Disclaimer: Not mine, as nice as it would be
Summary: Alex is feverish, which he insists isn't unusual. Alex is wrong.
Alex flopped his head back onto the pillow dramatically.
“Look, I'm fine, okay. Fine. Completely normal. I get a bit over-warm sometimes. It happens all the time, and it always, always goes away by itself. So you can too. Now. Go away.”
Hank set the medical kit on Alex's bedside table, and demonstrated his complete disregard for Alex's words by placing the back of his large, fluffy hand on Alex's forehead. Alex retaliated by jutting out his lower jaw and blowing upwards, barely shifting the blue hair which was dangling over his eyes.
“Do you know how long the fever usually takes to break?” Hank asked, releasing Alex's forehead and turning instead to the box of medical torture devices he had brought with him.
“A couple of days, I guess.” Alex shrugged, then raised an eyebrow when Hank resurfaced from his medical kit with a thermometer.
“Open.” He instructed, waggling the device in the general direction of Alex's mouth.
Alex blinked at him.
“You cannot be serious.” He said slowly. “C'mon man, I just need to sleep it off. Sick people need sleep, and I'm not getting any while you're buzzing around here playing doctor.”
“I am a doctor!” Hank protested. “Just not an MD. But I've read all the same textbooks that medical students read, so I'm as good as qualified. Now open.”
“Make me.” Alex very nearly poked his tongue out, but stopped himself in case Hank took advantage of the few seconds he would need to have his mouth open.
“If you're going to be difficult, we could always do it the little kid way'” Hank said, pointedly letting his eyes drift towards the direction of Alex's nether regions. Alex's jaw dropped.
“You wouldn't!” He said, a combination of awe and horror tinging his voice.
“From what I've gathered, you're feeling quite weak at the moment. And since my change I'm more than usually strong, so I don't think I'd have much difficulty turning you over and holding you down... For your own well-being, and for the betterment of science, of course.”
“You...” Alex hesitated for a moment, then rolled his eyes. “Fine then, whatever you say, doctor.” he opened his mouth, and Hank placed the thermometer, tapping Alex's chin to close again.
“Given the way your body is constantly processing raw energy into plasma, I'd guess it's fairly normal for you to run a bit hotter than most people. It's probably nothing to worry about, but...”
“Thath wah I wath thrying ooo thay!” Alex mumbled, the words coming out misshapen by the glass device in his mouth. Hank had the gall to look amused.
“I was saying, it's probably nothing to worry about, but if there is something wrong it's probably best that we catch it now.”
Hank tapped Alex's jaw again, and Alex all-too-happily relinquished the thermometer, smacking his lips with exaggerated distaste once it was gone.
“Look, it freaked out a couple of my foster parents when I was little too, but they all got used to it in the end, and as nice as it is to have my own private Beast to nurse me better, I really just need to sleep. Why are you looking at it like that?”
Hank's brow was furrowed, tilting the thermometer from side to side in the light.
“Alex, how long did you say it normally took for your fever to break?”
Alex shrugged again. “A couple of days.”
“And how long have you been feeling poorly?”
“About a week.” Alex replied, then after a few seconds, added “Oh.”
“Alex, your fever is almost 107. That's not just a fever, that's hyperpyrexia. In a normal human I'd be pushing for immediate hospitalization. This isn't just running a bit hot, this is burning from the inside out. This is dangerous.”
Alex gave a nervous laugh. “Did anyone ever tell you that you've got a really awful bedside manner?”
Hank gave Alex what was probably supposed to be a stern look, but it mostly came across as worried.
“Alex, even with your unusual physiology, this is not safe. I'd like to get you into a cool bath right away. Is that alright?”
It was Alex's turn to look anxious. “Are you serious? You're not just messing with me because I'm being such a difficult patient?”
“Will you be okay to walk to the bathroom by yourself, or will you need a hand?” Hank pressed. Alex nodded, taking a deep breath and drawing on his well of bravado.
“I'll be fine, nothing to worry about.” Then, as if he were deliberately trying to demonstrate how wrong he was, Alex all but fell out of the bed. With unnaturally fast reflexes, Hank caught an arm around Alex's shoulders and held him firmly.
“Sorry,” Alex looked away, embarrassed. He probably would have blushed, had his face not been so flushed from the fever already. “I guess I tried to stand up too fast. Just give me a couple of seconds and I'll... Hey!”
The last came out as a startled exclamation, as Hank quickly and efficiently used his free hand to catch under Alex's knees and pick him up like a difficult three year old.
“No fair! You should warn a guy before trying something like that! You could have given me a heart attack or something!” Alex complained, but the overwhelming fatigue in his joints won out over his pride a few moments later. He wrapped one of his own arms around Hank's neck, and pressed his head into the cushion of Hank's shoulder.
“If I had warned you then you would have protested, and that would have made the whole maneuver even more difficult.” Hank replied, the smallest hint of a smile playing on his lips as he stomped the two of them off to the bathroom. Alex couldn't help but think that, before his transformation, Hank would never have even considered a stunt like that. Not just because Not-Blue-Hank lacked the physical upper body strength, but because he would have been too worried about causing offense.
Hank deposited Alex on the rim of the excessively large and ornate bath tub, (everything in Charles' house was large and ornate,) holding Alex's shoulder with one equally oversized hand.
“Are you going to be able to stay here without falling over while I get the bath sorted?” Hank asked, half teasing and half serious. Alex pouted and nodded, then watched as Hank turned on the taps and tested the temperature. It was hard to be completely sure, but from what Alex could tell he was adding an awful lot of cold and not a whole lot of hot. His body gave a small, anticipatory shiver, which Hank immediately noticed.
“It's okay, it's cool but not cold. I don't want to cause your blood vessels to constrict. That could just make things worse. You should probably strip down to your underthings.”
Alex blinked at the non-sequiteur.
“Underthings? You mean like, my boxers?” He looked down. Aside from his sweat pants, he was still wearing one of the prototype vests that Hank had made for him. It wasn't particularly comfortable, nor was it all that good at directing his plasma blasts, but it was still effective at stopping accidental misfires. He sighed. “I guess the vest isn't waterproof, huh?”
Hank looked startled for a moment, like he hadn't even noticed that Alex was wearing it.
“Oh! Uh... No, that version isn't. The real one will be, obviously, but at the moment we're still optimizing out the mechanism, and it's much easier to tweak if I don't have to work around all the extra insulation.” He twisted the taps off, then ran a hand through the water experimentally. “You shouldn't be wearing it while you sleep anyway. I can turn my back, if you're embarrassed?”
“Nah, it's okay.” he said, as he maneuvered out of his clothes, taking care not to overbalance like he had done when he was getting out of the bed. “Stripping around others isn't such a big deal after a couple of years in prison, ya know?”
A couple of seconds later, Hank was helping him into the bath. Alex got one foot in before he yanked it back.
“Fucking hell, Hank, I thought you said it wasn't that cold! What did you do, stick ice cubes in there while I wasn't looking?” He gave Hank a look of utter betrayal, which seemed to surprise him no end. Hank put his hand back in the water again, even though he had tested it only a few minutes before.
“It's not that cold,” Hank confirmed, “it just feels like it is because you're burning up. Honestly, if it weren't for your natural ability to withstand high levels of heat, you'd almost certainly be delirious by now.”
Alex huffed his disbelief, muttering, “you're the delirious one, if you think that's anything but freezing...” Even so, he slowly lowered himself into the water.
It was a strange sensation. The wet fur on the back of Hank's hand made an effective wash cloth, trailing paths of shocking, almost painful cold over his skin. Yet within seconds of Hank moving on, that same skin would feel dry and hot, craving more cool contact.
Alex tried to sink deeper into the water, but there was only so much of himself that could be submerged at one time. He sat up again, frustrated. As much as he craved the cold, it actually seemed to be making him feel worse. He was aware of the heat now, suffusing his body, pooling in his chest and his head, swirling out into his legs and to his fingers. He wanted to put the vest back on, to regain some measure of control.
Hank, meanwhile, was rambling on about convection and heat transference like it was a bedtime story. Alex tried to focus on what he was saying, but his mind and gaze kept wandering to the discarded vest.
“Of course, the energy doesn't just cease to exist once it transfers to the water,” Hank rambled on, pleasantly oblivious. “It's exciting the water particles in the immediate vicinity of your body, causing those particles to heat up. You're warming the water in the bath, even as it's cooling you down... Alex, why are you doing that with your hands?”
Alex looked at his hands in surprise. They were shaking. Not shivering from the cold, but actually shaking, like a little old lady trying to pour tea, or a drug addict who needed another fix.
“Maybe it's just 'cause I'm tired and I'm feeling like shit and you're just sitting there giving me a science lesson?” He squeezed his hands into fists to stop the shaking, but the exertion made his arms ache, so instead he thrust his hands under the water. He looked at the vest again. “Can I put that back on soon? Only I really don't think I'm safe to be around right now without it.”
Hank automatically reached out for it, but he stopped a few inches short when he realized that his arm was still dripping with bath water. He tilted his head to the side and pushed his glasses up, leaving a wet smear of hair on his nose.
“Alex, how long have you been wearing that vest? Before I made you take it off just now, I mean?”
Alex shrugged again.
“A few days, maybe? Since you took the proper one back to do more work on it.”
“So a bit over a week them?” Hank confirmed.
“I guess, why?”
Hank ignored the question, pushing on with his own. “And how long has it been since you last... Discharged your energy?”
Alex tried to smirk, but he had a feeling it came out more like a grimace. “You make it sound so dirty...” He tried to joke, but stopped under Hank's concerned gaze. “Probably when I was trying out your last lot of design changes. About the same time, I guess?”
“Alex, you can't wear the vest all the time, it's... Well... Okay. Your body is constantly turning all sorts of energy into plasma energy, all the time. Solar energy, food energy, all sorts of stuff. Then when you build up enough of that energy, you can release it in one of your blasts, right?”
Alex nodded silently.
“So those fevers you said you said you used to get all the time, they're what happens when you've stored up too much energy and can't get rid of it quickly enough.”
Alex nodded again. “Yeah, but they always went away by themselves, and I didn't have to do any blasts or anything to make them go away.”
“Precisely! It's like I've been saying: convection!” Hank enthused, like he was sharing the ultimate answer to every question ever asked. Alex raised a confused eyebrow, and Hank deflated a little, but continued. “I think that when your body builds up more energy than it needs, it sort of... sweats it out, through your skin, without you even knowing. You're probably leaking trace amounts of energy everywhere you go, exciting the air particles very slightly as you move.”
“Yeah, but...” Alex tried to interrupt, but Hank was on a science roll.
“But the vest works by trapping all your plasma energy. Do you see? It makes it completely impossible for your body to discharge anything without a conscious effort. So all the energy which normally just escapes naturally is still being trapped inside you. Your body has no option but to try and dissipate it through heat. Even if it causes you to spontaneously combust in the process.”
“So you mean that I... Wait. Is that actually a possibility? Could I really spontaneously combust? Because I could, then that's really something you should have said earlier!”
Hank looked displeased, like Alex had been focusing on entirely the wrong part of that little lecture. “Well anything's possible... We need to get you down to the bunker so you can burn off some of the excess energy.”
“But I'm not wearing the vest any more, and I'm in cold water, and you said just before that cold water is going to do the whole heat convection thing. Why can't I just stay here while it all just... Convects?” Alex argued. He didn't want to go down to the bunker. That was too much like giving in to the stupid energy. The last few days had been the first in his life where he felt like he had been in control of his abilities, and he was loath to give in. He gripped the edge of the tub firmly.
“Well, yes, the water is doing what it's supposed to, and without the vest your body is handling the energy naturally again, but you're already dangerously overloaded. You'd have to stay in a low energy environment for days with active cooling before you'd even get close to a healthy level again... And I think your symptoms are getting worse now that the vest isn't controlling them. You're already starting to lose muscular control.” Hank placed a hand over Alex's own, simultaneously soothing and drawing attention to Alex's uncontrollable shaking.
“Well fuck.” Alex said, dejected. Hank started at the sudden profanity.
“What? What's wrong?” the older boy asked. Alex sighed.
“It's stupid. I'm just being stupid. Forget about it.”
“Alex, if there's something I need to know, something which might affect your health... Something you're not telling me...”
Alex turned his head, so that he wouldn't have to look Hank in the eye. “Look, I thought that this time I was actually in control? Okay? I could wear the vest, and I would be able to use the power when I needed it, and that I would actually be in control for once in my whole stupid life.”
“But Alex, you are in control now. Your aim is always improving, and...”
“And the damn power still has me by the balls! If I don't let it free whenever it wants then it'll burn me up from the inside out. Because that's just how it works. It's strong, and it's pissed, and it's in control. Of me. Again.”
Alex could hear Hank shifting about nervously behind him.
“Look... This is really more of a Charles kind of problem, I'm better with physics and biology... But...” Hank sighed, scooping more of the cool water up and over Alex's shoulders. “Your power, it's like... Your lungs, right? You can control your lungs for a little while, take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds, but if you don't eventually breathe out again you'll faint.”
“Not actually helping.” Alex grumbled.
“Just... Let me finish. So the vest, it's like it's letting you hold your breath, and holding your breath is what stops you from drowning when you go swimming, or feeling nauseous when Sean takes his shoes off. It's giving you control in a a lot of really useful situations, but in the end you have to let your body do what it needs to do. Does that... Make sense?”
Alex tried to nod, but stopped when he realized that pretty much every movement was now making the energy in his chest swirl down to his gut, causing waves of nausea. He decided to try speaking instead.
“So you're saying that I've been holding my breath for too long, and I need to let it go before I suffocate?” He carefully adjusted himself until he could rest the side of his head against the cool tiles, and look at Hank from the corner of his eye.
“Yes! Precisely! Only... Not literally. It was a metaphor.”
One side of of Alex's mouth curled into a smile.
“I'm not that stupid.” he protested.
“Right. Of course, I didn't mean... Sorry. I just really think we should go down to the bunker now. You're looking very flushed, and your skin's gone clammy. I think your body figured out that the vest is gone, and it's trying to make up for lost time. Do you... I mean, I could carry you there, if you like?”
Alex very seriously considered the offer. Hank had a point, his power was definitely making up for the days he had kept it locked away. Every part of him felt heavy and weak, like his internal organs had been replaced with liquid lead, and his vision was starting to swim. He couldn't help but feel that if Hank weren't there being so damn stable and knowledgeable, he'd probably be having a panic attack right about now.
“Could you just... Help me walk there?”
Hank nodded, and then Alex felt himself being hauled out of the water, and being supported as he staggered along through the mansion.
It seemed like forever and no time at all, but when he felt himself being lowered to the ground in the bunker he grabbed at Hank's fur, gripping it like his life depended on it.
“Hank, I'm not sure if I'm really up to doing this...”
“Of course you can. You're in control here, okay? I'll be right outside, but I can't stay in here, it's not safe for me, so you need to let go now. Please Alex, I promise I'll be right outside, but you have to do this next part by yourself.”
Alex let go, mostly because Hank sounded so worried, and then the door closed and he was in the bunker by himself. Just him and his energy, and his energy really, really wanted out. He took a deep breath and held it, like Hank had been rambling on about earlier. Then he slowly released it, pushing air out until his lungs were empty.
Then he let go.
Alex poured himself inside out, the world turning hazy in stripes and swirls of saturated red, engulfing him in the havoc that was his namesake. He tried to breathe in again, and panicked when he realized that there was no air to be had. It seemed unending, making the atmosphere thick and viscous, but then as suddenly as it had started, the energy was gone.
He gasped. Everything ached. Even his skin was heavy, and he wondered his muscles had wasted away in the heat, if his spine had dissolved leaving him with nothing to keep him upright. He forced himself to breathe, in and out, and again, and then the breaths were coming too quickly and he had to make a conscious effort not to hyperventilate. He felt freezing, every slight gust of air like an arctic blast over his exposed back, and his eyes burned with smoke and hot, embarrassing moisture. He was empty, bereft, a left over husk from which everything of value had been drained.
As if taking that thought as a challenge, Alex's stomach started to churn once again. He dropped to his knees as began to dry heave and wondered if maybe he actually was dying.
He was distracted from that thought by someone draping a warm, plush blanket around his shoulders, supporting his head and rubbing soothing circles over the empty place in his chest.
“That's enough now,” came a voice from behind him, and Alex realized that what he had assumed was a blanket was in fact Hank himself, wrapped around him from behind, almost completely encompassing his more diminutive form.
After a few moments the nausea faded and Alex leaned back into the warm body behind him, too exhausted to try anything more strenuous. He felt the soft, leathery texture of Hank's hand move up to rest on his forehead, and took the opportunity to let his head slump back against Hank's chest.
“Well the fever has certainly broken. If anything, you're cooling down too fast. Let's get you back into bed, heap you up with blankets.”
Alex tried to stand along with Hank, but his body refused to oblige. The world was starting to look like a badly tuned television screen, with snowy static everywhere, and just as he sensed that he was about to fall he felt his weight lifted up into the air, and the reassuring sound of Hank's voice saying “Oh! Okay... I've got you, don't worry.”
Alex felt like he out to point out that as long as Hank had him, there was no reason in the world to worry about anything.
But then again, falling asleep in Hank's arms would probably get the message across just fine.