Disclaimer: Um...all original characters are mine. Everyone else is Marvel's. (It's just easier that way.)

Author's Note: This story...will not...END!!! AHHHHHH!!! I write and I write and I write and it goes nowhere! HELP ME!!! AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

"Agh, what crawled in my mouth and died?"

Derrick, who had been sprawling in an armchair with his back on the seat and legs slung over the rear, turned himself right side up as Karen crawled back to consciousness. And she didn't look too happy about it, either.

"Nice to see you, too, Karen," Derrick said as she swung her legs around the edge of the bed, rubbing her head. She scowled at him.

"Go kick a billion microscopic organisms out of your body and see how pleasant you feel, smartass," she snarled. "Jesus, did that suck. I feel like someone ripped a scab off my entire body."

"Yeah, that looks about right," Derrick replied. Karen threw a pillow at him.

"Shut up and help me up," she commanded. Derrick sighed and did so, curling one arm around her torso and half-lifting her off the bed. His cousin sighed.

"How are you feeling?"

"Well, I have all the strength of a wet noodle, so I think the answer to that is 'pretty shitty'. How long was I asleep?"

"About two days, give or take a few hours. Hungry?"

"Sorta. My mouth tastes like metal."

"The rest of you probably does, too." Derrick hesitated for a moment. "Um... we have a problem."

"If it's another alien lifeform, I don't want to hear about it," Karen replied dryly. Her cousin smiled bleakly.

"I wish," he said. "Er... it's Jason. And Dawn. They're gone."

Karen stared at him icily. "Please tell me you're shitting me," she grated. "I just got myself back to normal, and the little bastard up and leaves! Jason, I'm going to kick your scrawny little ass so hard it comes out your nose..."

"Karry, your affection astonishes me," Derrick interrupted, "but aren't you a little worried?"

"Oh, I'm plenty worried. I'm just also royally pissed off." She sighed and shuffled forward, dragging Derrick with her. She spat a piece of silver hair from her mouth and glanced at her cousin. "C'mon, I think I need some breakfast. And after that, you're going to help me make something."

"Like what?"

"Something that can find Jase. I'm not sure what, but if you grab some paper and pencils I can have the schematics drawn up in a couple of minutes. Maybe we can get that grey guy to help, too." She yawned hugely. "By the way, got any orange juice? I'm thirsty as hell."

"Okay, I don't do this often, but I'm begging you: please, let me go."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Smith, but I can't. It's up to Dr. Essex."

Jason lurched against his restraints, straining to free himself. Jefferey watched him impassively until the man wore himself down and collapsed, panting, in the middle of the monitoring equipment.

"You don't... understand," he gasped as Jefferey moved forward to tighten one of the torso straps. "He had me here for... six years. Six years. Six years of being his private probability computer with a damn artificial personality to keep me under control. I can't go back to that. Please, don't make me go back to that."

Jefferey forced himself to look the other man in the eye. They were wide and green and glassy with fear, like that of a doomed man pleading for his life. Maybe, in Jason's mind, he was.

But Jefferey had a job to do, so he forced down the strange, burning feeling in his gut and continued to secure Jason. The precog had been stripped, washed, and vaccinated, all with the same clinical aloofness with which Jefferey had preformed other such duties. Then the captive had woken up.

Jefferey wasn't used to this. He was a lab assistant, used to sorting, filing, and testing. He'd never worked with anything more complex than a few of the genetically engineered plants Sinister kept in the greenhouse, and certainly not humans. He'd tried to tell himself that these people were no different than the plants--things to be observed, analyzed, studied, and cared for--but plants didn't talk back. And plants didn't insult him, or plead with him, or hate him.

The girl had called him an "evil henchman," and that couldn't be right. This was for science, after all. The needs of the many against the needs of the few...

Jason was screaming now, half-pleading, half-cursing. Jefferey focused as much attention as he could on connecting the rest of the equipment, then left as quickly as was humanly possible.

Once in the corridor he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, trying to think. This didn't seem right, somehow. People... surely people should... should...

He couldn't finish the thought--the words had deserted him. Still, the uncomfortable knot of warmth remained in the pit of his gut, and the nagging feeling of wrongness refused to leave him. This wasn't going to be easy.

Still, what was the alternative? Disobeying Sinister? That was inconceivable. He'd made and educated Jefferey himself. Turning on the scientist would be horribly disloyal. Jefferey owed him so much...

Maybe he's testing me, Jefferey thought, wiping away the sweat that was beginning to bead his forehead. In fact, I'm almost certain that's his reasoning, in addition to at least twelve other motives. Blast it all.

For a moment Jefferey considered telling Sinister that he was not an experiment, and demand to be treated as such. Unfortunately, he was well aware that this would have been a lie. Sinister observed, speculated, and hypothesized upon everything, planned or unplanned. He took advantage of any event that made itself available to him, and factored it into future considerations. It was marvelous in a scientist, but scary as all hell in a boss.

He pushed himself away from the wall with a snort. Well, if it was a test he was obligated to complete it as best he could. He owed the man that much and more.

What are my alternatives? I have no qualifications for a position as anything other than a case study on gene splicing. I suppose that if really wanted to I could ask to leave if. I don't truly think he would try to stop me, but...

Jefferey thumped a fist against the wall with more force than he had intended; the impact sent an echo down the corridor and fractured a small bone in his hand. Jefferey wrung the afflicted appendage absently and silently thanked whoever had been the donor of his healing factor.

Where did he... no, that's not a good line of thought to pursue.

There was the other thing that had been bothering him. He had always known he was a collection of mixed genes, but until now he'd never really thought about who they had belonged to. Philosophical questions did not factor greatly in the everyday life of a piecemeal lab assistant. The look on the girl's face, though...

Just seeing the naked emotion there had hurt him terribly. For one horrible instant during their introduction he had almost slipped, almost confessed who and what he really was. Still, he'd stifled the impulse, and apparently the expression on his face had only helped the act.

It had hurt, yes, but it galled him, too. Sinister had used him as a puppet, a mere warm body to present to the ignorant girl. Not for his skills, not for his mind, but for his face. Was that all he was? Just a throw-away aspect of a larger plan? No, impossible. Why else had Sinister gone through the trouble of developing his mind as well as his body?

And yet there would always be doubt.

He knew it shouldn't matter. He owed Sinister his life, and so had little say in how he was treated, or to what end. He should be grateful just to exist at all.

"Bye, evil henchman."

The girl's words mocked him as he started the long journey back to his quarters. They were words spoken in anger, words meant to give the speaker a meager sense of superiority. They didn't mean anything, and they certainly shouldn't be bothering him as much as they did.

It wasn't the "evil" so much as the "henchman" that had done it. "Henchman" indicated a generic brand of mass-produced badness, something not even deserving of a name. And Jefferey had a name. Sinister could have kept to a serial number, as the geneticist did with most experiments, but he had been named. Jefferey wasn't like the Marauders, cloned and recloned so many times it scarcely mattered whether they had the personality of a doorknob. He was... unique.

Or so he forced himself to believe, anyway.

Fifty-six full tiles on that wall. Four half-tiles above the door, that's two tiles. That's fifty-eight tiles for that wall. There are seventy-four tiles on the ceiling, and sixty-six tiles on either side of me. Let's see, fifty-eight plus seventy-four plus sixty-six plus sixty-six equals two hundred and sixty-four. Shit, and I didn't factor in the floor tiles. Okay, there are... eighteen full tiles on the floor, which equal about four of the normal tiles, so...

It went on. And on, and on. Jason, never exceptional in mathematics, had trained his mind to add, subtract, divide and square almost any number he asked of it. Anything to give it something to do. Anything to keep the visions away.

They weren't so bad when he had something else to think about. It was a little like listening to the radio with one ear while keeping your attention focused on the television: all the information registered, but only one of them was prevalent. In this case, he was ready to try anything.

He was vaguely aware that he should have been savoring his last few moments as a free man. Lord knew they weren't going to last much longer. Still, what could he do? He was chained to a wall. This rather cut down on the number of activities he could safely indulge in.

For the fiftieth time that night Jason tugged hopelessly against his restraints. Expecting to find a way out was foolish; Sinister rarely made mistakes, and never the same one twice. And the last time he'd escaped had only been because Karen had found him...


Karen was still free.

Well, that was something. She'd find him, if only to kick his ass.

He closed his eyes and concentrated. Sinister's laboratory was surely laced with power inhibitors, but his link with Karen went far beyond the normal depths of telepathy. It had been rather strained ever since the Phalanx had first infected her, but it had remained. If he could concentrate, and if she was within his range, maybe...

But no. He felt no wall blocking his telepathy, but nor did he feel Karen. That meant she was either out of reach or he was still so drained he could not contact her. He now had two alternatives: to wait for his strength to return and try again, or plan for such an opportunity that his powers were boosted by what usually sufficed: fear and despair.

He'd half-hoped that the boy would take pity on him, and at times he thought it had almost worked... but no, Jefferey was Sinister's creature. What should he have expected?

I deserve this anyway, Jason thought bitterly. After what I was part of for so long... I guess I had this coming.

Jason closed his eyes and stretched his mind again, this time seeking someone much closer: Dawn.

He had expected his powers to have been inhibited, but to his surprise found them fully functional. He supposed that Sinister hadn't felt the need to restrain him, given that both the scientist and his assistant were heavily shielded. And it wasn't as if Jason was going to be able to focus enough to make use of his telepathy for much longer...

:Dawn? You there, kid?:

He felt her mind, sluggish and tired, stirring. :Huh?: came a disoriented thought, clouded with sleep. :Shr... Jason?:

Well, she was still talking to him. That was a relief. :Yeah,: he replied, chewing on his lower lip. :I... think I owe you an apology.:

Dawn's mind took on sharper focus; now she was awake. :For what?: she asked, but Jason was sure she knew what he was talking about. She wanted to hear it from him.

:For... what Sinister used me to do, regarding you,: he sighed mentally, trying not to picture what her face must look like. :I'm not sure I remember you specifically, but a while back... five or six years, I think... he had me start keeping tabs on a couple of younger mutants.:


He continued. :You would have been... what, seven? Eight? Most of them were. He had me watch their futures so he would know how they were going to turn out.: He shivered. :It... was not pleasant viewing.:

:I can imagine,: she sent, but her tone was still distant, reserved. As if she were waiting for something. :Do you remember what you saw?:

:Not really. It was a long time ago, and I was acting as Sinister's receptor for every moment of the day. There were a lot of visions. Some of the kids would never have manifested their powers, or turned out to be genetic deadends. Some of them would have died too soon to be of any use other than as raw material. And some of them were healthy enough that he decided to... acquire them... so he could experiment on them. I think you were in that last category.:

He heard her mental sigh. :I... see. But you escaped a few months ago, didn't you? Which means he might not have known I had Legacy, and that it was going to kill me... and probably corrupt my DNA, too.:

:Probably not. I know everything got hard to read in the end... either I was burning out, or something went seriously wrong with the timeline...:

Dawn gave a short, sharp laugh. :Now that I've actually spent a few weeks with the X-Men, I think it's safe to say that it was probably the latter.: She sobered abruptly. :Anyway... okay. I know you're sorry for what you did, and I guess I can take your apology... but give me a little while for it to sink in, all right? I know it wasn't anything personal, but...:

:But after all you did for us it feels like betrayal, right?: Jason finished with a bitter chuckle. :I wouldn't blame you if you did hold a grudge, Dawn. I know I would.:

But she was already shaking her head. :No, no, really, I understand,: she informed him. :I've been in your brain, remember? I know it wasn't exactly a choice. Besides, it's sort of stupid to fight with you when Sinister's around. The enemy of my enemy, and all that. Just give me a little time to adjust, okay?:

:Deal.: Jason was relieved. At least now he knew that the only other person within hailing distance didn't hate him.

After a moment Dawn spoke up. :Anyway, the next order of business is to figure out what we're going to do,: she sent, half-sighing. :I hate to ask, but are you in any position to do something? I'm sure not.:

:Um...: Jason spared a moment to look at the monitoring equipment that surrounded him, :Not really.:

:Well, crap. Okay. Let me think here.:

Jason pondered the situation for a moment. :You can't send outside of the complex, can you?: he asked, remembering the distinct lack of walls around his own psionics. :I wasn't having any problems, and your range is better than mine. If you can reach the X-Men maybe we can avoid an embarrassing situation, like having to rely on Karen.:

:Let me try.: He felt her pull away from a moment, presumably to concentrate, then a sudden flash of pain and a surprised psychic yelp.

:I guess that's a no,: he winced, wishing he could massage his forehead. :How far did you get?:

:Not even outside my cell,: Dawn replied, somewhat gingerly. :I don't think I can send at all. He's got bafflers all over the place. It can't be a nullifying field, because if it was I don't think I'd still be here. As far as I can tell, I am my powers.:

Jason chuckled. :Thank you.:

:For what?:

:For reminding me that my life could be so much worse.:

Even though it was physically impossible, Jason could feel Dawn doing her best to hit him.

Great, I'm being mocked by the guy that Sinister's been controlling for half a decade.

I was glad that Jason could reach me with his telepathy, but from what I could see this was the only upside to the situation. The bafflers around my cell reflected any psionic power I used on them, and I couldn't see any way around them. Jason was tied up God knows where, and Jefferey sure wasn't going to help us. All in all, this was looking to be a pretty crappy day.

:So what about Karen?: I asked, grasping for straws. :Do you think she can find us?:

:Probably,: he answered, although he didn't sound too enthusiastic about it. :She found me the first time, anyway. I'm more worried about her odds against Sinister.:

I thought of how easily our host had shrugged off the attacks of Generation X and had to admit he had a point.

:But she'll have Verney with her,: I reminded him, hoping this would be true. He'd been kind of out of it the last time I'd seen him, and I wasn't sure how gung-ho he'd be about taking part in a rescue mission. :He's really good. I mean, once he got me so fast I couldn't even put up a fight.: Nevermind that D'Spayre had been controlling him, and that I'd been taken by surprise. Still, anyone Sinister didn't know about...

:Yes,: he sighed, :but you'll excuse me if I don't get my hopes up. First, they have to find us. Second, they have to get past Sinister and his assistant, and possibly any Marauders he has on hand. Third, they have to figure out how to get us out of this mess. For you it's just a matter of opening a door, but I'm connected to this equipment. Karen can probably figure it out, but if she can't, or isn't in any condition to, there's going to be a problem.:

I shrugged, then remembered he probably wouldn't be able to see it anyway. :If you've got a better idea, feel free to share. I guess we've just got to trust your sister and Verney. I don't know about you, but I think they'll pull through.: At least, I hoped so. This would be a really bad time for the luck of the X to fail. X-Men have pretty solid lives...

Well, except for when Doug Ramsey got shot. Or when Warlock was burned to death. Or when Madelyne Pryor went insane and tried to kill everyone before dying. Or when Warren Worthington got pinned to a wall and ended up having his wings amputated. Or when--

Okay, so they didn't have solid lives. Jason was right, we were probably screwed.

:Okay,: I said, dragging my mind away from that particular pit of depressing reality, :Let's go through the pros and cons of the situation. Con: I can't use my telepathy.:

:Okay.: Jason rallied valiantly. :Er... pro: we're not dead.:

:You mean you aren't. But anyway. Ummm... con: the one guy I thought would be helping us turns out not to be that guy at all, which is still ticking me off.:

:Pro... I don't pay taxes?:

:You don't?:

:I've been wetware for the past six years, and anyway, my sister is a hacker with a grudge against the IRS. Do the math.:

:Are you going to be helpful or what? Con: we're at Sinister's mercy.:

:Pro: we can ask him where he gets those leather thighboots.:

:Come on, be seri... um, why do you want to know, anyway?:

:Um, no reason.: There was a long pause. :Dawn? Do you think you can die?:

I blinked. :Well, I'm not a redhead, and I'm an Embers, not a Summers, so I think the answer is yes. Why do you ask?: It was sort of a stupid question. I'd died before, after all.

...On second thought, that's probably why he was asking.

However, he answered my question himself. :Because if we can't get out of this, you may want to think about it,: he said. :If he decides to experiment on you, or God forbid finds you useful--:

:Okay, wait a minute,: I interrupted, frowning. :You want me to consider suicide? I think I know why you don't get invited to parties.:

:Dawn, just listen to me,: Jason snapped. :I know what I'm talking about here.:

:Yeah, and so do I. I've died before, all right? I have seen the Beyond. Been there, done that, got the halo and chucked it out the window on the way back. Life isn't exactly something you want to throw away.:

:This wouldn't be throwing it away. This would be ending it on your own terms in your own way, before it's done for you. Look, you don't understand. When Sinister has you you become... something else. An experiment. A piece of equipment. Something. There is no way to control it or fight it, only take matters into your own hands. If I'd been able to kill myself I would have a long time ago.:

I frowned. I was starting to feel snippy. :Oh? And how do you figure that would've helped? You'd never have escaped to help Karen when she needed you.:

:True,: he conceded, :but I also wouldn't have been recaptured and forced back into this position.:

Great, he was a pessimist. Never mind that he'd help save the world or anything... :Look. When I had Legacy I thought about killing myself. I was dying anyway, and it was slow, and painful, and basically emotional torture. It was hurting my friends, too, because they had to watch this happening to me knowing that there was no chance I was going to come out of it. But look: if I'd just given up and offed myself one night I never would have had the dream, vision, or whatever it was that gave me the code to one of Douglock's Legacy Virus files. Because of something that happened by complete chance one night, there's a good chance they're going to make some headway figuring out how to cure or prevent the damn thing. If I'd given up it wouldn't have happened.:

:Nice origin story, Dawn. But real life doesn't work like that.:

:Maybe. But how do you find out unless you see it through to the end? If something is inevitable, the best thing you can do is resign yourself to it and live it out as best you can.:

There was a short, harsh chuckle from Jason's end of the link. :Thank you for that advice, Sisyphus.:


:Sisyphus. He's a literary figure. He was the man consigned to hell who was condemned to push a rock between two hills for an eternity. Someone once wrote that he was the happiest man on earth because he had turned his punishment into his purpose, and a man with a purpose could never be defeated.:

:Hey, neat. Existential. You learn something new every day. But you get my point?:

:I suppose. But I reserve my judgement. You haven't been through what I've been through.:

:And I respect that. But I still think you're wrong.:

:Same here.:

I love it when a battle of wits comes to an impasse.

:So,: I sent, at a loss, :What do we do until Karen gets here?:

:Wait, I guess.:

:We're going to go insane, aren't we?:

:No offense, Dawn, but I think you're already there.:

I sighed. This was going to be a long day.

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