Ashes of Chaos
Break of Dawn: Part 6
by Jaya Mitai, Mel, 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, Mel, and Persephone. Please do not archive, pop-up, or MST without permission.
Cable opened his eyes blearily, not quite sure where he was. His uncertainty was based on two things. The first was that he heard a light female voice soaring in a soft chant.
The second was that he heard a baritone voice trying to sing along with the woman, and failing utterly.
Sam's voice wasn't that deep, though he was the only one who seemed likely to be interested in that sort of music -- the chant seemed to have a new-age beat under it and interesting instrumentation that had to be synthesized. Furthermore, the male voice didn't have a Southern accent.
The semi-familiar ceiling above him really shouldn't have been a surprise -- much less the face peering down at him with an odd mixture of exasperation and relief.
"Look who decided to join the land of the living." Warm, soft, wry, welcoming voice. Dom!
"He seems to have been in the land of the living far longer than I dare imagine, and I can't figure out why," the baritone voice said, a little disapprovingly, and a blue-furred face decided to vie with the black-halved one for his attention. Both were more than slightly out of focus, and he blinked, irritated at how sluggishly his body was responding.
"Hey, Nate," Domino said softly, and stroked his cheek. What? He reached up a hand, clumsily trying to untangle it from the sheets and wondering why it took so much effort, and it hurt so badly. Why was he in Xavier's mansion? What on Earth had happened to make him feel like he'd had a mountain fall on top... of....
He half-sat up, then fell back with a bitten-off cry as flames shot through the muscles contracting along his abdomen. Well, he'd obviously had some surgery -- he saw Beast wince, then adjust something to his left. The pain began to fade almost immediately. He hadn't realized he was squeezing Domino's hand until she tapped his tight fist, and he relaxed it apologetically.
It hurt to even think along their link. His head hurt. Not as badly as his stomach did at the moment, granted, but it felt like he'd gotten kicked in the head with only a pillow between his skull and the steel-toed boot. Whatever psionic damage it was, at least it apparently was healing on its own... oath, what had the idiot done? All he remembered was watching the rocks rush towards his body, and then --
And then nothing. The vaguest of dreams, maybe a face or a voice here and there.... He'd almost expected to see Moira. Why?
*Stryfe's on Muir, Cable. He's staying there until he's stable enough to make the trip across the Atlantic.*
They rescued the motherless son of a flonq?!
*Nate, calm down. He's burnt out and paralyzed. He's not going anywhere.*
They left him on the island with Moira, alone?!
*Nate, listen to me --*
He was far from listening, and, despite the pain movement was causing him, he still fought to sit up against Domino's gentle hands. McCoy was less tender and arrested his motion quite efficiently.
"Lie back down," the doctor said, more sternly than was his usual wont. "Your enthusiasm for the prospect of restoring yourself to normal mobility is neither objectionable nor unanticipated, but an excess of it could quite easily reinjure you, which I'm sure you agree would only be counterproductive."
Cable thought hard about fighting with McCoy a moment, then realized he wouldn't get anywhere and gave in, relaxing and unclenching his gut with exceeding care. As soon as he showed signs of cooperation, McCoy released him and took a seat by the side of the unusually large bed they’d set up in the Infirmary. "Tell me," Cable grated, his voice sounding harsh even to his own ears, "that she has someone there to protect her."
For a moment, Nathan wasn't sure Hank knew what he was talking about, but it was immediately obvious when he did. The beastly face before him deepened into a scowl. "Rahne is... remaining with Moira. Nathan --"
"Rahne! Rahne is the most incredibly naive --"
"It has been some time since you associated with her at length, I believe," Beast interrupted firmly. "She is more experienced, more confident, and really quite a capable young lady."
"She's not up to dealing with Stryfe!"
"She has fought him before," McCoy pointed out. Cable stared at him in surprise for a moment; he'd heard something, but hadn't been thinking of it, about when she was -- "With X-Factor," Hank continued. "He did get away, I must admit, but Rahne captured, er, his glove."
"His glove," Nathan repeated flatly.
Hank sighed. "I don't think combat is likely under the circumstances, Nathan. Stryfe is alive, but in very poor condition. He would have died on the trip here. You would have shared his fate." Hank hesitated. "Nathan, you took heavy physical damage. You have a broken jaw, as you’ve undoubtedly discovered, as well as broken ribs and internal injuries. We also performed multiple surgeries on your knee."
Cable listened as attentively as he could, rejecting the inviting sensation of drifting off and focusing on Domino's mind -- her relief was palpable, but why did she seem so... so wary? He tried to concentrate, and read Hank's mind, but he couldn't quite. And why was he so cold, and why did his techno-organic arm ache so much?
Why did he feel that he was pushing on something much larger than it should have been...? Why couldn't he concentrate?
"The T-O --"
McCoy shook his head significantly at Domino, but Nate wasn’t able to catch the reason on their link. Whatever the significance, she’d tucked it away and he’d have to fight her to find it. He wasn’t sure it was worth the effort, so he completely released her hand and felt along his shoulder with clumsy, uncoordinated fingers. His right shoulder began to ache as soon as he moved it, but he hardly noticed it, horrified at the metallic feel of his entire chest. Right over the sternum, the virus's usual boundary, a solid mesh of it extended over part of the right side of his pectorals, with a few tendrils stretching completely across his chest to end in his armpit. Bright Lady, it had advanced all the way over his heart --! Downwards it seemed to progress at a slight diagonal, passing just the other side of his navel... fairly normal from there, probably. They wouldn't likely have been performing surgery on his knee if his right leg had gone metal.
"Nathan," Hank started gently, blue eyes fixed on some piece of equipment over his head, "You were very badly injured, and your advanced age made complete healing a very questionable eventuality. At the time, you didn’t have control of the virus, but as you can see, for some reason its spread was primarily external, visible, and Jean was able to exert partial control over its growth. It avoided your entire cardiac area -- there’s no threat there -- and mended the breaks in your ribs. I’m testing to see how it will attempt to mimic the marrow that resided in those ribs, but so far it appears that you are keeping it stable despite its advance, and your white and red cell counts appear to be healthy."
Nate refused to shudder as he relaxed his arm, and wasn’t surprised that Domino took his hand again. He squeezed her fingers, gently, before simply keeping hold of them. "How long?"
McCoy obviously wasn’t sure what he was asking. "I estimate we found you around eight hours after the start of the collapse of the base. You had managed to clear a pocket in the rocks, I assume telekinetically, and were close enough to the surface to get enough oxygen to sustain respiration as well as trigger the clotting agents in your blood. You’ve been in and out of consciousness since then, roughly... nine days."
He couldn’t help a groan. No wonder he felt as poorly as he did. Then again --
"We’ve been placing you in the pool, to keep your muscles from atrophying. Bedsores on top of everything else would have been a little much."
Nathan’s eyes sharpened, and he turned his head to glare at the doctor. "And this sort of therapy, you plan to continue it?"
McCoy looked startled, and blinked very rapidly several times. "Until you’ve learned to walk again, certainly --"
"Did Bastion take all the anti-grav devices?"
"All but one that was in need of repair, and I was able to --"
"No more water." Cable had the distinct impression somewhere in all those vague memories that he'd already stipulated that to the doctor, who was finding his blood pressure suddenly very fascinating....
To her credit, Domino didn’t laugh, but she did smile, and leaned over to kiss him solidly on the cheek. "Welcome back, old man."
* * * * * * *
Moira chose the headset instead of the actual receiver; it was so much easier to work and talk without having to pull your shoulder out of joint to hang onto the phone.
I hope I donnae get Nathan, she thought fervently. He was likely to still be in the Infirmary, probably awake by now, and while she wanted dearly to talk with him, see him, check his condition, she needed him entirely unaware of the questions she needed to ask Henry.
A glance at the cameras found Stryfe staring idly at the ceiling. As soon as he started moving around on his own, she would limit even this type of surveillance. He would need privacy to do the things he wanted to try without her there to be a witness to his stumbles and falls. She'd have to be exceedingly careful about that; he was as likely to center on getting well only to repay her for witnessing his weakness as he was to fall into the depression that had him at the moment.
"Infirmary, Mrs. McCoy's bouncing baby boy speaking."
"Hello, Hank," Moira chuckled warmly. "Do ye always answer yuir phone with that distinctive introduction?"
"Only when my patients are awake and glaring at me as though a simple gaze could flay the flesh from my bones. What can I do for you this fine morning?"
"Ye can find someplace Nathan isnae likely tae overhear ye or take the conversation from yuir mind."
He didn't skip a beat. "I could most certainly do that. Now, what did you find to be the optimal sodium concentration for the activity of the enzyme... I see... permit me to acquire appropriate writing materials to make note of the feasible parameter ranges...." It was obvious he was on a cordless; she could hear him moving into one of his back rooms, and he let the prattle trail off. "What is it you require, good doctor?"
"A need to know precisely what Stryfe thinks of Nathan. Yuir history is rather incomplete in that area."
"Ah... you ask difficult questions. Why not ask Stryfe himself?"
"He doesnae ken Nate still be alive, and he's decided A'm nae worthy of his conversation. Nae a word has he spoken since arriving."
"That could pose a problem, where conversations are concerned," Hank admitted softly. "As concisely as I know, Stryfe resents Nathan for having known Slym and Redd and for being the original. Very simple, childlike emotions that he has a rather... unhealthy way of expressing. I... could ask Cable for more specific detail, but I frankly think it would be in everyone's best interest if that waited until he felt well enough not to take it out on me with his mind. I prefer the option of fighting opponents I can see."
Moira half-smiled, typing away on her nigh silent laptop keyboard. "Has he e'er had a love? Besides coveting Cable's future wife."
"You mean relations in this time? None that we know of, though his time with the MLF is shady at best. If he did, she either didn't stick around very long or was very, very far in the background. I highly doubt he'd allow himself the luxury of a relationship. He and Nathan are very dedicated to their respective goals. I'm surprised Domino managed to worm her way so deeply into Cable's life."
"A'm glad she took the time," Moira murmured, eyes running over the light black data as it scrolled by. "Ye tell me Stryfe has never shown indication of grasping common emotional elements like remorse? Guilt? Love?"
"None that we have any conclusive evidence of. I'm sure he thinks he understands them, and he may, in fact, believe he is properly exhibiting them. I think he lacks any real understanding of normal human behavior, though I see no particular advantage to Apocalypse having left that entirely out of his education. Granted, if he was merely there to be a host, his own personality wouldn't have mattered; it would have been wiped out by Apocalypse during the transfer." A slight, mirthless chuckle. "On the other hand, you'd have thought En Sabah Nur would have taught Stryfe correct behavior just to spare himself -- and his court -- the headache."
Moira tapped the touchpad thoughtfully, watching the mouse click on the same word several times without any effect. "What are Scott and Jean's plans for Stryfe?"
Hank was heard blowing out his cheeks. "It's been a matter of some debate, though obviously not around Nathan, and will probably be the subject of more." He chuckled again. "I've been trying to avoid thinking about it in the hopes it would somehow resolve itself. Why do you ask?"
"A think A can save him."
"Splendid! How much mobility will he regain, do you project?"
Moira smiled. "A project he'll gain enough tae be a working member of society."
There was a pause. "Surely you're not thinking of trying... he knows all the tricks, Moira, he plays mind games for a living --"
"A still think A can teach him a thing or two aboot life. He has a lot of growing up to do."
* * * * * * *
Rahne crept quietly into the room, stomach dropping in disappointment as she noted the full bowl and the untouched water bottle. His eyes were closed, not in the easy repose of sleep, but against the light beating on him through the unblinded window, the pain she could smell on him, adrenaline and fear and a certain particular stink she could associate almost exclusively with blind terror. She knew that neither she nor Moira had given him anything to fear; her adopted mother had been nothing but reassuring to him, and his constant anxiety baffled her.
He would eat nothing willingly, and she'd seen him maybe once take a drink of water, even then only at Moira's nagging and only when it was obvious that she simply wasn't going to take no for an answer. His weight was falling steadily, and while the IV drip could keep him hydrated, she could hear his painful swallows down the hall. He had to be desperate for a drink, and all he had to do was move his head to the right just slightly to take the bendy straw into his mouth.
Yet he never did.
He didn't move or change position as she walked in, and though she was in human form she was moving very quietly. She just stood there, a minute, three, listening to his quiet yet strained breathing, one of the few symptoms of the pain he remained in. Many times a day Moira asked him about how he felt, if there was pain if she moved him, and invariably he never answered. She was administering painkillers via the IV, but he would silently protest if she attempted to give them in injection form, by turning his head away or -- as he was starting to do more and more often -- glaring at her.
She'd read his file, when Moira was sleeping and her curiosity got the better of her. She'd met him before -- she knew the malice with which he fought, the cruelty that seemed a malevolent glow around him, making him a terror, a true terrorist. With his strength, that same tendency to hate seemed to be coming back -- or was this only apathy, or sullenness? He had been at least mildly curious when he had first arrived, but it had dulled with time, just like his desire to open his eyes or pay attention to anyone.
Now, more and more, he seemed to want simply to be left alone, and deny any desire within himself for anything. Did he want to die? If not, he should be working towards moving himself, instead of refusing to eat and making it even more painful for himself as his body turned to his atrophying muscles for calories. Moira was combating that with nutrients, but it was a natural process and his body wasn't responding very well. His metabolism, despite the two weeks he'd spent confined to bed with little or no movement at all, was still very fast, a quirk of his mutant makeup, and it demanded a high calorie intake. That was something Moira simply couldn't provide him, without drastically injuring his circulatory system, and with each hour that he refused to eat, or move, he was only doing himself greater harm.
And why? He must know that -- he was a scientist, must be -- he had to have an advanced understanding of the workings of a human body in order to engineer something as deadly as Legacy. He knew that he wouldn't die; Moira could prevent that, but she could not prevent him from wasting away to nothing. He needed to eat. Preferably while he still could -- his digestive system should be able to deal with some foods still, now, but that wouldn't necessarily last forever.
Rahne cleared her throat softly, wondering if he might have actually drifted off. She wanted him to open his eyes, wanted to ask him why in the world he was doing what he was doing, but he didn't respond to her or to anything she did, though she puttered around noisily enough to wake the dead, chattering about nothing as Moira had recommended she do.
She picked up the full soup bowl, weighing it in her hands as her eyes turned towards the IV. Perhaps she should try again; perhaps he was too proud to ask for help, or thought they wouldn't give it, and if she clearly offered it without seeming to patronize him, perhaps he would change his mind?
"Would ye like yuir soup now? A could prop you up a bit," she offered softly, as lightly as she could without sounding flippant. He did open his eyes enough to glare at her then, and they looked at each other steadily until Stryfe finally angled his face just a little farther away from her. Rahne sighed, looking around and finding no other duties to keep her in the room. She really should have expected that reaction.... When she could find nothing else to do, she sighed again, deeply, and carried the soup bowl away with her, leaving the water precisely where it was.
"You're just hurting yuirself," she finally murmured, watching him a second more before leaving, shutting the door gently behind her. A fifteen yard trip down the hall found her in the lab, putting the bowl of soup on one of the countertops and watching him in the black and white video. He wasn't looking after her, hadn't moved a muscle since she'd locked the doors.
"Ye are a stubborn, stubborn man," she griped at the image, and it flickered once, before clearly showing her that he didn't much care about her opinion.
It was apparent that he didn't much care about anything.
* * * * * * *
Moira reviewed the tapes, keeping the aspirin handy. In a twenty-four hour period, he had moved his head twice, both times in response to her, both times as an avoidance reaction. This indicated many things. He was aware of her; he was aware of them moving around him, and he was paying attention to everything around him. He also seemed to want to be in pain, or perhaps to stay as lucid as possible? -- they were the only reasons she could think of that would cause him to resist the painkillers as constantly as he did. She gave as much as she thought safe through the IV, but a constant stream of them would only encourage addiction. Between his injuries and his refusal to move, the last thing he needed was another physical malady from which to have to recover.
Moira dropped her pen, rubbing the bridge of her nose and reviewing her notes. The only desire she had noticed him actively pursuing was the desire to stay alert. But that was untrue: despite the reluctance to have his senses dulled by chemical means, he spent as much time as possible pretending she and Rahne weren't there, and the lack of interest with which he regarded food and water would indicate that he deemed them non-essential. Without the calories to fuel him, he would drift off more frequently, and be dazed and probably light-headed whenever he was awake. So it was a desire to remain undrugged. And what could be fueling that?
Moira thoughtfully picked up the pen, staring at the words engraved on the side without seeing them. She constantly got pens, pencils, mousepads, and stuffed toys from various research facilities and pharmacies trying to entice her into noticing them, and she couldn't be bothered to even read their name on the side of a free pen. She ignored the irony of her thought pattern for the moment, reassigning her attention to Stryfe.
Why precisely did he have such a strong desire to remain unfettered by drugs when much slighter but still similar symptoms were being produced by his simple refusal to eat? What did he think he was preventing her from doing? It was surely that: only his desire to have some control over his fate and environment would force him into action; it was obvious from his previous behavior. He thought he was fighting her by doing this, but for what purpose? Why did he think he had to be lucid?
She contemplated. Painkillers would make him less aware of his surroundings, limiting his perceptions. Yet he kept his eyes closed, which was doing the same thing. She scribbled it down and immediately crossed it off. Painkillers would alleviate his symptoms, and she briefly toyed with the idea that this was some sort of self-punishment for his stupidity and tactics, then immediately wrote it down and crossed it off. He wasn't a masochist, at least not to this extent. Denying himself the food and water might be lack of interest in living, but he wasn't torturing himself on purpose.
Strong painkillers would most likely cause dreams or hallucinations. Given his background, she could see a fear of that, and actually, that would fit rather well with Rahne's suspicions as to the extent of the constant terror he was in. She had done nothing she could think of to have incited such a deep fear in him; all the news thus far seemed to be fair, not the best but certainly not discouraging. She attributed some of his fear to being so completely at their mercy, but surely he must have figured out by now that she meant him no harm. Was it fear of something he might see in a dream? Dehydration would achieve the same results. Was it a fear of something he might reveal?
She scribbled it down and stared at it, pen poised to scribble it out but frozen mid-stroke. Fear of something he might reveal. She didn't really care about his plans of world conquest, but since she was a friend of Cable, as Stryfe most probably knew, was it fear of revealing plans that would eventually leak to Cable that kept him from accepting the drugs' comforts? That would insinuate that Stryfe knew Cable was still alive, and she wasn't at all sure that was the case. He had shown a tiny little spike of activity in the injured part of his frontal lobe, implying that he wasn't completely mindblind, possibly even that he might even regain some of his telepathic, if not telekinetic, abilities. She hadn't revealed that to him yet. It was too early to tell conclusively, and to bring his hopes up only to dash them again would cause more damage to his already injured self-image. But did it indicate that he could sense Cable, on some level?
She starred that entry in her notebook, staring at it. Afraid of something he might reveal. What else did he know? Nathan had always been closemouthed about the future-past era in which he'd lived, but part of that was pain and part was excused on the basis of there being things you just didn't tell people about the future. Somehow similar scruples didn't seem likely to weigh on Stryfe -- if they were even Cable's real reason, and sometimes one simply couldn't tell -- and neither explanation really seemed as if it should induce unrelenting fear. What else...?
He was afraid of revealing something about Legacy? She circled the entry thoughtfully. He probably knew she'd contracted it. He would have been interested in her since she was an exception in his experiment, an element he hadn't purposefully included.
She got chills thinking of the release of Legacy as an experiment. It hadn't been a planned one, as far as she could tell; every indication was that he had released it as a horrible and twisted form of vengeance, not so much out of hatred for mutants as a group as out of the knowledge that striking at so many would hurt Scott and Jean more than any blow to them alone ever could. He had seemed, from all anyone had been able or willing to tell her of the events on the moon, to expect to die.
Which he had, but then, as was almost unsurprising by this point, he had shown up again. Now... now he could watch his revenge play itself out. Now he could see the results for himself, and while it made her shudder to think of watching such a thing with no desire to change it, the alternatives -- that after all that trouble and bitterness he would ignore it entirely, or that someone capable of viral engineering might watch only out of sadistic enjoyment without at least some interest in observing for the sake of his own knowledge -- were inconceivable to her.
Was he afraid to reveal something that would aid her in its cure? That would indicate a desire to see her symptoms, follow the life of the virus in a human host. It would probably give him valuable insight into how the virus had mutated, and her finding the cure would interfere with his experiment. And yet he seemed to ignore her? Perhaps a pretense... or perhaps that wasn't it at all. He was aware, though, that much she had concluded. His unresponsiveness was deliberate.
The more she thought about it, the more it began to make sense -- at least as a partial explanation; she didn't really think it seemed quite likely to produce such an intense fear, though it was hard to tell. On the other hand, while it might not explain that entirely, it did seem a probable reason for a certain amount of his behavior. In fact, it was true that only her desire to cure Legacy kept her from completely giving up in despair on those cold, long nights where her exhaustion and flu-like achy-ness kept her from sleep. Henry had listed it as one of his only hobbies, and viral biology was too complex to be a mere hobby. It was a lifelong interest and perhaps it was the only thing that could spur him into action on top of his depression.
Lifelong, too, was hatred of his brother... and also his for power in any timeline. Fear that his efforts here would be stalled by Cable, the original, was probably more than he was willing to accept. Aside from Legacy, as far as she could tell, the only thing he had left here was his determination to... to kill Apocalypse, she would wager, and also... to make life hard for Cable. Very hard.
Then again, why else had he come to this century? He'd been following Cable, there was no doubt, but with what purpose? The MLF hadn't done much in the way of upsetting things... though killing Xavier would have, had he succeeded. She blinked thoughtfully, rolling the pen between her fingers.
What else was here, for him? What was it that he wanted?
And was that, also, something he was afraid to reveal?
She tapped the entry, leaving tiny blue dots where the pen touched the paper. Knowing that, how could she use it? She had no intention of using his hatred of Nathan, of course, and even if he might be considered a more legitimate target Apocalypse was... a bit much, given Stryfe's current condition. Most likely more discouraging than anything else. He would have to come under discussion, but as a topic he seemed less than helpful in her current dilemma.
That left Legacy. Allowing Stryfe to take her as a patient was simply too ludicrous even to suggest; he'd never believe she was sincere, and she wouldn't be. Besides, he was far too physically weak to do so. And trying to fake symptoms of Legacy in an effort to convince him to pay her more attention would only damage their long-term relationship -- his discovery of the early deceit would destroy any trust she might build up with him at a later date.
As for keeping relevant information from Cable... Stryfe would never believe promises not to tell Cable what he told her, and if it were important enough, she would. It would help if she never told Stryfe one way or another that Nathan was still alive; she'd have to be very careful not to reveal that. As for any other secret desires... there was no way to use that to her advantage. Eventually it would be helpful to know what he wanted to do and to have, almost inevitable if she succeeded in beginning more than a physical therapy -- but she had to bring him to the point of acting, of reacting, of doing something now, or he would die. Any desire she did not already know or hypothesize was one she was very unlikely to find out before he started talking, and if he were talking they'd have made a fair step of progress already.
She stared at the way the lines of her writing curved, not seeing the words, eyes focused past them. So it all hinged on Legacy, then. This was his only interest, the only thing he cared about enough to rouse himself out of the depression. The only one, she amended, that she could find. Even the most basic human needs couldn't accomplish this, and it was the key to getting him to open up, the only line to the surface he allowed himself -- if he still did.
It still didn't explain the fear, perhaps, not entirely -- though she couldn't rule that out -- but at the least it was an interest.
And if she couldn't find a way to use it, she was going to lose any chance at all to save his life.
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