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The dark permeated the foul air hiding niches and scum encrusted
brick. Sewage flowed sluggishly, betrayed only by the occasional
lapping gurgle or ripple of a passing object. Some objects
chittered and scuttled, others wuffed in thin bursts as they
dragged skin and fur. His, it was a he, foot slipped splattering
goo. The balance was different, the view elevated. He could
see through the thick air, his eyes magnifying light reflected
in glimmers undulating up the walls from the trickle of liquid.
He lifted a foot to step forward, then stopped.
One of the objects, semi-floating, rolled haphazardly under
his step leaving a pink trail in its wake. It bumped against
the other foot sending a faint reverberation into his boot,
caught for a moment, then tumbled on until a rat snatched
it up. The creature glared at him possessively before scampering
off. He gasped, tasting the sour burn, lungs filling with
a fetid smell, a tang of salt, faintly sweet, raw mixed with
bile and offal. He gagged and began breathing through his
mouth, reluctant to turn the corner where the light came from
in smoky bars from a few remaining artificial lights. Nevertheless,
he needed to see if the subtle nagging inside was correct.
If he has made a mistake. If. It soured in his stomach, sitting
there like a lump of grease and driving him onwards despite
the orders he'd been given.
A blur of motion as time was compressed for its irrelevance,
then a glazed incomprehension when the image stalled and looped
before continuing. There was nothing identifiable. His eyes
refused to see. Just colors, brown, brackish green muddied
with rust, tinges of red, bluish mottles, pasty white poking
through burnt black splattered as carelessly as ink from a
brush. The sounds watered through, dripping, splashes echoing
from meandering rivulets. The patter of thousands of clawed
feet, hissing back at him for the disruption. The crawling
slide of large masses settling together. Then it solidified
becoming cruelly real.
In front of him lay hundreds of mangled bodies, torn intestines
strewn like tinsel. Crushed and splintered bones lay in junction
with severed limbs, burnt where a gun blast had found its
mark, or punctured by something sharp. It was all the same.
The Morlock's were dead. And I opened the back door. I
let them in. My fault, mine, mine, mine.... He spun trying
to rush away from it. He didn't want me to know what would
happen...wanted me to see to hold me. Sinister would know
he'd seen this just as he knew he was trying to renege on
their deal. It had seemed harmless enough. Live with them.
Report on them. Betray them. Now, he'd made himself a liability.
Oh God. No one escaped, no one.
A shuddering, soundless keen broke in. Not from him, the
forlorn wail came straight from a tiny lost soul. It leapt
about like a trapped animal rebounding from shattered walls.
Some had escaped. A shadow thrown by a narrow overhang and
a shapeless heap obscured its owner. The image lost focus,
narrowing on blue eyes fixed past and through him, right into
his heart. If he helped, took her to the others, the hunt
would never stop. He wanted to leave her and run. That would
make the most sense, the least mess. Can't kill her, I
did this. Just a little girl. I did this. It began to
thunder inside his head, suffocating him, right before he
heard their voices.
She whipped her head back against cracked, padded leather
gasping for clean air, unsullied by the smell of death, fire
and rot. The fear drifted into oblivion as her hands gripped
clawlike on the arm rests, then forcibly released their grip.
Not my fear, not my guilt, not my memories. That's all
they are, phantoms. Rarely were memories preserved clearly.
More often, they were a non-linear collection of bright or
gray images, the impression of sound and vivid transitory
smells. The nausea receded to a lingering foul taste in her
mouth. It belonged in the past, trapped in history not here
in the present. It belonged with all the other memories of
She could understand why Remy hadn't told her about this.
The guilt was too deep to explain, the images too graphic
to describe. He really couldn't say it aloud. I probably
couldn't. She rubbed the back of her neck. Shouldn't
have held it over his head. Should've just looked at them
all to begin with. Should've would've could've. I didn't.
Dropping her cheek on an upraised knee, she huffed morosely.
He'd been in a coma, unable to tell her yea or nay. And
there's me, running off like some pea-brained idiot instead
of dealing with the memories. Apologizing had never been
her strong suit but Remy had been doing so for the past month
in between bouts of coldness. Fair was fair. And he thinks
it's all his fault. Maybe, a bit of it certainly. He should've
told me about Sinister. That old coot will stop by sooner
or later to collect and the best way to hurt someone it through
their loved ones. We're just damn lucky he didn't try it during
any of the past months. She rested her forehead on the
grimy surface of the desk before reaching for the bottom drawer.
Her stomach still churned.
The room was dimly lit, musty with age, an unused study lost
in the tangled blueprint of the mansion. From the walls came
a lingering odor of smoke, alcohol and another vague essence,
a quality acquired through age, years of collected mildew,
damp wood and flaking plaster. That can't be right. The
entire place has been razed several times. Unless for some
reason portions were reused instead of replaced. Tracings
of dust with companion cobwebs grew in close spaces, between
shelves, ornaments, the chandelier creating a film over every
surface. Fixtures stained by age mixed with electric lighting
and plastic in a hostile menagerie.
Jean pushed the heavy oak door open further into the private
sanctum. It mocked her stealth with a deep-felt groan and
steady scrape over knubbled carpet followed by a billow of
warm air. This is ridiculous, why do I feel like an intruder?
This is the Professor's home and we're all allowed free rein
in it. She invited herself in, shutting the door on afterthought.
It was a bit after four in the morning. A fine time to
be woken by radiating emotions and careless psionics.
An overwhelming terror had ripped her from sleep. The urgency
and revulsion spurred her on until guild baffled her. Yet
the thoughts behind the feelings were closed behind a black
Rogue peered sourly into the neck of the flask as she swirled
the amber liquid. Pleasantly intoxicating fumes rose in greeting.
She watched in rapt fascination as the liquor spun around,
lost its rhythm to splash against the sides, then resumed
its cycle. "Y'know Jean, sometimes, when a body goes
searchin' out a dank ol' room to lounge in it's 'cause they
wan' be lef' 'lone."
"How did you know it was me?"
She crossed her feet on the desk, leaning back in the high
backed wing chair despite its protesting creak. "Well,
y'could o'been Betsy, 'cept she 'ready paid me a visit tonight.
Tried t'muck 'round my head." She meaningfully corkscrewed
her finger by her ear for emphasis. "Not t'mention she
wouldn' bothered with the door. Logan ain' no busy body. An'
Remy smell's diff'ren'. After that, ain' no one quiet 'nough."
She smacked her lips nodding her head from side to side as
if to inaudible music. "Can Ah inquire as to the reason
fo' this social call?"
Jean made her way to the filthy desk which presented itself
as the only other place to sit. Each of Rogue's words had
been uttered with a deliberate precision slurred with blunt
sarcasm. The bottle was now held by a limp hand perched precariously
on the far of her chair. Green eyes were slit almost shut,
near sleep it seemed. Taking advantage of this, Jean stole
another survey of the abused study. Effects from the battle
with Onslaught became apparent. Books lay scattered on the
floor, some torn and bent. An overturned vase and a buckle
in the wall hinted at a great weight dropped from above. When
her gaze returned, she was startled to find a single eye watching
Rogue smiled thinly. "Well?"
A brief, irrational anger swept over Jean. Why did that smirk
irritate her? She shook the mood off. "Why here?"
That's not what I was going to say. Not only was the
whirlwind of emotions irritating, but worrying as well. It
is just because she's drunk? That had never resulted in
such a disturbance before. Keeping conscious, she viewed Rogue's
"Ah asked fo' a quiet place. A place t'think, t'read,
t'remember. Ah asked an' Xavier gave. This here's mine."
"Gave it to you? That's very generous of him."
The mental shields were similar to the one's Jean had seen
in the past, but not the same. Last time, the surface had
been fairly solid, patched with the remenants of Xavier's.
These resembled a patchy lattice, matte black, yet only semi-opaque.
They don't look solid. I'm not sure they're even shields.
Her initial inclination was to move through them, which was
why she didn't. The blocks emenated a miasma of...nothingness
that watched her every move.
Jean politely ignored her, replying absently, "He's
a good man." She's too far gone to care about niceties.
Rogue's skin was flushed, hair matted. Every now and then,
she would twitch and look up with bloodshot eyes. I should
tell Scott, at least Remy. She wouldn't appreciate it, but
someone needs to keep an eye on her. She looked away from
the astral image of the other woman's mind to avoid staring
and fixed on the first thing she saw. The books lying on the
floor weren't in English. They lay several feet from the bookcase,
thrown not fallen.
Rogue started to laugh discordantly, quietly over a private
joke before curling her lip. "Heh, yah, ain' he sweet."
A hearty chuckle developed deep in her throat. "A s'pose
that's one way o'puttin' it." She swung the bottle in
Jean's general vicinity. "A toast. A toast fo' keepin'
a straight face."
She tried to see the eyes behind the flop of white hair.
Some quality in Rogue's mirth, words, or the sly gaze was
malicious, more than that, knowing in the manner of an eavesdropper
or voyeur. She's known the whole time about the way the
Professor...felt. "You knew didn't you? Why didn't
you tell me?" Jean carefully extended a tenuous psionic
probe towards the abnormal shields. All she had ever seen
were bright, shiny, hard and glowed with power.
"Knew what?" Rogue tipped her chin with a smile
and drank half of the remaining whiskey. "Ah know lots
o'things. Lots an' lots o'things. Too much. Ah know whe' the
Crown Jewels really are. Ah know what yo' wo'st fea' is. Ah
know how t'conduct an orchestra even though Ah can't play
a note. Ah know why folk's beat up on thei' families, Ah un'erstan'
why. Ah know what Remy had fo' breakfast six years ago
on Septembe' tenth. Ah know lots o'things."
Jean thoughtfully edged back as Rogue knelt up on the chair
arm with a hand curled loosely in the air. With each of her
words came an image. One of a jewelers shop, another of Phoenix,
a baton, a ghost-like family at dinner, a bowl of gumbo, and
many more. None of them synched with the emotions. She's
trying to distract me. Jean blocked them out while continuing
to test Rogue's psychic defenses. The dark walls were thin
and weak with gaping ruptures. The baricade didn't so much
as twitch moved towards it but she could perceive a slow,
achingly slow, growth. They're broken, but healing. I could
speed this along except.... Except what? She couldn't
make herself to touch the oily fragmented things. What
if they're supposed to look like that?
Losing her balance, Rogue snarled, "Be Mo' Specific!"
"All right. Did you know how the Professor...felt...about
me?" Those mental walls were slick, the color of gangrene
and decay according to Xavier. By his definition, this was
an ill mind. But this is what the pools looked like and
they were very much alive and powerful. But not powerful,
empty. It clicked into place. When I left last time,
the pool chased after me but stopped to repair the fracture
in the psi-shield. These shields were constructs of the
pools like the landscape within. Which is why I can't sense
anything from them as I couldn't from the pool.
"Course. Would y'like t'see?"
The vehement "No!" exploded out before Jean could
respond to the vague hope more politely. "I.... I mean...."
This is how her mind appears without another's aid. Everything
the Professor or I put there is gone. She looked again
and felt the same revulsion as she did to a leech. Everything
within had been built of the oil, foul to perceive and touch.
It was clearly a defensive reaction meant to ward off intruders.
Obviously, her mind was injured and attempting to prevent
a repeat experience. No wonder he shut it in. She wouldn't
have been able to deal with it.
"Nawww, course not." Rogue deflated with a dull
sigh. "Never do. Always makin' lite o'em, but y'never
wan' see." Baring teeth in a smile, she rolled back towards
Those eyes glittered dangerously without fear. How many
secrets does she know? Even those that we won't tell each
other, admit to ourselves? "Why didn't you ever tell?
Why keep it a secret?" The book kept teasing the corner
of her vision offering space. She worked around the desk to
get a better view. Still blocking, she heightened the mental
contact in order to work up confidence to attempt contact.
Insane, the mighty Jean Grey-Summers is too scared, by
a hunch, to touch another person's mind.
"He di'n' know. You di'n' need to." Her eyes traced
Jean's path and her tone baited with an exaggerated accent.
"Can't y'jus' see it? Hey Jean, Xavier's got the hots
fo'ya. Mmmm hmmm. He wants t'see ya in his study tonight.
Lookin' good baby." She kicked the desk with a hollow
Jean dropped the tome. It was in Latin with sparse illustrations
of plants and mythical animals.
"Don' be stupid. Why're y'here?"
"I'm aware of this evening's events. I-"
"Aware of this evenin's events. Pray tell, what would
those be?" The smile didn't meet her secretive eyes.
Very interesting. Maybe I ought to ask Betsy what she
found out. That would be an invasion of privacy but whatever
had led to this binge might be worth knowing. At least
Remy deserves to know -- ouch. I'm not going there. I won't
pick sides on this one. Jean replaced the book on its
shelf. "First you left with Remy early last night. I'm
not sure what happened, but you used your powers." Rogue's
eyes slid away. "Then you left. You were out of range
of Cerebro and naturally, as you know, radar has a difficult
time pinpointing you. You came back a few hours later and
apparently had a 'negative encounter' with Elizabeth. Now
you're here. Anything I missed?"
"Mm, nope, that right 'bout covers it. Always nice t'know
that big sister's watchin'."
"Right. Well, I was just worried a bit because you've
been projecting a great deal since then."
"Projectin' what?" Her body was suddenly coiled.
I don't like that look on your face. Without preamble,
the deathly still formations of Rogue's mind began to melt
and flow outwards.
Not quite as inebriated as you appear, hm? She could
see, with her third eye, a strand of blackness wave in the
air curiously. It paused in confusion, unsure of its mission,
then reared back like a cobra. My God. I'm outside of her
mind, this shouldn't be happening.
Maybe. Maybe not.
"Do you realize your shields are down?" Her gaze
strayed to the bottle as a hundred options flew through mind.
There was no attack as of yet, the tendril merely wavered
as if blown by an astral wind.
Rogue lowered her head cutting out the phrase, "Projectin'
"Nothing much." The distraction cost her. There
was a cold touch, sticky right against her own shielding.
Jean swiftly reinforced them before trying to break the unsolicited
contact. "Rogue, your powers, pull back." There
was no compliance. The astral image before her was morphing.
The not-shields were twisting, unwrapping into curious fingers
of darkness that bent towards her inquisitively.
"What's'matter? Don' wan' show me some good times? No
pain no gain?" She crouched with a rustle of rumped cloth
on the arm of the ancient chair, ghost smile etched on her
face of shadows. Gone, for the moment was kindness, compassion
as Rogue bowed homage to the outstretched bottle.
"What are you talking about? I don't care what you're
doing, pull back now!" Without compunction, she prepared
a telekinetic defense. This encounter was getting out of hand.
The reaction of Rogue's mind conflicted with her assumption
that it was an infected injury. This cannot possibly be
her power. That works on tactile contact and involves the
absorbtion and copying of genetic coding. She can't be on
the astral plane.
"Ain' doin' nothin', hon'." Perfect honesty rang
in the words delivered with a bird-like cock of the head.
"It was just emotions, anger, pain, confusion."
She stared at the other women trying to intimidate her but
Rogue was like one possessed. The tendrils fell onto Jean's
psionic barriers, sinking through like garrotes, absorbing
what they encountered. What are you doing? "All
I saw was images, nothing coherent." Her head hurt with
a nearly physical cold. Let go!
Rogue was thrown back into the chair with enough force to
knock her breath out. It tipped precariously on two side feet
before returning with a solid thump. She started chuckling
in whispery puffs of air.
"Rogue, pay attention. I understand that you're not
quite yourself right now, but if you do whatever it is you
just did again, I won't hesitate to do anything within my
capability to defend myself."
"Oooo-weee, the mighty Phoenix speaks. Ah'm jus' shakin'
in my boots." The liquor was flourished with an elaborate
shrug. "You jus' go 'head an' try. What's it with y'all
anyway? One eye naggin' me 'bout a few loose screws, Betsy
actin' like Ah've gone psycho and you whinin' an' complainin'
'bout me projectin' this an' that. Don' even know what'ya
"I'm not here to persecute you. I just want to help.
While this may not be a big deal to you, it's very disturbing
for the average telepath." Although, I'm not sure
if I want to bother anymore. Not if this is going to happen
any time I get close.
"Ah don' wan' yo' brand o'help." She closed her
eyes and swung the bottle pendulum-like between a thumb and
finger. "Since y'itchin' t'know, Ah had some unfinished
business t'take ca' of. Nothin' Ah wouldn' do fo' Xavier."
The type of "business" that involved Wolverine,
Gambit, Rogue or even Psylocke being arbitrarily summed by
Xavier to the War Room, then disappearing for a week or more
and returning with information or blood on their uniforms.
Sometimes both. But how much of that is the truth? Effective,
though. It was the tacit rule that after such a covert
mission, the particular member was not to plied with questions.
Jean crossed both arms. "I wasn't-"
"And stop cutting me-"
"Off. But y'asked all same. Ah'm jus' tired. Why don't
ya go on back t'Scott an' leave me 'lone. Ah di'n' do nothin'
"I guess you don't need my help after all." Her
answer was a grunt. Rogue's mind had wrapped back in on itself,
a ball of nothing, sedate in composition. Jean didn't
want to leave. Something was wrong, had been wrong ever since
the failed, unfinished blocking exercise. Then the event
in the Danger Room when Psylocke's blade should have rendered
her unconcious, possibly a second tonight. Remy could be in
serious danger. Now this, whatever the hell it is. This
had certainly been an attack, an aggressive defense of sorts.
I have to tell Scott, maybe. The growl of a motorcycle
Rogue's head lolled to contemplate the frosted window for
a short eternity. "Well, he's back kind o'early. Hope
no one got jipped." The chair tipped back aimlessly before
returning with a soft thud. "An' don' look at me like
Jean's sigh spoke of tried patience as her grip loosened
on the door knob. "You can't know where he's been or
what he's done."
"You think Ah don' see the 'dumb-pathetic-bitch' looks
y'give? Or has he been tellin' y'where he goes?"
The door shut with a click.
"What's matter?! Ah thought y'wanted t'hear what was
wrong!" This whole mug was filled with interfering busy
bodies, all of them wanting to help, know what was wrong,
give advice, never leave a body in peace. Hell, Remy, where
you been? Out partying without me? Screwing around? But
if he didn't want her around, she wouldn't cling. She tucked
herself further into the chair fighting off a panic attack.
Shouldn't have made him choose, shouldn't have pushed him;
he wasn't getting anything out of me. An arm wrapped around
her knees as she buried her face in her knees. Her breath
was choppy, uncontrolled. A muffled crackle broke as thick
glass shattering, the flask shearing on top while fragments
below clung to the label. The alcohol seeped through her glove
evaporating to leave a temporary chilled numbness that traveled
up her arm and into her heart. The glass remains were dropped
on the floor as she draped over the chair arm to reach for
the desk drawer.
Continued in Chapter
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