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The Death of the Hired Man
Chapter 6

DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are
used without permission for entertainment purposes only.

Rating note: For the whole series, I'm going to say R/NC17, as I tend to wander into sexual situations. Don't expect a "sex story" though ... that's always a sideline for me, a compliment to the emotional balance of the story as necessary, rather than a primary attraction. Still, the majority will be in the PG range, and I'll make those questionable areas "skippable" and well mark them if you'd rather bypass them ... they won't be "necessary" to read the story.

"What are you doing out here so late?" she asked softly.

Ororo Munroe seated herself gently next to him. He was sitting in the snow, smoking a cigar, and ignoring her.

"Logan," she tried again. "I asked you a question."

He turned his head this time, facing her but not saying a word. He didn't have to. The look on his face spoke volumes. Go away. No trespassing.

"Normally, I would heed that warning," she told him simply. "However you seem to have saved my life once more, and I feel rather obligated lend some assistance."

Logan looked away, still not ready to communicate. He chewed on the end of his cigar, then tugged his jacked tighter around him.

He had to be cold, she reasoned. She debated momentarily the disadvantages of wet snow, then decided that his need for warmth would override his need for dryness. In any case, his rear end was most likely already soaked. She looked to the sky, took a calming breath, and felt the elements respond to her.

If Logan noticed the warm air that surrounded him, he didn't comment. Of course, warmth was relative, and the sixty degree breeze could hardly be called a heat wave. Still, she kept the warmth coming. It was the best she could manage at night, in February, in New York.

"You don't get cold, do you?" he finally asked as he sent the cigar flying. It landed in the snow over behind one of the bushes that outlined the mansion. It wasn't the only one. Ororo made a mental note to clean that particular area in the morning.

She was sitting next to him, wearing only a light pair of slacks and a short-sleeved sweater. "No," she answered. "Not unless Bobby is playing a sick joke."

Logan turned to face her, but didn't speak. The question was in his raised eyebrow.

"I have managed to get in the way of his freezing a time or two," she smiled. "Never in battle, but once or twice when he was playing around in the Danger Room. I freeze as well as anything else," she smiled at that, then looked at her hands. "No frostbite, though. I think I'm the only one that escaped it."

Logan shook his head, showing her his own hands. She knew that he had indeed been frostbitten the day before, she remembered it in some absently functioning part of her mind, but his healing factor would have taken care of that in mere minutes.

"Does the cold slow your healing?" she asked curiously, taking one of his hands in hers and looking at it closely. She wasn't aware that she was running her fingers along the skin, caressing as much as seeking.

"Only when Bobby's playing a sick joke," Logan finally echoed with a smile.

Ororo laughed gently, threading her fingers through Logan's and sitting a little closer. She couldn't make the air warmer, but she could share her own warmth. "Why outside," she asked again.

"I was feeling a little caged," he told her, his hand tightening around hers, holding her. "I hate that feeling."

Ororo didn't bother to agree with his statement. Given the events of the day before, it would have been ludicrous. He knew how she felt about entrapment. The entire team knew how she felt about entrapment.

"What cages the wolverine?" she asked gently.

"Rogue," he began, then sighed. "Marie," he corrected.

"Is she still in love with her savior?" Ororo asked with a smile. While they never would have joked with the young girl about it, most of the staff was aware of the girl's infatuation with Logan. She found it sweet, if a little predictable.

"No," Logan said, surprising her. "She's in love with somebody else entirely."

Ororo looked up in curiosity. She didn't see any anger on Logan's face, and that was a relief. It would have bothered her if he had entertained an interest in the girl, so little more than a child. What she saw instead was confusion. "Did you think she would love you forever when that love was not returned?" she asked.

Logan shook his head. "I'm glad she's found someone," he assured her. "I'm glad the guy's closer to her own age and all. I'm glad I don't have to worry about hurting her feelings every time I leave the mansion for more than a day or two. I'm just not sure about the guy."

Ororo nodded in sudden understanding. There was really only one man on the team that Logan had a reduced tolerance for, Scott notwithstanding. "Remy has a good heart," she told Logan. "He's done some questionable things, but nothing more than he had to do to survive. I truly believe that. Without the influence of desperation, I cannot see him hurting Rogue."

"Not many people will hurt others when they're not desperate," he agreed.

"Give it a chance," she suggested. "Give them a chance. If it doesn't work out, then you can shred my Cajun friend."

He took a moment to realize it was a joke, delivered in her quiet and serene voice, but once he did, he laughed.

"I believe in him," Ororo said softly, once his laughter had quieted. "As I believe in you. I would not have brought him here, otherwise."

"I know that," he told her, squeezing the hand that was still clasped in his. "But you are a trusting woman. You believe the best of people, which is flattering, but it's not something I'm used to."

"Without trust..." She tried to think of a way to end the sentence, tried to think of what to say next. Finally she just shook her head. "There is just no point."

Logan nodded, kissed the hand he held, and then looked back at the open sky. There were a few stars in evidence, but most were hidden in the mist that Ororo had created when she'd brought down the warm air through the surrounding colder air. She could have warmed a larger area, the entire grounds for that matter, and easily. Unfortunately, doing so would have required a bit more concentration than she could have managed while talking to Logan, and she felt that was her priority.

"There is more," she invited. "I have told you nothing that you did not already know. Your concerns about Remy are not enough to cage you." She paused a moment, coughing lightly and then clearing her throat.

He looked back over at her, gave a small smile. "You sure you're not the Telepath?" he asked.

She shook her head, smiling. "I'll leave that responsibility to Charles and Jean," she said simply. "You, I will just have to annoy until you get tired and finally speak to me."

He laughed again. "Rogue wants to know how to make Gumbo see her as a woman," he said. "Explain to me how I'm supposed to answer that."

Ororo was taken aback for a moment, not that Rogue would request such information, but that she would request it from Logan. She would have assumed that the girl would have come to her, or to Jean, or even Kate. Still, there was merit to going to the source of a problem, and if you were asking about a man ... well, Logan was definitely all man.

"I would say," she began. "That if he already sees her as such, then there is no need for her to do anything. And if he does not, then there is not a great deal that she can do to remedy the situation."

"Do you think she'll be satisfied with that?" he asked, his eyebrows up once more.

She thought a moment. "Probably not," she conceded. "Teenagers are not known for their rationality."

"Got it in one," Logan said softly. "Welcome to the cage."

"I could talk to her," Ororo offered. "Perhaps woman-to-woman would be easier on her."

Logan shook his head almost immediately. "No," he said simply. "She asked me. She trusted me. I'll figure it out." He looked over at her and smiled again. "But it would sure as hell be easier on me."

Ororo nodded and smiled, pleased. She would not have minded speaking with Rogue, but he was correct. The girl would not appreciate his sharing the problem with another, nor should he shirk the responsibility of friendship, however unaccustomed it was. "Very well," she agreed. "But I do wish you would come inside," she requested. "Healing factor aside, this cold cannot be good for you."

"Probably not," he agreed. "And I'm not in any hurry to spend time in that infirmary."

"You used to like spending time there," she smiled.

He shook his head and laughed. "Right," he said. "Problem is, One Eye doesn't get pissed about it anymore, so it's not as much fun."

Ororo stood, gracefully reaching down a hand to him. Logan took it, stood without really using it as assistance, and they walked back inside together. Once they were back in the warmth, Ororo turned to him and smiled. "I need to change clothes," she told him, releasing his hand with a final squeeze. "Cold is not a problem, but wet is uncomfortable."

"Me, too," Logan agreed. "Otherwise the students will be taking bets on why I pissed my pants." He leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. With that, he walked off towards the stairs to the upper floors. He didn't look back.

Ororo didn't mind his abrupt departure. His thanks had been in his friendship, in his easy acceptance of her presence. Her reward was that he was comfortable enough with her that he had allowed her inside. It was a far cry from how he had reacted when he had first arrived at the mansion. In addition, she found that she was indeed tired. Very tired. Perhaps it was an effect of the day before, but she was feeling completly exhausted.

Ororo watched him walk away, head held high and his stride easy. She told herself that she was searching the black material for discoloration, for wetness. As she watched the fluid movement of his backside while he started up the stairs, she almost had herself convinced.

* * *

Kathleen didn't bother to look up as yet another person walked into the room with a cough. She knew the sound, knew the exact tone of it, and she didn't like it. "Cover your mouth and head for the back," she said in a commanding voice. "Until I clear you, consider yourself quarantined."

Jean looked over with a startled expression, but Kate's back was to her. "I thought I was the doctor, here," she said with a forced smile. She felt awful.

"Get in the back," Kathleen repeated. "I'll explain in a minute."

Jean nodded, noting the seriousness in Kate's voice, and walked to the back area of the infirmary. When she walked past the privacy curtain that had been erected, she was shocked to see several of her team mates laying on various gurney's and cots around the room.

Bobby was coughing and shivering, a blanket tugged up around his neck. Kitty and Kurt were sitting together on a gurney, clearly waiting for instructions, and just as clearly ill. Ororo was asleep on another cot, an older one, and Jean vaguely wondered where Kate had found it. Ro's cough was deep and wet.

Jean had been woken from her sleep by the telephone. Kate had indicated that she had a problem, and wanted Jean's opinion. Groggy and achy from lack of sleep, Jean had showered quickly and headed for the subbasement where the infirmary was located. She'd started coughing shortly after she'd stood up from her bed, but she'd assumed it was fatigue.

Kathleen entered the makeshift isolation area briskly and efficiently. "We've got a major problem," she began quickly. "Three of our little-ones have developed pneumonia, and I think we're talking RSV."

"What?" Jean asked urgently.

"I won't be sure until the cultures finish, and that's two days at best, but I've seen this before. The kids were already compromised, weak, and between that and the exposure to cold something has gone straight for their lungs."

"RSV isn't that fast," Jean began, but Kathleen cut her off.

"Not usually, no. But we're talking about mutant immune systems, and immature ones at that, so it is possible for any virus to grab them. What worries me more is that the team is crashing, too. Ororo came in here with a hundred and four degree temperature, and Kitty's not much below that. Kurt isn't running a temp, but his white count is over twenty-thousand and his chest sounds awful. If I could figure out how to run that damn X-ray machine, we'd know for sure."

"I'll run the X-rays," Jean agreed, lifting her hand to cup her own cheek and feel the temperature. "I'm probably running around a hundred and one myself, so I don't know how long I'll be useful to you." She hated admitting illness, but she knew now that this was more than fatigue.

"If it's RSV, I'm immunized," Kathleen told her hopefully. "It's mandatory in the California school system."

"If it's RSV, we're up shit creek," Jean said tightly. "It's fast, it's furious, and it's lethal. At least it is to the babies."

Kathleen nodded. "If it is, everyone in that basement is at risk, and I don't just mean the kids. If it's not, then we don't know what we're dealing with and it's still fast and furious."

"Do you have IVs started on the kids?" Jean asked.

"Absolutely, and everyone's on antibiotics, for what little good it will do. We don't have pediatric respirators here. Even if we did, we don't have anyone qualified to run them."

"We'll manage," Jean said, stifling a cough once more. "Call the Professor and tell him we have an emergency. Have him get Hank out here, immediately if not sooner."

* * *

On Charles Xavier's orders, Logan took the Blackbird to Muir Island. Hank was not happy about leaving his experiments, but he didn't argue.

"How long have you been flying?"

Logan looked over at the large blue man that he was transporting and suppressed a grin. "No clue," he answered truthfully.

"Really?" the man inquired, thoughtfully.

"Cyclops has been training me on this thing for about six months," he clarified. "But I seem to have a knack for it, so we're thinking I might have flown some in the past. No one knows too much about my past."

Hank nodded, not pressing, and visibly tightened his grip on the copilot's seat. "I flew this craft for many years," he said conversationally. The Blackbird hit some turbulence, bounced a bit, and settled. "I would be happy to assist you with flying it now," he added.

"We're coming up to the mansion, now," Logan said noncommittally. "Ro's pretty sick, so the turbulence will get worse before it gets better."

"I do not suppose I need to ask how dire the situation is, for Charles to have called me back so prematurely."

"It's bad," Logan confirmed. "In less than seventy-two hours, it's wiped out the team. It's not like we can just call the local hospital and get some help."

"Have they isolated the virus?" Hank asked.

"You mean, do they know what it is?" Logan returned.


"Yes and no," Logan replied. "Katie thought it was an RS something, but it isn't, exactly."


"Yeah, that. But it's a mutant RSV, if anything. Scott thinks that it might have been introduced by the FoH during the attack on the orphanage. Germ warfare, or something like that."

"A mutated Respiratory Syncytial Virus. That is purely the most perverted thing I have ever contemplated."

"It's bad," Logan agreed. "High fevers, a horrible cough, and then they just can't breathe. We've already lost two of the smallest babies, and the others aren't much better off. The team has more resistance than the kids, but it's still taking them out of commission."

"Most adults are immune to RSV," Hank said simply.

"It's not RSV," Logan said forcefully. "It's worse."

They hit another blast of turbulence as they descended towards the mansion, Logan switching over to the VTOL technology that allowed them to land in a vertical manner, not requiring a runway. A few bolts of lightning struck frighteningly close to the Blackbird, but their luck held. The remainder of the descent was uneventful.

* * *

The mansion's infirmary no longer resembled a nursery, but rather an Intensive Care Unit. Kathleen, Jubilee, and Rogue were busy checking monitors, IVs, and comfort measures such as dry blankets and pillows.

Logan didn't bother stopping at the isolation station they'd assembled by the door, a precaution that every other person was relegated to, but rather walked straight towards Ororo's bed. Kathleen was standing there, shaking her head as she adjusted the clip on the Kenyan's finger.

"She needs the tent," Kathleen said, as though it had been minutes rather than hours since Logan had been standing there.

"No tent," Logan said again, as he had done hours before. "Just turn up the mask."

"The mask is already maxed out," she told him in frustration. He turned towards her, but she cut him off before he said a word. "And don't give me that shit about finding a bigger tube. I know you're mad, and I know you're scared, but you have to work with me. I have her oxygen wide open, and her sats still aren't coming up."

"Shouldn't you two be observing the isolation procedures," Hank asked absently, moving up beside Ororo and looking over the equipment himself. His bulk moved them easily out of the way, and he offered no apology for displacing them.

"We're both immune," Kathleen told him. "And hello, stranger."

"Salutations, Kathleen," he said softly. "I see that Ms. Munroe is giving you a bit of a difficulty. Have you attempted steroid intervention?"

"No," she admitted. "I don't have enough experience, and Jean is pretty out of it."

"I will take care of this, then. Locate a two hundred fifty cc bag of saline, and a bottle of injectable Prednizone, and we will see what can be done about that..." He looked over his shoulder at the pulse oximeter. "Eighty-four?"

"I'll bring you what you need," Kathleen said, confirming the low saturation level without words.

"We can arrange a clear oxygen tent," Hank said casually. "She will not even see it, and it could be removed prior to her waking."

Logan closed his eyes, then reached out to grip the woman's slack hand. "Only if there's no other way," he admitted, some practicality slipping past the emotion. "I won't lose her because of claustrophobia, but I won't make it worse without having to."

Hank nodded his understanding. "May I inquire as to how you were chosen to speak for Ms. Munroe?"

Logan reached out his unoccupied hand and extended three adamantium claws, displaying them for Henry McCoy. "My choice," he finally said, retracting the claws.

"Reasonable," the doctor nodded. "I'll just see to the other patients while Kathleen is acquiring what I need for the IV."

Moving around the room, Hank found what he had been both dreading and expecting. Logan had not exaggerated the seriousness of the situation. Both Kitty Pryde and Kurt Wagner were in serious, but stable, condition. They remained on oxygen, but appeared to be out of danger, recovering. Jean Grey was also on her way to recovery, while Scott Summers appeared to be in the beginning stages of the illness.

There were several students in the infirmary as well, mostly the young ladies that had been helping with the pressing childcare responsibilities, and all seemed to be recovering from the worst stages of the illness. Of course, there was still time for more of the students to be infected, those that had been exposed on a secondary basis, such as Scott had been, but thankfully classes had been out of session due to the confusion following the seige at the orphanage, so full classes of students had not been infected. As bad as the situation was, it could have been much worse.

"Here you are," Kathleen said, interrupting Hank's thoughts.

He nodded, taking the materials he had requested along with the syringe and needle she offered. He measured out the necessary amount of steroid with a practiced hand, injected it into the small bag of saline, and then shook the mixture. "Piggyback this medication, one hundred twenty cc's per hour, and watch her for any signs of sensitivity."

"Done," Kathleen said. He stopped her with a gentle hand to her arm. "Has Robert Drake contracted the illness?" he asked, his voice reluctant.

"No," Kathleen said with a soft smile. She remembered their friendship fondly, and she was happy to give Hank a touch of good news to go with the bad. "He has an aversion to baby-sitting, so he wasn't really exposed to the illness once he was out of the basement. We think the the temperature he was at while we were in the basement was so low that it killed the virus before it could infect him."

Hank nodded his relief, then went back to checking patients. Several minutes later he bumped into Rogue as they both managed to be in the same place at the same time. She had been taking Kitty's temperature just as he came over to examine her. "Hello young lady," he said pleasantly. "I don't believe we have been introduced. Hank McCoy." He extended his hand politely.

Rogue looked at the outstretched blue paw, then back at the smiling face of the man who offered it. After only a moment's hesitation, she reached out and shook his hand. "I'm Rogue," she offered. "It's good to have you here. Doc McKinnin has been gettin' real tired trying to do this on her own. She did okay until Doctor Grey got real bad, but she's having a tough time now."

"I understand that both Doctor McKinnin and Jubilee are immune to the virus due to their RSV immunizations, but how did you manage to acquire immunity?"

Rogue looked around the room, her eyes falling on Logan as he sat in a chair by Ororo's bed. She then looked to the ground, her expression guilty. "I got it," she said simply. "But I got well real fast." Saying no more, she picked up her clipboard and the tempanic thermometer and walked back over Kathleen.

Hank shook his head, not understanding, and went back to work examining his patient. It was becoming certain to him that the only thing that had stayed the same was that change was constantly occurring.

Hours later, Hank was beginning a nebulizer treatment through Scott's oxygen mask when he heard a gravely voice behind him.

"How is he?"

Hank turned to see the bright green eyes of his favorite former student, and protege. "His fever is still rising," he said honestly. "But I would not worry. Most of the adults with the illness seem to be recovering rapidly."

"He got it from me," Jean admitted. "Not from the kids." She looked around vaguely, then dropped her head back to the pillow. "Where are the kids?" she asked.

"Transferred to Children's Hospital in Syracuse," Hank told her, not adding that two of the youngest had not survived long enough to be moved. "Kathleen was concerned that she couldn't manage the equipment without your assistance, so she had them transported. Charles still has a number of connections, especially within the medical community. They are being well cared for."

"Good," Jean commented, her relief evident even through her fatigue. "How's Ro?"

"Stabilizing," he answered. "She's had a more difficult time than the rest of you."

"Weaker," Jean said. "She was in shock at the orphanage, so her resistance must have been at an all time low."

"Reasonable," he agreed. "I had attributed it to her immune system. She frequently was malnourished as a child, so her antibodies have never been as numerous as the rest of us."

"Didn't think of that," Jean said, her voice becoming softer.

By the time Hank had finished his examination of Scott, Jean was sound asleep. He examined her as well, without waking her, and was pleased to see that her recovery was fairly advanced. Within a few hours, twenty-four at the most, she would be ready to come off the oxygen completely. Her sats were in the high nineties, her pulse and blood pressure normal, and her lungs reasonably clear. He reached over and adjusted the oxygen tank, bringing her from ten liters per minute down to four, in preparation for weaning her off completely.

*How are they?*

Hank instinctively looked around before realizing that the commanding voice was in his mind, not in the infirmary. *Recovering well,* Hank replied.

*Thank you for coming, old friend.*

*They are my family as well, Charles,* Hank thought with a smile. *Even the new ones. We are all that we have.*

*Let them know I am with them in thoughts,* Charles requested.

*They already know that,* Hank reminded him. *Just as they know it would be unsafe for you to visit. You aren't at your best when your health is compromised.*

Hank felt the laughter in his mind, and shared it. It was wonderful, he decided, that they could laugh about the tragedies of the past, when the most powerful Psi on the planet had been compromised by the simplest of illnesses.

*Come see me when the danger has passed,* Charles requested. *Until then, please take care of my children.*

*Consider it done,* Hank replied. Then, he repeated aloud, "Consider it done."

Chapter 7

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