies of the two - were hidden from view by the dust and rock of the shifting mountain.
* * * * * * *
His eyes felt grainy, tight and strained, and he blinked them several times in irritation, setting the autopilot before closing them, his usually steady fingers fumbling with the visor. After a second he finally got the thing off, using more force than necessary and losing his grip, tossing them to his lap. He cursed under his breath, rubbing his eyes roughly before dropping one hand to retrieve the visor.
To his surprise, a cool, slender hand beat him there, patting his before gently picking up the visor.
He didn’t need his eyes to tell him whose hand it was.
"Abusing yourself will do no one good."
He fitted it back on with less ease than usual, taking the plane off autopilot and increasing the speed once more. It was actually fairly unsafe to fly at their current speed so low to the ground, but he had unshakable faith in the radar and its accuracy. He used it alone to fly by, dodging about the mountainous terrain, not trusting the plane’s cloaking ability over this part of Europe.
There was a reason the mountainous ranges that spanned the borders of Poland and Slovakia were empty. The respective countries’ military testing bases were located here, and although he knew their cloaking was far less advanced than the Shi’ar technology used on Xavier’s SR-71 Blackbird they’d recently recovered from Bastion, it never hurt to take precautions.
It made flying with autopilot on a bit of an adventure, though.
Glorious red hair shifted beside him as Jean leaned back to settle in the copilot’s chair. Her unfathomable emerald eyes were lined, tired with tears and worry, but clear.
Scott kept his sigh to himself. He knew as well as anyone that the majority of Cable’s major bases were psi-shielded for safety, his as well as other telepaths in the vicinity. It was amazing Jean had heard Nathan’s scream at all, but it made sense. No technology could shield a broadcast that loud on the astral plane. It had brought Jean to her knees, crying Nate’s name, and had caused the tightness of chest and unconfident fingers of Scott Summers.
Her inability to make any contact with their son was causing the absolutely numb feeling of the rest of his body.
He shifted again, the leather seat encompassing him, supporting his back, the soft material contouring to his tense body. Jean bowed her head again, projecting part of her mind onto the astral plane in search of any sign of Nate, waiting for a communication that would tell them where he was and whether he was all right.
They knew his general location, the mansion had received a communication only one and a half minutes before their latest computer system had detected the seismic disturbance on the Polish side of the Catharian range, too small to be an earthquake, but too strong to have been a freak landslide.
And only a moment after that, Jean had hit the floor.
The communication seemed to be a generic warning issued automatically by Cable’s systems there, possibly triggered by the destruction of part of the base itself, and arrived a full ninety seconds before notification of the seismic anomaly. A third of that time could be attributed to the fact that their home systems only updated with orbiting satellites twice a minute, creating the possibility the base had been destroyed a minimum of sixty seconds before the landslide. The transmission told the exact location of the base and the time and date sent, along with notifying them that there were two people in the base at the time of transmission. It identified one as Dayspring Askani’son, the other as an intruder.
And that was it. Only 78 bytes of data, the bare minimum. Probably designed so to get it off before the systems themselves went off-line; any attempt to connect to or even ping the system had failed.
Furthermore, he couldn’t shake the feeling he knew exactly who that single intruder might have been.
Blazes, Nate! Why were you there, why did you lock yourself up in your bases and your safehouses and never let us know? He’d walked away from X-Force, left his team and Domino, the woman Scott had found himself almost expecting to someday welcome into the family. He’d returned to them, only to take off again, heading off to his private mission, not letting them in, not letting anyone in.
His chest tightened further as his inattention nearly cost them the tip of the right wing, the Blackbird screaming through a small chasm between two severe precipices as he fought to keep the plane from crashing, only 100 feet off the ground.
The only complaint about the close call from the back was a grunt. "You payin’ attention up there, Cyke?"
Cyke. Not Slim, probably the name he’d considered using. Slim. Slym.
He checked the electronic map, plotting their progress towards a preprogrammed point. Only six minutes left before they entered the latitude and longitude of the base, and another twenty seconds before the exact location of the base.
Or, at least, where it had been eight hours ago. He shuddered to think of the time it would have taken them in a commercial jet.
If Nate had been severely injured, he could have bled to death hours ago, he could have died alone in the crumbling base that had failed to protect him –
He shook off that train of thought quickly. Jean was right. Abusing himself would help no one. It wouldn’t even make him feel any less guilty. He kept his shielding tight, knowing Jean was scanning at a very receptive level, knowing his thoughts would just add to the melee of minds Jean had to go through, looking for a single thought from the man she’d come to call her son.
And judging from the fists, the fingernails digging into the soft but durable leather of the copilot’s seat, she hadn’t found one yet.
Scott’s pulse jumped several points as his mind, disobedient to the point of mutiny, trudged endlessly forward onto the tracks of a train of thought he didn’t need to pursue. What if it had been Apocalypse? And what if Cable had lost his fight? What would be waiting for them?
And how long would it take Scott to track the mutant down, and finish what Nate started?
That was ridiculous, of course. He had only half the current team of X-Men with him, only Jean, Rogue, Gambit, Wolverine, and Hank McCoy. Not nearly enough to take on Apocalypse.
Which brought him to another, logical jump in the rogue train of thought. It was so obvious that even with six highly trained, powerful mutants, attacking Apocalypse would be an exercise in futility. Why couldn’t Nate see that? Why couldn’t he see that he needed his Twelve, or whoever? Why couldn’t he see that he wasn’t endangering X-Force unwillingly? They were kids, but they were hardened, not callous like so many revolutionaries' bands, just toughened, tough enough to handle a serious fight and old enough to decide if it was the fight they wanted to pursue.
Old enough to choose their fate.
And that makes Nathan what, then, about eleven, he snapped at his mind, startling it into silence, enough quiet that he was able to gain back enough of his calm center to slow the speed of the aircraft gradually, keeping the Blackbird skillfully still under radar as it lost velocity. He switched off the small alarm chiming to remind him he had entered the target area.
And then he brought his eyes up from the radar, and actually looked out the cockpit windshield.
The particular peak it seemed Nate had chosen to be the protector of his base was a majestic one, the top not as jagged as some of the peaks of the range, dusted with perpetual snow and beautiful. At one hundred feet he was looking at it nearly from the ground up, and it seemed impossibly high, pure and untouched by the lands and the people below it, in perfect, absolute solitude.
It was easy to understand why Nathan had fallen in love with it.
And then Scott dragged his eyes downward, and his heart and hope with them.
Part of the south side of the mountain had given way, a darker, almost bleeding gash cut through the pines that grew stubbornly along the nearly perpendicular cliffs, the rocks and loose mud a trail of tears, of blood down the slope, ending in a pool of destruction at the foot, covering nearly half a square mile of what had once been pine forests.
And probably what had once been the entrance to Cable’s base here.
While it wasn’t difficult to see the clearing cut so conveniently through the trees, it was difficult to locate an area that was flat enough to land, VTOL or no. One had to take off from a rather level surface, otherwise the pilot was risking upsetting the plane and crashing before he’d really even managed to get it into the air.
And frankly, with his hands acting the way they were, he knew at this point he would be unable to keep them steady enough to successfully complete take-off in those conditions.
Eventually a rocky but fairly flat part on the very outskirts of the landslide became obvious over a small grove of still defiantly standing pines, and he wasted no time in bringing the plane down. Jean had taken off her seatbelt before the wheels had touched the loose dirt and pebbles, yet -- distracted by scanning -- she was nearly the last one off the plane, followed by Scott, who left the engines on idle. If Nate were still alive but injured, he wanted to waste no time getting him home.
He took a deep breath, eyes roving over the torn, scarred landscape, the scent of ripped pine strong in the cold air. Even at the foot of the mountain in early August, it was still cool, cooler than in many other parts of Poland. Beside him, Hank punched buttons on what looked to Scott like something from a Star Trek episode. He knew it had something to do with sound waves, used for locating hollow pockets relatively close to the surface of the earth. Hopefully, Nate had managed to create a telekinetic bubble around himself when the rubble had fallen, close enough to the surface that he could get oxygen.
God, let him be in the base. Let it be that simple.
Jean shook her head, hurriedly jumping from rock to rock, towards the mountain. #Still the psi-shielding, I’m amazed the generator is able to keep it up. Maybe the damage isn’t as bad as it looks.# It was a faint hope, even her mental voice broadcast her despair. If part of the base were intact, that was wonderful.
But only if Nate had been inside. The message said he’d been inside, but it had come well over a minute before the rockslide had been detected by the orbiting French satellite and the mansion system had notified them, which left, at the bare minimum, sixty seconds for the transmitted conditions to have changed.
And with the security systems that would undoubtedly have been built in, Scott suspected Apocalypse would have dragged the fight outside as soon as possible.
Unless he’d already killed Nathan, and brought the mountain down to ensure it.
Logan was off to the side, walking softly, leaping lightly from place to place, nostrils twitching slightly as he sniffed. Behind him Hank perched, his tricorder-ish device beeping at seemingly random intervals. Rogue had taken to the air for a better look, and Gambit had split off to the left, sweeping the area around the landslide, making sure no one was lurking around to take them by surprise. Scott had only the faintest of hopes that Nathan had tried to outrun the rocks.
Faint because, if Nate were in the outskirts, then he wouldn’t be protected by the psi-shielding.
With a cry, Jean slipped off a large shelf of limestone, disappearing suddenly on the opposite side. Logan was there almost instantly as Scott took off, checking his footing carefully as the rocks shifted beneath his feet. The Blackbird was far enough away that another, smaller landslide probably wouldn’t damage it, but they were far too close, and the instability of the new mountain face was a very real danger.
Scott used the relative stability of a downed pine to jog the rest of the way towards the limestone shelf, even as he saw Jean’s head reappear, supported by Logan. Her eyes were wild, she was scrabbling to get off the slab of rock.
"Someone . . . someone’s buried right here."
She shook her head, lifting the giant rock slab very slowly, with a terrific burst of telekinesis. "Too... faint," she hissed, frame shaking with the concentration of moving the ledge super-slowly.
Rogue came in from above swiftly, getting a good hold on what had to be at least a ton of limestone. "Ah got it, y’can let go an’ keep the loose rubble from fillin’ in the hole -"
Jean obeyed, a pink glow surrounding her, the smaller rocks staying as if by magic as Rogue hefted the rock into the air, catching it neatly underneath and flying it off to the side. Scott ignored the sudden, sharp crack as Rogue broke the rock into several, more manageable pieces before discarding them too far away from the landslide to trigger more destruction.
There was no sign of a body in the nearly six foot deep hole the removal of the limestone had created, and Logan jumped in, sniffing just once before hastily pulling at the smaller rocks on the farthest wall of the hole.
"Jeannie, leggo this side, he’s in here -"
She did, slowly, only a small window in her TK wall, and the rocks cascaded around Logan’s waist like gumballs from a machine. He assisted their fall, shoveling them out as he cleared a ledge in the unstable wall, and suddenly they saw the darkness as he revealed a pocket of air and space in what had been tightly packed earth and rock.
It took Logan only a second more to clear a sizable hole, and Rogue jumped into the hole, crawling through to hold up the ceiling of the chamber Logan had revealed. Logan climbed in as well, his grunts seeming muffled, and then a terribly familiar face, covered in dried blood, flopped lifelessly out of the hole, not flinching as sunlight found and played with the filthy silver hair that hung in sweat- and blood-drenched locks from that battered head.
"Oh, God," Jean whimpered, and Scott very gently took Jean’s hand, projecting his calm as she lost concentration for a split second, as part of the rock wall buckled. His voice was quiet.
"Hank, go get the stretcher."
There was an indignant huff and the almost musical tinkle of pebbles sliding. "I anticipated your order," was the soft reply, and Scott turned his head to see Hank, the stretcher awkwardly over his shoulder as he leapt the last several yards.
Jean squeezed his hand and Scott turned back, in time to see Nate’s head disappear, and then the familiar yellow uniformed butt of Logan squeezing back out.
"Hank, get down here."
There was barely enough room for the stretcher to lie flat at the foot of the small cell they’d excavated, and Hank clung perilously to the wall as Logan dragged Nathan out of the hole. His uniform was covered in filth, dust and mud, blood and fluids, as torn as the body that occupied it. Nathan offered no resistance and no sound as he was very gently placed on the stretcher, Logan forced to stand on either side of Nathan’s hips as he poked his head back into the room. He pulled it out a second later, looking not up at them but at the rock around him.
"Jeannie, this room’s gonna go when Rogue comes out, can y’keep it standing?"
She was sweating, trembling with the strain of the rock she was keeping in place, but she nodded sharply.
"Yes," Scott called down, suppressing the urge to tell her it was too much, she was going to push past her limits.
Logan grabbed the walls, hefting himself out of the hole, before lying on his stomach and reaching down. Hank clung to the sides of the wall, bare feet obviously cut, leaving small spots of blood on the dust and rock. He reached down, grabbing the two handles of the stiff stretcher, and with a grunt of effort, managed to raise the entire thing several feet. Logan snagged the other end, and Rogue’s hand poked out of the hole, holding it steady as Hank climbed out. Seconds later the two men had hefted the stretcher - and Cable - out of the hole.
"Get the hell out of the way. This whole section’s gonna go when Jean stops holdin’ it together." Scott spared a quick glance at his son, not detecting a rising and falling of chest, seeing the visible spread of the T-O as it took advantage of his helplessness to contain it. The uniform covering his chest was shredded, displaying the extensive bruising on his ribcage, the swollen collarbone. His jaw was equally swollen, most likely broken, and his eyes remained closed, face paler than Scott had ever seen it. His gaze flew back to Jean as her legs gave way and she crashed down to one knee, hands braced against the rock, fingers curled.
"Can’t hold it... much longer," she hissed between clenched teeth, brow knitted with concentration, shaking very noticeably. Logan and Hank hurried down the rocks, struggling to keep the stretcher level, and Scott backed off several yards, watching the rocks and doing the equations in his head.
"Rogue, grab Jean on your way up, Jean, let go as soon as you’re airborne. Don’t try to control it, I don’t think it’s enough to set off a very large landslide." Really, they were too near the base of the mountain itself to cause a more severe landslide. He hurried down the slope and to the left, knowing he didn’t have Hank and Logan’s head start, knowing he wouldn’t beat the rocks to the bottom. To the left he spotted some of the larger rocks and he had a feeling they’d hold steady. Jean was almost at her breaking point, they had to give her some relief now, when she could still control the release of the rocks.
He cast one more look towards Logan and Hank, bounding incredibly smoothly toward the plane. Not out of range, but they would be before the rocks got there. They’d be safe. Remy was racing from the plane with a manual respirator, completely out of harm’s way.
"Rogue, NOW!" He knew he wasn’t entirely out of the danger zone as he called out, but he figured he had the time to make it to a cluster of very stable-looking, heavy chunks of granite.
He must have forgotten to multiply by the root of 17.
He glanced back in time to see Rogue shoot from the rocks as if spat, snagging Jean under the armpits, and with a cry of pain Jean released her grip on the rocks. A much greater part of the mountain than Scott had anticipated shuddered, and with a groan the mountain began to run once more. The rocks beneath his feet began trembling, and he leapt for the larger boulders, not quite making it. He felt his knee split as it came in contact with a very sharp piece of granite, and then he was down, and rocks and dirt played over him, filling his mouth, choking him. His fingers found a very strong handhold, and he hung on with all of his strength as a not insignificant part of the mountain face passed within a foot of him, pelting him with shrapnel. A particularly spiteful piece of bedrock bit into his hand sharply, cutting deep, possibly into a ligament. He didn’t flinch, waiting for the mountain to stop moving, waiting for the ringing to stop.
It was over surprisingly quickly, silent save the hiss of dust and small pebbles as they cascaded down the mountainside. He shook his head sharply, hacking, feet slipping on loose rock before finding the steadier material beneath it.
#Scott! Are you -#
*Fine. Nathan, is he -*
#He’s alive. Hank’s getting him into the plane now.#
Scott shook the dust from his visor, cursing as he balled his injured hand into a fist. His middle finger refused to curl all the way, a sharp stab of pain his only reward from trying. Definitely hit something, possibly a nerve, no time to worry about it.
He twisted, now facing the plane instead of the mountain, noticing a very strange sensation as the material beneath his heel ground into the rock at his swivel. He moved it quickly, finding the smallest swatch of fabric on the crag he’d been standing on.
Curious, he leaned down, tried to pick it up.
He pulled almost three inches of it up before it stopped, and, tug as he might, it remained firmly wedged.
More curious, he clambered down several feet, eyeing the dust-stained cloth. Beneath the dirt, it was a brilliant shade of red, and very thick, a strange fabric, with a sheer, soft quality, almost like –
Almost like their uniforms, made of spandex and unstable molecules.
But Apocalypse didn’t wear red. In fact, the only mutant powerful enough and likely enough to have caused this and had a red cape was –
Oh my lord... "Logan! Rogue!"
His injured hand screamed in protest as he tried to pull at the top rock, shifting it to his left to keep it from knocking more of the unstable right side down. That surely would have shifted the man, probably for the worse, they’d have to get him out of there immediately, assuming –
Assuming he was still alive.
Rogue beat Logan there, tossing aside the granite like it was a basketball, and the layer below it, tilting it up like the door to a tornado shelter or a coffin. More of the red cape was visible, in a small pocket mostly filled with loose dirt and rocks. Scott shoveled them away, using both hands, almost digging dog style as Logan puffed up beside him.
"Well, goddamn it all," the mutant growled after a second, with surprising hostility, and he began working as feverishly as Scott, pulling the smaller rocks off, revealing shining, dented armor.
But not red and purple. This armor was silver as a newly minted dime, cool to the touch.
Rogue continued to hold the rock in place, keeping more from sliding into the hole as Logan and Scott grabbed the arm, Scott’s good hand digging and moving rocks, finally finding the head, and supporting it as they hauled him out.
Ever so gently, they laid the man down on a somewhat smooth patch in the rocks, and Scott, hands completely steady, pulled back the not unfamiliar helmet to reveal an almost unblemished face, a perfect mirror of the one struggling to survive in the bowels of the Blackbird.
#Scott, what - #
"Stryfe," Scott whispered aloud, voice curiously empty, and then his fingers found the hot neck, and the shallow, weak pulse that still defiantly pumped blood around the armored, battered body.
The man wasn’t breathing.
"Rogue, get the other stretcher. Move! Logan, get this armor off him, it’s too damn heavy-" And without another word, Scott lowered his mouth to the blue-tinged lips below him, puffed life into a body quickly fading.
* * * * * *
The virus attached itself somewhat awkwardly to the reinforced cell membrane, not able to cling with its usual tenacity, and she jumped, startled, as the phone chirped softly at her side. As usual, she ignored it, taking a swig of lukewarm coffee before returning her eyes to the play of death. The virus hadn’t attached properly; it had fallen off mid-transfer, spilling its precious cargo of death into the plasma, where it would be harmless, reabsorbed by the body.
Quickly, experience quelling her excitement, she centered the viewer on another cell, this one with a virus attaching itself rather solidly despite the slippery, thick cell membrane. It began its push through the thickened surface, and Moira MacTaggart watched with interest as nothing penetrated the stained cell.
"Mum," the soft voice rang out over the intercom, "Phone call fur ye. Mister Summers."
A single glance was spared at her wristwatch, and a second more passed before she realized it was in timer mode and spared the other hand to press the right, black button twice. Then she glanced back into the microscope, a new type entirely that could display the cells and virus at once, high magnification, and live. Part of her mind calculated the time on the eastern United States seaboard even as her hand reached for the phone, finding her mug instead. Her eyes stayed glued to the microscope as she groped around. Small, cylindrical - pen. Flat, smooth - paper. Round, cold - vial of plasma. Kinked, curled - DNA. She followed it up until she found the receiver, picking it up noisily from the cradle.
The virus had not yet penetrated the cell.
It was impossible to bring the phone to her ear and stare into the microscope at the same time, and after one more look, she set the video to on, watching the cell in a small television screen as she settled back more comfortably into the chair and raised the receiver.
"Evening, Scott, what can A do for ye?" She winced a bit as she saw the cell membrane begin to give.
"Your landing strip still in working order?" The transmission was fuzzy, almost like a radio broadcast rather than digital, and she pulled more of her attention to the conversation, hand reflexively going to her mug.
"I’ve got two down, they won’t make it back to New York. Can you treat them?"
She turned sharply, clear eyes moving instantly to her medical supplies. She knew the beds were there, screaming cleanliness, sheets still changed twice a week, and she knew she still had a decent selection of blood plasma and platelets available in storage. She mentally checked her stocks in suture and gauze, and her medicine cabinet, finding them to be in fine order. She wasn’t exhausted yet, but a several hour surgery would be pushing her limits –
There was the slightest of pauses. "Extensive. Both were caught in a rockslide. Cable needs a transfusion, both are on respirators, broken bones, internal injuries, shock."
Cable? Wasn’t he running with his own team these days? She’d never really kept up with the time traveler as she would have liked, but he had piqued her interest, after showing up the way he had.
"A have the resources tae handle tha’, but nae th’ people. Is McCoy wi’ ye?"
"Yes. He’s got one of them stabilized."
Henry McCoy was a scientist before a surgeon, but he was skilled and would be invaluable. And with a list like that... Summers was right. They’d never survive the transatlantic flight.
"What’s yuir ETA?"
There was another pause. "Fifteen minutes, maybe thirteen."
"A’ll have Rahne oot tae greet ye. Bring them both tae th’ main complex."
Scott agreed and hung up before Moira had the presence of mind to ask who the other man was. Probably one of Cable’s new teammates, therefore a younger person, with a better chance at recovery. She got up from the stool swiftly, tossing back the remains of the coffee the way Wisdom might hard liquor, mind racing ahead as it took inventory of the precautions she’d have to take. Legacy would love to get a foothold in a person that badly injured.
As an afterthought, she turned back to the television screen, watching the discarded protein coat of the virus drift away into the plasma, the contents headed unerringly towards the nucleus of the perfectly healthy blood cell.
* * * * * *
A quarter of an hour found Scott fighting to land the Blackbird as smoothly as possible on the windswept runway, decelerating carefully on the well-kept but slick blacktop. Weather on Muir was different from that any other place on the planet. It was either absolutely perfect, or absolutely hellish.
And, of course, this morning it had chosen to be the latter.
Once he had the plane down to the taxi speed he brought her around, towards the small but sufficient hangar and the single figure standing in the well-lit structure, waiting for them.
He checked the fuel gauge as he brought the ‘bird to a halt. He’d called ahead to Xavier, telling him they might not be returning today, and discovered Charles had already made arrangements that the Blackbird would be refueled in France before they made the flight back. They had roughly an eight of a tank left, and getting to Paris would be pushing it. He set the engines on cool down/shutdown and climbed out of the cockpit, assisting Gambit and leaving Logan to help Rogue. Hank ran back and forth between the two, making sure they were both still breathing after being removed from the respirators.
Jean went out and hugged Rahne, very briefly. "You’re looking well," she managed over the wind, and Rahne tilted her head before smiling at the distraught redhead and then motioning. Without word the team of X-Men and their precious burden followed her out of the weather and into the warmth and relative quiet of the main complex.
Moira was there instantly, the shorter, auburn-haired woman darting between the two, only her eyes widening as she looked on the faces of her two patients, both partially obscured by oxygen masks.
"A take it ye found them like this?"
"Yes," Scott managed tersely, and Hank handed her the charts while she hurried them down the hallway, already dressed for surgery, minus the gloves. The mask around her mouth didn’t muffle her strong brogue, and they heard her clearly swearing under her breath as she pored over them.
"What aboot th’ virus?"
Hank blinked a moment, then glanced at Cable. "It’s completely out of control. Jean thinks she might be able to combat it herself, once he’s stable, but until then -"
"It repairs th’ damage as it goes?"
Hank blinked again, then nodded. "Yes, I believe so."
"He has th’ worst of the injuries," she muttered, "but his twin seems tae be worse off. How long was Stryfe wi’oot air?"
This time Scott spoke, voice strained. "We have no way of knowing. I think it was no more than five minutes, he had a pulse when we found him."
Moira shook her head, hipchecking the double doors to the surgical theater open, glancing with brief annoyance at Scott’s still-bleeding hand before back at the charts. Inside, the surgery lights were already on and warming up, brightening the room almost cheerfully, the metallic equipment within sparkling. "A cannae tell which tae treat first," she finally admitted. "Hank, how much d’ye remember o’ traditional medicine? We may have tae work on both at once."
Scott woke with a start, just managing to quell his sudden impulse to sneeze as he realized the cause of that urge was the soft, red hair attached to his exhaustedly sleeping wife. She lay against him, head buried in his shoulder and chest, dry tear tracks staining the small amount of base still on her face. He wasn’t quite sure what it was, but almost all the X-women applied a small amount of makeup before going into combat.
He had the feeling that, if he asked, they’d tell him it was warpaint.
He moved as little as possible, eyes roving the walls in search of a clock. Not finding one, he lifted his left arm up slowly, glancing at his watch. 4:42 AM eastern standard time. Which made it a good five hours later here, at least, and they'd arrived at around 2:00 PM by his watch, which meant –
Which meant that Moira had been in surgery all night, if she still was in surgery, and if he remembered anything, it was that the woman rarely slept at night. So they might not have disrupted her usual sleep patterns much, but it still must have been exhausting, however irregular her usual hours....
And suddenly the lack of clocks in the room made absolute, perfect sense. Why waste the electricity? Moira could hardly care less what time it was.
The door to Scott’s immediate right opened softly, and Rahne, in human form, crept in quietly, peering at him, unsure if he was awake beneath the visor that covered his eyes. Belatedly he realized the cause of the hesitation, and spoke softly.
"I’m awake," he half-whispered, and her smile was slight and sincere. She had brought two steaming mugs of coffee with her, and she set them on the small, artificial wood table beside him in the makeshift waiting room nearly silently.
"Mum said tae tell ye she’s oot o’ surgery, an’ both yer - th’ men ye brought pulled through." She blushed slightly, looking like she felt awkward as she continued in a near whisper. "She’s sleepin’ now, A dinnae ken when she’ll be oop again, but A ken Dr. McCoy hasnae gone tae bed yet. Do ye want tae see him?"
To see Hank. Not to see his . . sons. She was right, of course, whether or not he wanted to publicly admit it, Stryfe was as much his son as Nathan in blood.
In spirit was another matter entirely.
"Yes, thank you, Rahne. I hope you got some sleep yourself?"
She smiled slightly. "Nay, A’ve been learnin’ tae keep Mum’s hours. Only way tae make sure th’ woman eats."
Scott allowed a small smile to touch his lips. "Thank you, Rahne. Tell Hank I’ll be there in a moment."
She nodded and padded quietly out of the room, careful not to let the door slam. Scott contemplated waking his wife, wondering if she’d sleep through his moving. Deciding she’d wake up, and wake up cranky at finding he intended to leave her, he brought up his right hand, his shoulder rolling as his hand found her hair, stroked it gently. He regretted the motion instantly as his hand, until that point just uncomfortably aching, screamed in protest, and he stilled it with a mental curse, untensing his shoulder with effort. He should have seen to it; it had been foolish of him to have fallen asleep without at least a cursory bandaging –
The slightest of moans came from that relaxed face, and then her eyes tightened as more awareness seeped in, and his heart reacted instinctively to it, drawing her closer.
"They’re out of surgery now, Hank wants to give us an update."
She leaned off him quickly with the deep sigh of a waking person, and Scott twisted, stretching his aching back and picking up one of the mugs, giving it to her. She stretched slowly and then took it, sniffing it suspiciously.
"Did Moira make this?" Without waiting for an answer, she took a sip, eyebrow raising in contemplation as she stood. "No, she didn’t. Where’s Hank?"
"You’d better sit back down, my friend," the mutant in question advised as he came through the door Rahne had left not a minute before, carrying a small plastic tray. His blue fur was mostly covered by the light blue scrubs, the haircap and mask hiding most of his face. To top off the strange picture, his feet were in huge, light blue static-boots, and a surgeon’s portable light, like a miner’s helmet beam, was placed around his forehead, held in place by the black plastic band. Jean sat back down slowly as Hank dragged a stool before Scott, plopping on it tiredly and placing the tray on the table beside him.
"Scott, let me see your hand."
Scott did, quite obediently, and Hank swore softly as he inspected it. "Why didn’t you tell me about this?" Almost to himself, he kept grumbling. "Lucky Moira mentioned in on her way out, it could have become infected hours ago, don’t know when to say enough’s enough -"
He looked up, haggard and blue eyes strained. "What? Ah, yes. Cable and Stryfe." After dabbing the hand gently with alcohol, his own blue paws in gloves and still steady, he began introducing a stinging local anesthetic to the site. His voice was extremely detached, very professional. "Nathan is stable, off the respirator. The virus has taken almost his entire left side. It appears to be halting, whether Nathan is controlling it or it’s simply taking a breather isn’t clear." He took a breath. "However, it seems to be avoiding his heart, surrounding it instead. If the virus starts spreading again, it could begin to constrict the heart."
Jean tensed, already starting to move, and Hank put out his other hand, stilling her. "It isn’t a danger at the moment, I’m more worried about his lower abdomen." He paused a bit, almost seeming to gather resolve as he took another deep breath, shaking his head slightly as he handled Scott’s hand. "His liver and right kidney appear to be failing. We’ll know in the next few hours if it was just the anesthetic; they may begin functioning again on their own.
"His small intestines took a lot of trauma. We had to remove about a foot, and clots in the rest may have to be removed with further surgery. As of now, he’s on a dialysis machine, oxygen, and we’re still dripping in the blood you so graciously donated -" and he spared a glance at Scott before jabbing the needle in even further, a sharp sting before a cool numbness spreading through his hand. Hank dropped the needle in favor of an alcohol dipped Q-Tip, and began to poke into the wound.
"Will he die?" Jean’s voice was strangely empty, hollow, her hands white around the coffee mug, and Scott wondered at his own relaxed pose. He must not be completely awake, he somehow couldn’t manage to feel panic at Hank’s words. Major organ failure. Threat of the T-O finishing him off right here. Not to mention the coma, telepathically induced, something that would take every bit of Jean’s skill to repair.
Hank sighed, adjusting the light on his forehead as he grabbed the small forceps.
"I don’t know, Jean." He paused again, huge, sharp canines coming out to bite his lower lip gently as he carefully maneuvered a piece of rock out of Scott’s hand. "He most certainly would have passed on to another plane of existence before we returned to the mansion, and if his organs refuse to function... if we had the Shi’ar medunit back home, it wouldn’t be a question, but -" He broke off, carefully wiping off the piece of debris before poking further into the gash. "We’ll know in a few days. I wish I could give you more reassurance -"
"What about Stryfe?" Scott almost winced at his own absolutely emotionless voice, but Hank didn’t seem to notice.
"Stryfe is doing a bit better. He still isn’t breathing on his own, but he didn’t have quite the extensive damage that Nathan suffered, I assume because of his armor." He fished another piece of dirt out of the wound. "However, what he did suffer is far more severe. The weight of the pressing rocks forced a vertebra out of place, effectively crushing the spinal membrane, cutting it off as a broken bone might cut off an artery. There was no exchange of liquids for probably eight hours, little to no oxygen to those nerves. We’re flushing it, but there’s been widespread swelling that is showing no signs of remission, as well as undeterminable nerve damage... I believe Stryfe may be confined to bed for the rest of his life, and it may be a markedly abbreviated one."
Hank seemed satisfied that he had fished out all the pieces of the mountain, and sprayed something in the wound, leaving it for a moment as he met their eyes.
"Furthermore, a CAT scan revealed hemorrhaging in Stryfe’s frontal lobe. Not much, but it may be an indication that his mental abilities are permanently damaged."
"He burned himself out?" Jean’s voice was much more animated than Scott’s, her eyes surprisingly soft, considering the subject matter.
"I’m not a telepath, but the damage is similar in many respects to the reported physical indications of telepathic burnout, yes. Furthermore, Moira says she’s seen like damage, much more severe, in two of... Kevin’s hosts." Hank dropped his eyes back to the wound in Scott’s right hand.
"You’ve clipped a ligament and a nerve cluster, and stitching it now might foster an abscess. I’m going to dress this, and we’ll leave it for a week, to heal on its own. After that, I suspect surgery will be necessary to remove scar tissue and give you back the use of your..." He eyed the hand a moment. "Middle finger."
All three looked up as one, and between them managed a single smile.
* * * * * *
She had to keep looking, he had to be there. "Nathan? Nate, answer me!"
The hall was long, metallic, and empty, not ending, just growing smaller and smaller as it stretched forever into the black and white distance. Even now, it still rang with the whisper of that terrible scream, still trembled with a terror she had rarely felt in this place. The hall grew longer by the second; she felt as though she were running backwards as it stretched forever before her. Her footsteps were absolutely silent; she couldn’t even hear her own frantic, rapid breathing, just the echo of that agonized yell.
I’m here, Nate, I’m here, for the love of God, Nate, tell me where you are!
But... that sounded like Sam...
Domino opened her eyes with effort, her eyelashes sticking together with a gummy substance, and squeezed them shut against the intruding light. The hallway, the scream was gone.
And the link was silent as a stillborn infant.
"Domino? Are yah alright?"
She took a deep breath, bringing a hand up to shade herself from the light of the medbay, squinting as much as she could as she pried her eyes open again. She could make out Sam reaching up to turn the light away from her, James beside him, looking concerned. Shatterstar was to her right, and Tabitha paced behind him, clasping her hands and smiling tremulously as Domino met her eyes.
Why am I in the medbay?
Sam helped her sit up, and she blinked several times in the dimmer room, shaking her head, aware of an ache not unlike a migraine pounding behind her eyes. She was still in the jeans and tanktop she’d been wearing after session, her boots were gone, socked toes wiggling as she made sure she had all her parts. Her hair was clinging a bit to her forehead, and she wiped the sweat from it, surprised at how hot she felt.
"Sam? What -"
"You collapsed, ma’am, and you’ve been unconscious for almost a day," James said, surprisingly softly.
"Had us worried there, for a while," Sam added, blinking those huge eyes twice before reaching out and taking her chin, tilting her head up, staring into her eyes. She pulled back, surprised, and he blushed slightly.
"Wanted tah make sure you weren’t concussed," he said, by way of explanation. "Y’nose was bleedin’ pretty bad for a while."
Nosebleed? Very dimly, the hallway came back, the strange dream...
#Nate?# she sent out tentatively. They weren’t speaking, not since he had left, but surely he’d answer her, surely he wouldn’t be <I>that</I> much of a stubborn ass. She sent her concern down the link with his name, and waited for a response.
#Nate, if you can hear me, you damn well better answer,# she snapped, as loudly as she dared, eyes narrowing. Sam looked at her, not at all surprised to see her confusion turn to irritation so obviously, and Tabitha came around from behind Domino, a mug held in her outstretched hands. Domino ignored them.
#Dammit, Nate! Answer me!#
Silence. More than silence. She felt like she was talking to a dial tone, that no one was even there on the other end to listen.
Like no one was there.
"Shit, no," she moaned under her breath, and was up and almost out the door before she realized her legs weren’t going to support her. Rictor caught her not ungently around the waist.
"Whoa, Dom, where’d’yah think -"
The phone rang, blinking innocently on the wall.
* * * * * * *
Scott nodded to Moira as he walked in, carrying her covered plate in his right hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
"You missed dinner," he said, his voice hushed, as if afraid to wake the other occupant of the room, as if anything as simple as his voice would be equal to the task.
Moira pinched the bridge of her nose and scrunched her face up, holding it for a second before relaxing her facial muscles. An almost fragile-looking hand, attached to an equally frail-appearing wrist reached out and took the plate, placing it on the counter before turning back to her charts.
"Thank ye, Scott."
It wasn’t exactly a dismissal, but it was hardly an invitation for conversation, and Scott found himself once more drawn to simply looking at Moira.
She was thinner than last he’d seen her, even bundled in a cotton sweater and labcoat, her khakis baggy; he could see the outline of her frame, almost painfully thin. Her face was more lined, thinner without being haggard, her emerald eyes somehow darker than they used to be, but still absolutely clear. Her hair, cut short for convenience, was still immaculately combed but graying more by the day, and she obviously couldn’t be bothered to dye it. Her hands were steady as they shuffled through multiple x-rays, fingers nimble and nails strong, unpainted as they drummed a staccato rhythm on the countertop.
"A can’t tell a thing from this," she grumbled half to herself, eyeing a spinal x-ray blurred by what he assumed was swelling around the column itself. "Impossible tae tell th’ damage."
"Stryfe," she muttered, sticking it on the running light, parallel to the countertop, hanging another x-ray beside it, this one of a knee. "This is Cable’s. Ye can see th’ joint’s out of place, it’ll be a miracle if he can walk with th’ ball as damaged as it is." She leaned forward, shoving her glasses up as a very steady finger traced a tiny black crack in the ball part of the joint, and followed it to an equally tiny crack in the cup, traveling nearly four inches into the tibia. "He’s lost joint fluid, then. A cannae replace it; the joint will have tae be surgically reconstructed."
Beside that x-ray she put up a ribcage, broken bones obvious, as well as the pins she and Henry had inserted to keep them in place. "He cannae break them again, they’re frail, an’ he’s askin’ fur cancer this way. Marrow cannae replenish, they will grow back together poorly." Her finger followed Nathan’s sternum downward, and she tapped it thoughtfully once before dropping her hand back to the counter, then picking up the mug of coffee, food untouched.
"His jaw is th’ only part o’ him that may heal decently," she growled, after several sips of the hot liquid. "He’s too old tae be running around getting rocks dropped on him."
"You know Nate," Scott said softly after a moment, studying the damage done to Cable’s chest. Four left ribs, all very high, all beside his heart. And the T-O was plainly visible, a huge white scar across him, stretching from his scapula across his left side. It looked even worse internally than it did externally, and the thought sent an icicle into his stomach as painful as a blade. How much more could the virus spread before it became a threat to his life? Was it already too far along for Nate to recover?
"Nae, that A dunnae," she murmured back in response. "A ken o’ his mission, and A expect he ken it be soon? That’s why he was oot alone at th’ base?"
Scott didn’t reply. Nate had dropped out of communication shortly before the entire affair with the Shadow King and the astral plane, and they’d heard from him briefly afterwards, just a communication to let them know he was alive and kicking before he disappeared. A few weeks ago they’d heard by the grapevine he’d come back briefly, then had a argument with Domino and took off.
Jean was calling the woman now --it had only been fifteen minutes ago either one of them had thought to tell her. She probably knew, and may have even taken damage from Nate’s scream, if they still had the psychic rapport Cable had accidentally formed with her. He wondered if Domino would make it down in time --
Of course she will, because Nathan isn’t going to die, he informed the logical part of his mind, watching Moira still studying the x-rays.
"A gave Jean permission tae work on th’ virus," Moira murmured consideringly after several minutes of silence. "Tell her I changed me mind."
Scott almost choked. "Excuse me?"
"Th’ virus will repair more o’ th’ damage than Cable’s body can. We’ll have tae watch its progress, but it gives Cable th’ advantage of swifter, more complete healing."
"It’s already -"
"A ken the risks, Scott. Thank ye fur th’ food."
Jean’s eyes flickered beneath her closed eyelids, eyebrows bunched together in concentration as her fingers moved in slow, circular patterns, one on her own temple, and one on her son’s. She didn’t know if it really helped the work, but even in the beginning of her training, Charles had confided that many telepaths often found touch greatly eased any very strenuous telepathic activity.
And she suspected her fingers were rubbing because her head was killing her.
It was a good sort of pain, though, an honest ache she wouldn’t have traded with the sweetest pleasure as her eyes opened slowly, like a morning glory finally sensing the first rays of sunlight after the seemingly endless shadow of night.
He was sleeping. Not in a coma, not in some sort of terrible, eternal nightmare. He was sleeping.
Smiling a little, surprised at her shaking hand, she reached out and stroked his cheek, swollen and bruised, traced the cut spanning his forehead, requiring stitches in three or four places. She half wished he’d wake with the gentle touch, but he didn’t, instead if anything settling into a more comfortable, deeper restful state, as if he knew the worst was over, as if he thought he could afford to treat himself to the luxury of carefree, abandoned sleep.
She’d watched him sleep as a child, so many hours. She had kept expecting each night to be their last, kept expecting never again to have the opportunity to watch his little mouth work soundlessly as he talked in his dreams, or his little fingers curl into fists as he snuggled deeper into his father’s warm side. He had the cutest nose as a little boy, and it really hadn’t changed much over the years, only now his face had grown into it, and it looked like it had been broken a few times, but skillfully set.
It wasn’t any different watching him now from how it had been those less than restful nights, fighting the T-O even in his sleep, struggling against the virus and the pain it was causing him and crying tears that broke her heart, kept her up exhausting long hours before dawn, blocking the pain away to give him a few hours’ relief from it.
Never, even as a child, could he ever, truly sleep the sleep of one.
He could now. The damage had been repaired, the loop of torture successfully broken, the threads of thoughts woven back together, bit by bit. He was starting to stabilize the T-O all on his own, the now automatic defense kicking in as his strength flowed back as surely as the blood his father had given to save his life. His body wasn’t whole, but at least now his mind was, and not undamaged, but unbroken. It had taken everything she possessed, it had taken all her skill and energy and determination and being, but she’d done it.
And now he was going to just lie there and sleep! Some thanks, son, she thought fondly, not sure he’d heard her till she saw the faintest quirk on those slightly bruised lips. Oh, Nate... he was such a mess. So many torn muscles and tendons, so much damage. Even with the organs working on their own, even with the virus halted, if not beaten back, he was still dancing precariously, the moonlight reflecting in his clean but limp silvering hair. They wouldn’t know if he would walk again, not with that knee like it was. Joint fluid simply can’t be replaced, and a knee replacement in this condition was out of the question, at least for now. He had developed pneumonia on top of everything else, a raging fever that was more troubling than any other symptom, requiring a draining tube, a clear plastic lead that constantly carried the pus-like ooze from him. His chest was the most frightening part to look at, covered in one, impossibly colored bruise, broken ribs mending so slowly.
His age was interfering, that she knew. He was on calcium supplements among other things, but Moira warned that he simply couldn’t keep breaking bones like he was, even after giving the T-O almost a day to take over the ribs on his left side, repairing them. Nathan wasn’t a child anymore, no matter how he looked when asleep, and he was getting too old to take injuries like this and bounce back. He almost hadn’t--
A quick mindbrush revealed he was still sleeping, dreamlessly, and she allowed the temporary mindlink to slowly fade, drifting away rather than cutting, or anything so abrupt or destructive. Once it was gone, she leaned back, taking a deep breath, surprised at the stiffness in her back and neck.
"Ye finished? A was beginning tae think A’d have tae wake ye and drag ye off."
Jean opened her eyes and glanced blearily around for a clock, wondering how much time had passed. Not finding one, she blinked, then tried to focus surprisingly strained eyes on her small watch.
"Ye were in a trance fur th’ better part of nine hours," Moira said softly, coming into the patient section of the labs, proferring an insulated mug of cold water. "Beginning tae think maybe ye needed some help."
"He’s... sleeping, I think," she finally said, after she’d downed the entire mug and found herself wishing for more. "I’ve done all I can -- it’s up to him, now. I felt him take control of the virus from me; I think he’s aware enough to keep it in check himself." She really was too tired to sound that deliriously happy, but her heart was beating fast, and her stomach felt surprisingly light. Despite his condition, he’d made such improvements. He was halfway out of the woods. Organs working, T-O under control, and out of that blasted coma...
"Aye, that A can see," Moira murmured, with no small satisfaction herself, as she analyzed the activity of his brain. "Pretty close tae what it used t’look like. Ye’ve done a fine job."
"Nine hours? I certainly hope so." She got off the stool carefully, the light feeling leaving her suddenly weak in the knees. Nine hours. She should be in a coma herself. Then again, when Scott had had the nanobomb, she’d kept him together for nearly as long –
She had made it all the way to the door before she realized her knees simply weren’t going to make the journey to bed unless she gave them a few minutes to think about it.
* * * * * *
He had the distinct impression that he’d just been teased.
It wasn’t so much that, that woke him, but the remnants of a headache and the terror he still remembered, in wisps. The kids, all lying dead in the rubble, Clansmen beside them, and high above on his carrier, Stryfe dangled Domino over air, so triumphant as he released her and she fell - but that was just a nightmare. A simple dream. A sharp intake of breath somewhere to his right attracted his attention, bringing him more awake.
"Jean, are ye all right? We’d better sit ye down for a wee bit, A’ll get ye some more water..."
He knew that accent. It was familiar in the way that Jean’s mannerisms had been, before he’d known she was Redd. Familiar in that ‘You should know who that person is, you idiot!’ sort of way. Of course. Moira MacTaggart, the first person he’d spent any time with after coming to this century.
Which meant that he’d survived the landslide. And if he was here, instead of back in New York –
Then he probably had extensive injuries, and wouldn’t have survived the trip home. He tried twitching his arms and legs, and they did twitch, each complaining bitterly of the movement. The virus, oh, the flonqing virus had spread everywhere, it was going to take weeks to get it back under control –
Was his telekinesis working? He thought so; experimentally, Nathan shoved the virus, feeling the weakness of the motion but also the familiar ache of the virus refusing to move. And telepathy...
He reached around, feeling the limitation of his scan. Instead of going for Jean, he tried to find Moira. He’d heard her, off to his left, and thought that way–
And gasped at the mind he found there.
Without thinking, he let his eyes fly open, not bothering to worry about his surroundings and the frightening amount of medical equipment around him as his head fell to the side, and took in the man in a bed beside him, eyes closed, and completely uncollared.
Quick as thought Nate gathered as much telepathy as he had, in a single attack against Stryfe.
* * * * * * *
Jean looked up sharply as Nathan’s head turned, and she sensed the attack even as Stryfe’s throat tensed, a whimper coming from somewhere deep in his chest as the sudden wave of pain brought him to semi-consciousness. She stumbled off the stool even as Moira whirled from the sink, and staggered over to Nathan’s bed, curbing his attack with effort.
Cable was only half-awake, already exhausted from that very gentle attack. "Get a... collar on him... oath, he’s -"
Her hands found his face, turned it towards her. "He isn’t going to hurt anyone, Nathan. He’s burned out. It’s all right, Nate, calm down..."
Nathan had slipped back into a light sleep before half the words had left her lips, and she trailed off as the tight muscles of his cheeks and jaw relaxed, slowly. Moira had come back over, and was trying to hold Stryfe still as he weakly tossed his head back and forth, as if to shake off the pain.
"Jean, A dunnae approve o’ his blood pressure, can ye nae do something?" The smaller woman leaned over Stryfe to her supply of painkillers as Jean gathered her resolve and managed to keep her feet as she headed towards Stryfe.
* * * * * *
He shuddered, hoping the moan wasn’t audible as pain exploded in his head, telepathically induced, a flavor he recognized even as he tried desperately to raise some sort of defense. He didn’t have the feeling of being still buried, though he clearly remembered the panic of not being able to breathe. So he must have been freed, or at least managed to crawl out on his own –
Another moan crawled from him as he attempted to shield, shards of pain like hot sand on his mind, grating and grinding with a fine, precise agony so unbearable he stopped, surrendering to whatever Cable had in store for him, what tortures his brother had come up with in their time apart.
Surprisingly, after the first wave of pain, the attack seemed to hesitate, not strong and sure and actually very disorganized, not attempting to put him in a memory loop, not attempting communication, merely... painful, and not unbearably so. Not as painful as trying to use his own telepathy to combat it.
Why wouldn’t his telepathy work? Why couldn’t he gather his thoughts, focus them? Terror built as he tried again and again, pain his only reward. He felt like shaking as the attack broke off abruptly, leaving him in limbo, unable to sense anyone, anything. Fear was not a feeling he was accustomed to, clenching his stomach most uncomfortably and making it hard to breathe, and he tried again to shield, with the same effect.
And then he heard her. "He isn’t going to hurt anyone, Nathan." The voice was echoing, cold, without pity or remorse, a taunt so chilling it would have done Apocalypse proud. He couldn’t open his eyes, but he had the impression of light beyond his eyelids. Not just any light. A yellow light, yet not sunlight. Firelight?
Completely powerless to stop her, he stared as she approached him, eyes pools of fire, narrowed to slits as she gazed on him with a disgust and hatred so palpable he half fancied it was choking him. The Phoenix-fire surrounded her, licking hungrily at him as she sneered down on him from some unimaginable height.
"He’s burned out..."
She said more, but he turned away with another cry, too frightened to look, too frightened to do more than curl into a tiny ball, only then aware that he was naked, without armor or weapons, absolutely helpless as she advanced.
And then he felt her in his mind.
* * * * * *
Jean paled so swiftly that Moira took her arm with concern, steadying her as she swayed briefly before her own hand moved to anchor her to the bed.
"Did he hurt Stryfe?"
Jean seemed distant, and gradually the terrible, low, pained sounds from the man on the bed ceased, and after a moment the tosses of that snowy head below them became less frantic, less emphatic, and soon had stilled altogether.
Moira looked briefly annoyed as Jean didn’t answer her, but the expression faded quickly as his blood pressure settled to a more normal level. "Well, ye did soomthing." She reached over to Jean’s wrist, curiously, and Jean seemed to snap out of it, glancing at her as thought she’d never seen the doctor before.
"He was terrified of me," she almost whispered, disbelievingly. "He was absolutely terrified."
* * * * * *
He stirred slightly, trying to place that voice. Definitely someone he knew, a very familiar voice.
Someone took his hand. He felt them squeeze it, barely, and he tried to answer back, but after a moment the hand was patted and simply held, so he assumed it hadn’t worked. He was so tired, needed sleep so desperately he could taste it, but he wasn’t going to give in until he figured out who that was.
"Hey, sir," another voice, softer, with an accent that he hadn’t heard in a long time. Also very familiar. Wasn’t the same person, he could tell that, and it wasn’t Redd, or Moira, so who...?
"When they told you you’d move mountains, Nate, I don't think they meant literally," the first voice said a bit teasingly, but there was a catch in it, something that almost choked the voice, and he had the urge to reach out and hug this female, her name was on the tip of his tongue -
Besides, he hadn’t moved the mountain. His shadow had. He wondered where the mountain was now. Where do mountains go when they die? He’d never seen one on the astral plane before...
"We got in last night," the voice continued. "Hit some rough weather and delayed in Scotland. Came the rest of the way by boat. I know how much you love boats."
Oath, he hated boats. The ocean was a very beautiful thing, but not when you were floating on it. Or, even flonqing worse, in it.
"Nate, you could wake up and at least look at me." There was more behind that teasing, now, a real plea, and a surprising reluctance, like she didn’t want to show that kind of emotion.
Dom had always had a hard time with that. Then again, so had he - Dom.
That was Dom!
He did try to crack an eye open, and he managed it, just barely, not squinting or blinking at the lights, knowing that if he did, he’d never get the eye openagain. His sight was still blurry; he made out the smooth pale of her face, the black blur that made up the spot around her eye, the sparkle of a diamond, on the lowest edge.
She had a gem inlaid into her cheek? No, that wasn’t Dom’s style, but... neither was crying.
A mop of towheaded boy behind her caught his attention. That was... Sam, yes, that’s who that was. For a second, it could have been Tyler...
His eye reached up hands of its own and pulled down his eyelid like one would a windowshade, but he wasn’t ready, flonq it! Dimly, he reached out on instinct, not really remembering the link but knowing it was there, knowing that Dom needed some sort of reassurance.
It seemed fitting she’d cry in front of Sam, but why was she crying at all? He felt better than he had in a long time, it was just this flonqing exhaustion. He tried to send reassurance to her, but his irritation at his inability to stay awake tainted it, and he sighed mentally as he tried to unravel it, falling asleep midway.
* * * * * *
Domino found her steps to be irritatingly rhythmic as they marched away under the close glare of MacTaggart. Another ten minutes with him wouldn’t have hurt a thing; it wasn’t like he even knew she was there, perhaps on the most basic level –
Her steps faltered as soon as the doctor ducked back into the main lab, and she found herself suddenly leaning against the cool plaster walls, hair tickling the back of her neck. Oh, Nate... She was glad she hadn’t seen him on the respirator, but even having sneaked a glimpse at that chart...
"Ma’am?" Sam’s voice cut through her thoughts, very gentle, hesitant. He probably didn’t know what to do, she thought with a grim smile. She’d lost it and almost bawled like a kid, and he was close enough to it himself. Trying to be strong for her. Utterly cute, actually, but she couldn’t appreciate it now.
"I’ll be up in a second, Sam. Go on up, give the team a call."
He left her very reluctantly, soft-soled hiking boots not making a sound as the inseams of his jeans scraped softly, the sound gradually fading to the elevator at the end of the hall. It hissed open and closed, and here there was silence, absolute quiet.
She was almost afraid she’d open her eyes and see the never-ending, mono-colored hallway, and hear the echo of that scream.
The back of her head cooled against the wall, bringing her attention to the tension in her scalp, neck and shoulders. He’d nearly bought it, this time. An hour, maybe two more and that would have been the last chapter in an exceedingly thick and violent volume. The glassy look in those eyes that hadn’t really seen her, that tentative thought that didn’t quite make sense before he slipped off into unconsciousness once more. The condition of his body that she could see. The equipment, the ten minute time limit with him. The blood still oozing from some of the worst of his gashes and the bag of blood, the second pint Scott had given him in almost twice as many days.
He’d almost died before, but he’d never taken injuries like that. He’d never been so far gone that she’d lost him, completely lost him, had only the structure of their link with no mind on the other end, she’d never heard that agony in his mental voice, she’d never –
She’d never told him so many things, and that link, to which he clung so precariously, wasn’t a substitute for some of the words that needed to be said.
The minutes dragged by, her body not moving though she was telling it it really needed to carry her someplace soft and flat. When it finally did start, her movements were surprisingly catlike, footsteps nigh silent on the accusing tiles, and the door they carried her through opened without a sound.
She added belatedly to her body that the soft and flat something had to be unoccupied, but it ignored her still, and carried her past the machinery, past the metal stand and to the side of the bed, and made her look down.
In the dim, with an oxygen line fed into his nose and his eyes closed in sleep or deeper, they looked exactly alike. Even down to the hand, with the plastic pulse-finger thingie attached to his index finger.
They looked just alike.
But they aren’t, she thought simply, surprised at the numbness of the thought. Here was the man that looked just like Nate. It was like another version of him.
Of what he could have been.
It was her mind that told her body to move, and before she really had any concept of the consequences she’d already pulled her small, nine millimeter semi-automatic and leveled it at the nearly comatose Chaos-Bringer, finger tightening with a surety on the trigger normally reserved for missions –
And just as suddenly it relaxed, but she couldn’t bring herself to lower the weapon.
He’s helpless, this is murder –
He wouldn’t do the same to you in a heartbeat?
They look so much alike –
This is STRYFE, woman! He’s the reason Nate is almost dead three doors down!
He’s not a threat to anyone, he’s burned out –
And that’s going to stop him? Being limited to the primitive weapons of the times?
Maybe he can be contained, imprisoned...?
Maybe he can finish Nate off when Moira isn’t babysitting him?
It didn’t occur to her that she could quite possibly get kicked out of the facility or worse for murdering one of MacTaggart’s patients. It didn’t occur to her that killing Stryfe would destroy any chance of his revealing the cure to Legacy. Nothing occurred to her but the precise movement of the gun and how strong her wrist would have to be to compensate, and that there was no wind in the room, she was at point blank range, and there was no silencer, so Moira would hear it instantly.
The damage would be far too great for even her to repair.
"Just what do ye think yuir doin’?" a soft, Scottish lilt asked, very gently, from the silent doorway.
And Domino closed her eyes. It doesn’t matter, you can get the shot off before she gets to you, her mind urged. She can’t stop you unless you hesitate, you have to take the shot –
"He’s better off this way."
"Tha’s nae yuir decision tae make, Domino."
"You said yourself he was crippled!" Her eyes remained closed, an effective barrier to the tears that appeared from nowhere, and the sudden thickening of her throat. "Do you think that will stop him? Do you _know_ what he is, what he’s done?"
"It doesnae matter," the other answered, still very softly. "Ye don’t want tae murder him, or ye wouldnae have hesitated as ye did. There’s a chance A can help him–"
"He’s a lunatic," Domino spat, eyes flashing open, looking once again on that impeccably perfect face, oblivious to the death waiting for him, only a heartbeat away. "He’s a monster, Moira. He doesn’t want your help."
"That isnae yuir decision," Moira repeated firmly, surprisingly much closer without audible movement. "A cannae allow ye tae do this, Domino. Put yuir weapon away and get some rest."
Domino found herself completely unable to lower the gun.
"Domino," Moira said, steel in her quiet voice. "Put down yuir weapon."
Domino didn’t move. She could still get the shot off, she could end this entire debate once and for all, she could –
She could protect Nathan. She could help him, just a little bit, maybe enough to get her a foothold into the mind that was shoving her further and further away as his Battle approached. Would he survive it, now? Would he be ready for the fight with Apocalypse? Or had Stryfe killed Nathan as surely as the External would, given the opportunity?
And then Moira, with surprising skill, simply took the gun from her rigid hands.
"A ken ye be worried for Cable’s safety," she murmured, flicking the safety on the gun without looking at it and tucking it into her lab coat pocket.
"Jean’s already made arrangements fur Nathan tae be taken tae Xavier’s mansion as soon as it’s safe tae move him. Stryfe will be kept here until A ken the extent of his injuries and an informed decision can be made aboot what tae do with him." She patted Domino’s shoulder, not surprised at the tension there.
"Ye need some sleep an’ a meal. Coom with me."
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