The Bauers, Isabel Mendez, Emilio Suarez, I-Ping Soong and Tham Kriengchayapruk belong to me. Jason Auspach technically belongs to Marvel, but I supplied the surname and everything else. All other characters belong to Marvel. I'm not profiting by this.

Some language, graphic violence and mature topics in various places. Probably should be rated "R"

Comments go to ja_glinka@yahoo.com Flames will be blithely ignored.


Minute Change

Part 12

Karolina Phillips

11/14/98

 

"I hope I wasn't interrupting anything." Jean gave the room a cursory glance before entering. Although she looked like she might die of curiousity, she did not ask any questions about Mystique. "Mind if I sit down?"

"Go ahead. Mystique an' Ah were jus' havin' a li'l heart t'heart. Nothin' that can't wait." Rogue sat on the bed in resignation, leaning against the bed post closest to Jean, who had clearly settled in for a lecture. She looked quickly at her desk clock to see how long she could put up with this unexpected inquisition.

Jean tracked her glance. "Don't worry. This shouldn't take more than an hour."

"And hour?"

"That won't be a problem, will it?"

"No. No, it'll be fine."

"I guess I'll start at the beginning. We started with me trying to help you sort out some memories but last night you did something you shouldn't have been able to do, period. Scott called a meeting this morning for some of us to discuss some problems you've been having with what I think is your power. I'm sure you're aware that our sessions have become increasingly stressful - heck, dangerous - and I didn't think much of it until recently." She drifted off with a troubled expression, then shook it off.

"Look, Ah'm sorry y'walked in on me like that last night, but Ah wasn' myself. Ah'd dredged up some mem'ries Ah di'n' want t'see, but that wasn't your fault. Whatever Ah said or did, Ah di'n' mean it." She would have continued her apology but not only was Jean shaking her head but the that Scott thought her situation problematic worried her.

"That's not what I meant. Things like that happen. I was talking about your power. Bear with me because I have a theory and if I'm wrong, we'll do this Scott's way, but if I'm right, I hope you'll have faith in my abilities. Last night, from over ten feet away your mind, your power, tried to absorb mine."

"That's impossible," she denied flatly, mostly to stall for time. They met during breakfast or while I was asleep, to intentionally leave me out without making it obvious -- but not what they talked about. Then Jean threw out a theory about her power based on a supposition. And she wants me to trust her on her say so? Is she nuts?

Hearing that, Jean's face fell; she almost looked hurt. "Please listen to everything I have to say before you make up your mind. I don't know if it was because you were drunk or whether that saved me, but you tried to psionically reach out to my mind and grab on. And I don't mean telepathically. You tried the same thing to Betsy, twice. Once in the Danger room and the second time.... Well, you know about that."

"She stabbed me in the neck. No offense, but she had it coming." Disgusted with this, she turned her face away.

Jean was silent for a second. "And did Warren deserve it too?"

"He was playing instead of fighting. If he acts like he did in a real fight and he'll get himself killed." She heard the other woman sigh in quiet reprimand but continue without further comment.

"I'm sure you know that many mutants have psi-abilities associated with their power, even ones with purely physical abilities, as a sort of defense mechanism or regulatory system. Assuming that, why does your power act so unpredictably? If it's triggered and controlled by physical touch, why aren't the effects the same for everyone?"

She said it so sympathetically, without pity, that Rogue stopped sulking. She really wants to help me. Jean was asking the basic unanswered question but her implications were clear. I guess I knew too. Why else did I seek out a telepath to help me?

"Do you absorb brains or minds?"

Minds.

Her memories of last night were blurry. It had been her intention to promptly forget as much of what she saw of Remy's memories as possible. She remembered Jean's fidgeting about the study which had gotten on her nerves. She remembered being angry that someone had intruded on her meditations. She cocked her head. There had also been an awareness of something, like a peripheral vision or an object passing so close that the displacement touched her. It was probably just my Sense acting up in response to my mood.

"But how? Ah absorb people on contact."

"And is that what you'd label your power, classify it?"

"Well, no, 'course not, but-"

"But, you don't know what your power is, do you?"

That's pushing it, hon.

"That is not pushing it. It's the truth and I didn't realize it until yesterday." Jean hooked her hands together and leaned forward. "You use your power and don't know what you're actually doing." The anger on her face faded. "Maybe the Professor was happy doing that, but I can't let it go on. One of the worst things in the world is an untrained psi and maybe I'm wrong and you're right, but I don't think it'll hurt to try. So, will you work with me?"

Let it go on, huh? It was funny. Here she was a part of an idealistic group of heroes, vigilantes fighting for a dream, and yet there were petty politics all the same. Control. Status. Rivalries. Pride and esteem. Power. The Brotherhood had them. The X-Men had them. That was the trouble with Mystique: When she was right, she was right.

"Look, Ah have t'be goin' soon-"

"Yes, I know. And you'll go wherever it is Mystique wants you to go, but you don't have to leave immediately, do you?"

I hate 'paths. This sounded like one of those sessions that would end with both of them incapacitated with migraines. "Fine. Fire away."

Jean smiled. "Thank you. I might be obscure at times, but trust me. I'm going to start with Carol -- I know you don't like to talk about that -- but I need to know some circumstances surrounded the event that made you lose control." She looked at Rogue expectantly.

Rogue let out a quiet, exasperated sigh and raked a hand through her hair. It was the middle of the afternoon and she needed to get going to Tori's house. She also needed to figure out how much to tell Remy and how. The last thing she wanted was for either of the house telepaths to get wind of her mission any more than Jean already had. On the other hand, if Scott was calling the shots, she probably did not have a choice. "Jean, we gone over this before. Ah tol' ya, Ah had problems before then, an' they were differen' types of problems, but still problems. What difference does it make?"

"There's no difference, but the fight might've acted as a catalyst for existing problems. What I mean is that I've seen you try and control your power. Your will power isn't in question but it's as if your power is...ignoring you and...and like I said. It would be very strange if a power with a psionic component didn't involve some type of mental control. It just...." Jean stuttered to stop, holding her hands apart as if an arcane object would appear between them. "It would have killed you by now. So. I need to find out exactly how you felt during the actual transfer which is something you've managed to avoid telling me. One of the key issues here is that you claim not to sense your power unless you're using it." She held up a hand when Rogue started to object, "and maybe that's true, but most mutants have a sensory perception associated with their power that guides their use of it. Now, did you feel anything unusual?"

But I don't feel anything! How many times do I have to tell you before you'll believe me? When she made contact, there was nothing, then she would become aware of the other person's feelings, thoughts, memories. She knew Jean would not leave until she cooperated, which was what made her tone more surly than she intended. "Are you talkin' 'bout attempted homicide or leavin' her a vegetable?"

"Either."

"Don' feel nothin' at all. Happened a while ago. Y'wait long 'nough, any feelin' goes away."

"You know what I mean."

"Intellectually? Ah feel bad. What Ah did was wrong. Under normal circumstances Ah'd be servin' some type of sentence for it, but personally...." She watched the highlights shift on her glove as her hand dangled loosely. "So, what d'y'think of Mystique sendin' me out to do her dirty work?"

"I think there's more to it." Jean appeared as if she would say more but restrained herself.

"True 'nough. She did plan on killin' Carol an' Ah knew Ah was bein' trained for the job, but Ah did it on my own." Lowering her head until her ear was even with her knee, she quirked her lip. Why did I attack her? Because my Momma told me to? That's one reason. The main reason is that I hated Carol. "Course, she tanned my hide for it. Grounded me for a month, an' y'try breakin' curfew when one of y'folks is a precog. Lord, Irené'd clobber me over the head with that cane of hers before I even done anything."

"And even though Mystique had trained you for it, she changed her mind?" Jean waved a hand. "From what I understood, you were acting under orders."

"My Momma changed her min' but Ah di'n'. That's all. A little bit of miscommunication an' y'get a near dead air force pilot." I shouldn't be so upset. Even if everyone does try and corner me with this one just because I admit it's the worst things I did. It was infinitely more horrible to realize someone was dying because you wanted them dead than to pull a trigger; to not have a weapon to blame for murder. It was more real and frighteningly honest.

"You sound disappointed."

Rogue lifted her head and pensively tugged on the fingertips of a glove. "Killin' folks was a part of my life, not that Ah did much outside of self-defense, but Ah saw plenty. Ah di'n' feel sorry then. Carol wasn'...." Her throat closed up.

"Unique?" Jean's eyebrow rose ever so slightly. "As in you had done a long term absorption before her, or attempted murder?"

Rogue met her eyes long enough to challenge back. Where was the line between murder and self-defense? Murder, homicide in the first degree but unpremeditated counted too and so did manslaughter and being an accessory. Whenever she tried to recall what she felt during the blood runs of her days with the Brotherhood, she came up with facts and no emotions. She remembered taunting enemies, enraging them into making stupid mistakes. Amusement. She remembered running, hiding and holding her breath as her heart pounded unto pain. Fear and arousal. She remembered holding her weapon of choice so tight her knuckles locked. Controlled anger. But, when she thought of willful death, there was nothing. There was the knowledge of having killed but it had always been an act of expediency or order. Mystique expected no less.

Jean stretched back in the fauteuil and leaned her chin on her knuckles. "Our discussions are confidential. You know that."

"Ah know, but the X-Men take care of their own. Carol was one of their own an' Logan's long time bud an he don' forget even if he says he does. Because as soon as the Prof lef', the rest of the team le'me know exactly who's side they were, especially Betsy, so y'think hard about anything she says." She gestured helplessly and shook her head. "Joinin' the team di'n' make me stop hatin' her. When did this turn int'a moralizin' session, anyhow?" She clasped her hands so tightly the leather of her gloves creaked. "Tell me somethin', you love Scott? The X-Men? Your family? Would you do anythin' in y'power t'protect 'em?"

"I was Phoenix. I sacrificed myself and I'd do it again but we're not talking about me. You can't blame your mistakes on poor teaching and how you feel about what you did is very relevant. So, you were feeling protective of your family?"

"That woman was tearin' my family apart without even bein' there." The bedpost her foot was leaning against started to issue a soft crackling sound. She put her clasped hands on her knee. "They were always fightin' about her, worryin', debatin'. Ah di'n' like seein' and hearin' that anymore than any other kid."

Mystique and Irené had given her a haven from a town full of bigots and the politics of her own family. Haven't thought about them in ages. After being left with an unwanted child, that woman she had thought of as Mother, an official title rather than one of love, had moved in with her brother. As for Lucien, he had not appreciated being saddled with a bastard. Nor had he understood what brother or uncle meant. I could probably tell her about my family and shut her up for a week. She snorted. Then, after a week, she'd come back with all that nonsense about children of alcoholics, neglect, abuse and post-traumatic stress. That's one kettle of fish I don't need. She pushed those memories away.

"An' y'know what the richest part is? If it'd been anyone else they wouldn't've been nearly so sanctimonious." She faltered, shocked at herself for admitting that private grievance, and dared a quick look at Jean.

Jean tipped her head in acknowledgment. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply your family was unstable in any way. I only wanted to know your motivations. And, if it makes any difference, I'm sorry about the way the team acted."

"Yeah, whatever." Removing her gloves in a flurry of movement, she threw them across the room but they unraveled, fluttering to the floor. The cool air felt good on her hands. She tried to calm her pulse, watching Jean out of the corner of her eye. The least I could do is have the humility to let her. "Ah'm sorry too. Ah lost my temper for a minute there."


Right, well then. Psylocke stepped onto the astral plane. She was only here because any risky astral maneuver called for back-up. Jean had told her to watch and stop anything unusual. This qualified. Jean was fully armored, symbolic plates wrapped around her torso and over her face and head, a shield on her arm. As she stood, her hands moved as if tugging on an invisible cord. Elisabeth traced the motion to an area where a third figure flickered into and out of existence. Unlike the semi-translucent forms of Jean and herself, this figure was gray, the emptiness of the astral plane clearly visible through it. A low grade psi or someone very low on power. Rogue.

Jean crouched a bit, energy drifting away from her hands like smoke. The shadow Rogue flickered again, a lighter shade of gray. Psylocke formed a katanna and edged forward. She's feeding Rogue her own psychic energy, baiting her onto the astral plane, but why all the effort? We've both fought beside her here. Jean should be able to ask her to come on the plane willingly.

She scanned the ambiance on the plane. Her gaze went back to Rogue. It was darker there, a dull matte area drained of light. She started to alert Jean but bit it back. I can't distract her. I could be seeing things; maybe the area around her seems darker because Jean's so bright. She circled behind the gray avatar, keeping her blade at ready. The avatar flickered out again, leaving absolute black. It was like the surface of Rogue's mind. Her shields were this type of black. They moved, reached out to my mind when I touched them. The tip of her sword dipped, then rose, tilting to the side. Now that she was closer, she could see the tendrils creeping from Rogue's avatar. They reminded her nothing-so-much as worms and she was loathe to step into them. It's a different type of shielding, a soft shield like a net instead of a wall. Worst comes to worst, I can move in quickly, cut quickly to her neck, end this.

Jean jerked her head in a fraction of disagreement. Don't bother. The avatar's just a blind, deaf, mute and inanimate shell. Attacking it won't stop anything. In fact, I think it's an anchor or buffer. Take a look at that black stuff. I move, it moves. If I step close enough, it reaches out towards my aura. I think this is more than a soft shield; I think this is her, but I don't know how to communicate on her level without entering her psyche. Classic catch twenty-two. Jean crouched down on her heels and fell quiet.

A telepath? Empath? Psylocke studied the avatar before them. The key to both those mutations was communication. This avatar was primitive in comparison, capable of neither speech or symbolism. Still, the Professor tutored all of us in the basic rudiments of psychic representation and if she hasn't learned them, she should have. Why would she reject the exact form most people are comfortable with, namely, their real body? It's elementary. Why should we be the ones forced to alter our method of communication? Something as filmy as a cobweb stuck to her arm and she instinctively took a full step back. The mass of tentacles waved after her and she raised the katanna over her shoulder. Ugh. The avatar was a concentrated combination of all the nightmare creatures from a person's dreams.

Don't worry, in this condition, she has a very limited range.

Psylocke muttered to herself. Jean and her blasted confidentiality, as if it mattered. The X-Men were a team, a whole. Trust and communication were what held them together and allowed them to function. The others needed to know something was drastically wrong -- as wrong as possible -- with Rogue. What's going on? I saw you baiting her and I know she's several feet away from you in that room. It won't be a breach of anything to explain that.

Jean did not answer.


"Do you still hate her?"

Do I? We fought in the Savage Land, I had a knife but stopped myself. She didn't. She tried to kill me and would have if Magnus hadn't been there and my death wouldn't have benefited anyone. It was not that she was suicidal, but death in battle did not bother so long as it helped someone or some cause, without harming another. Otherwise, she would fight for all she was worth. I was like an animal when I attacked her in San Fran. I lost control. My hate made me lose control, but that can't be all there is to it. I don't let my emotions or desires control how I use my power anymore. The Prof taught me not to. "No, Ah don' think so."

Jean smiled. "I don't either. The Professor liked to say you were a shining example of the Dream, someone who could've been the worst but became a hero."

If it was my choice, my dream, I'd live in a house in the country, or the city, with someone to love, never bothering with fighting and hurting to pay off an unwritten obligation. It did not matter anymore. That had long since been supplanted by others' dreams. And I don't have all afternoon. "Maybe Ah don' hate her, but feelin' guilty in retrospect ain' the same as feeling bad durin' the act, an' it makes a difference. If we're still talkin' about feelin's, that is."

Jean rested her chin on a knuckle. "Yes, you're right. Driven by hate and rage your power nearly killed." She studied the cream carpet pensively before asking, "What about the other? How did you feel about leaving her in a coma?"

"Honestly? Sometimes Ah woke in the mornin' feelin' horrible. Ah'd feel the same pain Ah did then. Other days, Ah was mouthin' the apologies an' regrets t'satisfy my conscience." She tried to analyze her level of remorse but came to the same conclusion. Her battle with Carol was in the past, nothing would ever atone for it and she had accepted that long ago. It did no good to wallow in grief over the past.

"Go on."

"That's it. Finis."

"And that's how that incident was unique? Violent emotion? Wasn't it also the longest transfer?"

It was Rogue's turn to smile. Jean already knew both those things: that she had been enraged and unrelenting. "Only by a scrape. She fought hard and Ah reckon Ah wasn' thinkin' straight and she took advantage of that."

"Were you afraid?"

"Ah wasn' scared of my power." The words snagged on the perpetual trepidation she felt whenever using her power. A gut level fear that the permanent transfer would occur again, that once more, she would lose her own life to the selfish whims of a ghost. No, that's new. I didn't feel like that in the past. Was it fear of destruction, then? She frowned. That made no sense. I wanted her dead. I was pleased with myself. Is that what I was scared of? Feeling something about killing? "They were a way t'have a good time, t'live vicariously through others. Pretty twisted, huh?"

"Frankly? A little bit. I couldn't imagine doing that intentionally." Jean agreed absently, drumming her fingers on the arm rest. "Then again, that's not what my powers are for. Maybe yours are."

"Oh, right, Ah'm supposed to maul folks' brains. Tell me another one. You been talkin' to 'Roro, haven't ya?"

Jean shrugged in admittance. "I gather you're afraid of your power now, but you weren't before?"

"Ah don' want what happened with Carol t'happen again."

"Because you don't want to hurt someone like that?"

"No, because Ah don'..." want someone fucking with my life from inside again. "Ah'm sorry. You're right."

"It's all right, Rogue. It's a very human thought."

Don't you condescend to me! Irrationally, because Jean had her tacit permission to listen to her unspoken thoughts if they related to the discussion, she wanted to slap the other woman. It's just pride getting stuck in my craw. That and my nerves over tonight. "Ah di'n' feel bad until after Ah met Rossi, her lover. It was him who showed me how much Ah'd taken from Carol, made me regret." I already tried to tell you that my morals were different. There was no doubt in my mind, no questioning of values.

"None at all? I refuse to believe that you didn't know what you were doing was wrong."

She felt tic start in her temple. "No, no doubt. Only as much as you might have 'bout the Dream. Mystique, she caught me early, molded me. Ah believed in her." Sometimes I still do. "It's why the Prof was so quick t'get me on the team. He knew what Ah could've turned into."

"I don't believe that. I believe you were young, impressionable, had suffered shock that let you cling to a new purpose in life, but I don't believe you weren't intelligent enough to see what you were doing was wrong, that you were breaking the law."

Mimicking Jean's earlier expression of doubt, Rogue raised a eyebrow. "If Ah did see, it di'n' matter none. Why's that so hard t'believe?"

"Why are you so angry?"

She had been expecting that question. "Because y'not listenin' an' Ah di'n' agree t'talk t'you about the same ol' hogwash. Simple truth is that Ah flat-out di'n' care. Got that? Ah did not care. She was in the way an' Ah got rid of her."

Jean sat back with a thin frown. Her eyes were out of focus.

Rogue was surprised to hear herself hiss under her breath. Jean was paying attention to something or someone else. In her book, that was breach of confidentiality. "Know what Ah'm wonderin' right now?"

Jean waited.

"Ah'm wonderin' what y'opinion of me is, 'cause y'know, Ah figure it's gon' effect what y'do to fix me." She knew it would. Everything a person did was colored by their beliefs about what was right and wrong including powerful telepaths. Although she dearly wanted control of her power, she was sick and tired of following others' moral codes; jumping when they said jump. Mystique, Jean, Scott, even Ororo wanted her to be their version of a good soldier. She was sick of it. How I use my power should be for me to decide and if it gets me killed then so be it. Nor did she enjoy them ganging up on her.

"In other words, am I condemning you? It this another trick, a dangling carrot? Will I be helping you to benefit myself in the long run?" Jean inclined her head. "Yes and no. Not the way you mean, but I still need to know how you feel. I need to know so I can help you, if possible, and everyone can stop worrying about you."

Worrying? Is that how it's phrased these days?

"Yes, worrying. Would you do it again?"

Kill to save someone I care about from a persistent and fanatical enemy? Sure. "The well bein' of the group matters more than the individual. We fought once before, an', well, Ah'm not 'bout t'repeat what happened. Ah'm sorry Jean, but while Ah agree what Ah did was criminal, especially from a 'path's point of view, she had it comin'." Look at her. Older, married, Phoenix, been to the future and back again, died, cloned. Heck of a life. And still doesn't know any better than to snoop. It was strange to know so much about people but to be baffled by one person, any person. Wonder what she's thinking. Hell, wonder who she's talking to.

"Okay, I still haven't ruled out the possibility of post-traumatic stress, but what exactly was the pain you described earlier and did the Professor say anything about it?"

"Huh?" Pain? What pain?

Jean winced. "I didn't mean to intrude on your thoughts. You mentioned it once in a previous session and have been thinking about it on and off recently."

"An' Ah'm sure this eavesdroppin' is all a big mis-un'erstandin'."

Raising her hands in apology, Jean attempted to console her. "When I'm this close to someone who thinks as loud as you do, it happens. If it bothers you that much, keep in mind that your brain's a bit on the alien side. It's not an open book."

Her palms were sweaty. "Ah'm sorry. Jus', warn me next time. Ah don' like bein' surprised like that." Had Jean learned anything about her plans? If Scott was watching her like an eagle, anything amiss might be reported. I wouldn't mind having someone along as back-up, but they probably would scare off the folks I'm supposed to protect.

"You want to keep going?"

"Yeah." She licked her lips nervously.

"Okay, next question. What did the Professor do about the symptoms?"

"Not much. He sat me down, asked questions, then went inside my mind and blocked a bunch of things off. Ah don' really remember what he said." That day had been a turning stone of her life. She would always remember the austere study, the way she had shook uncontrollably with tension, and the Professor inside her mind. Every instinct she'd possessed then had screamed at her to purge his presence, to flee the mansion, to go back home. It had been one of the few times since her childhood that she had been terrified.

Jean rubbed the corner of one eye looking skeptical. "I have a small stack of folders here that, presumably, contain all the things the Professor altered or found unusual. According to him, he tamped down your power, which was necessary under the circumstances, and 'enclosed the Carol persona'." She raised her brows. "He doesn't mention anything else on paper. It would be very helpful if you could tell me anything at all."

She picked at loose threads at her knees. Her power changed her every time she used it, a little bit here, a little bit there. The worst was not that it happened but that she could not say it had. As a rule, she avoided thinking about that. It was not that much of a problem. Yeah, people change, it's just a more extreme in my case. Haha. Funny funny.

"Do you know exactly how he set up the mental blocks?"

"Naw. Ah've absorbed 'paths, includin' him, but Ah don' rightly un'erstan' how they do what they do. Ah mean, Ah do when they're inside of my head, but not later. He tried t'teach me but it di'n' take 'cept for the usual shieldin' folks pick up around' here."

Jean looked affronted. "You honest to God don't understand psychic representation? You can't mentally construct a wall? What about sensing another mind when it's linked to yours?"

"No, no an' no. Ah mean, why would Ah? Ah ain' no psi."

The other woman blinked. "Yes...you are." She looked away with a mutter. "You know, I'm surprised you let him do anything at all."

That's the second time she's said that. "Wasn't negotiable. Terms of agreement. The Prof, he's very much the business man." Any excuse to control my power would have worked for him.


That went brilliantly, didn't it?

Not now, Elisabeth.

She chuckled in a blithe sort of way. It was either that or irritation. If it was either of us in this situation, the Professor wouldn't play guessing games. He'd tell us outright what we were doing wrong, why it was wrong and step us through fixing it. Kid gloves were not her way. Cutting to the heart of the matter was. Rogue's avatar was writhing like a nest of very irate snakes. Either we leave now or we take a risk but talking about feelings isn't going to get the job done. Betsy pitched her katanna at the dark mass and smiled in grim satisfaction when the blade was swallowed up.

Jesus Christ! Jean lunged up, ready to intercept the attack she expected. When nothing happened, she redirected her anger at Psylocke. What the hell did you think you were doing?

Getting an honest reaction out of you. Elisabeth floated. Why were you so scared? I thought you wanted her angry, she goaded. You said that if she did, she'd be so busy displacing it onto you that she'd tell us what we need to know. All we know that when she's angry, her power starts kicking in. Well, isn't it that grand.

I'm not scared. I'm being cautious.

Cautious? Is that what you call staring at that thing, that monstrosity, in horrified fascination while talking about doing something about it while not doing anything? That thing, every nightmare you've ever had and you can't keep it out by pulling a blanket over your head. And you know what? That thing is Rogue.

Do you think that you could tone down the paranoia a teensy bit? Nightmare? Horror? I understand you don't agree with my methods, but letting everyone in on this will cause people to take sides or extreme views and you know how Rogue is.

Ah, yes, we all know how she is. Why don't you admit it? The Shadow King feeds off negative emotions, Selene needs life-force. I doubt those two exist in a vacuum. I think our fellow X-man here is a vampire by any other name. I think the Professor was acting for the good of the many by trying to nip her power in the bud. She grinned fiercely, daring Jean to deny the truth. So, tell me, will you continue to 'help' her, to bring her power to fruition? Do you think that accepting responsibility for anything she does by accident will comfort anyone who's lying in a coma?

What do I think? I think that the Professor brought us together not simply as his private army but to teach people to accept their mutations. I have to do what I believe is ethical and right. Yes, I made a mistake. I under-estimated her sensitivity. Yes, I'm nervous. I don't know what you see, but I see a blob with tentacles. Up here, that usually means your subconscious is trying to give you a warning. If we screw up now, we might not have a second chance. Furthermore, how can I explain it to her if she doesn't know the language? She came here to learn.

She came here to squelch Carol Danvers.

But it's not why she stayed. What good are dreams if you don't act on them?

By putting us all at risk? We had the Professor to guide our powers to make sure we didn't accidentally knock off anyone. You admit you can't even communicate with her anymore. Oh, she's too alien. Oh, I have to be careful because she might have bad feelings. Oh this, oh that. You don't get it, do you? Well, I'm going to admit what you won't. You, the mighty Phoenix, are blind.

Blind to what?

She's a leech, a parasite! The worst kind of monster, which is what is what your subconscious is trying to tell you. Why don't you try listening to your instincts? Why don't you try looking at these? Betsy leapt backwards, allowing her psionic powers to flare around her. As she did so, the light contrasted with the tendrils that had insidiously latched onto her. See the threads connecting us to her? All this time we've been talking, these have been connecting with us. Or are you so powerful that something that small is beneath you? She raised her hands, fingers spread and motioned as if pulling on taffy. And that's not the best part. You know what is?

Jean was shaking her head in shock. How could I have missed....

How, why? Because you were too busy talking. The best part is that this thing has been latched onto me since our last Danger room session. Do you think that what Rogue did was some kind of fluke? The girl has a mean streak.

Betsy-

No, you listen to me. You watched the tape, right? You saw how she goaded Warren, how she pinned him down, deliberately hurt him. She's done that before, to me. She gave a thin smile. After and before you were on the team. Some sort of fighting ethic she probably picked up from Mystique. She doesn't like it when an opponent lets her win, even if it makes sense. So you give me a good reason to stick my hand in the tiger's cage.


She could see the psychic lamprey but had not been expecting anything to openly slip past her defenses. Jean almost could not believe it. How could Rogue cut through our shields so easily? When? When did it happen? Now? Last night? The time she called for help? Is it caused by proximity, telepathic contact or active use of her power? There were too many questions like pieces of a puzzle in shadow.

Jean gathered a small bit of psychic energy and let it drift to test the currents around her. The flickers of energy coalesced into a blob, about level with her heart, then stretched out into a strand like water running down a string. Within inches, the light disappeared and where it did she could almost see a black strand begin. There was no pain or numbness. A hook into my core psyche? A conduit, copy, short-cut...the residuals in her mind? Are the 'ghosts' I see nothing more than shortcuts? Is every person she ever touched still connected to her? No, there were few residuals in Rogue's mind. So they can be eliminated, but it took an other-wordly mystical device to do it. Jean did not have Siege Perilous at her disposal.

She hoped that any siphoning that might be caused by the hooks was a sentient behavior and not a primitive predatory one that gave no care for friendship or family. But she has been attacked psionically and nothing happened along those lines. Her relief was short-lived. On the other hand, her power is running on neutral. With consciousness it might become a deliberate and unstoppable act. Would an inhibitor render the connections impotent?

She put two fingertips over her own heart. The strand there was symbolic, nothing more than her minds interpretation of the connection as much as Elisabeth's katanna was a representation of here power but the meaning was clear. Any attempt to amputate the link could result in her death. Well. Then there's only one thing to do, isn't there? I have to get her to feel her power twenty-four seven so she can avoid any accidental effects caused by mental stress.

Going to ignore me, are you?

I'm not ignoring you, but an inhibitor or some other quick fix isn't going to cut it. I have an idea.


Rogue watched Jean dryly. The telepath had fallen silent for a few minutes now, eyes unfocussed but face animated. If I didn't know it before, I sure do now. She's talking about me behind my proverbial back. She tapped a finger tip on her knee, waiting with growing resentment.

Jean blinked. "All right, next question. I've talked with some of the other's about Carol. With the exception of the Professor, they all believe she was a separate entity inside your mind. I know you mentioned this earlier, but what do you think?"

"One thing, sugar."

"What?"

"Who you talkin' to? When y'not talkin' t'me, that is."

Jean froze momentarily but hesitated long enough that Rogue looked away, refusing to answer until her own question was.

"Psylocke."

So much for confidentiality. "Tell her Ah said 'hi'."

"She's my back up."

"Mm hm. Ah figured. As for Carol, she seemed mighty real. An' Ah know she was live an' kickin' as Binary at the same time. Ah guess by some cosmic exception, she was allowed t'be in two places at the same time," she drawled.

"I think I see." Jean crossed her arms. "Well, unless she was a temporal anomaly, we both know that wasn't possible and if one of them wasn't real.... No offense, but I wouldn't have put up with that in your place." Giving no time to respond, "I know this upset you, but what was the pain you didn't mention--I'm assuming pain from your emotional recollections--that caused you to abort your absorption of Carol?"

The question made her uneasy. "Jean, Ah've tol' you more 'bout her than anyone else but before Ah answer anymore questions, Ah need t'know what y'goin' after."

Jean managed to look reluctant, worried and grim at the same time. "I need to go inside your mind but the last time I was there your power chased me out, literally. Betsy's going to watch my back but there's no telling what could happen. There's a pretty considerable risk that you could accidentally absorb me so I need to know how permanent the transfer is and if I can spot it beforehand. And, since most mutants associate a particular sensation with their power I thought...." She drifted off after noticed Rogue holding her hands up.

"Hold y'horses an' let this sink in."

She concentrated again on what she felt when using her power, running through each of her senses. Sometimes, after an absorption, she would have schizophrenic episodes, seeing, hearing or even feeling a memory but Jean wanted to know the during, not the after. First there was a tingle, a physical sensation that did not hurt but could be compared to feeling a breeze or static. Then she was aware of thoughts and emotions simultaneous to her physical alterations, which usually did not cause pain unless extreme or painful to the victim themselves. She chewed on her lip. What about Carol? Her mind shied away from the memory, but she forced it back.

Rage. Absolute rage, Carol's or hers, both of their's combined. A desire for dominance. Fear. Elation. Rogue shrugged. That was bloodlust in a nutshell. So I used my power in conjunction with a strong emotion. I guess that might've affected how it worked. She noticed her knee jittering and stilled it.

"Ah think Ah felt her start dyin'. Ah was scared, confused an' wanted t'let go." Turning away, she refused to meet Jean's eyes. "But Ah di'n."

Jean was nodding meditatively. "Is that all there is to it?"

"Ah think so." Her mind turned back to the sensations. Like a breeze or trickle of water...or peripheral vision. Her thoughts screeched to a halt. That was what this session had to do with last night. My lord. If what Jean's saying is right then that stuff I was imagining was my power kicking in because I was mad at her for bothering me.

"Rogue? I'm assuming that you don't want to wear an inhibitor day in and day out, not that it would be healthy to begin with. I'm also assuming you want control of your power and that means we need to figure out if there's any type of sensation keyed to your power that would let you affect your use of it, even if you can't control it outright. So, is that all?"

Rubbing her palms on her jeans, Rogue swallowed and looked away. I could ignore her, tell her to leave but hell if I'm going to let Cyke push me around. Of course she wanted control, the ability to use it in gradations like she had in the past absorbing a single memory, thought, emotion, or physical characteristic. I have to be the master of it. I can't let it affect me. When my power affects me, I go loopy. I forget who I am. I hurt people.

She might not know psychology or nuclear physics but Rogue did know about control and it was not about succumbing and abusing one's abilities. That was one of the points on which she and the Professor fully agreed. It's how you turn into the enemy. If I restrain myself, I control my power, just like Storm. A part of her rejected that parallel. I wish.... No, she could not think like that. Very often, what she wished for concerning the use of her power she got and many of those things were not hers to take. Not that she was about to reveal that to Jean. Most importantly, control was not about lashing out in anger. How could I forget one of the Rules like that? She laughed to herself. She had not referenced Mystique's teachings in ages.

"The other night, Ah attacked you, di'n' Ah? With my power, somehow. Jus' like y'said." She looked at her bare hands. How could she control her power if covering her skin did not work? Did Jean realize what she was saying?

Jean was nodding in excitement. "Yes! That's it. So you can see what I'm saying? That part of your power is psionic and separate from the physical?"

"Ah hear you." Do you hear yourself? "Ah guess what Ah feel is tactile but it's hard t'tell when it's real or my imagination. It's like, Ah'm touchin' sometin' that ain' there, an' Ah absorb it an' it's in the same place a person is but it's...it's the real them." Rogue rubbed her temples. She did not have the vocabulary to explain what she sensed and knew on an innate level. "Ah used to... t'let myself feel what Ah was doin'." How do I put this in terms she'll understand?

"You used to, but you don't now?"

"Ah can't afford to," she took a slow breath, "'cause if Ah do, Ah lose control like las' time in Israel and before' that with Carol. Y'were right in thinkin' my emotions affect what Ah do, but that's true with anyone," she quickly qualified. I always knew they affected the outcome, but to initiate contact?

"Mm. Maybe. Or it could suggest that control of your power is keyed to a portion of your lower brain rather than a cognitive process." Jean was talking more to herself than to Rogue. "Which could be a distinct problem but doesn't leave out the possibility of a cognitive influence."

"Uh huh. Okay."

Jean eyed her shrewdly. "You understood what I said."

Rogue smiled glumly.

"And while all this is very interesting, there's one last thing I need to know: Did the bloodlust come before or after the absorption?"

She lost her smile and went cold. She makes me sound like Logan when he's berserk or...Sabretooth and his glow. While a successful use of her power did hold a sexual thrill and a drug-like high--she did not kid herself on that point--she would not call it bloodlust. It was more like the elation following a hard-won victory that perhaps only an 'action junkie' could understand. "Ah have more control 'an that. Ah tol' you, Ah don' let that sort of thing happen anymore."

"So you do feel something, problem is, it's not a socially acceptable response?"

She's gone off the deep end. All the new ideas, Jean's theory, the barrage of questions combined together into a tangle of ludicrousity. She needed to think about this. She needed time alone but Scott and Mystique were both in a rush. Now, now, now. Why's everything happening all at once? Maybe that was why she rolled her eyes and laughed. "Ah jus' said Ah di'n' so before' y'go spoutin' off all that about addiction-"

"But you did. And if unrestrained use of your power is that pleasurable it could very well explain-"

"Jean! Listen t'y'self. You're spoutin' psycho babble an' jumpin' t'conclusions! Y'tellin' me y'don' enjoy usin' your power?" She avoided her gaze feeling herself blush, then gained hold of herself. She knew her blatant skepticism showed. "It has nothin' t'do with addictions or bloodlust but it is easy t'use an' it hurts people an' Ah can feel them hurtin' but at the same time Ah'm not the one hurtin'. Ah feel bad about that but anyone would in that situation." She paused to snort humorlessly. "At least, Ah like t'believe anyone would. That's why Ah can't afford to use it so Ah don' see how feelin' my power is gon' help. It...." It would make it worse, because then I couldn't even pretend it doesn't exist. I'd constantly be aware of it, tempted.

Jean began drumming her fingers again. "You might not have a choice. In nature, pleasure and pain are very fundamental cues that a particular behavior is necessary for survival. You're only digging a deeper hole for yourself by trying to ignore it. And if you don't...." She fell back in her seat and looked away. "Dammit. Storm's right."

Yeah, sure she is. And stop fidgeting. "What are you so upset 'bout? Y'ain' the one who has t'deal with this fucked up power."

Her eyes narrowed. "On the contrary, I do have to deal with your fucked up power. You're my patient and I have to do what's best for you. Unfortunately, I've also been asked to do what's best for the team and the two goals are dichotomous."

Her patient? That definition did not sit well with her. Since when did she become my doctor? Rogue slid off the end of the bed to pace. Within two steps, she collided with an invisible wall. She looked at Jean who started to rise.

"Ah was jus' workin' off some steam. Y'think Ah was comin' after you? The big bad dangerous psycho?" The words had no bite. It was as if though the very fact that Jean found it necessary to erect a telekinetic barrier between them knocked the wind out of her.

"It was a precaution." Jean carefully resumed her seat. "You're not crazy, but like I said, your power has been acting up. I can't help you if I'm hurt."

"You? Worried about my li'l' ol' powers?" Like a mime, she ran her hands along the telekinetic wall between her and Jean. It curved at the edges, away from her. She's been in a TK bubble the whole time. The whole frigging time. No wonder she's so cool about this. "Ah'd be much obliged if someone would tell me what in tarnation Ah'm doin' wrong. It's not like Ah get mad on purpose."

Jean eyed her tensely. "Can you please not do that?"

"Ah'm not pushin' that hard."

Jean nodded briskly. "You're not. That's not what I'm worried about." She was sweating.

Rogue dropped her hands to her sides and studied the telepath curiously. That really frazzled her, just me touching her TK shields, but I haven't even done anything. Or maybe I am, according to what's been said. Past her, out the window, she could see the sun. Childishly, regretting what she had told Jean, she wanted the telepath and her shield gone. All this talk isn't helping and I can't let her in my head now, not if Cyke's nosing around. I mean, he's a good leader an all, but my personal life is just that.


Jean held perfectly still, remembering last time. She forgot to breath. She wanted to throw up. She closed her eyes but merely created more blackness and re-opened them. Rogue was in her personal space, that sickly avatar calmly and casually etching through her shields, TK and telepathic alike. A mental retro virus. A spider. A bogeyman. But it's just my imagination, my perception of her actions. She thought of serenity. She believed in serenity. She became serenity. And then gathered energy for a psychic defense though this was not a monster. This was an ignorant developing psi trying to forge contact with a telepath. Jean almost convinced herself.

Elisabeth was creeping up behind the avatar, sword at ready. Her face was set.

Jean whispered. Don't. Don't move. Just. Don't. Move.

After a few moments, the tendrils swarming around her pulled back, wrapping into themselves.

Jean swallowed. I was thinking. The Professor taught us to form avatars on the astral plane to avoid dissipating and to make communication easier but what if a person's sole purpose is to do exactly that? To extend their boundaries and to absorb other minds into their own? Wouldn't a contained avatar be counterproductive?

You're suggesting the Professor dropped the ball? Call me crazy, but I didn't and wouldn't enjoy being absorbed by someone else's mind. Elisabeth pointed her sword at the dark area. I'm going to say it again until you hear me. That is not something you let loose on people, especially if the owner of that power can't control it. If he did teach her to contain her power, and conveniently didn't mention it, all the better for us.

No, I understand his reasons. I just don't think she's going to fall for the same trick twice. She's rejected the blocks he placed on her power, his way of representing it, and I can't force things back. She psi-blind, Betsy! She has psi-related abilities and she's psi-blind! That's no accident. Either someone burned her out as a child when her power was emerging or the Professor decided that keeping her ignorant was the best way to keep her under control. Either way, I have a lot of work cut out for me. She brought her fist down on one knee catching the attention of Rogue's avatar. It twisted up like a snake and Jean froze again until it settled down. I have to make contact. I'm so close but she keeps stonewalling.

Elisabeth paced. That thing, sick or not, took a chunk out of me the other day! I understand what you're doing, but I won't sit by and watch it swallow you whole. It would be irresponsible of me.

That's why I didn't want to tell you. Scott wants me to slap an inhibitor on her. I could do that, but it would only delay the inevitable. And we all know that mutation suppressers cause progressive damage to cellular structure and brain waves. You can't force a person not to walk without causing muscular atrophy. She waved a hand at the avatar. That's exactly what we have here. I can't , with peace of mind, compound the original mistake.

I'm not telling you not to do this. I'm asking you to take a step back from it to avoid an accident.

One last try before we tell anyone else. You have my word.

Elisabeth crossed her arms and tipped her head up in aggravation, then sighed loudly. She looked over her shoulder, down at Jean, then tipped her head. So what do you think she is?

A data thief. Maybe a bit of psi-siphon. She could be a vampire like you suggested except we'd know it by now. Even if her psychological motivation system was circumnavigated somehow, and it clearly has been, biology would have taken over. She would have shown increasing symptoms the longer she avoided using her power.

Why not both?

She incorporated Carol's mutations. Most likely, she does the same with minds. That's information not energy oriented. I know I sensed her first when she latched onto my shields, later she tried to take a bite out of my avatar, but I don't think she needs to feed off psychic energy. What we have to remember is this thing is merely representative of the psychic component of her power. It's all we can see from here.

You're saying this thing is essentially harmless as long as no one bumps into it? That this is a sensory aura, a psychic organ extending, let me guess, no further than her own physical space?

Your guess is as good as mine. Following that logic, from her point of view, her skin. Maybe that's how it was but not anymore. It's like it's trying to absorb us but not quite succeeding. She needs to touch us for her power to fully activate so I'm not too worried. What I'm worried about is that the psychic process is linked to the physical process which may cause it to...alter her behavior.

You mean the psychological motivation may forcibly trigger the biological one or vice versa, then feed back into reactive behavior or cause a mental breakdown.

Jean was rubbing the bridge of her nose in surprise that Betsy understood. I've never met an energy based mutant who wasn't aware of the energy they could manipulate. Somewhere along the line, the feedback loop between her cognitive processes, her physical power and this, what we see, the psi-sensory half of it was broken. And I don't know. I don't know if it's physical, though Hank might but if he knew I can't believe he wouldn't have told one of us, especially Rogue. Maybe it's this thing that we see. Maybe the psi-sensory part of her power is damaged. Or maybe it's all mental.

The theory being that if she can't sense the full scope of her ability then she will not master and use it against her friends. Isn't that a good thing? Do we really want to restore that feedback loop? What if the Professor left her this way for a reason? What if she wouldn't be able to control her impulse to use her power?

Jean hesitated. I can't rule out the possibility, but I don't think so. As a telepath myself, I know how comforting it is to feel secure in my own ability and defense, as should you. To meet a mutant that is specifically designed by nature to prey on the mind and genetic structure disturbs me more than I'd like to admit. And if she's a psi-siphon the way you suggested.... Jean shook her head. You can't block out a siphon with mental shields or stop them with a pure psionic attack. In a worst case scenario, anything a telepath does will make her stronger. The Professor may have been trying to do what was best for her but maybe he was a little bit scared too.

Psylocke laughed. You've contradicted yourself. Our shields didn't stop her from latching on. You said it, she would have shown increasing symptoms and isn't this a symptom? Destroying her mental shields, her containment as it were, is not a symptom? The psionic aspect of her power attempting to act independently of her free will is not a symptom? Jean, think. If we're going to play guessing games then we should assume the worst. Data thief, psi-siphon, they are names for the same thing only one is more palatable than the other. I told you what happened in the Danger room. She didn't just absorb the energy from my psychic knife. No! She used it as a conduit until you forcibly cut the link. Don't try and tell me she's not a vampire.

All right, okay, Jean placated. So what if she is? What if she gains genetic and mental data while feeding off her....

Victim? Prey?

I don't like those terms.

Why not? It's what we are to her, or her power, if it makes you feel more comfortable.

Fine, victims, but what's the biological motivation behind it then?

That's obvious, luv. Why use your own energy to alter your genetic matrix when you can use someone else's? And if we're talking nature here, then being stronger is desirable in its own right. If you don't believe me, ask Storm.

Jean sighed and crouched back down in front of Rogue's avatar. The threadlike feelers tracked her movements like a coral directed by ocean currents. If she needs to absorb then blocking her awareness of her sensory field is still a temporary solution. It would be unethical for me to burn her out completely even if I knew which part of her mind to hit before she drained me. I don't know how you use your power, but I don't use mine by looking around and seeing if anyone's standing on their head singing "I'm a little teapot" to say, "gee whiz, I must be using my power". Nor do I expect it to work on it's own if I look at someone the right way. I direct my power. Even Scott can do that to a certain extent. Maybe this is all bizarre extrapolation on my part, but it won't hurt to check if I can get her aware of what she's doing before she does it. I'm willing to take the risk that she can control herself. Will you help me?

Psylocke crossed her arms, forming another katanna which she tucked under her elbow. As much as this situation made her skin crawl, she too believed that a person should be granted a second chance. Even if the team had given her the third degree after the Revanche mess and no one paid this much attention to her after Crimson Dawn other than to look at her oddly, she could act more responsibly. She had to or else Jean would put herself into a coma. No, I agree with you on that point. Someone or something made a bloody mess of her psychological motivation system.

Right, and the fight with Carol made it worse. Whatever happened during that fight, or directly afterwards, scared the living shit out of her. She goes to the Professor, he helps but doesn't solve the root of the problem either because he can't or won't.

Elisabeth scowled. How could Rogue have been like this all along? How could the Professor have concealed this from them? Why would he? For that matter, why had Carol concealed this? Surely she had been aware of the intricacies of Rogue's power. Psylocke recalled all the times she had disabled Rogue telepathically in the Danger room or during practice. She remembered joking about it. She remembered Rogue's edged humor that maybe no one wanted to see what was in her head. Which leads us back to the first option.

Trauma at the developmental stage. Many psions are very sensitive when their powers first manifest. Too sensitive. A budding psi-sense limited to her own physical space.... Hypersensitive skin? Maybe it was painful for her to touch or be touched.

Or the opposite, Psylocke suggested with a laconic shrug. Imagine how confusing that could be a young girl.

Jean almost objected reflexively, but for one thing. Touch was an universal social behavior among humans. The first thing most people did after seeing something was reach out to ascertain the visual. It could overcome language barriers. Infants deprived of touch were known to die or end up with developmental disorders. Her psychological motivation? Is it so damned obvious: a reward system for engaging in a behavior important to her unique survival. That would be classic. The corollary being that if she refuses to engage in that behavior by ignoring or shutting down that system, there's a toll on her due to the unmet biological drive. In this case the toll is on her ability to control herself as we suspect. Which leaves one question, what happened in her childhood for her to create such a negative association with a positive behavior? She mulled over the idea in silence. It was appealing, but jumping to conclusions had serious side-effects. You're not suggesting sexual abuse are you?

Or something she may have interpreted as such. It's all a matter of perception. Depending on how abuse happens and whether on not they realize it is abuse, children don't always find it especially traumatic. Or rather, they do, but not until it's too late. After all, they're incredibly malleable. It's often when they hit puberty or begin sexual relations that the previous abuse causes difficulties. Elisabeth shifted the katanna to her shoulder with a doubtful expression.

Don't you think that's jumping to conclusions? Sexual abuse isn't something to joke about or dismiss off hand. I.... Jean threw up her hands. And I don't have the experience to deal with something like that. Yes I'm a telepath. Yes I studied clinical psychology but I'm not a therapist and Rogue's impossible to talk to. If you're right, who the hell are we going to find to talk to her?

You're the one who asked. I was following through on the idea.

Maybe, but we can't assume that just because she won't talk about her childhood. There could be other reasons. Mystique's blithe words haunted her and Jean hoped there were other more palatable reasons for Rogue's reticence about her past and the cause for her control problems. She implied that Rogue was abused but that it was irrelevant, that I shouldn't make a big deal out of it. How can you not make a big deal out of it? Or was she misleading me, trying to hurt me? Jean calmed herself. Hysterics helped no one. Mystique only hinted at abuse. That could be anything from neglect to mental to physical to sexual violence. Rogue could have found completely innocuous touches invasive...and she would have wanted them to stop, subconsciously triggering her power to avoid feeling guilt.

Jean clasped her hands in front of her face. Perception. Could it be so simple? How old was she, assuming there was abuse involved? And who will she trust enough to talk to?


PART13

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