Disclaimer: Marvel's characters: Sam, Rahne, Ahab, Kurt, Kitty, Manuel, Rachel. My characters: Dawn, Glenn, Danny, Brand, Chase. I think that's it. And this is probably going to be rated PG-13, for semi-disturbing imagery (later) and language (also later).
Author's Note: Okay, where to start. First of all, I'd like to say this is Matt Nute's fault for giving me this idea, and Redhawk's idea for encouraging it. This started out as a Dawn story, but on further reflection I don't think it's going to end that way (and incidentally, Brandwyn and Daniel are partly Falstaff's fault, being Arleccino Timeline refugees). There are a bunch of former New Mutants in here, for one. This is one of the only stories that have actually required me to keep a list of characters involved. It's also one of the only stories that makes me feel obligated to apologize for the slow start. Exposition is fun, eh? Ah well, on to the plot.
Manuel Alfonso Rodrigo de la Rocha felt his throat constrict.
"Senor Ahab, I am not comfortable with this."
"You aren't paid to be 'comfortable,'de la Rocha. You are paid to be *effective.*"
"Y... yes, sir." He hated this. He hated being so weak and helpless. Ahab, damn him, had equipped psionic inhibitors and mood stabilizers to protect him from Manuel's empathic powers, and there was nothing he could do about it.
And Ahab just left. That was another thing Manuel despised. The madman trusted him to do his job, and do it well. No hassle, no questions asked. Not for Ahab's favorite pet.
Normally he could ignore it. He could tell himself it was just a job, and that he was actually doing these mutants a favor. After all, there were worse fates than being made to love an abhorrent task. Like being left with your sanity while your performed it anyway, for one thing. He could take away their revulsion, and leave bliss in its wake. He hated himself for thinking like that, but it made the job bearable.
Or, he thought as he looked at Ahab's newest offering, it had until now.
She was older and sadder, and thinner than he remembered her to be, but he knew her. They had undergone rehabilitation together on Muir Island after an unexpected power-spike had left him near-crippled. His new project was Dawn Embers--no, it was Keaton now, he remembered--a girl he had not seen in years.
She was unconscious, drugged, and already outfitted in the proto-Hound suit. No scars yet, but they would come soon enough. Manny carefully reached out with his empathic talent, probing her shields. The drugs had made them terribly thin. It would be so easy to twist her without her ever knowing...
He felt his teeth clench. It is too late. She is awake.
Manuel exhaled softly, and returned the psitouch. :Si, Dawn. It has been long since last we met.:
She laughed shakily, her eyes still closed, and her lips curved in a slight smile. :Years,: she replied. :You never did see the kids, did you? Daniel and Brandwyn...:
:Brandwyn?: Manuel tried to snort. :What an appalling thing to name a child. You are truly a cruel woman.:
:After Glenn's grandmother,: Dawn confessed. :But she's a good kid, really. She and Danny are both...: The rest of the thought died unformed. Those blue eyes, so wide and credulous, finally opened, and ripped away the drug-induced haze in one quick, cruel moment.
For a long moment she was silent, mentally and vocally, as she took in her surroundings. The monitors, the equipment, the restraints... and finally Manuel, standing beside her and wearing his green conditioner's uniform with its badge of rank and discreet red "M" on the breast that marked him as a mutant. He felt his heart--or was it her's? He couldn't tell--sink like a stone.
"Oh," she whispered at last, her unfocused eyes still sliding around the room. "It was... real. I made a mistake, didn't I? I thought maybe he was telling the truth about defecting, so I went to meet him. I knew it was stupid, but I'd hoped..." she shook her head helplessly. "Where's Glenn?"
"Was he with you?"
"Yes. They didn't hurt me, but I... I think they may have shot him."
"If I hear of him, I will tell you."
Dawn chewed her lip. "Thank you. So. What's going to happen to me?"
"You're going to become a Hound." Manuel didn't dare let any emotion show; the room was under constant surveillance. Still, it was difficult to stifle a wince as a cold wash of Dawn's fear dripped down his spine.
"And you're going to be the one that does it?" Dawn's voice was steady, but Manuel could feel the turbulent emotions beneath it. She must have known that they were being watched; Manuel was an empath, and no amount of acting could hide her emotions from him. This was purely for the benefit of their audience.
"I am," Manuel replied. Then, mentally, :I am sorry, senorita.:
"I... see." :It's all right, Manny. We do what we have to do if we want to survive.:
She's terrified, he thought as he touched her forehead. She smelled of sweat and drugs and lilacs. She's terrified, and yet she does not blame me. Somehow, that makes it all the worse.
"Let's begin," Manuel said, eyes glowing.
"Dinna squirm, Glenn. This is difficult enough as 'tis."
"Rahne..?" Glenn Keaton blinked, tried to sit up, and collapsed back onto the pallet. "Let me... guess. I was shot in the stomach."
"Aye," the redheaded werewolf nodded, dropping the final bullet into a metal tray with a ping. "I already got that one. I'm sorry, but I had tae cut ye a bit tae get it out. Ye'd already started healin' over it."
"Did it hit anything important?"
"Thank God. I hate going septic. Where's Dawn? Is she all right?"
Rahne Sinclair hesitated as she reached for the rubbing alcohol--the strongest antiseptic she'd managed to find. "Ye... dinna remember what happened?"
"I remember getting shot, obviously," Glenn replied, rubbing his forehead. "Dawn ran, I tried to distract them... where is she? She got out all right, didn't she?"
Rahne bit her lip. "She... didna come back," she said at last. "By the time we found you she was a'ready gone."
Glenn tried to sit up again, but Rahne forced him back down. He settled for gritting his teeth, fists, and any other muscles that could manage it.
"Was she... did you smell..?"
Rahne shook her head. "No, nae blood. None o' it hers, anyway. It'll be all right. I dinna believe he would truly hurt her."
Glenn shook his head miserably. "Rahne, I know you liked him, but Dr. Campbell isn't the same man he was before the... incident. He couldn't even touch that man with a ten foot pole. It's a lost cause." Rahne didn't reply, and Glenn sighed. "All right, I won't talk about it. Where are Danny and Brand? I guess I'd better tell them Mom's going to be gone for a while."
"Are ye sure ye want tae see them like this?" Rahne inquired doubtfully. "Ye're still leakin' a bit..."
Glenn shrugged. "They've seen me worse. I remember Danny walked in on me when I had half my face off once..." he chuckled, but it sounded forced, even to him. "He thought it was brilliant once I explained it was going to grow back. A few bullet wounds aren't going to scare them."
Rahne nodded reluctantly, and went to fetch them. Glenn sighed and leaned back, only dimly aware of his body's efforts to repair itself. He would be hungry soon, and tired, but until then he had time to think.
He'd known it hadn't been a good idea. The only reason he'd gone at all was to back up Dawn, who would have insisted on going alone had he not. Two children and over a decade of experience in the X-Men, and she'd still managed to retain her amazing inability to plan ahead.
Still, even she should have known better than to trust the word of Ahab, who they had met as Rory Campbell. After his exposure to the Shadow King a half a decade ago, Rory had never been the same--and, much to Excalibur's dismay, he had quit his job under Alistair Stuart. Then, shortly after Graydon Creed's inauguration, he had reappeared... as Director of Mutant Affairs. Many of his former friends had still harbored a fragile hope that he was simply trying to change the government from within, but those hopes had been ripped away the minute Rory, now calling himself Ahab, had ordered Professor Charles Xavier assassinated. With extreme prejudice.
And yet, after receiving Ahab's offer for a personal meeting to discuss perhaps defecting to their side, Dawn had gone to meet him without hesitation. She'd been so *certain* about him...
But that's the problem with the gel, Glenn thought sadly, letting his eyes close. She wants to trust people, an' in this day in age, you can't. Not if you want to stay alive.
Glenn's eyes snapped open, and he realized that he must have been dozing. His son Daniel was beside his cot, and his daughter Brandwyn was behind him. She was clinging to the pantleg of Samuel Guthrie, who must have been babysitting them while Glenn had been unconscious. Her blue eyes were wide.
"'ey, Danny, Brand," he said, trying to smile. "Sorry, I'm a bit worn out."
"Where's Mom?" Brand asked immediately. Glenn's smile dropped.
"Mum... may be gone for a while," he said. And, because he knew his children well enough to know that sugar-coating the truth would only insult them, he continued, "She was caught."
"By the Execs?" Danny said. "The Execs" was short for "the Executives"--the local name for the group of mutants who cooperated with the government in bringing other mutants to what served as justice these days.
Glenn shook his head. "No, Mutant Control Officers," he said. It was embarrassing, now that he thought about it. 'How did you lose your wife?' 'Well, sir, I got shot while I was trying to run interference, and passed out.' Dawn had at least had an excuse--all MCOs were equipped with psi-shields, and psionics were his spouse's first line of defense. He, on the other hand, could throw a man halfway across the block. He felt he had no excuse.
Brand must have thought the same, because she stuck out her chin and glared at him.
"You let Mommy be caught by em-cos?" she demanded, unlatching herself from Sam's jeans. Glenn felt the absurd need to justify himself.
"I got shot," he informed her, pointing to his scarred abdomen. "And Mum wasn't hurt, at least as far as Aunt Rahne could tell." He forced himself to look his daughter in the eye. "I'm sure she'll be back soon."
"But Dad..." Danny said, after several long seconds of silence, "doesn't everybody the MCOs catch have to go to... Dr. Campbell?" Danny always referred to Ahab like this, partly because his mother and Rahne did, and partly because Brand was frightened of the name Ahab. Most mutants were.
"Dr. Campbell liked Mum, Danny," Glenn reminded him.
"But Dad..." Danny chewed on his lip, "Dr. Campbell liked Rachel, too, and he still took her. She used to talk about how he came to visit her when she was little. He gave her presents. But he still he attacked her house and took her away. What's he going to do to Mom?"
Glenn didn't know what to say to that.
"Ah wouldn't worry," Sam said, breaking the silence. "We've got contacts, an' Dawn's a smart girl. She'll be all right on her own."
"But you'll still save her," Danny said. Sam nodded.
"Positive," he replied, and Danny nodded, satisfied. Brand still looked pouty.
"I wan' her now," the three-year-old insisted. "She was gonna teach me how to fly."
"Aw, Brand, your wings are too little," Danny snorted.
"Are not!" his sister growled, and started kicking him.
"Hey! OW! Geez, I take it back! Dad, make her stop!"
"Brandwyn..." Glenn tried to get up, winced, and slid back down.
"Y'all have way too much energy," Sam said, picking Brand up by her arms. "Go bug Chase. Ah've gotta talk to ya daddy."
"Can I stay?" Danny asked as Sam put down his sister. Sam shook his head.
"Sorry, Danny. Ah'll tell ya later. Go look after ya sister, all right?"
Danny made a face, but slouched out. Glenn watched him go.
"'e's a good boy," he said after his son had gone. "But he's growin' up too fast."
"He's the oldest," Sam said, taking a seat in the chair set by the bedside. "When yer oldest ya don't get the luxury of bein' a kid. Ya gotta be the responsible one."
Glenn chuckled. "You understand kids. Wish I did."
"Ah've got seven brothers an' sisters. Ah had ta learn. Fast."
"I was an only child. It's been five years, an' I still don't know what ter do with 'em."
"Ah think ya're doin' better'n ya think. But we can save the parentin' tips for later. We got some things to discuss."
"All right. What is it?"
Sam raked a hand through his short blond hair. "We gotta relocate. Now that they've got Dawn we can't take any chances. She's a strong girl, but we gotta assume Ahab can break anyone. We got a house full a' mutants here--we can't afford ta take chances."
"How will she know where to go if she escapes, then?"
"She knows the safehouses, same as the rest of us. But she's just one person, Glenn. We gotta think about everyone. Ya don't think she'd want ya kids gettin' caught, do ya?"
"No." Glenn clenched his fists. "Bloody hell. That's it. After this... no more fieldwork. I'm sorry, but we can't keep doin' this. Not with the kids. I don't mind dyin'--you know,what with being an External and all--but Dawn... she takes too many risks."
Sam nodded. "Well, we'll miss ya, but Ah'm sure Mr. Wagner'll find somethin' for y'all ta do that's a bit less high risk. You two've done a lot for us--Ah figure the least we owe ya is not ta increase ya kids' chances a' bein' orphaned. Family is important, 'specially in this day in age."
"Yeah," Glenn sighed. "I'd 'ave asked earlier, but things got rocky after the riots, an' then it never seemed to be the right time. There wasn't a lot of alternatives, either. Brand was already poppin' wings, an' Danny tested positive for the x-factor when he was born. We couldn't afford *not* to hide. But now the network's set up, an' we've got... alternatives. It'd be nice to settle down, even if just for a little while..."
"Ah know the feelin'," Sam said. Glenn nodded sympathetically. He knew how long Sam and Rahne had been wanting to have children, but Sam was unwilling to do so while an active member of the X-Men. He wanted to devote all his energy to raising children, like his mother had. As he'd said, family was very important to him.
"Well," Sam said, getting up, "Ah better go check on Chase an' make sure Brand hasn't tied him up again. Ah swear, ya'd think that boy's never been 'round kids in his life."
"I think that's why they like him," Glenn replied. "Although I think Danny'll love you forever for teachin' him how to shoot."
"Well, better he learned from me than on the fly. Mah daddy taught me when Ah was seven, an' Ah was the better for it, 'specially since he taught me the consequences right along with it. Danny's a little young, but Ah figure he's seen enough violence a'ready ta know guns ain't toys."
"If he didn't already, Dawn would've made him," Glenn agreed. "I'm not so sure about Brand, though. She thinks everythin's a big game."
"She's also three. Ah wouldn't worry 'bout it. Better she thinks it's a game than have nightmares about it, right?" Sam cocked his head, listening. "Ah think Ah hear 'em now. Chase has kind of a high-pitched scream, don't he?"
"So would you if someone slid an icecube down your back," said Glenn, who had a larger lexicon of his daughter's antics than Sam. "Oi, Brand! Leave Chaser alone for a minute, I gorra talk to him!"
There was a very audible "awwww" from the other side of the door, followed by heavy, frantic footsteps and the sound of someone wrestling with the doorknob. Sam opened it on the first try, and Chase fell into the room backwards.
"Your daughter... is the *devil,*" he panted, picking himself up. "Would someone please free my hands?"
"She takes after her mother," Glenn replied absently as Sam untied the young man. "Caught you while you were asleep again, didn't she?"
"Yeah," Chase replied, rubbing his chafed wrists.
"Seems ta happen a lot," Sam commented, neatly winding the jumprope around one hand. Chase shrugged.
"My immune system is odd. I have to sleep a lot. After all the... things that were done to me, my energy level was thrown off."
Glenn nodded. From what files they'd been able to steal in one of their raids of the local branch of government archives, the X-Men had found lists of several "genetically deviant dissenters held for questioning." They'd staged a raid of the supposed "Center for Behavioral and Social Modification" some weeks later, only to find that its alternate purpose was that of an abattoir.
Glenn had paled, Rahne had gasped, and Dawn had simply thrown up in the corner. It had been Sam who had finally managed to swallow his gorge and move to inspect the subjects. He encountered cell after cell of victims, either been horribly mutilated or mind-raped so hard their tabula rasas had squeaked under a psychic's touch. In some cases both. And there, in the last cell, almost bald from stress and suffering from the early stages of botulism, was Chaser Morrigan--the sole survivor of the affair.
Now, seventh months later, Glenn could hardly believe this was the same boy Sam had half-helped, half-carried out of the cells. Chase's hair had regrown a rich blond, and all signs of malnourishment and abuse had virtually disappeared. He seemed to be a bottomless pit of energy... except for his habit of sleeping late and napping for hours at a time every afternoon. He also had the tendency to preen when he thought no one was looking, which amused Brand to no end. All things considered, Glenn figured the younger man was lucky his daughter hadn't shaved his head yet.
Even so, they were inclined to give him easier assignments, such as procuring food through less than legal channels. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for the task, which was fortunate given how much of it he consumed. Still, Glenn had to admit that it was nice not to worry about rationing. Daniel was small for his age, and he'd been beginning to fear malnourishment.
"Ah'da thought ya'd learn not ta sleep on the couch by now," Sam was saying, tossing the jumprope into the corner. "Ah swear, Brandwyn's got somethin' against ya."
"She just likes to torment me," Chase replied, flicking his hair from his eyes. "What did you need?"
"We're going to be movin' again," Glenn said, absently rubbing his healing wounds. "Can you get our things together? I'm going to be laid up for a while, and Dawn is..."
"Dawn?" Chase frowned. "What happened?"
Sam and Glenn exchanged a look.
"You were asleep," Sam said. "Dawn was kidnapped while trynna talk to Ahab."Chase was silent for a long time, then shook his head violently. "But... why? I don't understand. She doesn't know anything!"
"We're trying to figure that out, too," Glenn replied. "An' why they didn't kill me. Ahab knows I'm an External, but he just left me for dead."
Chase frowned. "Why? They don't take mutants one by one. It's not... their style. It doesn't make *sense.*"
"And ya're the authority?" Sam asked. Chase snorted.
"I was caught by MCOs, remember? Me and the others. They raided our meeting place one night, and..." he shook his head. "They come in with nets and power neutralizers, box you in... they don't lure out one person at a time. And even if they were going to, they'd have gone after Sam. He's the sector leader."
"Which would mean they want her for somethin' in particular," Sam concluded. He scratched his head. "Ah ain't gonna pretend that Ah know how Ahab thinks, but Ah can't figger out why he'd want another telepath. If he wanted ta scrape brainpans he'da chosen a non-psi--they've got fewer defenses." He sighed. "Well, Ah'm sure we'll find out later. We'll get moved, then we'll start lookin'."
"All right." Chase brushed back his bangs, shaking his head. He suddenly seemed tired. "I still can't believe it, but I'll go pack your things, Glenn."
The young man left, closing the door behind him. Sam whistled through his teeth.
"Ah still ain't sure 'bout him," he said. Glenn furrowed his brow.
"You think he might be a spy?" he asked. The older man placed his hands in his pockets.
"Like Ah said, Ah ain't sure. But somethin' about him just don't ring true."
"Dawn scanned him. She said he was clear, at least so far as she could tell, what with his barriers and all. And the records were real--we even had Kitty dig up those old hard copies she'd found months and months ago, and everythin' matched."
"Ah know. But still." He smirked a bit. "Or maybe Ah'm just gettin' suspicious in mah old age. Rahne says he's got a good heart, and I ain't known her ta be wrong yet. Still, Ah'm keepin' mah eye on him, an' Ah'd appreciate it if you did, too."
"All right," Glenn said. He sighed. "Do we have any more tranquilizers? I don't think sleep is going to be easy tonight."
"Ah'll ask Rahne," Sam promised. "You lay off those after this, though. It ain't healthy."
Glenn, who knew for a fact that his wife had been the major consumer of tranquilizers since the registering of mutants had begun, said nothing.
"Ah'd better start makin' arrangements now," Sam continued, patting Glenn on the shoulder. "Rest up, hear? Tomorrow we'll start the move. The sooner that's done, the sooner we can go about findin' Dawn."
"Right," Glenn said. The sector leader gave him an encouraging smile, and left to find his wife.
Rest, Glenn thought, leaning back. How am I supposed to rest? My wife is God knows where, my kids are out of control, an' we might have a leak. I'll take that tranquilizer now, thanks.
But Rahne didn't return for almost half an hour, and by that time Glenn had already fallen into a fitful sleep.