Punishment: Chapter Nine

After what seemed like an eternity to Theoren, who watched helplessly as Questa continued to cough in agony, Hank raced into the MedLab, his white lab coat half on and half off. Less than two minutes had passed, but every second counted. Questa was awake at this point, and from the time Theoren called for Hank until the second Hank arrived, all he could do was cough so hard tears were running down his cheeks. He had literally ripped the respirator mask off his face in an attempt to breathe.

"Theoren, out." Hank commanded. "Now."

Theo did as he was told and went to wake up the others. He hadn't gotten far when Jean's voice appeared in his mind. "I woke them, just stay there. They're all on their way down there, and so am I." Theoren nodded and sat down to wait.

Five minutes later, they were all there. Bella Donna refused to move away from the doors of the MedLab, even though Theoren told her it wasn't pretty. Gris-Gris pretended he didn't care one way or the other. Fifolet and Singer looked torn between supporting Bel and supporting Gris and so did nothing. The thieves assembled in a group and Theoren told them that Emil had woken up and communicated by using paper and a pencil.

"How is he?" Mercy demanded immediately.

Theoren sighed. "Said his chest an' stomach still hurt, but everythin' else seems to be doin' better, so dat's good. He was worried 'bout Questa."

"What I wan' know is, why on earth did Questa suddenly start coughin' like dat? I mean man..." Genard commented.

"Pneumonia, Genard. Dat's why. He's extremely ill, which is somethin' he doesn' need right now, wit' all his injuries." Theoren commented. "I jus' hope Dr. McCoy can get him stable 'gain..."

Bella Donna turned away from the doors and faced the thieves. "He could die, couldn' he." She said, her voice quiet.

"Yes, Bel, he could." Jean answered as she walked into the waiting area. She had brought Professor Xavier with her, knowing that the guild might need counselling before the night was over. She was keeping her telepathy open to Questa's thoughts and brain waves, and she had to admit to herself that it didn't look good to her. He was not strong, and the medication Hank was using to try and beat the pneumonia didn't seem to be working.

Both Jean and Professor Xavier could sense Hank's growing frustration. They glanced at each other, worried. They both knew just how critical Questa was, and if Hank couldn't get him settled down...Jean shook her head. She didn't want to think about it.

Suddenly Emil's voice echoed in Jean's mind. "Jean? I'm scared...what's goin' on...I don' wan' bother Dr. McCoy but...dere's so much beepin' an'..."

"I know, Emil. I'm on my way in. Questa is very, very sick and Dr. McCoy's trying to stabilize him again." Jean thought back.

Jean excused herself and joined Hank and his two patients in the MedLab. "Sorry Hank, but Emil's scared and I thought it best if I come in and sit with him. I won't get in the way."

Hank looked frazzled. Questa still hadn't stopped coughing and had thrown up as well. There was blood everywhere. "It's alright my friend. I just wish you could take Emil out of here...this is no place for either of you, I'm afraid."

Emil grabbed the pencil and scribbled something on the pad of paper he'd used before to speak with Theoren. Jean noticed the movement and read what he had written when he was finished.

"He's dying..."

Tears had welled up in Emil's eyes. He had inherited a powerful type of empathy from Tante Mattie when she passed away six months prior, and he wasn't stupid. He could feel as well as Jean could that their friend was going to die if he didn't stop coughing and throwing up. If he didn't start to breathe. Jean ran a gentle hand through Emil's hair and smiled sadly at him.

"I'm afraid so, Emil. But I promise you, Hank is doing everything he can, and will continue to do everything he can, to ensure it doesn't come to that, okay?"

"Okay." Emil wrote. He trusted Jean, and knew she was telling the truth. He reached up with his free hand and caught Jean's hand in it. He held tightly to her, forgetting his own pain and discomfort, ignoring his own injuries. The fear and misery and pain was so strong radiating from Questa that Emil couldn't focus on anything else. Jean and Emil sat there for the next hour, waiting and watching while Hank did everything he could think of to save the young assassin.

Finally, he looked at Jean. "Jean? I'm out of options. I can't get him to relax, and until he relaxes, he's going to continue coughing and vomiting."

"I know, Hank." Jean whispered. "The only thing I can do would be to enter his mind and shut it off, so he'd sleep, but I can't guarantee that will work. Theoren said Questa was asleep when he first started coughing."

"That is true." Hank sighed. "And as that is the case, there is nothing more I can do for him."

Emil suddenly pulled on Jean's arm. He had been writing something while listening to them and he showed Jean the paper. It read, quite simply,

"Get Gris-Gris. Now."

Jean and Hank both looked skeptical. "Oh Emil...I don't know if that's such a good idea..." Jean said. Emil silenced her with one sharp look. Jean knew that look only too well and gave in. Emil was the youngest of the thieves, as well as an only child. He had been considerably spoiled all his life and was accustomed to getting what he wanted. In this case, he wanted Gris-Gris. So Jean walked out of the MedLab, with Hank in tow.


Everyone looked up. Jean let Hank explain Questa's condition to them and watched in sympathetic silence as most of them had to force back tears.

"I have done everything I can do and then some for Questa at this time." Hank said. "His body cannot relax, and because of that, he is continually coughing and vomiting, which in turn is making his other injuries worse. Essentially, he is dying and I can't stop it."

"However, Emil is awake and he knows all this. He seems to think one of you has the ability to help Questa." Jean continued, looking directly into Gris-Gris' dark brown eyes.

Gris broke eye contact and looked at the floor. Jean sensed his hesitation but it wasn't from his hatred of Emil or his anger at Questa. He was hesitating from uncertainty. With everyone looking at him, he buckled and went to the door of the MedLab. "Don' follow me." He warned.

First, Gris looked at Questa, who was lying in bed coughing and throwing up and crying almost all at once. Gris' hard old heart nearly broke at the sight. He might have been angry with the young man, but in his own way, Gris loved Questa and hated to see him like that. He blinked hard and turned to Emil.

"Help him." Emil wrote on the pad.

"How?!" Gris demanded, his voice breaking. Emil was astonished. For the first time since he'd first met the large man, Gris was showing emotion other than anger and hatred. He actually cared. It was unheard of.

"She left you all her books...everything she knew was in them...and even if they don't know it, I know you've been studying them."

Gris shook his head. "Lapin...you're crazy! I can'...!"

Emil glared. "Oh grow up, would you?" He wrote. "She left me her powers for a reason, because she knew I could do it. She knew I could handle it. For the same reason, she left you her books and spells. You are the only one of us capable of being as powerful a healer as she was. You've been studying it for months and you already knew a lot of it anyway. Dr. McCoy can't help him. Now it's your turn. Try."

Gris started to shake his head, but stopped when he read the next thing Emil wrote to him. "Tante Mattie always said cajun traiteurs were better than any doctor in any hospital. Prove it. Not just to the rest of us, but to yourself. Believe that you can do it. She had faith in you. Show her she wasn't wrong."

"I don' have anythin' I'd need..." Gris protested mildly. He already knew he was going to do it, but he didn't quite know how.

"Improvize." Emil wrote.

Gris rolled his eyes. "You got an answer for everythin'?"


"Okay, okay. B'cause you talked me into it an' b'cause I love dat kid even if I am pissed off at him." Gris conceded. "I jus' hope your idea didn' come to you too late..."