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UXM #350 Aftermath

Stories by Onyx

Rogue is confronted by the ghosts of those she has absorbed, and realizes the truth behind their anger at her.

"The Death of a Dream"
A What If? style story, based on the 1997 two-parter in which Psylocke defeated the Shadow King. Two years ago, all the telepaths were killed during a ferocious battle with the Shadow King, and now he holds this post-apocalyptic world beneath his heel. Brother kills brother, friends become enemies and new, unthinkable alliances are forged.

"The Resurrection Gauntlet"
Sequel to "Death of a Dream." Six years after the Shadow King has been defeated and the Brotherhood scattered, the future remains bleak for mutants and humanity alike. Sentinels and rogue factions of the Brotherhood remain, and Sinister rears his evil head amidst the chaos. Worst of all, the the two children who may hold the key to the worlds salvation are in danger. Can even the Master of Magnetism prevail above it all as he leads a new team of mutants into the fray to pursue a forgotten dream?


Web site: X-Men X-Travaganza

Disclaimer: All characters featured in this story belong to Marvel and are used without permission, blah, blah, blah :) You all know the drill.
About: This story was inspired by Uncanny X-Men #236, wherein Rogue faces a scene much like this one. In that issue, Carol rescued her from her ghosts because they still needed each other. Now, with Carol finally gone, Rogue must face them on her own.
Archiving: If you would like to archive this story, please email Onyx (that's me!) and ask for my permission. Otherwise, I will have to hunt you down, tie you up, tape your eyelids open and force you to read every bad X-Men comic ever written! Don't make me do this! I have Lobdell comics out the yang and am not afraid to use them! :)

Alone. She has always been alone, ever since she can remember, in some way or another. As a child, it was being orphaned, as a teen and adult, her mutant ability which she could never control. It is dark here..(safe?) within the depths of her soul. Retreating to the most primal of states, so deep within herself that she (does not even want to?) cannot even find the road home, traveling through the darkened streets of her subconscious mind. The thought catches…and begins to take hold, the images forming reality around her. Slowly bleeding into life, appears a darkened city street, surrounded by twisted, dilapidated buildings, crumbling with their own age and rot. As silent and barren as a tomb, she knows that nothing living dwells here. Any life it might have carried once, fled long ago. Blackness all about...shadows within shadows…not even a lit window to offer comfort or call a wayward soul home. "Too dark", she thinks…and immediately there is light. The neons flare all about her, proclaiming their tacky and sometimes profane messages in a rainbow of color from one end of the street to the other. Bathed in their harsh light, she squints, truly seeing her surroundings for the first time.

There is no sky…simply a dark pall which hangs above the city like a disembodied soul, discernable only where it meets the even blacker horizon in the distance. Not even a breeze stirs upon the humid streets, the air about her almost fetid as it clings to her form like second skin. Loathing its touch, she brushes at her arms, hoping to drive away the unclean feeling…but it remains, as if it had (always been there?) a life of its own. Trash litters the gutters, lining the city street like forgotten treasures cast aside long ago. Her nose wrinkles in disgust as the smells assail her, decaying matter and debris fouling the air with their pungent odors, somehow only worsened by the faint scent of cheap perfume which fails to mask the stench. A concrete garbage bin, a graveyard to an era past. Some of these buildings may have been beautiful once, even majestic, rising high beyond the horizon as if to touch the sky. Now they resemble little more than broken, twisted fingers, grasping desperately upward into the darkness as if for freedom The entire cityscape, jagged and haphazard as it is, gives no illusions of grandeur…no, this is the bottom of the barrel. The poorest and cheapest of big city backstreets.

Despite the oppressive heat, she brings her arms up to cradle herself, as if to warm (protect?) herself. "Seedy neighborhood," she thinks. "Thought ah had more class." The thought startles her, the very cohesiveness of it. She had been drifting within herself, with no line to hold her. Out of mind, out of time, within a comforting blackness that she had thought she could quickly grow used to. There was no guilt here, no reminder of the sins and betrayals of her past. Suddenly, she realizes, she has come aground. "But why here?", she wonders. "After all ah been through in mah life, this is the best my subconscious can do to represent itself? Is this all there is inside of me?" Again, she rubs her hands against her shoulders, as if feeling a sudden chill.

"You ask me, you got it just right, kid. This neighborhood suits you just fine. Trash for the trash."

The voice comes from behind her, but she does not even need to turn to recognize its owner. "Carol Danvers," she whispers, her voice so shaky and thin that it is barely audible, even upon the still air of the night. Her heart freezes in her chest, blood turning suddenly cold, and she rubs her hands against her arms vainly to warm them, knowing she cannot escape this, nothing can save her from this.

"That's right, 'shugah.'" Carol's sarcasm is thick as she moves around her, into her line of vision. Still wearing her Ms. Marvel costume of years ago, she appears almost bigger than life, a colorful splash of paint upon a dingy backdrop. Long legged, beautiful and powerful, Carol Danvers had once been the epitome of a super-heroine, representing the ideals of such as an Avenger. But no longer. Smoothing her long blond hair back from her face, Carol gives the girl a wicked smile before continuing. "Long time, no see, 'shugah.' I was beginning to think you had forgotten your old and bestest buddy."

"You're dead, Carol. Go away", she whispers, turning her back on the woman again. "You and me, we parted ways a long time ago after the Siege Perilous."

"Ah, yes," responds Carol, dryly. "That was the point at which you forever destroyed Carol Danvers, once and for all." She stalks in a slow circle about the younger girl, like a killer moving in for its prey. " How very thoughtful of you to finally finish the murder you began so many years ago."

She closes her eyes, gathering her emotions, her thoughts, trying to focus beyond the fear she feels, beyond the bone-numbing cold which has settled into her frame. Colder and colder as Carol moves ever closer to her with slow, deliberate steps. "We been through this," she snaps through chattering teeth. "You know ah never meant for that to happen."

"Like you never meant to leave the cajun boy to die in Antarctica, 'shugah'?" she grins maliciously, bringing her face within inches of the younger girls, watching her fallen expression with something like wicked glee. "But it did happen. It happened and now you have to live with it. With both of us. What you feel now is just a taste of what he felt…of what I endured. Think you can live with that? Think I'm going to let you?" she laughs aloud, though there is no humor in the sound, sliding around behind the girl. "Our time together might be done, 'shugah'….but rest assured, we'll never be even. And you'll never be free.." The voice draws closer, breath hissing against the back of her neck. "You may be rid of me, but you can never be rid of your memories. And I'll make sure you never forgive yourself for all the grief you've ever caused." The voice fades, the last word drawing out in a long, sibilant sound, its echo dying away long before the emotion it provokes does.

The feeling begins to return to her limbs as Carol's presence fades, the chill slowly receding. "So cold….is that how Remy felt?" she wonders dully. A passing vision of his still form lying on the barren plains of Antarctica, a stabbing pain through her heart, and then she steels herself, waiting for the stinging retort she knows will come. But none does. Carol was gone, as if she had never been, and that was as true in life as it was in here. Carol Danvers was gone. Wiped out of existence years ago by a young girl who didn't know the limitations of her own powers.

"Alone again," she thinks, eyes traveling up the long city street aimlessly, not really seeing the vision before them. Her thoughts drift back to that summer night…so hot, so reminiscent of the night here. Just another job…another run for Mystique and the Brotherhood. But it hadn't worked out that way, had it? No, she had remained in physical contact with Carol Danvers for too long, and the transfer of the woman's abilities and memories had become permanent. In an instant, in a horrible, unexpected accident, both lives were forever changed. She had stripped Carol Danvers of all her powers, memories…everything that made her who she was. For her part, her mind could not assimilate the two dramatically different psyches, and she lost any sense of self she had ever had. A fitting punishment, perhaps, for a crime that was almost the same as murder. Yes, she had murdered Carol Danvers as much as if she had driven a knife through her heart. And then tried to murder her again when Carol's psyche was finally separated from her own. With only enough life force between the two of them to sustain one being, she had fought for her very life against the former Ms. Marvel. She would have lost, too, if not for the intervention of Magneto. .Magneto…Joseph. His image flashes before her…his steel-blue eyes losing none of their intensity within her mind. So handsome…so tormented. A man with a past he cannot remember, and she with one she would give anything to forget.

"Ah, Joseph…ah wish….," she trails off the whisper, not quite (daring?) knowing how to finish her plea. His image grows solid before her, taking on substance even as she watches, until he is almost as real as herself. She stares at him for long, silent moment, thinking, remembering, even as she realizes that he is not truly there. Less real than Carol somehow…more ethereal. More a ghost of memory than a true representation of him.

"What, Rogue? What would you wish?" he asks, his voice as kind and gentle as she has always remembered it, smiling as he reaches up to touch…touch….touch her?!

"No! Don't touch me, Joseph." she shrinks away, recoiling from his hand as if she had been struck.

"A li'l late for that, petite, no?" comes the mocking voice now, deeper, more baritone with its thick accent.

Horrified to the core of her soul, she cannot help herself as her eyes rise, riveted upon the rapidly changing face of Joseph. The sweet smile fading, replaced by a cocky, half-smirk, steel-blue eyes glowing brighter until they burn like red hot coals. The features sharper, more defined, though no less handsome in their own rugged way. "Remy…," she whispers, at once terrified and relieved, repulsed and yet drawn to him.

"Thas right, petite. Nice to you haven't forgotten me…even if you did leave me to die," he continues in that easy voice of his, the one that oozes like melted butter, soothing even the most troubled soul. The voice that wooed her, that made its way into her heart and became part of her. Oh, how she loved (loves?) that voice.

His words strike home, and she crumples before him, knees going weak and giving out as she slumps to the ground. "You're not really here," she says flatly, her voice lacking the conviction of her words.

"Yes, well…," he makes a sweeping motion with one hand through the air, a cigarette appearing between his fingers as he reaches the arc of his movement. Drawing it back down to his lips, a bright flame appears in the darkness and dies, leaving behind a glowing ember. Exhaling smoke in a curling blue-gray cloud, he continues. "Dat not entirely true, petite. No one knows better den me dat whatever a body takes into it, whatever deeds a body does, it keeps a bit of. Sometimes it's only a memory, sometimes it's only a stain or two, and sometimes, enough to blacken an entire soul. Everything we take in leaves something behind, petite."

She stares at the ground, eyes fixed on the tips of his boots as he speaks, not daring to meet his eyes. The silence stretches between them like a chasm, yet another barrier she cannot break. Finding herself without words as her mind reels with the implications of his statement, she begins to retreat even further, willing this world away, seeking a deeper place, a darker place, a place where she will not have to face this…face him. She cannot. The city shimmers about her, growing dim for a moment, almost flickering…as if its power supply had suddenly been cut short. And before her, one booted toe begins to tap.

"Solid…," she manages to croak, staring with disbelief at the form of Gambit still before her. The street beneath his feet, almost transparent, intangible…and yet, he stands upon it, solid and real as she. "How?" she wonders aloud, and regrets the question the moment it leaves her lips. The city snaps back into focus as she finds her total attention upon him, escape forgotten.

"So, glad you asked petite", he replies, his smile evident in his tone of voice. "Dat's what I been tryin' to tell you. See, everyone you ever touched, everyone you ever took into you through their memories and powers, dey all still here. Beast would probably call it some kind of psychic residue…a small piece of each person left behind as they passed through your mind. Me…I just call'em ghosts." He pauses for a long moment, as if to let the words sink in. "And in here, chere, dey just as real as you are."

"Y-you mean…I stole a tiny piece of every one of them?" she asks timidly, still trying to evade the truth even as her heart sinks within her chest.

The sly smirk deepens, one corner of his mouth curling up into a tiny sneer. "But petite, dat's what you do. You're a thief, just like me. Only you steal lives instead of purses or hearts. You reaped a real coop when you got me, though….heart and life. You took it all away chere. Years of struggling, trying to be a better man den I was, learning to love…..and you destroyed it all for me in less time than it takes to tell."

The tears brim within her eyes, threatening to spill over in a torrent of emotion. Concentrating, she wills them back, holding them in check, knowing somehow, that if she does not, she will lose herself completely in them. "Remy…ah…ah'm so….", she breaks off, not quite knowing how (daring?) to finish her sentence.

He hunkers down, balancing his weight on the balls of his feet as he wraps his arms about his knees. His voice is almost tender as he speaks, one gloved fingertip touching a lone tear as it escapes the confines of her lashes. "What, petite? Sorry? Is dat what you were going to say? How sorry you are?" Withdrawing his hand, he shakes his head, uttering a dry, bitter laugh. "Darlin', you ain't seen sorry yet…," his voice grows low, more conspiratorial. He gives a sly glance to either side, then rises, the ever-present smirk growing even wider as he stands.

"See, I been here for quite a while now. Had plenty of time to make some friends…and ain't none of them too happy wit you, petite." With a grin, he steps back, a shadowy crowd suddenly forming on the empty city street.

They are distorted at first, like images glimpsed through curved glass, slowly becoming more defined. She recognizes each silhouette, each curve and nuance of every individual. Juggernaut, Captain America, Thor, Thing, Wolverine, Storm…so many of them, their numbers growing even as she watches. Every person she ever touched, every memory or ability she ever stole, all of them, still here within her, like ghosts from the past. Some of them appear very faint, almost transparent, others so vivid and real, complete to the most minute detail. She raises her hands (against?) to them, as if to (ward them off?) plead their forgiveness, her mouth opening as if to speak, yet no words spill forth. Any apology locked tight within her throat, the only sound she hears is that of her beating heart, its rhythm suddenly leaping forward with adrenaline. She knows what comes next…oh yes, she knows all too well. It is what she herself would seek, if she had been violated so. Suddenly, a chill wind rises, sweeping over her body and raising the hairs upon her neck. She shudders and wraps her arms tightly about herself, bowing her head so that she will not have to watch, accepting her fate silently. She pauses for just a moment to ponder the irony of the sudden chill…after all, revenge is a dish best served cold….

She makes no sound as they come for her, refusing to cry out even as they rend, tear, pummel and blast her. She is lost in the flurry of blows, each excruciating moment of pain an eternity, each blow a reminder of her past sins. She almost welcomes it, not fearing her death…in fact, she nearly embraces it, moving closer toward the comforting blackness. Justice served at last, she thinks, as coherently as she can beyond the pain. She forces herself to keep her eyes open, to witness every moment of retribution. Their faces swirl before her, a myriad sea of color and feature…friends, enemies, even those she does not know. Their visages twisted, almost demented with their terrible pleasure at her pain, loving every moment of revenge. They are demonic, savage, caricatures of their normal selves, and she cannot help but wonder if they were always so, just beneath the surface. Always hating her for what she took from them, always wanted to pay her back for violating their very body and soul.

Body broken and bleeding, injured beyond any chance of repair or life, and yet she lives on. Enduring it all without complaint, she prays incessantly for the end. The end of her pain, of all her years of torment and loneliness, to be finally free of the guilt over what her powers have inflicted on others, to finally pay the price for her transgressions in this life. To be forgiven, to be absolved.

So cold, she thinks, no warmth left. Surely the end must draw near, her lifesblood spilling onto the dirty concrete of the city street.

"K-kii..lll….muh-muh…eeee." Her words are but a whistle of air as she forces them through cracked lips and gum, a testament to the life she still miraculously possesses.

"Ready for the end, darlin'?" Wolverine's bloody claws almost seem to flex as he clenches and unclenches his fists, eyes dark and intense as he brings his face closer to hers.

Unable to speak, she tries to nod instead, her head lolling helplessly to the side as her severed, battered muscles give way.

"That'd be the easy way out," he agrees, nodding slightly. "But that's not the way it works." He stands, sheathing his claws with a click of finality.

And before her eyes, the phantoms begin to wink out, one by one, as if they simply ceased to exist.

"Nuh..n..nooo…," she gasps, almost desperate to stop them. They cannot leave yet, not before the final judgement has been carried out. They can't leave her like this…a broken shell of a human being, dying slowly and forgotten all alone. Even she had never been so inhumane…had she?

Oh, but hadn't she? Came the mocking voice from the back of her mind. Hadn't she when she had stolen Carol Danvers life and then tried to kill her? Hadn't she when she had fought against Carol for her own lifeforce, lifeforce that would have let Carol live again? Hadn't she when she had stolen the X-Men's powers to better defeat her own opponents?

But Ah was only trying to help them win, to save mah own life, she pleads against the accusations.

Liar! You did it because you enjoyed it, you wanted to feel their lives inside you, to have something to fill that empty void you carry around. You can't have your own life so you live through others, isn't that it?

No! That's not true! Ah didn't…Ah didn't….Ah…

"…didn't…" Her own voice. She stops speaking in wonder of the sound, awareness finally returning.

"Ah'm whole again," she whispers, both happy and saddened by the fact, all the while pondering how it could be so. "As perfectly whole and…miserable as Ah was before…." Slowly, she rises from the dirty street, testing each limb for stability and finding them as strong as ever. As if the whole scenario had never happened…but it had...hadn't it?

"Sure did, darlin.'" Wolverine's voice from behind her. She spins, ready for his attack, and finds herself facing not just one teammate, but all of them. Her stance relaxes, and she again accepts her fate. Who, if not the X-Men, had more right to (hurt?) punish her? In the front stand Wolverine, Storm and Gambit, their expressions unreadable as they stare at her.

"Then why am Ah still alive?" she asks, almost belligerently.

"Because, chere, dat was never de intended outcome," Gambit replies smoothly from Storm's side.

"But…but why not?" she asks, her voice growing small again as she sinks down to the ground, giving in to the weight of the sorrow within her. "Ah…wanted to die after everything Ah did…"

"So you would just give up then? Without a fight? Without striving to make up for whatever wrongs you have done in your past?" It was Storm speaking this time, and the calm, even tone of her voice held just a bit of reproach. "I cannot believe that you have spent so much time with we X-Men and yet learned nothing of our ways."

"But Ah have tried!" she cried out, raising her head to look at them all. "Ah have! And it's not enough…"

"And why is dat, chere?"

"Because…because…," she struggles to answer his question, the conflicting emotions within her so tangled that she cannot put them into words. "It just isn't," she finishes, in a bare whisper.

"An who says so, darlin'? Who passes judgement on any o' us in this life, besides God himself, if you believe in that?"

Again she is almost stumped by the question, thinking the answer obvious. "Well..but…everyone…," she replies helplessly. "Everyone Ah ever known has passed judgement on me one way or another."

"But who passes your sentence, Rogue? Who is that makes you suffer for your sins in this life?"

She is left wordless, without any hope of answer. She has never pondered the question before, she realizes, and now that she does, there is no answer…she doesn't (want to?) know. She stares at them for a long time, wondering if they know the answer, wondering if she should know as well. They seem so sure, as if they all know, she thinks. Why doesn't she?

"Ah don't know", she says finally, admitting defeat. "Who?"

"You, chere." Gambit drops down, resting on his knees before her. "Only you."

"M-Me?" she asks, her voice filled with disbelief, too stunned by the revelation to even let it register yet.

"That's right darlin', only you. You're the only one that can forgive yourself, and you're the only one that can make yourself suffer."

"Then…then…," she struggles to grasp the concept, feeling the realization dawn on her. "All of this," she gestures weakly at the city around them, "everything…Ah did this?"

Storm nods gravely, looking at her with something like sympathy. "These phantoms, they exist to be sure, but they are an inevitable by-product of your power. All of them, save Carol and Cody, have survived their encounters with you unscarred. You have repented for those mistakes ever since they happened, and yet you still torture yourself with the thought of their hatred for you. These phantoms have no power over you, no existence even…unless you let them."

"Forgive yourself, chere," Gambit urges, taking her hand in his.

"And ya'll forgive me?" she asks quietly, not really believing that they ever would.

"For what, darlin'? For not knowin' any better? For tryin' your hardest to make it right when you finally did know better? For fightin' for your life?" Logan shook his head. "There's no forgiveness to be asked for that."

Stunned, she barely notices the tears streaming down her cheeks as she turns to Gambit. "Remy…do ya'll forgive me, too?"

"You only did what I would've done to myself, chere, when you left me behind. How can I blame you?"

She gives in to the sobs then, wrapping her arms around Gambit and holding him tight against her.

"Forgive yourself, chere….forgive and den all tings are possible."

"Even controlling mah power?" she asks softly, almost innocently.

"Especially dat." He smiles, drawing back to brush her cheek lightly with one gloved hand. "Once de healin' starts, once you accept who and what you are, you can do anyting. Believe…," he whispers, his form growing hazy and beginning to vanish.

A moment later, she sits alone on the city street, her mind filled with everything she has learned. "It's been up to me all along," she says, realizing it aloud with wonder.

Then she smiles for the first time, her heart almost as light as her form as she takes to the air, climbing her way from her subconscious with rapid speed. The dingy city fades away behind her, and she just sees the beginning of a new structure, solid and beautiful, begin to take form in its place.

And then, she wakes.


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