Disclaimer: Dawn, Jefferey, Glenn, Shrive and Karen belong to me. Anyone else belongs to Marvel.

Author's Note: Long time between installments, no? But I'm weak, so I'll post anyway. :) Getting near the end, at least...

I awoke to the sensation of movement and light against my eyelids. This was odd--I hadn't even recalled dropping off. I opened my eyes and winced--the light was too bright. I gave up trying to observe my surroundings and concentrated on the man carrying me. Slim, warm--Will?

No, Will's dead...can't be him...

Then who? Maybe...Glenn..?

But Glenn was missing...wasn't he?

"Glenn..?" I muttered, blinking. The light was too bright, and my eyes refused to focus. My head felt like a bowl of furry jello.

"No," replied a soft, slightly accented voice. I squeezed my eyes shut against the brightness, too dazed to do much more than bite back a whimper of distress. My mind didn't want to focus on the present, didn't want to analyze the stranger's voice. This, I thought as I slipped back into unconsciousness, was probably a plus.

Regaining consciousness a second time was nowhere near as fun. Of course, excluding several more exotic circumstances that I preferred not to think about at the moment, waking up chained to a stainless steel table does tend to put a slight crimp in the experience.

"Didn't think I'd be finding myself in this kind of position for at least another few years," I muttered, testing my restraints. Unsurprisingly, the manacles refused to be budged. My head hurt, and I felt slightly queasy. This, as I noted, was always an experience for someone without a stomach.

For a moment I considered just relinquishing control of my body long enough to "drift" out of them... but no, that wouldn't have done me any good. As I had discovered on Muir Island, I couldn't really move myself unless there was some other living mind around for me to grab a ride from. Without someone else to play hitchhiker to I would just rematerialize on the table, just as trapped as before.

Plus... all right, I admit it, I am paranoid, but I was sure Sinister had power dampers somewhere around the lab. I had yet to discover what a power dampener would do to my psionic form--would I just dissolve, or would I actually die?--but I didn't really want to find out.

Oh, yeah, I thought, scanning the laboratory with a jaundiced eye, dying again. That's all I need. Once was enough, thanks, and I've already got J accusing me of being a Summers kid from some alternate future. Note to self: If I ever start ranting about fire, life and dark passion, apply gun to mouth and pull trigger.

All right, enough with that... now I had to try and remember what was going on. After a moment of ginger prodding my memory supplied the words "Sinister," "Glenn" and "Shrive." I moaned inwardly, wincing at my own stupidity. Congratulations, Ms. Embers, you've just made your first selfless (ie. brainless) heroic sacrifice! What are you going to do now?

Well, Disney World was looking good...

I started cursing in Askani, which didn't really make me feel any better as it only served to remind me what a ridiculous life I was having. Or had been having before I died... @$*%.

I gave up looking at the room and stared at the ceiling for a while. I supposed I was in shock. True, a hungry little stab of fear was gnawing at my small intestine, but it wasn't anywhere near the full-blown terror I'd felt earlier. This was just as well--the last thing I needed was to act like a bubble-headed ninny in front of the first really major villain I'd ever encountered. If the choice was between going numb or going tharn I'd take the numbness any day.

"Enjoying yourself, I trust?" The smooth, Victorian-accented voice slipped through the silent lab like a chainsaw through warm butter. I turned; behind me stood Sinister, dressed in dark slacks, a neatly buttoned white shirt, and an impeccable white labcoat.

I blinked. It was definitely an improvement over the bizarre metal armor and laughable cape he usually sported, but it was rather strange in comparison with his deathly pale face and short-cropped black hair.

"About as much as I enjoy having a hole drilled through my head with a rusty spoon," I replied honestly. Sinister arched an elegant eyebrow.

"I really had hoped you would forgo the heroic tendency towards witty repartee, Miss Embers," he remarked.

"Personally, I don't think it's all that witty," I responded, looking straight into those cold, red eyes that had haunted my dreams so many sleepless nights, "But I can keep it up if it bugs you."

Sinister appeared nonplused. "As you would have it," he said, moving over to a drawer. My neck wouldn't turn far enough for me to see just what he was extracting, but I was fairly certain I wasn't going to like it.

"You, my dear, took quite some time to locate," Sinister remarked as he lifted a small, boxy device from the confines of the drawer. I snorted.

"Being dead does tend to have that advantage," I replied, watching him as he approached me again. Goose bumps raised on my skin; what was he holding? I wasn't overly worried about injections, not having any blood, but old habits, like me, died hard.

"Ah, yes," Sinister said, placing the device lightly on my upper arm and pressing a button. "I should like to know how you managed that. Nothing in Ms. Corbett's genetic structure indicated any possibility of resurrection or immortality in her descendants." The device emitted a quiet beep and Sinister removed it, examining it critically.

"Corbett..?" I inquired blankly as I tried to twist enough to get a good look at my upper arm. I hadn't felt anything, but that didn't mean nothing had happened. As I had discovered a day or so previous, I could feel nothing short of a broken bone.

"Your grandmother," he answered, somewhat absently. "I have been observing your bloodline for a very, very long time."

"Oh." I had never known my grandmother. All I knew was that she had been Irish, and had probably died when I was very young. My parents had always been somewhat nervous whenever I brought her up; I gathered that she had been something of a black sheep.

"You're being awfully conversational about this," I commented, somewhat bluntly. Sinister didn't even look up.

"You are not going anywhere," he countered, tapping in something on the side of the device. "Hmm... interesting."

"What, are my chromosomes in a chorus line?"

"The skin sample I took has disappeared."

"Yeah, it does that."

"I had supposed my equipment was incapable of locating you because you had a similar type of 'technological invisibility' once displayed by the X-Men after that affair in Dallas. However, this indicates something rather... unusual."

"Like the fact that I don't have skin?"

"Crudely put, yes." He retrieved a syringe from the assortment carefully laid out on a nearby counter. I didn't even blink when he pushed it into to crook of my elbow and took a blood sample.

"Perhaps this--" he began, but even as he drew the syringe away I could see the blood within fade and disappear. I swear, the look on Sinister's face was almost worth the whole ordeal.

"Child, what have you done to yourself?" he asked, a ghost of confusion and anger tracing his tone. He shifted his ruby gaze to me, almost accusingly.

"What, you didn't wonder why I wasn't giving off a biosignature?" I said, trying to contain a smirk that probably would have gotten me shot in most military facilities.

C'mon, Dawn, I don't care if you are feeling slightly suicidal. Acting smug in front of the man who killed your parents and cousin is probably the stupidest--and last--decision you could make in this situation. My own numbness astonished me. How could I be so...blase about this insanity? Had I finally been through enough to decimate my terror..?

But staring at Sinister, feeling his cold crimson eyes tracking every inch of my restrained body, I knew that the terror had not left me. He would hurt me--possibly even destroy me--and for that I feared him. But all the past history, the old murders, the old losses, had just melted into the seamless tapestry of my insane history. And I realized why.

I was no longer afraid of death.

The knowledge was, in a sense, a relief. It was like the moment you look through your folder and discover that you hadn't forgotten that important report after all. The one thing I had learned in my brief time as a mutant had been the most important, and I had never even acknowledged it until now. Life segueing to death... the transition just didn't scare me anymore. Not in the dreadful, oppressive way it does in a near-death experience, or when you're lying on your deathbed as you feel your lungs dissolve and your body deteriorate around you. I had seen the afterlife and, although I couldn't quite remember it, I knew there was nothing to fear.

Don't fear the reaper...

...Sinister's eyes trained on me, trying to pierce my soul...

...embrace it.

I smiled. It wasn't broad or mocking, but it was a smile--and it seemed to catch the geneticist off-guard.

"I just realized, Sinister," I said conversationally, my eyebrows slightly arched, "that thanks to something you made me do earlier this year the Legacy Virus was kicked into overdrive and killed me nearly two months ago. I'm sure you were looking forward to making little Dawn-clones or something equally warped but, as you probably noticed, I don't really have a body anymore."

Sinister arched an eyebrow. The expression was becoming very familiar to me. "So I had ascertained," he remarked. "However, this does, in essence, make you an entirely new kind of lifeform. One which I suspect I will divine a great deal of information from... living or dead."

My smile became a grin. "We all die some day," I reminded him pleasantly. I felt giddy--almost drugged with relief. "And guess what? I already know what happens. Do you?"

"No," Sinister admitted without even a hint of hesitation. "But I daresay that will be an issue of yours long before it is mine." Cold amusement glittered in his eyes. "Now: Jefferey?"

"Jefferey"... I thought as my eyes swung towards the door Sinister was watching. I'd combed through records and my teammate's past experiences with Sinister (the logs made under the heading of "Grey" or "Summers" usually took three hours alone to plough through), and I had never once seen the name Jefferey in any of them.

Hey, great. Not only was I in the clutches of Sinister, there was a reasonable chance I was going to be the first one to get a look at one of his unknown henchmen. Lucky me.

As I watched a slim, shadowed form came to the threshold. It hesitated for a moment, looking askance at Sinister, then stepped into the room. The minute the light hit his face I knew I had made a terrible mistake.

The man Sinister had called Jefferey had Glenn's face.

It wasn't an "uncanny resemblance"--it was his face, right down to the brown eyes and disheveled hair. He was still wearing the black turtleneck and dark jeans he'd been wearing in the woods, but over it he wore a labcoat like Sinister's. At that point serious alarm bells were going off in my mind, and I was eating a good bit of my earlier elation.

"This is my assistant Jefferey, Ms. Embers," Sinister said. He wasn't showing a hint of relish, although I knew that he was probably just keeping it to himself. I was vaguely aware that I was gaping. Well, wouldn't you?

"Hello," the boy said. Just 'hello,' like he did this every day... although I guess that if he was Sinister's assistant there was a good chance he just might.

"How..." I began, but couldn't figure out how to follow up. I was pretty sure the situation called for something like "No! It can't be! It CAN'T! This isn't happening to me!", but since it obviously was there wasn't a lot of use in screaming about it. Luckily, it seemed that the X-Men's official Mad Scientist was in a talkative mood. They usually are. I guess the test tubes start getting to you after a while.

"Humans are creatures of emotion," Sinister remarked, turning back to the consol. "Show them what they wish to see, and their emotions do the rest. Self-delusion can make something as simple as a few carefully arranged genes into a long-lost companion. It never ceases to amaze me how often people will choose the evidence of the senses over the evidence of logical thought."

I stared at Jefferey. He looked very uncomfortable. Well, so was I. I had absolutely no idea what to say. I hadn't minded going with Sinister when I thought he had Glenn, which had been pretty pathetic but at least gave me a smidgen of hope. Now I was trapped in the laboratory from Hell with a Victorian sadist and his weekend science project. Hope suddenly wasn't much of an option anymore.

"If you won't be needin' me, sir, I'll be going," Jefferey said at last, shifting his weight uneasily. "I still have those samples to sort." His accent was light, British--like Glenn's when he wasn't stressed, tired, or trying to be cute. Sinister certainly had done his homework. The bastard.

"No," Sinister replied, not looking around, "Escort Miss Embers to her quarters. See to her needs, although it seems unlikely that in her present state she will have many. Afterwards you may proceed with your duties."

Jefferey's eyebrows twitched in what might be a grimace, then touched a keypad on the wall. The manacles restraining me slid open, and I contemplated making a break for it. Then I thought And then what? I'm in a lab, God knows where, and I'm alone. What on earth would I do? and abandoned an idea. I needed time to think, to plan...

Oh, who was I kidding? I was screwed. Generation X thought I was still in Oklahoma with Vance, Derrick and Grace, Verney was sleeping the sleep of the concussed, Karen was probably out for at least two days, and Jason... I didn't know where Jason was. He was here, he had to be, but damned if I knew where. At the moment I couldn't bring myself to care all that much. He'd helped Sinister determine that I was worth his time, and probably helped in quite a few other unfortunate experiments as well. I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about him anymore--except that I wasn't happy with him.

I got off the table shakily, my muscles still weak from the previous day's battle. After a moment of awkward hesitation Jefferey reached out and supported me, being far more gentle than I had thought any of Sinister's lackeys could be. I noticed he was wearing surgical gloves. What had he been doing before Sinister called him in?

"I wouldn't try to run," he murmured, not looking me in the eye. "I'm very, very fast. This will be easier for everyone if you just cooperate."

"I'm sure," I said, more bitterly than I had intended. I just couldn't reconcile what he was saying with the face that was speaking. It didn't seem... right. But then, nothing about Jefferey seemed right. There was a subtle wrongness about his eyes, his body language... how had I not seen it before? He didn't move like Glenn--he was too coordinated, too deft. Glenn had always moved like he was afraid he was going to trip over something, which had usually ended up happening anyway. Jefferey knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going, and he wasn't trying to hide it.

"Come on then," he continued, taking me gently by the arm and leading me out of the laboratory and into the hallway. I took a moment to attempt a mindscan and was immediately balked by the same shields I had felt back in Oklahoma. Great. Looked like they hadn't been Sinister's intervention after all--they were permanent additions.

"Where's Jason?" I asked, looking around out of the corner of my eye. No use; it was white wall after white wall of closed doors. So much for running.

"He has his own room," Jefferey replied, eyes still fixed on the corridor. "I wouldn't worry about it. You two won't be seeing each other too often."

This conversation wasn't doing anything to reassure me. Then again, at least he was talking to me. "What do you want with us?"

Jefferey shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I'm just the assistant. You'd have to ask Dr. Essex."

Oh, charming. Not only was he a gopher, he was a gopher who didn't question authority. I could tell we were going to get along like a house on fire.

We turned a corner, and Jefferey stopped. He pressed a few keys on the touchpad, and the door slid open. I noticed there was a slide-away observation window on the door itself. Goody. Someone could just peek right in. So much for privacy...

"Here you are," Jefferey said, motioning to the room within. It contained a cot, a toilet, a sink, and not much else. I raised an eyebrow.

"Homey," I said. "Does everyone get a great room like this, or am I just special?"

"Possibly both," Jefferey replied. I looked at him; if he was making a joke, he wasn't showing it. This guy was going to drive me nuts.

I sighed and stepped in. I didn't particularly feel like trying to delay the inevitable. There are lots of things I could do in a situation like this, and nearly all of them required me being in possession of all my powers. Most of these same plans depended on my captors being susceptible to them. Plus, I hadn't changed clothes since the Phalanx thing, and I had a feeling that if I put up too much of a fight I was going to end up barer than Rogue in the Savage Land.

What? I've heard reports, okay?

I sat down on the cot and cradled my chin in my hands, eyes fixed on the floor. Jefferey hovered around the door, almost uncertainly.

"So, if you're settled..." he began, his head cocked. I snorted.

"I'm as settled as I'm going to be," I replied, not looking at him. "Now do me a favor and leave so I can start angsting."

This seemed to confuse him. "Angsting?"

"I wear an X, don't I? It's required. We have to take classes on it."

"Ah. Right, then." He didn't get it.

"Yeah, right, then. Bye, evil henchman."

I heard a swift, indrawn breath. "I'm not a..." He made a disgusted noise. "Never mind. Good night." He left. I was glad I'd managed to tick him off.

I sat back on the cot and stared at the ceiling. The flourescent lights were going to get to me, but that was all right. As long as I could stay sane I would be all right.

Stay sane? I wasn't sure I was even starting off sane. Oh well, it had only been a matter of time anyway.

I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. And not to think of Glenn or Jefferey or Sinister.

It didn't work.

Continue To Chapter Twenty-Seven

Back To The Main Story Page