Disclaimer: Gen X, X-Men, and Apocalypse belong to Marvel, but Dawn is mine.
Author's Note: Hello. I'm just tying up a bit of a loose thread here (one no one really knew existed, probably) so be thankful I won't do it again. Fear not, it's the last of the fighting for a little bit, and for you action junkies, yes, I am dragging this on. Considering the difficulties I had coming up with THIS title, I figure I'll just use this entire story like an ongoing one until I get where I need to. (Don't worry, there IS a purpose to this insanity, you'll just have to read on. And if you don't like this, for God's sake bail out while you can!)
"Why me?" I asked no one in particular. I had been alone in my mind for maybe, oh, half an hour or so before Emma, Jean, Cable, and Betsy had tried to feed me some psionic energy to enable me to hold myself together. I had thought this a pretty good idea, not to mention a nice thing for them to do for me. Even though I hadn't been fully conscious at the time I had just KNOWN somehow that they were trying to help. So I had lowered my defenses and left myself open to attacks for all of a second--a rather unpleasant necessity for the transfer to work. But in that single second I had lowered ALL my defenses, even those I had forgotten about.
And that one little memory lapse could have been the death of me.
"Because you belong to me!" the hissing figure said in reply to my earlier remark. It lunged at me, covering fifty feet with a single leap. I balked it with my sword and slashed at the creature, slicing my psionic blade through its midsection and causing it to fall apart in two bloodless pieces. I looked to the three intruders and gestured to them frantically.
"Come on, we've got to get away!" I told them, heading towards the blackened horizon.
"Why?" Cable asked. "You've just beaten it!"
"No, I haven't!" I cried frantically. "Look, if it was this easy to kill it, it wouldn't be chasing me around now, would it?! Come ON!"
"Look girl, I'm not going anywhere until you explain yourself!" Cable exclaimed, grabbing my arm roughly. No one has EVER endeared themselves to me by treating me thus, and needless to say I got a bit angry.
"I'll explain later, we need to get out of here!" I hissed, shoving his hand away.
"Nathan, maybe we should listen to her for now," Jean said gently. "There's obviously something going on here."
"No kidding," I said, a little sharply. "Now come on!"
Finally they listened, following me as I picked my way through the mindscape. I looked around with disgust and said, "Lord, that thing really did a number on me in only five minutes!"
"What IS it?" Emma asked, her voice laced with an exhaustion that rivaled my own.
"I'm not exactly sure," I told them, coming to a stop and leaning against a wall. "I DO know where it came from though. Or I THINK I know. One or the other."
"Talk sense, girl," Cable said stiffly.
I sighed and wiped my forehead. "I'll try, but I'm not making any promises," I told him. "All right, here's what I'm thinking happened. You know when I was in the future Apocalypse was screwing with my head, right? And that Rachel fixed it? Well, I think she missed a spot." I jerked my thumb in the direction of the nightmare that had been following me around. "It's been stalking me for the past few minutes, and look what it's done to me already!"
They took stock of my ragged condition and looked sympathetic. I sighed once again. "Yeah, my reaction exactly. But I'm not sure how to beat it, because it keeps coming back!" I cocked my head and frowned. "I'm open to suggestions."
Jean, Cable, and Emma looked blank. I was NOT reassured.
Moira ran diagnostic after diagnostic on Karen, but nothing was shedding any light on what had happened to the girl to make her powers explode in such a way that she had nearly smothered Douglock.
"Will she be all right?" Kitty inquired from her spot beside the recovering Douglock.
"I don't know," Moira said fretfully, trying to suppress the look of horror she felt trying to creep onto her face. "An' what I DO know is less than good."
"I'm almost afraid to ask," Kitty murmured. "All right, what is it?"
"The 'infection,' as it seems tae be, is spreading at twice its previous rate," Moira replied grimly. "There isn't any evidence of it bein' foreign. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact. This... process... looks entirely natural, disturbing as it seems. It coincides with all known aspects of her technomorphic powers, an' her internal organs dinnae seem tae be failin' in any way. Much as I hate tae admit, it looks like the lass was destined tae be a...machine."
Kitty looked appalled. The metal-like substance was making a slow but marked advance up the girl's throat, heading for her brain, she supposed morbidly. The girl looked to be in extreme pain, but neither cried out nor thrashed, but suffered in an eerie, unnatural silence.
For approximately three more seconds.
Karen began to wake up, coughing in a strained, hollow voice. She struggled to open her eyes and began to ramble deliriously.
"Juh...Jason..?" Karen began, her voice scratchy and brow damp with sweat. "Jason...where are you..?
"Who's Jason?" Kitty inquired blankly.
"Her brother," came a voice from the doorway. They turned around and discovered a deathly pale Shrive standing in the doorway, face gaunt and looking as if he was about to collapse.
"I f-felt her...losing control..." he gasped, staggering through the doorway. Kitty caught him before he fell, but he kept on talking.
"I th-thought... I could help... so I tried... to help her hold it," he explained. "Too tired... couldn't keep her in c-control... lost it completely. Tried to get here... fast as I could... but took me twenty minutes to get... this far."
"What're ye sayin', lad?" Moira exclaimed as Kitty helped him onto a cot.
"I'm saying... I've been helping her... hold herself together," Shrive replied, rolling his head in Karen's direction. "Some help... I've been."
"Sh... Shrive...?" Karen murmured, eyes blurred with pain as she looked at her friend. "Huh... help... me. It... hurtssss..."
"Hang on... Karry," Shrive said, reaching for her shaking hand.
"Don't ye dare extend yuirself anymore, young man!" Moira snapped. "I've already seen one friend burn herself out, an' I'm no' about tae see it again!"
"She needs my... help," Shrive protested weakly. "She's in pain..."
"Then I'll give her some morphine. But if ye try anything stupid again I swear I'm gauny pump ye so full of sedative ye'll no' be gettin' up fer weeks! Lay. Down. Now."
Shrive gave her a dark, desperate look before collapsing onto the cot, totally spent.
"THAT'S the plan?" I asked, staring at Cable. "I distract it while you guys try and erase it? Will that actually WORK?"
"It's worth a shot, isn't it?" Cable asked.
"I guess at this point I'll try anything," I sighed. "All I have to do is fi--"
A bony hand wrapped itself around my wrist and spun me around to face a maggot-ridden skeleton.
"Never mind," I said. I felt like vomiting, but it wasn't possible. Trying to suppress my disgust/terror/morbid fascination, I slammed the hilt of my saber into the thing's skull, which connected with a sickening crack.
"Oh, how disgusting." I gagged, wrinkling my nose as the thing leered at me, oblivious to the greenish ooze that was leaking out of the wound.
"Mine!" it hissed, licking its non-existent lips.
"Guess again!" I retorted, giving it a good, solid kick in the ribs. There was yet another crunch, but its grip loosened this time. I wrenched myself free and led it away from the other three psions, hoping their little plan would work. I wondered if Cable had actually known just what he had been asking when he had told me to distract it. I was already so worn out I could barely move, let alone run decently!
I glanced behind me. The thing was still running after me, surprisingly fast for something that looked about thirty years dead. With a sudden, desperate inspiration, I extended my wings and took flight. My wing muscles weren't tired, and surely that pile of bones couldn't fly after me!
When I glanced back again I got a sharp reminder not to underestimate corpses bent on my destruction. That whatever-it-was was was flying after me with a pair of rotting, gangrened bat-like wings. Its hands were extended, fingers hooked like claws as it screeched like a banshee (sorry Sean) and began to gain on me.
Desperate, I flew as fast and as hard as I could, speeding through my own mind so swiftly the scenery was a blur. I used the last of my waning mastery over my mindscape and erected barriers in mid air, hoping I could at least slow it up.
I had no such luck, of course. That thing used its own influence over it to just plow through them without a second thought, making them as ephemeral as Kitty when she phased.
"Dammit, guys, what're you DOING back there?!" I hissed in frustration.
"Cable, are you POSITIVE you know what you're doing?!" Emma gasped as the three struggled to weaken the alien presence within her student's mind.
"If you have any better ideas I'd love to hear them!" Cable snapped, teeth clenched. "There's Apocalypse written all over this mess. Have YOU ever fought him, Ms. FROST?"
"Emma, Nathan, this is no time to start fighting amongst ourselves," Jean said. "A girl's life is at stake here! We need to work together!"
"Phoenix is right," Emma said grudgingly. "I suppose I can stand another three minutes with you, if only for my student."
The three shoved their differences to the back of their minds, concentrating on the task at hand. They tuned in to the thing's psionic wavelength, monitoring the battle. Dawn was currently attempting to flee via air, but the creature was following her, grabbing at her ankles tenaciously and hissing to itself as it sensed triumph at hand.
:On three, people,: Cable instructed his colleagues. :One. Two. THREE!:
The three psis combined their power and launched a psychic attack at the creature. Dawn whirled around as she heard it shriek, then watched it plummeting earthward, thrashing weakly. She sighed with relief. It was nearly over.
As I saw that...THING plunge towards the ground I knew Cable, Jean, and Emma had been successful. I dove down after it, knowing better then to think it was dead. Or at least, as dead as any evil fabrication COULD be. At any rate, I wanted to be certain whatever was left of Apocalypse's failed attempt at controlling my mind was destroyed.
I alighted next to the shattered thing, wondering if it could get up from THIS kind of fall. It LOOKED dead...
Then it twitched. My nose wrinkled in disgust. It was clearly dying, but it seemed to be trying its best to make its death linger. I felt a strange cross between pity and revulsion. It was obviously in pain, I knew that much, but it also terrified me to have the thing crawling about my brain and festering. I clenched my fists, unsure of what I should do.
The creature made a gurgling sound and I nearly passed out. It was vomiting something disgusting... like half-rotted insides. I made a decision--I would end its existence--and suffering--immediately. I created a sword again, pulling it out of thin air and gripping it as if it would somehow give me strength. I still shuddered at the idea of killing something--anything--even this perverted creature.
Then it spoke in a disturbing, gurgling tone that would haunt me the rest of my life.
"KiLl Me NoOoW," it hissed, spitting out something bloody. I almost keeled over right then and there, but it persisted.
"IiIiIi... WaSsSs... tHe HoSt oF... aPoCaLyPsE's... bOdY..." it stuttered. "WhAt IsSs... LeFt oF Me. He UsSsEd... tHe LaSt oF mY EsSeNcE tO... dOmInAtE yOuRsSsSs. WhEn ThE cLaN mEmBeR uSeD HeR pOwEr To ExPuNgE hIs InFlUeNcE... sHe FaIlEd To FiNd MeEeE. So IiIi FeStErEd... As ThE dArK lOrD bAdE mE tO. fOrGiVe My InTuRuSiOn... ApOcAlYpSe SoUgHt To RiD hImSeLf Of TwO pRoBlEmS aT oNcE. tHe ChOsEn OnE's AtTaCk JaRrEd Me FrEe. GrAnT mE tHiS sMaLl MeRcY... aNd KiLl Me NoW."
I felt a new wave of nausea sweep over me. Apocalypse not only USED these people's bodies, but he had to twisted their minds as well? I hadn't even thought about where the original owner of Apocalypse's obviously borrowed body could have gone, but to know he had sent her after ME? I felt an impending guilt trip coming on...
But I couldn't let her suffer..! What was I supposed to do?!
God, why can't life EVER be easy?
"DoN't Be FoOlEd," she told me, sensing my indecision. "iIiIi Am DeAd. iN tHiS tImE iIiIi DoN't EvEn ExIsT. yOu CaNnOt KiLl SoMeThInG tHaT dOeSn'T eXiSt. PuT mE OuT oF mY mIsErY. pLeAsE..."
I closed my eyes, then opened them again slowly. "All right," I whispered softly. "Only because you're asking me to." I knew I was going to hate myself in the morning, but the thing--no, I corrected myself, woman, not thing--was in so much agony she could barely talk. She wanted me to kill her, and I couldn't refuse. I focused my psionic energy into my saber again and concentrated on giving it a numbing effect. I inhaled deeply, then plunged it into her chest. The moment the blade touched her I was in her mind, feeling the cool, numbing spear of psionic metal cleave through me and felt relief spread through my throbbing limbs. As she died I caught a taste of memories yet to be--a life doomed from birth. Apocalypse had raised her, then claimed her body for his own when he had deemed her ready.
I dropped the saber as the woman--T'Sunn, her name was--died. I felt a sense of gratitude so pure it could have been my own. Her body seemed to dissolve and evaporate before my eyes, drifting off into nothingness.
"May God have mercy on your soul, T'Sunn," I murmured, turning to leave. There was a faint shimmer by my side and I had the strangest sensation of someone thanking me before it disappeared completely. I suddenly felt better. Whatever she said, T'Sunn HAD existed, and therefore had moved on into the afterlife. I hoped it would bring her happiness. With all the suffering Apocalypse had caused her, she certainly deserved a chance for peace.
I glanced around. My mindscape was returning to normal--a field with Xavier's in the distance, studded with memory crystals. Peaceful, pure, beautiful. I wished I had the chance to enjoy it more often. I saw Cable, Jean, and Emma in the distance, and trotted over to them, almost smiling.
"It worked!" I cried happily. "Thank you. T'Sunn...she finally got her rest."
"Who's T'Sunn?" Jean inquired.
"The... the presence," I said. "She said Apocalypse had enslaved her, then pushed her at me to try and get rid of the both of us after corrupting her. I guess you guys shocked her back to her senses when you hit her, because you wiped out Apocalypse's influence. She's happy now."
I think they were confused, but they didn't say anything. My mind still looked a bit ragged, but at least it was returning to normal. I looked around and said, "Should we get back to reality?"
"Yes, let's," Emma said, the strain clearly showing. She had been working non-stop to keep me together ever since Mountjoy had released her even though she really should have been resting. I was almost afraid she was going to collapse right then and there, but she managed to pull herself out of my mind along with Cable, Jean and I.
THEN she collapsed.
"Is she going to be all right?" I asked Hank as soon as I had properly managed to cohere myself enough to talk (which was about twenty minutes later, given my exhaustion).
"She'll be fine," Hank assured me. "She merely passed out from the strain. Left in peace for a day or so she'll be good as new. Not that I'd expect she'll be very happy... but seeing as she spent nearly half a year catatonic before, I doubt a few days will matter to her."
"And how are YOU feeling, Dawn?" Jean inquired.
"Kind of tired, but okay," I answered. "I guess I didn't realize that, without a body, I can kill myself when I use up all my energy. Pretty stupid, huh?"
"Lass, dinna beat yeself up for it," Sean said, laying a hand on my shoulder. "Ye, Jono an' Everett were a great deal o' help t'us. Ye jus' need t'learn t'be more careful."
I shrugged. "I still feel like everything is my fault," I told him. "This thing on my arm was flashing--" I held up my left arm to present the armband, "--trying to warn me, probably. If I'd come to you first, maybe we could have prevented this."
"Lass, ye canna expect t'save everyone from everythin'!" Sean exclaimed, smiling. "Jus' because ye've been t'the future an' defeated a few major villains doesna mean ye c'n save the day every time."
I felt a little stupid. He was right, of course. I was only one person, and I wasn't omnipotent. I was also missing half my power, so I couldn't do half the stunts I used to, either. Obviously, I was going to have to learn my limits if I wanted to stay alive.
I just wished I knew if it was worth it!