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Eleven - Slow Recovery

Kevin glanced over at Ella's sleeping form next to him on the plane. In less than an hour, the three of them would be landing in Orlando. He’d called Brian right after arranging the return flight.

“How’s Ella doing?” Brian asked.

Kevin glanced at Ella’s sleeping form on the hospital bed. “I’m being truthful here. She’s an emotional mess, Brian.”

“I can imagine.”

“Bri, listen,” Kevin began, “When we get back, she’s going to need a lot of help.”

“I’d be more than willing, Kevin. I know Nick and AJ would, too.”

Kevin smiled. “Thanks, Bri. We’ll see you in a few hours.”

~~~

Kevin held open the door to his apartment for Ella. He was grateful that the tour was over at last, and they could have some time to heal and get over everything that had happened lately. Slowly but surely, Ella entered the apartment. Kevin shut and locked the door then turned just as Ella collapsed onto the couch. Fear clutched his chest and he raced to Ella’s suddenly lifeless body.

“Ella?”

There was no response. Carefully, Kevin lifted her into his arms and carried her into his room, since it was the only one with a bed that had covers on it. He removed her shoes, and then covered her with the sheet. Kevin bent forward and gently kissed Ella’s lips.

“Get some rest, Ella,” he whispered. “Everything will be all right soon.”

He sat back and brushed back a lock of frazzled red hair that had fallen on her face. Realizing his fatigue as well, Kevin slipped off his shoes and lay down beside her, wrapping one arm protectively around her. Soon, he was asleep.

~~~

Ella slid sleepily into the living room fresh from her nap. Glancing at the clock, she realized she’d been asleep for three hours. She sank onto the couch with a quiet moan. Almost immediately, she felt a presence beside her and looked up to see Kevin sitting there, a protective look on his face and love in his eyes. In his hand he held a bowl of homemade potato soup. He held it out and offered it to her.

“You hungry?” he asked. “I just made it. I’m attempting chocolate chip cookies and hopefully I won’t burn them.”

Ella smiled and took the bowl from him. “Thank you, Kevin.”

Kevin smiled back and patted her leg in comfort, then stood and headed back to the kitchen. Ella hadn’t realized how hungry she was until she put the first spoonful of soup in her mouth. It was delicious and the bowl was soon empty. She had just entered the kitchen for a second bowl of soup when the doorbell rang.

“Who could that be?” Kevin wondered as he headed to the door. He opened the door to see Brian standing on the other side.

“Brian! Hey, I didn’t expect you over. Come on in. Want some potato soup? I just made some.”

“No thanks,” Brian politely declined, “I just ate. I just wanted to stop by and see how you and Ella are doing.”

“Well, we just woke up from a nap a little while ago,” Kevin replied.

“I can tell,” Brian smirked. “Your hair’s a mess. What’d you do? Sleep standing on your head?”

Ella entered the room and smiled at him. “Hi, Brian. You doing all right?”

“I’m fine. I should be the one asking you that question. Are you doing all right?”

Ella shrugged and flicked her gaze to Kevin before lowering it.

That good, huh? Brian asked Kevin.

Ella crossed her arms over her chest, shivering a bit. Brian caught an echo of painful memories. Shaking her head against them, she gave Brian a shallow smile. "Um, Kevin is making cookies; maybe you'd like to have some for dessert."

"Oh, the cookies!" Kevin exclaimed, running to the kitchen.

Brian laughed as Kevin ran to the kitchen. “Kevin’s making cookies? You can’t be serious.”

Ella nodded, her smile widening slightly. “It’s true.”

Brian wasn't fooled by her shift in topic, but he decided to give her a little space. Obviously she was still quite shaken, and it would take time.

“Phew! Saved them!” Kevin called from the kitchen. “They should be cool enough in a little bit.”

“Good. This should be interesting, tasting your cookies.”

“Funny, Brian. Real funny.”

“I aim to please,” Brian said with a smirk as he and Ella entered the kitchen.

Kevin groaned. “You are most definitely Harry’s little brother. No one can act like that and not be related to him.”

Brian laughed and Ella managed a small smile. Kevin shook his head as he moved the cookies onto a cooling rack. Knowing not much talking would be going on, Kevin flipped on the radio on the table that he’d tuned to a favorite station. Once the cookies were cool, Kevin handed one to Brian and Ella.

“Mmm, these are good, Kev,” Brian said.

“They are,” Ella agreed.

Suddenly Brian cried out; the cookie fell from his hand and he doubled over, one hand on his knee, the other clutching his midsection. His breath came in short gasps as agonizing pain shot right through his body. Ella and Kevin were at his sides immediately, supporting him until the pain passed. At last, Brian was able to straighten, but wobbled a little and leaned into Kevin.

“I wasn’t expecting that.”

“From the look on your face when you doubled over,” Kevin remarked, “I’m surprised you didn’t pass out.”

“I think I almost did,” Brian quietly admitted.

“They weren’t that bad… were they?” Kevin asked.

Brian smiled and shook his head. “No, the cookie was good. This is… like what happened in the studio, only worse.”

“Maybe you should get some rest, Brian,” Ella suggested.

“No,” Brian insisted, “I’m all right now. I should probably head back home.”

Ella stood in front of Brian and looked into his eyes. “Brian, I would feel better if you stayed here and got some rest. I don’t want to risk this happening again on your way home and no one could help you.”

Brian sighed, knowing he wouldn’t win this. He nodded and Kevin led him to the spare bedroom that had been his when they had roomed together. Kevin slowly lowered him onto the bed. He’d originally gotten it ready for Ella, but from the look of things now, Brian would need it more.

“You call me if you need something, okay?”

Brian nodded slowly and Kevin left. Brian kicked off his shoes and lay down on his back. In shock, he felt the familiar tingle down his spine and rolled over onto his side. He gripped the side of the bed tightly as he muffled his cry of pain into the pillow. That had never happened before, feeling two bouts of pain right after each other. After this one was over, he weakly uncurled and relaxed against the pillow, falling asleep quickly.

~~~

He could faintly hear someone calling him back into consciousness.

“Brian, honey, wake up.”

Brian moaned quietly but stayed on his side. He didn’t want to wake up. Back there was the pain that hurt his body; back there were lies that still stung, although the sting was going away. But back there was also…

“Baby duck, it’s mom. Wake up, honey.”

“Mom?”

“That’s right, honey,” Jackie softly replied. “Now let me see your baby blues.”

Brian moaned again, but opened his eyes and slowly rolled over to look at her. Jackie smiled at him. He looked a little pale but he was well rested.

“Kevin told me about the pain. Do you know why it happened?”

He slowly shook his head. “No,” he replied honestly, “I don’t know why it’s happened, but it’s the third time. Actually, the fourth time; it happened again once I laid down.” He sat up gingerly, hoping that the pain wouldn’t come again. “Is dad here?”

“No. He went to the store; we noticed you were almost out of food.”

Brian nodded and sat up. “I miss Ro.”

“Where is she?” Jackie inquired.

“She went back to rejoin the X-men for a while,” Brian replied, “to help quell the rioting.”

"She's a very special woman," Jackie said, smiling.

Brian grinned, agreeing with her completely. He sensed another presence and looked up to see Ella standing in the doorway, timidly leaning against the frame.

“Hi, Ella,” he greeted.

“Hi,” Ella said quietly, “I just wanted to check if everything was all right.” She self-consciously pushed a strand of hair back behind her ear, then glanced at Jackie.

"Ella, this is my mom, Jackie. Mom... this is Ella Winters.”

Ella nodded a greeting but didn't move into the room. She picked at the bandage on her right hand and attempted a smile. Jackie smiled warmly, remembering what Kevin had told her in private earlier. The young woman had been through a terrible time, and was still a bit gun-shy.

"Hey, is he awake?" came a deep voice from the hallway. Ella jumped back, startled, as a hand touched her shoulder.

Brian frowned at the sudden burst of panic that flashed from Ella; it was only Kevin. Her reaction told him more than any line of questions could about how she was really doing.

He stood. “Ella?”

"Baby, what's wrong?" Kevin said a second later, his emerald eyes wide at the unexpected reaction.

"S-sorry," Ella said, stepping back a bit. "I didn't, um, hear you."

Brian thought about what she'd just said. As an empath, she should have known Kevin was there... which meant that she had all her mental shields up in full, blocking out even the simplest impressions. The experience at the cafe had truly shaken her to the core, and he was sure that no one, except himself, perhaps, could truly understand what she was suffering. Tentatively, delicately, he sent out a mental tendril to test his theory. When he was met with a solid, impenetrable wall of black nothingness, he knew that her senses were locked down tight.

Ella could feel his probe and gasped quietly, backing away. She wrenched out of Kevin's grasp and fled down the hallway towards the bedroom. Kevin, confused, hesitated only a moment before following. Brian sighed; if he was to help Ella, he had a lot of work to do.

~~~

Ella sat up with a gasp. Her body was covered in perspiration and she was shivering from the fear of the nightmare. Looking around, she remembered where she was; at Kevin’s apartment, and Kevin was sleeping alongside her, trying to protect her. Carefully and quietly, she slipped out of bed and into her slippers and robe. She gently opened the door and headed for the living room. Thankful that no one else was there, she curled up on the couch and began to cry.

Through her tears, she vaguely heard a door open and a quiet southern drawl call out. “Ella?”

She sniffled once and looked up. Brian was walking toward her, his face a mask of concern.

Brian sat gently beside her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Nightmare?”

Ella nodded. “I-it gets worse ev-every time.”

“You don’t have to be afraid to talk to someone about it,” Brian told her. “Kevin’s here for you.”

“He wouldn’t understand,” Ella said, “No one does… except… you, maybe.”

Brian began rubbing his hand up and down her back. Ella found comfort in the simple touch and wasn’t afraid for the first time since the riot. She leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed softly.

“Ella?”

“Mm?”

“Would you be willing to share some of this with me?” Brian asked.

She drew back a bit, looking into his blue eyes. "Brian," she said softly, "I can't ask you to take on more pain. You're already hurting, and exhausted from earlier." She shivered. "And even if I share just a little bit... well, I'm afraid that it hurts too much right now. I can't filter it for you."

"Ella, when I was alone, facing all that horrible fear and pain when I first ran away, it was terrible. I think having someone who understood... really understood... would have made a huge difference. I'm here for you now; you don't have to go through this alone, like I did."

Ella looked away, unsure and a little frightened.

Brian put a hand under her chin. “I want to help you, Ella. I’m sure it will be easier for you if you share it with someone else. And all my pain from before is gone now. All I can feel right now is yours. Even if I did feel a little pain, I would set it aside and try to help you. Trust me.”

"I do trust you," she said in a hushed whisper. "But..."

"El," he said evenly, "you know how important it is to share. You are constantly telling others to do exactly that. Now, it's your turn. You've helped a lot of people over time, let me help you."

Ella bit her lip and remained silent for half a minute. Then, finally, with wetness gathering in the corner of her eyes, she nodded. "Okay," she said. "Okay."

Brian reached out and took her undamaged hand between his own, and closed his eyes. With the most delicate of touches, he sent out an inquiry to Ella's mind.

When nothing solidified, he opened one eye and regarded her. "Ella..." he said in an urging tone.

"Sorry," she said, then shut her own eyes.

He tried again, this time having no problems entering her thoughts. Instantly he was assaulted by images, flashes of sights and sounds and sensations that nearly made him recoil in reaction. He held fast, though, and forced himself to remain open.


Angry shouts, loud noises of breaking glass and shattered peace... hate-filled faces, given to mad anger, wild eyes full of destruction and urgency. Sirens in the distance, then more breaking; shouts, cries, someone sobbing nearby. Flashes of light, the flicker of a flame... Fire!!... Heat, and a rush to escape, to run, to flee.... Panic and chaos, fighting to remain calm... find the exit, help others, and escape the hating mob...

A lone cry, one of pain and fear... she knows him, he's been coming to her cafe for years, his favorite is apple pie with cheese, he likes his coffee black with extra sugar, he... No! His fear surges, washing over her, she fights against it, resists the urge to run, to flee! Glass, fire, heat... pain, suddenly, from her hand... oh, the pain!!!

Grabbing a jacket, an arm... pulling against resistance, shouting encouragement... run, run! Another shattering of glass, then a muffled explosion nearby as the heat rises instantly. Door... door, where... hands, grabbing at her leg, at her arm… Waves of hatred crashing into her… mutant lover! Worthless trash! Burn!! Suddenly cool air, darkness, hands... helping hands, pulling her up... the man is safe, he's safe... the others are safe, too... but the hatred doesn't stop, she can feel it fuel the flames at her back, she wants to run, to hide, to go where no one can hate her any more... Pain eclipses the terrible fear, and darkness, oblivion, descends...

Brian reeled back as the images ceased. Running a shaking hand through his hair, he dimly registered Ella's sobs. He fought for control, to tame the sensations he'd just shared, but it wasn't easy. Slowly he forced his breathing to calm, and he shook off his nausea. He'd clearly felt the echoes of that terrible hate of the mob; it brought back memories he'd wanted buried.

Ella was bent over, sobbing as her arms wrapped around her middle. It was her distress that finally snapped him back to the present. Now, he knew why she was having such a hard time getting past it. No wonder she flinched from physical contact; no wonder she was plagued by nightmares and violent reactions.

Grimly, he clenched his jaw. She wouldn't have to deal with it alone, now that he knew, he understood. Carefully, cautiously, he reached out a hand and touched her on the shoulder. He was relieved when she didn't pull away, but rather leaned into his touch.

He embraced her in a gentle, supportive hug, and she leaned her head into his shoulder. They were in that same position minutes later when a sleepy, confused Kevin found the pair.

Brian sensed Kevin’s confusion—Ella had shut down most of her senses as soon as she was back in his arms—and explained.

I got through. She shared the memories with me.

Kevin nodded in understanding and headed to the kitchen; it was almost seven-thirty and no one was going back to sleep any time soon.

An hour later while Ella was in the shower after breakfast, the phone rang.

“Could you get that, Brian?” Kevin requested; he was at the sink doing dishes and his hands were soapy.

“Yep,” Brian picked up the phone. “Hello?”

“Hey, Brian!” Howie greeted. “I thought I was calling Kevin.”

“You did,” Brian replied. “I came to check on Kevin and Ella yesterday and ended up crashing here because I’d felt two bouts of pain right after the other.”

“Gosh, are you all right?” Howie asked.

“I’m fine, D,” Brian reassured him. His voice softened. “I got Ella to open up to me an hour ago. She’d just woken up from a nightmare and I could sense her fear.”

“Wow. Is she all right?”

Brian shivered as a memory surfaced unbidden. “She’s still a little shaken, but I think now that she’s shared what she’s gone through, things will start to get better. I’m sure with help from the other guys, she might progress pretty well.”

“Got any suggestions?” Howie inquired.

Kevin, guessing what Brian was talking about, suggested, “Invite the guys over for dinner, Bri.”

Brian nodded and passed the message along.

“All right, we’ll be there,” Howie said, and bid farewell.

~~~

Kevin stuck the food in the microwave just as the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it!” Brian called as he hurried to the door. Throwing it open, he smiled as he saw Nick sitting in his wheelchair, a bouquet of flowers in his lap for Ella. AJ pushed him inside, followed by Howie.

“Got some flowers for Ella,” Nick explained, motioning to the bouquet in his lap.

Brian smiled. “That was sweet, Nick. I’m sure she’ll love them.”

"Where is she?" the younger blond asked as they came into the living room.

"Well," Brian said as he crossed over to the couch, "I'm not sure. It's been a rough day so far, and I think she was taking a nap."

AJ considered his words for a moment. "She been having nightmares?"

Brian looked at him in surprise. "Yeah, how did you..."

"It wasn't that hard to guess," he said. "How's she doing now?"

"She... shared a little with me earlier," he said. "She's still very apprehensive about physical contact, she's only allowed Kevin to really touch her today, and me when I was sharing her thoughts."

Nick bit his lip, thinking. "Well, AJ is really good at helping with... with nightmares," he said, not looking Brian in the eye. "Maybe he could help her with hers?"

Brian smiled. "She's going to need everyone's help, bro. Yours too."

"Mine?" he said, startled. What on earth could he do?

“You can be her friend," Brian answered his unspoken question. "Maybe show her some of those sketches you've been doing, or talk to her about other stuff that has nothing to do with what happened up there."

"Brian," Howie said, his dark eyes full of concern, "was it really as bad as we saw on television?"

He nodded grimly. "It was that, and worse. And you have to remember, it wasn't just the violent acts, it was the very thoughts and emotions that she was susceptible to. You can't describe how terrible raw hatred is to feel, coming over you in waves."

Howie swallowed hard. "Monica told me that when they got her to the hospital, she wasn't even coherent."

"No doubt," Brian answered. "Look, maybe during dinner we can steer clear of what happened. She'll need to talk about it all, but she's only just begun to sort through it all."

"No problem," AJ said, nodding. Then he grinned. "Maybe I can tell her all about some of my more... interesting... romantic encounters lately!"

Brian smirked. "Good grief, Aje... I said distract her, not torture her further."

Even Nick joined in the laughter. Then, a minute later, Kevin emerged from the kitchen. "Just in time," he said. "What's so funny?"

"AJ's love life," Howie said, snickering.

Kevin paused, then rolled his eyes. "Please, we're about to eat here. No details, okay?"

"No respect!" AJ said dramatically. "Nobody appreciates a true artiste!"

"If you see one, let me know," Brian joked as he headed for the table to set it.

Nick wheeled his chair towards the dining room, then caught movement down the hallway. He paused, turned slightly, and gave a small smile.

"Hey, Ella," he said, waving his fingers slightly. "You hungry?"

"Um, yeah, I suppose," she said timidly. She came forward, managing a smile for the young blond.

"You wanna see some of my sketches after?" he asked hopefully. "I brought my sketchbook along... you know, just in case I got an idea."

She smiled, just a bit. "That might be nice, Nick, thanks."

Nick beamed, then offered his hand. After a second's hesitation she moved forward and took it. He eyed her bandage critically.

"That hurt much?"

She nodded. "I have some pills, but... it was burned as well as cut some. It hurts."

"No chopsticks for you tonight," he said.

For some reason, his sincere statement made her laugh. "That's okay," she said. "I think it will be a good dinner anyway."

"Come sit by me, I'll open your fortune cookie later."

"Well, hon, that's the best offer I've had all day, thanks. It's a deal."

Nick smiled, and remembered the flowers in his lap. He lifted the bouquet and handed it to Ella.

“I got you some flowers.”

Ella took them with a smile. “Thank you, Nick. They smell wonderful.”

Kevin, who had witnessed the entire exchange, smiled broadly. Nick had gotten her to converse, and to even use her favorite term of endearment. And it was beyond wonderful to see her laugh, even if it was just a little bit. With a grin, he beckoned them all to the table.

~~~

The meal had gone surprisingly well; Ella had managed to refrain from shying away from the conversation and the boisterous company. They had even gotten her to laugh several times, mostly thanks to AJ and his storytelling talents. By the time the group retired to the living room, she readily accepted Nick's hand and snuggled close to Kevin on the couch. The healing, for Ella, had finally begun.

~~~

Ella stepped into the bathroom around one thirty in the morning, needing to take her pain medication. She opened the mirror to reveal the medicine cabinet and pulled out a small orange tube that contained her pills. She popped two of the pills into her mouth, then reached for a cup from the cup dispenser and took a drink.

It hit her sharp and hard, like an arrow piercing her chest. Pain, and lots of it. She knew instantly it wasn't her own; Kevin had been sleeping peacefully only moments before, so she was certain it belonged to Brian.

Not worrying about being polite, she rushed to his room and opened the door, his need overriding her shyness. He was thrashing about, a series of low, pain-filled moans escaping his lips. But his pain puzzled her; it was different from something remembered. This pain seemed physical, generating from an odd source, one she couldn't pinpoint. He cried out suddenly and Ella raced to his side, trying to grasp for his hand with her good one.

“Brian!” she called to him. “Open your eyes and look at me!”

Brian’s eyes opened with a whimper and his agonized ice blue eyes met her dark blue ones. Ella squeezed his hand tightly in reassurance, letting him know that she was there. He opened his eyes only for a second, and then another wave of pain hit him, hard. She gasped at the resulting zap of pain she couldn't help but receive. Whatever it was, it was enough to take her breath away.

When it was over at last, Brian's head sank back against the pillow with an exhausted sigh, beads of sweat trickling down his face and soaking his shirt. Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked back up at Ella.

“Ella,” he weakly whispered.

“Shh,” she soothed. “Let me get you a cold washcloth, okay?”

Brian whimpered, but slowly nodded. As she headed for the bathroom, she could feel his weak probe brush her mind.

Don’t… tell Kevin…

I won’t, Ella promised as she soaked the cloth under cold water. She came back and sat down beside him. She gently took his face in one hand and slowly wiped away the sweat, cooling his face. He closed his eyes and a tired smile appeared on his lips.

“How long has this been going on, Brian?”

“Mm… a few days,” he replied. “I was able to go one day without any pain. This hurts so badly. It just started when I was changing back from a hawk to a human, but now… it’s almost every night. It rarely happens during the day, like what you and Kevin witnessed the other day.”

Ella stood again to wring out the cloth and put more cold water on it, sending wave after wave of comfort and calm to Brian through their empathic link. She came back with a small bowl of water so she wouldn’t have to get up all the time and leave him; she felt his fright every time she left.

When Brian was finally cooled down and relaxed, Ella stood to leave and go back to bed. Brian reached for her good hand in panic.

“Please… stay with me a little longer.”

The fear in his eyes of another attack melted her heart and she sat down beside him against the headboard. She guided his head into her lap and ran her fingers gently through his hair, remembering that it helped her go to sleep when she was a little girl. After several minutes, she heard Brian’s breathing even out and knew he was sleeping peacefully. She sent one final wave of calm toward him then repositioned him on the bed and headed back to Kevin’s room.

Brian woke up to an empty apartment. There was a note on his dresser from Ella.

Gone for a walk with Kevin. Back in half an hour. ~ Ella - 8:45 a.m.

Glancing at the clock, Brian saw that it was nine o’clock. Fifteen minutes before they got back. Just enough time for a quick flight, he thought as he opened a window. Catching his reflection in the window, he saw his eyes flash to a chocolate brown as he began to change. There was no pain as he changed this time, but he wasn’t sure how to take it. It was great, considering it had happened every other time he’d changed, but it got him wondering as he took flight whether something would happen after he got back. However, he refused to let it bother him and set his mind on the beauty of the flight.

Just as he reached the open window at returning, it struck him hard and he fell through the window to the floor, screeching in pain. Using what little strength he had, fighting against the attack, he took on his human body. It had never been this bad before; knives were being driven mercilessly into his body and he was powerless to stop it. Just before he lost consciousness, he called out to his fiancée.

Ro! Ororo, I need you! Come back!

~~~

Something cool and wet was pressing against his face. There were soft whispers further back, but he couldn’t pick them out. He tried to reach out, but he was so tired.

“I think he’s waking up,” a voice whispered.

A groan escaped his lips. He couldn’t recognize the voice yet, but it was tugging at his memory.

“Come on, Brian. Let me see your eyes.”

The cold cloth was taken away and he whimpered; it had felt so good. Brian forced his eyes open and waited for his vision to clear. He managed a weak smile when he recognized Ororo sitting above him.

“Hi.”

Ororo sighed with relief. “Hi,” she said. “I was worried you weren’t going to come out of it.”

“How long have I…”

“Several hours. Kevin panicked when he saw you unconscious and almost called an ambulance, but he stopped himself. He said he was afraid of what might happen if others found out.”

Brian closed his eyes for a few seconds, and then opened them again. “I’ve missed you.”

Ororo smiled. “But I’m here now. I heard you call me and came right away.”

“Thank you,” Brian whispered before he dropped off to sleep, still exhausted from the last attack.


Nick looked up as Ororo stepped out of the room. Kevin had called him and the others after he and Ella had found Brian.

“Is he all right?” Nick asked, his face pale.

“He’s exhausted,” Ro replied. “Whatever it was that happened, it took a whole lot out of him.”

"Does Ella know what happened? Can she tell?" Nick questioned. "Howie said she could understand things..."

“I don’t think Ella’s in any fit state to talk about it,” Kevin replied as he returned from his bedroom. “When we got back she could feel some of the pain still coming from him. Scared me to death, I thought she was having a heart attack! Then I found Brian."

“But what’s wrong with him?” Nick demanded anxiously.

Kevin sighed. “I don’t really know, Nick. He’s been attacked by agonizing pain several times in the past few days, but we don’t know what the cause is or why it’s happening. I’m worried it’ll get worse and… who knows what will happen?”

His words did little to reassure Nick, but the young blond knew they were honest. Since there was really nothing to be done, Nick, AJ and Howie headed over to Brian’s apartment, since Kevin’s apartment was getting crowded; none of them wanted to be far from their friend when he needed them.

The next morning, Brian awoke feeling a little wobbly but otherwise just fine. He stumbled into the living room and Ororo was immediately at his side assisting him to the couch. Brian protested the entire way that he was fine and didn't need help.

A few minutes later, the boys gathered together in Kev’s living room. Brian and Kevin gave Ro and Ella a farewell kiss and left them to planning the wedding then headed off to breakfast with the others, then on to spend a day at the studio.

Kevin and Brian returned home around nine thirty at night after a long but successful day at the studio. They paused in the living room and smiled. Ororo and Ella had fallen asleep with wedding catalogs scattered on the floor and the coffee table. Kevin glanced at one of the pictures in Ella’s lap and couldn’t stop the smile that filled his face. The model bride was wearing a simple short-sleeved ivory dress and lace veil with a bouquet of pink and white flowers in her hands.

I could see Ella in that, he thought.

“Yeah, I bet you could.”

Kevin jumped and looked up at Brian smirking at him as he held Ororo in his arms.

“Kevin, I don’t need to be a telepath to know what was going through your mind. All I had to do was look at that smile on your face and I knew.”

Kevin smiled sheepishly and gently lifted Ella into his arms and carried her into his room. He came to check on Brian just as he was climbing into bed, Ororo by his side.

“You think you’ll be okay tonight, Brian?”

“If not, I’ve got Ororo with me and Ella can sense my pain right away. But I’ve got a feeling I’ll be okay tonight.”

“All right then. Good night, Brian.”

“Good night, cous.”

~~~

“This isn’t working you guys,” Kevin pointed out. “It doesn’t sound right. It’s not complete with just a few of us singing, but it’s also too much with all of us going.”

“Let’s try breaking it up into parts,” AJ suggested. “Each of us takes a little bit and we’ll see how that goes?”

Kevin nodded in agreement. “All right, let’s do that. Nick, you start us off.”

Nick started singing his part, and paused when Kevin told him to so someone else could take over. It only took them two tries before they felt confident to try it a final time for recording.

“Let’s take a quick break first,” Kevin suggested. “Everyone get a drink so we don’t have any throat problems. I’m going to give Ella a call.”

“I’ll talk to Ro, see how everything is going,” Brian said.

“I still can’t believe you’re getting married, Rok,” AJ commented as they stepped outside the booth for a drink. “I never would have thought you’d be the first.”

Brian gave a half smile. “Well, things just… turned out that way.”

Kevin talked to Ella for a few minutes, then asked her to put Ororo on the phone so Brian could talk to her. Brian talked quietly with his fiancée for a few moments, and then Kevin watched his face and eyes light up with a smile at something Ororo had said.

“You found a dress you liked? That’s great, Ro; I can’t wait to see it… Yeah, I know. I have to wait till the wedding.”

After a few more minutes, Brian bid farewell and the boys headed back into the studio for the final recording. Nick started off.

“If we could make this world a better place do you think we would be like this?” he sang. “If we would care enough to make a change, you know we’d live in love and bliss.”

Brian closed his eyes and put a hand to his head as he felt a sudden wave of dizziness wash over him. It passed after a few seconds and he was able to pick up with the others, ignoring the dizziness and chalking it up to fatigue. They had been working for several hours, after all.

“Sometimes when we really care for someone, that’s how we should care for the world.”

He blinked several times; the words on the paper were starting to get fuzzy. He shook his head to clear it. Something was wrong with his hearing too, or was it just the headset? The voices of his friends sounded farther away.

The pain hit unexpectedly. At first, it was small, tolerable... but suddenly it turned into an explosion of anguish, relentless and overwhelming. He fell to his knees with an anguished cry. He thought he felt his friends beside him, but he couldn’t be sure of anything beyond the pain.

Ororo! he called out.

The sharp, hard pain pushed him beyond the bounds of consciousness and then, in an instant, the darkness descended without mercy.

~~~

Ororo!

Ororo dropped the book with a gasp of shock. She had heard Brian’s voice again, full of pain and nearing unconsciousness. She immediately looked to Ella and found her doubled over as a shriek of pain escaped her lips. Ororo was immediately by her side.

“How bad is it?”

Ella shook her head furiously, unable to speak, the pain was so terrible. Ororo could tell it was extreme if Ella couldn’t even answer. She rushed to the phone to call the boys, hoping to find out what happened.

~~~

“BRIAN!” The studio rang with the echoes of the four boys as they cried out to their fallen friend. Nick started forward in his chair, but AJ held him back as Kevin rushed to Brian’s side. Brian was deathly still, his face ghastly white and his breathing ragged.

Kevin knelt by Brian and placed a hand on his face, drawing it back immediately. “I need some cold water and a cloth! He’s burning up!”

A strangled cry came from Nick’s throat and he wheeled closer as AJ broke away to find a bottle of water and some kind of cloth. He met Kevin’s gaze and saw the raging fear in his emerald eyes. He’d never seen such fear in Kevin’s eyes before. Brian was as still as death and it was frightening. Both men were vaguely aware of someone’s phone ringing and Howie moving to answer it.

A bottle and cloth were thrust into Kevin’s hands; he immediately opened the bottle and poured the contents onto the cloth, thanking the heavens that their water had been put into an ice chest and the water was cold. He carefully lifted Brian with one arm and supported him against his chest and began to run the cold cloth over Brian’s face.

Not even a whimper as the cold water came in contact with his skin. Worry clouded Kevin’s features as he held Brian.

“What are we going to do?” Nick whispered.

Slowly, Kevin shook his head. When he spoke, Nick heard something that he’d never heard before in that man’s voice. Defeat.

“I don’t know, Nick.”

“Kevin.”

Kevin looked up as Howie knelt beside him, a cell phone in his hand.

“That was Ororo. She had heard Brian call out to her in her mind and wanted to know what had happened. She… she said Ella couldn’t even speak, the pain she sensed from Brian was so terrible.”

Kevin paled and tightened his grip on Brian. He looked down and saw that Brian was still as white as death. But he was breathing, and that at least gave Kevin a glimmer of hope. He had AJ wet the cloth again and gently dabbed at Brian’s face.

“We have to take him home,” Kevin said. “I’ve got a neighbor that’s a nurse. Maybe she can do something for him or at least I can see if she knows a mutant-friendly doctor.”

song: The World We Live In ~ Cleopatra

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