Punishment: Chapter Ten

Anyone entering the MedLab within the next two hours would not have been able to understand a single word that was being said, unless that person was fluent in Cajun or voodoo. Gris-Gris used his imagination and his memory and had gotten started in his very first attempt at being a traiteur fairly quickly. Emil watched from the sidelines with a sinking feeling the whole time. Questa wasn't getting any better.

But Gris threw himself into healing the way he threw himself into anything he tried, and he refused to give up until absolutely necessary. He tried every combination of words and spells and prayers he could remember or make up. He finally collapsed, exhausted and defeated. He couldn't go on without rest.

Questa, still coughing and occasionally throwing up, looked at the older man, his blue eyes dull and weak. "I'm sorry..." he choked out.

"I know. So am I."

Gris went over to speak with Emil for a moment. "I can' do it. I can' save him." He hated the sound of the words; he wasn't the type to give up on anything he did and to admit he couldn't do it was a hard blow to his ego.

"You've tried everything?" Emil wrote on the paper. Gris nodded.

Emil closed his eyes and sent out a message to Jean. "He didn' succeed...he's not powerful 'nough...not as trained as Tante Mattie was..."

In the waiting area, Jean heard the words in her mind and sighed. "Emil just told me that his plan for Gris to help Questa didn't work."

"So...Questa's not any better?" Fifolet asked quietly.

Jean shook her head. "No. I guess it's up to him now. If he's strong enough to pull through this on his own, he will. If not..."

One by one the group filed into the MedLab. Hank took a look at Questa's vital signs. It seemed like the young assassin wasn't coughing or vomiting as much, but he was still very weak and had a very difficult time trying to get air into his lungs. Hank picked up the respirator.

"It can't hurt to try this again..."

Questa nodded and allowed Hank to adjust the respirator mask over his face again. Then Hank fixed the levels of medications in the respirator and turned it on. In a matter of minutes, Questa was relaxed enough to stop throwing up, but he wasn't anywhere near out of the woods yet. Once he was settled, Hank moved to check on his other patient.

"Well, Emil, your idea might have helped a little bit after all. I don't know what Gris-Gris did, but I couldn't get him that relaxed and calmed down before." Hank commented as he checked Emil's vital signs. "How are you feeling?"

"Chest and stomach hurt..." Emil wrote. "Not fair."

"What's not fair?" Jean asked from her spot on the other side of Emil's bed.

"I'd give him my respirator if it would help him."

"But you need it..." Jean protested.

A small shrug. "Questa wouldn't be in here if it wasn't for me. I'm the one who made Gris angry...again...and if I hadn't, he wouldn't have beaten me up and Questa wouldn't have gotten mad at him. Questa doesn't deserve to be as sick and hurt as he is. He's dying for cripe's sake and he shouldn't be!"

"Emil..." Jean and Theoren said in unison. This written outburst frightened them.

"Leave me alone." Emil wrote and then put the pencil down and closed his eyes.

Hank took charge of the situation again. "Okay...everybody out. This has been a trying few hours for my two patients, and they both need their rest...if Questa can stop coughing long enough to get some. I'm going to stay to make sure nothing goes wrong, but I suggest the rest of you get some sleep as well. I will notify you if anything happens."

Forty-five minutes after the rest of the guild filed out of the room, Emil opened his eyes again. He hadn't gone to sleep, mainly because Questa was still coughing frequently in spite of the respirator. Emil looked over to where Questa was lying in bed. He was picking up Questa's emotions clear as a bell and it pained him to no end. He could feel how sick Questa was, how weak he was getting, and he couldn't even talk to him. A quick look around showed Emil that Hank was studying some test results in his office with the door open so he could keep an eye on them.

Sensing his friend looking at him, Questa turned his head and looked at Emil. He managed a half-hearted smile. "It hurts worse'n anythin'..." he said loud enough so Emil could hear him over the two respirators. "I'm gon' die, ain' I...?"

Emil knew he couldn't be of much help, but he suddenly had an urge to sit by Questa's bed and try. And even though he knew he shouldn't, he pulled off his own respirator mask and tried to breathe. His lungs were weak but after an initial scream of pain which sent Hank flying out from his office in a flurry of blue fur, he discovered he could actually breathe somewhat better than Questa could, which was something.

"Emil what are you doing!" Hank demanded. "You shouldn't have taken that mask off! Your lungs aren't ready!"

"I'm breathin', ain' I?" Emil retorted in a pained voice as he got out of bed and into the chair Hank used that had wheels. He wheeled himself over to Questa's bed and smiled. Hank shook his head and went to the phone to call Jean, the Professor and the rest of the guild.

Questa was astonished by Emil's actions. "Never t'ink 'fore you act, do ya?"

"Nope. Wouldn' be me if I did." Emil replied. "Now I ain' gon' give de doc a coronary by sittin' up here too long...mainly b'cause I can' anyway...t'ink he might've been right 'bout my lungs not bein' ready, but it's too late now...merde it hurts...lissen t'me t'ough, kay? You gotta get better...you been punished 'nough dey ain' gon' do nothin' to ya...you jus' gotta get better now."

"I can' Emil...I can' breathe an' when I try...well...you've seen an' heard..." Questa choked out. He pulled the respirator off again. "Ain' no point in dis if I ain' gettin' better."

"Questa..." Emil's voice trailed off. He watched, helplessly, as Questa's body shuddered and spasmed in pain from a rough coughing fit. They both heard the doors of the MedLab open and close again behind the guild members, Jean and the professor, who joined them silently but kept their distance.

Hank moved over keep an eye on Questa's vital signs. The young assassin was dying, there was no doubt in anyone's mind, especially Emil, Jean and Xavier, who could all feel it. He was glad to note that Emil wasn't moving or talking too much. He didn't need to over-exert himself. Hank still had to suggest that Emil get back into bed though.

"Perhaps you should get back into bed, Emil. It's not doing you any good to be out."

Emil, who had taken Questa's hand in his, shook his head. "Non. You're right, it ain' doin' me any good, but..." he shook his head again. "I ain' leavin' him until..."

Hank sighed and nodded his approval. Jean moved over and stood behind Emil, her hand resting on his thin shoulder. He was weaker than he was letting on, and she knew it. Silently, the four other assassins moved position as well, lining up by the other side of Questa's bed.

Questa's coughing got much worse in the next hour. He could not get more than a little bit of air into his lungs at a time, and he coughed continually. He was in so much pain tears rolled down his cheeks and he wrapped his arms around himself. Within another hour, he was so weak he could barely keep his eyes open. He was literally coughing himself to death and it didn't seem like he could stop, but suddenly, he did. He looked at his family, thieves and assassins and X-Men alike, and realized he couldn't even say goodbye to them. His lungs had completely closed. He wasn't breathing. It was only a matter of very little time and he had to hurry. He pointed over to the pad of paper and pencil on Emil's bed, urgency showing plainly on his pale face.

Claude grabbed the paper and pencil and handed it to Questa quickly. They were all aware of how little time they had. He wanted to tell them something.

Questa hastily scribbled a note to them on the paper. "I'm sorry for putting you through so much in my life...thank you all for everything...you mean the world to me...I love you..."

Within seconds of finishing writing the note, Questa gave into the force that was calling him and closed his eyes. The monitor that was keeping tabs on his vital signs beeped one long steady beep moments later and when Hank turned it off, the room was left in complete silence.

Emil got up and climbed back into his bed. He was physically and emotionally exhausted. Tears were flowing in salty rivers down his cheeks. Feeling his friend die had been one of the most painful experiences he'd ever been through. The rest of the thieves surrounded his bed, their faces solemn, but said nothing. They knew Emil well enough to know he'd talk when he was ready to talk.

Without saying a word, Gris-Gris left the MedLab. He needed to get some air, and he didn't want to stick around while the rest of the guild reacted to Questa's death. He barely kept his emotions in check as he walked out of the mansion, and was unaware that he was being followed. Once outside, he walked around to the side of the mansion where no one could see him without coming around to look and sat down on the cool, damp grass and buried his face in his hands, his large body wracking with every sob.

Jean stayed out of view for a moment and let Gris mourn for his friend. "The assassins try so hard to be mean and vindictive and hateful...swearing assassins aren't supposed to care about anyone or anything...and most of the time they do a good job pretending, but deep down I always knew it was just an act. Questa taught me that."