Ashes of Chaos
Break of Dawn: Part 4

by 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 ( and Persephone (

Archiving: Probably. Please contact one of the aforementioned authors.

Pop-up: OK

MST: Please ask permission.

He hung from the shackles without protest, chin resting on his bare chest, slick with sweat and blood. His entire body ached with an almost detached pain, one he was unaccustomed to but accepting at the present. Curiously, he had no desire whatsoever to move to ease the pain. Drenched locks of overgrown hair hung before his face in a curtain, the only mercy in the entire proceedings of his trial.

He couldn't see them, and he was glad of it.

It didn't really matter, the ruling. The judge kept insisting that it wasn't her choice to make, but Aliya was screaming against him anyway. Such fire, she had. She wasn't afraid of him.

She hated him, and her voice trembled with the magnitude of it.

"You said yourself he was crippled!" she screamed to the court, to the judge. Fate, that's who was presiding over this farce, and it was utterly poetic that Fate should be a woman with some sort of ghastly twentieth-century accent.

He could hear Aliya moving around, ever so faintly; she seemed near. He could almost sense her reaching out to him, her hand coming very close to his face -- whether to make him look on the jury or to strike him, he didn't know. He found his apathy toward the entire affair absolutely appalling, but... what else was there?

He was crippled. He knew it, knew that without the shackles he would not be able to stand, to support his weight. Phoenix had taken his powers, he remembered that; she'd come and taken them, and left him there, burning, screaming. And then he was here, and his only defense was silence.

"Do you think that will stop him? Do you know what he is, what he's done?"

It was only right she was bitter, he allowed. After all, he had done it, he'd finally killed him. She was grieving, as any woman with a heart as hers had been should. She continued her argument, and he ceased listening. There wasn't much point.

He was crippled, helpless, broken. And Dayspring was dead.

* * * * * * *

Moira leaned away from the charts, dropping the pen and working her fingers into her cramping right hand vigorously. So much information to put into these charts, so many tests run and results carefully measured. Hank was sitting across from her, on the other workbench in her extra lab, and he looked up, clear blue eyes glancing over his squarish spectacles.

"Why don't you take a break," he suggested kindly. "You've been scratching away for the better part of the day now, and I doubt duplicating what you already have backed up on your computer is worth your eyesight."

He himself was perched on a stool with perfect balance, a tribute both to the time he spent in that position and his mutant agility. Why was it that she constantly surrounded herself with mutants, she wondered. Did it ever even occur to them she was human? Not that it mattered one inkling to most of them, but did they never stop and think if perhaps she was jealous of the fact Dr. McCoy could perch without fatigue when sitting on a backless stool as he did would destroy her back entirely?

Not that she put much thought into that, and all her chairs were perfectly comfortable, with backs. Just too small to accommodate his large frame.

"A'm almost done with these," she responded, glancing around and finding her mug empty. She blinked several times, easing the strain of staring at her own small, neat writing for hours on end, and leaned back for a good stretch. She braced her hands on the desk lip for extra leverage, bending backwards over the back of her chair before taking her arms and extending them over her head and back.

Years and years ago, in med school, she'd perfected the stretch -- but only after multiple spills, as wheeled chairs tended to react to her shifting weight by scooting out from underneath her. Clearly Hank expected this; she heard his startled, "Moira, be careful --" even as she extended further, not satisfied until every vertebra felt popped. Then she leaned back up and flashed him something close to a smirk.

"Ye are nae the only one with good balance, doctor," she said sweetly, then gave a mischievous grin at his slightly confused look. "A'm going tae get some coffee, can A get ye anything?"

"A few answers would be nice," he replied, taking off his spectacles and scrinching his face into something more than a bit ferocious-looking. "Do you have any deities in the kitchen?"

She leaned speculatively against the countertop, rolling her neck. "Not that A ken, and if ye look at them like that they'll likely leave anyway."

He straightened his face with a deadpan look, and she smiled. "What question are ye wrestling with? Cable's knee?"

He shook his head, stretching his arms behind him with an alarmingly loud crack! Perhaps not as fatigue-free as she had initially assumed. "Stryfe, actually," he admitted softly. They were alone in the lab, and the patients were on the other end of the hallway, but she didn't point that out, instead walking over to face him, arms crossed thoughtfully over her chest as she leaned a hip on the counter.

"What will become of him, ye mean?"

Hank nodded, tapping his pen thoughtfully on Cable's exceedingly long chart. "He'll be imprisoned, surely. More than likely in Xavier's mansion, for a while, and, while some attempt at therapy would certainly be made, I doubt he'd be receptive to it. He's... " Hank shook his head slowly. "From what I've heard, and what I know he's done, an irredeemable lunatic. But to lock him up, if he's physically or mentally crippled -- or both -- it just seems... not befitting." He was searching for the right words, his eyes intense and strangely sad. "The only other alternative I can think of is telepathic intervention, and that flirts with betraying every telepathic ideal Charles has ever insisted upon. Yet... I can see the necessity of it all. I just wish...."

"There was a better way," she finished quietly. "Aye, it seems a shame tae get him back tae health only tae take away the world."

Hank nodded, cracking a few knuckles before glancing back at the chart. "Ah, well. You are quite pleasant to the eye, so if you see any deities, tell them I'd like them to intervene in a case and to please contact me for discussion?"

"A'll check the cupboards an' see what they have tae say," she replied seriously, leaning off the counter and grabbing her mug on the way. He hadn't eaten much; she should probably dig up some food. Come to think of it, she was a little hungry... and the hard copy of Stryfe's case file could wait a bit. She wasn't expecting the server to explode anytime in the near future, and the tape the backup was stored on was safe in the lockbox.

Wouldn't be receptive. Her brain hung onto that phrase as she headed for the elevator, stopping and checking on her patients along the way. Cable's fever had dropped, the drugs doing their work, but his lungs sounded slightly worse, and she replaced the stethoscope over the I.V. stand with a frown. She couldn't risk another drainage tube, and she was pumping him with all the antibiotics his system could handle.

"A'm not losing ye tae some silly infection," she told him affectionately, slightly disappointed that his response consisted of a flickering of his eyelids, but no more. At least he was aware of her presence. Probably on a telepathic level, but it was something. The psychic damage had been repaired, but that didn't help the concussion one little bit.

She patted his cheek and headed across the hall, into the other patient room. After the first episode, she decided it would be wisest to keep Cable out of sight of Stryfe, at least until they were certain Nathan understood that Stryfe was no longer a threat.

Stryfe didn't regain consciousness as she checked his life signs manually, taking the time to pry open his eyelids and watch his pupils contract. Still sluggish -- despite that strange helmet of his, he had a concussion as well, and the damage to his nervous system had sent him into a sort of shock that could take, literally, weeks to recover from. The swelling had also crawled up the back of his neck, dangerously close to his brain stem -- had Scott moved him any more than he had, Stryfe would probably be in a coma. For all intents and purposes, he practically was.

He could wake up at any time, even now, but she highly doubted it. His life signs were stable, which was no small miracle, and she felt it safe to take him off the respirator tonight. See how he fared. It shouldn't be a problem.

Wouldn't be receptive to therapy, her mind whispered again, and she stared at him for a long, long time before she tucked the penlight in her labcoat pocket and headed thoughtfully for the elevator.

* * * * * * *

He couldn't see.

He had been able to see, to hear, to sense comings and goings, he thought. He had seen the Phoenix come in wings of fire and sink her talons into his brain, heard his fate argued.... Nothing was clear, now. He frowned, wondering why the images were so vague, and the thought came to him that perhaps if he opened his eyes he could see them better. He strained, and his eyes opened.

And then he realized that he had been unable to see clearly because there had been nothing to see.

He stared at the ceiling. Already the ideas from before were fading, beginning to seem nonsensical and then slipping from his grasp. There had been... fire... the Phoenix? What would it have been doing here? He had felt his powers gone before he saw her... hadn't he? He had heard Aliya... but she was dead, or wouldn't exist for centuries, depending on your perspective, and at any rate shouldn't have been here.

What had she said? How could he have thought...? He gave up; it was like trying to grasp water.

His eyes felt dry, and all he could see was still a ceiling. It wasn't a bad ceiling, but not particularly fascinating either. He blinked. His eyes opened again. That was good. Or was it?

The idea nagged at him that he should remember more clearly what he'd been thinking. He was a telepath. That meant an eidetic memory. He'd always remembered everything, even dreams, usually.

A dim, sandy memory of pain reminded him that he wasn't a telepath anymore, now, was he? Perhaps that was the problem.

No. That couldn't really be the case, could it? Without powers, what was he? He tried to "listen" for other minds. Nothing. It felt as if his brain might be numb. He tried harder, tried for a more active reading, and gasped at the burning...

No. Despair flooded him as he stopped. His powers must really be gone. Gone. Burned out. Bitter words, bitter fact.

He let his neck relax, let his head fall to one side. A colder fear began to creep upon him as he discovered that his body's lack of response hadn't been his imagination, either.

Cripple. Burned-out cripple.


A brainfried, paralyzed clone. Not only weak, but nothing. Less than nothing.

He didn't know why he was bothering to keep his eyes open. He shut them, felt an odd drifting sensation, and hastily opened them again. Wall. A white blur at the corner of his vision, probably a pillow. Equipment. Medical equipment?

Primitive, of course, but not quite as much so as he would expect from the twentieth century.

Where WAS he, anyway?

Did it matter? Probably not. Dull agony of mind and body invited him away from consciousness. If he couldn't move, why could he feel? That wasn't fair at all.

Footsteps. Quiet but distinct.

He blinked again, more wearily, to clear glazed eyes, and a woman moved into his field of vision. He focused on her. White coat. Brown hair. Shiny eyes. No, those archaic devices known as eyeglasses, that made much more sense. A definite air of being the one in charge. He had always been good at recognizing that, an ability he had cultivated for the purpose of promptly deposing people from that position.

Somehow he didn't think that was going to work in this situation.

"A see ye're awake." What? That accent. Fate. No, that didn't make any sense. That geneticist, that was it, Moira MacTaggart.

"A'm Dr. MacTaggart. Ye're in the Muir Research Facility on Muir Island." He'd known who she was already, he thought with some irritation. As if he couldn't recognize her. Wasn't she a friend of Cable's, too?

But in that case, why was he in her base and still breathing? He puzzled over that for a moment, and determined sluggishly that she must have some reason. Perhaps she intended to put him on trial, or pick his brains regarding Legacy... It worried him in a vague way that it had required so much effort to reach such a simple conclusion.

She was talking again. The words didn't seem to mean much; he couldn't seem to decipher her pronunciation but assumed she was discussing whatever she planned to do with him. He suspected he didn't want to know -- after all, he couldn't stop her.

Legacy. His pet virus... yes, think about that. Did she feel it, he wondered. He let his eyes fall to her neck, then her wrists. No lesions; thin but not emaciated. He couldn't see her eyes clearly for the reflection on the glass, he recalled, so he didn't put forth the effort to look. She reached toward him, checked vital signs efficiently as she spoke more words that blurred ominously in his ears.

Her hands were, as far as he could tell, perfectly steady and she appeared energetic. Hardly wasted. Perhaps she enjoyed the fight as much as he had suspected. And there he lay, under her cold ministrations, aching through and through and incapable of even a token resistance. His senses seemed to waver, an oddly silent roar wrapping his brain. The feeling of drift took him again with his next blink and the spur of panicked disorientation failed to shake him as exhaustion carried him into unconsciousness.

* * * * * * *

Moira sighed as her unexpected patient closed his eyes and passed out again. She could hardly expect much response; it was somewhat encouraging that he'd finally awakened at all. She watched him a few moments more. Naturally she couldn't know if her attempts at reassurance had had any effect -- but he had waked, at least, and should remain conscious longer as time went on.

* * * * * * *


Week One


When next Stryfe was aware of anything, it was the very removed feeling of something moving over him, like the slightest current of liquid over a man lying half in the water, half on the shores of a still lake. Upon opening his eyes, he was remotely surprised to find Moira looking over his form critically. He couldn't see his body, of course; he assumed it was still there, his only clue the constant, dull pain of muscles dimly screaming to be stretched, and a never-abating ache that throbbed over every inch.

Surely he still had all his limbs?

Since he couldn't move them to make sure, and he was too dazed to pick up his head and look, he contented himself with watching the movement of her eyes behind the antiquated glasses. He assumed he was unclothed, to aid in handling bodily functions as well as examination, and her analysis of him seemed to cover at least his chest and legs... which meant he still had legs, and he had shoulders, as well; he could feel them attached to his neck.

But what good were useless limbs? They were like... like dead branches of a tree, they might even snap off into the sand....

She finally traveled up his chest and saw his face, and his eyes, open, watching her.

"A see ye decided tae wake oop again." She consulted a wristwatch. "Eleven hours. A expect ye'll be awake a bit longer this time?"

He blinked. This was that Fate woman. He wondered suddenly if that had been a dream, or she was a lot wilder than she looked... then again, she hadn't sounded too glad to be there; maybe Aliya had tied her up, too.

"Ye willnae speak tae me? Verra well. Then listen."

She took a seat near him, to his right, leaning on the guardrail of the bed, hands dangling from those fine, thin wrists. Her fingers did not tremble, even at rest, and she showed no signs whatsoever of the common symptoms of Legacy. Fascinating.

"Do ye remember the last time A spoke tae ye?"

But she hadn't spoken, it was Aliya... no, there was a time after that... he struggled through a murky film to recall, and triumphantly remembered... that the woman had spoken gibberish.

He should have learned these twentieth century languages more completely....

She sighed. "The rocks were pressing against yuir spinal column, and yuir vertebrae put pressure on the nerve cluster and cut circulation blood fur aboot eight hours." She flipped through a chart as she spoke, and the air displaced by the pages gently caressed the hot skin of his face. He found the stimulus welcome, and closed his eyes.

"Dunnae go tae sleep on me again!"

Her sharp command snapped his eyes open. Again? He didn't remember sleeping on her in the first place. She was too thin to have been very comfortable; surely he would have remembered that ....

Once she was certain he wasn't about to pass out, she held an x-ray in front of him. "A ken ye tae be a scientist and a medical person of sorts, A assume ye'll want tae see the scans for yuirself." As she had told him, several of his vertebrae had been neatly put back into place, evident by the white blur of swelled tissue around them and the slightly displaced central nervous bundles that ran like a black stream down the center of his spine. The swelling was unremarkable, obviously what was causing his paralysis.

If the nerves were still alive.

"A'm nae sure whether the paralysis is going tae be permanent or not," she continued, in a softer tone of voice. "As A told ye, it will be nae a week before anything conclusive can be said one way or the other. Ye have no reflexes as of now."

He stared at the x-ray a moment more before turning his head away slightly. No reflexes? Apocalypse had been telling him that for years when he was a child; he'd thought he'd been doing better, but apparently not....

Thoughts of Apocalypse jarred him more fully awake. She's listing your injuries, you idiot! he raged at his mind, trying desperately to summon the concentration enough to actually understand what she was showing him.

The x-rays, as primitive as they were, showed a lot of damage that might or might not be permanent. And if it was....

A cripple, then. A cripple unable even to scoot around in that ridiculous wheeled chair Xavier insisted on using in public.

And no telekinesis with which to propel himself.

Seeming to sense his thoughts, she put the film on his chest, which he did not feel, and pulled out another one.

"This is the CAT scan. Ye may be unfamiliar with it; this is a view of yuir frontal lobes, as seen from the top of yuir head, and the dark spots indicate hemorrhaging or preexisting blood clots."

CAT scan? He'd had a cat, once... small ball of fur with claws. This looked also like a small ball of fur... only it was colored strangely... he mentally equated cats to Apocalypse and another small spurt of panic shot more adrenaline into his system. That was his brain, or supposed to be. Damaged, then.

He'd blown his powers.

Apocalypse had been right. It was a mercy to let the weak perish. It was a mercy to expedite the process.

This image was even more primitive and unhelpful than the last one, and there were several large, dark blotches in what appeared to be a grayish, textured glob. She pointed to one as she continued.

"This one worries me the most, as A've seen it's like before, in telepaths that lost their abilities by over-extension --"

Long before she finished, he had ceased listening, and let his head roll back to the side, the indentations in the stiff pillow making it easier. His neck ached with the movement, a dull, pounding agony stretching down his back, and he closed his eyes, concentrating on it solely, using it to ground himself from the strange falling feeling that threatened him more strongly, and his own wandering concentration.

Mindblind. Crippled. He would be dependent on her -- or whoever wished to keep him alive -- for the rest of his life. There would be no strategy; there would be no rebelling. He was no more of a threat than a squalling infant. Less.

He was aware that she continued to speak, and again, she tried a sharp verbal tactic to wake him, but he wasn't surprised this time, and he heard her sigh and murmur to herself in that strange accent as paper rustled and the stool creaked, relieved of her weight. It didn't matter, except that she was leaving, she was gone.

He tried to reach out, to find her mind, as a final distractionary tactic, find what she wanted from him, and earned only a sharp explosion of pain. Desperately, he attempted to shield, it was so easy, so rudimentary, the first psionic trick he'd ever learned, natural as breathing.

Spasms of dulled pain shot through him, yet even so he still tried, again and again, ignoring the grinding feeling, ignoring the insistent beep of a machine, squalling a warning that his blood pressure was rising, his heart rate increasing too quickly to be normal. It was unlike any pain he'd experienced before, so utterly fine, like the lightest of sands, hot and burning and without depth, no less or greater depending on how hard he tried, always constant.

With a shuddering sigh he finally stopped, eyes squeezed shut and stinging. The pain in his head settled into swift waves, receding slightly and cresting with equal power, a perpetual ocean of discomfort that he knew with a dread certainty would be his constant companion for the long months ahead. The drifting feeling came back suddenly, and he fought it wildly, unwilling to go back to the nightmares, knowing how bad they'd be.

He forced his eyes open, hoping beyond hope that if he just kept them open, staring at something, that he wouldn't submit, wouldn't be dragged back into the world of dull agony and terrifying hallucinations. It was an empty hope, an impossible one, but he didn't care. To dream, the impossible dream... what a maddening, despairing song!

He tried to shake it out of his mind, but it repeated, ceaselessly, with the waves of discomfort in his mind, and he took a shuddering breath before he felt them.

Water -- tears, he corrected himself -- leaked from his eyes, forcing him now and again to blink, forcing him to flirt with the drifting every few seconds. He could count the number of times he'd cried on one hand, starting with --

He took another shuddering breath, trying to drive the thought from his mind, trying not to remember, feeling the tickle of blood as it trickled from his nose, tasting it when he wetted cracked lips. And then he heard her.

"Och," her voice murmured, surprisingly softly, and he squeezed his eyes shut, not caring if the drifting caught him or not. Even it was better than facing her now. His mind laughed at him, at his weakness. And now you've broken, it snarled ruthlessly. He had been so sure she'd been gone; he'd heard her get up, heard her leave --

"A swear tae ye," she murmured fiercely, and he dimly, dimly felt a pressure on his shoulder he could only assume was her hand, "A'll do all that A can tae help ye, Stryfe, A'll work as long as it takes tae get ye back on yuir feet again, but ye have tae believe that ye'll walk again, ye have tae believe...."

He heard the faintest of noises squeezed from him, too close to the sounds he'd caused, so long ago, and he flung himself at the drifting, welcomed it with outstretched arms, wishing it would swallow him up and he could disappear, become a part of it and no longer plagued. Wishing it would take away the distinct sensation of her touching him, wiping the tears tumbling down his face.

Despair wasn't black, he reflected as he tumbled head over heels, his orientation gone in the wave of pain and dizziness.

Despair looked rather like the back of your eyelids.

* * * * * * *

Moira sighed as she watched Stryfe's heart rate and blood pressure relax, partly from his passing out and partly from the injection of painkillers, and gently turned his face towards her, wiping off the last of the moisture and blood. He'd get a terrible neck cramp if she allowed him to sleep like that, and she didn't want to risk muscle spasms of any kind.

Even now, unconscious, he was still crying a little, his tear ducts evacuating the saline they'd built up and trying to constrict, a normal sleep process. Whatever hemorrhaging he'd caused, it appeared to be mild; the nosebleed was small compared to some of the gushers she'd seen.

It was too much to throw at him at once, she decided regretfully, leaning back onto the stool, which sighed as the air was forced from the cushion. Too much for him to face. He was obviously used to being in near complete control of his environment, and the paralysis, even if it ended up being temporary, could be enough to terrify him. She shouldn't have thrown the telepathic damage at him, as well.

Yet surely he had known? She assumed he'd attempted some sort of telepathic activity, judging from the jump in his brainwaves and the equally sudden increase of blood pressure and heart rate. She'd told him before, but he hadn't looked like he'd remembered much of it, and his refusal to speak... could she attribute that to pride or fear?

Moira shook her head, making sure he seemed stable before walking slowly across the lab and taking a seat on the wooden bar stool in front of her laptop.

* * * * * * *

To: Henry McCoy []

From: Moira MacTaggart []

Subject: Psychotherapy

Body: I was wondering if you knew of anyone that had a detailed analysis of Stryfe's behavior and personality? It would be an aid in dealing with him. He regained consciousness today and I informed him of his physical state, and he was obviously deeply distressed. It would not be uncommon for him to fall into a state of unresponsive depression and any insight into his previous behavior and history would be extremely helpful in his psychological repair. And how is my other patient faring?

-Moira MacTaggart

* * * * * * *

To :

From :

Subject : RE:Psychotherapy

There has been no official preliminary analysis of Stryfe's mind. He has never been in captivity long enough for such a procedure. I can, however, give you a brief history, attached. This is the extent of what is known about his history, beginning with what little I was able to get from Domino, and that is filtered from what little she was able to discover herself from Nathan. My own predictions would include extreme belligerence, if he even decides to speak with you at all. I would expect he has literally no idea what to do, having only been a victim once before and entirely uncertain how to behave at all. As to your comments re: depression, I fear that you are correct, and I can offer no advice on how best to handle it. I would suggest the usuals, but finding something that would be of interest to him and did not include harming yourself or another would be an exercise in futility. He has no known hobbies other than genetics and viral biology, both of which I do not suggest as topics of discussion, and no interests outside his main life goals of destroying Apocalypse and Cable, and obviously, Legacy.

Question - is he aware that Nathan is alive? As no other recourse, you could give him that incentive to recover, but again, I highly discourage the idea.

Nathan is doing very well here, under strict supervision of myself and the ever-vigilant Domino. She's taken up residence and has displayed an uncanny ability to rouse herself five minutes before Nathan wakes, to the second. I believe it has something to do with the telepathic link and Nathan's natural waking up process, am investigating. His jaw seems to be healing without difficulty, but his ribs are slow. I took your advice and performed a second surgery, and the acid-treated transplant bone should strengthen them, once his body deposits enough calcium. His knee will never fully repair, however, and I'm debating a secondary surgery to give him further mobility in the replaced joint. He voted very strongly against the aquatic physical therapy, and I've switched him to the anti-grav curriculum. I suggest you do the same with Stryfe, to prevent as much atrophy as possible, as well as for your convenience.

Keep me informed, and be assured you will have my utmost confidence. Remy has assured me that he is the only one in the mansion that could possibly intercept my email, and since he aided Scott in the installation of the new network, I'm rather inclined to trust him.

Sincerely, Hank

* * * * * * *

Powerless to stop him, Stryfe froze, his terror getting the better of him as his father came ever closer, his intentions far too clear for misunderstanding. He tried to cry out, just a little, even as Apocalypse began the process of destroying him and taking control of his body, but there was nothing he could do, he was being smothered, it hurt, why, father no, I'm me, I'm -

He shuddered, suddenly adrift in space, stars all around him, nothing at all beneath his feet but the blue orb of Earth, so far below, and nothing around for him to grab onto. Unable to help himself, he drifted ever closer to a glowing blue anomaly, near the moon, wait....

The time vortex.

Only this time, there was no Cable to make the leap to, there was no other mind, no other person, he killed Dayspring, he'd finally done it, but not Apocalypse, and now he was dying, trapped, helpless --

He sailed through, and landed in a soft easy chair on the opposite side, staring at a fire and an absolutely deadpan Ch'Vayre.

"What have you done?" the man asked him, quietly, and the room shattered.

Stryfe's eyes flew open, then blinked several times, seeing only the flat, entirely unfascinating ceiling he'd stared at every day for the past week. The lights were on, though that gave him minimal indication of the time of day, but it didn't matter anyway, there was no need to know the time.

All he needed to know was that he was still here, and he was still breathing, and he was still a helpless, useless, wrecked clone.

His eyes closed again, but for some reason the drifting would not return, as it usually had. His only constant was fading, leaving him more and more aware of the world that surrounded him, that carried on its function while he lay under the white sheet, rotting. He didn't want to be aware, he wanted to sleep until it was over, until they let him go.

Too many of his necessary functions were being performed, it was getting harder and harder to remain disoriented, unconscious, sick. It was getting harder and harder to bear the harsh reality of his condition, of his prison. There was no need for them to leave a bodyguard with him, no need for MacTaggart to fear her own safety. He was trapped in his body as surely as a cell, with no means of escape, no longer free to reach outside the strict confines of his own head and into others'.

He sighed, softly, trying to concentrate on the feeling of air in his lungs. He was the survivor; he had flirted with Death and taken her for all that she owned, and yet here he was, a captive of Life. Life was not as forgiving.

And Life had a terrible accent. Though it was getting easier to make out what she was saying. Some words he was completely unfamiliar with, others were distorted to near indistinguishability.

He heard the covers being thrown back from his frame rather than felt it, and he opened his eyes again, not so much curious as trying to alleviate the anticipation of what she was doing. She couldn't really hurt him, not any more than the dull, constant ache.

She nodded to him without a word, her frame drooping with weariness but still steady. Her lab coat was quite wrinkled in the back, he saw as she turned for a moment, seeming to imply she had spent a long time sitting, and her eyes looked a bit more red than usual behind the reflective glass.

She took his right arm, moving it in minute circles and flexing it ever so slightly back and forth. "If at any time ye feel what A'm doing, ye let me ken."

Like ken. He was certain it wasn't an English word, though it wasn't Spanish, French, Germanic, Chinese, or Latin either. Those were the only ancient languages he'd bothered to pick up, except for the Egyptian tongue that wouldn't do him any good in this time period anyway; the others weren't worth his time, since he could always just sca--

Just scan the speaker telepathically to figure out what they were saying.

He closed his eyes again, feeling only when her motions pulled at the skin on his upper shoulders and neck, and was aware that she had moved to his legs only by the sounds of her labcoat rustling. She hummed a bit as she worked, probably trying to keep a rhythm.

So she was trying to limit the damage atrophy would do to his muscles. Why? It wasn't as though he was ever going to use them. He opened his mouth slightly to tell her so, but something made it close. He didn't care enough to point it out. If she wanted to waste her time with such treatments, there was no reason to argue. It might help the ache, just slightly.

It didn't matter.

It took her some time, and he wasn't aware he had fallen asleep until her silence woke him gently. She'd stopped humming. Her movements did little if nothing to relieve the constant, fuzzy misery that told him he still had a body, and he relaxed again, looking for that lovely place between asleep and awake where he could spend infinite amounts of time without being aware of anything at all....

"Mum? A brought ye soom -- excuse me!"

He heard rather than felt the sheet being thrown over him, not paying the slightest attention. Perhaps if he did nothing, eventually he would become nothing?

"Rahne, ye ken better than tae come barging in. He's decent noo."

"A brought ye some lunch," the younger voice, definitely female and ever so slightly familiar, continued with an audible blush. "Navy bean soup, in case th' patient felt well enough tae eat solid food?"

There was a considering pause. "Aye, we should have him eat solid food soon, but A'd like tae wait until he seems more alert, and A've had a chance to make sure his digestive system will function." There was a huge yawn.

"Mum, ye're exhausted. Why dunnae ye eat and take a wee nap? A can handle any timed experiments, if ye'll let me."

"Actually... there's a small box o' powder on th' back shelf in th' storage room." Her voice was retreating; she was leaving him to the hum of the electrical lights once more. The ever-present, ever-constant hum of power surging through long tubes and exciting gas to give off light. So primitive, so irritating, how he wished for blessed silence!

"Ye can brush it through his hair; A hadn't noticed how oily it's gotten. We need tae take care o' him until he sees fit tae wake oop an' do it himself." Probably that last sentence had been aimed at him; it wasn't as if the girl couldn't figure out he was being looked after. Maybe the woman didn't realize he knew it wouldn't make a difference if he were awake; he still couldn't do anything.

"Aye, mum, A can do that."

He slept again until he felt the most curious sensation, and roused himself just enough to figure out what it was and where it was coming from. Fine, soft fingers were dusting his scalp with something, their owner humming a bit before sneezing violently, and he felt the sharp pain of fingernails digging into his scalp with the sound.

"Och, A'm sorry," she murmured quickly, and he took time to wonder why in the world she would be sorry for causing him even the slightest discomfort. Her voice seemed oddly familiar, now that she was closer, and he tried to push it from his mind. He didn't want to remember, he didn't want to be aware, he just wanted to be left alone, in silence, and darkness, and allowed to die.

"This stuff smells worse than rotten potatoes," the voice grumbled to herself, and then he felt the somehow relaxing pull of a comb through his hair. They were worried about his appearance? Surely not, surely it was merely a hygienic precaution, and he strove to ignore the feeling as she worked her way around his head, picking it up at one point to get to the side of his head, and the hair resting against the stiff pillow.

"That dinnae work a bit," she muttered after an indeterminable time had passed, pulling him from pseudo-sleep. He heard her gather her things and leave, however, and he kept his eyes closed, aware of a growing ache in his neck as he remained as he was, lying on his back, with no possible means of even moving himself into a more comfortable position. With effort, he turned his head so it was nearly facing his right shoulder, and slept.

He had no idea how long he was asleep, nor memories of any dreams, but suddenly he was aware that his neck was no longer bent at an odd angle, and in fact someone was moving his head.

His eyes opened almost against his will, and he was staring straight into her brown eyes.

Her face he recognized instantly. Rahne Sinclair, the girl werewolf. He'd met her twice before; if memory served, she had been on one side of the tug of war team that had nearly ripped him apart, halfway through a teleportal some years back. A surge of anger at remembered humiliation rose up before he remembered there wasn't anything he could do about it. A usually gentle girl, he recalled from some files the MLF had pulled on the team earlier, and Moira MacTaggart's adopted daughter.

Of course.

She smiled brightly at him, holding a rolled up towel in her hands. What on earth was she planning to do with that?

"Hello," she said shyly, and, tilting his head up, placed the roll under his neck. It was only then that he realized she had taken his pillow, and in fact another towel was beneath the one now supporting his head.

"A'm glad tae see ye awake. A hope ye don't mind lavender; it's the only shampoo A could find. It doesnae smell that strongly, and the fragrance is a great deal better," she added, by way of explanation. He didn't respond, other than to blink at her, oddly alert, and she kept the smile as she disappeared from sight and reappeared carefully carrying a basin.

She was planning on drowning him?

She carefully placed the shallow basin beneath his now-elevated head, and began to splash the water onto his hair and scalp, the warmth sending a little shiver down the part of his back he could feel. He closed his eyes again as she started splashing water towards his forehead. He was being bathed as one would an infant.

It wasn't the first time he was aware of such care being taken of him. He had woken, briefly, once to Moira cleansing the sweat from his body with a sponge, and other than some small embarrassment at being unable to keep himself clean, he hadn't really cared. This was really no different.

But it was, because he could feel it.

He felt the cold of the liquid soap only a few seconds before his nose detected it, the faintest scent of something other than antiseptic and alcohol, and one he was entirely unfamiliar with. Lavender, had she said? Wasn't that a color, not a smell?

His mind couldn't handle thinking about it for long, and he found himself floating off to a place different from the drifting. He was acutely aware of everything around him, the machines, her, her fingers running and scrubbing gently on his scalp. It was an... an almost comfortable feeling, without any pain whatsoever. He was almost sorry when she stopped, all too soon, and began to wash the soap from his hair with the same gentle, careful fingers. Tension he hadn't even known was there faded at her touch, surprising him, and without his even being aware, the fear faded with it.

He fell asleep long before she was finished toweling his hair off, and for the first time in a long time, he slept a true sleep, with no dreams.

Part 5

Back to Archive