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Minute Change

Part 1

Karolina Phillips


It started as a subtle, insistent throb in her temples that raced through her head and down her spine. What would have been a migraine in anyone else became a debilitating conflagration of images. The blinking light from the answering machine, cruel eyes, glowing red, Sinister, Remy, both of them. Pounding in her ears, crash and splinter of bone, they were laughing, standing together with Creed, Sabretooth, the taste of blood in the back of her throat. The power, scent, her claws whistled through the air eviscerating a demon with yellow eyes, Momma, a little boy asking . . . .

"Aaaaarrrgggh. . . ." With a growl and a curse for the man responsible, Rogue fell against the doorjamb with a thud. Swaying, she dropped to her knees grabbing the sides of her head. No, not now! It was happening again. Again and again without remorse. Tossed from soul to soul, mind to mind like a rag doll tormented by a child. She wasn't any of these people. I don't want to be. It was her own fault for ignoring the precognition. A familiar chill that would crawl up her back and nausea in her gut. A warning with no focus. I was dumb to get used to the Prof always keeping tabs. Not my fault. Why? Who was she? Me. I'm Rogue. Gulping, she touched her head to the floor while one hand twisted like a dying animal. What was happening was perfectly natural. Her powers were simply trying to heal her fractured mind. But it hurt. I want to be me, dammit. She took a moment to recollect herself but standing proved futile. Jean. Help me!

I can't let her see me like this. Bad enough I have to beg for her help. In her old life, obligations and favors owed could often become death sentences. She didn't like asking Jean for help. It was bad business. She crossed her fingers and hoped the latest wall would hold without need for mending. It's only a matter of time before Jean goes and tells Scott or Hank. All for the good of the team of course. Rogue could imagine Scott's reaction, his intolerance and hypocrisy. He won't even just tell me to leave. Instead, he'll give me time off like I don't really know what that means. All the time in the world won't make this go away. Better yet, they'll lock me up like Creed. Hmph. Assuming one of them has that much forethought.

Jean pulled out of Scott's arms and stumbled from the backlash. They had been escaping reality in front of the TV, avoiding Bastion, Onslaught, the world's problems and life's smaller ones. It was Rogue again. Scott grumbled and let her know his opinion on the matter. Impatiently she listened to his complaints. He's a good man but sometimes he can't see that what's good for one person is also good for the team. If he knew about Rogue, if he could see her mind, he wouldn't be so quick to judge. The Professor's been keeping him in the dark and I'm not about to enlighten him.

She shook her head as she left. She does handle it. Every minute of every day. Even she needs to sleep. Due to the Professor's . . . absence Jean had been left with the unwanted responsibility. Unlike her and Betsy, the others had been unaware of the low level psionic drain that had appeared in the mansion. There was no warning. Something pulled hard enough to shatter both our shields and that is not something I can ignore. It still surprised her that Rogue has been the source. The Professor told me she was a psion but neglected to mention her strength. Still, even though I was never able to get past her shields, I always figured that was the Kree interference. It wasn't. That evening she found a break in the thick walls and made the mistake of entering the fissure. Guess that's no surprise, I couldn't resist my curiosity after all that time. But I wish I hadn't seen those memories. It was so much more pleasant to think the young woman was as naive as she appeared. That maelstrom of images, some were so vile and evil. If I didn't know I was in her mind. . . . She arrived at the room and realized there was no need to knock.

Rogue hunched on the floor with her head bowed and hands curled on the carpet. Jean saw the intense eyes, gritted teeth and felt a reluctant admiration. She asked me for help but she could survive without it. She doesn't need it. If I left right now. . . . If I turned around and walked out she'd just grin and bear it wouldn't she? And she wouldn't complain to anyone. On many occasions she had been left wondering how Rogue could stand to bite her own nose off. Bottling up emotions was very unhealthy and self-destructive. Remy has himself quite a task with her.

Jean was experienced at walking the astral plane and had learned to respect a person's privacy. The best she could do in this case was try not to see the apparitions or feel the conflicting emotions too strongly. Rogue protected her as best she could but it was often a lost cause. Her energy was already being consumed maintaining layers of blocks and guards. Good as well she wasn't here during the beginning of Onslaught. He would have shattered them without a second thought. Fully sane she managed to give us a hard time. The last thing we need is a schizophrenic Rogue. Further, she seemed to have no skill in consciously regulating her psionic defenses. Either that or her attempts were being undermined. Regardless, Jean had sensed that the girl was practiced at -- What? What do you call it? Maintaining your identity? Willpower? She must have done this for years before joining the X-Men. Years without being protected by the Professor or another alpha class telepath.

And that's what it takes to stop her powers from rearranging her mind. Frankly, it was the only proof they had that she was really an alpha class mutant. Cerebro picks it as being latent unless she's using her powers. Then she spikes right off the scale. With the others, the x-factor gene gave off a clear reading. Her own barely show up. According to what the Professor's records detailed, Rogue had tried several telepaths before going to her enemy. Any one of them should have been able to keep her powers in check, but they couldn't. The ones who agreed to try almost ended up dead. Jean began to reach into Rogue's mind.

She didn't have to turn and look to know Jean was there. A telepath always triggered her seventh sense. She does her best; she tries. It's just not good enough because she doesn't understand. I can feel her fear, anger and resentment when she sees the things in my head. Funny, you'd think that someone who had been possessed by an avatar and died a couple of times would be able to handle this more calmly. I wonder if she realizes I'm absorbing the tension she's radiating? Rogue had successfully closed off and extracted the foreign memories. Unless they were blocked off to fade with time. . . . Soon, these sessions would no longer help. The blocks would erode faster than they could be rebuilt. Then my powers will take over and who knows who I'll become.

It was a terrifying thought. Oh , she understood the genetics of it. As an evolutionary mutation her powers were a wonder of adaptation. They allowed her to actively alter her mind and body to suit the environment. I can take whatever skills, attributes or knowledge I need. But just taking these is wrong isn't it? How could she justify tearing another's mind and soul apart for her own benefit? It's not even like death. I rape them. The more someone fights me, the more I hurt them and the longer I keep their memories. It's like my powers are punishing them for defending themselves. She never minded folks being mad at her, only for blaming her. So long as she used her powers passively, it was less her fault. Only ones I remember fully consenting and not blaming me were 'Roro, Wolvie and Tante Mattie. Even Remy fought me when I kissed him.

The mental probe finally found a safe entrance point. Rogue concentrated on controlling the monster inside her. The urge to casually reach out and grasp the line of psionic energy tied to Jean's astral image was almost unbearable. Like a hunger she had to constantly ignore or assuage. It would be easy to just snuff her out -- and satisfying. Yes, that was the word. I used to do it all the time. Just a bit here and there to get me through. She licked her lips. Seems like a better deal than letting it build up like this. The recent memory of Bobby stopping her in the bar came to fore. If Remy hadn't shown up then, I would've turned on the boy. But I guess using my powers is some type of crime. Five years isn't it? The thin smile was hidden from Jean. It's okay for Betsy to jab the enemy in the back of the head, Logan to maul them and 'Roro to fry them but it's not okay for me to zap a couple. The high from the mental energy would be invigorating and something long denied.

Oblivious to the danger, Jean steepled her fingers and brought her forehead to them as if in prayer. The mindscape was eerily quiet. Ever since Siege Perilous the old ghosts had been absent. Where did they all go? Back to their owners or were they simply destroyed? They should still be here. The newest residents were mostly peaceful. There was Magneto but he had held no quarrel with Rogue. Sometimes she saw him suspended above the city. Creed's image was vicious but fragmentary like Bishop's. The faintest was Toad. Occasionally she caught glimpses of Gambit but he always disappeared on approach. The woman, Belladonna was the worst but even her imprint was losing strength over time. Did they just fade so much I can't see them? It didn't make sense. But they must be gone or else she would have gone insane back in the Savage Land without her powers to compensate for the alternate personalities.

All around her loomed the blackened hulks of deteriorating skyscrapers. The windows were broken and boarded up. Shards of glass mixed with refuse littered the streets. Underlying the silence was a soft, rhythmic patter. There was no wind. Jean paused to listen in wonder to a hiss like rain falling through tree cover. It's the buildings. They're collapsing piece by piece. In the pores of dried, coral-like cement came a faint shimmer of movement. Jean lifted her hand, almost touching a building corner and squinted warily at it. The refraction was due to the oily liquid seeping upwards from the base. More of it. A chilled glance swiveled to the oddity further ahead of her.

Mentally, she skittered past a dark thing. It was the largest one; a glassy and oily pool in the center of the decaying city. There were others like it but this one radiated a menace that raised the hair on the back of her neck. Not evil as from the Shadow King, just a great danger. The surrounding area was warped and distorted. The light itself seemed to bend along with the buildings that stretched towards the pool. She followed the ghosts example and always avoided it. It most likely hides something. An opaque, liquid barrier. . . I'm not about to stick my hand in it. Why it was in the core of the city she didn't know. Every mind has a nexus, a safe place where the owner can live and hide all that they are. A city I can understand but why built around such a dangerous site? The surface rippled and the border expanded briefly. Drawing back, she was afraid. Whatever was under there was powerful. Most puzzling, it had no psionic signature. As if it's not there. Like her powers. Standing still in the open field. Jean gave a shudder as she felt a prickling touch like static on a dry day. Instinctively, she froze and hoped that It would go away; that Rogue could hold it back.

Busy holding the temporary blocks in place, Rogue was unable to respond. So how you like it in there? Home sweet home huh? Nice, dark and lonely. Not quite. I could always play with my new friends. They weren't the only things in her head. Something near sentient was in there with Jean. A something that's a part of me, that hurts me and heals me. I hate it. It was moving slowly and insidiously like a snake lacing around the bright blue and white form of Jean. I should warn her. Jean found the damaged area and set to work. The atmosphere around her, imperceptibly began to grow darker. Hell. As long as she keeps moving she'll be all right. Branches began streaking out from the pool following the light form.

She swiftly rebuilt the broken blocks. The material consisted of weathered stone reused many times. All minds were different, some solid and some ethereal. The hard reality of the rock counter-balanced the intangible memories. More from unease than respect she avoided looking to see what was behind the edifice. Last time she had witnessed a Wraith feeding frenzy and had been ill for an hour afterwards. Scott didn't understand why she insisted on doing this for Rogue. No surprise. I don't let him see what happens here. If I did he'd probably try to stop me. He might even be right ab-- Unconsciously , Jean began arming herself. It was absolutely silent.

Rogue relaxed as she felt the block settle back in place again. How do I repay her? I know she doesn't do this out of the goodness of her heart, even if she thinks so. She does it because she's scared of what I might turn into. Even more scared than the Prof and he knows the real danger of traipsing through my head. Once, a low grade telepath had infiltrated her mind. He'd been found the next morning watching the sunrise with sightless eyes. Her sleep hadn't been disturbed in the least.

Jean warily turned. It was there right behind her. The pool hadn't been there before. It lapped against a weathered tree that twisted agonizingly skyward. The limbs, gnarled and knotted drooped over her swaying. Her head jerked back. No, they didn't even move; this can't be happening. Jean scanned the murky horizon but the shifting black forms could just as easily be products of her imagination. She hoped they were. The tree beside her dissolved, melting into an inky nonentity. Controlling the panic and growing anxiety, she tried to pull out of the other woman's mind. There was resistance; a sucking drag from within. A touch sticky like a burr but cold as ice ran up the psionic link. Oh my God, no. . . . Rogue! Stop it!

I can't. I can't do anything about it. Get out, fast! Just break the link - RUN!

If she broke the link a small part of her would be left behind and lost forever. Jean felt the touch become a strangling grasp and stopped debating. The thing that wasn't there began to rear over her. It was the source of the darkness. What are you? It stilled briefly as the edges blurred into a parody of a human form. The featureless form didn't step forward so much as flow. Jean eased back and lifted a shield that was touched by a gentle tendril. She began to backpedal as the halberd dissolved. Don't do this, you have a choice! She could almost see the creature smile as it dipped and spread serrated arms.

Run Jean, run. . . .

With an odd fascination and growing pleasure, Rogue watched as her powers lashed out at the retreating astral image of Jean. The thin strands were fragile as spider webs weaving ominously and without violence in the air. All around her, the scene flowed together and lost form. Fingers of blackness wrapped around the glowing, blue psionic trail and devoured it. They crashed against the outer shield swirling together and closing the break. No memories but instead a sense of Jean's presence momentarily filled her mind.

". . . no. . ." Disbelief widened Rogue's eyes and an inarticulate cry lodged in her throat. NO! How dare she? She wasn't supposed to run! "How - Dare - You!?"

Still engulfed in Rogue's memories and her own terror, Jean tripped back onto her hands. A caricature of humanity spitted back at her, mad eyes lost over bared teeth. She saw her roll her weight in preparation for a lunge.

"Uff-" Rogue fell back from the psionic blow. Aware of her own rough panting, she forced herself to drop her arms and shoulders. She used her hair as a curtain behind which to wipe the spittle from her chin. I almost killed her. Didn't mean to, I didn't, couldn't have, not like Carol. I'm not like that.

Wheezing, Jean dropped weakly into a crouch and clutched her stomach. Daring a look, she was met with averted eyes and a head bowed in shame.

"Di'n' mean f'that to happen. Ah couldn' control it. Ah'm sorry." Am I? Am I really? A sour feeling settled in her stomach. An emotion she nursed and cradled. I wasn't going to hurt her. Rogue tipped her head back and closed her eyes to hide the predatory gleam.

Jean swallowed and backed out of the room. "I know. Of course you can't. If you could, you wouldn't need my help. No big deal." I can't do this again.

Rogue blinked at the afternoon sunlight washing over her as the clock flashed a minute change.