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Warning: Rated PG-15 for references to drug use.
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"You'll be fine," Hank said softly, smoothing tangled braids back from a smooth forehead. "I promise you, Cecilia, you can beat this."
"I know that," she snapped irritably, but she smiled at him. "I'm the doctor here, McCoy. And a damn sight tougher than I look."
"Not possible, my dear," Hank grinned, helping her up off the examination table. The withdrawals were, he thought, beginning to fade. Cecilia hadn't noticed yet, but the periods of paranoia and hysteria were definitely shorter than they once had been, and she wasn't quite as debilitated afterwards. "For you to be tougher than you look, you would need to be constructed entirely of titanium and those very bouncy and indestructible rubber balls."
"Pff," she said, but she looked pleased. "Who says I'm not?"
"Well, let me see..." He dipped into a courtly bow, and kissed the back of her hand. Then he lifted his head and smiled toothily. "I believe you are flesh and blood after all, Doctor, with warm, soft skin."
She batted at him, eyes dropping for a moment. "Oh, stop it, McCoy." Perhaps she had some hitherto unnoticable touch of normal human vanity, as she looked into her reflection in one of the shiny steel surfaces of the lab, and sighed. "I look like shit warmed up."
"Oh, not quite THAT bad." He touched her cheek gently. "You WILL beat this, Cecilia," he promised her, voice fiercer than it usually was. "I will not permit this drug to steal your life from you."
"I know," she said softly. "Thank you, Hank."
"You are welcome," Hank said softly. "Now go, get some sleep. It's late, and you are very tired."
She nodded, for once not arguing, and slipped away. Hank sighed, pushing his glasses up onto his forehead so he could rub his eyes wearily. He was tired too. But he couldn't sleep.
He had too much work to do.
He headed for a wall-panel that looked just like all the others, and pressed what looked like a small dent in its upper corner. A small hidden cabinet sprang open and he sighed softly. First he reached for the eyedrops - his own work, not the inferior products purchased in drugstores. They soothed his eyes immediately, and he blinked a couple of times before he pushed his glasses back into place. Must be able to read the labels, after all.
There were six small bottles in the cabinet, all hand labeled. One to keep him awake. One to put him to sleep. One to wake him up quickly. One to control stress. Two spares, at the back. He'd made them all himself, many years ago, tested them all first on rats, then on himself. If he ever patented them, he suspected he'd make a small fortune. Just as long as he never tried to sell the last one, the one that had turned him blue. After that, he'd stopped inventing, and just kept using the stimulants and depressants he'd already formulated.
None of them were physically addictive.
And yet he needed them.
He was only one man. Yet he was an active member of a team of superheroes, a research scientist, an unofficial doctor, surgeon, and gynacologist, sometimes a teacher, often a friendly shoulder, and there were only so many hours in the day. There was so much to do. And nobody else could do the things he did.
He leaned his forehead against the cool metal of the panel beside the cabinet, and sighed. He'd started on ordinary, drugstore stimulants when he was nineteen. Trying to cope with the pressure of being an X-Man and a student and an obvious mutant had been difficult, and he had always been so tired ... But he'd gotten addicted to them, and it had been a brutal struggle to maintain a facade that not even the Professor could puncture while he tried to cope with the withdrawals on top of everything else.
That was when he had made biochemistry his field, and while he worked at the Brand Corporation he'd done a little ... private research. When he'd returned to the X-Men, it had been with an arsenal of weapons against the demons of weariness and stress that had plagued him before. And they'd all worked, worked well, which was why, when he'd come up with a potential cure for mutation, he'd had the hubris to test it on himself. He'd been doing so well, he'd gotten overconfident. No more.
He never would have managed the Legacy Virus without the pills. He'd had to go days without sleeping at all, just to keep from losing ground, against the virus, against the enemies of the X-Men, against his own need to repair this terrible ill. He'd had to pause in his research a few times to make new batches of the stimulants, but Xavier never looked at the bills for assorted chemicals and pieces of equipment, just paid them.
He trusted Hank, and Hank regretted having to mislead him even in so small a matter, but this was far too important to allow the Professor's foibles to get in the way. Of course Hank didn't LIKE taking the drugs as often as he'd had to, but it was necessary. And it had worked... he HAD found the cure...
He bit his lip as he took the bottle of keep-awakes, and went in search of water. He'd been working so hard that he'd forgotten to take his pill, and when everyone had come running in of course he hadn't been able to. If he'd taken his pill, he never would have missed the cues Piotr had given, his willingness to die for the sake of his dead sister. If he'd realized, Hank would have found a way to hide the syringe and its deadly contents in the cupboard with his pills. But he'd been so tired, and he'd forgotten to put it somewhere safe, and Piotr had died.
He wouldn't forget again, he promised himself, as he washed two of the pills down with some water. He would remain vigilant, every moment. Someone had to. Someone had to be paying attention, taking care of things. And if he needed the pills to do that, then he needed them. This wasn't like Rave - although he'd understood why Cecilia had needed the drug to keep herself and Charlotte going, just like he needed his pills to keep his team safe - but his pills weren't anything like the same thing. They weren't doing him any harm, and he could stop taking them without ill effects at any time.
As soon as he didn't need them anymore.
He could stop.
As soon as he wasn't needed any more.
Then he'd stop.