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Ashes in the Wind
An Elseworld's Style X-men Story
J. A. C. Delaney, 1996
"So where do we go from here?" Kitty asked Storm.
"Where is there to go? I wish I had an answer but I am still trying to accept the results of what has happened here. If I had stayed and fought with the X-men instead of running . . . " Storm replied with a weary voice.
" . . . then you would have been dead too, Ororo, which would have accomplished exactly what?" Colossus asked. The big Russian was shaken by the recent events but seemed to have recovered faster than the others. He had faced his demons already and he recognized this for the victory that it was.
"I wish I had your confidence, Peter, but the events of the past few days have made me feel old. These were my family that he killed. I thought I was free of him forever when I left Cairo, but he returned to hunt me a lifetime later. When he failed to kill me, he contented himself by slaughtering those that I love. In some ways I wish I had died with them instead of having to carry on alone."
"You're not alone, 'ro!" Kitty stepped over and embraced the tall woman. "We are your friends, Ororo, and we wre here for you."
"Thank you, kitten, but I'm afraid that consolation isn't enough right now. Our enemies are still out there. He is still out there. But our core has been gutted. I was leader of the X_men and leader of the Morlocks and now both are gone. It was my responsibility to protect them and I failed them. I'm afraid some burdens are meant to be carried alone, no matter how much one might wish otherwise."
"I understand, Storm, but if you need us we will be here. Listen, I have some more work to do but if you need anything just give me a shout." Kitty kissed Ororo on the cheek and then phased through the floor.
"I envy Kitty her innocence. She is a good child and I am glad she is around." Storm commented.
"She is hardly a child anymore. I think that she has become a good woman while we weren't looking." The two looked wistful for a moment.
"You know, I think I should head to the states . . ."
"Absolutely not. The professor knew what he was doing when he ordered us to stay put. We would just get in the way. Besides, he has Magneto with him. I hardly think he lacks for brute force and neither of us is a telepath."
"I know, Peter, I just feel so helpless waiting here while the creature that murdered my family stalks my mentor. I should be there."
"Look, Ororo, I understand why you want to go but it is better not to risk it unless you are certain you can face the Shadow King and win." The look on her face said everything. "Then all you are doing is risking being made a captive like poor Rogue and being used against the Professor. Is that what you want?"
"No. But . . . "
"No buts. You are staying here until we hear that it is all clear to head back the the US."
"And if we never hear from the Professor? If the evil one wins?"
"We'll deal with that when we have to. Listen, I do have an idea that might help though."
"What is that?"
"Why don't we give Colonel Nick Fury a call. We are supposed to stay away, but if SHIELD knows there is a rogue telepath running around Washington that might crimp his style if you knwo what I mean."
"Peter, that is an absolutely wonderful idea."
"What are you doing in my head?"
*You brought me here, Rogue. It was not my doing that I am here but yours.*
"I don't want you here. I want my mind to myself again. I want to be whole and not a fractured piece of a person. I just got rid of Carol and now I have you bothering me."
*I am not bothering you, I am helping you.*
"By playing with my mind?"
*By undoing that which has been done to it.*
"But I don't want to get better. I liked it as a slave and I liked the killing. I liked being loved for once in my life and I liked being free to do as I wish. I want it back again."
*Do you? What do you really want, Rogue?*
"I don't know. To touch and be touched. Not to feel isolated and alone in the world. To be free and wild. To be liked and appreciated. He gave me all that."
*He gave you a lie that pretended to give you that. Instead he made you a slave and he used you worse than you know. Look, this is what you used to be . . . and this is what you became. If he valued your freedome would he do that to you?*
"I . . . I don't know. What was happening to me?"
*Piece by piece you were becoming a hound. A mindless dog to run his errands and kill his enemies. Your partial Kree physiology made it impossible for him to do it all at once, and so he was destroying piece by piece. Dream by dream. Moment by moment. To become an animal, is that what you wanted. Is that who you are?*
"NO! Jean, why did he do this to me? Why did I let him? Please, I don't want that. Stop it from happening to me."
*There is only so much I can do. I can remove the personality he began to impose on top of yours, but I can't entirely restore what was destroyed. I'm sorry, Rogue, but the 'you' that you remember is already gone. I can do nothing about that.*
"It isn't fair. I went to Muir Island for help. They were supposed to be friends. But they betrayed me just like everyone else. Like Xavier. Like Magneto. Like the X-men."
*How did they betray you?*
"They abandoned me. They left me. They lied to me. I thought I loved Magneto and he turned out to be a scuzball after all. He is evil, Jean, and I never knew it until the very end."
*Peace, Rogue. He managed to con even Professor Xavier. He might work with the X-men at times, but a leopard never changes his spots. When the time is right the serpent will always turn on you. It is inevitable that it would happen.*
"But Xavier left us to him. We trusted him."
*I think that was a mistake. I might be wrong but my memories of the man do not square with any sudden turn-around like this. He was a mean and vicious killer when we fought him and I don't imagine he is any different now. He used you, Rogue, just like the Shadow King did. It was wrong, but they both exploited the fact that you were lonely for their own ends.*
"So what happens now? You are freeing me from the Shadow King, but a lot of me is already gone. What happens to me with only half a mind?"
*The personality matrix being damaged like this will cause severe disruption when you are reintegrated. Now, when I have your core personality on the astral plane, you are buffered from the results of the damage. Severe retardation. Loss of most of your skills. Sporadic memeory loss. Possibly even catonia might result. Depends on how well the developed portion of your personality fits in with the tabla rasa portions.*
"What are you saying? That I am going to live on with no brain?"
*You will have a brain, it is your mind that will be missing portions. I'm sorry, but the damage was extremely advanced. If you had been a normal person the kindest thing to do would have been to kill you. In your case, the core personality could still be extracted but only in a very limited way. I lack the knowledge or the strength to completely rebuild you.*
"So what happens to me then?"
*I must die so that you can live.*
"What do you mean?"
*I am also a personality fragment composed mostly of the telepathic portion of Jean Grey. I am what survived her death in you, but make no mistake; Jean is dead. She was murdered on a street corner. The death bed recovery of telepathic abilities coupled with your absorption of my dying moments enabled fragments of me to remain alive as an astral entity in your mind. But I also don't have enough of me left to form a complete person. But, between the two of us, I think that we do.*
Rogue saw herself on the astral plane. Whole again (her face and eye restored) dressed as the Southern Belle she always wanted to be. Jean stood there as well, dressed as an X-man. Her eyes intent and her attitude serious.
*We are both, for a moment, what we always wanted to be here at the core of our beings.*
"Why am I so beautiful? Why are you?"
*We are seeing our souls. The pure core of a person that represents our essence.*
"What are those voices calling. One is kind and the other cold. Who are they?"
*They are searching for us. One is professor Xavier, the other is the Shadow King. Both want us but I am shielding us from them.*
"From both of them?"
*It is not my decision to make which one you want to go to.*
"So what now?"
*Take my hand and we will become one person. Neither Jean nor Rogue but something else. Something stronger than either was and perhaps soemthing better.*
"I'm scared, Jean."
*So am I, Rogue. Let me open my thoughts to you and you can decide what is to be done. There can be no sescrets between us now.*
"I see, Jean. And I understand. I wish there was another way. I wish life had dealt us both a better hand."
*So do I. Are you ready?*
*Then let us step together into the light.*
Rogue snapped into instant awareness. The instincts of a hound were gone and she was a whole person once again. She reached out with her telepathy and scanned for any sign of the bloated creature that had once dominated her and found none. He wasn't anywhere near, which was a pity as Rogue hated him with an abiding passion.
She glanced about with her single eye, taking in her surrounding and remembering her past. She remembered her childhood with Mystique. She remembered her best friend dying after being hit by a car. She remembered the mistrust the X-men had towards her. She remembered being the center of attention when she arrived at the mansion. She remembered earning Wolverine's trust and respect as a tough fighter. She remembered the lust and attraction between her and Wolverine. She remembered following Magneto's orders. She remembered her bitter fights with Magneto. She remebered lying with Magneto. She remembered making love to Scott. She remembered being remade by the Seige Perilous. She remembered being removed from a cocoon. She was both and neither, but she was free and would never be a slave again.
She flew up into the open sky, glorying in her freedom and headed towards the voice that spoke of hope. She was going to talk to Charles Xavier and bring him the aid he wanted. She wanted to return to Christopher, but given her form the Avengers wouldn't understand. She had barely escaped them last time they clashed only hours ago. Sure, she was far stronger now, but it was a waste of energy to do it now. He was safe for the present. No, she was going to Xavier first and learn of his plans.
Then she was going to get her revenge. She smiled and headed into the distance.