Ashes Of Chaos
Break of Dawn: Part 5

by Jaya Mitai and Persephone



Week Two

Bright light streamed across his closed eyelids, and he squeezed them shut, acknowledging waking to hide his eyes. He turned his head away from the brightness, to the right, and his cheek found the pillow before the ache in his neck spread.

"Rise and shine! Today ye start yuir therapy."

He made no other motion, and she sighed. He heard her footsteps clicking energetically on the tiles. Moira had moved him out of the medlab itself some undeterminable time ago, and placed him instead in a room of his own, near the laboratories. He could still often hear her talk to herself, very faintly, as she worked, but now he was no longer under such close scrutiny. Not that he really understood why she felt giving him privacy would make him more comfortable. He'd denied any pains to her, keeping the medications down in order to stay more lucid in his moments of wakefulness, and as the swelling went down, the pain he felt in his body only grew.

She'd had him in an antigravity chamber several times, for an hour each session, and it alleviated some of the discomfort that was a daily routine for him now. She'd also tried water therapy, but the sheer difficulty of moving his body to the pool and out of it was too much for the delicate woman. It wasn't that she was weak -- she was more steel-willed each day he knew her; rather, her physical build kept her from building upper body strength as much as her profession otherwise might. Rahne had helped her both times they'd moved him, but he'd shown no preference either way, and the antigrav was far more convenient.

Somehow, he didn't think this was a trip to the chamber.

"Stryfe, A know ye can hear me. Open yuir eyes and let's see what ye're capable of."

He let her talk. Who was she kidding? He knew what physical therapy in the twentieth century comprised. Lots of struggle, physically, to force damaged nerves to conduct electrical impulses again. With no mechanical help whatsoever. A struggle that would get him nothing, perhaps even lose strength in her eyes. It would wear him down physically and mentally, make him easy pickings.

And yet, what made him so sure she wanted something? Perhaps Domino rescued him only to force him to live in misery, and she was merely a doctor doing her job? She was a personal friend of Charles Xavier, that much he knew -- perhaps saving his life was supposed to be no more than conscience-salve to the old hypocrite, to his parents?

What if they really did need nothing from him, and his survival didn't matter to them in any way?

Why fight for something unattainable? Even if he could eventually limp along, as soon as he gained mobility they'd put him in a cell and let him rot, and that was being kind. If they could prove to the government that he attempted to assassinate Xavier, he might even get locked in a federal pen, and as weakened as he still would be, he might as well seek out his enemies and expose his heart to them if he was planning his own death in that fashion.

What was there to fight for?

* * * * * * *

"Hi there."

Pale gray eyelids peeled themselves apart like sweaty skin from a vinyl car seat.

"Don’t look so enthusiastic to be awake, old man."

Dull gray eyes blinked at her. It was still taking him a while to focus, which was a little alarming, all things considered. Then again, it was only two days since his third and fourth surgeries -- done morning and afternoon just six days after he'd been practically crushed, and McCoy was still giving him a healthy mix of painkillers and something he had dubbed "Cable cocktail." It had to be some seriously heavy proof stuff -- she’d never seen a bedridden Cable that mellow.

As those eyes slowly focused, she began to consider just how inaccurate ‘mellow’ was, particularly when applied to the particular Cable who was looking at her so lifelessly. It was... it was frightening, especially when for almost two days after they'd brought him home he'd been sort of awake -- still pretty dazed, not that she could blame him, but almost himself. Cantankerous and aware enough to complain about being dunked in water, for instance. But now?

Domino was not a woman who scared easily, or who liked admitting to being scared. This scared her.

Those eyes shifted without blinking to look to his right, where she could see McCoy in her peripheral vision muttering and staring at X-rays. Surgery wasn’t his main field of study, but he’d gathered some of the best joint-specialists this side of the hemisphere. All on personal favors -- after Bastion took everything, Xavier simply didn’t have the currency to foot these surgeries. Or if he did, he was saving it for a rainy day.

Nathan blinked, letting his eyes return to their default position, staring at the ceiling, and at Domino, who had placed herself there on purpose so he couldn’t use the excuse of exhaustion to avoid looking at her. Listlessness was something else entirely, and she wasn’t quite sure what she was seeing wasn’t a closely related cousin.

She checked their psibond in her head, almost as adeptly as a telepath might. It was her all-telling link to the man below her. It told her when he was about to awaken, when to tell Hank to up the meds, even when Nate just wanted to be alone, to think. She didn’t like the... color... of his thoughts, even more dismal and dark. Not a temperature change, so much, nor a mood change, just... somber colors.

Colors that she’d been trying to replicate upstairs for the past five days, without much luck. No one had seen the canvases, no one but perhaps Logan even knew she spent most of the nights painting if she wasn’t at Nate’s side. Something to... express what he was feeling. He needed that, and that need was bleeding to her, making her try her hand at a different type of art from what she was accustomed to.

She didn’t like any of the things she painted. They brought her no joy, nor did they make sense, disjointed and difficult to grasp as a whole object. Most of the paintings consisted of somehow clashing earth tones and a repeated crest shape, often in the form of a moon of solid color. She didn’t know why it was a moon; it could have been anything from the blade of a psimitar to the crest on a Canaanite family shield to the nice curves of one of their kids mooning him, but whenever she painted, drew, inked, or even doodled, it was a moon.

A moon over a landscape so utterly void that it was hardly a landscape at all. No sky, no earth, no boundaries. Swirls and bleeds of colors that should have existed in harmony.

Should have.

He made no attempt to speak to her, either verbally or telepathically, and seemed almost completely unaware of their psilink at all. He just stared up at her, blinking only occasionally, eyes open only because he was no longer asleep, and eyes should be open when one is awake. There was almost no statement there at all, and how much of that was due to the drugs was only a guess. She knew Jean was worried about it, though she didn’t give the redheaded woman much thought these days.

She hadn’t really given Jean much of any thought after the initial fury surrounding her near murder attempt on Stryfe, actually. Moira had spilled the beans in her usual fashion, going up to them the next morning and asking Domino politely if she’d worked it out of her system. The question of what had inevitably led to her opening her mouth, and Jean’s anger not only surprised, but hurt. Of all the people there, she would have assumed Jean would have been the most on her side.

Sure, Scott loved Nate, as far as she cared to notice, or at least cared about him a great deal more than he was willing to admit, but that was nothing compared to the time Jean had spent with him during the pneumonia and immediately after. These days, Domino wasn’t sure he was even allowing Jean in his head, and it was a real shame. Woman was devoted to him like she had something to prove, and whether she still felt some sort of debt for not being his real mother or she was trying to hide guilt for helping Stryfe, as well, was anyone’s guess.

And she wasn’t interested in speculating. She was interested in figuring out exactly what Nate was thinking, and between his lack of desire to speak to her and his constant drugged state, she was wondering if he could fight the drugs and force coherent thought, or he was giving up, and preferred losing himself to a thick fog of numbness rather than face his current condition.

Had it been an emotional situation and emotional alone, that wouldn’t be odd. But that the situation included some vastly important physical changes was strange. She’d expected him to be yelling about increasing his physical activity, by now, sore abdomen or no.... She almost winced at the thought. No matter how gently Hank had him exercise, she could feel the pain across the link. He’d lost a little under eight inches of his large intestine, and over two feet of small intestine. Which wouldn’t limit his diet drastically, or force him into having to carry a bag for fecal matter rather than flushing it the usual way, but it made something as simple as straightening devastatingly painful for him.

As for the knee... despite their best efforts, it would never hold half as well as his original. They’d reinforced the joints, added shock absorbers, reinforced and surgically reattached tendons and ligaments... but the muscles simply weren’t up to the task of controlling the plastic joint. Even jogging would be a risky business.

This was not even counting the bone damage, the lung damage he'd suffered from the infection, or a myriad of other, smaller ailments. The simple fact was that he’d sustained life-threatening injuries, and his life as a mercenary, at any rate, had ended as swiftly as a pebble falls from a child’s hands.

And his mission had just as obviously gone with it.

And she was beginning to wonder exactly what it would take to convince Nate to bother to recover. It wasn’t like she thought he would die. He was out of those woods, at any rate, despite the strain to his heart and lungs. His brain and powers were intact, but he’d most likely have to walk with the use of either steadying TK or a cane. And she could almost see the apathetic contemplation, whether simply never leaving the bed would be any worse than being forced to accept help for something as simple as walking.

It was his habit, almost a vice at times, to recover from injury. She’d seen it done numerous times. She knew that usually he refused doctor’s orders, did everything three times harder than he should have, and forced his body from pain to obedience. Maybe it was the extent, or the short time, or even the nature of the injuries and drugs themselves, but that... that burning need to succeed was not a part of the dull cacophony of colors coming to her.

It was just from the drugs. It had to be. Just the drugs. Right?

Don’t give up yet, old man. Still things you need to do.

* * * * * * * *

Moira watched him closely, hoping her silence and motionlessness would arouse enough curiosity in him to open his eyes, at least prove to her that he had some interest in his fate. Instead, he lay there quite passively, eyes closed, no longer even straining away from the sunlight streaming in.

"Stryfe, do ye not want tae walk again? Are ye not going tae even try?"

Still nothing, and she didn't press the issue. If he didn't have the will, no amount of medicine in the world would save him from these injuries, and he would remain a cripple.

But of course, the psychiatrist part of her mind pointed out. He sees himself as a cripple, sees nothing to fight for, to make the effort worthwhile, and so will not try. Classic depression, really, and she shouldn't have been at all surprised. That he had never spoken to her was another symptom, though it could be attributed to either fear that his voice would sound weak or stubbornness, the only sort of fight he could put up now, the only sort of defiance he could properly display.

She had to give him something to find worthwhile in all this.

Which brought up another question entirely – what would become of Stryfe, when he did recover, regain enough mobility to take care of himself? The injuries wouldn't prevent that, at least; he might never run a marathon and have only a shadow of the flexibility he had before, but he would walk again, that was certain -- if he ever started trying. What did the X-Men have in store for him, and what of Nathan? Hank hadn't sent back anything on the subject, which indicated either that it was bad news or that he simply was going postpone worrying until it could be better ascertained whether Stryfe would even survive this with the ability to be a threat -- with any mobility at all.

He wasn't a federally recognized criminal in any country, which left the local law unaware he even existed. If they did know, surely they thought him dead. Keeping him locked in a cell for the rest of his life would be a terrible waste of a sharp, exceedingly valuable mind, and she saw no reason he couldn't potentially be properly reacclimated to the way people interacted and let loose in civilization. It wasn't a question of pure evilness, she didn't think; he hadn't told her in so many words, hadn't spoken at all, but reading that history made it all the more clear that he literally had no idea how most people acted. He had no concept of emotions or any healthy way of expressing them, he had no concept of the rights of others, of the feelings of others, or how people were supposed to interact at all. And it wasn't that he was too stupid to notice – he'd been specifically trained from practically infancy to behave the way he did, and he saw no fault with it.

That was something that, with time, attention, and trust, he could surmount, just like his physical injuries. And the simple idea of taking the man and helping him into the kind of person one would want as an employee, as a neighbor, as a friend, was almost more appealing than Legacy. Though the rewards weren't necessary equal, they would be equally satisfying. In many ways, helping him would be helping her research, as well. Once he understood and respected the value of human life, he might well regret releasing the virus, and only a madman would have no idea how to cure or vaccinate against it.

And she'd studied this virus for what now seemed like a very, very long time. It had not been designed by a madman.

"Stryfe, ye cannae ignore me forever. Sooner or later, A will win, and so will ye."

* * * * * * *

Domino stretched, her back popping, the tight cotton shirt shifting ever so slightly, warming flesh that was chill for having been exposed to open air conditioning without movement for the past several hours. Not to mention her back felt like hell.

Leaning on a hospital bed from several feet away with your butt anchored to a chair not meant to have you leaning forward did that to you, though. She should know. She'd spent the better part of a week complaining about it.

Brilliant eyes opened and focused on a mop of silvering hair, a bit matted as it fell around his face, eyes closed in an uneasy sleep. It was that unease that had woken her, his anxiety trickling down their link to her.

Their glorious link that she could sense, now, that she could use to feel everything he was feeling. As his mind had slowly bounced back from the shock of his near-death and struggle, the link had slowly grown more strong.

And she loved every second of it, even though it was as annoying as -- as Nate was on a bad day. Which made sense, considering these could hardly be among his better ones.

It was annoying for his nightmares or bad moods, whatever they were, to insist on having her paint them, for instance. All right, not quite every second, then. Not the ones she spent painting -- and those were often an unwanted relief from the sheer urge to be painting. At least the images had been receding a little since yesterday.

She always had a somehow removed sensation that something was wrong with her body, all the while knowing it was his. She felt sometimes as if he were clinging to the link with more of his strength than was wise and at the same time pulling away, and she couldn't go far. She was fairly sure this last was primarily her own worry and obstinacy, likely augmented by the telepathic impressions, but not something she was being controlled into. Still, she didn't seem to be able to leave his side.

It was uncomfortable, worrying, and sometimes downright frustrating. But it was still Nate on the other end, still a live mind. He was still there, where she could feel him, instead of somewhere at the end of an silently unending empty hallway.

And that, she loved.

This morning she felt far more optimistic than she had yesterday, and not because she'd slept more. The link felt... clearer. The drugs had been reduced and allowed to work their way slowly out of his system overnight, and there was a different quality to his sleep. Still not what she'd call happy, though, or she'd probably still be napping.

"Hey, Nate." She touched his cheek gently.

A muscle along his jaw twitched, and his eyes, moving beneath his eyelids, glanced in her direction.

"You're having a bad dream."

He took a quick breath, almost a flinch, or a preparation for something unpleasant, and she smiled a bit.

"No, you idiot, you're already having it."

His head shook back and forth slightly, as if denying her words.

"Okay, so it isn't as bad as what happened last week, but it's still got to be bad if you're sweating like this...."

His eyes glanced away from her, the rapid movement almost seeming to wake him.

She sighed. "It isn't anything to be ashamed about, Nate. He blindsided you." Just because the asshole was practically dead half a world away on Muir didn't mean she could deny that he had gotten the jump on Nate. In a bad way. Stryfe really kicked his ass but good. And even if she didn't like it, it had to be admitted.

Nate turned his face slightly away, eyes staring at the farthest corner of the room through his closed eyelids.

"Hey, Nate, don't get that look...."

A blink of closed lids.

"If it's any consolation," Domino cooed, taking his hand gently, "it'll never happen again, because you're never leaving my sight."

Cable started violently, shaking himself awake, and found the strength to glare at the giggling Domino before falling back into a light sleep, thinking even as he fell that there was a distinct impression he'd been being teased....

* * * * * * *

"Xavier Institute, Charles Xavier speaking."

"Good morning."

"Good morning, Emma." He half smiled. "I'm almost surprised you bothered with the phone."

There was a cool laugh from the other end of the line. "It requires more energy to speak telepathically over this range than I felt inclined to throw about today, and if I'm not mistaken, your range is... a bit more restricted than usual at the moment."

Xavier noted that the silken barb didn't have as much effect as he would have expected, somehow, perhaps because he was distracted by the report Henry had given him. Cable was doing... as well as could be expected, possibly better. Stryfe, according to all reports from Moira -- both direct and relayed through her colleague -- was conscious with increasing regularity and should be recovering, but had not spoken and had moved only minimally.

Charles couldn't shake the feeling that the man was still dangerous, though, and the possibility of Stryfe recovering more quickly than expected and attacking Moira or Rahne was... less than appealing. While he had the utmost respect for Moira's medical abilities, in a way that regard only made him more uneasy.

Being distracted while talking to Emma was not, as a rule, advisable, and Xavier only permitted his mind to flicker over these questions briefly. "It is, I admit," he agreed smoothly. "May I ask if you had a particular purpose to the call?" She did, of course. They almost never communicated without at least one particular purpose in mind, and frequently with several. Apiece.

"I've been informed," Emma replied briskly, "that Stryfe has been apprehended and left on... Muir Island, I believe, presumably in Dr. MacTaggart's care."

"That is correct, in essence."

He could almost hear the cool smile in her voice. "Allow me to congratulate you. As I can't imagine, however, that he'll be left there for any very extended period of time, I have a proposal regarding his next destination. I... assume you plan to attempt to rehabilitate him."

"That is entirely possible." There should be a chance. There should always be a chance. The thought was extremely appealing, and yet, he didn't wish to commit himself to that course of action without due caution.

Emma apparently took his words as hedging about a more positive statement rather than true uncertainty, or perhaps simply chose to treat them that way. "Naturally -- and I believe, given my own experiences and skills, that I should be intimately involved in the process."

Charles felt his eyebrows lift. "Indeed? Your suggestions will be taken into consideration, of course."

"Perhaps I could visit, at some point, to discuss the matter... in person?"

"If you prefer. I believe that would be advantageous: would you have time to meet tomorrow morning?"

"The afternoon would be better. I do have some duties to perform regarding the Academy earlier in the day. Two o'clock?"

Xavier agreed and wrote what was probably an entirely superfluous note to himself regarding Emma Frost's impending appointment, then hung up the phone after a courteous exchange of businesslike pleasantries.

He laid the pen down and steepled his fingers, looking down at the calendar on his desktop. Stryfe had been on Muir nearly a week and a half, and no decision had been made yet. It had initially been assumed that he would be transferred to Westchester as soon as he could be safely moved, but Moira had expressed doubts as to whether Stryfe should really be traveling yet -- and had spoken at other times as though she rather expected to continue treatment on Muir, even mentioning at one point that it was a good thing, too, to have Cable separated from Stryfe by an ocean rather than a medlab aisle or partition, and that she was sure they were glad not to be dealing with the latter situation.

Xavier did believe Stryfe was redeemable. He had to, in the process of believing the same of himself, not solely because of his own atrocities as Onslaught, but for all the enemies who'd taken advantage of their second chances -- and all who hadn't.

Redeemable -- but not necessarily safe. Not for long.

He'd been procrastinating, aware that any solution would bring its own problems and willing, if not precisely content, to defer for the moment to Moira's insistence that it would be best for her patient as well as the other parties involved if she continued care for the time being.

Stryfe couldn't stay on Muir indefinitely, though. Eventually, even if not now, he would be too much recovered to permit the risk. And he would still have to be somewhere.

to be continued...

Part 6

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