Withering Affections

By TheLostMaximoff

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. Since my other New X-Men fic seemed to go over pretty well, I thought I'd try another one. R/R if it's good.

(Author's Note): Much like Angel's Requiem, this fic falls into that tiny continuity crack that's after "Mercury Rising/Falling" and before "Quest for Magik". Also, Jekyll is a real TV show that comes on BBC. It's only six episodes but you should check it out because it's awesome (and something I also don't own).


She couldn't sweat anymore. It had unnerved her at first but lots of things about her "condition" had unnerved Cessily Kincaid in the beginning. Tonight, Cessily considered it a blessing that she couldn't sweat because she would've surely woken up drowning in it if she could.

"Why?" whimpered Cessily as she reflexively curled up into a ball, "It hurts so much." Her sleeping patterns had been erratic ever since what had happened with the people from the Facility. Her body still ached and the nightmares plagued her even though she had been working with Emma Frost to try and alleviate them.

"Can't do it," mumbled Cessily as she absently got up from her bed. She had tried going to bed earlier to offset the fact that she was waking up every few hours from the nightmares. It was late but not late enough that everyone was in bed. Cessily moved over to a shelf and absently took down her copy of the school's yearbook. She randomly thumbed through the pages, mentally ticking off the students who were now dead. She took a long, hard look at the team photo of the Hellions. Brian was dead and God only knew where Kevin was now. Cessily bit her lip and allowed herself to have the childish fantasy that Kevin would've protected her from those monsters.

"No," whispered Cessily to herself as she shook her head, putting the yearbook back in its place and moving out into the hallway. Kevin wasn't coming back and he wouldn't have come to her rescue anyway. He was probably still too in love with Laurie to notice Cessily and her problems. Cessily wanted to be angry at Kevin for running out on them but she couldn't. It was always like her to blame herself for things.

"Yes," came the reply as Cessily knocked on the door belonging to Sooraya and Laura's room, "It is open." Mercury opened the door and stepped inside. She felt like she was walking in a fog that was half due to sleep-deprivation and half due to numbness.

"I need to talk," explained Cessily. Dust nodded and motioned that Cessily should sit down next to her. X-23's eyes didn't move from the TV screen but Laura still knew everything that was going on around her.

"What are you watching?" asked Mercury, "For that matter, when did you two get a TV in your room?"

"Jekyll," responded Laura in reference to the first question as she watched James Nesbitt cavort across the screen as the psychotic Mr. Hyde.

"Logan thought it would help Laura fit in if she had one," explained Sooraya as she answered the second question, "I do not care for it much but there are a few things I find enjoyable. Laura only likes this show."

"Lucky," mumbled Cessily, "Laura, can we talk?"

"Go ahead," replied X-23, her eyes never leaving the screen. Mercury sighed. At first, she didn't understand Laura. Sure, she had made the obligatory remarks about how she understood what X-23 was feeling because Cessily Kincaid was a nice, caring person and that was what nice, caring people did. She hadn't really understood it all until now, until she had to live a fraction of it.

"Laura," said Dust sternly. X-23 sighed and rolled her eyes, turning the volume on the TV down to where a normal human couldn't hear it but she still could. She swiveled around to look at Mercury. Cessily felt somewhat nervous as she gazed back at X-23.

"You are still suffering from what happened to you?" asked Dust although it was more a statement than a question.

"Yeah," confessed Mercury as she shuddered from the memories, "I just . . . I want to talk about it but I can't find the words."

"There aren't any," assured Laura, "You escaped. You lived. You were one of the lucky ones." X-23 wasn't one to discuss her past. She wasn't one to discuss anything period. However, she was willing to acknowledge that others had suffered a fate similar to her own and was still human enough to feel sympathy for them. It was a small amount of sympathy but that was all she could muster on anything.

"I don't feel lucky," admitted Cessily.

"There is a saying," offered Sooraya, "That which does not kill you makes you stronger."

"That thing is still out there," explained Mercury, "It's still running around wearing my skin, wearing a part of me. This isn't over."

"It never is," assured X-23, "You heal but it's never completely gone."

"Not exactly the cheeriest outlook," said Cessily sadly.

"I have known you long enough, Cessily," assured Dust, "You are strong enough to pull through this."

"Thanks," replied Mercury reflexively even though she only half believed it. The world wasn't as sunny anymore. She couldn't keep pretending everything was roses when things were very clearly going to Hell.

"Kevin called me," explained Cessily in a haphazard fashion, "The day of the candlelight thing, he called me. I tried to get him to stay and talk but he just wanted to know about Laurie."

"Did you talk to Miss Frost?" asked Dust. She, like the rest of the former Hellions, hadn't forgotten about their wayward teammate. Sooraya had kept Kevin in her prayers to Allah, asking Him to guide Wither home.

"Miss Frost doesn't care," stated Mercury, her voice having an uncharacteristically cold edge to it, "I talked to her about it before. She said she had people watching him but that's it."

"Perhaps that is all she can do," suggested Sooraya, "This place is not a prison, Cessily. People choose to come and go as they please."

"Tell that to the storm-troopers with their giant robots," reminded Mercury, "I dunno. I just wish he was here."

"So things would feel more like how they used to?" asked Dust, again more of a statement than a question.

"Yeah," admitted Mercury as she got up, "I think I'm going to go for a walk. Thanks for listening."

"Always," assured Sooraya. Dust turned to see that X-23 was once again enamored with the television.

"You could've been nicer to our guest," reminded Sooraya.

"I'll check on her if she's not back," assured Laura. Sooraya supposed she could settle for that.


Kevin Ford was an artist. Any man could make something from a chosen material. An artist could take lifeless things and make them breathe. Paradoxically, Wither could reduce that which could already breathe into a soulless, lifeless husk. Life and death were in the palms of his hands. He possessed the power to create and destroy. That was what made him an artist.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" asked Wither as he turned to his companion, "I mean the moonlight glinting off the skin, the contrast, everything." He did enjoy the challenge of working with this new medium. Living beings offered a whole new range of opportunities as opposed to metal. Before, Kevin would've been afraid to attempt such things. Artists shouldn't be afraid of challenging themselves.

"A masterpiece," assured Selene as she grinned at the corpse that was lying at their feet. Calling it a corpse was something of a complement at this point. The body was now nothing more than a skeleton with a few chunks of meat still remaining on it. What little flesh there still was couldn't help identify who the body had once been. Wither had made sure to leave no features intact.

"All thanks to you," assured Wither, "Where would an artist be without his faithful muse?"

"You honor me with your kind words, sir," replied Selene, "Must we stay here in this oh so boring town? Europe is quiet lovely this time of year. What better place to create your next masterpiece than in Paris or Venice?"

"I have something I need to take care of," confessed Wither.

"Yes," replied Selene with a sigh, "I would've thought you'd be over her by now, Kevin. Your old life is quite dead."

"She is nothing compared to you," assured Wither, "You have nothing to worry about." Selene leaned forward and kissed him. Wither had become used to the intoxicating feel of Selene's kisses. Kissing her was, in fact, the only time Kevin Ford felt at peace. The rest of his life was haunted by ghosts and visions of death at every turn. Selene was the only person Wither saw as an actual person, which was odd considering she was no less inhuman than he was.

"See that it stays that way," hissed Selene in Wither's ear, "I'll go eat while you take care of your business." Wither felt the blood rush to his head as Selene departed into the night. Feeding always left her hot. He figured he had just enough time to get everything done and still catch her while she was high from sucking the life out of someone. If he was lucky, Kevin might have another masterpiece finished before the night was done.


Mercury quickly realized there wasn't exactly much place for her to go in town. The Grindstone was rubble now thanks to Kimura's attack. Cessily sighed as she aimlessly walked down the streets of Salem Center, feeling as if everything was changing. Every mainstay of her life was disappearing and she was left in a sea of change with nothing to cling to.

"I'm way too young for this crap," muttered Mercury as she stared at the window display of an antique store and felt a strange kinship with the relics inside. She should just pack her things and leave. Nobody would blame her after what she'd suffered through. She didn't have any place to go though. Her parents had practically disowned her and she didn't want to be a burden to her other relatives.

"No way," said Mercury in disbelief as she saw something in the reflection of the store's window. It wasn't just a something. It was a someone. Mercury turned around to make sure it wasn't just a trick of the reflection or her imagination. It was really him. He was still in town. Cessily thought for sure that Wither was long gone. When Emma had told Mercury that she was keeping an eye on him, Cessily assumed he had already left for some other city.

"Kevin!" called out Mercury as she waved her hand. Wither turned and looked in her direction. He had stopped at a florist after leaving his masterpiece for the authorities to find the next morning. Fake flowers would have to do since his mutation and budget didn't allow for real ones. He turned in the direction of the familiar voice and saw her. Mercury was easy to spot, easier still for Kevin since she was one of a handful of people who didn't look like a corpse in his eyes. Still, it didn't mean he wanted to see Cessily. He was bidding his old life farewell, not trying to rekindle the dying embers. Selene had been right. His old life was dead now. So Kevin Ford did the only sensible thing he could do in this situation. Kevin Ford ran like hell.

"Wait!" shouted Cessily as she hurriedly crossed the street, morphing around whatever might be a hindrance to her pursuit. Why was he running? Could it be that Emma had been right about him? Did he really not want to come back? Mercury had little time to ponder such questions. Something tackled her into an alley.

"No!" whimpered Mercury as she heard the thing growl. She squeezed her eyes shut tight and felt herself curl up into a ball. She remembered the eyes of those things, those beasts that wore her liquid-metal flesh as their own. They were so utterly inhuman, so devoid of anything resembling emotion. All they knew was killing. Cessily knew those eyes would haunt her forever.

"Dunnae be afraid, lass," assured a faintly familiar voice, "Tis Rahne, Cessily. Rahne Sinclair. Ye surely haven't forgotten me."

"Rahne?" asked Mercury shakily as she felt herself start to relax, "What're you doing here?"

"Following Kevin," replied Wolfsbane, "Sorry fer the fright. Animal urges arenae easy ta control."

"Kevin," said Mercury, suddenly galvanized into action, "He's here. C'mon, we have to find him." Mercury moved to go after Wither but Rahne grabbed her arm.

"There're some things ye should know," explained Wolfsbane, "I work fer X-Factor Investigations. Miss Frost 'hired' me ta keep watch on Kevin."

"Where has he been?" demanded Mercury, "Why can't we take him in?"

"He popped back inta town a day or so ago," explained Wolfsbane, "I've been trackin' him since. Ye won't like what I saw."

"What has he done?" asked Mercury.

"That," replied Rahne as she gestured to the corpse lying in the alley, "Sure'n there's plenty more where that came from too."


He hadn't bothered to look back until he was at least a block away. When he did finally stop to catch his breath, Kevin Ford didn't see anything. He wondered if it might've been just his imagination. His mind often played tricks on him, telling him things were there when they clearly weren't. Wither let his breathing slow down as he leaned against a building.

"Business," muttered Wither as he pushed off the wall and returned to a leisurely pace, intent on keeping his appointment. He clutched the plastic flowers in his hand and returned to his sacred quest.

"Where do you think he's going?" asked Mercury as she and Wolfsbane watched Kevin from a rooftop.

"Cannae say," replied Rahne as she moved along the rooftops to follow Wither, her animal senses easily sniffing out his trail, "I'm surprised he's in town at all. He disappeared on me somehow. He was squatting in a condemned building in Mutant Town. He went in one day and never came out. The place didn't smell right."

"Back in that alley," said Mercury, "Do you think he really killed that woman?"

"'Fraid so, lass," said Wolfsbane as the two of them continued to follow Wither, "I'm sorry, Cessily, but yer friend is gone."

"I'm used to hearing that by now," assured Mercury coldly, "I think I'm starting to get numb to it."

"I've heard what's happened," assured Rahne, "We're all doin' our part, Cessily. Yer not as alone as ye might think."

"He's stopped," pointed out Mercury. Wolfsbane turned to see that Wither had indeed arrived at what was apparently his destined location. Rahne had been focusing her attention on her conversation with Cessily while her body had been following Kevin's scent. While her animal instincts could sometimes be a problem, Rahne found they came in handy from time to time.

"This place 'ave any meanin' fer him?" asked Wolfsbane as she pointed to the cemetery. Mercury stared at it solemnly, again thankful that she could no longer sweat. For someone who had spent so much time in the company of Death, Cessily Kincaid was still terrified of it.

"We couldn't bury Laurie at Xavier's with the others," explained Mercury, "Her mom wouldn't let us."