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

Some language, graphic violence and mature topics in various places. Also, there is a scene "in French". It's actually in English, since it's rude to switch languages mid-narrative. Play along and please don't tell me the syntax is incorrect. I know where it is. Also, there is a scene composed mainly of technobabble, but it is entertaining.

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


Minute Change

Part 14

Karolina Phillips

3/31/00

 

"I'm fine, Hank." Jean waved away the gadget he held near her ear. There were no physical injuries because she had held Rogue away telekinetically. In fact, Hank might have been better off examining the other woman's cardiovascular tract because as a last resort, Jean was prepared to induce a heart attack or stroke in an assailant. She had done so to Rogue. Granted, she didn't seem to notice, but it was affecting her actions and reflexes. It did not matter if her heart was able to withstand the fury of Storm's lightning. Betsy would say I was crazy, but Rogue was just following the dictates of her mind, the dark part that lashed out at mine. Not that I'd be able to kill one of my teammates without a damn good reason.

"Be that as it may, Mrs. Grey-Summers, I'd like to discern it for myself. Now, please hold still. Your behavior is en par with Jubilee's." He pushed her hand out of the way and continued hurrumphing to himself over the wavy lines scrolling on the screen of the gadget. After a lengthy study he compared it to her record on the main computer.

"Really, I'm fine. She didn't even get a hold of me and I know my mind better than you do." She slid off the table in exasperation. Scott and his worries were ready to pepper her with questions. He's concerned for me, and even more concerned for the team, which means helping, not abandoning her, whether she wants help or not. I need to make him understand that their confrontation and the position it left me in looked worse than it was. I can't have her flying off right when I'm getting somewhere.

Hank muttered something under his breath before readjusting his glasses. "Your Polygraph is normal and as there are no physical injuries-"

"Great, I'll be going then."

He planted himself between her and the door, crossing massive arms and glowering behind his spectacles. "What exactly is the rush? Is there anything else I should know? I will be the one held responsible for a misdiagnosis."

"Hank, I don't want to be rude and I realize this is your job, but Scott is outside that door gathering more ammunition as we speak. I need to convince him to lay off Rogue before she runs."

"Yes, I gathered from your distracted expression." Pursing his lips against a knuckle, he asked, "What are you treating her for?"

She quirked her lip, "Sorry, con-"

"-fidential," he finished for her. "Never hurts to ask, especially among friends. Do you believe she would act so rashly as to flee?"

"Well, with her, you never know. She thinks what happened is more her fault than it really is." Rogue was emotional but her behavior, like any other person's, usually had rationale. Taking a moment out, Jean searched for Rogue's location and mood. "She may or may not jump. Right now she's in her room beating herself up. As for my mental state, everything seems fine, so Hank, please get out of my way before Scott has a fit."

Hank sniffed audibly. "Surely he would not think me so ignoble as to seduce his own, and may I add, charming, wife?"

She sniffed back at his non sequitur. "Buttering me up won't work. Move."

"Very well. You are more experienced in dealing with mental trauma than I, but I don't recommend telekinetic juggling for the next couple of hours. If you are truly determined to 'treat' Rogue, you have my support and assistance." His forehead wrinkled and his glasses slipped down his nose as he looked at some cables stapled to the wall. When his oblique query brought no response, he hurrumphed again for good measure and stepped aside.

Jean rolled her eyes at her old friend, but he did have a point. The matter at hand was hardly confidential anymore. Scott would demand to know what was going on. Hank would need to know if something went wrong and Betsy knew in order to act as back up. That was when it occurred to her that Remy might need to know as well for his personal safety. I don't know if I'm seeing things where there aren't any, but even if he's not a psi, his powers extend to his mind in some way. I can just imagine "Gambit Fricassee". Should have never let her get away with that last night but what was I supposed to do? Yell at her like her mother?

She glanced back at her long time friend. All this secrecy was foolish. They were a team even when a matter did not concern the team. It was unfair of her to treat him like an ignorant villain and she knew it. Let's be honest. Half the reason I'm tiptoeing on egg shells is because I'm not sure how much of what I saw in her mind was psionic and how much was a mirage caused by other facets of her power and I don't want to look stupid. She knew from experience that not everything she saw on the astral plane was automatically psionic in nature. Everything from purer forms of energy to random thoughts of normal humans could be seen or felt.

"All right."

Hank beamed at her. "Yes?"

"We were talking about her past, her power, so on. While I did want to know those things to pinpoint an exact traumatic incident that might have caused her to willfully or subconsciously 'lose control' of her power, I was using that as cover to do a psychic examination and pull the proverbial fast one on her. What I didn't count on was that rather than simply being turned 'on' her power might be running on auto. Next thing I know Shadow King's little sister pulls the rug out from under me." She shook her head. "Stupid mistake. I guess we're all entitled to some of them."

"And that excuses her?" His tone was not accusatory so much as curious. When he crossed his arms, the sleeves of his lab coat pulled taut and bunched at his elbows.

"It does for me. I acted in a way, for whatever reason -- which is what I'm more interested in -- she found deeply threatening and reacted instinctively to nullify." Now, how the hell did she know I was touching her mind? She could not think of another case where Rogue had made that type of preemptive strike. Various telepaths had contacted her to no ill effect. In fact, some had even controlled her power externally. But were they manipulating her power or her desires? She suspected the latter. The Professor's case file listed no telepathic, telekinetic or empathic abilities. The precognitive power was not only weak, but acquired. Still, there was something present in her psychic self. And Mystique also implied that Rogue never liked telepaths. Might be worth a try to ask her some more questions along that route.

Questions. She absorbs people, becomes them, yet a telepath can commandeer her body. But if she is them, how can they control her? Unless she mimics or copies. If so, why would a portion of her own mind turn on itself unless her problems are far worse than I thought? How does she put it? 'For all intents and purposes'. Some part of Rogue's power had to go into reining in and storing her victim's psyche. It's not just genetics or electrical information because the psionic self is also transferred. There's more to a mind than just neurons and bio-electric waves. That same part that enabled Rogue's mind to create boundaries between her memories from someone else's, which she could and did do, had to be sensitive to a person's psi-self. Otherwise, not only would she be a complete nut case by now, but there would be no way she could so consistently absorb the 'essence of a person'. The Professor mentioned no such thing.

"This may be none of my concern, but is there anything with which I can help you?"

"No, no, I'm just upset and a little bit disappointed in someone." Jean bit her mental tongue. Seeing her as an aggressor won't help and that might be my problem. I view contact as an attack. She tried again to think of some mention of a psionic facet of Rogue's power and came up with nothing. There's no way the Professor could have missed it. Damnit.

"At Rogue?"

"No, I'm afraid not. The Professor."

"It's not fair to blame him for the obvious. Charles was a busy man. They both did their parts and, apparently, failed." He kept his gaze slightly downcast as he slipped the EEG in his lab coat pocket.

Lacing her fingers together, Jean shook her head in denial. "I'm not." The Professor had a long history of benign deception with Onslaught only being the most dramatic example. He knew she was blocking her ability and proceeded to compound that problem in the name of 'giving her time'. I suppose it made sense. She was in a psychologically fragile state, there was no established trust between them and how could he foresee his own travels? But what did he find? Did he discover whatever it is that she wouldn't talk about? Something about her childhood? Not that everything boils down to horrible traumatic events but it's true a lot of the time.

"I'm not blaming him, I'm just remembering that he had a habit of doing what he believed was best for someone. I'm not faulting him for not fixing Rogue's power, if you want to look at it that way. It's certainly not his job to fix powers like they're illnesses or something. Especially since, though we're a school, he gathered us to fight for his Dream. It's just that.... It looks like he left something out. I guess I feel a bit guilty. I don't know how she conducted herself before I rejoined the team. Maybe she was so passive that the Professor thought she was all right. But I do know he bent over backwards to help me overcome my own traumas and insecurities. He taught me like a daughter."

Hank did not say anything but his thoughts were clear as he rested his jaw in a loosely curled fist.

"I know. Maybe it was just the fact that she'd been raised by two very knowledgeable mutants and didn't need certain basic training. Maybe, somehow, she had basic psychic training already but I just can't shake the idea...."

"That perhaps his actions were deliberate; that he may have witnessed something in her mind that caused him to 'give her time'? There is also the matter of a questionable upbringing."

"Hank, I'm surprised you'd take that side."

He raised his eyebrows dryly. "Someone had to say it. Our resident marauder certainly dotes on her foster mother, but nevertheless, that woman is not only a terrorist but is possessing of an unreliable psychological state."

"Maybe."

His eyebrows rose so high his glasses slipped down. "Statistically speaking, yes, there is a chance she is sound and sane."

"Oh, come on, Hank. Most people are a little bit crazy but they only live sixty to eighty years. Think about it. Instead of a young woman, like she presents herself, imagine, excuse the expression, an old biddy. I'm willing to bet half of it is just an act."

Hank tipped his head up and scratched the underside of his jaw in contemplation. "An eighty year old crazy grandma. I'm quite positive that Ms. Darkholme would not appreciate that erudite extrapolation. Furthermore, no one knows her age."

Jean grinned, tsking in agreement. "I won't tell if you won't tell."

Politely forgetting their minor argument, he grinned toothily. "Now, gathering by your commentary on simultaneous neural patterns, I believe you would appreciate access to any EEGs checking for any distinct abnormalities?"

"You wouldn't happen to have one?" Chewing on her lip for minute while waiting for him to rummage through the older records, she answered, "I was thinking about something she told me about Carol." The information she wanted to know was important in some way she could not pinpoint. The professor wrote, 'two diametrically opposed thought patterns'. Two, not one. It's definitely not meant to be a merge. Even in such an extreme case her mind, or power, did a pretty good job of keeping their minds separate which backs up my earlier theory. There was a way for the exact safety mechanism meant to keep her in control of her own self to be turned against her if she lost subconscious control. That's it. The ability to compartmentalize -- for the preservation of identity -- is also what allows her mind to slip into the schizophrenic and MPD states.

His lip compressed so that only the bottom canines poked up. "What exactly do you need to know?"

"In the Professor's initial report, he says she had two distinct neural patterns but that was a psychic perception. In reality-"

"In reality, it is quite possible that she in fact possessed one neural pattern and the Professor's perception was purely telepathic in nature. I understand."

"She keeps saying that she could accidentally absorb my mind and destroy both of us. She's obviously scared that she actually becomes another person. I thought that excuse was just a habit but, working with her, I don't know anymore. She really believes it. I need to convince her that it's safe to let me into her mind because the more keyed up she is, the more difficult it is for me to do anything. So, is that a valid assumption on her part?"

"Mm."

"Do you have a theory?"

"Not quite yet. Notions, if you will. I was studying the RNA fragments that, er, float about in her cellular structure. Which remain and which fade seems to have no relation to when they were 'absorbed'. If I had to guess, I'd say that they were the results of a biologically selective permanent process."

"Sounds more like notions to me, but you won't spill the beans? Not even if I ask nicely?"

He shook his head. "Not until I'm sure. A malformed theory can be a destructive thing."


He trusted Jean but first and foremost he was a scientist. That meant waiting to present his ideas when he had properly researched them. The Professor is absent, no drug regime I have given Rogue works and any existing technological means merely suppress the effects of her X-factor in a rather crude fashion eventually causing permanent genetic damage. The majority of records on their various members were public but others were encoded to entrusted to only him or the Professor. Even Scott is under-informed at times. Jean was not a clinical psychologist but she did have a degree in the field besides being a veteran telepath.

With a bound, he sailed over a large computer console and delicately tapped at a keyboard with clawed fingertips.

The data he recovered was incomplete. Some had been destroyed over time by successive attacks on the mansion, most by Sinister and then Phalanx. More had never been collected. She's nearly as stubborn as LeBeau and Logan when it comes to finding a way to avoiding anything official. He smiled. Her temporary blindness had been a near blessing in giving him the opportunity to collect tissue samples and take various scans to update her record although he suspected that she had known exactly what he was doing. The downside was that "Rogue" as a biological, genetic and political individual did not exist. He had to credit Mystique for that.

"I have extremely sketchy data here. The psi-scans you mentioned, how many are there?"

"Seven."

"That's it?"

"Not only that, but most of them are useless. Two of them," she jabbed two fingers in the air, "two, tell me something useful. The rest are just random dreams, images the Professor saw or theories he had. They aren't supported, there's virtually no reference to her early history beyond him mentioning something he doesn't want her to know, there's nothing I can verify and circumstances have changed. I'm sure it all made sense to him but it doesn't help me." She rested her chin in her palm, curling her fingers over one eye, then shrugged. "Personal notes, really."

"Fascinating," he commented dryly. "While she may be a charming individual, she seems to share a distaste for laboratory settings with several other members of our esteemed group. My apologies."

"Great. So you can't help?"

"I didn't say I couldn't help. I said her record is spotty." He continued scrolling hopefully until encountering, barely marked, an electroencephalograph reading collected by Kurt shortly after Rogue joined the team. The chart meeting his gaze was an ugly mass of careening peaks and valleys. If he had a control reading or any type that could be considered normal for her, there might be a way to analyze it. I don't. This could be normal or bizarre in the extreme. "I'm sorry. All I have, to put it succinctly, is a mess. The Shi'ar enhanced polygraph might be able to help, but I fear the record is outdated. All I could possibly do is theorize."

"A mess as in two separate patterns running interference with each other?"

"I truly can't say. It might be. It might not. I'm sorry."

"What about Cerebro?"

Opening his mouth to dispute, he smiled. "Possibly, it does do an automatic EEG doesn't it?" He tugged on his lapels. "Cerebro, bring up recent polygraphs of designate Rogue."

"Unable to comply."

"Why?"

"Requested records have been locked."

Jean raised an eyebrow in query.

"By whom?"

"Designate Rogue."

He rearranged some pens in his front pocket and raised his eyebrows at Jean. Hank did not buy her insinuations. The Professor had no motivation to hide data on Rogue's power and this only proved that it was Rogue herself who was withholding information. "I do have the authority to override the restriction to ensure future recordings."

"No. I'm already reading her mind. It would be kind of unethical to do that too."

"Mm." Hank decided Jean was reacting more on emotions than logic but he did not feel like spurring a debate on ethics.

"He had the time to teach me, Elisabeth and Cable. I want to believe you with all my heart, but like everyone else, she always has a reason."

"In her mind."

"I don't want to argue about it, Hank." She switched topics suddenly. "How about her genetic data? One DNA pattern, fragments of a second, one successively altered? Anything at all?"

"Perhaps, although, as I mentioned, I hesitate to make any judgments." He punched up another window with a brief overview of her genetic coding. It was nothing too complex and only pinpointed certain flagged mutations. Unlike Cerebro, the genetic bank was his domain. Out of habit, he reviewed the mind-boggling assortment of mutations Rogue possessed. Like all mutants, she had one gene so mutated it was termed X-Factor. Unlike most mutants, many other of her other genes had also acquired minor abnormalities as a result of her power. An entire group of these, Kree in origin, were responsible for Carol Danver's abilities. She even bordered on possessing extra chromosomes, which he found mildly disturbing.

"Yoo hoo, earth to Dr. McCoy."

"Er, my apologies." He leaned with one arm braced on top of the console and sighed, debating how much he could reveal. "She changes in small ways that are occasionally cumulative in effect. Extrapolating on current data, it's possible that at some point she will cease being herself, figuratively speaking. Many of these acquired mutations survived Siege Perilous. Others are more recent. The majority of them fade with time. Nevertheless, I am forced to admit that her genetic code is permanently changed."

"No offense, but that's not what I wanted to hear. On the upside, it sounds like Carol really was a freak accident because if Siege Perilous split the other persona off then it probably wasn't supposed to be where it was."

"That's pure specul-"

Jean moved suddenly to face him with narrowed eyes. "You're not telling me something."

"I am not telling you a great many things." He smiled faintly.

Jean shrugged gamefully. "So I see. Thanks anyway. I have to get going."

"My pleasure." Privately, he tapped his lower lip with a pen. There was no precedence for Rogue's mutation. He hoped he had not misled Jean.


Mystique planted herself directly in Remy's path back to Rogue's room and they played that game in which one person attempted to dodge past the other person while trying to avoid bodily injury. She kept blocking him and his eyes must have flared because she raised a mocking eyebrow.

"Get out of my way, madam."

"Oh, so formal." She stayed in his way moving quickly and easily, not giving any ground.

He did not believe in hitting out of temper but he was close. He wanted to know what had happened to Rogue, why Jean was hurt and agitated and what Scott was doing bouncing from one foot to the other in front of the MedLab. Rogue could get angry at him for offering sympathy or support because that implied weakness but that was no excuse for him not to try. Especially since that anger would dissolve as soon as she overcame her inhibitions. He feinted past Mystique but her arm slunk into a tentacle and twisted him back around. Even as he snapped out his bo he realized how ridiculous this confrontation was.

"What exactly are you going to save her from, LeBeau? Three-eyes? He's just doing his job. Me? I'm her mother. You can't save her from me. Besides," she bared the tips of her teeth, "do you really want to throw down right now, right here?" She let go of his arm.

They both remained in combat stance.

He was faster. He was aware of motion beyond the visual. He had spent his childhood on the streets trained to survive a guild war and that was not counting his chief power. Mystique had triumphed over half a century through true war, cold war, espionage, terrorism, assassination and more enemies than he could shake a stick at, literally. He might be faster but she was more skilled and experienced and she had a power too. Perhaps even a direct bio-kinetic charge would not kill her.

He flipped his bo behind his shoulder, snapping it down and putting it back up his sleeve.

"Grab a coat."

She led them outside in silence.

It was ironic. People called him a devil because of his eyes but at least he had eyes, not glowing slits. Mystique could be looking at anything: the knoll, the forest edge, the tarp covered pool, the tiny specks that were crows or her own feet. She was probably watching him but made no movement, not the slightest twitch or quiver.

She moved, a smooth crane of her head, like a security camera.

"Dat's where she get it from, isn' it?"

She ignored his question. "Would you prefer French?"

"My French is bad."

"Your English is worse."

"Yes," he obligingly replied in French.

She acknowledged him then, a direct look of approval that told him more about Rogue than their entire conversation had. It told him why Rogue never complained when he accidentally hurt her with an offhand comment or even an intentional one to see if he could get a rise out of her. She simply turned away from him. Except once, when she had been blind, weary of his presence as her guide. That was a long time ago as far as moments of honesty went. Even in Seattle she had opted for an exit.

"You're talking about Rogue, I assume?"

"Yes. The way she controls her emotions and becomes infuriated when she loses control." The way she lashes out at those she cares about, unsure of how to trust, how to open up. I can see you embarrassing her for that, shaming her. "You probably never lose control."

Mystique smiled faintly. "Trouble in paradise?"

"You think that's funny? That you handicapped her? That all she knows to do when she feels something is hurt someone, hurt herself?"

"That sounded like a criticism."

"Just making an observation."

"Yes? Let me make one for you. What good would it serve her? What good is wanting something you cannot have? She cannot touch and no matter how idealistic you are, that does not change. Before you go making any more five minute assumptions, I did the best I could for her." She huffed in amusement and flipped her hand. "Oh, I know that sounds implausible coming from me, but if there is one thing I know more than how to get what I want, it's how to deal with being apart." Her lips parted as if she would say more, then, catching herself, she looked with great fascination at nothing at all.

While his suspicion increased, his residual anger drained away into curiosity. Though never face to face, he had seen this woman once on Muir Island. When he first saw Mystique in the hall today, he assumed, from what he knew of her terrorizing background and the few stories Rogue had told, that she would rage and threaten him. He thought that by goading her he might catch her off guard but she had answered his question. Out of all the things he expected, frank honesty was not among them. Perhaps the honest truth disturbed him more than her response in itself. How did someone desensitize a person to loneliness?

"Why can't she touch?"

"One lump or two?" She shook her head. "Will wonders never cease. Do you really think I know why?"

"I was not being literal and yes I do think you know because if you did not you would have told me instead of avoiding the answer."

"Naturally. You think that is what she wants?"

"I know it is."

"Pheh."

He ground his teeth silently. "Then what does she need?"

"Talk is the only way she has of touching other people safely. It is the only way that makes her comfortable. You have to get her to talk which, as you have likely discovered, is no easy task. Could you make that sacrifice?" She curled her lip, a shock on her impassive face. "Oh, I know. You think you are making a huge sacrifice by committing to her, to staying celibate. But there is a way out for you. There is no way out for her -- I've tried, Xavier has tried -- or would you ask her to wear a collar like an animal just for sex?"

"Lady, I do not know what kind of man you think I am, nor do I care, but I love her. You were doing what was best for her? To keep her from getting hurt? So am I. I am no animal, but you on the other hand...." He clenched his jaw, maintaining his composure to match hers. That was the way to keep her respect. Control freak. "I've talked to her until my face turned blue and it came to nothing. She is a human being. She needs to have the same basic things everyone else does."

"She's a mutant like the rest of us."

"A human being and has feelings. You cannot amputate them. Not her, not you, not anyone. Whatever you taught her, it was something wrong."

"A romantic pig, to answer your question. You think love can save the world? Solve her problems? If it could, she would not have any problems." She crossed her arms. "I would have seen to it."

She brought up that point with pride, this mothering dictator. She was not like his father who had made few attempts to rein in his wild behavior, his schedules, and his friends. Jean-Luc was permissive but watchful. Mystique was not watchful so much as knowing so that she gave the impression of not caring. I always knew my father cared and that made me care when I was disobeying. He knew without asking that Mystique had come down on Rogue like a ton of bricks at the slightest infraction, parental indifference followed by strict reprimand. Consistently unpredictable. Mystique's technique would have forced Rogue to use habitual self-control. And to be suspicious of people who care, like me. If Jean-Luc had done that to him he would have rebelled and gone back to his pseudo-family on the streets. But Rogue had no one to go back to or maybe she did but didn't want to. He recalled her tale of Cody. Or they wouldn't let her come back.

Who else? She mentions now and then the woman Destiny who lived with them. She doesn't say grandmother or aunt or nana, just the name. He intuited that there had been a relationship between Destiny and Mystique but the thought was strange for several reasons. First, he had difficulty believing that Mystique could love anyone enough to commit her life to him or her. Second, he felt ashamed to admit the idea made him uncomfortable which was very strange. He could not help it. While he had been raised in such a male dominated society and then imparted the Clan's Catholic values, the Church was corrupt and the Clan members were hypocrites. He had rejected that religion as much as any Catholic could. The values remained, intruding on his common sense and tendency to accept most anything after the nature of his childhood, or lack thereof.

He was puzzled by this unexpected hang up. He had encountered so many types of families and sexual relationships that one more was nothing. So why were his morals suddenly giving a twinge? Because Mystique and Destiny weren't any couple; they were Rogue's parents and that made it personal. What a strange realization that, suddenly, something that he believed was irrelevant mattered when it became personal. The only other woman's family he had cared about was Belladonna's. Now he cared about this other family, this pragmatic to the point of immorality mother, the saintly pirate of a foster brother and an elderly precognitive that had died shortly before his arrival. That was when it occurred to him that Destiny was dead and he was disappointed to have never met her. Maybe she was the missing half the puzzle, the counterweight to Mystique's teachings.

"So did you ever pretend to be the father, too?"

He had not spoken in so long that Mystique started violently, craning her head to stare at him. He thought she would kill him or at the minimum rip his spleen out through his nose. Fortunately, she did neither. She blinked a few times in quick succession and started to shake in silent laughter, then broke into guffaws.

Giving one last snort, she smiled widely. "Do you realize that no one has ever asked me that?"

"No one?"

"No one."

"So did you?"

"Ask Rogue." Her answer effectively sobered their mood.

"I'm asking you. You know she won't tell me."

"Oh, come now. She never tells you anything? Have you ever tried a direct question?"

"I've tried many questions. Will she get hurt?" He knew she would understand he was referencing her interaction with Rogue at breakfast.

"Are you going to save her?"

"I would do anything for her."

"And I repeat: Are you going to try and save her?"

"Is this the part where you threaten to kill me if I hurt her or get in the way of your plans?"

Mystique struck a pose and stroked her chin in consideration. "No, I think we shall skip that part. As my daughter likes to insist, she is a grown woman and can take care of herself. As much as I care, she has a brain. If you are using her and she cannot see that...." She shrugged laconically. "Any beating that needs to be done will be administered by her."

"So if you do not care about love, if you do not care if she makes a mistake, why are you here? Why are you wasting my time with insults?"

"Look, boy. I do not like you. I do not like your frivolous attitude. I do not like your political and social ties. I do not like your manners. I do not like your clothes. I do not like your grooming habits. I'm not impressed by your charming charisma or your thin attempts at suavity. In short, I do not trust you. Unfortunately, Rogue does. Furthermore, I know that despite your reputation, you are good to your word. Foremost, as the last remaining successor to the primary family of the LeBeau Clan, you must be aware that you are in a relationship with my heir."

"In other words, this is an acceptance speech."

"LeBeau, on the chance that you might be listening, I am not angry at you; I'm angry at that nincompoop that calls herself my daughter, but do not push your luck. Now answer my question. I am not that easy to distract."

"Am I going to save her? I would do anything for her...if she asked. What are we avoiding the issue? You obviously want me to do, or not do, something, so let us make a deal."

She frowned for a millisecond glancing down and he had the disturbing vision of a cigarette materializing from her hand. She lifted it in the air and raised an eyebrow. "Light?"

He eyed it. "Won't that hurt?"

"What would hurt?"

"Lighting it." He gestured at her arm. "Or is it real?"

"Oh that's disgusting. Of course it is. Do you have a -"

He touched his fingertip to the end of the cigarette, lighting it with a small charge. "You're welcome."

"Thank you." She exhaled in contentment. "Now, what were we discussing?"

"A bargain."

"And why exactly should I make a deal with you?"

He waited a moment, mimicking her nonchalance by rubbing a knuckle along his jaw.

Mystique let her eyelids droop and tapped her cigarette once.

"When I saw you on Muir Island, I did not know you were Rogue's mother, nor did I care. But, after a while, I thought it would be prudent to...familiarize myself with your history. No offense."

"None taken."

"I learned many things. In reverse order: I know that you were caught by X-Factor because Onslaught -- the Professor -- considered you a threat," he raised an eyebrow before continuing, "and I know most of what you did with them because it is official record if not public. And I know that you led Freedom Force, which was the Brotherhood by a different name for a different cause, but likely for the same profit. And that you have at least two acknowledged children. That you were a spy during World War Two and several of the wars afterwards. Official records end before the forties but there are rumors and those who remember. Among the guild we have long lives. You have managed to keep your secrets well. To be honest, I was worried that you had employed me at some time."

"I prefer to keep it that way. My personal life is of no concern to anyone except myself. As for you, I did consider it. If you were not paired with my daughter, I may have at some point."

"But that is precisely what I meant."

"I know. Rogue is perfectly content to allow me to puppet her in fifty directions but she made it perfectly clear that she will not tolerate interference in private life. I respect that. You, this team and its dream are...her hobbies."

He could not stop his brows from shooting up and his violently surprised reaction. "Hobbies? This is her life!"

"No, this is a pleasant illusion. She cannot fully believe Xavier's ambitions any more than you can stop being a professional thief. Like it or not, I instilled my values in her at a very early age. No matter how hard she fights it," she slit her eyes until they were nothing more than yellow lines, "she cannot help but return to center. Nor will I lose another person I love to someone else's cause."

"Just your own?"

"I have only one cause, LeBeau. It is survival."

"Then survive this. I was not done talking. It came to me that certain military products, derived from 'secret' government technology, were being mass produced and sold on the streets. When I investigated, some of the items seemed familiar and I recognized them from...certain databases."

"Spying on X-Factor were you? How noble and chivalrous of you. I am sure it was for their own benefit. Carry on."

"I saw that certain records had been accessed at a certain time by remote system." He lifted one shoulder giving a falsely baffled frown. "Of course, that is not proof in a court of law, but I am sure you would agree that under those circumstances there was only one person who had the access and motive."

"Theoretically speaking. Yes." She looked less smug than she had a few minutes ago though not enough to please anyone with more than an ounce of pride. "Very well."

"Good. What is this all about?" He waved in the direction of the house.

"You mean her surly temper?" At his nod, "She is balking over attending current consequences of past actions. Normally I would take care of it. I have drawn the line. She is a big girl now. She will do it herself or she will die."

He caught his breath with instinctive alarm, thinking at first that her words were a direct threat before realizing that she was referring to consequences catching up with Rogue. It seemed that his entire ribcage squeezed in on itself and he found himself attempting to loom over Mystique. He knew, though, that no matter how convenient it would be to blame here even if the past events were her machinations, the current situation was perversely well-intended. He forcibly uncurled the fingers of his hands. "And you want me to avoid interfering?"

"I expect it, from one professional to another."

"Yes, but she is not a professional."

He could see the agreeing displeasure on her face. "Unfortunately true. She has become lazy. But the foundation remains. She will rebuild quickly or...." For the first time, Mystique had no words. Her face went flat.

"Or you will let her die," he muttered in contempt.

"I will be disappointed."

It was said with so little cockiness or facetious humor that he understood that what she was telling him had nothing to do with his suggestion of extortion. It was an offering. One professional to another... Could it be that Mystique, someone he had heard stories about as a teen, was willing to respect him? Possible, but I'd better use enough humility to stay on her good side. "Disappointed, eh? Is she not old for a rite of passage?"

"Yes, she is. She ran away at about the time I was going to test her for the last time. Now, perhaps, she is too old to view my actions with equanimity. Regardless," She crossed her arms, another gesture he recognized. "I have been alive longer than I expected and I do not feel like dying soon. I have been through my share of partners but only cared a few times. I have had two children that I lacked the instinct to or interest in raising. One grew up to be a madman and is dead. The other was recruited by Xavier. I doubt that was accidental. I made one last attempt with Rogue. Unless a miracle occurs and I change my mind.... Sometimes I am tired." Her shoulders dropped. "If she truly fits my current assessment, she is not fit to be my heir. Therefore, I hope I am wrong but I tend to be correct."

"Heir to blood money?"

"And your money is clean also?"

Was she acting, crying crocodile tears? She could be attempting a subtle manipulation to hook his sense of sympathy or justify her behavior or it could all be honest. The fact that she was unveiling information in the face of an admittedly weak threat suggested that her motive was benign. Still, he had a hard time accepting that Mystique would be truthful and blunt. It seemed so real but no, it had to be a trick. Except, her logic made sense.

"You would just disown her?"

"In essence."

He shrugged.

She sneered, a derisive vicious thing. "Of course it means nothing to you. You would need to have children first to understand."

"I bet Rogue would like children."

"Perhaps. Speaking of sex-"

"No."

"I was not going to proposition you. For all you know, you have already slept with me."

"What would Rogue think of that?"

"My dear daughter probably assumes you have and with most of the female population as well. Of course, she forgets you are Catholic."

"Formerly."

"I was Catholic once when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It is nothing to be ashamed of. But...it can cause certain complications."

"Meaning?" He resisted the urge to chuckle and her not so subtle implications.

"Meaning I have not changed the subject I started a few minutes ago."

"Ah, I see. You think I might see some sort of ideal in her and that causes me to treat her less like a woman and more like a lady on a pedestal?" Just because he had grown up underprivileged did not mean he had not been educated; it did not take a rocket scientist to understand social psychology. As another bit of common wisdom stated, the stupid crooks died young and he was not dead yet.

"Exactly. From what I heard, you two are accepted as a couple. Yet, at breakfast, I noticed my daughter was ready to bolt. You talked circles around her and all she did was squirm. It was pathetic. I have not been that disappointed in her for...for at least a month."

"Maybe it was just you."

"Oh, that never stopped her before."

His eyebrows rose marginally. "I cannot imagine her being that overt."

"You cannot?"

"Not truthfully."

"Mm. She has become less so over time." Raven regarded him with consideration. "There were times when she was younger, I had to scold or restrain her." She sniffed primly. "Not that she could have done too much damage."

Remy chuckled in agreement.

"Oh? Gracious. Are you being uncreative? Or is it that you do, as I suspect, see her as a conveniently untouchable woman?"

He crossed his arms loosely in irritation. "What is that? A trick question? First you tell me she does not need to consider love, hope and a future. Then you want to know if I desire her?"

Of course he did. If he let his imagination wander.... When she moved or stretched he wanted to slide his hands all over her body. He wanted to cup her breasts in his palms, to feel the soft resiliency., to see how sensitive they were, if he could make her shake, to feel her stomach tremble, to touch and stroke and what kind of noises she would make when he curled his hands around her hips gliding smooth until she begged. Would she beg? Would she be able to fight if he cupped her mons, so sensitive to pressure, curled fingers to slide against hot flesh, wet? His hand itched at the thoughts.

"Oh, for God's sake." Mystique threw up her hands. "Do you think you could stop fantasizing long enough to answer my question?"

"I am not-"

"Oh yes you are." She made no effort to hide her sly amusement and nodded towards his erection, visible through his jeans. "Very unsubtle of you."

"Yes, very unfortunate how that betrays me." He cleared his throat. "You were asking?"

She smiled blandly. "Specifically if you have acted on it."

"Should I have?"

"Are you trying to ask me what Rogue's sexual habits and quirks are?" She waggled her eyebrows at him.

"Well...."

"You are. That is understandable. She must have done something to pique your curiosity. Certainly took long enough though, which is very strange, all things considered. You have not gone impotent, have you?"

"No!" He started to yell, then closed his eyes, raising his hands palm out, briefly. He chuckled at himself. "No. What happened was, in the beginning, she was very skittish. I saw that she was uncomfortable with sexuality. I thought maybe.... I do not know what I thought. But I decided to be a gentleman and when she saw that, she did what she does best."

"Blinded herself."

"Yes. And...."

"And now you are trapped in that dance. I see. Back to the subject at hand, you are curious?"

"Mm. Last night she was drunk."

"And she jumped you."

"You are not surprised by that."

"No, of course not. If you were a sexually active but repressed twenty-two year old who became intoxicated, would you not also?"

"True. Either that or slip into a bitter depression."

She pressed her chin against her collarbones and sighed low. "Does she drink often?"

"No. Very rarely."

"Good."

"Why?"

"Why.....why why why. You know what?"

"Hm?"

"If you have survived this long as a Guild thief, I know you are a mature adult. I will trust you to have common sense." Mystique threw down the stub of her cigarette and ground it into the snow. "Her biological mother was an alcoholic. Perhaps that was isolated. It is often inherited. Rogue herself has addictive tendencies I found very useful when she was a child. When I say addictive, I mean she attached easily to behaviors, routines and even substances. All I had to do was put her into a pattern of behavior and she would continue it willfully on her own. The negative aspect was that I had to watch her. I had to watch what she attempted to smoke or eat. And I had to watch how she used her power."

He could not help the instant dislike he had towards Mystique for admitting the plain truth that they both knew: that she had openly used Rogue. He understood that those actions were in the past, that Raven was apologizing in her own way, but to admit to such a thing was more taboo than to do it. That Rogue was weak in such a way was news to him. He knew she was slightly hedonistic, but who was not? Idealistically, denial lead to spiritual purity. In reality, denial tended to breed avarice. The greatest surprise was that her power might somehow be addictive. As far as he knew, Rogue hated using her power, did not like the active effects of it and tended to apologize for using it. But if she knows that she is, then that makes sense. But she could just be scared of losing control. That's what she always complains about Losing control..... He halted, darting a quick look of confirmation at Mystique.

She smiled thinly. "Not so pleasant a thought, is it?"

"She is stronger than that."

"No she is not."

"Yes-"

"No. I was paraphrasing Irené's own words."

"I thought you did not believe in fate?"

"Did I ever mention Irené was a fatalistic anarchist? A more complex way of saying, things will go as wrong as possible eventually."

"And that they are meant to go wrong."

"Yes, entropy, but enough philosophizing. I suppose you want to know about Rogue's power?"

"I know what it is."

"You know her version of what it is. Would you like to hear Irené's?"

"Go ahead." In truth, he was intensely curious.

"She is like me but instead of copying only what she sees, she can copy everything with which she merges. Anything that is living information. Cells, genes, molecules, bio-electric currents. Whatever she wants so long as it is alive in some fashion. You need to imagine a highly evolved amoebae. But first, she does not know what she wants. Second, she is cowardly. Her power will not kill her but her own fear can."

He frowned sharply, rolling his shoulders. "Her power motivates her in some way, yes, to cause this implied addiction?"

"Naturally. If you do not eat, not only does your stomach hurt, you feel a desire to eat. If you do not breathe, you experience pain and fear. If you never run, your muscles grow weak and stress your skeletal structure and then you cannot run when you need to run. Like so. I imagine it is a strain for her not to use her power."

Remy nodded his head, content for now to play along. "Then it becomes a greater strain to control it when she does?"

"Yes."

"But you have not answered my question."

"Ah, forgive me but you should be able to-"

He nodded soberly. Her power sates her in some way that she may even be aware of. That ignorance is dangerous. But what could any of us do about that? Ororo and Scott are tied officially. And Rogue. If Destiny's right, she can't aim to the side or pull back the claws a bit. She's a predator like a cobra, not a wolf. The only compromise she can give is to hold still, but that's not fair to her. His prioritizing amused him but it was true. His friends and loved ones mattered more to him than team ideals.

"I could help her."

Mystique smiled softly and tipped her head away from him. "Would you?"

He had the impression she was as pleased as she looked. This, after she had specifically claimed to avoid his interference. She was a funny woman. "After I convince her that she will not hurt me."

"Good. Oh, and to make this official, if you hurt her I'll kneecap you."

"No thank you but I appreciate the offer and give my most profound and humble thanks for your loving welcome to your family...Maman."

Raven sighed low in her throat, nearly a growl of warning. "Do me a favor and cooperate, boy, but do not call me your mother."


Rogue sighed and sat down, tapping her fingers together. The last few minutes of her conversation with Jean were a blur. She remembered falling, hearing Jean step closer and an invasive burn, as if her skin had been dipped in acid. It had felt physical in force, although it probably had not been. But I wasn't touching her. Jean Grey had been in mental contact, no more, no less. The telepath had assured her that she would never scan her thoughts without her permission, but she had been. And Betsy was here. She said something about spying on me.

She chewed on the inside of her cheek while reviewing the next unclear memory.

Jean's eyes were dilated with stifled fear, maybe for a moment, then narrowed in determination. A viselike telekinetic grip pulled at her own arms, wrapped around her body like a noose, crushing. The back of her mind was aware of those details but in the foreground was anticipation. Something she wanted badly was out of reach behind the psionic wall she could not see. She could feel the resistance created by the wall but it was nothing. It was like gelatin. It took a second or two longer to reach through that weak barrier. It felt like I reached out with my hand and tried to grab something. That realization flickered through Jean's face just as Rogue felt her heart stop, quite literally. It was right then that the most bizarre sensation had hit her: Indignation, the thought that how dare anyone stop her. Then, something else hit her and she flew into the wall.

The simplest answer was that Jean was right; that her power had a distinct psionic component that had been activated by the telepathic contact. Upon triggering, it had spun wildly out of control due to disuse. The concept was mentally numbing. If it's true, then I'm completely out of control. The last of it's gone. I'd worked so hard. So hard for that control. I'd fought it every day and now? Now, nothing.

Rogue had always been satisfied with the self-initiated test and observation system concerning her power. Longer I hold on, more I get. Simple. It did not explain why she absorbed certain memories from one person, nothing from the next, information from another and emotion when she least wanted it. It did not explain Carol, what she had chalked up to be a freak accident. Course, some folks say there's no such thing. Is it an accident to try and murder someone but change your mind at the last second? Does it count? Not even the Professor had questioned her methods or conclusions. Not to my face. Probably suited his purpose not to spend too much energy on my problems. She immediately chided herself. They were her problems, after all.

But I don't understand what happened. I felt the same things I do when absorbing someone's mind. She corrected herself. Her body had not changed in anyway, nor, for that matter, had she actually taken memories or emotions. No, this was like...like...right before. Except, why was I so angry? She pulled a hand through her hand and brought it down on her desk with a thump. But I don't feel anything before touching. Nothing. My power don't work until there's tactile contact. I don't sense anything at all.

She could not feel other's minds like a telepath or even Remy did. The only extrasensory ability she had was the mild precognitive ability which was not hers. It was difficult to comprehend. She had spent her whole life trying. Maybe she's right. Maybe I should compromise a bit. It wouldn't be that humiliating to use an inhibitor. Bobby put up with it and Cyke still does. She found herself staring at the small piece of metal and plastic Jean had dropped on the floor and she reached down to pick it up.

"Rogue?"

Her head jerked in the direction of Remy's voice as her hand reflexively curled around the inhibitor. She sent a weak smile at him as he padded over.

"What y'got dere?"

Well, at least he's being to the point. "Inhibitor." He took her hand and she obligingly uncurled her fingers.

He tried to meet her eyes and she ducked away. His hands settled on her shoulders. "You wan' talk?"

"No." Absently, she shrugged his hands off and twisted and turned the inhibitor between her thumb and palm.

"Ya sure?" His voice did not condemn but the gentle prodding remained.

"'Bout what?" Uncomfortable with his proximity and worried that her power, or whatever, would attack him, she got up, putting the chair between them. Obstinately, he followed her.

"Anyt'in'." When she remained silent, "Ya gon' be okay?"

"Ah'm fine." She held the inhibitor as gently as she would cradle a piece of crystal and studied the distance between them. For every step he took, she took one back until he stopped. She saw his puzzlement, his hurt. It was disconcerting to realize she could and had hurt him with a gesture. It was frightening that she cared after using her power so deliberately on him the previous night.

Remy abruptly smiled and pushed the chair out of the way with the side of his leg.

While she was not as adept a con artist as him, she had lived with a shape-shifter for many years. Even the slightest changes in behavior and manner could be telling. Remy was obviously up to something. She cocked her head slightly, sidling. "How's Jean?"

He shrugged, idly advancing until she backed around the corner of the bed. "Hank chased me out of the MedLab."

"Don' spare me the truth. Ah've had quite 'nough of that lately." She saw the reluctance on his face before he spoke.

"She's a bit woozy but okay. Talkin' up a storm wit' Scott last I heard." He made a shifting approach, almost stalking her. "So what y'gon' do now?"

She felt her eyebrow twitch, an involuntary mannerism. Despite herself, her pulse accelerated and she almost smiled. He was not asking what her plans for the day were. He wanted to know how close she would allow him to come. The question did bring her mind back to task, though. Shadows were lengthening. The sky becoming amber. Funny, she did not remember talking that long to Jean. Between the moment she looked away and looked back, Remy got within three inches of her. He was entirely too close.

"Ah have t'go out." She tried to edge around him but he moved to intercept. This was extremely frustrating. Frustrating because she wanted him close, she wanted him to touch her, to touch him back, to play without words, but his timing could have been better.

"No," he scolded gently, catching her hand as she tried to shove him away from her. "Come back here." He cupped the back of her hand in his palm and held her wrist with the other and she felt the warmth of the touch but soon it became oppressive, painful. "Gon' go out f't'ree months?"

"No!" She lifted into the air and, shaking her hand free, she put greater distance between them. She did not want what had happened to Jean to happen to him. "No. Ah meant for tonight, maybe tomorrow. Ah, well, as you would say, have business t'attend to. It's not that Ah di'n' want t'tell you, but this is somethin' Ah have t'do on my own, an' Ah mean it, so don' y'go followin' me. Seein' how Ah don' follow you...." Hysterics were just below the surface. She needed to focus and stop gibbering. There were too many conflicting emotions occurring at once.

Remy tipped his head obliquely studying her.

"What're you lookin' at?"

"Your breasts."

"Uh." Now she knew without guessing that he had a card up his sleeve. "That's, uh, nice. Have you been talkin' to Mystique?"

He grinned.

She was torn between leaving now to avoid any misunderstandings, flirtation and possible power accidents as well as her own persistent curiosity to see what he would do next, if she allowed him. While she was worried, this was the first instance in a long time that he had started to flirt with her. But that was kind of my fault. She ducked her head, smiling sheepishly. "Interestin' conversation, Ah take it?"

Still grinning, he knee walked across the bed and she almost laughed, backing away. "Ya just dyin' t'know, aren't ya?"

"Well, Ah reckon she said some pretty crazy shit. Want t'know what Ah have to offset is all."

"Like ya say, she told me some very interestin' things. I'm t'inking about them." Reaching into his front pocket as if to remove a cigarette, he murmured, "If it matter dat much t'ya, I won't bother ya."

"You're botherin' me right now, hon."

"Am I?" he lilted back, simultaneously, deliberately, grazing his fingertips from her knee to hip.

She dropped rather loudly and ungracefully onto the floor, stumbled back. "Keep your hands to y'self, dangit."

"No."

"What?"

"No. Ya heard me. From now on, if I can cop a feel, I will." The look on his face dared her to challenge that statement of intent.

She repeated his phrasing back to him, doubtfully.

"Hey, that was your phrasin', not mine, chere, but I don' t'ink ya really mind, 'cause if ya did, ya wouldn' gi' me so many opp'tunities."

I never said that, did I? When did I ever say that? "So you're tryin' t'blame me?" As she snipped back, he pushed off the bed, neatly placing a leg between hers. She hastily stepped back further. "What the hell did she tell you?"

"Only a lil' bit. I'm doin' dis because I'm tired of dis business of almos' but not quite 'cause 'I wan' to but I can't'. I'm sayin' dat you can an' I don' mind."

She opened her mouth to say something, anything, but felt herself blushing instead. "Uh.... Tha's a li'l' bit direct, Remy."

"Way I hear it, ya used t'be pretty direct y'self."

She looked at him sidewise. "When Ah was a kid, yes. Ah grew out of it." Oh man, what did she tell him? How far back did she go? She turned in a circle, pacing uneasily, and wished for more common sense. When her power had first manifested, she had been insanely frightened by it. With Mystique's coaching, she had learned to prize it. Then she had learned to enjoy it. One mental mutant power, one young teenage girl, add hormones and blend. When Mystique was the one to reprimand excessive sexuality, a person knew they were overboard. Rogue winced.

"Ya were, weren' ya? I bet you were as bad as me. Difference was, ya couldn' do anyt'ing 'bout it." He brushed beside her, leaning over her shoulder, and ended up facing her.

"Geez, y'don' have to rub in it, okay?" He may as well have shoved her. She jerked back, shaking her arm, rattled by more than his words. It was happening again. This time, the raw electric frission was tangling with arousal and what scared her was that she could barely tell the difference. She danced away from him, watching his face.

A series of thoughts flickered across it, ending in a slight half-smile. He cocked his head so his hair fell over his eyes. "I won' hurt ya dis time. She tol' me the t'ings ya never did. She tol' me 'bout ya power, what it is. An' I'm tellin' ya, it's okay. It's okay for ya t'touch me inside."

She was too shocked to anything but stare.

"Ya wan' me to?"

"Ah wan' you t'jus' stop!" Flustered, she fussed with her hair, walked behind the fauteuil and stopped short of opening the closet door. "Lord, Ah can't deal with this. Can't an' not right now. Can you please...." Lord, have some guts girl. Momma would laugh her fool head off if she saw this. She squared her shoulder and faced him but closed her eyes. After a minute, she looked at him. "Remy, right now I need t'do my own thing an' Ah don' know if y'un'erstan' what you're sayin'. 'Cause if you did...." She shook her head.

"But will ya let me?"

She held her face in the L between her fingers and thumb, sliding two fingers down to graze her lips. She made her choice before she could panic. "Yes. Ah will. But you make sure you tell Jean an' Scott. Ah don' wan' them getting all reactionary 'bout it."

"Bien. An' I'll hold ya to dat." Adeptly, he changed the subject as it became distinctly uncomfortable. "Ya sure ya don' need any help. I got friends dat could pull some stops for ya."

She doubted he was aware of his skeptical tone or the slight superior rise of his brows that attempted to hide his pain. I hurt him. She wanted to tell him everything about the Bauers, Mystique and a past mission gone wrong. She wanted to have faith in him but she could not afford to let him care. The irony did not escape her. She almost told him that he better not follow her but he might construe that as a challenge. "Ah'll tell Logan where Ah'm goin'." She had absolutely no intention of telling Logan anything.

"So, what? Ya trust him but not me? Ya think I get in y'way?"

"Ah know y'would," she said softly.

"Prob'ly." He remained there, blocking the way between the bureau and bed, trying to silently discourage her.

"Look, gi'me an hour. Ah'll talk t'Logan and get my stuff together, an' then...we'll work somethin' out." She was painfully aware of the space between them as she clenched the inhibitor in her hand, careful not to crush it. "All right?"

Remy looked down at the cigarette he was rolling between his fingers, a troubled frown, a questioning look up and another frown. He nodded slightly before throwing the cigarette into the waste bin. "Dat's fine."


PART15

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