Withering Affections (Part Five)

By TheLostMaximoff

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. This is the last part so make sure to R/R. Thanks for all the reviews.

"Cess?" Mercury barely registered Surge's voice. She stood there staring at where Selene had been, her eyes glued to the spot like she could make the witch return if she stared hard enough.

"You okay?" asked Surge as she pulled herself up from the floor, her body soaking up the residual electricity in the air and using it to power her tired and aching muscles. Mercury didn't know how to answer Nori's question. Part of her wondered if she'd ever be okay again. She remembered that fantasy, remembered her perfect life with Kevin. It wasn't perfect though. Even concerning her fantasies, Cessily Kincaid still had to paint things brighter than they actually were. Maybe that was her fatal flaw, holding on too tightly to her innocence when it was time to just grow up.

"I wanted to kill her," replied Mercury without looking at Surge, "I wanted to kill her for what she did to me and to Kevin. God help me, I still do."

"We need to leave," explained Surge quietly. That was when someone crashed through one of the windows. Surge and the others watched as the man hit the floor and multiplied, each one spitting out another as they tumbled over themselves. The effect was somewhat comical as they eventually came to a stop and began helping each other up. By the time the commotion died down, twenty identical versions of Jamie Madrox stood before the New X-Men.

"Ye could've played that a wee bit smoother," reminded Wolfsbane as she and the original Multiple Man walked into the room.

"You know I don't have any control over which one comes out," replied Jamie, "Alright, boys, where is he?" The nineteen duplicates quickly pointed to the one kamikaze Jamie who had first jumped through the window and started all the fuss.

"You said there was danger," explained the duplicate, "C'mon, man, this is no time to sit around and play it safe. These kids were in trouble. We couldn't waste time gawking and standing about. We had to leap into the fire, sound the alarm, protect the family. We had to . . ."

"I drink too much coffee," muttered Madrox as he absorbed the well-meaning but overzealous duplicate.

"Excuse me," said Surge as she looked at Rahne, Jamie, and the nineteen other Jamies, "What the hell is going on?"

"I take it ye never met me boss," said Rahne with a grin, "This is Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man. We're yuir backup."

"You're a little late," explained Surge as she gestured to the rest of the room, "Bad guys are all gone now."

"Well, most of them," corrected Elixir as he came in dragging Wither's unconscious body behind him, "Poor kid's nuts. He needs some help."

"He needs a swift kick in the . . ." began Hellion but Mercury silenced him with a glare.

"Just get him some help," said Mercury quietly as she looked at Rahne, "Please."

"We know some people," assured one of the Jamies as he looked to Surge, "We've got all kinds of connections. Speaking of knowing people, how about we get to know one another hm?" The room fell completely silent.

"I know this place," continued the Jamie, "Sure some people might call it a little . . . 'risqué' but I think you're just the type who'd really . . ."

"Fer tha love o' God Almighty," said Rahne as she looked at the original Jamie, "She's not even bloody o' age yet, Jamie! Is that seriously all ye think about?"

"Alright, boys," said Jamie as he started absorbing all his duplicates for fear of something else being said that was not for the ears of anyone but him, "I think it's time everybody goes back in the box."

"I'm really, really tired," stated Surge as she looked at Madrox, "I'm so tired that I'm just going to skip over what you . . . he said."

"Thanks," replied Jamie, "Seriously, I got Doc Samson on speed-dial. We'll take care of your friend."

"Good," said Surge, "Let's get the hell out of here before those registration creeps show up."

XXXXX

It had been a few days since what had happened with Selene. Mercury had spent the time recovering. The amount of morphing she had done put a strain on her body. She felt like her muscles ached even though she didn't have any. All of the kids were kept informed about Kevin's whereabouts and his condition. The boy's mental stability had suffered a serious blow. With the mansion already overcrowded, Emma thought it best to let Dr. Samson and the other heroes handle Wither. Jamie had assured her that Samson was quite capable of tending to Kevin's needs even though X-Factor as a whole wasn't exactly on the best of terms with the X-Men. Still, Samson had placed Wither in the psych ward of one of SHIELD's facilities. Despite the New X-Men's suspicions about SHIELD, they couldn't deny that Kevin needed help and he stood a good chance of getting it while in the organization's care.

"I'm here to see Kevin Ford." Cessily watched the receptionist finish her typing. SHIELD had tried to make the place as friendly as possible. Mercury figured it was just to suck everyone in. She wondered when she got so distrustful and then she knew. She couldn't paint everything pretty anymore. The world was turning into an ugly place.

"I can take her," assured Dr. Leonard Samson as he greeted Mercury, "This way."

"Nice hair," commented Mercury.

"I get that a lot," assured Samson as he led Mercury down the hall lined with cells, "You get a dose of gamma radiation and something's bound to turn green. Maybe I'm lucky it was just my hair."

"Maybe," replied Cessily in a bored sort of tone. She felt numb inside and very unsure of what to expect or feel. Kevin had let Selene screw with her. Cessily had pleaded for it to stop and Kevin had simply stood there and done nothing. Cessily wanted to be angry at him for that. She wanted to hate him for the rest of her life but every time she tried to do so she just ended up hating herself. She should've just let him go. She should've just given up on him like everyone else had.

"We've put him on some medication," explained Samson, "Your friend has some very serious delusions, Miss Kincaid, and hallucinations to go along with them. We ask that you remain here for your own safety."

"So I can't see him?" asked Mercury for clarification.

"It might do some good," admitted Samson, "However, we can't risk the security breach. If therapy goes well then perhaps we'll let you another time."

"I understand," said Cessily, not hinting that there might not even be a next time. She looked through the Plexiglas and saw him sitting in a chair. The straightjacket was plastic or some other non-organic material. Cessily watched his eyes listlessly move to rest on her, seeing her yet not seeing her.

"Am I dead?" asked Wither as he started to register Mercury's presence.

"No," replied Mercury.

"I feel dead," confessed Wither, "I see ghosts in my dreams. What day is it?"

"Saturday," replied Mercury, "Kevin, do you know what's happened?" Wither's eyes suddenly turned dark but Cessily saw something else in them that she'd never seen before. Kevin Ford was afraid. He was genuinely and honestly afraid.

"You took her away," said Wither, "I needed her."

"You needed us, Kevin," said Mercury in an exasperated tone, "You didn't need her. You never needed her."

"I need you," said Kevin suddenly, "I look at these people and they look dead to me. I look in a mirror and I see a corpse staring back at me. You . . . I just see you. You're alive and I need you." It was what she always wanted him to say but it was too little and too late. Cessily knew that Kevin would never change. He would cling to whatever life raft he could in order to stay afloat. He was nothing but a scared child who had finally come face to face with his own mortality. Kevin Ford was no god nor was he a monster. In the end, Kevin Ford was just a scared kid who had thought himself invincible and only now understood how fragile he really was. Cessily wasn't going to get dragged down with him. Her fantasies of a life with him had been shattered.

"I would've loved to hear you say that months ago," admitted Mercury as she pressed herself against the glass, "I loved you, Kevin. Didn't you get that? Didn't you understand that I would've done anything for you?"

"Help me," begged Kevin as he suddenly got up and moved closer, "Please; you're all I have now."

"I begged you to stop her," reminded Cessily as she looked at him, "I was your friend, Kevin. I was your teammate. Why did you let her do that to me?"

"I was screwed up too," admitted Wither, "I wasn't . . . I didn't know what was happening."

"Is that the truth or an excuse?" asked Mercury.

"Both," admitted Kevin, "You shouldn't have followed me, Cess."

"Yeah, I know that now," said Mercury bitterly as she turned away. It was time to grow up and stop hanging on to her childish fantasies. It was time to stop wishing for the past when she could help shape the future.

"Cess, wait," begged Wither as he watched her go, "I need you. You have to stay."

"Things change, Kevin," replied Mercury as she turned and looked at him, "Things are always moving forward, always growing. The only things that don't ever change are the things that are dead. Life is about moving forward and growing. I hope some day you'll see that." She knew he only wanted her now because she was the stable force in a life of chaos. Kevin thought things could go back to the way they used to be. Cessily knew they couldn't and it was foolish to try.

XXXXX

"Ye look disappointed." Mercury exited the facility and saw Rahne Sinclair standing next to the car. Cessily didn't have her license yet so she had needed transport. She didn't really feel up to the task of asking Cyclops or Emma to assign her a driver. She had looked up X-Factor in the phone book and asked Rahne if she could do it. Rahne had joked that it gave her an excuse to use the new car they had purchased because she'd be damned before she drove that Hummer around.

"Everything went like I expected," explained Mercury glumly, "It's just that . . ."

"I know," assured Rahne as both of them got into the car, "Have ye eaten yet, lass?"

"I don't eat," explained Mercury, "I mean sometimes I do but . . . it's not like I have organs anymore."

"Ye can watch then," said Rahne as she started up the car, "I happen ta be starvin' and I could probably use some coffee too." Cessily didn't say anything. She just watched the world pass her by from the safety and comfort of the passenger seat.

"I heard ye kids took on Nimrod," said Rahne, "That's a pretty big step up from the other junior classes."

"Yeah, not exactly what we had been trained for," admitted Cessily, "Santo won't shut up about it."

"Dunnae remember him as tha modest type," replied Rahne with a smile as she left the SHIELD compound behind them and turned towards Mutant Town, "How are things there?"

"We get by," assured Mercury, "I mean it's been hard because of . . . you know." Rahne simply nodded. Neither of them said anything for the rest of the drive.

XXXXX

"Ye haven't touched that coffee." Cessily gave Rahne a look that told the older girl they'd already discussed this subject and that Cessily didn't want to go over it again.

"It makes you feel human, huh?" asked Rahne as she gestured to the mug before Cessily.

"Yeah," admitted Cessily as she absently ran a finger around the rim of the mug, "It's silly I guess. I've had this mutation long enough to realize I'm not human anymore."

"I wouldnae say that," disagreed Rahne, "It takes a long time ta get used to. I still have a lot o' human habits."

"It's different for you," explained Cessily, "You can switch back."

"True," admitted Rahne as she took a bite of eggs.

"Tell me about back in the day," said Cessily suddenly after a few moments of silence.

"What would ye like ta know?" asked Rahne.

"Your first crush," said Cessily. Rahne smiled a little as she remembered him now. Samuel Guthrie always did have the bluest eyes she had ever seen in her life.

"Ye ever seen Jay Guthrie's brother, Sam?" asked Rahne.

"Seriously?" asked Cessily in return.

"Honest ta God," assured Rahne, "I knew him back when we were in the New Mutants together. He looked different back then but he was mostly the same as ever. Time changes ye but not all that much fer some. He's still a handsome lad."

"So did you ever . . .?" prompted Cessily, "I mean, did anything ever happen?"

"Sadly, no," replied Rahne with a shake of her head, "Sam was a nice one ta be sure but he was a tad oblivious and I was too shy. We both grew up, moved on."

"Yeah, I know about the oblivious ones," assured Cessily.

"Ye'll bounce back, lass," promised Rahne, "It takes a while but ye pull through." Cessily nodded, staring into her coffee before dipping a finger in it and swirling it around.

"Did you ever want to be an X-Man?" asked Cessily, "I mean really want to."

"It was different back then," explained Rahne, "Nobody really knew there were X-Men let alone where they lived. I came to Xavier's because Moira MacTaggert was my guardian. She knew I'd get help there."

"So what about later?" asked Cessily.

"None of us really knew tha risks," said Rahne, "The adults looked out fer us but, like you kids, we had our own adventures. We took care o' one another as best we could. We lost a couple along the way but I like ta think we pulled through. None of us wanted ta be X-Men I don't think but it happened all the same."

"Sometimes I think about leaving," admitted Cessily, "Lately . . . I've been thinking about it a lot."

"Do ye have any family?" asked Rahne.

"My parents don't want me," admitted Cessily, "I don't really want to be a burden to my other relatives. I guess I also feel like I'm letting the team down if I leave."

"Ye look out fer one another," said Rahne, "That's the thing 'bout families. Sometimes ye get ta pick them."

"Only if you're lucky," added Cessily with a sigh, "I should be getting back. I think maybe it's time to get back on the horse and give combat practice a try."

"Sounds good," agreed Rahne.

XXXXX

They didn't speak to one another on the drive back to the mansion. It left Cessily with her own thoughts. Strangely, she felt a sense of peace. Perhaps Sooraya had been right. Perhaps what didn't kill you did make you stronger.

"Ye know our number," said Rahne as she stopped at the gate, "Look us up some time if ye wanna talk."

"I will," assured Cessily. She moved to get out of the car but Rahne suddenly put a hand on her shoulder.

"A lot of people are gonna give ye advice," explained Rahne, "I don't want this ta sound like I'm doin' it out o' obligation. I'd just like ye ta remember something . . . something I wish I had remembered at yuir age."

"What's that?" asked Cessily as she looked at Rahne.

"Every enemy ye fight will try ta do the same thing," explained Rahne, "They do it different ways but it's all the same. They'll try ta break ye, try ta push ye to the limit and make ye do something ye'll regret later. Dunnae let them take away who ye are and turn ye into something ye're not."

"I won't," promised Cessily with a nod before getting out of the car and stepping through the front gate. She remembered the first time she had arrived at Xavier's. It seemed so incredibly long ago. She remembered her parents talking with Professor Xavier about "learning to control her powers". She knew that what they really meant was "learn to look human". Cessily knew there was no reason to be ashamed of her appearance. She couldn't live in the past forever.

"How are things?" Cessily saw Julian sitting on the front steps. She knew what he really meant.

"Kevin's . . . he's going to need help," explained Cessily, "He'll get it there I think."

"And you?" asked Julian.

"I think I already got help," admitted Cessily, "I didn't really know I needed it until I got it." She sat down next to Julian and watched as he tried holding a rubber ball in the air with his telekinesis. Cessily knew that Julian's powers were off. He was starting to get his precision back but strenuous use of his powers seemed to put him back at square one.

"I must've laid into you pretty good," joked Mercury as she saw that keeping the ball aloft for a minute was hard work for Hellion.

"You kicked my ass," admitted Julian.

"I'm sorry," apologized Cessily.

"No sweat," assured Julian with a shrug, "We're X-Men now. We gotta get used to this type of crap. It comes with the job."

"Thank you," said Cessily, "You look out for me a lot and it seems like I never get the chance to thank you for it."

"You do the same for me," assured Julian with a smile, "I gotta get to practice."

"I'd like to come too," said Cessily as she stood with him.

"You sure?" asked Julian skeptically.

"Yeah," admitted Cessily. It was time for her to grow up. Her childhood was over and it was time to put away schoolgirl crushes. Life was moving on and Cessily Kincaid was thankful for that. For the first time in a long time, she was strangely eager to see where it took her next.