Disclaimer: The X-Men, villains, etc all belong to Marvel Comics. Anyone you don't recognize probably belongs to me.
Author's Note: Sorry this chapter took so long, but I've been busy lately. Too busy. Dexcon's in about a week, and college starts a little while after I get back, so you can probably expect more delays. Verdammt obligations. I also switched computers since last time, so I'll be updating the site as soon as I remember where I put it...
"Alone at last."
Dawn lifted her head from the table, frowning. "Where's Manuel?" She had expected Ahab to return, but she'd hoped Manuel would be with him. At least then she wouldn't have felt so helpless...
But then, that was his game, wasn't it?
"I sent him home," Ahab replied. "This doesn't concern him."
This isn't a good sign. "All right," Dawn said, shifting uncomfortably, "If we're going to talk, can't I at least sit up?"
"No." The doctor's impassive face stared down at her, outlined by the sickly flourescent lighting. The girl sighed and let her head fall.
"Do you know," Ahab said, reaching down to touch her hair, "what kind of mutant I hate the most?" His fingers found a strand and began to twist, his lips curled in a sneer. "Telepaths."
Dawn tried to ignore the pain. "Telepaths?"
"Yes." He gave her hair a sharp yank. "Changing what should be inviolate... you X-Men never held anything sacred, did you? Not thoughts, not laws, not even death. Isn't that right, little necropath?"
"Dr. Campbell, I can talk to dead mutants. That's all. If you want resurrection, talk to Sam or Glenn."
"Oh, but you could do so much more." His hand slid around and across her cheek, almost tenderly. "You have so much potential."
She moved her head to the side, away from his touch. "So Sinister told me a long time ago," she replied. "I'm going to tell you the same thing I told him: thanks for the offer, but I'm happy with what I have. They're nothing flashy, but they're good powers. I've done a lot of good with them, or like to think I have."
"Yes, I'm sure it's very satisfying to attack those who hold different views than your own."
Dawn snorted. "Maybe when I was a kid, yeah, it was a little fun, and I won't pretend I've always turned the other cheek. But I've never thrown the first punch, and I dropped out of the hero business after I graduated from Generation X. I'd have been happy to stay a reserve member if two dozen MCOs hadn't broken down my front door after Glenn and I refused to move to a ghetto."
"That's the law."
"That's bullshit. We registered our genetic records because we aren't ashamed of what we are, but damned if we're going to raise our children in a slum. No one deserves to be treated like an animal."
"So moving to a government-sanctioned housing project is against your ethics, but using your paramilitary training to nearly cripple a dozen officers of the law isn't?" Ahab clucked his tongue. "Your virtuous sensibilities do not impress me."
"The key word there is 'nearly,'" Dawn pointed out, refusing to rise to the bait. "And when you consider that my husband can tear the lid off a tank, I think we handled things quite well. Besides, these 'officers of the law' were threatening our *children.* I'm an empath as well as a telepath, doctor, and I'm especially sensitive to those I love. When you can feel your daughter so terrified that she can hardly breathe and see that someone's about to break your son's arm simply because he dared to ask 'why?' something inside you snaps."
"And yet you're willing to place them in jeopardy by not only joining a terrorist organization, but taking them with you?" Ahab snapped. Dawn blinked, shocked.
"Dr. Campbell, the X-Men *isn't* a terrorist organization," she protested, trying to raise herself from the table. "You know that. You used to be an advisor for Excalibur and the Muir Island Research Center, for God's sake. We may have raided a few government installations, but we've never made demands, and we've certainly never killed anyone. We're just trying to survive. We may not be paragons of virtue, but we're no danger to the public. Why are you treating us like this?"
He smiled and touched her cheek, almost tenderly. Then he pinched it. Hard.
"Because," Ahab breathed as the girl cried out, "you deserve it. Your 'dream' ruined my life, and now I'm going to destroy all of yours." His lips curled viciously. "One... by... one."
"What do you..." Dawn's eyes widened. "Wait. Is this about the Shadow King? Dr. Campbell, we tried to help y--"
"Only when the rest of your little friends were caught as well," he snapped. "I was that... thing's... host for a year. A *year*. Do you know what that was *like*?"
That seemed to catch him by surprise. "What?"
"I know." She pulled herself up a little higher, an angry red spot already blossoming where he'd pinched her. "It wasn't for nearly as long, but it was long enough. That feeling they leave, like grease inside your mind... like you'll never be clean again..."
For a moment he looked uncertain. Then his eyes hardened. "You're lying. Farouk never had you."
"No, he didn't, but Emplate did. I was stupid. I tried to take him on, one-on-one, even though I hardly had any training at all--and I paid the price. I... did some things I wasn't proud of. And feeding off your teammates does not inspire trust."
"Well, supping. Whatever he called it. Extracting the genetic material from a mutant's body and taking it into your own. Emplate enjoyed it--he could even use their powers, for a while. Personally, I had to see Ms. Frost in her office every night for two months before I could even look my teammates in the eye again. But Dr. Campbell, that's not the point--we can help you get over what the Shadow King did to you. We can--"
Ahab broke in, laughing harshly. "You can what?" he rasped. "You can 'save' me? A handful of genetic defects whose numbers are decimated with every passing day? Look at you. You can't even save yourself."
"I don't have to," she replied. "My teammates will find me."
This did not have the desire effect, for Ahab only smiled.
"They'll find something," he agreed. "Whether or not it will be what they're looking for depends entirely on you."
Dawn arched a cynical eyebrow. "Now who's overconfident? Even with the drugs, I can still fight Manuel. We had the same teacher, after all. And, unless you've added new personnel in the last two weeks, I know he's the strongest psi you have. My offensive skills may not be as good as Ms. Frost's, but where defense and resistance are concerned, I'm just as good. Maybe better. I know all the tricks she taught Manuel and more. He can't cause me any permanent damage."
"De la Rocha?" Ahab snorted. "Of course not. The brat is just laying the groundwork. No, I want to enjoy this. I'll do most of the work myself, once you're ready."
"You're welcome to try, but I'll take my chances."
"Suit yourself. Incidentally, how is your guardian Banshee getting along? Life without a limb can be difficult, especially now that you don't have Forge around to help build new ones. I bet that little betrayal stung, didn't it?"
"He had his reasons for leaving. And Mr. Cassidy is fine, by the way. Thanks for asking."
"Is that a hint of bitterness I hear, Mrs. Keaton? Joining us was the logical choice for him, after all. He began with the government, he might as well end with it."
"Please. Forge is an adult. There's nothing wrong with moving on." Especially if it keeps you alive, she added privately.
Ahab moved back slightly, enough so that she had to twist her head in an uncomfortable position to look at him. "Such understanding. Such acceptance. Tell me, do you really feel this way, or are you merely overcompensating for your father's bigotry? He beat you when he found out what you were, didn't he?"
Don't let him see you're angry, Dawn thought, suppressing an angry retort. Change the subject. Ignore it. This is how he gets to you. "It's hard to hate someone when you're a psi, Dr. Campbell. When you can see a person inside and out, it's hard to judge them. The mind isn't an ugly thing from the inside."
Ahab reached up to the mechanical halo that encircled his head, pressing something on the side. There was no visual change in the man, but suddenly Dawn was painfully aware that his artificial psishields had dropped. Instinctively she reached out to his mind, trying to discern his reasoning--
But where she expected to find smooth natural barriers was only the thinnest veil of resistance. She touched it tentatively, and it tore like tissue paper beneath the gentle probe.
Caught off guard, Dawn fell into a tangled mass of shredded personality and razor-like thoughts, so sharp they cut at her astral form. She screamed and recoiled, tearing herself away from the wreckage of Ahab's psyche, scrambling towards the safety of her body. The darkness sucked at her, trying to hold her back, but desperation and adrenaline won. When she finally extracted herself she was battered, bruised, and utterly horrified.
Oh God, his mind... she thought, panting as if she'd run a marathon, like a shattered mirror wrapped in tissue paper... how does he stand it?
"I think we can both agree *that* was not a thing of beauty, Mrs. Keaton," Ahab said, calmly reactivating his halo.
"The Shadow King... destroyed you," Dawn managed, her voice hoarse with half-remembered pain. "How... how did you *live* like that?"
"I didn't," Ahab replied. "But I've learned to."
"But--I don't understand. How could they even let you leave Muir Island with a mind so damaged? I can't believe the Professor could have been so careless."
"Xavier's top priority was to his X-Men, not one crippled human. He didn't even try to stop me from leaving."
"That's..." she wanted to say "impossible," but was suddenly painfully aware that she had no grounds to make that claim. She had been hospitalized for most of the aftermath, for one thing. It was true Xavier had been distracted after the ordeal; the emotional and mental trauma to the enslaved X-Men had needed to be dealt with, and many had been hurt. She couldn't imagine him letting Rory go, but by the same token it was hard to imagine him being less than fully focused on his students in their time of need. It was possible he'd been... careless.
But we'll never know now, will we? The Professor is dead. Which means Rory is left groping for whatever targets he can find.
"Look," she said at last, "I don't pretend to know the Professor's reasoning, and I won't make excuses for him. I can't change what happened, or what you think happened, but I *can* offer to help you. Please, Dr. Campbell, for Dr. MacTaggert's sake, let me make it up to you."
Ahab smiled, tight and cruel. "No. No, I much prefer my own way of coping. But you can be sure that I'll remember your offer when you're at the end of my leash."
Despite all her self-assurances, Dawn was overcome with a sudden sense of dread. "But Dr. Ca--"
"That's enough," Ahab snapped. He pressed a button, and she was relieved of her manacles. "Now, get up."
Dawn did as she was told, all the while searching those hard, brown eyes for some sign of compassion. There has to be something, she thought, climbing to her feet. He may be broken, but he's still *him*...
Then he struck her.
Dawn was a slight woman, and the blow was unexpected. She stumbled backwards, almost onto the ground, completely taken aback. She'd been hit before, but never by a friend. Never by someone she trusted.
Before she had time to recover he had seized her arm and drawn her close, so close she could feel his sour breath on her face. Dawn tried to find her voice, but her words withered before they reached her tongue.
"Get used to it," Ahab said shortly, bringing his lips close to her ear. Dawn shook her head.
"This isn't you," she insisted doggedly. "I know it isn't. You're--"
He struck her again.
"You don't know what I am," Ahab hissed. "Even when you look into others' minds you continue to delude yourself by seeing only what you want to see. I will show you what you refuse to see. I will show you the truth."
Dawn coughed, wiping at her cut and swollen lip. "I know what you want, Dr. Campbell," she whispered. "You can hurt me all you like, but you can't make me hate you."
"We'll see, Keaton," Ahab smiled grimly. "Just remember this moment when all the pretty spandex costumes are shredded and bloody, all those little masks burning in effigy... and you're at the end of my leash, enjoying it just as much as I."
"Over my dead body."
"Perhaps. But I doubt it."
They locked eyes. Don't blink. Just don't blink--
Then the intercom crackled, and Dawn gave an involuntary start. "Ahab, Summers is ready for her session," came a voice, and the psi tried to pretend she hadn't just jumped a foot in the air. Ahab did not seem impressed.
"Send her in," the man said, his eyes not leaving Dawn. He smiled again. "It's time you see what you have to look forward to."
Dawn's mind was still on the unseen voice's proclamation. "Summers..?" she repeated stupidly. But Jean and Scott are dead...
Before her mind could reach the obvious conclusion, reality did it for her. The small, cowering girl who was led into the room scant moments later was instantly recognizable as Rachel Summers, the girl whose tenth birthday party Dawn herself had attended years ago.
"Rachel..." Dawn breathed, her heart constricting in her chest. Ahab dismissed the attendant who had led her in and took the leash, ruffling the girl's short red hair.
"Yet another example of selective attentions," Ahab said, gazing down at the thin form that crouched beside him. "Did you even look for her? Or did you just chalk her up as another loss?"
Dawn didn't know what to say.
"Rachel," she finally managed, taking a step towards the girl, but Rachel shrunk back against Ahab, shivering like a cornered animal.
Dawn tried again. "Rachel, it's me. It's Dawn Keaton. Remember? I used to be in Generation X--"
But the girl only disappeared further behind Ahab's legs, shivering with fear. The rest of Dawn's words died in her throat.
"Oh, don't look so worried," Ahab said, giving Rachel an absent pat on the head. "She remembers perfectly well who you are. Her loyalties, however, have been somewhat altered. She's mine now."
"I..." Dawn's throat felt strangely thick. "I... I don't understand. She's a *child*. How could you do this to a *child*?"
Ahab had crouched next to Rachel and was stroking her thin, scarred face. Then, almost tenderly, he brushed his lips against her forehead. She shuddered beneath his touch, but remained still.
"Because, Keaton," Ahab breathed, a grim smile playing across his lips, "because I *can*."
An hour later Dawn was back in her cell, chin resting on her knees. Her "quarters" were about the size of a closet, and utterly devoid of anything but a drain in the far corner. It was dark, dirty, and reeked of sewage. It was much like being housed in a latrine.
Dawn touched her bottom lip. It was stiff and swollen, and her left cheek wasn't much better. Ahab had stopped just short of breaking her jaw.
"He is not the man you knew," Manuel had told her. She hadn't believed it. But he'd shown her his mind--a chaotic, jagged thing, all hatred and pain. Even now her brain was still raw from the encounter, as if it had been dunked in scalding water. Could the man she had met years ago have survived with a psyche like that?
Don't think about that, she told herself, hugging her knees. Just... try not to think about it for a while. Think about something else.
But what she had seen him do to Rachel...
No. Anything but that.
She exhaled softly and concentrated. It was a strain thanks to the dampeners, but her powers were still functional--for all the good they did her.
"Will," she whispered through swollen lips, stretching her mind towards that familiar presence. A vague shape formed in the darkness, hovering on the edge of sight. Dawn closed her eyes and leaned against the cold cement.
:I have been having the most terrible day,: she sent as she sensed the presence gather its bearings.
:Another tough day at the lab, eh, Dawny?: the shade sent, settling down beside her. Spectral fingers touched her bruised cheek, tingling like pins and needles. :What happened?:
:Dr. Campbell,: Dawn replied, shifting away from his touch. :I don't want to talk about it.:
:Then why did you even bother to--:
The ghost of her cousin fell silent. In the dim light Will studied her pale face.
:What happened?: he repeated, and she knew that this time he was not referring to her bruises.
:I found Rachel Summers,: she replied softly. :And I think... I think I might have made a mistake.:
He didn't have to ask about what; it wasn't necessary.
:I'm sorry it had to happen this way, sweetie,: Will said. And he was. Not only because she now faced almost certain torture, but because her trust in a man she had thought to be a friend had suddenly been shaken. Sometimes, Will knew, it was the wounds that showed the least that hurt the most.