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It started as a subtle, insistent throb in her temples that
raced through her head and down her spine. What would have
been a migraine in anyone else became a debilitating conflagration
of images. The blinking light from the answering machine,
cruel eyes, glowing red, Sinister, Remy, both of them. Pounding
in her ears, crash and splinter of bone, they were laughing,
standing together with Creed, Sabretooth, the taste of blood
in the back of her throat. The power, scent, her claws whistled
through the air eviscerating a demon with yellow eyes, Momma,
a little boy asking ...
"Aaaaarrrgggh..." With a growl and a curse for
the man responsible, Rogue fell against the doorjamb with
a thud. Swaying, she dropped to her knees grabbing the sides
of her head. No, not now! It was happening again. Again
and again without remorse. Tossed from soul to soul, mind
to mind like a rag doll tormented by a child. She wasn't any
of these people. I don't want to be. It was her own
fault for ignoring the precognition. A familiar chill that
would crawl up her back and nausea in her gut. A warning with
no focus. I was dumb to get used to the Prof always keeping
tabs. Not my fault. Why? Who was she? Me. I'm Rogue.
Gulping, she touched her head to the floor while one hand
twisted like a dying animal. What was happening was perfectly
natural. Her powers were simply trying to heal her fractured
mind. But it hurt. I want to be me, dammit. She took
a moment to recollect herself but standing proved futile.
Jean. Help me!
I can't let her see me like this. Bad enough I have to
beg for her help. In her old life, obligations and favors
owed could often become death sentences. She didn't like asking
Jean for help. It was bad business. She crossed her fingers
and hoped the latest wall would hold without need for mending.
It's only a matter of time before Jean goes and tells Scott
or Hank. All for the good of the team of course. Rogue
could imagine Scott's reaction, his intolerance and hypocrisy.
He won't even just tell me to leave. Instead, he'll give
me time off like I don't really know what that means.
All the time in the world won't make this go away. Better
yet, they'll lock me up like Creed. Hmph. Assuming one of
them has that much forethought.
Jean pulled out of Scott's arms and stumbled from the backlash.
They had been escaping reality in front of the TV, avoiding
Bastion, Onslaught, the world's problems and life's smaller
ones. It was Rogue again. Scott grumbled and let her know
his opinion on the matter. Impatiently she listened to his
complaints. He's a good man but sometimes he can't see
that what's good for one person is also good for the team.
If he knew about Rogue, if he could see her mind, he wouldn't
be so quick to judge. The Professor's been keeping him in
the dark and I'm not about to enlighten him.
She shook her head as she left. She does handle it. Every
minute of every day. Even she needs to sleep. Due to the
Professor's . . . absence Jean had been left with the unwanted
responsibility. Unlike her and Betsy, the others had been
unaware of the low level psionic drain that had appeared in
the mansion. There was no warning. Something pulled hard
enough to shatter both our shields and that is not something
I can ignore. It still surprised her that Rogue has been
the source. The Professor told me she was a psion but neglected
to mention her strength. Still, even though I was never able
to get past her shields, I always figured that was the Kree
interference. It wasn't. That evening she found a break
in the thick walls and made the mistake of entering the fissure.
Guess that's no surprise, I couldn't resist my curiosity
after all that time. But I wish I hadn't seen those memories.
It was so much more pleasant to think the young woman was
as naive as she appeared. That maelstrom of images, some
were so vile and evil. If I didn't know I was in her mind...
She arrived at the room and realized there was no need
Rogue hunched on the floor with her head bowed and hands
curled on the carpet. Jean saw the intense eyes, gritted teeth
and felt a reluctant admiration. She asked me for help
but she could survive without it. She doesn't need it. If
I left right now... If I turned around and walked out she'd
just grin and bear it wouldn't she? And she wouldn't complain
to anyone. On many occasions she had been left wondering
how Rogue could stand to bite her own nose off. Bottling up
emotions was very unhealthy and self-destructive. Remy
has himself quite a task with her.
Jean was experienced at walking the astral plane and had
learned to respect a person's privacy. The best she could
do in this case was try not to see the apparitions or feel
the conflicting emotions too strongly. Rogue protected her
as best she could but it was often a lost cause. Her energy
was already being consumed maintaining layers of blocks and
guards. Good as well she wasn't here during the beginning
of Onslaught. He would have shattered them without a second
thought. Fully sane she managed to give us a hard time. The
last thing we need is a schizophrenic Rogue. Further,
she seemed to have no skill in consciously regulating her
psionic defenses. Either that or her attempts were being undermined.
Regardless, Jean had sensed that the girl was practiced at
-- What? What do you call it? Maintaining your identity?
Willpower? She must have done this for years before joining
the X-Men. Years without being protected by the Professor
or another alpha class telepath.
And that's what it takes to stop her powers from rearranging
her mind. Frankly, it was the only proof they had that
she was really an alpha class mutant. Cerebro picks it
as being latent unless she's using her powers. Then she spikes
right off the scale. With the others, the x-factor gene
gave off a clear reading. Her own barely show up. According
to what the Professor's records detailed, Rogue had tried
several telepaths before going to her enemy. Any one of
them should have been able to keep her powers in check, but
they couldn't. The ones who agreed to try almost ended up
dead. Jean began to reach into Rogue's mind.
She didn't have to turn and look to know Jean was there.
A telepath always triggered her seventh sense. She does
her best; she tries. It's just not good enough because she
doesn't understand. I can feel her fear, anger and resentment
when she sees the things in my head. Funny, you'd think that
someone who had been possessed by an avatar and died a couple
of times would be able to handle this more calmly. I wonder
if she realizes I'm absorbing the tension she's radiating?
Rogue had successfully closed off and extracted the foreign
memories. Unless they were blocked off to fade with time...
Soon, these sessions would no longer help. The blocks would
erode faster than they could be rebuilt. Then my powers
will take over and who knows who I'll become.
It was a terrifying thought. Oh , she understood the genetics
of it. As an evolutionary mutation her powers were a wonder
of adaptation. They allowed her to actively alter her mind
and body to suit the environment. I can take whatever skills,
attributes or knowledge I need. But just taking these is wrong
isn't it? How could she justify tearing another's mind
and soul apart for her own benefit? It's not even like
death. I rape them. The more someone fights me, the more I
hurt them and the longer I keep their memories. It's
like my powers are punishing them for defending themselves.
She never minded folks being mad at her, only for blaming
her. So long as she used her powers passively, it was less
her fault. Only ones I remember fully consenting and not
blaming me were 'Roro, Wolvie and Tante Mattie. Even Remy
fought me when I kissed him.
The mental probe finally found a safe entrance point. Rogue
concentrated on controlling the monster inside her. The urge
to casually reach out and grasp the line of psionic energy
tied to Jean's astral image was almost unbearable. Like a
hunger she had to constantly ignore or assuage. It would be
easy to just snuff her out -- and satisfying. Yes, that was
the word. I used to do it all the time. Just a bit here
and there to get me through. She licked her lips. Seems
like a better deal than letting it build up like this.
The recent memory of Bobby stopping her in the bar came to
fore. If Remy hadn't shown up then, I would've turned on
the boy. But I guess using my powers is some type of crime.
Five years isn't it? The thin smile was hidden from Jean.
It's okay for Betsy to jab the enemy in the back of the
head, Logan to maul them and 'Roro to fry them but it's not
okay for me to zap a couple. The high from the mental
energy would be invigorating and something long denied.
Oblivious to the danger, Jean steepled her fingers and brought
her forehead to them as if in prayer. The mindscape was eerily
quiet. Ever since Siege Perilous the old ghosts had been absent.
Where did they all go? Back to their owners or were they
simply destroyed? They should still be here. The newest
residents were mostly peaceful. There was Magneto but he had
held no quarrel with Rogue. Sometimes she saw him suspended
above the city. Creed's image was vicious but fragmentary
like Bishop's. The faintest was Toad. Occasionally she caught
glimpses of Gambit but he always disappeared on approach.
The woman, Belladonna was the worst but even her imprint was
losing strength over time. Did they just fade so much I
can't see them? It didn't make sense. But they must
be gone or else she would have gone insane back in the Savage
Land without her powers to compensate for the alternate personalities.
All around her loomed the blackened hulks of deteriorating
skyscrapers. The windows were broken and boarded up. Shards
of glass mixed with refuse littered the streets. Underlying
the silence was a soft, rhythmic patter. There was no wind.
Jean paused to listen in wonder to a hiss like rain falling
through tree cover. It's the buildings. They're collapsing
piece by piece. In the pores of dried, coral-like cement
came a faint shimmer of movement. Jean lifted her hand, almost
touching a building corner and squinted warily at it. The
refraction was due to the oily liquid seeping upwards from
the base. More of it. A chilled glance swiveled to
the oddity further ahead of her.
Mentally, she skittered past a dark thing. It was
the largest one; a glassy and oily pool in the center of the
decaying city. There were others like it but this one radiated
a menace that raised the hair on the back of her neck. Not
evil as from the Shadow King, just a great danger. The
surrounding area was warped and distorted. The light itself
seemed to bend along with the buildings that stretched towards
the pool. She followed the ghosts example and always avoided
it. It most likely hides something. An opaque, liquid barrier
... I'm not about to stick my hand in it. Why it was in
the core of the city she didn't know. Every mind has a
nexus, a safe place where the owner can live and hide all
that they are. A city I can understand but why built around
such a dangerous site? The surface rippled and the border
expanded briefly. Drawing back, she was afraid. Whatever was
under there was powerful. Most puzzling, it had no psionic
signature. As if it's not there. Like her powers. Standing
still in the open field. Jean gave a shudder as she felt
a prickling touch like static on a dry day. Instinctively,
she froze and hoped that It would go away; that Rogue
could hold it back.
Busy holding the temporary blocks in place, Rogue was unable
to respond. So how you like it in there? Home sweet home
huh? Nice, dark and lonely. Not quite. I could always
play with my new friends. They weren't the only things
in her head. Something near sentient was in there with Jean.
A something that's a part of me, that hurts me and heals
me. I hate it. It was moving slowly and insidiously like
a snake lacing around the bright blue and white form of Jean.
I should warn her. Jean found the damaged area and
set to work. The atmosphere around her, imperceptibly began
to grow darker. Hell. As long as she keeps moving she'll
be all right. Branches began streaking out from the pool
following the light form.
She swiftly rebuilt the broken blocks. The material consisted
of weathered stone reused many times. All minds were different,
some solid and some ethereal. The hard reality of the rock
counter-balanced the intangible memories. More from unease
than respect she avoided looking to see what was behind the
edifice. Last time she had witnessed a Wraith feeding frenzy
and had been ill for an hour afterwards. Scott didn't understand
why she insisted on doing this for Rogue. No surprise.
I don't let him see what happens here. If I did he'd probably
try to stop me. He might even be right ab-- Unconsciously
, Jean began arming herself. It was absolutely silent.
Rogue relaxed as she felt the block settle back in place
again. How do I repay her? I know she doesn't do this out
of the goodness of her heart, even if she thinks so. She does
it because she's scared of what I might turn into. Even more
scared than the Prof and he knows the real danger of traipsing
through my head. Once, a low grade telepath had infiltrated
her mind. He'd been found the next morning watching the sunrise
with sightless eyes. Her sleep hadn't been disturbed in the
Jean warily turned. It was there right behind her. The pool
hadn't been there before. It lapped against a weathered tree
that twisted agonizingly skyward. The limbs, gnarled and knotted
drooped over her swaying. Her head jerked back. No, they
didn't even move; this can't be happening. Jean scanned
the murky horizon but the shifting black forms could just
as easily be products of her imagination. She hoped they were.
The tree beside her dissolved, melting into an inky nonentity.
Controlling the panic and growing anxiety, she tried to pull
out of the other woman's mind. There was resistance; a sucking
drag from within. A touch sticky like a burr but cold as ice
ran up the psionic link. Oh my God, no ... Rogue! Stop
I can't. I can't do anything about it. Get out, fast!
Just break the link - RUN!
If she broke the link a small part of her would be left behind
and lost forever. Jean felt the touch become a strangling
grasp and stopped debating. The thing that wasn't there began
to rear over her. It was the source of the darkness. What
are you? It stilled briefly as the edges blurred into
a parody of a human form. The featureless form didn't step
forward so much as flow. Jean eased back and lifted a shield
that was touched by a gentle tendril. She began to backpedal
as the halberd dissolved. Don't do this, you have a choice!
She could almost see the creature smile as it dipped and spread
Run Jean, run...
With an odd fascination and growing pleasure, Rogue watched
as her powers lashed out at the retreating astral image of
Jean. The thin strands were fragile as spider webs weaving
ominously and without violence in the air. All around her,
the scene flowed together and lost form. Fingers of blackness
wrapped around the glowing, blue psionic trail and devoured
it. They crashed against the outer shield swirling together
and closing the break. No memories but instead a sense of
Jean's presence momentarily filled her mind.
"...no..." Disbelief widened Rogue's eyes and an
inarticulate cry lodged in her throat. NO! How dare she?
She wasn't supposed to run! "How - Dare - You!?"
Still engulfed in Rogue's memories and her own terror, Jean
tripped back onto her hands. A caricature of humanity spitted
back at her, mad eyes lost over bared teeth. She saw her roll
her weight in preparation for a lunge.
"Uff-" Rogue fell back from the psionic blow. Aware
of her own rough panting, she forced herself to drop her arms
and shoulders. She used her hair as a curtain behind which
to wipe the spittle from her chin. I almost killed her.
Didn't mean to, I didn't, couldn't have, not like Carol. I'm
not like that.
Wheezing, Jean dropped weakly into a crouch and clutched
her stomach. Daring a look, she was met with averted eyes
and a head bowed in shame.
"Di'n' mean f'that to happen. Ah couldn' control it.
Ah'm sorry." Am I? Am I really? A sour feeling
settled in her stomach. An emotion she nursed and cradled.
I wasn't going to hurt her. Rogue tipped her head back
and closed her eyes to hide the predatory gleam.
Jean swallowed and backed out of the room. "I know.
Of course you can't. If you could, you wouldn't need my help.
No big deal." I can't do this again.
Rogue blinked at the afternoon sunlight washing over her
as the clock flashed a minute change.
Continued in Chapter
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