FAQ       Archive      Extras       Gallery
       Links       Subscribe


The Death of the Hired Man
Chapter 7

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.

Put simply, the situation got worse before it got better. Thankfully, within forty-eight hours, at least some of the senior team members were upright, if not stable. Jean was glad to be one of them.

She wasn't up to helping out much in the infirmary. Her newly gained immunity to the virus made her an ideal choice, but her fatigue negated the possibility. She was off the oxygen and IV fluids, but it was all she could do keep herself hydrated. Eating was more effort than it was worth, but necessary if she wanted to remain off the IVs. Allergic to codeine, Hank had placed her on Percocet to keep the exhausting cough to a minimum. The medication was just close enough to codeine to work, and just close enough to make her miserably ill. She ate enough soup and crackers to keep her medications down, but little more.

The cough was the worst. She might have been able to sleep, even without Scott's familiar form in her bed, if it hadn't been for the cough. Every time she dozed off, she found herself wide awake and hacking into a kidney-shaped emesis basin. A few times the coughing initiated vomiting, but thankfully only a few. Jean hated to throw up. Finally, she'd parked herself in a chair next to Scott's bed, where she could hear him breathe and lean her head on his shoulder. It wasn't comfortable, but the upright position minimized the coughing and she was able to rest with his heartbeat in her ear.

Hank put up with her defiance of his orders for bed rest because he was too busy to have a choice. He and Kathleen spent every minute of every day caring for their patients. It didn't leave a great deal of time for argument. Even if he had tried it, Jean had little voice left from the coughing, so any confrontation would have been one-sided. Her throat was sore, her ribs and stomach aching. A persistent cough did far more damage to the body than most people realized.

Jean lifted her head as another persistent cough registered. Not hers. Scott's. She reached for the hand that had automatically gone for the oxygen mask, restraining it.

"No, hon," she muttered, her voice little more than a croak. "You need the mask."

Scott thrashed, pulled against her hand, but she had more strength than he did. Coughing some more, he finally turned his head away and stopped struggling with her.

Jean stood momentarily, laid her hand against his forehead. His fever was back, she noted with a frown. *Hank?* she projected, her voice too useless to help her when he was more than three feet away.

The large, blue physician rambled over to her. Even moving briskly, he never seemed to be in a hurry. "Yes, Jean?"

*Scott's too hot,* she sent, not trusting her voice or wanting to abuse her throat any further. Projecting was exhausting, but she could manage it to individuals, for short durations.

Hank reached into his lab coat and pulled out a tempanic thermometer. Inserting the device into Scott's ear, he pressed the button, read the digital display, and agreed. "One-hundred-two, point-four," he informed her. "The ibuprofen isn't doing it alone. He had a dose less than two hours ago. I'll add some aspirin and acetaminophen. Do you think he can take it orally, or should I get him a suppository?"

*Try oral first,* she sent. *Otherwise he'll never forgive us.*

Hank nodded his agreement, then walked off to get the medication.

Jean sighed in frustration. The antibiotics were a precaution, but they really didn't do any more than prevent a secondary bacterial infection. The virus was just that ... viral. It wasn't affected by antibiotics, and the body didn't attack it in the same manner. Instead of increasing the white-blood-cell count, the body's response to a virus was to elevate temperature and make the body a less hospitable host. It was a nice theory, but temperatures with this particular pneumonia tended to skyrocket. If they didn't get his temperature down, and fast, they would be looking at potential seizures and brain damage. One-hundred-two was about all the body could tolerate comfortably, and fevers with this virus had been exceeding one-hundred-five. Adults couldn't tolerate those temperatures for long.

It was a medical-ethical dilemma. Decreasing the body's temperature also reduced it's effectiveness in defending itself against the virus. Not decreasing the temperature put the body at risk for a huge range of complications. It was an official no-win situation. Jean hated it.

*I'm sorry, Scott.*  She sighed as she laid her head back down on his shoulder, too tired to hold it up any longer. She sank back down into her chair to wait on Hank.

* * *

"You're getting good at that," Kathleen commented as she watched Jubilee hang a fresh bag of normal saline for Ororo's IV.

"It's not so hard," the young girl said with a smile.

"You've been pretty good at all of this," Kathleen added. "Quite a long ways from the bad-girl that wouldn't give me the time of day."

Jubilee's smile turned sheepish, and she shrugged. "I never did get to apologize for that. For being such a pain in the ass, I mean."

"You were being a kid," Kathleen clarified. "A very scared, very lonely kid."

"Yeah, but you really wanted to help." Jubilee turned to face her. "No one had ever done that, before. No one ever really cared about *me*. Everyone just always had some angle."

"You were waiting to find mine?" Kathleen asked.

"Well, yeah," Jubilee agreed. "Even after I got here, I kept looking for everyone's angle. The professor seemed too good to be true, you know?"

"I know. I remember feeling the same way. All this power, this confusion, and I didn't know what to do with it. Then he was there, in my head, and it all ... made sense."

Jubilee turned slightly, checked to be sure that the IV was dripping properly. She didn't need to check the flow, because the machine did that. All she'd done was tear off a plastic seal, pull the old bag off the tubing, and replace the new without getting her fingers in the way of the sterile areas. It was so easy a monkey could do it, or so Kathleen had joked the first day. Jubilee hadn't believed it then, but she was doing it with ease, now. "I was pretty brutal when you started getting in my head," Jubilee explained. "I was even worse with the professor."

"I understood," Kathleen said, but her smile faltered. "That's something I wrestle with all the time."

"The professor, too," Jubilee told her. "And Jean. Unless we're in a battle, they ask before they do it. It's pretty cool, really, once you're used to it."

"I'm glad you're handling it better." It was all Kathleen could offer.

"Is that why you left?" Jubilee asked. "Came here, I mean?"

"Because of stubborn teenagers?" Kathleen asked.

"Not exactly. Because of the way we treated you?"

Kathleen paused, thought a moment as she checked the oxygen level to Ororo's mask. It was busy-work. The Kenyan was doing fine, had been since the day before. She'd be off the oxygen completely by the following day. Kathleen was grateful. Logan's worry had begun to grate on her nerves.

"I left the school the first time because I was ashamed," Kathleen said softly. "I wasn't an Alpha-mutant, never would be. I couldn't give the team what they needed. So, I tried to be useful out in the real world."

"That tells me why you left," Jubilee admitted. "It doesn't say a word about why you came back."

"Here, you're expected to use your ... gifts. That's what they are, here. Gifts. Out there, you're a freak. Even when you're helping people, people just like you are, it's not accepted because it's out of place. I guess I let that get to me."

"So, you came home?"

Kathleen smiled. "Home is the one place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Yes, I came home."

"Will you stay? I mean, I think you've proven that you're important to the team. We couldn't have made it through this without you."

Kathleen shook her head. "I was immunized," she explained. "Just like you were. California mandated the RSV vaccine two years ago for anyone working in the schools. This RSV, and *that* RSV, just happened to be close enough that the immunity carried over. That was a very lucky coincidence, but it doesn't increase my value to the team."

Jubilee looked at her for a moment, picked up another bag of normal saline, and moved to Emily's bed. She pulled the plastic plunger from the old bag, ripped the seal off the new, and then put the new bag on the plunger. Simple. Slick. Like she'd done it a thousand times before, instead of just for the last week.

"They changed my life, here," Jubilee said softly. "It's the only place that's ever been home to me. Coincidence or not, I really like being able to give something back, you know?"

"You give to the team all the time," Kathleen reminded her. "I've seen you fight, in the danger room and at the orphanage. You're a valuable member of the team."

"I'm a junior member of the team," Jubilee corrected. "Mostly, I feel like they put up with me because someday I'll be worth something. Like you did. But, when something like this happens, I don't care if it's a coincidence because I feel like what I'm doing is making a difference."

"It is, Jubie," Kathleen agreed. "Everything you do makes a difference."

"But, you do even more," Jubilee said. "Why don't you think *that* makes a difference?"

Kathleen smiled, took the old bag of saline, and dropped it into the garbage. She didn't have an answer for Jubilee.

* * *

*All available team members, report to the War Room. Immediately.*

Jubilee looked up at Kathleen, and they both turned to face Beast. Logan was already standing and headed for the door. Rogue was right behind him.

"I can handle this," Kathleen told him. "Take Jubilee and go."

Henry McCoy sighed, glanced around the infirmary, then finally nodded. If it was serious enough for an "all call", then the professor had a problem. So few of the senior team members were healthy that it just might take all of them to handle it.

Hank followed Jubilee from the infirmary, and they managed to get into the elevator before the door closed in order for it to ascend. Logan was fidgeting, and Rogue looked uncomfortable.

The moment the doors opened, the group moved down the corridor towards the War Room. Remy and Bobby were jogging from the other end of the hallway, in uniform. Apparently, they had been in the Danger Room. Each was sweaty, breathing heavily.

"Good workout?" Jubilee asked Bobby.

He gave her a sheepish grin. "I thought it was part of the simulation, at first," he admitted. "I guess not, though."

They were to discover, within moments, that it was far from a simulation. Entering the War Room, the professor didn't even take time to direct them to seats, but instead moved to the center of the room where the holographic terrain map was located. The area that appeared before them was shocking, recognizable to all of them without thought. Rogue caught her breath in alarm.

"This is the Maximum Security Federal Men's Penitentiary, located just outside of New York City," the professor began, somewhat unnecessarily. "As most of you know, Eric Lehnsherr is housed far below this prison, in a glass and plastic containment facility."

"It's impenetrable," Rogue said softly, but her voice was less certain than her words.

"Nothing is impenetrable, Chere," Remy offered just as softly.

"Gambit is correct," Xavier agreed. "I have just received word from the prison authorities that the upper levels of the prison are under attack by the Brotherhood of Mutants."

"How do they know ...?"

"What will they do...?"

"Why aren't we in the air...?"

The room erupted into a mass of questions and confusion that even the professor couldn't sort out. "Enough," he commanded, adding the mental command as well. "If the reports are accurate, and we have no reason to believe that they are not, then we have to assume that their goal is to free Magneto."

"Cyclops and Storm..." Rogue began.

"Are unavailable," Xavier supplied. "I understand that the team is weakened, but we cannot change what is happening." He looked at Logan, locked eyes. "He cannot be allowed to escape. He is far too powerful."

Logan met Xavier's eyes, didn't look away. The professor must have found what he was looking for, for he nodded. "Logan will lead the team," he announced. "All senior members, and junior members at your discretion."

Hank finally stepped forward. He had not been present during Magneto's capture, but he had dealt with the man, and his minions, before. "Kurt and Kitty are still to weak, as is Jean. Scott and Ororo are still on oxygen. This *is* all that is available of the team. Kathleen can man the infirmary."

"Suit up," Logan called out. "We don't have any time to waste. If they're already in the upper levels, it's just a matter of time until they hit the lower levels." He turned to face Rogue. "Are you up to this?" She had carried the illness for only a few hours before he'd sat and touched her hand, giving her enough of his power to fight it, but not so much as to make himself sick. Still, she *had* been sick.

"I'm fine," she assured him. "I'll check weapons. What do we need?"

"Take everything we've got," he told her.

She nodded, and then was gone. Within moments, the other team members received their assignments, or left to dress already knowing their place on the team. Logan finally followed to get into his uniform.

Hank was left standing with Charles. Hank had no uniform to speak of, so he could save the three minutes that the rest of them would spend dressing in the leather, Kevlar lined, uniforms.

"The team is weakened," Hank stated, although Charles had used those same words earlier.

"I know."

"It's more than their lack of familiar leadership," Hank clarified. "They are worried about their comrades."

"I know that as well."

Hank paused a moment, considered saying something more, then decided against it. Without another word, he left the War Room and headed for the Blackbird.

*Godspeed, my children.*  The words echoed in Hank's mind long after he felt the professor sent them.


Logan took a deep breath as he felt the Blackbird lift off. He really hated flying, at least when he wasn't doing it. He had put Beast at the helm so that he could spend some time going over the maps of the prison. Studying the floor plan, even in a cursory manner, could keep them out of a blind corner or a locked hallway. He hoped furiously that the BoM didn't have the same advantage.

The prison was a newer one. That was good in that there were fewer subbasements and pathways than some of the older prisons had. Alcatraz, for example, had as many tunnels beneath as it did above ground. The bad part was that this limited the BoM's chances of getting lost on their way to Magneto. If they knew he was there, and there was little possibility that this was all a coincidence, then they were going to try to get him out.

Beneath the main cellblock, there were only two large tunnels. One of them led to an underground bunker that could be used by the prison staff to barricade themselves for safety in the event of a prison riot or natural disaster that compromised them. The second tunnel led to the plastic and glass cell that restrained Magneto.

The second tunnel was long, almost a mile so, to prevent Magneto's manipulation of nearby metals for the purpose of escape. A mile was a very long way. There were too many opportunities for attack in the tunnel, too many ways that this mission could go horribly wrong.

Dammit. Scott was the tactician. He should be plotting and scheming, second-guessing the criminals. Logan was a fighter, pure and simple. This was almost beyond him. He didn't mind leading the team. He'd done that before. But, in the past, he'd always had a battle strategy going in.

"You okay?" Rogue asked softly.

Logan's glance snapped up, saw the expression on her face, and he immediately calmed himself. She looked as though she was scared. "Fine," he said briefly. "Just trying to figure a way in."

Rogue looked past him, trailed a finger along the tunnel to the plastic prison. "Is that where they have him?" she asked.


"Any other way to get to him than that tunnel?" she inquired.


"Do you think they'll have it guarded?"

"Probably," he reasoned. "I would if it was me."

"So we'll need to take out the guards, then," she said simply. "Maybe post our own so that anyone who makes it in can't make it out."

Logan looked over the schematics once more. It could work, he decided. There were half a dozen corridors that led to the tunnel entrance, and the BoM couldn't possibly guard them all. Their team would just have to go in, take out whatever guards they encountered en route to the tunnel entrance, and then cover that same entrance just in case they managed to get their leader out.

"Not bad," Logan murmured.

Rogue shrugged, allowed herself to smile a bit. "I kind of owed you one," she admitted.

"You don't owe me anything," Logan said seriously.

"I coulda still been in that infirmary," she reasoned. "You got me out of there."

"I gave you what I could," Logan explained. "You would have done the same for me."

"Yeah, but I don't get the chance," she said wryly. "You're always saving me first."

"I have a feeling we're going to have to do a lot of saving one another before this day is over," he told her. "This won't be easy."

"Nothin' worth doin' ever is," she agreed.

"Maybe," he said. "But I haven't figured out why it always has to be this hard."

Rouge nodded, then settled back into her seat. Logan looked over the plan again, found three different entrances that were equally accessible without going through the main cellblock, and then began mentally pacing out the distances.

The BoM had gone in through the main cell, if the news reports were accurate. The professor had some inside information, but no one was sure how reliable it was. It didn't make any sense to Logan that they would mess with the main cell for any other reason than diversion. Sure, there were over a hundred hardened criminals in the block, but few if any of them had been associated with the Brotherhood of Mutants. Magneto, on the other hand, held obvious value to the group. Most likely, the attack on the cellblock was a major diversion so that other members of the group could free Magneto.

A hundred rioting men, most of whom were incarcerated for life, would be a hell of a diversion. They didn't have a whole hell of a lot to lose by going berserk. Yes, the X-men needed to keep the peace, prevent the murder of innocent guards and escape of the inmates, but that was a secondary mission. Their primary concern was keeping Magneto in his plastic box. If Logan could have his way, they'd just kill the old man and be done with it, but somehow he didn't think that was going to be a possibility. The professor still thought that his old buddy Eric was salvageable, and Logan didn't have it in him to go against the one man that had played straight with him since the beginning.

By the time Logan had his plan firmly set in his mind, the Blackbird was descending. They would land a short distance away from the prison, button up the jet, and then go in on foot. It was going to take longer, but it would keep their escape means out of the hands of the enemy.

It took longer than Logan had planned to secure the Blackbird, but they didn't leave anything to chance. The jet rested at the edge of a small clearing, effectively camouflaged by nearby trees. As the sun set, it would disappear into the surroundings almost completely.

Logan and Beast took point, with Jubilee and Bobby falling to their right flank, and Rogue and Remy falling to the left. They moved in on the prison stealthily, using the lengthening shadows and occasional foliage for cover. As they got closer to the prison, they were able to see the barbed wire fencing and the wide-open fields that surrounded the prison. It was situated this way to make escape unlikely, with snipers able to fire from the raised guard towers at any movement. The area was well lighted, despite its vast size. Once again Logan realized that this was not going to be easy.

The six of them split up as they approached the fencing. Logan saw Rogue's rope fly up, secure to the top of the twelve-foot fence, and then her body followed. He watched as Beast performed a similar movement, sending a rope flying, and then began to climb.

With a flash, all lights in the area swiveled to them, illuminating every crevice of the darkness. Their cover was gone. Jubilee screamed at almost the same moment that Logan heard the rifle shot, but he couldn't take time to check on her. Going for speed over grace, Logan popped three adamantium claws and swung his arm towards the fence. Even as the metal claws tore through the steel, Logan felt the jolt of ten thousand volts of electricity flowing from the fence and into his body. Then everything went black.

Chapter 8

< Other Stories By Crystal >

Return To The Archive