It's Always Darkest Rewrite, Chapter 10 and Epilogue
Disclaimer: Dawn and Glenn are mine. Everyone else is Marvel's fault.
Author's Note (or, What The Heck Are You Thinking?)
Okay, there comes a time in every writer's life when they look back on their writing and think, "My God, did I really do this?" In my case, this time is about 48 hours after I post a story. So, you can imagine how painful it is for me, at the age of 17, to look back at something I wrote at the age of 13. After about six months of picking at this scab, I've finally decided to do something about it. I've rewritten it.
All right, not completely, but it does have a significant amount of new material (like, 9 pages' worth). Some events have been changed, dialogue has *definitely* been tweaked, but it's the same essential story. Essentially. Even if I basically erased half of it and started over again. Ah well...
Anyway, anyone who wants to see how I've evolved can look at this and get a kick out of it by comparing it to the original. I don't suggest reading this if you aren't familiar with that's come before, because if it was confusing *writing* it I don't want to know what it's like reading it. But at least it's fairly well-written, and I guess that's all that counts.
I need sleep. Can you tell?
I was on Muir Island, strapped to an examination table. People tend to be a little on the distrustful side after you try to kill and eat them, so I didn't really blame them. Being the supportive bunch that they were, some of Generation X had flown over to check on me (and possibly to reinforce Excalibur if my sanity went ker-snappity again) and assess the situation. Being partially possessed by a parasitic mutant called Emplate at the time, I rather appreciated the attention. Unfortunately, Emplate had the wonderful timing of all truly great villains, and chose that moment to make his appearance.
No, this was not the start of a good day.
"DOA!" Emplate snapped, not taking his eyes away from me. I was acutely aware that being tied to a table didn't exactly place me in a position of power.
DOA shuffled up to bat. "Shall I free her? Sir?" the little troll asked. It was thefirst time I'd heard him speak, and I was amazed by how many layers of sniveling the little man was able to put into five simple words.
"Of course," Emplate snarled. He didn't seem to be in a very good mood, which I suppose probably wasn't all that unusual. His gnarled manservant scampered over to my side and began prying the restraints from my arms and legs with amazing strength, then plucked the psionic dampener off my forehead. I was free. Sort of.
"Mon frere, do not do this!" Monet pleaded, trying to place herself between me and Emplate. "Why must you perpetuate this torment? It doesn't have to be this way!"
"You know why, 'Monet'," he replied coldly, knocking her aside with one hand. She was thrown against the wall, and crumpled slowly, dazed. "You *always* knew why." He turned to me, his red eyes glowing like blood-stained supernovas. "Dawn, hold these chattel fast. Do not kill them. I may have some use for them."
As what, an entree? I tried to say "Over my dead body," but all that would emerge from my mouth was a pathetic "Muh...muh..." I wanted to say 'master' so badly..! His thoughts bored into my own, trying to flood my mind with that dark, gnawing hunger that I knew must haunt him every moment of every day. I was tired, and confused, and--okay, I was scared. I almost gave in...almost...
Then I looked at the others' horrified and outraged faces. If it had hurt to let Artie and Leech see me belt Everett into a wall, how would it feel when Emplate made me torture them? I took a deep, painful breath and gathered my sputtering will power.
"Emplate...I'm not going to...let you use me!" I hissed, grinding my teeth as I slammed my mind against the steel wall of his influence. I tried to prepare a psi-bolt, but the power slipped between my fingers. Way to back up a threat, huh?
"You're *fighting* me?" Emplate growled. "I hadn't thought that possible this far into the process. What a pity. You can die with the rest of them...when I'm done with you, of course."
Well, at least we were a step up from slavery.
Frightened and angry, I instinctively extended my wings. I mantled like a hawk trying to ward off a threat, backing away slowly as my heart pounded in my chest. I groped for some way to attack him, something that wouldn't be absorbed on contact, and came up dry. No psionics, no physical strength, and a mind too cloudy to think straight. Yeah, I was dead.
While I was mentally composing my will DOA stepped up behind me; I hadn't been watching him, mostly because he was below my line of sight.
"Pretty silver wings," he sneered, rubbing his knobby little hands together gleefully. "She can probably fly well with them, too. Shall I relieve her of them? Sir?"
"Why let you when *I* can have the pleasure?" The hunched parasite faded, then reappeared next to me. I hadn't even seen him move before one large hand was flashing toward my back.
"Let this be a lesson to you," he growled, slashing his long, sharp talons through fragile skin. "*Never* cross me again."
"EEEIIIIAAARGH!!!!!" I shrieked as his fingers sliced through feathers, skin and bone like a knife through butter. He stepped back and withdrew as I staggered and fell to my knees, my wings quivering. Hot blood soaked my back, my jeans, the floor, everywhere. I tried to reach back to touch them, but I couldn't. The damage was too far away. I twitched my wing muscles and felt the skin and bones of the lower half of my right wing hanging in shreds. Although the left was still intact, it was deeply gashed. Blood and feathers were everywhere.
And DOA smiled.
"Little Dawn won't fly far with THOSE," he cackled. "Excellent work. Sir." I looked at him, maimed wings fluttering pitifully. I don't know if it was my link with Emplate or if the physical attack had heightened all my senses, but even through the haze of agony I could feel a...wrongness...about the little troll. Something deep, and dark, and *angry*...
I looked to one side and saw Glenn introduce himself to Emplate, fists first.
Having never really seen him in action, I was shocked when the force of the blow made my teeth rattle from halfway across the room. His mild temperament made it easy to overlook just how strong he was--unless he was punching you in the teeth, that is.
"You stay away from her!" Glenn snarled, clenching his fists and setting up for another blow. "Did you really think we'd sit around and watch while yer killed her?!"
"Technically, I was merely maiming her," Emplate replied, unfazed, as he pulled himself out of the crater of the wall. "Oh, don't worry. She'll be fine, but those wings of hers will never be the same again. Not that it matters--she didn't really need them in the first place." He lifted his razor-sharp hand and sneered from behind his respirator, "And now, as much as I despise wasting a good meal, I would like to see how well your amusing little healing factor can function when you head is separated from your body."
And then ten blades of reddish-gold energy hit Emplate in the side, courtesy of Pete Wisdom's hot-knives.
"Try doing that with a bleedin' hole in your side, toerag," Pete said, his hands still outstretched. A lit cigarette balanced between his lips, unsupported. Apparently he was used to smoking while administering third degree burns.
"Ah, Mr. Wisdom," Emplate said, turning slowly and not seeming at all amused. "I take it from this astounding display of idiocy that no one briefed you on the nature of my powers. Well, you'll be pleased to know that your enlightenment will begin--now." He fired Wisdom's own hot-knives back at him, scorching the former secret serviceman's jacket as it clipped his side. Pete stumbled back with an inarticulate yelp of surprise and dropped his cigarette, which earned a curse in and of itself. Kitty grabbed him by the shirt sleeve and phased him, neatly avoiding Emplate's next volley and saving Pete's remaining dignity.
"Ye canna use any form o' energy against him," Sean explained, somewhat belatedly. "He c'n just channel it back to ye."
"You couldn't 'ave picked a better time to tell me?" Pete muttered sourly. Kitty just shook her head.
There was more movement, but I was too blinded by pain to pay much attention to it. In the meantime Jubilee had run up to me, and she was very, very worried. Well, that made two of us.
"Geez, Dawn, yer bleeding awful bad," Jubilee said, kneeling beside me. She tried to force her tone light, but it didn't work. She never had been too good at hiding her emotions, and her slate-grey face wasn't helping, either. She made an abortive move to touch my wounds, then pulled back. When in doubt, leave it alone.
"Here, put this on. It might help." She took off her prized yellow trench coat and wrapped it around my wings as best she could, trying to stop the bleeding. I stifled a gasp of pain, but made myself sit still. She was only trying to help. Still, it didn't work--the wounds were near the lower edge, around my primaries. The most her trenchcoat could do was stick to them and absorb blood while the broken bits trailed on the ground.
"T-thanks for the effort, Jubilee..." I said, trying to smile. It came out as a rather sickly grimace instead. I wrapped my arms around my chest and shoulders to keep myself from trying to reach back and touch the broken feathers again; it hurt so much...
I was dimly aware of a cool hand on my shoulder, and the pain was gone. I looked up to discover Emma standing over me, looking at my face with her unreadable blue eyes. She had cut me off from my pain receptors somehow--she'd stopped the pain. I hadn't thought she cared that much.
But of course she cared. We may have gotten off on the wrong foot, but I was still her student. She would never let anything happen to her students...
Her students. The Hellions. Oh God. This wasn't going to be a repeat of the Hellions, was it?
No, it couldn't be. They'd beaten Emplate before, they could do it again...but now that I was looking for it I could see the fear in her eyes, buried behind outrage and cold, unyielding fury. I realized that she was afraid for us, afraid that she would have to watch us die.
Well, so was I.
"Ms. Frost--" I began, then stopped. What was I supposed to say, 'It'll be okay'? I was already probably maimed for life, and Emplate was showing no signs of giving up, even with Monet, Everett and Glenn hammering on him behind me. Things weren't looking okay at all.
Emma drew her hand away. "The thought is appreciated," she said blandly, turning away, "but let's save the niceties for afterwards, shall we?"
"Okay." I staggered to my feet, swaying slightly. I may have felt all right, but that didn't mean I wasn't still hurt. I was going to have to be careful.
"So, any ideas how we can stop stooped, bitter and ugly?" Jubilee asked of the world at large. Her fists were clenched, pyrotechnics skittering across them like nervous mice. She was good at learning from her mistakes. I could tell she wanted to attack Emplate, but her powers would have been absorbed immediately. So she just gritted her teeth and watched the fight.
Well, I didn't have any easily absorbable powers. Surely I could do *some*thing...
"Let me see if I can get into his mind," I said, and concentrated. I hadn't been able to do it before, but now he was distracted. The pathways to his mind already existed thanks to our link--and if they made *me* vulnerable there had to be some way to reverse it.
Or not. I slammed into a wall again--not as hard this time, but still enough to put me off. Oh, this was going to be productive.
Well, this was no time to be proud. I needed help, and closest possible source was Emma. I was really beginning to regret starting off badly with her, but I had to push the thought aside. There's nothing like a good maiming to get you to prioritize.
:Ms. Frost..?: I sent hesitantly, almost afraid to ask. :I...I need your help.:
:Of course.: And suddenly she was in my mind, helping me find my way. If my power was like a sledgehammer, Emma's was like a chisel--deft, delicate, and incredibly devastating when aimed at the right place. She had the kind of precision control that I lacked, and probably would never achieve if the excitement kept up at this rate.
When we finally broke through I knew immediately that she was having trouble. Not control-wise, or physically, but she just couldn't seem to wedge her mind into the hole she'd created. Something was stopping her...stopping her, but not me. I tried to talk to her, but I couldn't get through. I was already inside Emplate's mind, and I could no more send out than she could send in. So I was on my own.
Well, it wouldn't be the first time, I thought, taking a deep breath. It'll be all right. I'll be okay. I've done this before. There's nothing to be scared of...
At least, that's what I hoped.
I focused on the search. I had never been in Emplate's mind before, but I'd been in Monet's...they were siblings, after all. How much of a difference could there be?
As it turned out, *lots.* The minute I started looking I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer misery of the place--the pain and the hatred and the self-loathing that coated every inch of Emplate's being. This couldn't be right. How could anyone who did such terrible things so gleefully have all this hate for himself?
I pulled up my shields and felt around blindly, trying to find something I could use. Psi attack? No, not unless there was no other option. It was likely to feed back on me as well, and I wasn't too thrilled by that possibility. So I wondered, What else..?
And then I found the anomaly.
I'm surprised it wasn't the first thing I noticed, truthfully. It was huge and black and about as inconspicuous as Richard Simmons at a dinner party. It wound its way around Emplate's consciousness, much like how Emplate had once insinuated himself into Monet's mind, but worse. Even without a physical presence it seemed to loom. It didn't take a genius to figure out that this wasn't natural.
Now, I confess I'm not exactly sure why I did what I did next. I'm sure I had a perfectly good reason at the time, but whatever it was then, I can't remember it now. Oh well.
I reached out, prodded the anomaly with a metaphorical finger, hesitated, and then threw as much psychic power at it as I could.
This had two immediate results. Firstly, I was thrown out of Emplate's mind. Secondly, it made Emplate and DOA scream and collapse.
Wow. Talk about a lucky guess.
"What did you *do*?" Jubilee asked, raising an eyebrow. I shrugged.
"I really wish I knew," I replied, looking at the two crumpled forms. "I'd like to be able to do it again."
"What should we do with them?" Everett asked. He was rubbing his knuckles, which meant he'd probably been syncing to Glenn instead of Monet. Glenn didn't have the advantage of invulnerability when hitting a mutant with diamond-hard skin.
"I've got some holding cells in the basement," Moira said immediately, stepping forward. "One o' ye strong ones grab them, and we'll--"
"You will do nothing."
I blinked, along with everyone else. We'd all been focusing on Emplate, but the voice we heard hadn't been his. Emplate's voice hissed and grated--this one slithered and whispered, like something crawling through wet, decaying leaves. Slowly, very slowly, we all turned around.
Behind us, DOA had struggled to his stunted feet. "You are strong," he rasped, his little sneer growing broad. The cloying tone was gone from his voice. "Strong enough to shake my control of the boy."
"*Your* control over *him*?" I repeated stupidly. This day just kept getting stranger.
"Yes." He smiled grotesquely. "*My* control over *him*."
Monet stepped forward, brown eyes blazing with rage. "It was you?" she demanded. I had never seen her so angry. "*You* were responsible? *You* were controlling Verney?"
"'Verney'?" Jubilee snorted incredulously. Monet shot her a look.
"You didn't honestly think his real name was Emplate, did you?" DOA sniggered. "Young Mr. St. Croix made an excellent pawn. His misery was quite... delicious."
A hard, cold lump developed in my stomach. I was suddenly feeling much less pleased with myself. "Who ARE you?" I asked, taking an involuntary step backwards.
"There is no need for disguises now." The dwarfed mutant's body elongated vertically another four feet, his chauffeur's outfit and tiny, grinning face replaced by a leering skull and ragged blue cloak. Only the exposed teeth remained the same. "I am D'Spayre," he hissed, his voice sending chills up my spine. I had actually touched *that* with my mind? "Young Verney was a truly fantastic catch for one who feeds from the agony of others. His ability to enscroll mutants has made him a vessel for their pain. I led him to believe that he had enslaved me, when in actuality it was *I* who had enslaved *him*. Through him I have spread my influence, and through him it is *I* who have supped."
With a dramatic swirl of his cloak the demon turned to Kurt, who had been frozen in shock. "You will not find me so easy to defeat this time, Nightcrawler," he snarled. "When you last encountered me I was betrayed by a gypsy's parlor tricks and my own carelessness. You will not be so fortunate again. I will taste your pain the last, and the longest...and then I shall hang your wretched, trembling corpse from your mother's stoop."
Oh, great. Not only was he huge and evil, he was holding a grudge. Great. Well, on the upside, he wasn't omniscient. If he *had* been he would have known that Margali was not only insane, she was trapped in Limbo/Otherplace. I should know. I'd seen her.
Then he turned to me. Uh oh.
"And you," D'Spayre said, fixing those blank, eyeless sockets on my face, "You are as much a weapon as he." He indicated Emplate, or Verney, or whoever he was. "You are the mouthpiece of the dead, and through you I shall feed upon they misery as well!" He stretched a bony hand towards me, beckoning. I felt my feet beginning to move of their own accord. "Come, child," he rasped as darkness began to cloud the edges of my vision. "Come to me."
I didn't want to, I swear, but I couldn't stop myself. My feet seemed to be moving independently of my mind. I felt...lost. Disconnected. Lightheaded. And not just because of bloodloss. I guess didn't have as good a grip on myself as I had thought I had.
And somewhere in the distance Glenn was calling to me.
"Dawn, no!" He sounded so far away.. "You fought Emplate, so fight D'Spayre! Fight it!" I felt a hand on my shoulders, but I couldn't stop. I kept walking, and Glenn was forced to release me before he hurt me. My vision went completely black--except for the image of the grinning D'Spayre.
:Glenn..?: I sent weakly. :Glenn, I'm sorry. I can't see anymore...I don't even know where you are...:
"Bollocks, Dawn! Get a grip on yerself! Fight back!"
"Dawn, listen to me!" Monet's voice now "You *must* reject D'Spayre's influence. You've seen what he did to my brother, you know what will happen to you. Please, fight him! Ms. Frost and I will help you, but you *must* try!"
I must try... I thought about Will, and how D'Spayre would torture him and Clarice and Jenny if he succeeded in taking control of me, and about Glenn and the others, and how the demon would make Emplate control *them,* too. Of what it would be like to be used for the rest of my life, of how terrible it felt to be controlled.
And I wouldn't have it.
I gathered my meager strength and groped blindly for Monet and Emma's psychic "hands". I found them, held tight, and pushed against the force that was compelling me to walk. *Hard.*
The foul presence was expelled from my mind and thrown back into D'Spayre's face in a wave of sickly green light. As D'Spayre roared in pain and rage I drew myself up and clenched my fists, crackling with anger and psionic energy.
"So much for that all-powerful demonic control," I hissed through gritted teeth. "And if you think I'm *ever* going to let you get close enough to try that again you are *sadly* mistaken."
There was a moment of silence as D'Spayre steadied himself, getting his bearings. Then he slowly raised his head and looked at me, empty eyesockets burning like an inferno, and my self-confidence faltered. "Very well," he said, voice dripping with venom, "If you will not submit, you will be destroyed!" He threw a bolt of black energy at me, which might have ended it right there if I hadn't called Clarice and had her 'port us to an empty room somewhere else in the complex.
"Great, what're we gonna do now?!" Jubilee asked, pyrotechnics popping excitedly around her hands. "That thing would probably torch the whole building as soon as look at us!"
"Kurt, didn't you fight D'Spayre before?" Meggan asked. I was surprised; she hadn't said anything yet, nor had she tried to fight. I wasn't sure what her powers were, but I hoped we'd see them soon.
Kurt nodded, lashing his tail restlessly. "I did," he admitted. "I beat him with hope. Quite literally, in fact. He caused me to relive a memory, unaware that it was of friendship rather than hatred and fear. I ran him through with a sword, and without any negative emotions to sustain him, he was beaten. For the moment. Amanda would have to give you the mystic details, but it seems that Herr D'Spayre is unbeatable as long as he has some kind of emotional fuel to feed on."
"And wi' Emplate he's got more'n enough," Sean commented, glancing at the parasite's unconscious form. "I have a feelin' this is going to be gettin' difficult."
"Pardon my ignorance," Pete interrupted, "But wot the bloody 'ell are you talking about?! There's people with mouths on their hands and bloody great blue wankers running about, and I'm as confused as all hell."
"You haven't been in the super hero biz very long, have you?" Angelo remarked.
An ominous itch was beginning to develop at the nape of my neck. "I hate to interrupt," I said, pressing my hands to my forehead, "but I'm feeling something, and I think it's--"
D'Spayre chose that moment to explode through the far wall.
"--time to turn around and run like hell!" Jubilee finished, rather unnecessarily.
"Fools!" the demon snarled, "Did you really think you could run from me?! Where ever you go, I can follow you! Wherever you hide, I can find you! There is no escape!"
"Well, now we know where Emplate gets his dialogue," Jubilee muttered.
"Ye just keep sayin' that, laddie," Sean said. He pushed Moira through the doorway and into the next room. "Run, Moira! I'll hold him off while ye an' the others take the children t' safety!" He turned his back on her and triggered his sonic scream, hitting D'Spayre full force.
"Sean, I dinna want tae leave ye here!" Moira protested as she, Kurt and Kitty showed the rest of us through the doors and down along the corridor, Meggan hoisting Emplate's unconscious form without suffering a scratch. I felt bad for Moira; this must have been killing her. This was her island, but there was nothing she could do to help us--nothing she could do to save us. I wasn't sure anyone could.
Sean ignored her please. "Go, woman!" he barked. "Ye must protect the children!"
"For yuir sake, Sean, I will," Moira whispered after a long silence, "But may God help ye if ye get yuirself killed!"
And we ran.
Moira and the rest of Excalibur led us through several winding corridors, going deep down to the bottom of the complex. I could tell Emma was troubled, and for much the same reasons Moira was. The situation was out of her control, and she didn't like that. Well, she wasn't the only one.
Everyone was unnaturally quiet, which made things worse. We could hear Sean screaming in the distance--and it didn't sound like it was for our benefit.
After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at a large steel door. Moira tapped a code into the keypad and it slid open with a slight whoosh. "Here," Moira said, indicating the huge shelter beyond. "We can hold off that demon while Kitty phases the children out and puts them on a boat t' the mainland. They'll be safe there."
"No offense, Senora," Angelo put in, "but nowhere's safe from that thing. You saw what it did to the walls. And if it gets into Senor St. Croix again, it can go *anywhere*."
:Ange's right,: Jonothon sent. :What's to guarantee that after it finishes choppin' up yer and the rest o' yer little group it doesn't come after us? And maybe hurt a lot o' other folk in the bargain?:
"Well, what do you suggest?" Moira demanded. "Tha' we jus' sit here like frightened rabbits while tha' horror butchers us like chickens at the chopping block?"
Emma started to say something, which I missed completely. This was because I was too busy screaming.
When you're a telepath you have to be careful about unintentional psi-links, especially if your power is being upped by Legacy. If you're not paying attention you can connect with people on a subconscious level, which usually isn't a problem but can become a rather serious one once said person is subjected to gut-wrenching agony. I was vaguely aware of Emma gasping and staggering beside me--she felt it, too, and we both knew the cause.
"Mr. Cassidy..." I breathed, trying to force his pain out of my mind. I had to focus, had to try and lock onto him without being overwhelmed -- and suddenly Emma was there, helping me do it. I found Sean's psi-signature, held on, and teleported him. Damn damn damn, I hoped I wasn't too late--
He appeared at Moira's feet, deathly still. I couldn't help but notice that the right side of his body horribly burned, because the smell of his seared flesh almost made me throw up. For a moment I was afraid I'd been too late after all.
"SEAN!" Moira cried. She leaned over him and inspected his wounds, her movements deft and professional despite her personal anguish. "Kitty, get me the med kit from the shelf. Now!"
The slim girl grabbed the kit and tossed it to Moira, who immediately ripped it open and began removing items.
"Still alive, thank God," Moira sighed as she dabbed something on the burns. "He'll live... but for how long I dinna ken, seeing as how the current situation is goin'."
"But for how long I dinna ken"...we're going to die here, aren't we?
Or were we?
That was when I made up my mind. I walked over to the sealed door, and opened it.
"Dawn, what are you doing?" Emma again, her usually cool voice tight with suppressed emotion. She needn't have asked--she had to know what I was planning.
"Ya're not plannin' ta do what Ah think ya are, are ya?" Paige asked. She knew, too. "That's suicide, gal!"
"Paige," I said, "I *can't* let anyone else die. I *can't.* I just came back from a goddamn warzone--I've been through this drill too many times already. I'll hold him off while you escape. It's me he's after, and I don't have that much to lose anyway."
Someone caught my arm. I turned to snap at them, and discovered it was Glenn. He looked me in the eyes, very seriously, and said, "Dawn, you're in no condition to go out there. You're half-maimed and exhausted. Don't throw your life away."
I smiled wanly. I'd hoped to spare them this for a little longer, but now wasn't the time for subtlety. Might as well put all my cards on the table. "I'm sorry, Glenn, but it's a little late for that. I'm dying as it is."
That hadn't come out as delicately as I had hoped it would.
My friend hesitated for a moment, staring at me as if he was waiting for me to explain. When I showed no signs of responding he took a deep breath and said, "Dawn, what are you saying?"
"I..." I began, but stopped. I couldn't seem to get the words out. If I said them to him, it would be real...
But I had to tell him. Stop. Deep breaths. Try again. "Glenn...I'm dying. I have the Legacy Virus, and it's in its final stages. I've got a month left, tops." There. It was out. I'd said it.
I looked around the room, taking in the horrified faces of my teammates. When no one said anything I rushed to fill up the emptiness, tried to end the uncomfortable moment as best I could. "So you see, I really *don't* have that much to lose," I continued, avoiding their eyes. "Not as much as any of you guys, anyway. I know I should have told you, but I was...I didn't want any of you to look at me like you're looking at me now. I didn't want any pity. I just wanted to try and be normal for a little while longer." I stopped and forced a smile. "Well, as normal as it gets around here, anyway." I took a step towards the door and looked out. The far wall of the hallway was burning away; D'Spayre was almost here. I turned to Glenn and had to fight back the sting of tears. The expression on his face spoke volumes more than anything he could have said.
"Glenn..." I started, trying to think of some way to apologize, trying to think of something I could do to make up for hurting him like I had, for keeping this kind of thing from him. And I did start to cry then, because I knew there was nothing I could do now to make it better, nothing I could say that would be enough to fix my own stupidity. And it was all my fault.
Glenn shook his head put his hand to my lips, silencing me. With gentle fingers he wiped away my tears and traced the curve of my cheek. Then he embraced me, and pressed his lips to mine--and I felt the soft, comforting touch of his mind to mine, and a message:
:I forgive you.:
He drew away, still silent, and looked into my eyes. I saw a flicker there, some kind of hidden message, and he seemed to reach a decision. He pushed me away from the door, gave me one last look, and stepped into the corridor. The door clicked shut behind him.
For one long, dumbfounded moment I didn't realize what he'd done. He couldn't--he didn't--oh, *no*...
I threw myself at the door, hands scrabbling at the keypad, but I didn't know the code. I fumbled for a power that could help me, but my concentration was shot--I couldn't find anything, let alone hold it. "GLENN?!" I screamed, pounding on the door. "Dammit, Glenn, no! Don't do this! Not for me! It's not worth it!" I could feel tears flowing down my cheeks, but I couldn't muster the power to teleport myself out to or help him in.
:It'll be all right, Dawn,: his thoughts whispered over mine. :Goodbye.:
I sensed as he rose off the ground, fists out and ready to fight. Through his ears I heard D'Spayre rasp a harsh, derisive laugh, raise his hand--and incinerate him with an energy blast.
His death hit me like a slap in the face, all the memories and thoughts and feelings that were Glenn swamping my consciousness like a boat in the face of a tidal wave. The single instant of blinding pain ended almost immediately--but the pain of losing him didn't.
"GLENN!" I screamed, staggering back from the doorway, my knees weak, "NO! No, no, no, no, NO..." I sank to my knees, sobs wracking my body. He was gone for good this time, his body nothing more than ashes spread across the corridor. I couldn't step back in time to save him. I hadn't even been able to help him.
He was my best friend, and I...I never even said "I love you". Oh, Glenn, you idiot...why did you do it? What were you thinking?
"Lass..." I raised my head at the sound of Sean's voice. I could barely see his burned form through my tears, but I could hear him clearly enough. "Lass, I'm sorry...about Glenn...but please, save yuirself...and the others. Get them out of here. Please."
I scrubbed my face with my arm and tried to normalize my breathing. He was right. I had other responsibilities, and there was no use crying for the dead. I should know. "All right," I whispered. I 'ported everyone, myself included, to the surface of the island to await our fate.
We didn't have to wait long. A moment later D'Spayre erupted from the ground, spraying metal and debris everywhere. "Infidels!" he sneered. "No mortal weapon or being can hurt me, or haven't you realized by now? I shall kill you all, and hang your skulls from the doorway of my palace as a reminder to all those who dare oppose me!" He burst into maniacal laughter--the really grating kind that seems to come naturally to all good super villains. Since the last thing he had done was kill my best friend this was not what I wanted to hear. I felt my anger rising...
Then something clicked. No mortal weapon could hurt him...but what if we didn't *use* a mortal weapon? What if... Yes, it would work. It *had* to work. The good guys always win, right?
Oh, God, I wish someone had told Glenn that.
:Monet,: I sent. :I think I have a solution...: I explained my plan, and she nodded.
:Yes,: she sent. :It just might work. What have we got to lose?:
I tried to concentrate as D'Spayre advanced on us, gathering the souls of people who might possibly help me. Jenny DeMount, Clarice Ferguson, my cousin Will, James Proudstar, the young Illyana Rasputin, the flickering half-souls of Doug Ramsey and Warlock, my own parents, Jane and Peter Embers, Jamie Madrox, Kwannon, David Haller, and, last but not least, Glenn. People I'd heard of or met or read about that might be willing to help us. People with ties to the X-Men, or ties to me. I asked each of these thirteen souls the same question: :Will you help us beat D'Spayre?:
:You needn't even ask!: Jenny...
:anything to save my friends.: Clarice...
:Anything for *you,* kiddo.: Will...
:Might as well. Nothin' else to do.: James...
:For Katya and Piotr.: Illyana...
:For Rahne and Kitty and Sam's sister.: Doug...
:For the friends of selfsoulfriend Doug.: Warlock...
:For what I have done.: Dad...
:For you, Dawn.: Mom...
:For Moira and Rahne and all the rest.: Jamie...
:For the sake of the dream, and the world.: Kwannon...
:For my father's dream.: David...
Even as I sensed their general consent I couldn't help but focus on one person...on Glenn. I started to try to say "I'm sorry," but he stopped me.
:You've got nothing to be sorry about, sunshine. Remember that. Besides,: and I could almost feel him grin, :you'll be able to make it up to me soon enough, eh?:
I smiled, and a few more tears trickled down my cheeks. :I guess so,: I replied. I closed my eyes and let him go.
"Thank you," I murmured, trying not to drown in the sea of minds. I had never called so many souls before, and the effort was making me feel lightheaded, almost dizzy. I prayed that I was doing the right thing.
Well, we're going to find out, aren't we?
Using the combined energy of the spirits I'd summoned and super-charged my psionic power, my mind fixed on the sword I had used against Emplate in the astral plane. I stretched out my bloody hands and pulled it into reality, straining to turn the weapon into a physical thing. I poured my desperation, my anger, my guilt into that blade...and my love and my hope, too. I packed in every ounce of strength in my heart--and in the hearts of the ghosts, too.
For one timeless moment I just knelt there, staring at the sword in my hands. It glowed softly, and it was warm to the touch--almost like a living thing. The effort of forming it made my skull throb with each beat of my pulse, but it was only needed for a moment.
"Mr. Wagner!" I cried, and tossed it to him hilt-first. The throw was weak and fell several feet short, but he teleported to it. Either sensing my intention of reacting on years of training, he immediately disappeared and reappeared right above the demon. In one swift, fluid motion Kurt had raised the sword and plunged it into D'Spayre's heart.
The monster let out an agonized shriek of pain and fell to the ground, trembling. My overwhelmed brain fed me a perverse image of the Wicked Witch of the West, melting into a pool of smoke and mist.
"But how..?" he managed as his body began to shrink.
"It's *not* a mortal weapon," I heard myself say, as if my voice was coming through layers of wool and wood. "It's the sum and substance of love and hope. You know, all those little things you think are so pathetic and worthless." I smiled grimly as hot, angry tears spilled from my eyes. "That was for Glenn, you bastard."
D'Spayre tried to speak, but his body was already collapsing into itself. With a small, labored sound he disintegrated into a pile of ash and dust. I had thought I would feel some satisfaction at his defeat, but all I felt was empty. The villain was beaten, the day was saved. Why didn't I feel like celebrating?
"I believe this is yours, Fraulein," Kurt said, his soft voice startling me out of my trance. I blinked at him as he carefully placed the sword in my lap, being careful not to cut me. He needn't have bothered; its job done, the blade--and the souls that had sustained it--faded.
I felt my eyes trying to roll up in my head; I had to fight to drag them back down, and even then I wasn't sure why. I was tired, and I was beginning to feel the pain in my wings again--I would probably be better off unconscious.
:Hey there.: I tilted my head upwards, and for a moment I could have sworn I saw Glenn's faint image superimposed over the pinking sky. He looked exhausted, but happy. He smiled softly at me and said, :I love you, kiddo. Never forget that.:
"I won't," I whispered, and he, too, left me.
After a moment I struggled to my feet, looked at my friends and Excalibur, and said "Well, that wasn't too bad, was it..?"
*Then* I fell over.
Luckily, Kurt was close enough to catch me, but truthfully I don't think I would have known if he had or not. Bloodloss and overexertion finally took their toll, and the last thing I remembered before passing out was the morning sun peeking over the horizon.
I close my journal and turn to the window. It's been three weeks since I wrote in it, and it seems like an eternity. After that there didn't seem to be much of a point. My stay at Muir has been uneventful, except for the side trip to London where I poured Glenn's ashes on his parents' grave and Moira telling me my medium power had been completely burnt out. Serves me right, I guess--sooner or later one of my stunts was going to cause permanent damage. You know, aside from leading me to acquire a tangent personality and textbook knowledge of another language.
A week after the fight I talked to Verney. He kept trying to say he was sorry, but I wouldn't let him. After all, he had nothing to be sorry for. Now he usually sits alone in his room, thinking, while Moira perfects a genetic supplement for him.
Three days ago I found myself unable to get out of bed. Now it's hard to breathe, and I can't find a comfortable position; my wings, although salvageable enough to let me get out of removing them, were shredded beyond repair. Basically, Moira stitched them up as best she could and prayed they wouldn't be infected. So far I've been all right, although they're still heavily bandaged. They're not healing right, either. It's too easy to open up the wounds, and Moira had to remove a few bones and trim off some of the skin to prevent further damage. I guess it doesn't really matter. I'm nowhere near strong enough to use them anymore.
On the brighter side (relatively speaking, anyway), my telepathy has been magnified enormously. Unfortunately, this became a problem when I started getting background noise from as far away as the mainland. Moira's been lacing my food with power-inhibitors to help me screen it out, but even those aren't totally effective. I can still hear surface thoughts if the person is within a few rooms of me, which is how I know just how hopeless fighting this is.
I don't know what I look like anymore. I stopped looking in the mirror after a week in a half here because it was starting to get depressing. I probably look pretty bad by now, judging from the reactions of the others. Not that I looked to great to start with, but I really don't like watching poor Jubilee try to fight back tears.
I shift restlessly amidst the monitors, scanners, and God knows what else Moira has me hooked up to, playing with the tape-recorded I've been holding for the past few days. I keep getting the horrible feeling that the tape will warp or break or something...but no, I've listened to it a few times already, just to make sure. It should be all right. I just hope that what I saw in my dreams wasn't just my imagination, or this is going to be really embarrassing parting gift.
Oddly, it doesn't really bother me that I'm not going to be around to hear it played. I guess being able to talk to the deceased dulls the edge a little bit.
Or maybe not. I haven't really been able to talk to anyone of "them" for three weeks, so I've mostly had to work through the seven stages of grieving on my own, and fairly quickly at that. It's hard to be in denial when you're vomiting blood.
All right, I admit it. I'm tired and morbid. And, yes, a little scared, too. It's just that...well, today's the day. Don't ask me how I know, but I do. Still, I promised myself I was going to hang on long enough to see the sunrise. Maybe it's symbolic...or maybe I'm just stubborn. Possibly both. But it's time for me to go, either way.
So, who do I ask?
Well, let's see. Hank flew in a week ago to help with my treatment, but we all knew he was only delaying the inevitable. Both he and Moira are asleep, totally exhausted after working around the clock to find a cure, or at least some way to enable me to hang on just a little longer. Sean, having only just recovered from his wounds, is resting comfortably in his room. He had to undergo a few skin grafts, but Moira says he'll be fine. Emma went back to the Academy a week ago on the grounds that she couldn't leave Artie and Leech alone any longer, but I think it was because she just couldn't bear to watch me die. Everyone in Gen X are sacked out in the guest rooms, and Excalibur are still sleeping, no doubt still slightly the worse for wear after stopping that mutant terrorist who tried to blow up the pub on the mainland (don't ask). All but Douglock, anyway. He's sitting by my bedside, keeping watch. It must be a handy thing to have an occupant who's basically a sentient monitoring system. I'm sure Moira appreciates having him around.
Well, he'll do.
:Doug?: I send, too weak to talk. It won't be long now. I have *got* to get outside.
He refocuses his eyes until he's actually looking at me instead of through me. It's not the most comfortable thing to watch, but I've gotten used to it. "Yes, Dawn?" he says. His voice is flat and mechanical, his thoughts alien and difficult to read. He's the easiest one to be around these days.
:Two things. First, make sure you listen to this,: I indicate the tape recorder with a feeble twitch of my fingers, :after I'm gone. And second,: I hesitate, hoping that I haven't misjudged him, :could you take me out to see the sun rise? Please?:
"Dr. MacTaggert says you should not be moved," Douglock answers automatically, shaking his head. "I do not think it would be wise to go against her advice."
I was afraid of this. :Doug, look. I'm going to die today whether or not I'm in the middle of all this junk when it happens. All I want is to see the sun rise one more time. From the outside, please, where I can actually enjoy it. Please...take me out to see it?:
Douglock considers my request like it's some sort of difficult theorem. Eventually he said, "I know I shall 'catch it' from virtually every unit on this island, but...something tells me I should comply."
I smile weakly. :Thank you,: I send, and I mean it; I wasn't sure he'd do this for me. Douglock only nods. With deft hands he disconnects me from the monitors and slips the breathing mask from my face; it's not as easy to breathe now, but I have a feeling I won't need to worry about that for much longer. He picks me out of the high-tech cradle I've been living in and carries me effortlessly until we come to the nearest exit.
I take a deep breath as he puts his hand on the handle and pushes. The Scottish morning is cold and sharp, but after a week in the warm, medicinal- smelling research center it feels great.
:Keep going,: I urge, twitching my head towards the cliff that overlooks the ocean. Douglock moves forward until we reach the edge of the island, some hundred yards from the research center. Below us the sea roils and breaks in foaming waves against the rock, a dull roar that sleets through the echoing silence of Muir.
We stand there for an undefinable time--minutes, maybe, or an hour. Then, just as I have to struggle to keep my eyes open, I see it. There, against the dip of the horizon, is the sun. Its light paints the clouds pink, orange, gold...and I finally feel content.
I made it.
I let go. Whatever I've been holding on to that was keeping me alive, I let it go. I can feel my psionic energy rush out of me like water from a broken dam, spilling over the research center, the mainland...as far as the mind can reach. I can feel my friends in Generation X inside and out, touch their minds, their hearts...
And I tell them that it's going to be all right.
My vision darkens, and I'm filled with a strange feeling of weightlessness. I can feel my breathing cease, my heart slow and stop...and there's no pain, no fear. Nothing. Why was I ever afraid of this?
I see light. Will and Mom and Dad are here, waiting for me. They reach out to me, and I feel the last shreds of uncertainty melt away. This doesn't feel so much like the end as a new beginning.
Good bye, guys.
"Dougie?" Moira calls as she runs up to the side of the cliff. A sense of dread fills her; she had felt something, a surge of emotion that was strong enough to wake her from her exhausted slumber. She had checked the girl's room, but in her heart she already knew that she wasn't looking for a patient, she was looking for a body. "Where is--"
"She is here, Dr. MacTaggert," Douglock replies, turning to face her. In his arms Moira can see the small, pitifully thin form of Dawn Embers, ravaged and pale from the Legacy Virus.
"She wanted to see the sun rise," Douglock continues, as if that explains it all. Perhaps it does.
"Acch, the poor lass," Moira murmurs as she looks at Dawn, reaching under her glasses and wiping away a tear. She looks back at the alien hybrid and blinks in surprise. "Why Dougie, ye're cryin' too!"
Douglock raises a hand to his face and touches the salty liquid on his cheek. "I am," he says, mildly surprised. "I seem to remember...doing so a long time ago. Is there some purpose to this action?"
"It's somethin' people do when they're verra sad or verra happy," Moira replies absently, brushing Dawn's short-cropped hair from her eyes with a gentle hand. "And I suspect tha' ye're verra sad."
"Moira..." Douglock says after a time, "Why did she want to see the sun rise? It was not logical. She might have lived longer if she had stayed in the medlab."
"True," Moira says, "but blessed few o' us want tae live our last moments surrounded by machines and white walls. Sometimes, f'r humans, the when doesn't matter nearly as much as the how."
The two walk back into the building in silence, heading for the morgue. As they pass the med lab Douglock stops to retrieve the tape recorder.
"Dawn requested that I listen to this after she died," he explains, glancing at Moira. He presses the play button and Dawn's voice chimes, "Douglock, access memory file 1000011110010100011111010000010."
"Is tha' it?" Moira inquires, frowning. Her companion doesn't answer. She touches his shoulder. "Doug..?"
"Dr. MacTaggert..." Douglock says at last, his eyes going wide, "I can remember!"
"Remember what, Dougie?"
"Just before the Zero unit ceased to function he imbued me with information about the Legacy Virus. Information that might eventually have led to a cure. And now, with this filename, I have complete access to it!"
"Truly?" Moira gasps. "Doug, tha's wonderful! Tha' must ha' been why she's been messin' with tha' thing for so long. She knew it'd be too late tae save her, and didn't want us tae..." she shakes her head. "Come, we must download the information into the computers an' get started as soon as possible."
With a nod Douglock lays Dawn's body gently onto the bed and departs. Moira starts to follow, then hesitates. "Acch, lassie, I'm sorry we couldnae help ye...but I suppose ye're beyond needin' it now, aren't ye?" she murmurs, looking back at the corpse, curled on its side like a cat. "I hope ye're happy now. After all ye've been through ye deserve tha' much at least." She smoothed the girl's hair from her face once more, and leaves.
And outside, along the cliff sides of Muir Island and the rapidly evaporating morning mists, there is the soundless laughter of a child at last at peace.
Never the End.