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. All other characters belong to Marvel. I'm not profiting
Some language, graphic violence and mature topics in various
Comments go to email@example.com
Flames will be blithely ignored.
He gave them life, though at this moment, he was waiting.
He gave them life beyond simple humanity. He brought forth
their gifts or gave them control. They were not mutants to
him for those genetic accidents were meant to happen and happened
in the thousands every day, they were his products. It was
the success and survival of a fraction of that number that
set all mutants apart from common humanity, as they should
be. With his help, mutants would reach past destiny.
Each and every mutant was a miracle worth studying, if not
preserving. Millions of mutations occurred among mammalian
species every day, including the human race. The majority
were benign and unnoticeable. Those that were malignant generally
resulted in fetal deformity or spontaneous miscarriage. In
more recent years, the likelihood of these children surviving
birth had been increased by scientific means. As a result,
humans with latent mutations and cells with high carcinogenic
content were more common. He smiled faintly at that self-destructive
Despite this, for a mutated organism to survive the embryonic
and fetal stages, birth, infancy and puberty to reach an adult
reproductive state was a miracle. The qualifier was whether
the mutation was successful. It must not cause harm to its
host organism. Secondly, it must contribute in some way to
that organisms short term or long term survival. It could
do so directly, such as a healing factor or immunity, or indirectly
by generating positive survival behaviors linked to a double-tiered
For instance, the sensation of hunger. When the biological
systems required certain nutrients, they sent a message to
the hypothalamus which in turn relayed signals through the
thalamus and limbic system that induced a feeling of hunger.
This in turn caused the organism to engage in a certain set
of instinctual and learned food-gathering behaviors. When
those behaviors were completed and the biological need had
been met, another signal would be sent by the body to the
mind. The brain then instructed the release of certain amino
acids and hormones to induce a state of "comfort" or "pleasure".
Nature was truly fiendish in its ingenuity. How could
any intelligent person not desire to study and dissect such
phenomena? How could any sane person not desire to understand,
to know, to hold power, over such built-in wiring and programming?
It was insanity not to study life itself. Sinister rested
his hands on the edge of the examination table, listening
to the atmospheric hum of electronics in his climate controlled
laboratory. How can a group of mutants claim to be preserving
humanity when they do not understand their own humanity? How
can they have that arrogance? That lack of control will be
the death of them.
While his benefactor believed that only the fit would survive,
Sinister preferred to produce fitness itself. Sometimes, when
times were difficult, it was this fervent belief that sustained
him. If it also fit into his benefactor's master plan, then
good as well, but En Sabah Nur was not truly his master regardless
of how much the self-dubbed pharaoh would will it so. In the
end, when it came, he would not allow his dream to be sullied.
In the end, he would make science take that last half step
and achieve what nature could not, dared not. In the end,
science would prevail over nature.
The neural neutralizer should be wearing off his subject
soon. He turned his back to her, more interested in the computer
screens and his own thoughts. The monitor told him his guest
was awake long before his ears did. He waited until she finished
screeching. He waited until she subsided into gasps that could
never get enough oxygen. He waited until she realized that
her strength and energy were gone. That was the humor of it.
With her part alien metabolism suppressed, her own caloric
needs defeated her. Nature had a sense of humor, he would
give it that.
"Good morning. I trust you rested well?"
Why did people insist on shouting out his name? Did they
think he was not aware of his own title? Were they quaintly
suspicious and believed that saying it aloud would alter his
state of existence? He sighed as her metabolic output increased
dramatically and then depressed.
"Yes." He turned to face here. "Now, would you be so kind
as to settle down? Hysterics will do you absolutely no good.
I have suppressed your metabolic levels so that if you continue
to waste energy and struggle, you will most likely go into
toxic shock. It's rather like jaundice, and we wouldn't want
that, now would we?"
Over the fittings of a gas mask, dilated eyes, heightened
to a catlike yellow green, stared at him. She continued to
press against the restraints.
This would require a certain amount of showmanship and psychological
methodology. He did not want her to overexert herself just
yet. Sinister smiled, and predictably, as was instinctually
ingrained in almost all humans, Rogue shrank away from that
smile. It was too alien, too insectoid against the white skin
and red eyes, too predatory with its serrated edge. It was
all the things that repulsed any survival-oriented mammal
that had evolved to fear its reptilian ancestry.
She blinked, glassy-eyed and swallowed. Her head fell back
against the padding. Her fingers curled and uncurled. That
was a completely unconscious reaction harking back to clutching
at a safe person or location; it was a fear response.
"Ah'm goin' t'kill you." The whispered threat was garbled
through the gas mask on her face.
So was that.
A genuine smirk touched his lips. "I'm sure you will. But
if we are done with the theatrics, you have a purpose to serve."
"Let me go."
"After all those threats?" He chuckled at her audacity. "I
think not. I think that you will stay here," he patted her
on the head, "for as long as I see fit. What do you think
of that, child? and," he leaned over her as she literally
tried to wriggle off the table like a specimen, "we shall
have such an interesting time. If you are disgruntled over
having been captured and collared, you may consider being
more careful on your next outing."
She ceased struggling, like a rabbit hoping not to be seen.
He smiled at her cheerfully. "I see we understand each other."
Sinister turned away from her again, double-checking the sensor
readings from her restraints to ascertain she was not fighting
to escape. In front of him were monitors and graphs showing
the activity of her peripheral and central nervous system,
several lobes of her brain, including her cerebellum and hypothalamus,
as well as her metabolic levels. He had an experiment to perform.
"How's my dear friend Hank doing? Come up for a cure for
the Legacy yet?"
"No answer. I see. How about LeBeau?"
"He's not goin' t'come after me." She wheezed through the
mask. "Ah know how ... y'used him ... done deal."
"I hardly used him. We had a professional relationship. And
of course he won't come chasing after you. He could not penetrate
this location without first knowing the location and second,
possessing the means and strength. Nor do I believe he would
bring your friends to do that for him, being a secretive individual.
You and your friends will not be destroying this laboratory
like you did my cloning facility. In short, my dear, you are
"Now, please, do keep quiet and still. I'm a very busy man
and sometimes my schedule gets a bit tight. The smallest matter
can set off my nerves, and well, you can imagine the effect.
You wouldn't want to trifle with my nerves, would you?" He
turned back, allowing her to see the slim, tubular device
in his hand. He compressed a button on the side and a hair
thin syringe snapped out.
He rubbed his chin. She was clearly falling asleep. It
looks like I underestimated the effects of dampening her metabolic
system. No matter.
He stroked the side of her face and she flinched awake. Deliberately
leaning over the edge of the table, he placed one hand on
either side of her head. He tapped the mask with one finger,
in warning. "Don't fall asleep again. It's rude."
She rasped at him through the gas mask and her pulse shot
up. Her words were unintelligible, slurred but her mind projected
a terror of an animal. Her cardio monitor began to beep warningly.
"Do you hear that? Good, very good. Well, not really. You
have two very basic options at your disposal. You can calm
down or I can tranquilize you. Do you understand?"
There was a pause before she blinked and swallowed.
Grasping her chin in his left hand, he tilted her head, applying
the device to the back of her neck. "Shhhhh. Don't struggle."
She spasmed against the pain, what could have been a scream,
dying into a wheeze. "This is a simple outpatient procedure."
He held her back the back of the neck until she stopped moving
while watching the monitors. The blood temperature in her
extremities had dropped by a full degree. Accelerated activity
in the motor cortex. He waited until that died down.
"Why'm Ah here?" She stared at the artificial, blue-tinged
"And here I thought I'd given you enough clues." He stroked
her neck with the back of his hand. She never moved but that
could not disguise her revulsion. He kept an eye on the monitor
and continued the caress, along the collarbone, down the arm
and back up again to her breast. She made a strangled noise,
but had the sense to hold still. He hummed to himself. "I
have decided that you will be my eternal love slave."
She blinked rapidly. The only sound was the hissing of air
through her mask and gradually that turned into wheezing laughter
with a manic tinge. "Oh lord ... been abducted by a perv.
Jean ... Jean di'n' mention..."
"Look at me," he ordered. When she refused, he wrapped his
hand around her ribcage, sorely tempted to squeeze until a
bone or two splintered. Gentleness was more unnerving than
violence. She looked at him immediately, all trace of humor
gone. Let her speculate, though the thought of something as
messy as rape repulsed him. Her hands clenched into fists
and she glared at him with more hatred that had been created
in that single moment.
"Wha'y'wan' ... perv?"
He removed his hands. "Good girl. I merely want the usual.
If it makes you feel any better, I was going to pluck the
information I wanted from your mind. Since you unwittingly
made the issue difficult for me, I'm simply making things
difficult for you. As a further warning, I am not the only
person in this complex he would be delighted to have power
over one of Xavier's pets."
She grimaced, keeping silent but her thoughts floated where
he could hear them. Thoughts that labeled him a monster and
other things that did not have names. Such anger at being
helpless. Such fear. Images of a small, concrete room with
bars. Uniforms. Their smiles. A smile from the past, quickly
"Tha's not ... usual."
"Do you realize that you speak like a beggar?" He grinned
at her frustration. "You thought I would actually tell you?"
It would require more effort to wipe the information from
her brain if he told her why he had gone through the trouble
of capturing her. He had given her the clues by name. McCoy
and LeBeau had destroyed his chief cloning facility. Cloning
any individual required significant resources, both raw and
immaterial. It required memories to intelligently and obediently
function. He had the genetic material of all the X-Men, but
the mental and psychological data of only three. Even so,
he would not go through the trouble of combining any element
of Rogue's genetic matrix with any clone without first knowing
it would be worth the effort and within safety margins. Even
a kill gene might not work against a highly mutable matrix.
He began conversationally, one hand raised flat over her
torso. "Have you ever studied the connections between psychology
and biology?" She did not answer.
"Answer the question."
"Mm." The sensors were not showing any unusual brain activity.
"I assume you're aware of the various components of touch,
since it is your power after all?" He lowered his hand until
it was six inches away from her.
"Mm." Still nothing. "Do you know what I'm doing?"
He raised an eyebrow at her and saw that she was watching
the monitors as closely as he. "You've managed to surprise
me. Has anyone tried this before?"
"Not even Xavier?"
"Coward." He gradually lowered his palm until her power bit.
There. The screens for the lower and mid brain showed
activity. The electromagnetic field then, as an initial
trigger at the very least. "Can you feel anything?"
"Are you certain?"
"Hm. I suppose you tend to avoid being close to people."
He smiled slowly. "You would like to think that, wouldn't
you?" As he maintained his position, her hypothalamus and
limbic system lit up with activity. Even factoring in her
current emotional responses, there was elevated activity.
So then, an instinctual or emotional response to proximity.
As closing the distance did nothing except increase that
activity .... Her aggregate sensory input had increased though
he was providing her nothing to sense. Odd. She's not routing
the electromagnetic sensory input properly. "Hmph." He
dropped his palm onto her ribcage, doing a quick check for
pressure and temperature. Nothing.
She was old enough so her power could mature without damaging
her mind but insecure enough so he did not have to worry about
losing control. Her mutation was promising. It could be useful,
despite her being an inferior specimen. Absently, he rapped
a finger on her tenth rib. First, he had to ensure that she
would develop her abilities. That required that he find the
source of the sensory rerouting. So long as she was unable
to directly perceive her power, she could not fully wield
it. If she could not control the power, her memories would
be equally useless. He had considered conditioning, but judging
by how well Xavier's had held, it was not a reliable option.
He would have to do something permanent.
Making certain the monitors were recording, he refocused
his attention on his actual subject. Her eyes were screwed
shut, a sheen of sweat on her face. He planted his feet, stiffening
his body, and melted the glove off his right hand. Then, extending
his psi-shields around them both, he touched her cheek.
She made a thin whining sound like a wounded animal. He watched
her renew her struggles against her bonds, the erratic swings
of the monitor readings until they sank. The shock of unwanted
intimacy mixed with anger at being manipulated, insecurity
over what she perceived to be a sexual reaction, confusion
that made her cry. All of it balled up, aimed at him with
a promise of revenge.
Really? All that over a simple test? you need to look
at the larger picture, he admonished. Don't fight me.
You'll only hurt yourself just like you did last time.
When? The question was a mental whisper but sincere.
When? Ah, when. Surely you remember me, such a sweet child
you were, so obedient to your mother. Really quite admirable.
Mm. Rather rude though.
Who? The memory of a smile again came from her. No,
Suarez? The name hissed and faded like an echo.
Do you always repeat names or is this a temporary affliction?
Still, most ironic, don't you agree? He had recognized
Mystique and, her associate, Destiny had surely recognized
him. That was unduly hasty of them to try and assassinate
me. Uncalled for. Of course, you were too young to understand
what was happening or even suspect that those two ingrates
had ulterior motives. He would have killed all three of
them, especially the insignificant child. Insignificant until
he reviewed the possibilities of her mutation but there had
been more pressing matters to which he had to attend.
Can't be. You didn't know me.
He sighed dramatically, more to entertain himself than anything
else. Of course I knew you. I know every mutant born. I
simply didn't care. You had no distinguishable value then.
Now, you will refrain from blocking entrance to your mind.
Get that oil slick out of my way.
Sinister slipped through the webbing of her mind. Walls and
strands around him rippled, swaying toward him like cobwebs.
He answered with equal threat. The most prized possession
of most individuals he encountered, the mind was malleable
as putty under his thoughts. A small adjustment here, another
there, a tweak of desire or will, and that person would belong
to him. Nothing so crude as mind control. This would only
take a second.
Outside, in the laboratory, he could hear a cry of rage and
pain. It gurgled through the mask. The struggles accompanying
it triggered the tranquilizer. Within seconds, the cry had
Good. Her reactions will be more subdued now.
He passed through memories, pushing them aside, casually
treading on fragments of her core psyche. There were only
small pieces. He noted, with disinterest, her current quest.
Let her hunt. Let her seek useless, unmissed mutants. He
walked deeper into his subject's mind. The terrain changed
to that of a ruined city, blackened and scarred. The ground
beneath his feet was a fractured facade, the buildings were
silhouettes of life. This was a false plane, perhaps even
the creation of another. It was an impediment that he would
need to remove. The edges of the rubble blurred, melting towards
him. He laughed now, and waved the childish fumbling of her
mutant power away. Already she hunts me. Jean Grey has
accomplished something, after all. Her power was parasitic,
but his was also and mature at that.
This was no contest. Even that disparaging thought had sent
a shockwave of damage through the city. The facade was collapsing
and her suppression was weakening. There is little need
for my presence here. Nature appears to be taking its course
without help for once. Slowly and erratically as usual, though.
Very deliberately, he thrust one booted foot through the
shaky ground. It broke, fissures running away towards a mountain
on one side, a forest on another, and a river past the city.
An enclosed populace.
It released a pearlescent liquid that danced with every color,
eddying around his feet, washing away the dark rubble in a
whirling fury. Then, the liquid reared over the city like
an amoebae crushing the structures within, tearing at walls
and images, everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. Beautiful.
This was no tidy, personified avatar. Light. Brilliant
white light filled with shifting colors.
But aesthetics had no place in science. While he appreciated
the chaos, it would be difficult to work inside. A certain
amount of structure was required to eliminate variables. Let's
see if we can't give this a more concrete structure. We shall
make this a smaller world, more concise. An enclosed populace.
Towering forms. The liquid avatar. Light. And a representative
image of our subject. For all his control, Sinister understood
that it was his subconscious that would perceive and shape
this world. His consciousness could only guide it with symbol
choices and interpret the results.
The colors and light coalesced into a tree leaning over a
river bank, the one remaining structure. It was warm and sunny
and he could hear the gurgle of water, birds, wind. There
was a girl sitting on a branch, humming off-key. In short,
the scene was disgustingly idyllic. Neither was it real. It
was only a set of symbols his mind constructed of Rogue's
mind. Therein lay the problem. What are my subconscious
The girl started, surprised to see him. She wiggled off her
perch and swung down to circle him, wide-eyed. "You're not
supposed to be here."
"Sulky, aren't you?" He sat cross-legged.
"I am not." She stuck her lip out at him.
Sinister folded his hands together and smiled winningly.
"My name's Nathan. What's yours?"
"You're not supposed to be here," she insisted in a worried
"Am I trying to hurt you?"
She fidgeted from foot to foot. "...No, but someone is."
"Well, I'm just going to sit here, like so, and talk to you.
I'm not hurting you. It's very nice here. Do you mind talking
She edged around him and gradually her scowl was replaced
by curiosity. "Okay, but don't move."
"I won't. What's your name," he repeated.
"I don't know."
"Do you know who you are?"
She shrugged. "Sometimes. Lotsa times I'm other people. Who
"I'm a scientist."
"No, like Dolittle."
"Oh. Okay." She cocked her head, frowning at him belligerently
for a moment.
Sinister mulled over his new discoveries. She's a bit
more vapid than I expected. This core area was brighter
than the outer symbols and facades. It was happy, in an ignorant
sort of way. Beyond informing him that he should not be here,
about which was correct, she accepted his presence without
qualm. There were two distinct possibilities. Either she was
unaware of his threat or she was fully confident of her ability
to oust him. Since she had not been able to control his presence
on the previous occasion she had absorbed him, the latter
choice was unlikely.
Satisfied with his logic, he scanned for any dark or suspicious
area. The core psyche could not be this obnoxiously nice.
The overgrown grass did not hide any holes, rocks or tangles
of brush. There was the river, but it gleamed an unnaturally
bright blue, not the muddy brown he vaguely recalled of the
Mississippi. It disappeared into the indistinct edges of the
core, almost appearing to be the edge of a sea rather than
a river, except for the obvious current. A large powerful
body of water, reminiscent of the first avatar. Which
meant that the girl was not real. The tiger posing as grass.
Then there was the massive, gnarled oak, spreading a protective
canopy over the scene. The two symbols of age and power contrasted
sharply with her apparent youth and naiveté. He smiled thinly.
Perhaps she could oust him, if she was aware of it, which
she was not. This power will be interesting to study in
its full force. The only trick was to shatter this illusion
and that key would either be in the water or the tree.
"I imagine it's fun to go swimming."
The girl was shaking her head. "I'm not supposed to go near
the river. Uncle Lucien says it's dangerous." She wrinkled
her nose. "And it's cold."
He headed towards the river. How could she know it was cold?
The bank sloped down sharply, loose dirt and mud crumbling
under his feet and causing him to slip abruptly. He discovered
that the water was, indeed, cold. Here at the edge, the current
was strong enough to sweep away small stones and undercut
the bank. After some consideration, he turned away from the
water and climbed up the bank. He was not prepared to battle
such an amorphous power.
She was back in the tree, watching for him. "You shouldn't
"I quite agree. I got wet and cold and there's mud on my
She frowned at him as if he'd grown a fifth limb. "You're
"Why yes..." The rumble of flowing water deepened and a cool
breeze washed over him. The sky darkened momentarily, before
everything phased back. "...I am." He crossed his arms as
the sun returned throwing bright light on the greenery and
water to his left. As he calmly approached the tree, he noticed
that the river shifted, perpetually remaining in view. In
essence, this small hillock was an island.
Ah. An island of land within a circling moat as the illusion
was a lake surrounded by a crumbling city, both eroded by
the currents of power. Now, he too circled the ancient
tree and speculated on what would happen if he destroyed this
bulwark of stability. Is it, for that matter, a symbol
of stability? Of control? Of mental grounding? But this ground
is not her power. There was rustle from the branches and
he sent the girl a friendly smile. He kept one hand out of
sight, building a charge and was still smiling when he brought
it round to neatly burn through the trunk.
"No!" There was a flash of wide eyes that narrowed and disappeared.
There was strained crackle that intensified to a groan as
the tree fell. Without its roots to hold the earth in place,
the ground beneath his feet split away in a roar. The tree
was flung into the river, shattering as wind and water blended.
The girl, the nobody, was screaming at him, inarticulate in
her rage. He watched as her very form warped, dissolved, was
swept away with the remainder of the false focal point. It
was regrettable that Xavier could not see this. Even in his
cool rationale, Sinister raised his arms in exaltation over
his own success and the din whirling around him.
And then, he lost his balance, caught in the violently churning
currents. Perhaps it was time to leave.
A vise of power slithered around him like a snake. How
dare she? I try to help, I try to be nice and what
does the child attempt? He lashed out with equal force,
swallowing bits of the mental soup strangling him. Angrily,
he sliced at the anchor. It sprang apart like a monstrous
In the laboratory, appraising her still body, he growled
warningly. Her eyes were unfocused, wet. Her hands frozen
into claws. "That, " he enunciated, "was not a wise thing
to do, girl." He increased the dose of tranquilizer enough
to paralyze but not to kill. Let her body be frozen and
her mind free.
Rogue started violently, not aware she was free of restraints
until she fell over and landed in the snow. Crystals of ice.
Blue, violet, lilac tinged with rose. They cut, crystal sharp
into her mind. They cut into her skin. They cut into her gut.
Rogue turned her face into the snow, sucking in the cold and
moisture. She could hear snow melting under her cheek and
a soft hissing. It was like the sound of a thousand insects.
She moaned and curled in a fetal ball. She was shaking.
In a sideways world, she could see tree trunks, overlapping
into gray shadows. There was orange and pink light twining
between the branches. So it was either dawn or dusk. She stared
at the trees trying to identify the pain in her head, a variation
on sinus pressure. She decided that crickets had crawled up
her nose, which made about as much sense as her current situation.
She rolled over.
"God damn!" She grabbed the back of her neck, then wished
she had not. "Shit. Aw...." Taking deep breaths, she concentrated
on not vomiting. She fingered the goose-egg at the base of
her skull, picking up a handful of snow to press against it.
Someone got around my powers.
Trying to kneel up, she froze. There was a pain like acid
in the place of blood, flowing through her body. The acid
pooled in her stomach, crushing her heart, strangling. It
was an internal injury, a pain that filled all of her. It
was poison, a shot through the heart, being crushed by twisted
metal and stone and all that she could think about was need.
Need to escape ... need. She tightened her arms around her
stomach in a vain attempt to banish the pain. Ignore it.
Ignore it. It'll fade. It will fade. A word, a memory.
A man who had nearly starved to death in a refugee camp. Starvation.
I can ignore this. Just shut it away, like before. It's
wrong. Wrong. I can ignore it. I can control it.
She could not move. It hurt as if every nerve was over-saturated.
What if I can't control it? Who'll I hurt next? Fear
made a person want to run or die. She knew fear at every touch.
How it felt to not know if her will was stronger; if her life
would continue. Her life. She did not want to run. There was
acid inside, the residue left of violation that she did not
want to see.
But as she looked down at herself, she saw the exit marks
of a plasma blast on her uniform. The hole was perfectly circular,
melted at the edges, scorch marks shadowing the cloth from
shoulder to shoulder. She touched the pink scar tissue, to
the right of her sternum. Either I've been here a long
time or someone patched me up. And did something to the back
of my head.
She unfolded an arm, splayed a hand in the snow. It crunched
softly. Her arm shook and she collapsed. Something hot and
wet ran down the side of her nose. The acid inside was corroding
her heart. This was wrong. This was like before, when her
power first emerged and she used it as instinctively as breathing.
Show me a good time, sugar. Show me. Show me. Of their
own volition, her hands covered her ears. The sound, the sound
of insects, or melting snow, was drilling into her head.
And she could not shut it out. She was making sounds too.
Incoherent. Maybe words. She rolled drunkenly, jerked and
shot up into the air. Away from the sounds and the pain. Take
the high ground. She swallowed but the acid was still
there. Show me a good time. She started to laugh and
cry because it was wrong to enjoy the mental contact, to enjoy
dominating, feeding off a person. Parasite, like an insect.
Little blood sucker. The craving was there, she could
hear it, feel it like acid. Her shivering turned into a shudder.
Right now, there was only one thing to think about. She knew
that the next person she was might not survive and there was
only one place she could think of where people could help
First, she had to figure out her current location. There,
that was a sane thought. She pulled up into the air, unsteadily,
since the horizon kept wobbling. I think I can, I think
I can. Stop that. But, if I turn blue and spout smoke -- Stop
Blue. That meant something. She floated aimless staring at
the translucent snow covering. Blue, like fluorescent lights.
Hospital lights. She ground her teeth, and fingered the back
of her neck again. She flew up until the ground below her
turned into a pitted, rolling land mass. The wavy white and
lavender lines were hills, stretching north to south. I'm
going to hazard a guess that I'm still in the States.
She zipped her jacket to cover the damaged uniform, in front
if not in back. There was nothing she could do except fly
The icy chill in her bones magnified the further she traveled
from civilization. She bit down on it until her jaw ached
as her body became one general ache, a pain in her bones,
joints, sinuses. She felt bruised by something she could not
see or name. Maybe I'm sick. She was beginning to feel
sluggish. Passing the lower Appalachians, she dropped out
of the sky.
The snow was wet and slushy under her fee and the bright
morning sun. The temperature was rising. She was shivering
with cold and exhaustion. Rogue slumped against a tree, panting,
bewildered by this draining weakness. Her power, the Kree
powers, should be compensating if she drained her physical
reserves. She could feel the subtle flow of energy, but it
did not satiate. What is this? Power withdrawal? At
least her mind was clearing up. Maybe I was just disoriented.
There was another niggling possibility that she had to consider,
just in case. When Jean had talked with her last time, she
had felt the same chill and uncomfortable physical pressure.
If those sensations were magnified, would they feel like this?
Freezing? Bruising? Is this what Jean was saying? Was
her mind generating its interpretation of a sensation she
was blocking out? Frequently her senses would overload when
she used her power. Her current state might be nothing more
than psychic hypochondria. If that was so, she shuddered to
think of what she was refusing to feel. I must be out of
my head to be thinking like this. Jean will know better than
The irrational part of her mind balked at returning to the
mansion. Cyclops had put her on probation. If he saw her like
this, he would ask her, very politely, to seek help. It would
be out of best interest for the team, but would be a death
knell for her. As much as she hated the constant battles,
injuries, fears for no personal reward, it was her life. Fighting
was the only thing she was truly skilled at except for, laughably,
mechanics. Working five to nine had been invigorating but
she would go insane as a spectator. Nevertheless, she would
not be able to stay with the X-Men and not pull her weight.
They were people she cared about, loved. I can't let them
see me like this. She wanted to wait this out. If Jean
was right, if this was her power acting up, she did not want
to risk hurting her friends. But I have to go home. They'll
Rogue looked up too quickly and her field of vision swam.
At least I'm used to that. She restrained the urge
to shake her head and carefully flew up over the forest canopy.
If she bore head on, she would reach Salem Center. After a
moment of hesitation, she turned right a couple of degrees
and headed towards New York. From there she could find a place
to rest and get transportation if she needed it.
She launched again just below Mach and within approximately
ten minutes, the city came in view and she sped up, ignoring
her warping vision. Crossing over the city in flight was dangerous.
Anyone who bothered to look up might spot her because she
was keeping under radar. Normally, that would not be a concern.
Today, though, a kid with a air gun could knock her out of
the sky. Consequently, she wanted to take the first available
She angled for a cluster of brownstone apartments that had
seen better days, but then it happened. The roof was a few
feet away when a wall of sensations hit her. Spots danced
in her eyes, static in her ears and white hot knives on her
skin. She collided with concrete, slid through and past the
ledge and landed heavily in an alley with a pile of debris.
There, between a dumpster and a moldering pike of greenish
bags, the chaos stopped. Eerily, the earlier pain ceased.
If anything ... no, that could not be right. She felt good.
It was nothing tangible, just a s sense of rightness and peace.
She was involved in interpreting what was happening to herself
when the cold and pain hit again. She waited until the dry
heaves ended before opening her eyes. The laughter started
as a thrum in her chest, until she was wheezing, wiping tears
out of her eyes as she considered her skillful landing.
She laughed until her stomach hurt, then gasped to a stop
and swallowed. It really was not funny. She did not understand
what was happening to her, or her power, nor did she want
to comprehend. I'm not drunk. I'm not high. I'm hurting
but I don't think I'm sick. Not really. Just sick and twisted.
She looked up at the brownstone into which she had skidded.
I flew over the building and came into contact with something,
didn't I? And what's inside buildings? People. People are
inside buildings. She shut that thought away.
Gazing at the sky, she watched the sun until spots appeared
in her field of vision. The building in front of her had a
decorative frieze, curling, interlocked spiral squares. When
the sun hit them, the seemed to glow a pale beige that reminded
her of rice paper.
The ground was filthy. She sat up. So what do I do now?
There was a road flanked by sidewalks at the mouth of the
alley. It was morning rush hour and cars edged along between
pedestrians. Rogue clambered to her feet, secure in the knowledge
that people looked into alleys less often then they looked
up. She made her way towards the sidewalk, dragged a hand
along the brick wall to steady herself. It sounded like a
city, it smelled like a city and even the fetid air, so different
down here than miles up, clung to her.
There were people everywhere. She jerked every time someone
passed by the mouth of the alley. Their proximity was like
air passing over a raw wound. She swallowed and hugged her
A woman passed by the alley. She carried a pocket book and
dragged a small child behind her. The child, bundled so thoroughly
that its gender was indecipherable, planted its heels in the
snow. The mother had none of that and continued on. Then came
a man was a patchy beard and olive green knit cap. He glanced
at Rogue, then ignored her.
Yeah, this is New York. I could be mugged and raped in
the middle of the road and no one would stop to help. She
closed her eyes and felt the warmth around her. It was a heat
beneath the winter chill. Her teeth were chattering and she
clasped her arms tighter.
A door opened.
"Hey, Mark, see ya later."
Another voice admonished the speaker to be on time tomorrow.
Her eyes flew open and she tried to straight up. This was
not a blind alley, it continued across the block. She saw
a side door close, the employee exit of a store. A young man
was walking towards her through the slush. No, not me,
he doesn't see me yet. I have to ... She squinted and
shook her head. The more she stared at him, focused on him,
the more it seemed as if she should be able to see
something. An imaginary draft washed over her as he got closer.
It felt like brushing into a spider web.
The young man saw her now. He looked away swiftly, avoiding
Since he was not watching, she indulged her curiosity and
put out a hand, palm toward him. The skin of her hand tingled.
It was like putting a frostbitten extremity under hot water
or over a radiator. She had frostbite once, before she fought
Carol. Always too sensitive to the cold. The warmth
was a part of him but he was two feet away. She wiggled her
fingers, feeling the discomforting tingle of flowing energy.
That's not right. How can I feel him from this far
"Uh, sorry lady, I don't have anything." He shied away a
bit and started to go around her.
She was not paying attention. She was staring at the green
leather encasing her right hand. Her left was still cold,
but the this one was warm. The glove was useless. I can
feel it. I'm not even touching him and I can feel his life
force. I could just... She turned her hand in a grasping
motion, imagining she felt a tug of resistance but not truly
She watched his face go slack before closing her eyes, which
was a mistake. As she jerked away, her hands clenched, mimicking
the action of her mind and power. There was no difference.
She heard herself whisper something to the stranger or from
him to her. Except, he was not a stranger anymore.
There it was again, the acidic bruising letting her know
that someone else's personal space was crossing into hers,
that their life-forces were merging in a parody of intimacy.
The most recent memories first: frustration at staying so
late after a night shift, cleaning up after his "team members."
Concern that he would not make it home before rush hour was
truly severe. Wondering if he had any of his favorite cereal
left and if any of his fish had died. An idle memory of sunlit
snow and sledding from childhood. A buried notion to have
sex with that crazy girl since no one would notice if she
disappeared. She jerked back with pain and revulsion
Her back struck rough brick and she let herself slide down
the building wall. She was panting. Her pulse shook her body.
She gulped in air, cool air to clean out her lungs. Because
it did not hurt anymore. She hid her face behind her knees.
Oh crap. It did not hurt because it felt good. Better
than the best high I've ever had, except, maybe, San Fran.
She started to plead with herself. But she could not stop
it. There was no more bruising, no more hunger, no more nervous
pain. That's not need. That's greed. Ororo could stop her
power. And Logan. And Jean. Why can't I? She stared at
her hands to avoid seeing the heap of humanity in front of
Minutes had passed. Just minutes.
There were too many memories. So many. So interesting. So
curious. So remote.
She heard loud footsteps clatter into the alley and jerked
her head up. "Hey! Hey, you! Ma'am? Stay calm, I'm--"
She saw a navy blue uniform and that was enough. Rogue bolted
sideways, unconsciously swinging her arm in an arc as if to
push the threat away, the shot up into the sky. She
had to go home.
To be continued.
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