Seated in a chair, a bit of dignity she'd insisted on being allowed, Claire blanched and instantly stood when Logan carried Darien into the room. When her eyes told her everything around her was slowly revolving, she sat back down again just as quickly. A few seconds later she made another attempt, which also failed miserably. Xavier came to her and laid a comforting hand on her arm.
"You can relax, doctor. He's in the best hands."
"Not unless those hands are mine! What happened to him? How badly is he hurt?"
"One arm is broken and it's likely that he has a mild concussion, but nothing more serious than that."
"What? You don't consider a broken bone serious?"
"Of course I do. I was trying to reassure you that his life is not in danger..."
"I need to see that for myself." She countered fiercely.
"In case you've forgotten, Doctor Westerfield, you're still recovering as well." Jean tossed over her shoulder. "I can't deal with two patients at once, so please stay where you are for the moment, alright? I promise, I'll take good care of him."
Logan glanced from Claire to the table where Darien lay and got a gleam in his eye. He walked over, crouched in front of the distressed woman and spoke softly to her. When she nodded, he lifted her in his arms, holding her as carefully as he had held his injured friend minutes before.
"Storm, can you get her chair and put it beside the bed?"
Soon, Claire was settled in close to Darien, on the opposite side from Jean. The blond gave Logan a grateful smile.
"No problem. Professor. I'm gonna go clean up. I'll be back in a while."
"I must go as well, Charles." Storm added. "A member of our team ignored his responsibilities today and the sooner he is confronted, the better."
Xavier frowned, his expression becoming sad and slightly discouraged as he reflected on Scott's behavior.
"I agree, but if you're willing, I'd prefer you wait until I can be there as well. I have a few questions of my own I want answers to."
"Would after lunch be acceptable?"
"We'll eat in my office while we talk."
As Storm exited, the professor moved to the end of the bed and gazed with satisfaction at Darien.
"He did tremendously today. You can be very proud of him, doctor."
"I am. I always have been. He's so much braver and stronger than even he knows. I'm also terrified..."
"He really will be fine. I would never lie..." Jean put in.
"It isn't that." Xavier guessed. "It's his growing immunity to the medication. Am I correct, Doctor Westerfield?"
"Claire, please. He must have told you about the CounterAgent... his medication as you call it. I'm losing him day by day... and it breaks my heart." She sobbed, turning over his arm to examine the snake tattoo that measured the toxicity levels in his blood. "I don't know what to do anymore. I've tried everything, exhausted all my knowledge and expertise..."
"You haven't exhausted ours." Jean said, pausing in the process of cleaning various scrapes and cuts.
"What? What are you saying?"
"Charles... you're the leader here. I can't speak for you..."
"I believe what Jean is offering is her time and the school's resources to help find a permanent cure for what the Quicksilver is doing to Darien."
"But... oh my Lord. You barely know us. How can you..."
"Claire... they're the good guys. Say yes." A tired, weak voice admonished.
"Darien! Oh thank God... are you alright? How do you feel, sweetheart?"
"Like I was dog-piled by a herd of rhinos... otherwise, I'm peachy."
"You heard their proposition?"
"Yeah. It's fine with me. Even if I have to be poked and prodded more than I am now..."
"Alright. It's a deal. After we get home, I'll find some way to get you the records and files you'll need, professor..."
"Hold it, Claire." Darien interrupted. "I'll understand if you need to go. Your life is back there, your house... but I'm stayin' here."
"Very funny, Darien, but this is no time for jokes..."
"Who says I'm joking? I never belonged anywhere before... not even in my own family. Here... it feel like the first real home I ever had."
"Darien... you work for the Agency..."
"He hates me, you know that. If I stopped bringin' in the cash, I'd be gone in a heartbeat. Besides, I've been runnin' in circles for months at that place. I never really feel like what I do means anything. I could have a... a purpose here. I don't know if it'll pan out or not... but I won't ever find out if I leave."
"You only have one dose of the Counteragent left."
Darien turned to Jean, a hopeful expression lessening the effects of the abrasions and bruises on his face.
"If you took a little from the syringe you've got... could you make more?"
Jean smiled brightly.
"I wouldn't bet against me."
"Okay. It's settled, then. I'm staying. Claire?"
"I don't know..."
"Call Eberts. Get an update and then take some time to think about it. Like I said, this is what's right for me. I wouldn't blame you for goin' back and I won't be mad. I'll miss you like hell... but I won't be mad."
Claire gazed at him for a long time, suddenly seeing something in his eyes she was sure had never been there before. He had found something he was willing to fight for of his own free will.
"Is there a phone I can use?"
"Albert? You sound awful. What is it?"
"It's Robert. When you left, the Official... I can't stand this. It makes me so angry..."
"Just tell me." Claire encouraged hesitantly, sensing it was something she did not want to hear
"Robert was adamant that he had a right to know what had happened to Darien. He tried to search through the medical records, but the Official caught him. He's locked him in one the padded rooms with a no contact order in place."
"No contact... my God, he can't do that! He has no right! Is Bobby getting food, water..."
"And his medication, but that's all, I'm afraid. Noone is allowed to speak to him. Claire, you are both coming back soon? I have to believe he'll let Robert go when you return..."
"Yes... that issue is a bit muddy right now..."
"Muddy? How can it be muddy? You have to come back, Claire. You simply have to."
Claire shut her eyes, laid a weary hand on her forehead and moaned softly.
"What aren't you telling me?"
"Robert... he isn't doing well."
"That's properly vague. Clear it up for me."
"At first he just paced and talked constantly... to himself, to the walls... now he isn't talking at all... or moving very much."
"Oh no. I'll do everything I can, alright? I swear I'll try to help."
"Do it soon."
"I said I'd do my best. Goodbye, Albert."
As Claire hung up the phone, Darien was watching her anxiously from his infirmary bed.
"That sounded like trouble."
"More than I can handle, perhaps. Bobby got suspicious about the story the Official gave him to cover your sudden disappearance. When he was caught accessing your medical file, the heartless bastard threw Bobby into a padded cell and decreed that, outside of food and his pills, noone was to have any contact with him."
Darien paled making his bruises stand out starkly.
"And his mental state is deteriorating, of course... very quickly."
"Sounds like you and I have a rescue mission to plan."
"I heard everything. You wouldn't want some help with that, wouldya?"
"Yeah, roomie. I really would."
END (for now. Sequel to come)