Fade Out: Part 2
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Marvel. The world belongs to Marvel. The author belongs to Kielle.
Author's Note: This story takes place just after the most hated Excalibur issue#120. I could have gone the cheap route, but I decided to give myself a challenge. Oh, and warning, there's a lot of accents in here. I apologize if they're wrong or inconsistent. There's also a lot of techno-babble and phony medical terms that would make anyone who knows their stuff laugh, but hey, I'm not Chris Carter. I don't have a team of scientists helping me out.
cracked eggs dead birds
scream as they fight for life
I can feel death can see it's beady eyes
all these things into fruition
all these things we'll one day swallow whole
and fade out again and fade out again...
Pete Wisdom hated waiting rooms.
They were cold, sterile places that seem to absorb and echo the anxious, worried anticipation of every unfortunate soul that had been forced to sit in one. The crisply cool air and uncomfortable chairs made it impossible to relax - impossible to avoid the haunting thought that plagued Pete at this very moment.
"They're called waiting rooms because you wait here for someone you love to die."
Pete was more worried now than he had ever been in his life - a fact evidenced by the ash tray overflowing with cigarette butts. He had been banished to the waiting room outside the infirmary's surgical suite, despite all of his protestations. Moira MacTaggart was *not* one to be crossed in matters of medicine.
Hours had gone by as he had paced and fretted. He felt completely useless. There was no distance he would not cross, no danger he would not face, no obstacle that he would not tackle if it was for Kitty.
And yet all that he could do now was wait.
He had returned to Muir Isle just this morning (or was it yesterday morning? He had lost track...) to try and mend his relationship with Kitty. Lockheed of all - well, creatures - had come and fetched him. Pete had not known then what had motivated the dragon (whose dislike of him was about as etched in stone as a cat's hatred of water) to come and cajole him into coming back to Kitty.
Kitty's hand phasing against her will and causing her to bleed rivers had told the story.
If Moira had not mentioned it while examining Kitty than he certainly would have guessed it on his own. His time with the Black Air had shown him a few cases of the ravaging plague.
Until now, though, it had been someone else's problem.
The door opened and Kurt Wagner, a.k.a. Nightcrawler - Excalibur's team leader - padded in. His golden eyes and ebony face showed his worry as plainly as if it were written upon them. They had spoken only briefly since Peter's return, but enough so that the Brit had some idea of the situation here.
"How is she?" Kurt asked anxiously.
Pete shook his head, crushing his latest cigarette stub into the ashtray. "No word yet. Moira's been in there helping the specialist with the micro-surgery for a while. Other than that, I know as much as you do."
Kurt's tail twitched uneasily. "I see."
"What did you tell them?" Pete asked, nodding towards the door.
Nightcrawler shrugged. "I told them Kitty was hurt, I didn't know how and that they would do better to keep themselves busy than get under foot. It's going to be up to her if she wants to tell them."
Pete ran a hand through his dark hair and then pulled out another cigarette. With shaking fingers, he put it between his lips and lit it.
"You trying to be the first man to die of lung cancer in a single day, mein freund?" Kurt asked gently.
Pete grinned humorlessly at him, his pale face seeming almost ghostly pale now from exhaustion and anxiety. "Don't worry about me, Kurt. At this point, my body's so conditioned to nicotine that if I breathed fresh air for too long it'd probably kill me."
Kurt flashed him a brief smile. "You know, Pete-"
The swinging door opened and Moira stepped out, her features drawn in weariness. "She's a'right." Both men breathed an audible sigh of relief. "We got lucky with one thing; the hand phased back. Unfortunately, it did nae reconnect all the nerves an' blood vessels like it should'a. Dr. Spencer and I managed to repair most of the damage, though."
Pete shivered. It was worse than he had feared. "When can I see her?"
Moira smiled a little. "As soon as ye put that filthy thing out," she told him with a raised eyebrow.
Pete crushed the forgotten cigarette under his foot as he rushed through the swinging doors.
Rory Campbell set the steaming cup of coffee down on the least paper-strewn portion of the desk, giving his colleague a worried look. Moira barely noticed his quiet entrance, her eyes intent on the results of the latest tests done on Kitty's blood. Rory cleared his throat politely, trying to get her attention.
"Hmmm?" she replied distractedly.
"I'm starting to worry about you. This one-woman crusade that you're on has got to be killing you," he told her, edging around her temper.
"Not half as fast as Legacy is wiping out mutants," she told him crisply. "Did we get that shipment of input junction boxes in? The EEG's are all completely down and I need to do further neurological tests."
"Not yet, doctor," he replied. "Moira, I'm not asking you to stop-"
"Tha' would be foolish of ye."
"But maybe you should call in some help?" Rory pressed on earnestly.
Moira took her glasses off and glanced over at him. "Actually, they should be here any time." She glanced at a wall-mounted chronometer. "Och, I can never rely on that McCoy to be on time."
Rory blinked and stared at her. "Pardon?"
Dr. MacTaggart grinned wearily at him. "Rory, I'm nae stupid, an' when it comes to me patients, I'm nae prideful either. If I could cure Kitty by working twenty-four hours a day for a year, I'd do it, but I know tha' is nae gonna happen."
"So you called Hank in?" Rory's surprise was not even slightly masked.
The Scottish woman nodded wearily. "I need him here, nae across an ooplink. So I gave him a ring, and the next thing I know he's calling in favors from all over. We got equipment coming in from Stark Enterprises - Hank tells me tha' the Avengers are in good wi' the C.E.O. - and we got Reed Richards, Hank Pym, that' brilliant bio-chemist - and e'en Dr. Stephan Strange - all comin' t'help."
Rory was plainly stunned. That short list included some of the greatest minds the world had ever seen. He did not know what connections Hank was calling on, but he was certainly envious.
"When you call for help, you don't play around," Rory breathed.
"Well, I joost called McCoy. Pym and Richards are both Avengers, so tha's where he knows them from, I guess, and he's known Strange since the Defenders."
The communications panel bleeped. Moira flipped the channel open. "Muir Isle, this is Dr. MacTaggart."
"Greetings and salutations, Doctor. This is brilliant brachiating Beast...and company, requesting permission to land and disembark."
"Ye're late, McCoy," Moira growled.
"I apologize profusely, but I was delayed. The shipping coordinator at Stark Enterprises had to be resuscitated after I showed him my manifest."
Moira giggled. "Ye're using tha' tired old excuse, Beast?" She grinned happily, excited to see her old friend once more. "Permission granted, Hank. I'll be at the platform to meet ye in two minutes. "
She clicked off the link and glanced over at Rory, who was still in a state of shock. "What, ye dinnae think I could be reasoned with?"
Rory rather wisely chose not to answer that. The two of them set off without delay for the main platform where a massive transport helicopter, laden with life-saving equipment, was struggling to land. Moira prayed that this miracle would be the one Kitty needed.
When Pete Wisdom awoke, for a moment he had no idea where he was. Partially contributing to his confusion was the fact that he was unnaturally free of any form of hangover. He was also in a warm bed as opposed to a concrete gutter - a significant change over his recent situation.
It took only moments for his mind to collect enough cohesive thought to remember that he was back where he belonged; beside Kitty. The warmth of her body next to his was as reassuring and comforting as the sight of the porchlight at home on a bitter-cold night.
It took less time for the two-edged sword of recollection to turn to its other edge and cut him deeply with the knowledge of how much danger she was in.
Turning carefully onto his side so as not to wake her, Pete gazed down on Kitty's sleeping form. Nuzzled close to his chest, her young, beautiful face was cherubic, reflecting the bliss of some pleasurable dream. He fancied that he might be a part of that dream.
Their lovemaking had been tentative at first - mostly out of Pete's concern for her. He had been in somewhat of a dilemma over the issue of intimacy. His desire had been undeniable, and more importantly he had not wanted and did not want to treat her like a plague-victim. Making her feel undesired would *not* be helpful.
However, the medical tests had found more than a little residual nerve damage in her hand. There were tiny fragments of bone and tissue that had simply phased out of existence. Kitty was obviously in pain from the damage the disease was dealing her. Though she put on a brave front, when she thought no one was looking, he could see the agony writ on her face.
His conflicting emotions - wanting her and not wanting to hurt her - had become moot, however. Kitty had stated, in no uncertain terms, that she did not intend to start acting like a walking corpse. As long as she was alive, she intended to enjoy it.
So they had made love, slowly at first...almost playfully. Added to the tension that her illness brought was the spaces that had grown between them during their separation. Those distances had been closed and trust had been rebuilt...and passion had gradually wiped away all other cares.
Pete stroked her tousled brown curls with a touch that some would find to be surprisingly gentle. He let the moment linger, trying to freeze the picture in his mind. That she loved him in the first place was nothing short of an act of God. That she loved him enough to have taken him back after behaving like such a git was almost unbelievable.
The lanky Brit slipped out of bed, grabbing his cigarettes and lighter off the nightstand. Dressed only in his boxers, he yawned and shuffled over to the giant window looking out on the grassy hills of Muir Isle.
The curtains were closed, blocking out the invasive light of day and allowing sleeping lovers to lie. He parted them with two fingers and peered groggily out at the morning. It was a bleak, gray sky that greeted him, matching his melancholy mood rather well.
Pete opened one of the window panels a crack and put a cigarette between his lips. Kitty did not vociferously disapprove of his carcinogenic habit, but he knew that she was also not overly fond of breathing the smoke. He lit the fag and puffed on it, sending the smoke outside.
Excalibur still did not know. Pete was not sure how much longer they could be kept in the dark. The only thing that had kept them from hounding Kitty had been an urgent mission. When they got back, Pete knew that some answer would have to be given.
"Well, Petey," he thought bitterly to himself. "Life's really buggered you now. **'Oh, here she is, Wisdom, the girl of your dreams.'** He could almost see the smug grin of Fate right now.
"Thanks life, I thought you bloody intended to ride my butt until I finally popped my clogs.
**'Of course not, Wisdom. This girl is everything you need.
' Oh, but did I mention she won't live to see thirty?'**
"No, you didn't say."
For her, he would be the smiling face, the friendly ear...he would exude confidence until it killed him, if that's what it took. But deep inside Pete was a cynical realist...and he knew that "happily ever after" was just a set of words in a bunch of fairy tales written by people who were getting kicked in the teeth by fate the same as he was.
"Ah, but it isn't even about me," he thought sadly. "Bloody hell, I'd live my whole life without her, wanting her, longing for her...if I knew that she was alive and well. That girl's got too much to live for. She's brilliant, brave...and a looker...got friends that adore her...
"Should be a bloke like me getting whacked, but in life and death, there ain't no justice..."
He took a long drag and exhaled the gray smoke out through his nose and into the wet-smelling, early-morning air.
"Got to have your morning fix, huh?" Kitty asked sleepily.
Pete grinned side-long at her. "Well, I didn't have a chance to have one last night. You had me seeing stars, girl. After that, I couldn't do anything but sleep."
Kitty stretch and sat up, the covers peeling invitingly away from her creamy-white shoulders. Her happy little smile of contentment made his heart flutter a little in his chest. "That's good, cause after what you did to me I wasn't able to last much longer myself."
His eyebrows raised a little. "Hmm, I guess all those Black Air Classes on picking locks with your tongue finally came in handy then," he told her with a twinkle in his eye.
Kitty blushed. "I...well, yes."
Pete's smile grew brighter as gazed at her. "It's looking like rain."
Kitty made a face. "It always looks like rain on Muir Isle. I hate to say this to a local, but you Brits have the most depressing weather."
He chuckled. "It gives us character."
"You mean that silent, aloof, slightly-brooding-air?"
"Something like that."
"Ah." She patted the bed next to her. "Well, if it does rain, then there's really no point in getting out of bed, is there?"
Pete made a show of considering it. "You know, I think you're right." His cigarette was unceremoniously flicked out the window.
Kitty wrapped her arms around him as he crawled into bed beside her. "Geez, you're freezing! Now I have to warm you up all over again."
"I can think of worse ways to spend the morning," he breathed into her ear, holding her close.
They did not speak for a while, sleepy and content in each other's arms. The soft bed under them and the warm covers over them lulled them, scattering conscious thought like so much confetti in the wind. For the moment, they felt very safe.
"Kitty, I was thinking..." he murmured.
"As soon as we get this nasty bug out of your system, why don't the two of us just take off? Go someplace sunny and warm - and super-villain free."
Kitty snuggled against him. "I'd like that."
He kissed her brow. "Good." His smile faded as sleep gradually reclaimed him. "Good..."
The laboratory at Muir Island had never been the source of so much activity as it was now. The cutting edge technology that made up her equipment was dwarfed by the gigantic machines conceived of by Reed Richards and brought into reality by Stark Enterprises...devices so advanced that only a handful of people on the planet could even understand their purpose.
Four of those people, some of the most brilliant minds on the planet, were joined with Dr. MacTaggart in a desperate battle against a killer. Their minds, so keenly tuned to the task at hand, had also meshed seamlessly with each other, allowing their innovative ideas to be explored at a rate that was frankly staggering.
For all that, though, the Legacy Virus confounded them.
"Amnio-biotic solution treatment shows negative effect on the infected cells," Dr. Pym announced, reading his results off of a computer monitor.
"My simulated experiments with precision hormonal imbalances have also failed to bring in promising results," Hank McCoy announced as he came in, just returned from the holographic chamber.
"Keep trying, Dr. McCoy. Teaching her immune system to recognize the virus is the best hope we have," Stephan Strange commented. The graying sorcerer was rapidly running through a series of calculations.
"I've run tests with gamma radiation of up to fifty-thousand kilo-rads and the virus was unaffected," Reed Richards reported, gazing intently into a microscope.
"Damn this bug," Moira snarled in frustration. "Nothing kills it."
"As a bio-engineered disease, it does possess certain advantages over a naturally occuring virus," Dr. Strange reminded her unnecessarily.
"Maybe we can engineer an anti-virus. Somethin' tha' is nae harmful to the patient but attacks the disease?"
"Intriguing notion, Moira, but that still requires us to solve the difficulty of the disease's ability to mutate. Unless we can accurately map out the virus' muta-genic pattern, our anti-virus will have no idea what to attack."
"Yes, and if we could discover that pattern, several of our ideas would work," Hank Pym added with resigned look.
Silence reigned for a moment. "So, now we're right back where we started," Moira grumbled. "We've got a disease much like H.I.V. here. As variable as the common cold and as deadly as cancer."
"There is a more radical course of action for us to take," Reed told them, his tone subdued.
"Tha' being?" Moira asked.
"We could design a geno-metamorphic procedure that would eradicate her X-factor." They stared at him in horror. Reed did not pause in his studies to return their aghast looks. Instead, he punched calculations into one panel across the room while delicately adjusting the instruments in front of him.
"Tha' would nae help, Reed, as my condition testifies," Dr. MacTaggart argued.
"It would not necessarily eliminate the virus, no - though that is a possibility. It would buy us time, though, which we desperately need. All the tests that we have done on you, Dr. MacTaggart, have indicated that the disease is primarily inert. Ms. Pryde's condition is far more precarious. If we could render the virus dormant by eliminating her X-factor, we could stop the rate of decay. At the rate the virus is attacking her system-"
"We know, Reed," Hank McCoy cut in. His expression was deeply pained, caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place. "It's a valid idea. We should explore it at least as an alternative."
He was as sick at the notion as Moira, but now was the time for pragmatism, not sentimentality. Hank McCoy exchanged a long look with the Scottish doctor, finding reason where he had expected only stubbornness.
"Let's give it a look, Reed," she told her colleague without any sound of contrition or resentment in her brogue.
Hank breathed a quick sigh of relief before returning to his own research. His simulations in the holo-chamber were thus far fruitless, but he had at least a dozen other variables to try. Each negative, no matter how frustrating, at least gave them all more data.
Reed's sentiment rang chillingly in his mind, though. They - No, Kitty...Kitty was running out of time.
Any pride Hank McCoy would have felt over all the resources he had brought to this project - the personnel, the equipment, the funding - was muted by the knowledge that he had only done it after Kitty had been stricken. How many mutants had died from this disease to this point? He dared not contemplate the number. Now, though, that one of his friends was threatened, he had moved heaven and Earth to fight the insidious virus.
There would be time for guilt and self-recriminations later. Now, he had to focus every thought and action on the tests he was running. Every scrap of data was needed to build an understanding of, and therefore a cure for, this killer. Any success, no matter how transient or small, could be the first step to a cure.
The machines hummed and whirred around them, calculating and tabulating every query and result at a rate that would make Bill Gates faint with envy. The five scientists worked with minimal diversion, each pursuing a slightly different course.
"Here's something," Dr. Strange murmured.
Hank Pym went over and took a look into the microscope that Stephan had been staring into. The tall, blond man frowned and "hmmm'd" for a long moment. "The mutant chromosomes...they're *destroying* the virus."
Hank went to see for himself. "Those aren't Kitty's chromosomes."
"Yes and no," Dr. Strange informed him cryptically. "I introduced a compound - made up largely of the hemoglobin sampled from Wolverine - into a sample of her blood."
"The virus attaches itself to the new mutant gene and is instantly destroyed," McCoy stated in excitement.
"And the regenerative qualities inherent in Wolverine's chromosomes help to rewrite her white blood cells, making them a sort of 'virus hunter.' Her immune system is then able to identify the virus and break it down," Dr. Strange confirmed.
"No, wait..." Hank Pym sighed. "The virus is reconstituting itself."
Beast nodded, not appearing concerned. "I would expect as much, but if you use geno-therapy to affix a copy of that strain of Logan's D.N.A to a strand of Kitty's, you should be able to introduce a 'smart cell' that could set off a positive cascade reaction."
Reed stretched his neck to glance over their shoulders. "Remarkable. As a permanent addition to her existing genetic makeup, it would not only eradicate the virus, it would make her immune to it."
"Let's get to work on it, gentlemen," Moira told them in a business-like fashion, taking the seat next to Dr. Strange.
Kitty sat in the uncomfortable chair and clutched Pete's hand tightly in hers, trying at once to master her terror and ignore her excitement. Beside her, Pete was a rock of support and brave confidence. She envied his strength, his ability to simply handle any situation; even this one.
Moira and her colleagues had given her three injections yesterday and she had been forced to wait in anxious anticipation for the results. In truth, being the laboratory rat for the scientists was more than a little disturbing to her. All the tests, the blood samples, the poking and prodding...it was all wearing her down far more than the disease.
The scientists had been conferring all morning, delaying even more the answer that she so desperately needed. It was one thing to know you were going to live or even if you were going to die, but to just wait in this limbo of anticipation was torture.
She glanced over at Pete and forced a brave smile for him.
"They'd better get the results here quick. Our plane to Jamaica leaves in an hour," he told her with a winning smile. "Get out from all this rain and onto a sunny beach."
"Will you wear that cute speedo I bought you?" she asked with a wicked grin.
Pete's devilish smile was just as lewd. "If you put on the present I bought you."
Kitty blushed deep crimson and winked at him. "We'll see. If you wrapped it up in a match box, you can forget it."
"Damn the luck anyway," he sighed.
The scientists came into the office at last, their grim faces telling them the answer before any words could be spoken. Kitty fought back panic, telling herself that maybe the news was not as bad as she feared. Maybe the cure was just not working as quickly as they had planned...
"It did nae' work, Kitty," Moira said softly. "I'm sorry."
A single moment of silence stretched out painfully. Kitty forced her trembling lips to turn upward in a wan smile. "Guess we're not going to Jamaica," she choked out.
Pete slipped out of his chair and pulled her into his arms, letting her cry against him. She did not want to fall apart, not now. There was still hope, after all...
But she was so scared...
"A variable occured that we did not account for," Dr. McCoy said softly. "The altered genes that we introduced into your body altered themselves back. We think the regenerating properties of the chromosomes that we were hoping would attack the disease instead recognized themselves as alien somehow and caused a chain-reaction of cell-decay..." Hank stopped talking, his words choked off by difficult emotions.
"Which caused your genetics to return to their original pattern," Reed finished.
"It's not over, Ms. Pryde," Hank Pym insisted. "This was a valuable first step. We just to need to find a way to account-"
"To hell with you!" Pete raged, storming over to the gathered scientists. "Stop all this bloody fancy talk and find some answers!"
"Mr. Wisdom, we are doing everything-" Dr. Strange began, but stopped when Pete rounded on him.
"Everything? You're doing every buggering thing except curing her! You're supposed to be the smartest blokes in the world but you can't stop a cold germ with an attitude?" Pete snarled. "This may be no more than interesting mathematical problem to you gents, but there's a life on the line here."
It was Kitty. He looked over at her, his face flushed with rage. Her pale features were frightened and stricken, but her eyes were calm. "Don't, Pete. They're doing all they can." She rose and extended her hand to him. "Let's go. They can get more done without you here threatening to rearrange their faces."
Pete caught his breath, slowly reining in his temper. He took her hand and walked slowly with her out of the room, saying nothing more. His rage, futile and brief, was expended. Now there was just worry. And sorrow.
"How poetically ironic," Hank McCoy said as he watched the two walk together down the corridor, their fingers tightly entwined. There was a strange look on his face.
"What is?" Reed asked.
"Pride and wisdom seldom make so perfect a match," McCoy murmured, wiping unshed tears from his eyes.
The research continued unabated.
Moira had no idea how late it was and did not much care. She was currently using the medlab's holographic suite to try and get a clearer view of what had gone wrong with Kitty's treatment, and she was determined that she would not relent until she got some answers.
Sighing, she sipped her tenth cup of coffee. She suspected that the foul brew was having almost no effect on her at this point, but she drank it anyway - out of habit, if for no other reason. If nothing else, the hot liquid burning down her throat kept her somewhat alert.
She stared at the chromosomes around her - graphically simulated from the latest blood tests and enlarged to monstrous proportions - and shook her head. The cure should have worked. Every scientific fact that they had gathered testified to that point.
Unfortunately, the scientific community did not fully understand mutancy yet. After all, how did a person generate frozen H20 from nowhere and manipulate it like a trained dog? How did a person control the electro-magnetic forces of the Earth?
Moira had been trying to understand the science of mutancy for many years, and she was still baffled - and now there was a disease that was just as incomprehensible.
The holo-chamber door slid open and she looked over, irked that someone would interrupt her despite her insistence that she not be disturbed.
"Sean Cassidy, what in blazes are ye doing here?" she asked in frank wonderment.
The blond Irishman grinned his easy, comforting smile. Dressed in jeans and a thick wool sweater, he was just about the most welcome sight she could have imagined right then. "Well, Moira, a little bird tol' me tha' ye were working yerself to death and tha' they needed someone ta come here tha' you'd listen ta." He grinned broadly. "Why they called me, I don' know."
Moira couldn't help but laugh. "Which little bird was it? I might need t'pluck some feathers..."
Sean rolled his eyes. "'Fraid I can't tell ye tha'." He walked into the room and looked around at the dazzlingly detailed holo-display. "Is it my imagination, or has the resolution improved in here?"
Moira nodded slowly. "Stark Enterprises provided us with a high-res emitter."
Banshee looked suitable impressed. "I did not know tha' Stark had so much money to throw around. I'm surprised Emma hasn't homed in on him yet," he joked.
Moira's expression became tight. "How is the little trollop? Managed to barter those kids' souls to the devil yet?"
Sean laughed. "No, I keep an eye on her. She's not bad..." He considered it. "Well, she's not tha' bad."
"If ye say so, Sean."
"So, how long has it been since ye ate?" he asked gently.
"Don't ye dare start smothering me, Sean. I dinnae need it," she told him rather vehemently. Her dark eyes locked with his face in a determined, stubborn glare.
Sean sighed heavily, his expression showing only concern. "I'm not talking about smothering ye, Moira. I'm talking about ye getting a bite to eat a wee bit o' shut eye. Ye'd be amazed at how much easier it is to think when ye're not concentrating so hard on staying awake."
Moira shivered and turned away from him. "I have too much wurk to do," she returned. "I'll sleep when Kitty's better."
Sean came to stand directly behind her, resting his hands on her shoulders. His touch was so gentle, so loving that even her barbed-wire defenses faltered. Her history with this man went back so far, so deep that even now she found herself disturbingly vulnerable to him.
"Why're ye doing this, Moira? Ye've always been passionate, but ye used to be smart too. Ye used to understand that killing yerself did not do your patients any good."
"This is different, Sean," she whispered, scribbling on he note pad.
"It just is," she hissed. "Now, please, I appreciate ye coming all this way, but I've got wurk to do," she told him.
Sean folded his arms stubbornly. "Come on, Moira. A hot meal and a nap, that's all I'm asking of ye."
The Scottish doctor rounded on him, her face taut with impatient fury. "I've got to do this, Sean. I *have* to save her. Don'cha see? She's got Legacy, Sean. Legacy Virus, same as me..." she trailed off, clearly on the verge of tears.
Sean Cassidy stared at her for a long moment, slowly understanding what he was hearing from her. He reached out for her, but she moved away, rejecting the comfort he offered. Sean's arms fell back to his sides limply. His heart ached, hurting for her now.
"Kitty did not get it from ye, Moira. It's not yer fault," he whispered.
"How do ye *know* that, Sean? We don't *know* how it's transmitted. Maybe she did catch it from me. Maybe my tests and restrictions weren't enough..."
Banshee grabbed her and held her to him, not relaxing until she finally slumped against his chest.
"What if she dies, Sean?" Moira sobbed. "What if I killed Kitty?"
Sean stroked her hair and tried to soothe her, rocking her back and forth as she cried. "Ye can't think like tha', Moira. Ye just can't. It'll eat ye up from the inside if ye do."
His words were scant comfort, though, and he knew it. Moira took all of her responsibilities very seriously, and if she had taken this one on, he would not be able to talk her out of it. The best he could do was quiet her and be there for her, which he gladly did. Later, he would get her food and make her rest, for that would weaken the grip of the guilt ripping her apart.
But Sean knew that if Kitty did die, Moira would never forgive herself.
The rain poured down on Muir Island in torrents, lashing the grasses and rocks with sheets of bitterly-cold water. The temperature dropped dramatically as the sun vanished seemingly forever behind the dark thunderheads. Lightening crashed in giant arcs that seemed to sunder the sky itself.
The few residents of Muir Island were unaffected, safe in the artificial warmth and protective shelter of the facility. And no one had the desire to go outside anyway. The scientists were consumed with their work, and everyone else was consumed with Kitty.
Excalibur had been told upon their return. And it had hit each one of them like one of Juggernaut's fists.
Kitty had decided to stop hiding the truth, mostly because she was starting to lose hope - though the fact that four of the world's top scientists had taken up residence along with a Galactus-sized-ship full of equipment had also made it hard to hide that something was wrong.
There had been tears from Meggan, and some had even been her own. The poor empath had been bombarded with everyone else's grief, and while they had been able to put on brave faces, Meggan had not been allowed that luxury.
Kitty lay in her bed now in the dark, listening to Pete in the bathroom brushing his teeth. She sniffled miserably and struggled to hold it together. She had done too much crying of late.
But the sound of Pete so close, doing something so normal, forced her to wonder how it might have been...if this had never happened. Would she and Pete have married? Would she have ever appreciated such a simple thing as hearing the swishing sound from the bathroom and knowing that her lover was nearby?
Kitty sniffled again, fighting back tears. When she had been told that she had Legacy, it had been only a confirmation of her fears. She had not let herself even think then that she might not survive it. Now, though, with weeks of failures from the scientists, she was forced to confront the idea that the world may just be going on without her.
Kitty turned her face into her pillow and cried softly, trying to muffle the sound so Pete would not hear, would not have to come in and comfort her like a child - even though right then she needed that comfort more than anything in the world.
Moira kicked the base of the table and threw her clipboard across the room, cursing loudly in frustration as yet another attempt showed failure. Six weeks of united effort had brought them no closer to a cure - even Reed had been unable to find a way to eliminate her X-factor without killing her.
Nothing was working...nothing.
Moira had never been so confounded. It was almost like the virus was some sort of sentient, malevolent being, dancing away from every blow they swung at it. Sometimes, she could almost see it grinning at her...
She shook her head reached for her coffee - and found the cup empty. She pulled off her glasses and rubbed her temples, feeling so exhausted that she might just collapse right there. How good that would feel...but no...there was no time for that.
She stood and collected her clipboard, setting it on her desk. Her office was quiet as a tomb, late as it was. Sean would probably be looking for her, trying to tuck her in. Moira gave the thought a weary smile, secretly appreciating her friend's attentions. To let him know that, however, would only encourage him to keep trying to mother her.
"I should go see what t'boys are up ta in the lab," she murmured and shuffled out the door.
Hank Pym and Reed Richards were the only ones still up, though they appeared to be flagging. Both men leaned against tables, sipping coffee and chatting quietly as their experiments continued around them. She was truly honored to work with such men. In a less critical situation in fact, she might have gotten girlishly excited and started acting foolish around them.
"Evening Hank, Reed," she greeted them.
"Moira," Reed smiled at her.
"Doctor," Hank Pym yawned. "You know, this research project could double as a research project for sleep deprivation."
Moira grinned. "Why don't ye get some shut eye, Hank."
"In a bit. I haven't been mocked quite enough by this blasted disease yet," he told her, his expression rueful.
"It is amazing," Reed put in. "I would never have guessed that there was anything that the five minds we've gathered could not cure."
"Och, don't be flattering me by counting me wit' ye," Moira told him. "I'm joost trying to keep up."
"I don't know about that, Moira, I mean-"
A sulfurous cloud exploded in the middle of the laboratory, issuing forth black, inky smoke. Kurt Wagner was suddenly among them. Dressed in his uniform togs, he looked like he had come to warn them of a battle.
"Moira, you must get to the infirmary," he urged, panicking. "Kitty has had another attack. She collapsed...I don't think she was breathing..."
Moira took off running, praying with her entire being that she and her fellow scientists had not failed in this most important battle. Deep in her heart, she was determined that they had not been beaten. She would not lose another patient to this killer.
And if I go away
What would still remain of me
The ghost within your eyes
The whisper in your sighs
And I'm always there
~~If I go away
To be concluded in Fade Out: Part 3 - Though Lovers Be Lost...
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