The Bauers, Isabel Mendez, Emilio Suarez,
I-Ping Soong and Tham Kriengchayapruk belong to me. Jason
Auspach technically belongs to Marvel, but I supplied the
surname and everything else. All other characters belong to
Marvel. I'm not profiting by this.
Some language, graphic violence and mature topics in various
places. Probably should be rated "R"
Comments go to email@example.com.
Flames will be blithely ignored.
"Y'think maybe you're over-reactin', Jean? It's not
like Ah could get within touchin' distance 'fore y'could fry
"Testy, aren't you? Maybe something on your mind?"
Putting her hands in her jean pockets, Rogue wandered around
the bed and kicked a stray glove under it while doing her
best to appear collected. Her head throbbed with one of those
annoying headaches that she was beginning to think of them
as a hallmark of any telepathic session with Jean. Who
knows what Jean's been mucking around with while talking to
me. I don't believe she put up a full shield for no good reason.
Betsy being so overbearing like I'd done something more than
take her off guard. The way Storm looked at me when I tried
to explain. And the memories were giving me problems earlier
when I tried to forget them. Troubled by puzzle pieces
that almost fell into place but did not create the picture
she expected, Rogue shook off her suspicions and returned
her attention to Jean.
"Let me put this in layman's terms. Psychically, your
mind looks hurt but doesn't act hurt. A healthy mind is a
bright light on the Astral Plane. Your mind is a negative
space. Unless a person is a psi in some way, through mutation,
magic or latent abilities, their mind doesn't wiggle all over
the place. I could hit you psionically, but I think
it might reciprocate and I don't think It would let go."
"What's It?" Rogue shook her head, instantly regretting
the motion. She rubbed the back of her neck, surprised to
feel beads of sweat. Jean did not seem affected by the heat.
It's not impossible that I've come down with something,
let's just hope it's not Legacy. Wouldn't that be my luck,
but at least Betsy would leave me alone.
"Like I said, either a site of trauma or an aspect of
your power. It shows as a void on the astral plan but radiates
some type of menace. I don't know if that's because I'm a
telepath and my own perception is causing that or if it does
that to everyone. I'd say you have some psychic damage, except
something like that would definitely show in your every day
behavior. What I'm beginning to suspect is that this might
be a combination of both." She sat up and folded her
hands together. "In other words, maybe it is your power,
but it's infected in some way that keeps you from controlling
If it was that messed up, wouldn't it hurt me in some
way whenever I used it? While her power often had inconvenient
results, it did not harm her unless she absorbed someone with
an extreme mutation or injury. Not only that, but would not
the Professor have told her about it? She stepped back, feeling
dizzy, to sit on the bed with a squeak of springs.
The shock of cold was so sudden it seemed to burn. She winced.
Hate the cold. First it was hot flashes, then chills.
She could not be sick because her alien physiology involved
a very aggressive immune system. It was not as powerful a
Logan's but it was efficient. This was more of a general disorientation
like the kind that followed teleportation or a sudden stop
in mid flight. Maybe I am sick.
Jean paused in her speech, "Are you all right?"
She fingered her scalp. "Ah'm fine. Y'sure what y'saw
was part of me?"
"Positive. The last time I helped, I thought it was
alien but its actions paralleled yours too closely. The very
fact that you've never seen it supports that it's you."
"Ah can't walk the Plane, 'member? How could Ah see
anythin'?" If you don't count visiting my mental version
of Genosha. She distinctly recalled the dark city full
of malicious ghosts and her own stark presence. Me, some
type of psion, right. That's plain silly. Yesterday all
she had to worry about was errant memories and Remy's whereabouts.
Today, she was supposed to believe she was a maladjusted psi
with possible psychological trauma who also had to dance to
Mystique's tune. Rogue held her head. The internal nagging
There were many ways to suppress her power, to subvert and
escape it. Inhibitors and suppressors were widespread these
days. Any telepath could sabotage her power if they tried
hard. Everyone but her could control it. Carol had been a
member of "everyone". She refused to teach me.
Rogue snorted in old contempt. She was also a liar...the
one in my head. True to her friends and vicious to her enemies.
The team never really figured that I was Carol's enemy.
Or maybe they had, but that was not a nice thing to think
about her friends.
Not that I'm any different. She thought of Joseph,
Magneto, whoever he was. Maybe someday he would revert to
his fanatical ways but until then she would have faith in
him. Even if he was a goober at times. Trying to fix my
power like that. Did he even look at what already existed?
There are smaller and more convenient methods than giant psi-chambers.
She sat up straighter, mouth falling slack and feeling like
a goober herself. Z'Noxx was built as a psionic shield.
He could have built in a power damper but then why bother
with a cabin sized chamber? It shouldn't be able to block
my powers unless part of what Jean says is true.
"Rogue? Are you sure you're okay? You look a bit green
in the gills."
"What part of my powers would the Z'Noxx be able t'block?"
Taken aback by the swift change in topic, Jean raised her
eyebrows. "The one in the basement?"
"Ah, well," she shrugged in thought, "probably
the mental absorption. I don't see any reason why it would
block the physical absorption. Why do you want to know?"
"Is there a way to adjust it to block that too?"
"Not unless you add an inhibiting field of some type
but if you're going to do that-"
"Yeah." Rogue's nod was more of a catatonic bob.
"Y'know, Ah'd be lyin' if Ah said Ah didn' un'erstand
what you're hinting' at but Ah don't believe it. If Ah was
a psi, don' you think someone would have mentioned it by now?
Startin with Mystique and Irene, the Prof, any number of 'paths
we've fought, someone, anyone."
"I'm not saying you are. I'm saying that part of your
power probably operates on a psionic level." She leaned
forward to gesture in excitement. "Some part of your
power has to be devoted to the absorption and domination of
another mind. A whole mind, not information. A human mind
is more than genetics and bioelectric waves. And your mind
is the proverbial fly-trap for the soul. Now can you understand
why Elisabeth was so worried? Why we all are?"
"Souls?" Rogue sent Jean a dry look.
"You don't believe in souls?"
Rogue gave a single laugh and waved her hand in assent. The
truth was, she did not know what a soul was. Was it that sense
of identity she gained when she touched another person? That
solid real sense created by the entire combination of elements
she absorbed? Or was that all rubbish? Was a person nothing
more than exploitable resources for her power? "Assumin'
what y'say is true, Ah can't control it."
Jean regarded her obtusely.
"You don' un'erstan'. Hell, maybe y'do. You're a 'path."
"Yes. People can be ugly inside. The nicest people...."
"Sometimes they're nice on the outside 'cause they keep
it all tucked inside."
"Ah guess. Ah can't help myself. Used t'be Ah could
choose what Ah absorbed. Not anymore. Sometimes Ah jus' wan'
it too badly an' tryin' t'fool myself into not wanting t'see
or feel somethin' doesn' work," she whispered.
"Desire's a powerful thing. Especially when you don't
know it's on the loose."
"Maybe. Ah control that all the time." She hunched
in crushed acquiescence. It's my fault after all. But how?
How can I want something like that? "Y'know, people
want the damnedest things," she muttered. "Ah learned
the hard way to control what I wanted, to control my power."
"The profile on you specifically says that you're unable
to control your power with the implication that this is a
previously existing state."
How the heck did 'I can't control my power' turn into
'I've never been able to control it'? I was making lots of
headway until I screwed up. Then again, the Professor's idea
of control was restraint, not expansion and adaptation. By
his book, I was losing control for years by trying to increase
my capabilities without first learning to suppress my power.
"Huh." To hide the way her hands were shaking,
she wrapped them around the back of her neck, hunching over
slightly. "Couldn' control 'em like you control yours,
but Ah could direct 'em and hold 'em off for a minute or two.
Ah was gettin' there, 'til Carol screwed everythin' up."
"So...she, or that copy of her in your mind, may have
sabotaged your developing control as an act of revenge? Or
are you just blaming her for your own actions?" When
was apparent that Rogue was not about to comment on that,
"If you curl up into a fetal ball I'm calling Hank."
"Ah'm fine," she answered too quickly. "Ah'm
jus' a bit queasy. What else did the Prof write?" The
chamber couldn't have blocked my powers if they were purely
physical. She did not know if this was a good thing or
a bad thing. But if Jean's right, and my emotions are controlling
my power like Storm's do hers, and I can't even feel or see
anything like she can then I might really hurt someone.
She thought of Remy and the gamut of emotions he brought out
in her. I could hurt him. Hell, I might've already hurt
him...but I don't want to wear an inhibitor.
"The Professor also theorized that your abilities work
through tactile contact due to negative association that developed
after your kiss with Cody; that they're constantly active
as a defensive mechanism."
She chortled humorlessly. "Not hardly, sugar. If Ah
don' like bein' touched, it's for reasons that go back further'n'
that." He could've at least told me what he thought.
Might've helped me. Shrink and their snobby notions that folks
can't handle the truth. People aren't that fragile. Most people
just deal with their problems, accept them and get on with
their lives. The furnace came on with a rattle and she
sighed with relief.
Jean accepted that information with perfect equanimity. "How
can you know that?"
"Y'don' need t'be a head-shrinker t'know y'own past."
Nor did she need to look in Jean's direction to know that
the other woman had come to sharp attention. No. What good
would it do to tell her I had violent nightmares when I first
went to live with Mystique and Irené? She'd read lord knows
what into that. She had enough practice suppressing her
memories that she did not put stock in subconscious repression.
My powers would have dredged up anything weird, so would've
Mystique for that matter. If there was one thing Momma always
made sure of it was my mental health.
"Fine." Jean pressed her lips into a reproaching
line, then turned her head to look at nothing for a moment.
"I won't say anything, but as far as I can tell, he was
at least partially right. You've disassociated yourself from
your power so that it only acts subconsciously. Probably a
combination of what you won't talk about and the unusual experience
with Carol. If we could find how the two relate we may be
able to create a means of turning your power on and off."
Rogue glanced up sharply, perturbed. "Is that your idea
of control? On an' off?" That's right, nothing about
learning how to use them. "Is that how you control
"Right now the priority is on and off. After that we
can work on fine tuning. I don't want to alarm you, but everything
you just told me confirms some ideas I have. Now, I can help
you discover the problem and deal with it and life can go
on , or you can be stubborn and Scott will tell you to leave."
Threats. This must be more serious than she's telling
me. Shaking her head incredulously, she calmed herself.
"You really don' un'erstand. You really think Ah can
learn t'control what Ah want? D'ya realize what you've done
in the past few minutes? You jus' tol' me that all my work
controllin' my power might be for nothin' because the part
of my brain responsible for regulatin' it ain' cerebral or
that maybe my problem ain' mental at all. Thank you very much
for the pick me up." She slid across the bed to face
Jean. "Did it ever occur t'ya that Ah know what's
wrong an' it don' help?"
Or maybe I learned....
Jean look more affronted than anything else. "Then please
tell me because I'm at a loss. I'm offering to teach you how
to be aware that you're about to act on some whim or desire,
a feeling. I don't understand what your objection is."
"The problem? Ah don' care t'feel anything that doesn'
belong t'me unless Ah choose to. Ah don' like t'be confused
like that," she bit out. So why do I keep doing it?
"Find a differen' answer! Ah don' wan' be feelin' my
power twenty-four seven. Ah couldn' deal with it! Ah ain'
like you, Jean. Ah can't jus' put up a mental wall."
Jean remained infuriatingly calm. "I know. I know what
it's like to hear and see things you don't want to, but believe
me, it's better to know than to be afraid of the unknown or
hurt someone through ignorance. Not many people would fully
admit to losing self-control, but whatever your power feels
like, I have no doubt you have the strength to handle it."
"Oh, yeah, Jean. Ah can handle it. Don' y'get it? Ah
love it, but Ah hate it. Ah hate it." Rogue crossed
her arms and looked out the window. She did not want to see
the pity on Jean's face, or worse, that superior forgiving
countenance that people erect to show false wisdom.
"This isn't very productive."
"Nope. We done?" It's like she ignored me.
"No, will you give me permission to help you, to enter
"Now? Ah have to.... No, y'can't. Look, y'tol' me that
my powers been attackin' you an' Ah don' want you in my head
right now. Nothin' personal, but sometimes Ah don' like 'paths."
She was sweating. Rogue rolled a shoulder in discomfort.
Jean rubbed a hand over her face. "I'm starting to feel
like a game show host. First, let me tell you I share your
reservations about investigating your mind but why don't you
"They have a bad habit of stayin' conscious after Ah
absorb them. Bad 'nough havin' a body in my head without them
know everythin' there is t'know 'bout me." When the other
woman opened her mouth to retort, she cut her off. "An'
yes, Ah realize that's a bit hypocritical of me but that's
the way the cookie crumbles."
"Well, I don't have a solution for that. All I can promise
is that I won't look and I can keep a secret." Her eyes
slid away as she dug in her pocket."I brought an inhibitor.
Will you wear this and allow me to help you?"
Her attention riveted on the small, metal device. It was
different from the one in her top drawer. This one was smaller
in the shape of a half moon. The sunlight from the window
reflected off it in warped patterns. She squeezed her eyes
shut and looked away. "Why'd y'come here?"
Jean adjusted her posture. "To help you control the
erratic behavior of either your mind or power before Scott
gives you an ultimatum."
"Uh huh. So y'wan' t'keep me on the team."
"Of course I want to keep you on the team."
"Yeah, Ah reckon Ah'm pretty valuable t'y'all. As valuable
as Ah was t'Mystique."
"Don't even try and put me on a guilt trip, Rogue. It
won't work." Jean stood, moving away from the chair.
"I won't deny that you're an asset to this team, every
one of us is, but we're also your family. We owe it to you
to help you get through this rough spot and you owe it to
use to let us try."
Maybe I learned....
She glumly stared at the wall. In many ways, her situation
with the X-Men was absolutely no different than her one with
the Brotherhood. She gave her abilities in exchange for a
surrogate family. They all did. "Why's Cyke so hung up
Jean leaned against the wall, facing her again. "We're
his family, Scott wants us to live together in peace and harmony.
That's not an unreasonable expectation. It wouldn't hurt to
try instead of letting someone get hurt."
Which was exactly the problem. She had a job to do and could
not afford to be embroiled in the petty politics of family.
Whatever was wrong with her power, whatever was ailing her,
giving her these headaches, hot and cold flashes, took the
back seat. Granted, physical maladies tended to occur during
absorption as her body adapted to the influx of genetic information,
not after the fact, but it was probably nothing her physiology
could not handle. If she stayed here and put on that inhibitor,
she could not do her job, and that was all there was to the
matter. I need time to think about this.
"Y'know what's funny 'bout Cyke? If somethin' don' go
the way he figures it should, he calls it bad 'cause if it
ain' predictable, he can't use it. Ah figured he'd learned
the first time."
"Do I want to know or have you devolved to baiting?"
"Sure y'do. Shortly after Ah joined, Dark Phoenix was
runnin' amuck and the Prof was down so Scott used my power
to...revive him." She hooked her thumbs through the belt
loops of her jeans. "Made tactical sense but common sense?
He did it while Ah was unconscious. No permission. No by your
leave. He used my power. He used me. In that moment, he was
as selfish an' narrow-minded as the next person so forgive
me if Ah don' trust his judgment call in this pa'ticular matter."
"But you admit that it was the logical thing to do."
"So's executin' y'enemy. We don' do that, do we? He
might a well have raped me, sugar. Y'un'erstan'? Until he
convinces me he knows shit 'bout my power -- my power
-- he can shove it."
"If I tell him that, you'll be off the team."
"Ah know." I guess.... I guess it's only fair.
I can't stay. I have an obligation to those poor folks that
Clive will be after. She ignored the pain in her chest.
What about Remy? He'd follow me, he'd throw away his chance
to do good. She swore softly, momentarily hating Jean
for not understanding, hating Scott for being single-minded
in his concern. Why does he have to care, anyway?
Jean reached out, as if she would lay a comforting hand on
her shoulder. Rogue jerked back at the unexpected motion but,
more than that, the eerie sensation of being burned by acid.
She shook her arm sharply, fully aware that there was nothing
on it. "Leave me alone! An' while y'at it, did y'find
out what y'wanted?" She tapped her temple for reference.
"Don' bother lyin' t'me, neither."
The telepath froze, a flash of guilt crossing her face. Then
she stepped back, "To make it official, I'm breaking
It was too late and too much. It was not Jean's right to
do what she was doing. The scene before Rogue liquefied fleetingly,
lines bending, colors glowing luminescently. A static tingle
skipped through her causing a shudder. Her palm landed on
the carpet, synthetic fibers scraping against her skin. She
blinked and shook her head. Her head swam the same way it
did when she was knocked too quickly out of high speed flight.
And the cold. An icy chill to her bones, tearing right through
...to ignore it.
"Shit." The air shimmered around Jean as she strengthened
her defenses. "Shit. This is not good."
The carpet tickled a millimeter from her nose. Polyester
fibers refracted light in microscopic glimmers. She could
see dust bunnies inches to her right, cowering beneath the
overhanging bedspread. Her hair dragged over her fingers buried
in the shag. She began to shake. The electric current, imagined
or real, was intensifying with magnetic fury. It sped through
her body, releasing a surge of adrenaline that sped her heartbeat.
Hyperventilating, she meticulously rose to her feet, reciting
every lesson Mystique had taught her about maintaining control
over her fear and temper.
"Rogue? Can you hear me? Focus on my voice, stay calm,
describe what you're feeling."
She strained her sight, frantically trying to see what was
causing her disorientation. With frustration, she realized
she could not see anything real. Her ears buzzed, a high pitched
whining sound that made her temples throb. It hurt. She closed
her eyes and the world changed. Without the other stimuli,
she felt the cold surrounding her, inside her. She doubled
over, feeling ill. Why am I so cold?
"Are you all right?"
A source of heat moved closer and she realized it was Jean's
telekinetic shield. She opened her eyes attempting to minimize
the buzzing in her ears that made rational thought complicated.
"Get away. Ah can feel your shield." Muscles trembling,
she clenched the outstretched hand into a fist withdrawing
it. "Ah'm cold. Shield's warm. Back away. Please."
Jean was already doing so. "Take it easy. I'm not the
one holding on. Just take deep breaths and relax. Think of
something that makes you feel comfortable. If you can calm
down a bit I can-"
Talk, talk, talk.
"Get out of here!" Her control hung on a thread
and she made the error of looking in Jean's direction. Something
was there and she could not see it. Something occupied the
same space as Jean, or nearly so and it was driving her crazy.
She knew what it was. She knew, but she could not name it.
She raised her hand, palm forward and swung it in a slow arc.
It was like passing her hand through an intangible object.
Her skin crawled. Whatever it was, it was bad. She needed
to stay away from it. She was not supposed to try and steal
Or maybe I learned to ignore it.
But it was warm.
Scott saw Mystique throw the door open before he was halfway
down the hall and arrived in time to watch her deliver a graceful
jump kick to Rogue's head. Jean was flattened against the
wall but holding her own against Rogue, who seemed to be choking
but kept trying to push through a telekinetic shield. Mystique
rolled in rebound and he, without a second thought, let loose
a concentrated blast powerful enough to knock Rogue into the
She fell with a snarl preparing for a lunge, took a step
forward and stumbled to a halt. He watched her go swiftly
from enraged to comically confused. Her expression was baffled
as she studied her hands ignoring everyone in the room. Moving
over to Jean, who struggled up and batted him away, he let
red fill his vision.
It was cathartic to imagine yelling at Rogue, and Jean for
that matter, that but it would not be professional nor earn
respect. Jean was acting under my orders and she warned
me there could be unexpected consequences. Truthfully,
he had no urge to display anger after his mind shifted to
a combative mind set. The more strain and competition he was
under, the more lucid he became. It was one of those things
that made him different from most people, more so than being
a mutant. Rogue was staggering in a circle, holding her head.
It took him some time to identify the rapid clicking sound
as chattering teeth. He touched the side of his visor and
braced his feet against the tension oozing through the room.
"Back down, boy, or I'll kick you in the head
next." Mystique blocked his view and smiled sweetly.
"Believe me, all she wants right now is a blanket."
He assimilated her threat rationally, analyzed and dismissed
it in less time than it took him to survey the other occupants
of the room.
Psylocke appeared behind the bed with a raised her psi-blade
stating immediately, "Jean asked me to keep a watch over
this and it involves a bit more than a blanket." She
edged closer until she was three feet from Rogue. Her psi-blade
flickered like a candle, stretching forward. She pulled her
arm back. "See what I mean?"
Mystique walked towards Elisabeth and Rogue without concern.
"Too strong for you?" she taunted.
"No. Too weak and out of control would be more accurate."
Elisabeth smiled dryly and stood straight, extinguishing her
He narrowed his eyes, cataloguing all the little details;
noting the way Elisabeth's psi-blade wavered near Rogue, Mystique's
nonchalant attitude -- she who might have inside information
-- , Jean's weakness and refusal to take an aggressive defense
and Rogue's confused behavior. There were too many people
in too small a space and too much conflict present to accomplish
anything other than an explosion. He needed to clear out the
room before dealing with this situation.
Jean had her head between her knees and hands over the back
of her neck. She looked up. "Scott, she isn't aware-"
A gloved hand tapped his shoulder and Scott briefly turned
to meet warning eyes as red as his own. The muscle in Scott's
temple ticked and the subtle challenge to his authority.
Jean instantly stepped between them. "Gambit, stay out
of this. Scott, he's right. I was doing exactly what Betsy
said I shouldn't have been doing."
"A voice of reason. Remarkable." Mystique folded
her hands in grave amusement.
"Quiet," he ordered mildly but implacably.
The metamorph sniffed at Jean and strolled to hang over his
shoulder. "This has been quite entertaining, but all
the fuss is rather silly. Be a dear and tell ninja girl to
crawl back under her rock, or wherever she came from. I think
it may have been that shadow right behind the cobwebs. Rogue,
you really should clean your room more often."
Psylocke sent her an offended look but did indeed disappear
at Scott's affirming nod. Insulting her was better than adding
to the tension in the room. He reassessed the situation. Rogue
had ceased any attack as soon as contact had been broken.
I'll need to talk with Jean and ask what triggered this
response. It occurred to him, that with Jean's telekinetic
abilities, Rogue could have more easily been killed than his
wife, but that did not alleviate his worries.
"Cerebro, get Hank."
The disembodied voice of Hank McCoy came through the intercom.
"I must apologize for my absence. I was isolating a sample.
Is my presence absolutely necessary?"
"No, it's under control. I'm sending Jean down to the
MedLab." He signaled Gambit. "I want you to take
her down there. Make sure she stays there until Hank's done."
"I'm fine." Jean scowled at him patiently. That
meant she would berate him later for acting so dictatorially,
as she put it. That was fine too.
"Maybe. I'd feel better if you let Hank give a checkup."
He helped Jean rise, watching curiously as she and Gambit
locked in mental conversation that ended with a negative shake
of her head.
"She said she's fine, three eyes."
He discreetly sidled away from the shape shifter's intrusive
presence. "Cyclops," he corrected and waited silently
until Jean shrugged and left with Gambit. He addressed Mystique
without turning in her direction. "What do you know about
She bared the tips of her teeth like a cat. "A little
bird told me," she quipped without facing him. "Rogue?
Have you regained some measure of civility now?"
The woman's disregard for his authority irked him. He needed
to gain Rogue's respect now or else she would ignore him.
A slight step forward brought him an inch closer and to the
front of Mystique who gave him a deliberately polite smile
and backed away. Ignoring her, he focused on Rogue again,
who slumped more than stood, hands on her knees, taking deep
"I asked you what happened. What do you know about this?"
Mystique paused, slowly assessing him with narrowed eyes.
She put one hand on her hip and hooked a thumb in Rogue's
direction. "An old problem. I don't know anything except
that Irené said it would resurface. Most old problems do."
She turned away from him and towards her foster daughter.
Rogue did not look up but asked, "What happened?"
Mystique piped up from behind him. "If I'm not mistaken,
you just tried to rip Jean's head off."
She's so flippant. I wonder what type of home environment
she supplied. Who knows how adversely she affected Rogue.
He was momentarily distracted by that tangent. His childhood
environment was no less lamentable and he kept it from embittering
him through the love of his wife and surrogate family. It
was unfair to make assumptions. The fact that Rogue repeatedly
welcomed Mystique, knowing her past manipulations, in the
face of repeated hurts, suggested that there was genuine love
and trust between them. It had to come from somewhere.
"No Ah di'n'."
He cut off Mystique before she could continue. "It looked
like you were assaulting her."
She frowned, shaking her head in denial. "Ah di'n'...Ah
don' think Ah did. Not on purpose. We were jus' talkin' but
she was messin' with my head but Ah di'n' know what an' she
wouldn' tell me an' then, Ah don' know what happened."
She curled her arms protectively around herself, rubbing her
hands up and down her arms as if chilled. Mystique took a
hesitant step forward but was rebuffed by a glare from Rogue.
Scott stood in a deceptively relaxed stance keeping both
hands loosely curled at his sides. "What were you doing
then?" He watched as she straightened and rubbed the
back of her neck, fidgeting again, before looking at him.
Her eyes could not quite pin his behind the visor and after
a second, she looked down and started to step forward. "Don't
Her expression was surprised and hurt. "Ah was jus'
gon' get my gloves. Jean was talkin' t'me, Ah think.... Ah
don' know. Ah felt sick. It was hot, then cold an' then,"
she raised an eyebrow, " you shot me into the wall."
"Don't forget, I kicked you in the head," Mystique
"Yes. Quite hard. My foot still hurts."
"Oh. Ah didn' feel it."
Which meant that Rogue had lost all sense of outside awareness.
He imagined the consequences of that in combat. Her gloves
lay between him and the corner bedpost. Bending down, he picked
them up and threw them in her general direction. She caught
one and had to fetch the other off the floor. Her bodyl anguage
was casual, unconcerned with attack or defense. Then again,
my most powerful blast can't hurt her. He motioned to
Mystique who smiled back and winked. Hope she leaves and
causes no more trouble after this.
"I'm going to talk with Jean and Elisabeth about this
and we will get to the bottom of it. As of now, you're on
probation. It's nothing personal, but we don't need this,
whatever it was, happening on field. We as a team can't afford
it." She looked up at him sharply, about to protest and
he raised a finger in warning. "Yes, I remember, I have
no authority over you, but there are people here who, I believe,
can help you and I'd like you to give them a chance. Consider
it a request." This was what the Professor would want
him to do.
"Yeah? Ah gave him years," she mumbled.
He understood what she was saying. He had seen it, watched
her wait, never push the issue except with a brief look in
the Professor's direction, very much like himself. If she
wanted a cure that badly, she could have asked. Besides, the
purpose of this team to is strive for a better world, not
place the needs of one over the group. "The same
amount of time he gave you. I don't know what happened for
sure. I don't know what Jean was doing, what you were talking
about, what Betsy meant by showing me her psi-blade and I
don't presume to know but right now, you can't afford to complain."
He needed to keep her quiet for the time being. She needed
to stay put for no other reason than the team needed to stick
together. The last thing he wanted to see was any member of
the team face the boiler of the outside world on their own,
not under current political conditions.
He looked pensively between the two remaining in the room,
waiting until Mystique left at the unsubtle hint. Rogue leaned
against the bedpost, crossed her arms and stared at the wall.
He was about to leave rather than deal with that sort of
childish behavior when something made him stop. He only had
a fraction of a second to discover what it was before Rogue
noticed. She was holding stock still except for one hand that
twitched revealing barely restrained tension. He face had
lost its definitive anger and was settling into a mask he
recognized from the mirror. That was it. She was burdened,
not raging. And she won't cry until I leave, until she's
alone. It was the same with him. Only Jean ever saw him
Why was she hurt? Why would she take temporary suspension
so harshly? Scott understood his team members. He knew instantly
when they were in conflict with each other, and usually why,
but he was not good at offering comfort or advice. He would
watch, wait and do damage control. So what did he know about
Rogue? She often attacked from behind and could be temperamental
but also took great pride in doing a good job. She could follow
orders. She was also sensitive to failure. By telling her
she had to step down he implied failure on her part, a failure
of which she had been unaware.
Scott absently adjusted his visor.
A failure that was also his to control power. Relying on
a crutch was not mastery yet the team accepted him as their
field commander. Most of the time, that did not bother him.
Sometimes though he became aware of his inability and felt
slightly inferior to them as if it was his fault, which it
What if they rejected me? He liked to think about
that. What would happen if one day they told him that a man
who could not control his mutation was unfit to lead? More
personally, he wondered how he would deal with a rejection
from Jean. What if she told me that I was too cold, too
avoidant and that she just couldn't put up with my inability
to express emotions like a "normal" human being.
It was ironic. He knew perfectly well that many of the team
members thought he was unaware of his deficiencies. A leader
could not afford that luxury.
He had faith that Jean would not abandon him over something
so trivial in the scheme of things even if it was what had
gotten him into trouble with Maddy. I couldn't tell the
difference between love and a memory of love. He had been
too much of a man, or too much the coward, to lie about that
and to pretend that he cared, which was the worst kind of
lie. He had been so relieved when Madelyne finally raged at
He opened his mouth to say all that to Rogue, to tell her
he understood, but like usual, somewhere between his brain
and his mouth the words fizzled into nothing. He wished that
someday he could tell everyone how he honestly felt, that
he could make them see that he was just like them. He was
simply doing what they wanted him to do.
"Y'un'erstan' what?" Her voice was subdued with
pain and her barricade of anger. Every useless emotion she
felt was channeled into that just as he channeled his emotions
into control and excellence.
She was scared that Gambit would run out of patience and
abandon her for someone more convenient. Scott could not lie
to her and say that could not happen. It was unethical. But,
from experience, he knew that the more time a person committed
to another or to a cause the less likely they were to quit
or admit they were wrong. Besides, he could not say that without
letting her know that her armor was less than perfect. He
had his armor like everyone else but if he did not lessen
her fear, her emotions would undoubtedly cause more conflict.
So he had to offer support. He had to explain why he understood.
Scott took another resolved breath. "I...."
"Nothing. Wait for Jean's instructions."
A verbal attack was the last thing he was expecting.
"Yeah, Ah thought so. Expected me to whine an' complain,
didn' you? Y'think Ah don' sympathize with your position?
Y'think Ah don' know what your job is? Y'think you're the
only one who ever had t'stay up all night studying tactics
an' strategy t'make someone happy? Or had t'put on a stiff
face an' give order t'someone twice y'age?" She laughed
sharply and straggled to a stop as suddenly as she began,
slouching. She looked in his direction, a bit to his left
and swung around in aggravation.
He did not expect to find himself envisioning her in his
place. The image was strange and rather...ludicrous. It almost
made him smile.
"What?" She seemed impatient over asking that question
again. "Look. Ah'm sorry. Ah don' know what happened.
That trick won' work on me, anyhow."
"I- What trick? I was trying to figure out if I've ever
seen you take command, effectively," he added.
"Oh. Ah thought you were tryin' t'stare me down. Mystique
does that sort of thing." She kicked at the rug, sighing
and rubbed her eyes. "So if y'not here t'jerk me 'round,
"I don't want you to do anything reckless."
"Am Ah reckless?"
"Hmph. Y'ever start t'whale into someone an' then realize
you shouldn't so y'pull the punch halfway, topplin' y'self
off balance an' lookin' like y'didn' know what y'were doin'
"Mm. Storm told me that there were times when she couldn't
figure out what stunt you were trying to pull." He looked
up at a print on her wall before returning his attention.
"I take it that over time you learned to try the less
permanent solution first?"
"You sound unhappy."
"Nah. Ah was thinkin'. Is there ever a time when the
best idea is t'open your eyes, look straight at y'enemy and
"Yes. Haven't you seen me?"
"Can you imagine doin' that all the time?"
"I imagine I'd be a very poor man."
"Oh, don't be-"
"I'm not. I'm serious. Some people can. Some can't.
But you're saying you did."
"Ah had to. The Brotherhood wasn' an evil version of
the X-Men. We weren't partners but we weren't like the Marauders
either. They're like a school of sharks. Tear each other apart
as soon as us. The Brotherhood.... If you couldn' hack it,
they didn' wan' y'around an' y'didn' get your dinner. Mean.
"Yeah. Vicious." For a second he saw a hollow look
in her eyes.
He should not pry because her past with the Brotherhood had
nothing to do with the recent debacle but it never hurt to
accept information when offered. It might come in useful later
and the conversation would improve her sense of good will
towards him. He injected a casual note into his voice, "It
was always a constant a fight with her, wasn't it?"
Though she was sitting still, she managed to fall motionless
before responding. "No. Squabblin' wasn' tolerated on
the team. Nor was lack of trust. Like Ah said, Ah know why
y'doin' what y'doin'. Our work is too dangerous t'have a loose
cannon on field. Ah'm jus' mad at myself and Ah wish y'wouldn'
assume Ah can't see your point of view."
He came close to smiling in relief that he would not need
to rationalize his decision. "It's good to hear that.
I hate-" No, his feelings had no place in this discussion.
"Do you really have training in field command?"
She smiled wryly at him. "Yeah. Ah never liked it, never
had the motivation, but yeah. It was all part of bein' Mystique's
"Like the Professor."
"Sort of but preten' y'were orderin' someone twice your
age and three times your experience while the Professor breathed
down y'neck." She smiled tightly, "That enough bones
Lulled into a sense of ease by her drawling acceptance, the
contention was a shock of ice water. Stare her down indeed.
He narrowed his eyes preparing to out debate her when she
faced him again.
Rogue finally turned back to him with an oddly amused expression
he recognized from Mystique.
She uncurled, crossing in front of him to lean on the corner
of the bureau. "No offense but Ah came here for the Prof,
not you, not the team or the Dream an' over time Ah changed
an' Ah believed an' Ah came t'see y'all as family but Ah don'
see the Prof an' Ah doubt we'll find him anytime soon. Well,
Ah still can't control my power an' Jean says it's gettin'
worse. You don' wan' Jean t'help me, fine. Ah'll leave an'
Ah'll find help one way or another because Ah don' need precogs
tellin' me or X-Cutioner t'kill me t'know my power is dangerous.
Ah'm not dumb so ask whatever y'wan' nicely because,"
she raised the edge of her hand level with her throat, "Ah've
had it up t'here."
He was stymied and disgusted. Rogue was young so he expected
a certain amount of immaturity from her but not this much.
This was not Logan muttering about important business in Madripoor
and sneaking off to do it his own way and then returning to
the team and expecting absolution for his self-centered behavior.
This was not Bobby acting sullen because of his latest break
up. Or Storm countering his orders. Or Gambit outright ignoring
his field commands after coming home at some ungodly time
in the morning. This was Rogue who obeyed order without question
and occasionally a bit of overkill.
He smelled a rat named Mystique and he could think of only
one person in whom Rogue had invested enough love for her
to reconsider her actions. "What about Gambit? Wouldn't
you be leaving him behind too?"
The barb went home, taking her off guard. "Ah think
our conversation is done, sugar." She remarked mildly.
"That's fine, but consider what I said. With the Professor
absent, we can't afford...reckless behavior."
She nodded bleakly. "Ah'm sorry t'hear that."
Continued in Chapter
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